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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Introduction

As far as we know, the Christian community at Thessalonica was among the earlier ones that Paul established and, although Paul's tone is affectionate in these letters, the apostle experienced a great deal of persecution from both Jews and Gentiles as a result of his preaching there. In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul addresses real problems that arose in the community, such as mutual charity, the need to be responsible about work, and the issue of the death of Christians. The specific nature of these problems does not in any way detract from the enduring value of these letters as models for the Christian pastor and community. Before turning to the letters themselves, let us briefly describe some of the main elements of Paul's apocalyptic perspective that is so important in the Thessalonian correspondence as well as in Paul's other writings. (For more about apocalyptic literature, see the Reading Guides to Daniel and Revelation.)

Paul's Apocalyptic Perspective

Apocalyptic literature was born of the syncretistic blending of Wisdom and Prophetic traditions from the Bible with some elements of cosmic philosophy and mysticism from the Greco‐Roman world. It spoke powerfully to those who were oppressed and suffering, encouraging them in the midst of their suffering. The apocalyptic writer was concerned with why the world was not as it ought to be. Jewish and Christian apocalypticism looked to God to bring about a radical transformation of the present world into something more like what God intended. We can only outline here some of the ways that the apocalyptic perspective influenced Paul.

First, God's reign is universal. The Jewish apocalyptic writers interpreted all of history, the good and the bad, as evolving according to a divine plan for the ultimate salvation of Israel, though some also foresaw a definite place for the Gentiles as well. Paul's call taught him to affirm and expand that insight. Throughout his writings Paul emphasizes that salvation is accessible to all now that Christ has come. God shows no partiality (see Rom 1, 16; 3, 22.29; 10, 12; Eph 2, 14; Acts 10, 34; 15, 9–11 ). Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…neither slave nor free person…not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3, 28 ). The Gentiles have turned “from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thes 1, 9 ).

Second, Paul's thinking, like that of other apocalyptic writers, was characterized by a dualism that envisioned the ultimate salvation of the faithful and punishment of the wicked. Paul speaks of those who are “saved” and those who are “perishing” (see 1 Cor 1, 18; 2 Thes 2, 10 ). He pictures the judgment seat of Christ before whom we all must appear, “so that each one may receive recompense” (2 Cor 5, 10 ). The faithful are delivered from the wrath of God (1 Thes 1, 10 ), but it will not be withheld forever from the “enemies of the cross” (Phil 3, 18; see 1 Thes 2, 16 ). The basis for judgment is acceptance or rejection of the gospel. This dualism also gives rise to tensions and even hostility between the present and the age to come. The Lordship of Christ is a cosmic domain; Christ is in the process of returning all things to God (1 Cor 15, 28 ). The role of believers is to continue in faith and faithful life.

Third, there is language of expectation that the time of transformation is imminent, another characteristic of apocalyptic literature, which Paul borrows. For instance, this influences his views on the insignificance of one's marital or social status (for example, 1 Cor 7 ), his warnings to prayerful vigilance (1 Thes 5, 1–11 ), and his encouragement to endure suffering or oppression while striving to build up the community (Phil 2, 12–18 ). The just vigilantly await the savior (see Phil 3, 20 ), believing that he is coming to transform their mortal bodies into incorruptibility (Phil 3, 21 ). But we must be careful not to take this kind of language literally. It functioned as a reminder of the radical contingency of time and all things, and the possibility of God's powerful intervention at any time.

Paul adapts these elements, avoiding the extremes of some apocalyptic thinkers. He introduces significant modifications based on his own experience as apostle of the Gentiles, and his conviction that the end‐times have already begun in Christ.

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