Let’s take up Paul’s letters, written sometime between 50-60 CE.
Which letter was the first one? You might think that Romans was first because it appears first in the New Testament. Nope. Back in the day, the church authorities decided to arrange the epistles according to … length. Romans is the longest of Paul’s letters. Philemon is the shortest. And yes, there are New Testament books after Philemon, but they were not written by Paul. Thessalonians was chronologically the first, written around 52 CE.
What was happening in Thessalonica to cause Paul to write a letter? Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia (just north of Greece). The people there had become disenchanted with the whole Roman gods system and were looking for something else just as Paul came along on one of his early missionary trips. They kinda liked this new offshoot of Judaism (not called Christianity yet). But they were growing a little impatient waiting for the return of the kingdom of God that Paul had promised was imminent.
So what do you do if you hear about this unrest in 52 CE? You write them an inspirational letter. You encourage them to “stay the course … it won’t be long now.“ How inspiring was it? Ummmm, maybe something got lost in all the translations between then and now. Or maybe you just had to be there to get the full Paul effect in I Thessalonians.
Question of the week: Chronologically, which was Paul’s second letter?