(1 Thess. 3:1-6) Does Paul’s history contradict Luke’s in the Book of Acts?

CLAIM: Paul and Luke contradict one another in their account of Timothy coming to Athens.

RESPONSE: The conflict in these passages is one of omission. The Bible teaches that it relates history truly, but it does not claim to relate history fully or exhaustively (Jn. 21:25). In this case, Luke omits any mention of Silas and Timothy’s travels to Athens. Yet, this can be harmonized quite easily:

  1. Paul goes to Athens (“Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens” Acts 17:15).
  2. Silas and Timothy come to Athens. This is not mentioned in Acts. However, Luke does write that Paul told them “to come to him as soon as possible” (Acts 17:15).
  3. Paul writes, “We sent Timothy… to strengthen and encourage you” (not mentioned in Acts; 1 Thess. 3:2). Thus, Timothy went back to Thessalonica to check on them.
  4. Paul leaves Athens and travels to Corinth (Acts 18:1).
  5. Silas and Timothy come to Corinth with money from Macedonia (Acts 18:5). They also come to Corinth with good news about the church of Thessalonica (“Timothy has come to us from you” 1 Thess. 3:6).
  6. Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians from Corinth. This might be what Luke means by writing, “Paul began devoting himself completely to the word” (Acts 18:5).

Some solve this difficulty by simply saying that Paul was using an “epistolary we.” That is, Paul was merely writing in the first-person plural as a literary convention. Though, others state that “it is difficult to regard the plural in this verse as epistolary when elsewhere in the letter it appears to be a real plural.”[1]

[1] F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, vol. 45, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1982), 61.