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Paul’s early letters-dominated by his eschatology



c h a p t e r 1 4

Unity, Freedom, and Christ’s Return Paul’s Letters to Thessalonica and Corinth

The time we live in will not last long. . . . For the whole frame of this world is passing away. 1 Corinthians 7:29, 31

Paul’s early letters are dominated by his eschatology. Convinced that the Messiah’s death and resurrection have inaugurated End time, Paul strives to achieve several related goals. Traveling from city to city, he establishes small cells of be- lievers whom he calls to a “new life in Christ.” He argues that Jesus’ crucifi xion has brought free- dom from both Torah observance and the power of sin, and he emphasizes the necessity of leading an ethically pure life while awaiting Christ’s return. In his letters to the young Greek churches at Thessalonica and Corinth, Paul un- derscores the nearness of the Parousia —the

Second Coming—an event that he believes to be imminent. Much of Paul’s advice to these congregations is based on his desire that they achieve unity and purity before Christ reappears. While he is attempting to keep believers faithful to the high ideals of Christian practice, Paul also fi nds himself battling opponents who question the correctness of his teaching and/or his apostolic authority. According to Luke, an apostle was one whom Jesus had personally called to follow him and who had witnessed the Resurrection (Acts 1:21–22). Not only had Paul not known the earthly Jesus; he had cruelly

Key Topics/Themes The dominant theme of Paul’s letters to Thessalonica and Corinth is that the eschaton is near: Paul expects to witness Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead in his lifetime (1 Thess . 4:13–18). However, believers must not waste time speculating about the projected date of the Parousia (1 Thess . 5:1–3). Paul’s letters to Corinth are aimed at healing serious divisions in the newly founded church there. Paul urges members to give up their destructive competitiveness and work toward unity of belief and purpose. Their cooperation is essential because the remaining

time is so short. His most important topics include (1) differences between human and divinely revealed wisdom (1:10–3:23), (2) Christian ethics and responsibilities (5:1–11:1), (3) behavior at the communion meal (11:17–34), valuing gifts of the Spirit ( chs . 12–14), and (4) the resurrection of the dead ( ch . 15). A composite work composed of several letters or letter fragments, 2 Corinthians shows Paul defending his apostolic authority (2  Cor . 10–13); chapters 1–9, apparently written after chapters 10–13, describe his reconciliation with the church at Corinth.

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Paul makes the imminence of Jesus’ return his central message (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13–18; 5:1–11). The Thessalonians, he says, have become a shining example to other Greek churches because they have

turned from idols to be servants of the true and living God, . . . to wait expectantly for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the retribution to come.