1 Thessalonians as a Pauline Epistle
©2008 Ronald L. Troxel
Today we bring together the knowledge we have gained about Paul before and
after his conversion, his convictions about himself as an apostle, and information
about the sort of culture within which he worked, along with what you have read
for today, as background to turn to our first Pauline letter, the one he wrote to the
Thessalonians not long after leaving Thessalonica.
First, however, let's recognize the limitations of working with letters such as
As Roetzel says, a letter is a substitute for presence.
However, it is also, as
in the case of 1 Thessalonians, a temporal
of presence, as Paul reminds
this congregation of his time with them, and especially the solicitous care he gave
You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night
and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the
gospel of God.
You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and
blameless our conduct was toward you believers.
As you know, we dealt with
each one of you like a father with his children,
urging and encouraging you and
pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom
As you know, Roetzel perceives in these words Paul defending himself against
charges that he had been unscrupulous.
But as I argued last time, based on
research by Abraham Malherbe, the parallels between these words and the ways
philosophers described themselves as free from sullied motives suggest Paul is
simply putting himself forward as an honorable and beloved friend of the
Next, Paul reminds his addressees how they embraced his message:
constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God
that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really
is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.
For you, brothers and
sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in
Paul is effectively invoking a hidden relationship - hidden, that is, from us as
readers (whom Paul never anticipated reading this letter, anyway), but quite
evident to his addressees.
By recalling his behavior towards him and their
enthusiastic response to him, Paul conjures up an image of their relationship he
wants them to hold.
While the letter gives us no reason to doubt that Paul's
portrayal of their relationship is innocent of beguilement, it is important to
recognize that this is his construction of it:
it sets the frame of mind Paul wants his
audience to have as they read his words.
One limitation to recognize, then, is that
we are hearing only what Paul
heard, his view of things.
And this points to another limitation of reading this letter: