I and II Thessalonians – Wait, Watch, and Work!
– Presented on 20 Jan 08 by the Adult ‘E’ Class (Teacher: Choo Whatt Bin)
I will describe the geographical, historical and cultural backgrounds for the two epistles of Thessalonians.
Paul’s two epistles were addressed to the people in the city of Thessalonica. Thessalonica is now called Thessaloniki, Saloniki or Salonica. It is the capital city in the Administrative Region of Central Macedonia in Greece. By the way there are 13 Administrative Regions in modern Greece. The present population of the city is about 300,000. It is the second largest city in Greece after Athens which is the capital of Greece.
From the map, you can see the country of Greece shaded in yellow. To the west is Italy and to the east is Turkey. In the north, Greece shares her boundaries with East European countries like Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria:
These are some views of the city of Thessaloniki:
Originally, Thessalonica was called Therma or Therme. This means ‘Hot Spring’ or ‘Hot Bath’ in Greek. It was re-named Thessalonica by the Macedonian general, Cassander in 315 BC. It was named after Cassander’s wife who is the half-sister of Alexander the Great.
During Paul’s time, the country which is now called Greece, comprised of two territories. As can be seen on the map, the northern territory was called Macedonia in which the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea were located. The southern territory was called Achaia where Athens and Corinth were located.
Paul’s journey to Thessalonica was in around AD 50. During this time, this whole region you see on the map was under the Roman Empire.
You can see that Thessalonica was situated at about the midpoint of the famous Roman highway called the Egnatian Way. This road is about 790 km long and runs through about 18 cities from Dyrrhacium on the Adriatic Sea eastward all the way to Byzantium near the Black Sea:
The highway was actually built as a military transportation route to enable the Roman legions to move quickly from one part of the empire to another.
Thessalonica also faces the Thermaic Gulf. This gulf shelters Thessalonica and provides an excellent harbour for ships. Together with Corinth in the south and Ephesus on the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea, the Romans were able to control the important shipping routes in the entire Aegean Sea.
Because of its strategic location both on land and at sea, the city of Thessalonica was a major military station and commercial centre. It was frequented by officials of the Roman Empire, merchants and traders from around the region, including Jews. Thessalonica was even known as the ‘key to the whole of Macedonia’.
The population of Thessalonica during the time of Paul’s visit is about 200,000. The majority of the inhabitants were Greeks with a mixture of other ethnic groups including Jews. The inhabitants also include slaves. Slavery was then a common and acceptable practice.
The Romans, like the Greeks before them, use Greek as a common language to unify the people in the Roman Empire. The Romans were actually very tolerant and liberal with the people and their practices. However, this is as long as the people were not up to overthrowing the Roman government or have ideas to install their own king.
The Thessalonians were mostly idol worshippers. They adopted both Greek and Egyptian mythologies and beliefs. They practiced polytheism which is the worship of many gods. The Jews also practice their traditions in Thessalonica. Many people were also attracted to the Jewish’s faith, maybe because of monotheism, the belief in one god.
As a vibrant commercial and cosmopolitan city, sexual morality was general lacking in Thessalonica. The Thessalonians were strongly influenced by the sexuality expressed in Greek philosophy, art, culture and religious rituals.
People in those days, especially men, spent most of their time gathering at the marketplace.
They would discuss philosophy, new ideas and new thinking. They also became ‘busybodies’. Some do not work. Work was mainly delegated to slaves and women.
Because of their many religious beliefs, the Thessalonians have no clear understanding on the subject of death and life after death. Converts to Christ in Thessalonica were also concerned with what would happen to believers who die.
It was against such a backdrop that Paul addressed the Thessalonians.