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OF ST. PAUL'S FIRST
EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.
Of the Introduction of the Gospel at Thessalonica; and of the Date of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians.
FROM the history of the Acts of the apostles, it appears that St. Paul first passed into Europe to preach the gospel, after he had delivered the decrees of the council of Jerusalem (Acts xvi. 4.) to the churches in the Lesser Asia, whereby the Gentiles were declared free from obeying the law of Moses, as a term of salvation. In the course of that journey Paul having come to Troas, as was mentioned in the preface to the epistle to the Philippians, Sect. 1. there appeared to him in the night, a vision of a man in the habit of a Macedonian, praying him to come over into Macedonia, and help them. In obedience to that call, which they knew to be from Christ, the apostle with his assistants Silas and Timothy, went first to Philippi, and laid the foundation of a very flourishing church there. After that, they went to Thessalonica, a great sea-port town of Macedonia, which being anciently called Therma gave its name to the bay on which it was situated. At that time Thessalonica was the residence of the Proconsul who governed the province of Macedonia, and of the Questor, who had the care of the Emperor's revenues. This city, therefore, being the metropolis of all the countries comprehended in the province of Macedonia (see 1 Thess. i. 7. note), and the seat of the courts of justice, and the place where the affairs of the province were managed, and carrying on an extensive commerce by its merchants, was full of inhabitants, among whom were many philosophers and men
of genius. There was, likewise, to this city a constant resort of strangers from all quarters; so that Thessalonica was remarkable for the number, the wealth, and the learning of its inhabitants. But, like all the other cities of the Greeks, being utterly corrupted with ignorance in matters of religion, with idolatry, and with all sorts of wickedness, it was a fit scene for the apostle to display the light of the gospel in. He therefore went thither directly, after leaving Philippi. And, as there was a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica, he entered into it, soon after his arrival, according to his custom, and three sabbath days reasoned with the Jews out of the Scriptures. His discourses, however, had not that success with the Jews which might have been expected, a few of them only believing; whilst of the religious proselytes a great multitude embraced the gospel, among whom were many women of the first distinction in the city. Yet, the greatest part of the Thessalonian converts were idolatrous Gentiles; as appears from the apostle's first epistle, in which he speaks to that church in general, as having turned from idols to serve the living God.-The many converts which the apostle made in Thessalonica from among the idolatrous Gentiles, and his receiving money once and again from the Philippians while he preached in Thessalonica, Philip. iv. 16. shew that he abode in that city a considerable time, after he left off preaching in the synagogue. But his success among the proselytes and idolatrous Gentiles, exciting the indignation and envy of the unbelieving Jews, they gathered a company, and brake into the house of Jason, where the apostle and his assistants lodged, intending to bring them forth to the people, that they might be put to death in the tumult. But they happily escaping, the brethren by night sent Paul and Silas away to Bercea, a neighbouring city of note; where likewise they converted numbers of religious proselytes, and idolatrous Gentiles, and even many of the Bercean Jews. For the latter, being of a better disposition than their, brethren in Thessalonica, they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily whether those things were so. But the Thessalonian Jews hearing of the success of the gospel in Berœa, came and stirred up the idolatrous multitude, so that Paul was constrained to depart. Silas, however, and Timothy, not being so obnoxious to the Jews, abode there still. In this flight the apostle was accompanied by some of the Bercean brethren, who conducted him to Athens, and who, when they departed, carried his order to Silas and Timothy to come.
to him forthwith. In obedience to that order, Timothy alone came to Athens. But the apostle immediately sent him back to Thessalonica, to comfort the brethren, and to exhort them concerning their faith, 1 Thess. iii. 1, 2.-After Timothy left Athens, Paul endeavoured to plant the gospel in that celebrated mart of learning, by the force of reasoning alone, without the aid of miracles. The Athenian philosophers, however, not being convinced by his discourses, though he reasoned in the most forcible manner against the polytheism to which they were addicted, he made but few disciples. Leaving Athens, therefore, before Timothy returned from Thessalonica, he went to Corinth, the chief city of the province of Achaia, in hopes of being better received. This happened soon after the Emperor Claudius banished the Jews from Rome. For, on his arrival at Corinth, the apostle found Aquila and Priscilla, lately come from Italy, in consequence of the Emperor's edict.
St. Paul had not been long at Corinth when Timothy came to him from Thessalonica, Acts xviii. 5. and, no doubt, gaye him such an account of affairs in Thessalonica, as made him sensible that his presence was greatly wanted in that city. But the success with which he was preaching the gospel in Achaia, rendered it improper for him to leave Corinth at that time. To supply, therefore, the want of his presence, he immediately wrote to the Thessalonian brethren this his first epistle, in which, as we shall see immediately, he treated of those matters, which he would have made the subjects of his discourses had he been present with them.
From these facts and circumstances, which are all related in the history of the Acts, it appears that this first epistle to the Thessalonians was written, not from Athens, as the interpolated, postscript at the end of the epistle bears, but from Corinth; and that not long after the publication of Claudius's edict against the Jews; which happened in the twelfth year of his reign, answering to A. D. 51. I suppose it was written in the end of that year.
Of the Occasion of writing the First Epistle to the Thessalonians.
It seems the idolaters in Thessalonica, greatly displeased with their fellow-citizens for deserting the temples and worship of the Gods, were easily persuaded by the Jews to make the as
sault, above described, against the Christian teachers. The Jews, however, and the idolatrous rabble, were not the only enemies of Christ in Thessalonica. The philosophers, of whom there were many in all the great cities of the Greeks, finding the gospel very favourably received by the people, would naturally, after their manner, examine it scientifically, and oppose it by arguments. This I may venture to affirm, because, while the magistrates, the priests, and the multitude, were endeavouring to suppress the new doctrine, by persecuting its preachers and adherents, it is not to be imagined, that the men of learning in Thessalonica would remain inactive. We may, therefore, believe that many of them reasoned, both against the doctrines of the gospel, and against its miracles; reprobating the former as foolishness, and representing the latter as the effects of magic. And with respect to its preachers, they spake loudly against them as impostors, because they had not appeared, with Jason and the rest, before the magistrates, but had fled by night to Beroa. For, with some shew of reason, they might pretend that this flight of the new teachers, proceeded from a consciousness of the falsehood of their doctrine and miracles. Besides, having left their disciples in Thessalonica, to bear the persecution alone, without giving them any aid, either by their counsel or their example, the philosophers might urge that circumstance as a proof that these pretended messengers of God were deficient in courage, and had no affection for their disciples; to the great discredit of Paul in particular, who had boasted of his fortitude in suffering for the gospel, and had professed the greatest love to the Thessalonians.
If the reader will, for a moment, suppose himself in the place of the learned Greeks, at the time the gospel was first preached in Thessalonica, he will be sensible how natural it was for them to oppose it by disputation; nay, he will acknowledge that their discourses, after the apostle's flight, might be such as we have represented. On this supposition, it can hardly be doubted, that these discourses were reported to Timothy in Bercea, by the brethren who came to him from Thessalonica, after Paul's departure; and that when Timothy followed the apostle to Athens, he informed him particularly of every thing he had heard. What else could have moved the apostle to send Timothy back to Thessalonica, to exhort the brethren concerning their faith, and to caution them not to be moved by his afflictions? 1 Thess. iii. 2 .2, 3. The truth is, the dan the Thessalonians were in,