Today in class we took the hour to gather in pairs and compose apocryphal Christian texts. My partner and I blindly chose the hypothetical 3rd Pauline letter to the Thessalonians. We decided to compose it as a forgery, employing themes found in both 1 and 2 Thessalonians. This text begins with a mock of the traditional Pauline thanksgiving and elevates into an aggressive despair of violent force against its opponents.
The text reads:
Paul, Silas, and Timothy, with the approval of Peter,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and Peace to you by the most abundant mercies of our Lord.
We should give thanks for you all and your perseverance, but who else can we fault for that our body is still here, at our last, awaiting the presence of our Lord? Nevertheless, we believe you have not stumbled so as to fall beyond recovery as did the Israelites, but that you have been temporarily made a stumbling stone for those of us also in Christ. We urge you not to listen any more to the teachings of false prophets and writers of fancy speech who claim that the day of the Lord is never to be seen, for they know not the light that we have received. Did we not demand you to cast out the idle and disruptive from among your midst? These are those who partake of the fruits of others’ hard labors. They are those of worldly wisdom and clever tongues, blind to the mysteries that are to come.
For as we predicted, the lawless one has come and is already among you and indeed is making a home and a multiplication before your very eyes. And do not be deceived as to think that the lawless one is without help from among your very own. But he himself is of your very own! Though he is not of the light within you, and neither those busy bodies that obstruct your work.
Remember our teaching: the lawless one must pass away before the day we are awaiting arrives, where we who have been made perfect will be glorified, but those who refuse to work in Christ now will be forever bound in slavery to their flesh. Therefore, brethren, why not prepare them for their future reward? You must drive these idle bodies out of your homes as we do prepare the way of the Lord. If you find any of these of wise speech and lazy habits, be sure to put them in the shackles of servants and permit them to work the fields, that we may eat of their labor as we do the work necessary before the coming of our beloved. If needed, be not afraid to enslave each one of them in whatever trade needed until the lawless one, who will be the last of them to leave you, is finally driven out.
The Lord be with you.
The theme of our text is the need of the community to rid themselves of the intellectual community that denies the apocalypse as a physical reality. We tied the “lawless one” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians to this group of people who are probably kin to ancient philosophers, without training in a trade and well-versed in popular philosophies in ancient Thessaloniki. Implicit in the text is the idea that this later generation has grown up in anticipation of the apocalypse, without concern for worldly matters and the doings of the market place. They have, however, traded many ideas with other religious sects and apocalyptic cults throughout their lives, arriving at the conclusion that their parents have been scammed into the expectation of a new earth that is not coming. Our text may have been written by an elder or even a youth from within the community who feels abandoned and betrayed by this generation of apostates. He wishes to encourage those who work faithfully in accordance with the post-Pauline work ethic and to scare those who have wandered away from the teachings of the group. This text may have been written near the end of the first century when the second and third generation Pauline converts are grieving the death of Paul and wondering when his prophecy will be fulfilled, if ever.