The Epistle to the Thessalonians is the oldest writing in the corpus (that is, textual body) of the New Testament. Written around 50CE, it predates the gospel literature and the Acts of the Apostles. Even though the organization of the canon and the narrative would have you imagine those latter writings first, our critical understanding of early Christianity should be clear that the text of this epistle is an artifact to a social world that predates these writings.
For this reason, some New Testament scholars would introduce you to this writing prior to the study of the gospels. Imagine what that would have been like.
Read 1 Thessalonians. And as you read, I want you to do two things:
- In a few sentences (say, 75 words), write down your impression of Paul’s relationship to this collective. How does he talk to them? What does he assume about them? What does he want from them?
- I want you to write a biography of Jesus appealing only from the text in 1 Thessalonians. You can’t cite any other New Testament texts (as they had yet to be written). Your biography must be limited to details in 1 Thessalonians.
A biblical scholar named Marcus Borg wrote a famous book called Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. The idea is to use a scholarly understanding to reintroduce Jesus to a readership that believes they already know everything there is to know about him.
In a way, the activity here is having you do the same thing. But consider that the Thessalonians’ understanding of–if not, introduction to–Jesus came by way of Paul. So who does Paul say Jesus is at 50CE.