Was First Thessalonians the “First”?

Disclaimer: I enjoy studying the potential timeline of when the New Testament books were written so that I may gain an understanding of the possible thought development of fellow believers during this time period.  I believe that each text was written for a particular audience at a particular time for a particular purpose, but also has universal application for the Body of Christ throughout the ages as each was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Thank you.

In honor of his wife Thessalonike (the half-sister of Alexander the Great), Cassander, King of Macedon, established the city of Thessalonica around 315 BC.  As the largest and most important city in Macedonia, it became the capital of the Roman province.  Located at the crossroads of two major Roman roads—the Ignatia Way (a military road connecting it to both Rome and the Adriatic Sea) and the other from the Danube River to the Aegean Sea—Thessalonica was a critical trading center and seaport for the Roman Empire.

During his second missionary journey, Paul and his companions came from Philippi to Thessalonica and founded the Christian church there [Acts 17.1-10].  Consisting of some Jews, the largely Gentile church grew quickly—numerically and spiritually.  Paul was so appreciative of their progress that he describes them as examples to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia [I Thessalonians 1.7].  However, the ministry of Paul and his companions had become difficult as other Jews stirred up a mob against Paul and his group, so that they had to flee during the night to Berea [Acts 17.5-10].

Later in Athens, Paul became concerned about the condition of the new community of believers in Thessalonica.  As his anxiety grew, he decided to send Timothy to strengthen and encourage the faithful at Thessalonica [I Thessalonians 3.1-3].  Timothy returned with a positive report about the Thessalonians.  Paul was so overjoyed with the news that he wrote an epistle to them.  The epistle that Paul wrote is what we refer to as Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians.

Greatly accepted by scholars and theologians, either Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (written between AD 48-52, depending upon the northern or southern Galatian theories) or his First Epistle to the Thessalonians (around AD 50-51) is the first epistle written by Paul contained in the New Testament.  [I find myself standing in the camp with those who believe Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15 while others argue that Paul wrote it after the Conference, but again, one’s viewpoint is dependent upon the northern or southern Galatian theories.]  Furthermore, some argue that Galatians or I Thessalonians is the first “book” written in the New Testament, as another five or more years would pass before Mark would pen his Gospel.  Unfortunately, the Epistle of James contains nothing definitive as to when James wrote it.  The date of his composition ranges from around AD 45 to 70, before the Jewish rebellion.

Furthermore, some argue that Galatians or I Thessalonians is the first “book” written in the New Testament, as another five or more years would pass before Mark would pen his Gospel.  Unfortunately, the Epistle of James contains nothing definitive as to when James wrote it.  The date of his composition ranges from around AD 45 to 70, before the Jewish rebellion.  [I agree with the arguments for an earlier composition date (in the late 40s), which are more compelling, as the “Audience” for James’ epistle (“To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” or “scattered abroad”) aligns with the believers who are “scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria,” resulting from the “severe persecution … against the church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8.1) following the martyrdom of Stephen.]

Interesting, eh?

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