Paul, Thessalonica, and Early Christianity

Karl Paul Donfried Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids December 4, 2002

Most of the essays in this book are on the city of Thessalonica and Paul’s correspondence with that city. Donfried, a leading scholar on the Thessalonian Epistles, has published extensively on these books. The articles date from 1974 and include two new items as well. The previously published articles have only “minor corrections.” In addition the book includes an introductory essay that gives background information to the articles as well as replies to critics. To gain the most from this book, it is helpful to read what is said in this introduction.

Donfried maintains that 1 Thessalonians is Paul’s earliest letter (the earliest work in the New Testament); however, few would agree that it should be dated as early as a.d. 43, as Donfried proposes (p. 76). He suggests that Timothy, who is cited in the salutation with Paul as a cosender, was the author of 2 Thessalonians (pp. 47, 49–56). Donfried explains that the so-called “Pauline autograph” (2 Thess. 3:17) would have highlighted Paul’s authority, which would have been needed to refute misunderstanding from the previous letter. He feels this conclusion handles the evidence presented for both authenticity and pseudonymity.

Donfried sees similarities between the Qumran manuscripts and 1 Thessalonians. This is most pointedly explored in the article entitled, “Paul and Qumran: The Possible Influence of irs on 1 Thessalonians.” Donfried sees a connection between Paul and the Essenes and even suggests that some form of dialogue took place (“Shifting Paradigms: Paul, Jesus and Judaism,” especially p. 13). Despite the emphasis on the Thessalonian Epistles, there are some articles that have a wider focus (“Shifting Paradigms” [already mentioned]; “Chronology: The Apostolic and Pauline Period”; “The Kingdom of God in Paul”; “Justification and the Last Judgment in Paul”; and response to critics on the previous article, “Justification and the Last Judgment in Paul—Twenty-Five Years Later”). The article on justification and the last judgment suggests that even the justified can ultimately be lost if they do not continue in the faith. The second article is essentially a defense of the first and includes a negative critique of the New Perspective on Paul (pp. 289–92). Also the final article in the volume, “Paul as Skhnopoiov" and the Use of the Codex in Early Christianity,” suggests that 2 Timothy 4:13 is an actual Pauline fragment (although Donfried rejects Pauline authorship for the Pastorals in general) and that Paul used the book form (codex or “protocodex”). Paul’s use of the codex, Donfried suggests, was instrumental in the universal switch from rolls to book form.

In “The Cults of Thessalonica and the Thessalonian Correspondence” Donfried suggests that the cult of Cabirus was the most important cult in the city among others that also were practiced (e.g., Serapis, Dionysus, civic cult). Knowledge of these cults provides insight for interpretation. For example the sexual symbolism of the Dionysus cult is probably behind Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 4:3–6. Donfried’s belief that the religious cults of the city are important for interpretation is not without opposition (see the discussion in the introduction, pp. xviii–xxiii). It is wise to be cautious (as he is) and not place too much confidence in specific conclusions. Nevertheless this should not keep Bible students from continually pursuing background information in order to gain more knowledge about the context of Paul’s letters.

Although readers may not agree with every argument made in this collection, serious students of the Thessalonian Epistles should be familiar with this excellent work.

—Joseph D. Fantin

October 1, 2005

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2005 vol. 162 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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