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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Reading through 2 Thessalonians

The Address and Thanksgiving ( 1, 1–12 )

The address includes a greeting ( 1, 1–2 ), a thanksgiving ( 1, 3–10 ), and a prayer ( 1, 11–12 ). The greeting is an almost slavish imitation of the greeting of 1 Thessalonians. Paul joins himself with Silvanus and Timothy, fellow missionaries to the Thessalonians (see 1 Thes 1, 1 ). Also similar to 1 Thessalonians is the fact that thanksgiving is not only a part of the initial address as a formal characteristic of a letter; gratitude is also a central theme in the development of Paul's teaching (see 2, 13–17 ).

The Body of the Letter ( 2, 1–3, 15 )

Paul's message to the Thessalonians can be subdivided into instruction on right thinking ( 2, 1–17 ) and right conduct in the daily life of the Christians at Thessalonica ( 3, 1–16 ).

Paul's Teaching on Right Thinking ( 2, 1–17 )

The early Christians' expectation of an imminent return of Christ needed to be adjusted and corrected as the community developed. Unforeseen crises arose, and answers had to be sought in the basics of the Christian preaching. Time passed and the danger was that Christians would become disenchanted and would lose faith, especially in the midst of adversity. First Thessalonians had warned the community about maintaining faith, hope, and love even amid trials such as the death of fellow Christians. There Paul focused on the Day of the Lord, which, he assured them, was coming soon. This reminder served as a warning that behavior would be judged, and the faithful would be rewarded, whereas the unfaithful would be punished.

By the time of the writing of 2 Thessalonians, it seems the eschatological expectation was being taken too seriously, and this caused new problems. As time passed, the early Christians were wondering about the accuracy of their hope that Christ would return soon. They became alarmed by prophecies and by a letter that they thought came from Paul; it seems to have said that the expected “day of the Lord” had arrived ( 2, 2 ). The author denies this and lists a number of events that must come first. This change in 2 Thessalonians 2, 1–10 from the expectation of the near return of Christ seen in 1 Thessalonians is one of the main reasons interpreters suspect that 2 Thessalonians is from a later, second generation Pauline Christian. The early Christians had experienced persecution. History had already shown that any expectation that Christ would speedily return with power, to punish the oppressors of the Christians, was wrong.

The message underlying the apocalyptic references in 2 Thessalonians is “do not be alarmed.” The writer avoids any kind of futile speculation concerning times and circumstances of the Parousia. He uses standard apocalyptic images portraying the conflict between good and evil, and the ultimate victory of God over evil. Yet he studiously avoids any specific description. It is sufficient that his readers focus on the hope of God's victory and that they remain vigilant against deception or alarm.

Paul's Teaching on Right Conduct ( 3, 1–15 )

The admonition in 3, 10 not to feed anyone who will not work, and the general exhortation against idleness is probably connected to the apocalyptic expectation discussed earlier. Some thought that there was no further point to building the human community. But Paul warns that idlers only disrupt the peace of the community. Thus he connects idleness and a lack of charity. The apostle presents himself as a model to the contrary to be imitated. His work with his hands is apparently a topic of discussion among his converts. Perhaps, like the Corinthians, the Thessalonians despise labor and prefer the leisure that is considered more conducive to the development of the mind and spirit. Paul gives both social and theological reasons showing that he was not constrained to work but does so freely. Part of the legacy he left with the community was his example of working. This may have been a form of self‐abasement Paul practiced in order to “be all things to all people” (see 1 Cor 9, 21–22 ). Paul stresses that his aim is to make the gospel accessible to all.

Conclusion ( 3, 16–18 )

The author adds a greeting “in his own hand,” apparently to insure authenticity. Yet it is such characteristics that make Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians suspect. There are no personal greetings and no originality to the abrupt closing of this letter. The author seems to be copying Paul's style rather than adding a more personalized signature as Paul would have done.

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