The purpose of this essay is to exegetically examine 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11. In this exercise I will seek to elucidate the intention of the author in writing as he has and to show how the specific subject matter of these verses interrelates with the major themes of the Epistle. That Paul is the author of 1st Thessalonians is almost undisputed. Green is in agreement with Wanamaker who comments, "No contemporary scholars of repute seem to doubt the Pauline character of the letter." The position taken in this paper, consistent with the majority of scholarly opinion, is that the letter was written around AD 50-51 from Corinth on the occasion of Paul hearing Timothy's report on the Thessalonian Church.
Although Donfried comments that, "little consensus has been reached with regard to the purpose and intention" of 1st Thessalonians; clear themes and a distinct structure can be easily detected. At the most basic level the letter seems to have two distinct parts. The first part, chapters 1 through 3, has a focus on thanksgiving and encouragement while the second part, chapters 4 and 5, while continuing this theme, changes "tone" to concentrate on applied parenesis. As well as this general division this same dual purpose can be detected in varying degrees in most subsections. It is the opinion of not a few scholars that much of chapters four and five is written in response to questions posed to Paul by the Thessalonian believers, either in a letter or through Timothy.
Though eschatology appears to be the overriding theme from 4:13- 5:11 it will be my contention that Paul is primarily concerned with very practical and `now' issues facing the Thessalonians. For Paul the issue is how faith in Christ's Parousia affects the Christian and not the details of the event. Following from this any suggestion that the Thessalonian believers had an exceptionally acute eschatological expectation, either as a result of a previous belief system or an over enthusiastic response to Paul's preaching, is unjustified. Likewise there is also no need to suggest that Paul had either left the church uninformed or had changed his mind about the matters he is addressing. There is also no need to speculate that the nature of the Thessalonians grief (4:13) was anything other than that common to all bereaved. Although this paper is concerned with chapter 5:1-11 it is exegetically inappropriate to look at these verses in isolation from 4:13-18. Witherington stresses that Paul uses "the term `parousia' and the phrase `day of the Lord' interchangeably" thus reinforcing the need to treat this whole section as a unit. On the basis of this clear unity in purpose and in order to set the context it is necessary to give some consideration to the latter part of chapter four.
As previously mentioned many scholars consider that in this section of the letter Paul is responding to specific questions put to him by the Thessalonian believers. Common among those who take...