Hope in the Lord: Introduction to 1-2 Thessalonians -- By: John B. Polhill

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 03:3 (Fall 1999)
Article: Hope in the Lord: Introduction to 1-2 Thessalonians
Author: John B. Polhill

Hope in the Lord:
Introduction to 1-2 Thessalonians1

John B. Polhill

John B. Polhill is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Polhill has taught at Southern since 1969. He has written numerous articles and a widely acclaimed commentary on Acts in the New American Commentary. The article printed here is from his most recent book titled Paul: The Man and His Letters (Broadman).


Paul’s Thessalonian epistles both deal at length with questions related to the Parousia (Second Coming) of Christ. The Thessalonians seem to have had serious questions in this area. The two letters look at Jesus’ return from very different perspectives. 1 Thessalonians is quite pastoral. In the letter Paul sought to comfort and assure the Thessalonians about Jesus’ coming. In 2 Thessalonians he was less patient. Some were spreading the false word to the church that the day of the Lord had already occurred, and Paul addressed the problem more forcefully.

The Thessalonian epistles are the earliest extant Pauline epistles. Paul established the Thessalonian church during his second mission, after leaving Philippi. The time was around A. D. 50. The two epistles were written in close proximity to the founding of the church, perhaps within six months from Paul’s departure from the city. The two seem to have been written close together. They are strikingly similar in both language and content.

The first part of this essay will examine Paul’s establishment of the work in Thessalonica and the period of his ministry immediately following, including his work in nearby Berea and his flight to Athens. It is possible that Paul wrote his first Thessalonian letter from Athens. The remainder of the essay will introduce the Thessalonian correspondence.

Establishment of the Church at Thessalonica

We have two accounts of Paul’s founding of the Christian community at Thessalonica. The first is Luke’s account in Acts 17:1–9. Acts 17:10–15 tells of the work at Berea, and Acts 17:16 of Paul’s arrival in Athens. The same period of missionary activity is covered by Paul’s own account in 1 Thessalonians 1–3. The Lukan and Pauline versions are quite distinct. They supplement one another and will be examined separately.

Thessalonica (Acts 17:1)

After leaving Philippi, Paul, Silas, and Timothy proceeded along the Egnatian Way toward Thessalonica. A journey of a...

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