1 & 2 Thessalonians

Nijay K. Gupta. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Zondervan Critical Introductions to the New Testament 13. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019. Pp. 320, $44.99, hardback.

With Michael Bird as the editor, Zondervan has embarked on a new series that provides “volume-length works that cover the important historical-critical and contextual issues for each of the New Testament books” (back cover). That is, each volume will cover “introductory” matters such as authorship, date, background, purpose, etc. for a particular NT book or closely-associated NT books in more depth than standard one-volume introductions (e.g., Carson and Moo, Kümmel, Brown).

The first released volume in this series is authored by Nijay K. Gupta and concerns 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Gupta is a professor at Portland Seminary (George Fox University), which is broadly evangelical in the Wesleyan and Friends traditions. He is a very capable NT scholar and has previously written a commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (New Covenant Commentary Series, 2016).

As one would expect, 1 & 2 Thessalonians is broken up into two major sections, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians. Each major section has the same four-fold outline: (1) Text (Greek text, genre, outline), (2) Background and Situation, (3) Themes and Interpretation, and (4) History of Interpretation. The vast majority of this book presents and well summarizes scholarly arguments for variously debated views. Although much of this book includes the concerns of critical (liberal) scholars, refreshingly, Gupta also includes the viewpoints of many strong evangelicals. Further, Gupta does include his views, although not in a heavy-handed manner.

The following are notable aspects of this work. Gupta includes a well-balanced discussion of genre questions concerning NT letters in general and its application to the broad meanings and outlines of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He notes those scholars who emphasize “epistolary” conventions (e.g., standard openings) and “epistolary” types (consoling letter, paraenetic letter) as opposed to others who use Greco-Roman “rhetorical” categories (e.g., narratio, probatio) from different types of “rhetorical” speeches (e.g., deliberative, judicial, epideictic). In the end, Gupta is non-committal and sees both methods as reinforcing each other.

Virtually all agree that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians in the early AD 50’s. Pauline authorship for 2 Thessalonians, however, is hotly contested. Gupta has a twenty-four page explanation of the arguments pro-and-con. His explanation of the “con” arguments is especially good. Gupta, however, does conclude that Pauline authorship is “more reasonable” (p. 220). I offer two minor complaints here. His discussion of the “pro” arguments could have been much stronger by (1) noting problems with the typical “pseudonymous-was-culturally-acceptable” view and (2) including the implications of divine authorship as this is the strongest “pro” argument, even if many reject it out of hand.

Concerning the socio-background of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Gupta has a thirty-three page discussion of several monographs for 1 Thessalonians and a related nine pages for 2 Thessalonians. He tends to agree with Nicholl (From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica, 2004) who, based on a combination of Greco-Roman cultural factors, Acts 17:1–10, confusion over Paul’s eschatological views, and an exegesis of 1–2 Thessalonians, concludes that the sudden death of some Christians caused concern that these deaths were due to the wrath of God. Summarizing scholarly views of the socio-background here is complicated by those who have a very low view of Acts and those who deny Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians, but Gupta’s summaries of various views are accurate and have a commendable clarity.

Given there are no explicit quotes of the OT, is the OT a significant influence on Paul for 1–2 Thessalonians? Many in scholarship, especially the history-of-religions school, have denied significant OT influence. Others have simply ignored the question because there are no explicit quotes. Gupta rightly argues that 1 Thessalonians “is suffused with scriptural language and imagery” (p. 37) and 2 Thessalonians has a “significant influence” from the OT (p. 192).

Not typical of an “introduction,” Gupta does include a brief discussion with some detailed exegesis for a variety of “themes” in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Here, Gupta more directly gives his views as opposed to summarizing other scholars. For 1 Thessalonians, he covers “Eschatology and Hope,” “Faith(fulness) and Loyalty,” “Thanksgiving and Joy,” “Metamorphosis,” “Work and Labor,” “Holiness, Purity, and Integrity,” “Love,” and “Christian Tradition and Teachings” (pp. 90–106). For 2 Thessalonians, he covers “Dignity and Honor,” “Truth and Deception,” “Justice and Peace,” and “Cooperation, Orderliness, and Work” (pp. 231–36). I have some quibbles in these sections, e.g., his over-emphasis on loyalty for understanding πίστις, but the reader will get a reasonably good overview of the major themes in 1–2 Thessalonians.

Gupta includes a chapter on the history of interpretation for each book. He provides a necessarily brief, but informative, overview from the apostolic fathers to the present. I especially appreciated his concern for the apostolic fathers through the Reformation.

In sum, Gupta’s 1 & 2 Thessalonians is well done. The strongest points are the summaries of scholarly views concerning (1) the socio-background of 1–2 Thessalonians and (2) the authorship of 2 Thessalonians.

Robert J. Cara
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte