This morning I taught on 1 & 2 Thessalonians. I take both letters as written by Paul and hold that they were written in Corinth soon after Paul was run out of town at Thessalonica (as per Acts 17). All this is standard, orthodox and happy in the evangelical environment in which I’m teaching NT. However, what struck me as odd is that Paul seems to be somewhat mistaken in both letters. I shrugged the problem off in class; but in light of John Hobbin’s post on What counts as an error in the Bible?, I’m begging to wonder if the issue is bigger than I thought.
In 1 Thes, it becomes evident that Paul didn’t quite teach the poor Thessalonians everything they needed to know. As such, he’s having to send a letter to explain his eschatology. In and of itself this doesn’t seem to constitute error of Scripture. The canonical corpus, no Paul himself, would be the issue. Paul’s correction of doctrinal confusion caused by the extenuating situation of his persecution doesn’t provide us with a smoking gun in this regard.
In 2 Thes, the saga continues. Paul’s vagueness in terms of an eschatological time line in 1 The has led some folks to abandon all work and take up waiting for Christ’s return as a full-time occupation. Paul is quite vexed by this. He sets them straight both doctrinally and practically. The former is my concern here.
In his discussion first in 1 Thes and then in 2 Thes as well Paul is working with an immanent eschatology. He really thinks that Jesus is coming back soon. In later letters, Paul (or “Paul”) takes a longer view on eschatology and ecclesiology, seeing the need to prepare for a longer haul in light of the delay of the Parousia. But, here in Paul’s earliest canonical letters, he believes that Jesus will return in the immediate future.
Does this constitute and error in Scripture? Can one hold that Paul is wrong and hold a “high view” of Scripture? Not being encumbered by ETS’s doctrinal statement and the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy, I’ve never really thought about this; but I’m beginning to wonder…