Bonus Post: Authorship of 2 Thessalonians

Throughout the centuries, there has been some discussion about whether or not Paul really wrote 2 Thessalonians. While this discussion has been primarily in the scholarly sphere, in recent years it has grown in intensity with many coming to the conclusion that the letter was written by another person after Paul’s death; some have even suggested that it was written to an entirely different church. Most of the time, I leave these discussions to others, but in this instance, I thought you might find it interesting to take a look…

Most often, challenges to Pauline authorship fall into four main areas. First, some argue on the grounds that Paul seems to some to have changed his view of eschatology (study of end times). Adherents to this view claim that in the first letter, Paul expressed the immediate likelihood of the Lord’s return, and in the second letter that he placed a series on things in the way that must happen before Jesus can return, claiming also that these signs have not yet been accomplished even in our time.

Second, some have argued that the tone of the second letter is much cooler and more formal than the first letter, which expressed great personal warmth between Paul and his recipients.

Third, some have asserted that Paul wrote the first letter to a largely Gentile audience, while the second letter appears to be written to a Jewish audience, because of references it contains that only someone with a Jewish background could have understood. Once again, these are eschatological in nature, and found in 2:2-14, with the “Temple of God” being at the fore.

A final observation from some is that Paul’s sentence structure in 2:2-14 is more complex, with a more frequent use of the genitive and subordination of conjunctions, which is not found in other Pauline writing.

As I write this, I hope you will understand that I am only giving a brief and basic synopsis of the positions on both sides of the ‘debate’ that scholars would be making here, but then I’m writing a humble blog post and not a piece for an academic journal. I hope to lay it out simply here in a way that anyone can follow, and would suggest a more academically minded person seek out further information if interested.

The argument for Pauline authorship usually relies on a couple of relatively simple facts: First, not only did the eschatology not change, but Paul isn’t writing this to be an eschatological statement, for his purpose in writing the second letter is to address a specific problem, namely that the Thessalonians have been misinformed in an attempt to deceive them, and he wished to prove Jesus had not yet returned. Secondly, in both his first mention of the Lord’s return in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, and in 2 Thessalonians 2, the Lord is portrayed as able to return at any time, for as we saw when we carefully looked at the text, there is nothing to indicate a series of future events or signs that precede His return, but instead the second letter portrays a present reality, not a future series of signs.

As to the second point, the tone of the letter is different from that of the first, but so is the occasion of the second letter. Paul’s first letter was written to them to express his deep personal concern for them and to encourage them, the second letter was written to address a specific problem that had come up. .. and to encourage them. Obviously, these 2 letters would have a different tone.

The third point seems dubious at best that the two letters are written to different audiences. Again, in our discussion of 2 Thessalonians 2, we saw what role his reference to the Temple of God was, and that it wasn’t a literal prediction, but rather that it carried a much larger and more important purpose. If it did refer to the literal Jerusalem Temple, and it was written several years after Paul’s death, then it would have already been destroyed, making the likelihood of another author passing it off as terribly unlikely.

As to the sentence structure in 2 Thessalonians being different than other of Paul’s writings, I must point out that Paul’s writing style wasn’t all that consistent, and that there are other cases where Paul wrote in a way that is unique in his writings. We need search no further than Romans for such an instance, a book that is universally accepted as being written by Paul. He uses a rhetorical question frequently in Romans: “What shall we say then?” (3:5; 4:1; 6:1; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14, 30) where else does he do this in his writings? As for me, I think this concern for style is seriously over-stated.

At the end of the day, good scholarship requires asking many questions and investigating many working theories, and to be clear, this is as it should be. I would certainly invite anyone who wants more information or study on this subject to dig deeper; by all means arrive at your own conclusion. As for me, I always ask myself if the search is worth it; no really, that’s what I ask myself. You see, we can research and dig and compose brilliant theological pieces about our investigation, and we can try to prove many things, but if we aren’t making disciples in the process, we aren’t doing the thing the Lord asked us to do; it’s as if we’ve gone down a trail that’s off the main road where Jesus is walking, and when all the dust settles, I’d rather be at His side on the main trail, than lost in the woods somewhere along the way.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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1 Response to Bonus Post: Authorship of 2 Thessalonians

  1. Thanks for the great summary. Very helpful analysis. We could also take the benediction at the end to be authentic.


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