Next week, our Sunday School class will begin to read 1 Thessalonians as we explore the New Testament canon chronologically. Granted, Childs and others of the canonical stripe may disagree with this method, but I find that for those who are developing their own theology, especially historical theology, beginning with the earliest writings and progressing forward helps them to understand the idea of theological progression. I am personally aided by reading the canon this way because it helps me to understand – and thus appreciate – theological progression and the very real fact that New Testament theology was not birthed whole. It needed progression even within the authors, as inspired as they were from the first to the last.
I mean, look at Paul – whom we will begin with as we explore his first letter, 1 Thessalonians. I would place it right after the book of James (although Borg disagrees with me). Like James, Paul is speaking about a community, focused on daily living rather than a theological defense of Jesus’s death. This is important because some of you still think speculative theology is far more important than practical theology. Both Paul and James are speaking about a community awaiting the return of Christ. It wasn’t a lot of rules or Church hierarchy. As a matter of fact, there was no Church as of yet. Only a bunch of Jews who believed Jesus was Lord, or something – at least Jesus was something more than they knew – he was something different about God.
I’m thinking of splitting this book up between two Sundays. First, we need to discuss current eschatological thoughts. What if Jesus has already returned? I believe he has, as a matter of fact, but others may not. Do we continue to live James and 1 Thessalonians out if Jesus has already returned? Another real discussion to have here is what is the new family Paul is clearing speaking of?
The book mentioned in this post is new, but it takes the New Testament canon and lays it chronologically. So far, except for James, I agree with him, at least in order – if not in pinpointing the dates. Borg lists 2 Peter as last – and that I agree with. I am thinking of writing a paper on 2 Peter as a defense of… er… never mind.
So, how do you read 1 Thessalonians?