Monday, November 3, 2008

Oh Boy, we get to read someone else's mail!

This week, I invite you to join me in looking closely at I Thessalonians. This is an important chapter for proponents of Left Behind Theology, but it is an important book of the Bible for many other reasons. I'd like for you to imagine for a sec that you and I are looking at a car that is for sale, before the sales guy walks up and tries to strike up a conversation with us. I don't know what you do in moments like that, but I kind of walk around the outside a bit first, just checking it out in general; then I look at the sticker if it is a dealer car, especially the price (initial cost) and mpg (ongoing costs). Then, if the doors are unlocked, I stick my head inside to see if all of my youngun's can fit or not. Then I'll sit in the driver's seat to check out the feel, the look, the bling, the accoutrement, etc. I even get out to look under the hood sometimes, just so it might seem like I know that I'm looking at. ("Yup, that an engine alright.") If I'm favorably inclined, then I'll check out the Consumer Report and other expert opinions. I'm a cautious shopper when it comes to spending large amounts of money.

That's the approach I want to take with I Thessalonians this week. Let's just check it out a bit before we start saying, "Now this verse here shows that, when Jesus comes, left-handed people are going to be in deeeeeep trouble!" or anything like that. And feel free to chime in along the way, because you may see something that I've missed entirely. And let's approach this letter as an encouraging letter of consolation, which- we will see- was the spirit in which it was written.

Let's start with this neat tidbit: I Thessalonians is probably the first thing ever written in the New Testament. How cool is that?

In Acts 17 there is the story of Paul's stay in the city of Thessalonica, which resulted in a church being formed of Jews and especially many Gentiles who had turned previously from idols to the God of the Hebrew Bible, who were persuaded by Paul's message that Jesus is the Christ of promise. We do not know how long Paul, Silas (or Silvanus), and Timothy were in Thessalonica, but their work there was interrupted and they had to leave quickly. Some scholars suggest a stay as short as three weeks, since the Acts 17 narrative seems to indicate three sabbaths, but others suggest much longer, like three to eight months. However long it was, Paul's time there was quite effectively spent, since he is able, in his letter, to remind the Thessalonians of quite a few things that they had heard before and it seems that there was a lot of movement away from a lifetime of worshipping idols to a new life of following Christ going on.
Since Thessalonica was located on the "Egnatian Way," it was a stop along a well-traveled hightway. It seems that Timothy, and perhaps others, carried some verbal messages between Paul and the church- or at least were able to report various developments within the church to Paul. Some of the news caused Paul much joy, some of it caused some anxiety- especially the news of some rumors that people were spreading about Paul and his teachings. Hence, Paul and friends wrote a letter to the church to clarify their position and to encourage the believers. As William Ramsey says, with this decision to write a letter, an entirely new genre was introduced into what we now call the New Testament.
Most scholars put the writing of I Thessalonians around 50 BCE, which would make it roughly 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It seems that Paul wrote the letter from Corinth, where he stayed for some time during what we call his 'first missionary journey.' There are lots of 'firsts' going on here, aren't there? It seems that Timothy made the journey back to Thessalonica to check on the fledgling church and then returned to Paul just before the letter was written. Nothing like some first-hand information to occasion a letter, right?
So, now, we've walked around the outside of this car a little bit. Whaddya say we open the door and get inside tomorrow?

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive