The Hope of the Gospel -- By: Thomas R. Schreiner
SBJT 3:3 (Fall 1999) p. 2
The Hope of the Gospel
Thomas R. Schreiner is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a position he accepted after a decade of teaching at Bethel Theological Seminary. He is the author of Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Romans, and several other scholarly publications.
The Thessalonian letters are either the earliest Pauline letters, or among the first (if one thinks that Galatians was written first). Hence they are one of the earliest windows we have into the early Christian movement (ca. A.D. 50). As readers we want to grasp what Paul communicates so that we do not impose our own ideas upon the letters. We want to have a fresh vision of what Paul says, and thereby hear the word of God for our day. Understanding the message of Thessalonians requires discipline and attentiveness, for reading our own conceptions into the scriptures is extraordinarily easy.
One of the striking features upon reading the Thessalonian letters is the tremendous optimism that permeates them. Paul’s words about the church could even lead us to think that the Thessalonian church was a mega-church. The Thessalonians function as an example for churches in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess 1:7). Their conversion is trumpeted “in every place” so that Paul can dispense with telling others of their transformation (1 Thess 1:8–10). In reality the Thessalonian church was probably comprised of no more than fifty to one hundred members. They were a fledgling and insignificant group in the midst of a large city like Thessalonica. How easily these believers could have been discouraged when considering the godlessness and evil lives of most people in the Roman empire, not to mention Thessalonica itself. If Paul resorted to counting, the number of believers paled in comparison with unbelievers.
How does Paul respond to this fledgling church? Does he emphasize their shortcomings? Does he give the church a statistical breakdown of the percentage of believers relative to unbelievers, leaving the church with the impression that they are failures? He expresses joy and confidence in what God has done in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:3–2:2; 2:13–14; 2 Thess 1:3–4). He abounds with joy because the church has endured persecution with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1:6; You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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