In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Thessalonians

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographic Overviews
  • Essay Collections
  • Texts and Translations
  • Authorship
  • Unity
  • Epistolary Studies
  • Rhetorical Studies

Biblical Studies Thessalonians
Richard Ascough
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0090


The two letters written to the Christian group at the city of Thessalonica occupy the thirteenth and fourteenth places in the canon of the New Testament; they are eighth and ninth in the sequence of Paul’s letters. There is little doubt that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, and many scholars consider it to be one of his earliest letters. In contrast, the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians is much contested, with scholars split between ascribing it to Paul and ascribing it to a later writer using Paul’s name. On the other hand, the textual integrity of 2 Thessalonians is secure, while 1 Thessalonians is argued by some to be a combination of two or more letters, or at the very least, they suggest, it contains a nonauthentic interpolation at 2:13–16. The primary aim of 1 Thessalonians is to encourage Jesus’ believers to continue to progress in their faith, and Paul addresses some practical concerns to that effect: sexual morality, community relationships, and Jesus’ return. In 2 Thessalonians the emphasis lies on addressing fear and anxiety over the return of Jesus and some problematic behavior within the group.

General Overviews

Most New Testament introductions and Bible dictionaries provide good orientations to the Thessalonian letters. Important ancillary works are worth pointing to, however, as they attempt a somewhat different approach and break new ground. Suggs 1960 is not the first to argue against the chronology of Acts but focuses specifically on Macedonia. Ascough 2014 briefly introduces critical issues in the study of the two letters. Collins 1993 is different from many introductory works, because it is a monograph-length study of the seminal place of the Thessalonian church in early Christianity. Felder 2007, Johnson-DeBaufre 2010, and Jennings 2006 represent cutting-edge scholarship outside the mainstream that attempts to raise issues often overlooked by others while giving attention to the interpreter’s context.

  • Ascough, Richard S. 1 and 2 Thessalonians: Encountering the Christ Group at Thessalonike. Phoenix Guides to the New Testament 13. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014.

    Narrates the founding of the Christ group at Thessalonica and subsequent interactions, giving particular attention to the literary form, rhetorical strategies, theologies, and reception of the two canonical letters. It sets the letters within their broad social and cultural contexts by drawing on a wide range of literary and archaeological data, particularly from Greek and Roman associations.

  • Collins, Raymond F. The Birth of the New Testament: The Origin and Development of the First Christian Generation. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

    1 Thessalonians brought about a new way of conceptualizing the church as believers gathered to hear it read aloud and to experience differently the apostolic presence. Broad in scope, this work offers many insights into 1 Thessalonians.

  • Felder, Cain Hope. “1 Thessalonians.” In True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. Edited by Brian K. Blount, 389–400. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.

    Technically a commentary. Felder interprets the text in relation to African American experiences and expectations. Its usefulness extends beyond that limited audience in the important hermeneutical issues it raises. See also “2 Thessalonians” on pages 401–408.

  • Jennings, Theodore W. “1 and 2 Thessalonians.” In The Queer Bible Commentary. Edited by Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache, 669–683. London: SCM, 2006.

    Focuses on how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered perspectives affect the reading and interpretation of the texts and how these texts, in turn, affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities.

  • Johnson-DeBaufre, Melanie. “‘Gazing upon the Invisible’: Archaeology, Historiography, and the Elusive Women of 1 Thessalonians.” In From Roman to Early Christian Thessalonikē: Studies in Religion and Archaeology. Edited by Laura Salah Nasrallah, Charalambos Bakirtzis, and Steven J. Friesen, 73–108. Harvard Theological Studies 64. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

    Argues that since “wo/men” are not mentioned specifically in Paul’s letter, interpreters wrongly assume that they were not present, or at least not significant, within the community structure. Offers proposals for reconstructing the Thessalonian Christian community with “wo/men” more fully in view.

  • Suggs, M. Jack. “Concerning the Date of Paul’s Macedonian Ministry.” Novum Testamentum 4 (1960): 60–68.

    DOI: 10.2307/1560329

    Argues from Thessalonians and Philippians that Macedonia was the first area evangelized by Paul. Controversial at the time of publication because it challenged the chronology given in Acts, this position has come to be accepted by most scholars.

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