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THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.
thought or care, or of a contexture of forgeries confirming and falling in with one another by a species of fortuity of which I know no example. The supposition of design, I think, is excluded, not only because the purpose to which the design must have been directed, viz. the verification of the passage in our Epistle, in which it is said concerning Onesimus," he is one of you,” is a purpose which would be lost upon ninety-nine readers out of a hundred; but because the means made use of are too circuitous to have been the subject of affectation and contrivance. Would a forger, who had this purpose in view, have left his readers to hunt it out, by going forward and backward from one Epistle to another, in order to connect Onesimus with Philemon, Philemon with Archippus, and Archippus with Colosse?-all which he must do before he arrives at his discovery, that it was truly said of Onesimus, “he is one of you."
THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.
It is known to every reader of Seripture, that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians speaks of the coming of Christ in terms which indicate an expectation of his speedy appearance: “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds_ But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” -Chap. iv, 15, 16, 17; ch. v, 4.
Whatever other construction these texts may bear, the idea they leave upon the mind of an ordinary reader, is that of the author of the Epistle looking for the day of judgment to take place in his own time, or near to it. Now the use which I make of this circumstance, is to deduce from it a proof that the Epistle itself was not the production of a subsequent age. Would an impostor have given this expectation to St Paul
, after experience had proved it to be erroneous? or would he have put into the Apostle's mouth, or, which is the same thing, into writings purporting to come from his hand, expressions, if not necessarily conveying, at least easily interpreted to convey, an opinion which was then known to be founded in mistake? I state this as an argument to show that the Epistle was cotemporary with St Paul, which is little less than to show that it actually proceeded from his pen. For I question whether
any ancient forgeries were executed in the lifetime of the person whose name they bear; nor was the primitive situation of the church likely to give birth to such an attempt.
OUR Epistle concludes with a direction that it should be publicly read in the church to which it was addressed: “I charge you by the Lord, that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.” The existence of this clause in the body of the Epistle is an evidence of its authenticity; because to produce a letter purporting to have been publicly read in the church of Thessalonica, when no such letter in truth had been read or heard of in that church, would be to produce an imposture destructive of itself. At least, it seems unlikely that the author of an imposture would voluntarily, and even officiously, afford a handle to so plain an objection. Either the Epistle was publicly read in the church of Thessalonica during St Paul's lifetime, or it was not. If it was, no publication could be more authentic, no species of notoriety more unquestionable, no method of preserving the integrity of the copy more secure. If it was not, the clause we produce would remain a standing condemnation of the forgery, and, one would suppose, an invincible impediment to its success.
If we connect this article with the preceding, we shall perceive that they combine into one strong proof of the genuineness of the Epistle. The preceding article carries up the date of the Epistle to the time of St Paul; the present article fixes the publication of it to the church of Thessalonica. Either, therefore, the church of Thessalonica was imposed upon by a false Epistle, which in St Paul's lifetime they received and read publicly as his, carrying on a communication with him all the while, and the Epistle referring to the continuance of that communication; or other Christian churches, in the same lifetime of the Apostle, received an Epistle purporting to have been publicly read in the church of Thessalonica, which nevertheless had not been heard of in that church; or, lastly, the conclusion remains, that the Epistle now in our hands is genuine.
Between our Epistle and the history the accordancy, in many points, is circumstantial and complete. The history relates that, after Paul and Silas had been beaten with many stripes at Philippi, shut up in the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks, as soon as they were discharged from their confinement they departed from thence, and, when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, came to Thessalonica, where Paul opened and alleged that Jesus was the Christ, Acts, xvi, 23, &c. The Epistle written in the name of Paul and Sylvanus (Silas), and of Timotheus, who also appears to have been along with them at Philippi (vide Phil. No. iv), speaks to the church of Thessalonica thus: “Even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the Gospel of God with much contention,” ii, 2.
The history relates, that after they had been sometime at Thessalonica, “the Jews who believed not-set all the city in an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, where Paul and Silas were, and sought to bring them out to the people, Acts xvii, 5. The Epistle declares," when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to
and ye know,” ü, 4. The history brings Paul and Silas and Timothy together at Corinth, soon after the preaching of the Gospel at Thessalonica:-“And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia (to Corinth), Paul was pressed in spirit,” Acts, xviii, 5. The Epistle is written in the name of these three persons, who consequently must have been together at the time, and speaks throughout of their ministry at Thessalonica as a recent transaction: “We, brethren, being taken from you for a short time, in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face, with great desire,” ii, 17.
The harmony is indubitable; but the points of history in which it consists, are so expressly set forth in the narrative, and so directly referred to in the Epistle, that it becomes necessary for us to show that the facts in one writing were not
copied from the other. Now, amidst some minuter discrepancies, which will be noticed below, there is one circumstance which mixes itself with all the allusions in the Epistle, bat does not appear in the history any where; and that is, of a visit which St Paul had intended to pay to the Thessalonians during the time of his residing at Corinth: “Wherefore we would have come unto you (even I Paul) once and again; but Satan hindered us," ii, 18. Night and day praying esceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith. Now God himself, and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you," iii, 10, 11. Concerning a design which was not executed, although the person himself, who was conscious of his own purpose, should make mention in his letters, nothing is more probable than that his historian should be silent, if not ignorant. The author of the Epistle could not, however, have learnt this circumstance from the history, for it is not there to be met with; nor, if the historian had drawn his materials from the Epistle, is it likely that he would have passed over a circumstance, which is amongst the most obvious and prominent of the facts to be collected from that source of information.
CHAP. iii, 1, 7, “Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith;—but now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith.”
The history relates, that when Paul came out of Macedonia to Athens, Silas and Timothy staid behind at Berea: “ The brethren sent away Paul, to go, as it were, to the sea; but Silas and Timotheus abode there still; and they that conducted Paul brought him to Athens.”—Acts, chap. xvii, 14, 15. The history farther relates, that after Paul had tarried some time at Athens, and had proceeded from thence to Corinth, whilst he was exercising his ministry in that city, Silas and Timothy came to him from Macedonia.--Acts, chap. xvii, 5. But to reconcile the history with the clause in the Epistle, which makes St Paul say, “ I thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and to send Timothy unto you,” it is necessary to suppose that Timothy had come up with St Paul at Athens;
a circumstance which the history does not mention. I remark, therefore, that although the history do not expressly notice this arrival, yet it contains intimations which render it extremely probable that the fact took place. First, as soon as Paul had reached Athens, he sent a message back to Silas and Timothy “ for to come to him with all speed.”—Acts, chap. xvii, 15. Secondly, his stay at Athens was on purpose that they might join him there: “ Now whilst Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him.”-Acts, chap. xvii, 16. Thirdly, his departure from Athens does not appear to have been in any sort hastened or abrupt. It is said 6 after these things,” viz. his disputation with the Jews, his conferences with the philosophers, his discourse at Areopagus, and the gaining of some converts, “ he departed from Athens and came to Corinth.”—Chap. xviii, 1. It is not hinted that he quitted Athens before the time that he had intended to leave it; it is not suggested that he was driven from thence, as he was from many cities, by tumults or persecutions, or because his life was no longer safe. Observe then the particulars which the history does notice-that Paul had ordered Timothy to follow him without delay, that he waited at Athens on purpose that Timothy might come up with him, that he staid there as long as his own choice led him to continue. Laying these circumstances, which the history does disclose, together, it is highly probable that Timothy came to the Apostle at Athens-a fact which the Epistle, we have seen, virtually asserts when it makes Paul send Timothy back from Athens to Thessalonica. The sending back of Timothy into Macedonia accounts also for his not coming to Corinth till after Paul had been fixed in that city for some considerable time. Paul had found out Aquila and Priscilla, abode with them and wrought, being of the same craft; and reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath day, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.-Acts, chap. xviii, 1, 5. All this passed at Corinth, before Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia.-Acts, chap. xviii, 5. If this was the first time of their coming up with him after their separation at Berea, there is nothing to account for a delay so contrary to what appears from the history itself to have been St Paul's plan and expectation. This is a conformity of a peculiar species. The Epistle discloses a fact which is not preserved in the history; but which makes what is said in the history more significant, probable, and consistent. The history bears marks of an omission; the Epistle, by reference, furnishes a circumstance which supplies that omission.