Eschatology is the best hermeneutical key to interpret Paul's pattern of exhortation in First Thessalonians. The systematic concern of the letter is to address a community in conflict. Paul's pattern of exhortation has two aspects which are complementary. First, he provides a way to understand the Thessalonians' current social disintegration. Second, which is in some ways dependent on the first, he provides a means for integration into an eschatologically identifiable existence. Paul effects these two purposes of the letter by employing numerous eschatological motifs, which may be regarded as forming an eschatological discourse in the letter. With eschatology as the hermeneutical key, it is possible to see how Paul is able both to rationalise why the Thessalonians are experiencing conflict and encourage them to a constructive new community identity.
In terms of the eschatology in First Thessalonians, past scholarship has focused on individual motifs found in the discourse. Monographs and articles abound on topics like the parousia of the Lord, judgment (the Day of the Lord) and the resurrection of Christians. But these contributions to scholarship, in general, do not draw together exegetical insights gained from various texts in First Thessalonians. A survey of the literature reveals that three pericopes (I Thess I :9-10, 1 Thess 2:13-16 and 1 Thess 4:13-18) preoccupy the majority of research. While there is a preponderance of literature which concerns the interpolation charge of 2: 13-16, and the problematic apocalyptic details of 4: 13-18, for example, there is hardly any that examines these and other texts in relation to each other, or integrates exegetical results into a systematic picture of the eschatological discourse with attendant purpose(s).
There are no monographs to date on eschatology in First Thessalonians. This is an amazing state of affairs given the volume of secondary literature on the Thessalonian correspondence, and specifically on aspects of eschatology and apocalyptic. In this dissertation I propose to fill the current lacuna in Thessalonian scholarship by proceeding with an analysis of 1 Thess 1 :9-10, 1 Thess 2:13- 16 and 1 Thess 4:13-18 as fundamental representatives of the eschatological discourse in the letter.
The historical-critical approach is used throughout although recent insights into the rhetorical situation are acknowledged. The introduction (CHAPTER ONE) includes, among other things, a topical survey of recent secondary literature which offers an important foundation for developing a more systematic understanding of First Thessalonians with eschatology as the hermeneutical key. The comprehensive presence of eschatological motifs in the letter makes it more appropriate to acknowledge the extensive relationships between the pericopes. Consequently, the epistolary structure of the letter is examined as a preparation for the exegetical chapters. A number of conclusions are formulated which significantly impact the exegesis of the text (CHAPTER TWO). The next three chapters enter into the exegetical debate of I Thess 1 :9-10, I Thess 2:13-16 and I Thess 4:13-18, respectively. The analysis offers a number of findings regarding: the nature of the Thessalonians' conversion experience and the characterisation of Paul's earliest missionary kerygmo (CHAPTER THREE); the establishment of 1 Thess 2:13-16 as authentic. a satisfactory interpretation of the negative statements contained therein and how Paul uses eschatological motifs as part of his pattern of exhortation (CHAPTER the identification of the problem the Thessalonians had about those who had died and how paul addresses that problem with attendant references to a kerygmatic confession, a word of the Lord, and to apocalyptic and political imagery (CHAPTER FIVE). The final chapter of the dissertation provides a conclusion which includes a concise but comprehensive interpretation of First Thess lonians, Paul uses the ideological and paradigmatic aspects of eschatological motifs to help the Thessalonians understand the inevitable negative consequences of accepting his kerygma. Paul’s pattern of exhortation also provides a means for integration into an eschatologically identifiable existence. He makes it clear that a proper understanding of why the Thessalonians are experiencing conflict is, in fact, the means for integration (CHAPTER SIX).