The Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians - Introduction
Like 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians is an exhortative letter of encouragement. As with other ancient letters of exhortation, this one accentuates imitation ( 3.7a, 9 ) and remembrance of a teacher's words and deeds ( 2.5; 3.7b–10 ). Also, imperatives recur in chs 2 and 3 , especially in the latter's disciplinary notices ( 3.6–15 ). Although the letter lacks the personal tone of 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians also encourages a community beset with opposition. Several forms of encouragement are evident: reports of the congregation's progress ( 1.3–4 ; 2.13 ); intercessory prayers ( 1.11–12;2.16–17;3.5, 16 );and apocalyptic narratives about the opposition's termination ( 1.5–10;2.3–12 ).
The curiosity of several verbal and structural similarities between 1 and 2 Thessalonians—for example, simple letter openings (1 Thess 1.1; 2 Thess 1.2 ), repeated words of thanks (1 Thess 1.2;2.13; 3.9; 2 Thess 1.3; 2.13 ), and repeated intercessory prayers (1 Thess 3.11; 2 Thess 2.16 )—lead scholars to different conclusions about the authorship of 2 Thessalonians. One deduction from the similarities is that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians shortly after writing 1 Thessalonians, in the early 50s. Another deduction, however, is that 2 Thessalonians is a conscious imitation of 1 Thessalonians written much later by someone else. Uncertainty remains, but a key argument against Paul's authorship is the letter's assumption of forgeries (or non‐genuine letters, 2.1–2 ). Forgeries did not likely circulate while an author was alive (for their authorship could easily be disproved). As well, the letter's insistence that it contains a distinctive “mark” found in “every letter” ( 3.17 ) from Paul presupposes a time (probably in the late first century) when a body of Paul's letters had been collected.
First Thessalonians assumes, moreover, that Christ's appearance will be a surprise; we cannot know the time (1 Thess 5.1–11 ). In the opposite direction, 2 Thessalonians infers that at least we can know that the day of the Lord will not come at once; a dire struggle with evil must take place first, and even this is to be delayed for a time. The specifics of this apocalyptic story—the “rebellion” and the “lawless one” ( 2.3–4, 8 ), and “the mystery of lawlessness” ( 2.7 ), as well as “what is now restraining [the lawless one]” ( 2.6 ) and “the one who restrains it” (2.7)—are references that may have been clear to the letter's recipients ( 2.6 ), but are not clear to us. The letter's emphasis on a delayed struggle prepared the church for a period of continued life in this world.
A typical, though simple, epistolary opening ( 1.1–2 ) begins the letter, and a typical epistolary ending ( 3.16–18 ) closes it. The rest offers encouragement through prayer forms, apocalyptic narratives, and exhortations ( 1.3–3.15 ). An initial thanksgiving prayer with praise for the congregation's steadfastness despite affliction ( 1.3–4 ) closes with an apocalyptic narrative that promises relief for beleaguered believers and reprisal for the opposition ( 1.5–10 ). Then, a brief intercessory prayer ( 1.11–12 ) acknowledges God's power in bringing the congregation's election to fruition. Two sets of exhortations follow: one ( 2.1–17 ) to refute apocalyptic enthusiasm and suggest instead an indefinite interim before the cataclysmic end of time; and a second ( 3.1–15 ) to steer the congregation toward practical pursuits during the interim. Both sets of admonitions, moreover, include prayer forms: a thanksgiving ( 2.13–14 ) to remind the congregation of its election and need for sanctification; a prayer request ( 3.1,2 ) for deliverance from evil persons; and an intercessory prayer ( 3.3 ) for God's aid in securing the congregation's steadfastness.