Since I have nothing to post this morning, I’m going to post a response I gave about the above mentioned topic:
I agree with you that often times, pulling “end times” theology (I use this vs. eschatology), from Paul, as with the entire New Testament, is subjective. Of course, often times, many of our theologies aren’t well formed from the New Testament, but based upon subjective reasoning. I believe, or rather hope?, that we can move towards objectiveness in theology and biblical criticism.
I was thinking about that question, before you asked, all evening, sleeping, and this morning. (No rest for the weary or wicked, I guess 😉 ) 1st Thess may have been remembered to supplement 2nd Thess. After all, we have forms of rhetoric which allow a later person to issue a speech or other work which records the tone and tenor of the historical person’s word. Of course, when Paul mentions the “sons of light” I think back to the Sons of Light at Qumran, so I would like to place 1 Thess into that time frame, or sometime afterwards. And by that, I mean sometime between the mid-last century BCE and the first decades of the first century CE. So, perhaps Paul, still more Saul than Paul, using his background – I still think he was a sicarii, and following what I believe is Robert Eisenman’s position, the Sicarii derived from these Sons of Light – wrote 1 Thess at some point, perhaps near the end of his life as he faced Nero.
To that end, however, I look at the Man of Lawlessness in 2nd Thess. and while I previous said that he may be a Roman Emperor, I think differently, although will mention that particular Roman Emperor in a bit. It could have been one of the three Messiah claimants which appeared during 69-70, who virtually did exactly what Paul said would/had happen(ed). If so, then to have Paul write that a half-generation before the actual event would be fantastical, but improbable. If we could better assure ourselves of the historical referent, we could find a better date for 2 Thess. Perhaps this letter was written as a sort of commentary on the first one. I note that the undeveloped theology often attributed to an early Paul could very well be attributed to a Pauline community who were afflicted, suffering, and waiting for righteous wrath to be poured out against the persecutors, who needed a validation for their community against an apostasy. They needed Paul.
As 1 Thess stood against those who cried for ‘peace and safety’, 2 Thess is directed against a singular individual. First, we find that the community was suffering direct persecution, along with propaganda. The opponents were declaring that the Day of the Lord had already come, but this community said no. After all, Christ had not returned to vanquish the enemy. Vespasian, the Roman General-turned-Emperor, was heralded as a Messiah, and went about persecuting Zealots and the Sicarii, among other Jewish terrorist groups. Further, there were three Jewish Messiahs in Jerusalem proclaiming freedom, and the start of the New Age. This letter may be one written to directly oppose that proclamation. What would prompt it? First, in 2.3, the author speaks of the apostasy which will come. (Look at Mark’s impetus for suffering and writing to combat loss of membership) By historical records, it had already come. The believers in Jesus were suffering, and loosing members. After all, you had a host of Messiahs to believe in, and they were all temporarily in control at one time or another. This is that strong delusion and this is why people were perishing, because of the false messiahs who were proclaiming a military victory. It was driving people away from the Crucified Messiah who had yet to return (and thus, the Apologies of the Cross in the Gospels). Josephus writes that the Romans weren’t worried about destroying anything until they were forced to by the Jewish terrorists, and these groups were led by Messiahs. But someone in particular was giving this community trouble, and the author attacked him, without revealing the identity, with the promise that Christ was going to return and reveal all.
While 1 Thess may have been written by Paul, I am unsure of 2 Thess. I think that if we were to take a look at the psychology of apocalyptic fervor, using examples from across the history as we know it, we see that it was not uncommon for a group of religious believers, to assume that the end was near due to such external factors as suffering, persecution, and apostasy which would drive them to see in the ‘signs’ around them hope that their various saviors would return and save them. In this regard, if 1 Thess had been written by Paul, and was used by the community to look forward to the coming of Christ, and suddenly, they looked around and discovered the Jewish Revolt of the 60’s, with Messiahs everywhere, the Roman Empire on a murderous swath of destruction, then they may have written 2nd Thess to avert any more weak-kneed responses, such as apostasy. After all, 1 Thess is not high on the fervor previously mentioned, but contends that one must continue to work – and not be lazy – because Christ will return. The community of 2nd Thess then, seeing that people thought that they may have missed this, used this as a reason to deny Christ. To prove Pauline authorship, the author needed to make it Pauline. Easy enough. He borrowed from Galatians 6.11 for 2 Thess 3.1 and thus 2 Thess become ‘canon’, prophetic, and served to validate the persecuted.
Please note that this is not my intended area of study – I’ll focus on the Gospels, because as any good NT scholar does, they focus on the Gospels 😉 – but this is my stance under my current knowledge base, which ironically, has indeed been influenced by my study of the historical referents in the Gospel of Mark.