Paul’s Letters

There is treasure hidden in Paul’s thirteen letters, but the path to find it is not obvious. Here is a tip: in the Bible, Paul’s letters are not sequenced in chronological order.

The Bible rarely gives us specific dates about events it addresses, which can be frustrating for modern readers. As an example, this is a very brief timeline of the first four decades of Christianity that is probably correct to within a few years:

27 AD to 30 AD           Ministry of Jesus

30 AD to 39 AD           Death, resurrection of Jesus; Christianity spreads among the Jews

40 AD to 48 AD           Christianity spreads increasingly to non-Jews

48 AD to 57 AD           Paul’s three missionary journeys

58 AD to 70 AD           Paul’s imprisonment; Paul’s death; Temple destroyed

Paul wrote his letters within the two decades of 48 AD to 68 AD. His thirteen generally accepted letters are arranged in the New Testament in two blocks: the nine written to churches, then the four written to individuals. The nine written to churches are generally placed in order by length. (This also assumes Hebrews was not written by Paul.)

First Thessalonians

The church at Thessalonica was established on the Second Missionary Journey by Paul and Silas. It is possible Timothy was with them on that trip while they were at Thessalonica, which would explain why all three of them are named as senders of the letter known as First Thessalonians, although it is likely that Paul authored most of it.

This is the first of Paul’s letters written to a church in Macedonia or Greece, and possibly the first one written to a church consisting mostly of non-Jews. Paul also personally knew most of the people in the church, and was familiar with their customs.

The first chapter is full of compliments and encouragement for the members of this young church, which has only existed for two or three years. The second chapter is a reminder of the way Paul lived faultlessly among them, and how he taught them the true gospel. By the end of the second chapter, you can imagine the Thessalonians thought they were truly “simpatico” with Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

In the third chapter, Paul starts revealing that they had previously sent Timothy back to the Thessalonians for two reasons: to encourage them and to find out how they were holding up against persecution and other temptations. He assures them that Timothy brought back a very good report from that trip. However, Paul also hints that there are still aspects of their faith lacking, and he drops a tidbit of information that Jesus will come back with his holy ones.

Chapter Four gives instructions on how to live holy lives. Some of these sound silly to modern ears because they seem so obvious, but many of the Thessalonians grew up with such things as drunkenness and sexual immorality considered normal, acceptable behavior. Paul was trying to change their standards.

Much of the rest of this letter discusses future events of the second coming of Jesus. This subject seems to have so captivated them that many had quit working in anticipation of the Lord returning quickly. Paul tries to inform them about the subject so they will behave as they should. Since he wrote to them again, we can conclude his results were spotty.

Primary Scriptures:
First Thessalonians
Story Summary:
Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica
Roman Empire; Macedonia, Thessalonica
AD 30 Jesus crucified and resurrected; Pentecost; Holy Spirit arrives AD 48 Paul’s “famine visit” to Jerusalem; First Missionary Journey starts AD 50 Council at Jerusalem; Start of Second Missionary Journey. AD 51 Writing of First and Second Thessalonians