Three Taverns Church

The Apostle Paul’s Changing Self-Identity: 1 Thessalonians

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A chronology of Paul’s epistles can be found below. The dates are not exact and scholars cannot be absolutely sure of the dates. However they are good, educated guesses. In this series I’ll move through Paul’s letters in the order below:

  • Galatians – Multiple theories: A.D. 48-49; A.D. 51-53; A.D. 53-57
  • 1 Thessalonians – A.D. 51
  • 2 Thessalonians – A.D. 52
  • 1 Corinthians – Late Spring A.D. 55
  • 2 Corinthians – Fall A.D. 55
  • Romans – Spring of A.D. 57
  • Ephesians – A.D. 60
  • Colossians – A.D. 60
  • Philemon – A.D. 60
  • Philippians – A.D. 61
  • 1 Timothy – A.D. 62-66
  • Titus – A.D. 63-65
  • 2 Timothy – A.D. 66-67

As Paul matured in his faith, his self-identity changed as well. He began to see himself less as a righteous man of faith and more as a sinner like the rest of us. Paul’s growing self-acceptance and self-compassion over the course of his life and can be transposed onto his earliest writings. The result: His early high-handed letters lose their castigating tone to audiences today.

In this post I’ll outline 1 Thessalonians. Though the letter was likely written only 1-2 years after the letter to the Galatians, you’ll immediately note a tonal difference in the letters. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul appears much less angry and frustrated at the letter’s recipients. In comparison to the church in Galatia, Paul seems to believe the church in Thessalonica was ‘behaving’ much better. Paul may have been playing favorites with the churches when, for example, he compares the believers in Thessalonica to those in Macedonia and Achaia. Paul continues his fixation on Christianity as a tool for behavior modification, and he uses this criteria to determine whether or not a church is ‘good’. In terns of self-identity, while Paul may have written Galatians after a bout with personal sin (and thus projected his own anger onto the church in Galatia), Paul seems to be in a healthy emotional and spiritual place when he writes this letter. His late warnings against fornication should not necessarily be interpreted as a response to a problem in Thessalonica; he may have been struggling with his own sexuality.

– Introductory greeting
– We thank God for you all the time
– God has obviously chosen you
– Remember how holy we were when we were with you?
– Good on you for imitating us
– You’re showing those good-for-nothing churches in Macedonia and Achaia how it’s done
– Everyone’s talking about what good Christians you are — nice job
– Unlike some *others* I could mention, we didn’t preach to you out of deceit or trickery
– We don’t seek the approval of mortals, only God
– While we were with you we cared for you like you were our own children
– We worked a lot of part time jobs so you wouldn’t have to pay us for preaching
– You and God are witnesses to how well behaved we were during our stay with you
– You suffered at the hands of your neighbors. We know how tough that was, but don’t worry; those SOB’s are about to get their just desserts
– We did warn you that these persecutions would happen
– We’re really happy that you’re sticking to your faith, and we hope to be back soon to fill in any gaps
– We can’t urge you enough to keep being good Christians; in fact, you should try to be AWESOME Christians
– Remember: No Fornicating! Control yourselves!
– Keep living quietly, minding your own business, and working hard, so ‘outsiders’ think you’re well-behaved
– Stay sober, be faithful and loving, and continue to hope for salvation
– Respect your pastors!
– Do good to one another
– Rejoice, pray all the time, and give thanks no matter what happens
– Do ‘good’; don’t do ‘bad’
– Read this letter to everyone, or else!

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