Wieland Willker wrote:
<<I don't think that it is relevant how they died. The point here is that
somehow the Thessalonians had a false notion about the dead in relation
to the second coming. And Paul is correcting it.
Possibly just natural passing away.
Or am I missing something?>>
Wieland, I agree with you that the way that the Thessalonians died does not influence our interpretation of Paul's main point in 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11. However, there are implications for other passages, because the issue of how they died is part of the larger issue of whether there was severe economic conflict between the Thessalonian church and others in Thessalonica. Here I will list some evidence that there was such economic conflict/persecution.
1. As I mentioned before 1 Thess 2:14 says that the believers in Thessalonica suffered the same persecutions as the churches in Judea. If this persecution was economic, it would explain the poverty of the Judean churches (Gal 2:10 etc.), as well as that in Macedonia (2 Cor 8:2).
2. In 2 Cor 8:2 Paul says that the generosity of the Macedonian churches arose out of their poverty during persecution. This is explicable if the Macedonian believers and the Judea believers shared the same experience of being made poor by persecutions. It is normal for people to offer to help others to cope with the same adversity that they themselves suffer. There is a camaraderie in shared suffering.
3. Acts 17:5-9 tells us that Jason was a wealthy supporter of Paul and was attacked because of it. Now, Jason also appears in Rom 16:21, even though there is no "Jason" in Acts 20:4 in the list of those who accompanied Paul to Judea. The presence of Jason in Rom 16:21 is explicable if he had been forced into exile from Thessalonica or if he had taken the alias, "Aristarchus" (who IS mentioned in Acts 20:4, and whose name means 'best leader'). In either case, the presence of Jason in Rom 16:21 is explicable if the Jason of Thessalonica continued to suffer persecution. Note that all the Corinthian Jewish benefactors (Prisca, Aquila, and Sosthenes) were forced into exile (they went to Ephesus), and "Sosthenes" was an alias for Crispus. The identity of the Jason of Rom 16:21 is important because it confirms that Acts did not invent Jason and it also confirms that he was a Jew, which makes it hard to argue that Paul converted no Jews in Thessalonica.
4. Acts 17:4 records that a few of the leading women in Thessalonica became believers. At first sight this seems to fit poorly with 2 Cor 8:2, which says that the Macedonian believers were poor, and with Phil 4:15, which implies that the Thessalonians had not sent a gift to Paul. However, the apparent conflict is removed if the Thessalonian church suffered economic persecution.
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