We ask you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a "spirit," 2 or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no one deceive you in any way. For unless the apostasy comes first and the lawless one is revealed, 3 the one doomed to perdition. (2 Thes 2:1-3, NABRE)

Here, the epistle appears to contradict Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which states that return of Jesus was imminent and that he would come without warning.

It speaks of a sign, the apostasy, and of the lawless one who must come before the return of Jesus. How should these be interpreted?

  • 1
    NOTICE: Comments Removed. Comments exist so that users can talk about questions and answers without posting new answers that do not actually answer their parent questions. Comments are often used to ask for clarification on, suggest corrections to, and provide meta-information about posts. They should not be used to express disagreement with claims in a post and to debate it. For discussion, use the chat room. – Dan Jan 9 '15 at 17:31
  • Where did Paul state the return of Christ was imminent in 1 Thessalonians? – Jesus Saves Feb 12 '15 at 5:57
  • @JesusSaves One good reference is verse 4:17: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Paul ("we") expected to be among those alive when Jesus came. – Dick Harfield Feb 12 '15 at 6:59
  • Revelations itself ends with the famous words Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, which are clearly supportive of an imminent return. Nevertheless, this verse is preceded by some twenty-odd chapters worth of prophecies, detailing what exactly is supposed to happen before the aforementioned imminent return actually occurs. The same goes for Matthew 24, echoing the very same belief, but also resonating with the same parts of Second Thessalonians you deem problematic. Whereas 1 Thessalonians strengthens the faithful in hope, 2 Thessalonians calls for wisdom and discernment. – Lucian Aug 1 '17 at 14:39

I'm not sure there is a contradiction between the two letters, in 1 Thess 5:1 Paul says "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you." (NKJV) in 5:4 he says, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief." and 5:6 says, "Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober." It seems to me that whilst Paul is emphasising the imminence of Jesus' return implicit in his words are things that can be watched for, in 2 Thess 2:3 he seems to be detailing some of those things he previously told them to watch for because they had received news that the Jesus had already returned (2 Thess 2:2).

| improve this answer | |

The online New American Bible introduction to Second Thessalonians acknowledges: "Increasingly in recent times, however, the opinion has been advanced that 2 Thessalonians is a pseudepigraph, that is, a letter written authoritatively in Paul's name, to maintain apostolic traditions in a later period, perhaps during the last two decades of the first century. [my emphasis]" Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, The Quick Reference Guide to the Catholic Bible (online), agrees, saying the author's style imitates Paul's and even copies phrases of 1 Thessalonians. This is, in fact, the majority view among biblical scholars. Burton L. Mack says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 112, that 2 Thessalonians lacks the personal warmth, reminiscences and references characteristic of the authentic letters of Paul. Almost one-third of it is a verbatim copy from the first letter, the signature is suspicious, and the eschatology reflects a development of Christian apocalyptic thinking of the kind that took place only after the Roman-Jewish War around the turn of the first century.

Second Thessalonians can be read as a response to Paul' First Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul thought the coming of Jesus was imminent and had told the Thessalonians that this would happen in his own lifetime, as is especially clear in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air.” In 1 Thessalonians, the end will come like a "thief in the night," with Jesus appearing when people least expect it.

Decades later, and after the death of Paul, Jesus had not yet returned. The author of 2 Thessalonians argues that the end is not coming right away, and because certain things have to happen first, they will know when Jesus is coming.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 says that regarding the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, a false letters written in Paul’s name had said that the day of the Lord is at hand - an apparent reference to First Thessalonians, asking that the Thessalonians not be deceived. First there must be some signs, including the appearance of the antiChrist, "the one doomed to perdition."

If 2 Thessalonians 2:2 is really a reference to 1 Thessalonians, as it appears, then both epistles can not be genuine - either 1 Thessalonians is false or 2 Thessalonians is, and we know the majority of biblical scholars say that 2 Thessalonians was not really written by Paul (regardless of whether verse 2:2 is referring to 1 Thessalonians). The (2 Thess 2:3) apostasy will not happen and “lawless one”, the anti-Christ, will not appear.

| improve this answer | |
  • @Jas3.1 As for asking the Q, I had previously answered a vaguely similar Q but it was moved to Christianity site, where a hermeneutical answer is not suited, so I asked a new question so that I could use my answer here. So to this extent you were right. However, the system appears to encourage answering your own question, so it did not appear I had done anything deserving of criticism under site guidelines. – Dick Harfield Jan 9 '15 at 22:10
  • Who are those scholars with the weighty opinions whom you refer to in the last paragraph of your answer? What makes their opinion weighty and the opinion of theologians and scholars who believe that Paul DID write Thessalonians not so weighty? Isn't it simply a matter of liberal versus conservative? (In other words, it's a matter of differing presuppositions; e.g., liberals tend to discount the reliability of the text, assuming that it cannot possibly be error-free, whereas conservatives see no reason why the text can't be error-free.) religioustolerance.org/chr_ntb3.htm Don – rhetorician Feb 8 '15 at 23:35
  • @rhetorician I innocently assumed that readers would recognise that "weight of scholarly opinion" means "majority," no more and no less. For your benefit, I have amended this accordingly. The remainder of your comment seems off topic. – Dick Harfield Feb 9 '15 at 0:53
  • 1
    Wikipedia says "Theology might be undertaken to help the theologian: understand more truly their own religious tradition, ... challenge (ex. biblical criticism) or oppose (ex. irreligion) a religious tradition or the religious world-view. Sorry I had to leave some of the definition out. The last one is important: <<challenge biblical criticism>> This means many theologians (whom you might call conservative scholars) are already committed to challenging critical thought even before they review the evidence. – Dick Harfield Feb 9 '15 at 4:21
  • 1
    Wikipedia says "The research of biblical scholars is frequently called biblical criticism. It does not presuppose, but also does not deny, belief in the supernatural origins of the scriptures." This is consistent with what you call "liberal scholars." – Dick Harfield Feb 9 '15 at 4:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.