(1 Thess. 2:14-16) Was this passage added by later scribes, or did Paul really write this?

CLAIM: Critics argue that this passage refers to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Since Paul died before this time, critics claim that this must have been added (or interpolated) after his death. In addition to this, critics argue that this passage is Anti-Semitic, which favors the literature of the church fathers in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries.

RESPONSE: There are a number of reasons to believe that this passage is authentic to Paul’s letter.

First, there is no textual evidence to suggest that this passage was inserted later. Our earliest manuscripts of 1 Thessalonians have verses 14-16. Carson and Moo write, “We possess no textual evidence that these verses were ever absent from 1 Thessalonians.”[1] Critical scholar Bart Ehrman states, “What is the hard evidence that the words were not in the letter of 1 Thessalonians as Paul wrote it? There is none. We do not of course have the original of 1 Thessalonians; we have only later copies made by scribes. But in not a single one of these manuscripts is the line (let alone the paragraph) missing. Every surviving manuscript includes it.”[2]

Second, there is good reason to see why Paul would write this. Paul had received an incredible amount of persecution from the Jews, being persecuted by them in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25), Jerusalem (Acts 9:29-30), Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:45-50), Iconium (Acts 14:2-6), and Lystra (Acts 14:19). When he came to Thessalonica, a lynch mob chased him out of town (Acts 17:5-10). As Paul wrote this letter, a mob was forming to attack him in Corinth (Acts 18:6-13). Moreover, the Thessalonians were being persecuted as well (1 Thess. 3:3). Paul’s strong language in this passage makes sense when we place it against its historical backdrop.

Third, this language matches Paul’s language elsewhere in his letters. In Galatians 5:12, Paul writes, “I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves” (Gal. 5:12). He refers to false teachers as “dogs” (Phil. 3:2), and he claims that they will be “accursed” by God (Gal. 1:8-9).

Fourth, Paul could be referring to Emperor Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews in AD 49. Suetonius writes, “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from the city.”[3] Luke mentions this same event in Acts 18:2. Aquila and Priscilla came to Corinth from Rome, and they probably explained this judgment of the Jews to Paul. Remember, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth, so he would have had just recently heard this news about Claudius’ expulsion, and this would have been fresh on his mind. Critic Bart Ehrman writes, “I think there needs to be better evidence of a scribal insertion before we are certain that it happened… I think that Paul originally wrote 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.”[4]

[1] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 535.

[2] Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 123.

[3] Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25:4.

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 124.