Ever had your email hacked? Or had someone log in to your Facebook and post stupid updates? Then you know how annoying it is when someone pretends to be you. The worst part is trying to convince your grandma that it wasn't actually you that sent her the link to that super creepy you-know-what site.
But back in the first century, everyone was doing this kind of thing.
See, 2 Thessalonians is what biblical scholars call "disputed letter." That just means that we're not sure if Paul actually wrote it. Maybe it was him…or maybe it was some random Christian guy who picked up pen and parchment and pretended to be Paul. Hey, at least he didn't try to open a credit card in Paul's name.
Today, we would call this identity theft…and then call the FBI. But, people living in the first century did it all the time. In fact, 2 Thessalonians is one of seven letters in the Bible written by a faux Paul. After all, who cares what Demetrius from Athens thinks of Jesus? Paul's got all the hard won prestige and apostolic authority, so why not ride his coattails…all the way to Bible.
That's not to say that because 2 Thessalonians is phony, it's not awesomesauce in its own right. The pretend Paul has some pretty good thoughts of his own—we really like his take on the infamous "man of sin." But just remember, this imposter has good intentions: encouraging Christians and spreading hope and love.
That Nigerian prince who keeps emailing you? Not so much.
P.S. 1 Thessalonians is actually the oldest piece of writing in the New Testament. It was put down about 20 years after Jesus died, which means it pre-dates even the gospels. (Take that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.)
Here we have a couple of seriously old letters written to a bunch of people who died nearly two thousand years ago. Snore fest, right?
Sure, if you consider the impending apocalypse a snore fest…
Oh, have we got your attention now? Excellent.
1 and 2 Thessalonians are really all about a group of unpopular kids getting ready for a massive end-of-the-world party—a party the in-crowd wouldn't be invited to. See, the early Christians believed that Jesus ascended into Heaven. But they also had the sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't be able to resist the itch to come back one more time and right all the wrongs in the world (specifically all the wrongs done to Christians).
Pretty much every book in the New Testament mentions the return of Jesus in some way. And, like The Return of the King or The Return of the Jedi, it gave people hope…because it was gonna be awesome. 1 Thessalonians is the earliest recorded history about what these bullied Christians believed was gonna happen. Basically:
• Jesus would float down from the sky with angels and trumpets. Whoa.
• He'd scoop up all the believers into Heaven. Double whoa.
• And he'd smite the wicked and pour out his wrath on them. Take that, bullies!
Although Christians were already sporting their "Let's Get Ready to Rapture" t-shirts, this end of the world party never came. Eventually, the poor picked-on Christians took over control of the Roman Empire. They watched their social stock rise, while the bullies went the other way.
Today, most Christians don't worry too much about the end of the world. Apparently when you're in charge, this apocalypse stuff can wait another millennia or two.
Journey to Thessalonica
Here's the official tourism site for modern day Thessaloniki, which is located in Greece. Book your tickets now, because this place looks amazing.
St. Paul's Cathedral in London
Named for our favorite biblical author, this is one of the must-see sites in London. The cathedral famously survived bombings during WWII and hosted the wedding of Charles and Diana as well as the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. So, yeah, it's kind of a big deal.
The Word of St. Paul
The Word of St. Paul is a term for what happens when an authoritative source, other than the original author, fills in key information about a book, movie, or TV show. 2 Thessalonians, anyone?
Peter and Paul
A 1981 movie starring Anthony Hopkins as Paul, in conflict with fellow apostle, Peter.
This mini-series follows the story of Paul throughout his entire life. We promise it's still "mini."
A 2005 play, which portrays Paul as being tricked by Peter and Mary Magdalene into seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus. Hilarity does not ensue.
Left Behind: The Movie
Starring born-again Christian actor, Kirk Cameron, this movie portrays a modern-day apocalypse, which, naturally, begins with a big ol' Rapture.
A Thief in the Night
This 1972 film, which takes its title from Paul's declaration in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," is the first in a four-part series of movies about the Rapture. We bet it's super cheery.
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians
The entire text of Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
The anonymous(ish) follow up!
Smart Guys Talk Thessalonians
Scholars from Yale Divinity School delve into the apocalyptic writings in the New Testament with a whole lot of emphasis on 2 Thessalonians.
Jesus Confronts Paul
In the movie The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus imagines that he survives the crucifixion and then runs into Paul preaching about him years later. It's kind of awkward.
Billy Graham on Thessalonians
World-famous preacher Billy Graham gives us a little sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:2-7 from way back in 1959.
On the Hunt
Professor John Dominic Crossan talks about his book In Search of Paul on Fresh Air.
If They Had a Savior
New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman discusses the lives of three major followers of Christ: Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.
Keep the Faith by 116 Clique
This Christian rap group slow jams 1 Thessalonians on their album, 13.
Stand Strong by 116 Clique
More hip-hop Bible, this time from 2 Thessalonians.
A map of the Roman Empire, which highlights all of Paul's favorite vacation spots.
It's All Greek to Us
What the Greco part of that whole Greco-Roman world thing looked like.
Paul in the Flesh
A facial composite of what Paul might have looked like live and in person.
Church of St. Paul in Tarsus
Located in his birthplace, which is now in modern day Turkey, this church dedicated to Paul hasn't held up quite as well as St. Paul's in London.