2 Thessalonians

Exegetical Study Notes on the Greek Text



On Paul's second missionary journey he crossed into Macedonia and after the Philippian mission he made for Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. Acts 17 records the events of the mission. After three weeks he was rejected by the local Jews and so he turned the focus of his mission onto the local Gentiles. We are not sure how long this went for, but in the end he left Thessalonica after a riot.
      Paul went on to Athens and then Corinth. Silas and Timothy then came to Paul and reported to him about the state of the newly founded churches. This prompted Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. He sought to correct a few matters and defend himself from slander. It was most likely only a few weeks later when he wrote his second letter, probably during the year AD 52. In the first letter he had told his readers that Christ would come soon. Given that Christ's coming was a coming in judgment and that the Thessalonians were presently undergoing persecution, some of the church members had come to believe that "the day of the Lord" had already arrived. Hearing of this confusion, Paul penned his second to the Thessalonians, a letter which deals mainly with the issue of Christ's second coming. At the practical level, this letter raises the issue of idleness. It would seem that second-coming speculation had led some to give up their work in anticipation of the end.

The structure of 2 Thessalonians

1. Greeting and thanksgiving, 1:1-12

Prescript and thanksgiving, 1:1-12.

Argument proper

The Day of the Lord is not yet come

2. Warning and instruction, 2:1-17

i] The Second Coming - the Man of Lawlessness, 2:1-12

ii] Thanksgiving and encouragement, 2:13-17


3. Appeals, commands and prayers, 3:1-15

i] God's faithfulness, 3:1-5

ii] The discipline of work, 3:6-15


4. Postscript, 3:16-18


As noted in 1 Thessalonians there is an increasing trend to approach Paul's letters, not so much as letters, but as correspondence crafted in line with first century rhetoric. This literary form serves to argue a case and persuade the reader to adopt it. Wanamaker proposes the following structure for 2 Thessalonians:

i] Exordium - introduction. Serving to introduce the subject matter while eliciting the sympathy of the audience, 1:3-12.

ii] Partitio - a summary of the proofs / theses, 2:1-2.

iii] Probatio - rhetorical proofs / theses: 1st. Proof, 2:3-12; 2nd. Proof, 2:13-15.

vii] Peroratio - a recapitulation of the main themes, 2:16-17.

viii] Exhortatio - exhortation, 3:1-15.

See Hughes, Early Christian Rhetoric, and/or Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism, 1984.

Date and Authorship

When Paul left Thessalonica he travelled to Athens and was soon joined by Timothy. He then travelled to Corinth and was again joined by Timothy soon after arriving, Act.18:5. Paul stayed in Corinth some eighteen months and it was during this stay that he wrote his first and second letters to the Thessalonian believers. Clearly Paul's letters to the Thessalonians are the earliest epistles we possess.

It is unclear when his second letter was written, but there is every indication that it followed closely after his first letter, possibly only a matter of weeks. Some of the problems he sought to address in the first letter remained and so he took a second shot at them after hearing that all was not well in Thessalonica.

Although this letter was accepted as Pauline by the middle of the second century, many modern scholars today view it as deutero-Pauline. It is argued that the letter has used first Thessalonians as a working model and exhibits a different style, tone, syntax and theology, particularly with reference to eschatology. For a defense of Pauline authorship see Marshall and Malherbe. Many of the arguments against Pauline authorship are actually counted when second Thessalonians is taken as earlier than first Thessalonians, ie. that there has been a reversal in canonical order. See Wanamaker for this argument. These notes will constantly refer to Paul as the author, but do so with a recognition that authorship is in dispute.

Purpose of the letter

In his first letter Paul defends his personal integrity, but obviously there is no longer any need to do so by the time he writes his second letter since his standing in the church is no longer in question. There were though, two particular problems that still remained in the church. Some of the Thessalonians believed that, given the persecution that they were presently experiencing, the "day of the Lord" was upon them, and as a practical response to this belief some members had given up their jobs and were now "idlers".

Paul sets out to explain that the Lord Jesus' second manifestation still lies in the future, and this is clearly evident because the "Man of Lawlessness" is not yet revealed. This "Man" must come before the "Lord" comes.

These wild speculations concerning the second coming led some church members to give up their work and become "meddlesome idlers". Paul urges his readers to get back to work for the good of the Christian community.

Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians serves to deal with these two topics.

English Bible Commentaries on 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Level of complexity:

1, non-technical, to 5, requiring a workable knowledge of Greek.

Deceased: D. For publications no longer in print

Other identifiers: Recommended R; Greek Technical G; Theology T


Bailey, Abingdon.

Best, Black's.

Bruce, Word.

Ellicott, 1861, reprint Zondervan.

Fee, NICNT, 2009.

Findlay, CGTSC, 1911, Baker reprint, 1982.

Frame, ICC, 1912.

Furnish, Abingdon.

Graystone, CBC.

Green, Pillar.

Hiebert, Moody Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, Banner of Truth.

Lightfoot, Macmillan, 1895.

Malherbe, Anchor, 2000.

Marshall, NCB.

Martin, NAC.

Moore, NCB (replaced).

Morris, Tyndale, 2nd. ed. 1992 / NICNT, revised / replaced.

Neil, CBC & Torch.

Rolston, Layman's.

Stott, IVP.

Wanamaker, NIGTC.

Weiss, ChiRho.

Whiteley, New Clarendon, 1969.


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