The Parousia of Christ in the Thessalonian Correspondence
The purpose of the present study is to examine the meaning and significance of the Parousia of Christ in the Thessalonian Correspondence. As a prelude to this, in chapter one we consider the four main approaches in recent study to the problem of eschatology in the New Testament. These approaches are (1) consistent eschatology, (2) realized eschatology, (3) demythologized eschatology and (4) salvation-historical eschatology. Our statement of these approaches focuses upon (a) their interpretation of the theology of Paul, (b) the particular place of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and (c) the continuing relevance of the Parousia of Christ in each of these approaches. The tentative result of this examination is that the salvation-historical interpretation provides the most adequate understanding of the New Testament data on the subject of eschatology. We may, therefore, use 1 and 2 Thessalonians as a test case for the salvation-historical understanding of the New Testament and to see whether or not the salvation-historical approach sheds new light on our understanding of these two letters. In the second part of our introductory chapter we survey the problems raised in recent study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, especially as they relate to eschatology. We examine the form, function and meaning of these eschatological passages to see how they fit into the structure of the letter as a whole and into their immediate contexts. In chapter three we examine exegetically the eschatological pericopes in 2 Thessalonians, which feature the Parousia of Christ as in 1 Thessalonians, to determine their form, function and meaning. Chapter four then presents a biblical-theological construction in which we distil from our exegetical study the aspects of the Parousia of Christ which we have discovered to be important in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. These aspects are: 1) the Christocentric aspect, 2) the soteriological aspect, 3) the salvation-historical aspect, 4) the judicial aspect, 5) the ethical aspect, 6) the antagonistic aspect and 7) the theocentric aspect. We examine each of these aspects in 1 and 2 Thessalonians (and briefly note their occurrence elsewhere in Paul). In chapter five we show the implications that our study on the eschatological material in 1 and 2 Thessalonians has for the question of the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians. We conclude that, so far as its eschatology is concerned, 2 Thessalonians is most probably genuinely Pauline. In our final chapter we deal more generally with Paul's apocalyptic presentations of the Parousia. We show how Paul was using apocalyptic imagery to make theological statements. We show how elsewhere he makes similar theological statements but without the apocalyptic descriptions. This leads us to suggest that the essential theological statements regarding the Parousia remained constant in Paul's writings though the imagery changed. Paul maintained an "apocalyptic framework" but used a variety of imagery. We then show how Paul's apocalyptic presentations of the Parousia relate to the essential theological statements he was making and to the Church's contemporary kerygma. We suggest that it would be following Paul's own pattern to reformulate the basic theological tenets in language and imagery understandable to contemporary hearers. We, however, suggest that the salvation- historical framework which insists upon the reality of the yet future Parousia of Christ must be maintained. The Parousia hope must not be rejected as erroneous, dissolved into present realities, or demythologized. In an appendix we briefly consider the phenomenon of the application of God-language to Jesus as it is in evidence throughout 1 and 2 Thessalonians. We show that this attribution of God-language to Jesus is especially prominent in eschatological material as it is used to comfort those who are suffering.