New Testament Lesson 31 (Acts 15–18; 1–2 Thessalonians)
PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
● Returning from the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Silas delivered the council’s decision on circumcision to Antioch (Acts 15:1–35).
● From there, Paul began his second missionary journey:
— The mission occurred from 49–52 AD (Acts 15:40).
— Paul and his companions traveled 3,000 miles (Acts 18:18).
— They revisited Tarsus, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia.
— They then proceeded to new places: Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus.
Significant Elements of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
● This journey established a practice which was to continue throughout Paul’s work as an Apostle: to “visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36).
● Paul did not always go in person to these places; sometimes he sent Timothy or Titus or Silas.
● Paul and his companions were imprisoned at Philippi, where the jailor and his family were converted (Acts 16:16–40).
● They traveled to Thessalonica and then Berea, with a short stay at Berea while Paul went to Athens (Acts 17:1–15).
● Paul’s practice was to follow up visits with letters of commendation or admonition, a method he used throughout the rest of his life. These are the epistles found in the New Testament.
● Paul was directed in his work by the Holy Ghost, receiving visions and instructions constantly.
● He also demonstrated the power of God on numerous occasions (Acts 16:7–9, 26; 18:9).
The Second Missionary Journey Begins
● Paul, at Antioch of Syria, proposed another missionary journey (Acts 15:36–40).
— Barnabas wanted to take his relative John Mark but Paul resisted.
— The matter became so acrimonious that they parted company.
— Barnabas took Mark and sailed to his homeland, Cyprus.
— Paul selected Silas, a leader at Jerusalem, as his companion for this journey.
● Silas is thought to be the same person as Silvanus (2 Cor.1:19; 1 Thes.1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1).
— If so, he was the scribe for the book of 1 Peter, and he carried that letter to Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:12).
— He may have been a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37).
— He was prominent among the leaders of the Church at Jerusalem.
— He was a prophet who preached the gospel (Acts 15:32).
The Journey to Lystra: Traveling through Paul’s hometown of Tarsus, the missionaries proceeded westward to Derbe, where Paul had preached during his first mission. From there, they traveled northwest to Lystra, where on his earlier mission Paul had been thrown out of the city, stoned, and left for dead. Nevertheless, there were faithful Saints in Lystra whom Paul wished to visit.
— He asked Timothy to accompany him on this missionary journey. Though Paul vigorously opposed circumcision at the Jerusalem conference, he circumcised Timothy, who was Jewish, so as not to alienate the Jews.
— The “decrees for to keep” were the decisions of the Jerusalem council (vv. 4–5).
● The Journey to Philippi: Paul was directed by the Spirit in deciding where to go to preach the gospel (Acts 16:6–12). President Thomas S. Monson recounted how, in our own time, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve changed his stake visiting assignment to a place where a dying little girl had prayed for him to come and give her a priesthood blessing. Neither the president of the Quorum of the Twelve nor Elder Monson knew about the young girl’s prayer before the change was made.1
— They traveled northwest through Galatia to the city of Antioch of Pisidia (v. 6). Paul wanted to go into the province of Asia but was forbidden by the Spirit.
— They continued northwestward through the region of Mysia (v. 7). Paul then wanted to go north into Bithynia but was forbidden by the Spirit.
— They then traveled west to the city of Troas on the coast of the Aegean Sea (v. 8).
— Paul there received a vision of a man calling him to come to Macedonia (vv. 9–10). Macedonia, north of Greece, is part of what we today call continental Europe. While at Troas, they were joined by Luke, author of the book of Acts.
— They sailed northwest 150 miles to Neapolis, then walked to the city of Philippi (vv. 11–12).
● In Philippi the missionaries encountered a spirit of divination, soothsaying, or sorcery— not unlike the use today of horoscopes, charms, Ouija boards, seances, crystal balls, and so forth (Acts 16:16–18).
● Paul and his companions were beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:19–28).
— Undaunted, the missionaries sang hymns loudly into the night.
— An earthquake loosened their bands and broke open the prison doors.
— Under Roman law, if prisoners escaped, jailers were put to death.
— The jailer was terrified and was about to commit suicide.
● Seizing the opportunity to teach, the prisoners did not flee (Acts 16:29–36).
— Gratefully, the jailer took them to his home and treated their wounds.
— The missionaries taught and baptized the jailer and his family.
— Belief on the Lord Jesus Christ is not all that Is necessary for salvation (vv. 30–34).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Belief alone is scarcely the beginning of that course leading to a celestial inheritance if it is isolated as a thing apart, if it is supposed that it does not embrace within its folds both baptism and a subsequent course of enduring to the end. (2 Ne. 31:15–21). And in the very case at hand, Paul and Silas teach the gospel to the whole group, baptize them, and without question give them the gift of the Holy Ghost, thus starting them out in the direction of salvation.”2
● Upon hearing that their prisoners were Roman citizens, the embarrassed city officials attempted to reverse their injustice privately (Acts 16:37–40).
Thessalonica and Berea
● The Journey to Thessalonica: The missionaries traveled southwest along the coast to Amphipolis, then west across the peninsula to Thessalonica, a journey of about 80 miles. Thessalonica was a city named after the sister of Alexander the Great, who was born near there.
● Paul, “as his manner was,” went into the synagogue of the Jews to teach (Acts 17:1–4).
— “Alleging” means to bring forth evidence, to present proof.
— He spent three sabbaths with them, reasoning with and teaching them.
— Many Greeks and women were impressed and converted.
● Some envious Jewish antagonists, along with “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort,” assaulted the home of Jason, where the missionaries were residing (Acts 17:5–9).
— This Jason is apparently a relative of Paul (Romans 16:21) and later served in a leadership capacity in the Thessalonian Branch.
● Paul and Silas escaped under cover of night to Berea, fifty miles southwest (Acts 17:10–13).
— A number of Jews whom Luke calls “more noble” were converted.
— But enemies from Thessalonica followed them there and stirred up trouble.
● The Journey to Athens: Persecution forced Paul to sail for Athens immediately, while Silas and Timothy remained at Berea. After a journey of 250 miles, Paul arrived at Athens and sent for his companions to come “with all speed.” Athens was a major center of world culture.
— Greek, the language of Athens, was the international language of the learned.
— Its philosophers viewed God as an abstract being or power, rather than as a literal Father of spirits.
— They worshiped God’s creations rather than God himself.
— They replaced revelation with reason and debate, valuing the wisdom of men more than of God.
— This is the source of many of the false teachings of traditional Christianity today.
● Paul taught in the synagogue and at the famed Agora, or Marketplace (Acts 17:16–18). The chief men of the city gathered there daily to hear debates and do business.
● Paul on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:19–21).
— Areopagus (Ar-ee-AH-pagus) is Greek for Hill of Ares, or Mars, the god of war.
— The council that met there was the highest court in Athens.
— Philosophers in Athens “spent their time in nothing else” but philosophizing (v. 21).
● “Too superstitious” should be translated as “very religious” (Acts 17:22–23).
— “Devotions” refers to acts of worship Paul observed among the Greeks.
— Notice the skill with which Paul prepared them to hear the truth.
● He taught them that they were the children of God (Acts 17:24–28).
— He taught them concerning the premortal existence—the “times before appointed.”
— Paul also quoted one of the Greeks’ favorite poets: “Always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring . . .” (Aratus, “Hymn to Zeus”).
● Paul’s warning against idolatry: God will no longer “overlook” it (Acts 17:29–31).
● Some Athenians thought Paul was out of his mind, preaching that a carpenter from Judaea was God and that the human body would be resurrected to live forever (Acts 17:32–34).
— Greek mythology and philosophy of the time considered the body evil, and believed that eternal life was for the spirit, not the body.
— Yet some Athenians believed Paul. “Dionysius . . . was the first convert after Paul’s address to the Athenians [on Mars Hill]. He became the first bishop of Athens.”3
● The Journey to Corinth: The missionaries traveled westward from Athens about 50 miles to Corinth, the capital of the Roman province of Achaia, and its most important commercial center. Corinth is estimated to have had approximately 20,000 Jews at the time of Paul. Corinth was one of the richest and most immoral cities in the world. The temple of Aphrodite on Acrocorinth (the high hill overlooking the city) boasted a thousand ritual prostitutes involved in aberrant rites of worship. The word “Corinth” became synonymous in that day with “fornication” Paul said he went to Corinth “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).
● Paul worked for a year and a half in Corinth, teaching on the Sabbath (Acts 18:1–11).
● At this Point, Paul wrote 1 & 2 Thessalonians from Corinth, AD 52–53.
● Before leaving Corinth, Paul cut his hair as part of his covenants with God (Acts 18:18).
— Paul’s vow was a Nazarite vow which a person initiated by shaving his head.
— Under this vow, 3 things were regulated: diet, appearance, and associations.
— Missionaries today do these same things while they serve.
● The Journey to Ephesus: Paul and his companions sailed out from the eastern port of Corinth and cross the Aegean Sea to Ephesus. Paul taught in Ephesus for a short time (Acts 18:19–22). He then returned to Jerusalem and finally to Antioch of Syria (Acts 18:22).
1ST & 2ND THESSALONIANS
Paul Begins Writing Epistles
● Why Paul Wrote His Epistles. When Paul couldn’t go in person to branches of the Church, he sent Timothy, Titus or Silas. After visiting a city, he was seldom able to return there, due to extreme distances and time. It became his practice, therefore, to follow up visits with letters of commendation or admonition, a method Paul used throughout the rest of his life in the service of Christ.
● When Paul Wrote His Epistles. The epistles do not appear in the Bible in chronological order. But we have a general idea when most of the letters in the New Testament were written.
The Epistles to Thessalonica
● Paul visited Thessalonica early in his second missionary journey and taught them for 3 weeks. He and his companions were driven from Thessalonica by Jews who rejected the message of Christ’s atonement and resurrection. Nevertheless, the gospel did take root there among some Jews and Gentiles. Knowing of constant persecution of members there, and he sent Timothy and Silvanus (Silas) to check on the Saints (1 Thess. 3:2; Acts 17:15; 18:5). When they returned from their trip, they brought Paul a favorable report (1 Thess. 3:6).
● 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the first (chronologically) of Paul’s surviving epistles. The letters to the Thessalonians were, as nearly as can be determined, written from Corinth several months after Paul had left Macedonia, probably near the close of AD 52.
● The main theme of 1st Thessalonians is the Second Coming. The members at Thessalonica had doctrinal questions about the Second Coming, namely:
— The order of resurrection in relation to the Lord’s coming.
— Whether faithful Saints who died before the Second Coming would be damned.
Remaining Faithful to the End
● Paul’s introductions to each of his epistles are all quite similar (1 Thess. 1:1). They mention God the Father and (separately) his Son Jesus Christ.
● At the beginning of this epistle, Paul praises them for their faithfulness despite affliction. He also promises them deliverance from “the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:2–10).
— The “wrath to come” is “the desolation of abomination which awaits the wicked, both in this world and in the world to come.” (D&C 88:85).
● Paul reminded them of the way he preached the gospel unto them (1 Thess. 2:1–10). Speaking the Gospel “with much contention” means with much opposition (v. 2).
● Paul’s motivation was to see them exalted in the Kingdom of God (1 Thess. 2:17–20).
● Paul taught that tribulation is an inescapable part of mortal experience (1 Thess. 3:1–5; D&C 58:2–4).
● What does it mean to be “sanctified?” Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “To be sanctified is to become clean, pure, and spotless; to be freed from the blood and sins of the world; to become a new creature of the Holy Ghost, one whose body has been renewed by the rebirth of the Spirit. Sanctification is a state of saintliness, a state attained only by conformity to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. The plan of salvation is the system and means provided whereby men may sanctify their souls and thereby become worthy of a celestial inheritance.”4
● What must we do to become sanctified?
— Paul taught that men and women must control their bodies and treat them with honor (1 Thess. 4:3–5). Concupiscence is Latin for “passion” or “to desire ardently.”
— Saints must avoid taking undue interest in other people’s affairs and live lives of brotherly love, quiet dignity, honesty, and work (1 Thess. 4:6–12).
— Improve our relationships with our fellowmen (1 Thess. 5:11–15).
— Honoring ecclesiastical leaders who preside over us (1 Thess. 5:12–13). Feebleminded” means “faint-hearted”—those who lack courage or resolution to live the gospel (v. 14).5
— Quench not the Spirit (v. 19): “In the true Church there will always be powerful manifestations of the Spirit of God. Inclinations to bridle and submerge these is of the world.”6
● Paul promised that if we do these things, then God will sanctify us, making it possible for our “whole spirit and soul and body [to] be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).”
● To “greet all the brethren with an holy kiss” means with a “holy salutation (1 Thessalonians 5:26).”
The Second Coming of Christ
● Paul’s teachings concerning salvation for the dead (1 Thess. 4:13–18). Verse 15 indicates that these teachings came from the Savior.
● Paul’s teachings about preparing for the Second Coming (1 Thess. 5:1–10).
— The “Day of the Lord” is an Old Testament phrase meaning when God will come with judgment—in other words, the Second Coming (v. 2).
— “As a thief in the night” means “unexpectedly” (v. 2). JST Luke 12:44 confirms that Jesus himself used this expression, and also told more about the Second Coming than most versions of the New Testament disclose.
— “Whether we wake or sleep” means whether dead or alive (v. 10).
Paul’s first letter to Thessalonica did not resolve all their questions about the Second Coming. He also learned that persecution of the Church had not abated, but the members had followed his counsel and rallied around one another (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4). To end speculation about the precise time of the Second Coming, Paul taught that a great rebellion or apostasy from the Lord’s true Church must precede it (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The Great Apostasy
● A great apostasy will precede the Second Coming (2 Thess. 2:1–7).
— “Letter as from us” suggests that phony letters were circulating (v. 2).
— “Falling away” sounds gradual; the Greek word apostasia means to “revolt” (v. 3).
— “That man of sin” is Satan (v. 3).
— “The Son of perdition” also means Satan and his followers (v. 3). The word perdition is derived from the Latin perditus, meaning “to destroy,” and is a title given to Satan (D&C 76:26), and also to Cain (Moses 5:24).
— “The temple of God” in this case is the body of believers, that is, the Church (v. 4).
— “The mystery of iniquity doth already work” means the Great Apostasy was already under way by the time of Paul’s ministry (v. 7). Elder James E. Talmage said, “The expression ‘mystery of iniquity’ as used by Paul is significant. Prominent among the early perverters of the Christian faith were those who assailed its simplicity and lack of exclusiveness. This simplicity was so different from the mysteries of Judaism and the mysterious rites of heathen idolatry as to be disappointing to many; and the earliest changes in the Christian form of worship were marked by the introduction of mystic ceremonies.”7
— “Until he be taken out of the way” refers to Satan, who was and still is causing misery, unhappiness, and sin throughout the world. He will continue to do so until he is bound by the Lord at the beginning of the Millennium (v. 7).8
● The evil one and all things evil will be destroyed at the Lord’s appearance (2 Thess. 2:8–12).
● Satan has power to produce false signs and wonders (2 Thess. 2:9).
— He has the ability to imitate the miracles of God, as in Pharaoh’s court
— He has power over the elements.
— He is a master of deceit.
— He can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor.11: 14).
— He has the gift of tongues.
— Those spirits who follow Satan have these same capacities in lesser degrees (Revelation 16:14).
— In all this, Brigham Young said, “the power of the devil is limited; [and] the power of God is unlimited.”9
— God allows men who “receive not the love of truth” to be deluded (v. 10).
— In other words, God shall leave them and allow them to believe a lie (v. 11).
Separating from the Wicked
● We are to withdraw from those who “behave disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6–7).
● Some members were passively waiting for the Second Coming and did not want to work (2 Thess. 3:8–15). But work is a commandment.
● Paul closes with a blessing of “peace always” (2 Thess. 3:16).
Important Historical Information
● Paul’s usually dictated his epistles to a scribe and then added a few words in his own handwriting (2 Thess. 3:17–18). This is a typical handwritten note from Paul at the end of an epistle.
● 2 Thess. 3:18 is historical information possibly added later by a scribe rather than by Paul, and it is not correct. Both of Paul’s letters to Thessalonica were written from Corinth, not from Athens.
1. Ensign, November 1975, 20–22.
2. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:152.
3. Eusebius, History of the Church, 67.
4. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 675.
5. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:58.
6. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:58.
7. The Great Apostasy , 41–42.
8. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:63.
9. Discourses of President Brigham Young, sel. Elder John A. Widtsoe , 68.