Today I recorded myself reading the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Why did I do this? Because I’m an antichristian. But wouldn’t that be a reason not to read Saint Paul? On the contrary, an antichristian is defined as a person who reads the Christian Bible. But if that’s an antichristian, then what’s a Christian? A Christian is one who believes that the letters of Saint Paul are divinely inspired. One cannot read Paul’s letters and also believe that they are divine. Christians believe in Paul’s letters because they do not read them; anyone who reads Paul’s letters becomes antichristian.
[NOTE: I’ll embed the reading at the end of the entry; and beneath the obligatory image I’ll share a simple thought about Paul’s letter.]
A thought about 1st Thessalonians
Sometime before he wrote his first letter to them, Paul visited the Thessalonians in person. During that initial visit, Paul taught the Thessalonians his version of Christianity. His letter is a follow-up to that teaching: Paul uses it to correct the Thessalonians’ misunderstandings and to answer their questions.
As a child, I was taught that the New Testament is “God’s letter to humankind.” Now, if this is true—if God was indeed attempting to teach us the religion of Christianity, and he actually chose to do this through the words of Saint Paul—then why doesn’t God let us hear whatever Paul said to the Thessalonians at that first meeting, when Paul taught them his gospel of Christianity? Why preserve for us only the follow-up letter? We’re allowed to hear the Q&A session after the class, but we miss the class itself; so we’re forced to guess, to venture inferences about what might have been taught.
I was instructed in the ways of Christianity by my parents, and also by the members of our local Protestant church. I’ve also been waylaid many times by missionaries from various churches. (I was born with bad luck.) Even a woman from the Catholic Church once “witnessed” to me—unsolicited (of course), right in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation: it was unnerving. So I have had assorted self-styled Christians try to sell me their belief; and, although they differed on details, they all agreed about its major significance: Christianity will save me after death. That’s always the focus: death.
The first letter to the Thessalonians is interesting in that it preserves a congregation’s reactions to Paul’s own teaching of Christianity. After the Apostle explains his religion to these people, one of the few questions they have for him is “What about those who have died?” The euphemism “sleep” is substituted for “death,” as Paul answers:
We would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [4:13-14]
I marvel that Paul’s original presentation of Christianity neglected to clarify this part of the religion. Whatever the Apostle taught the Thessalonians as his version of true Christianity had so little to do with death that his congregation actually thought something might be wrong when a few of them expired before the return of Jesus.
More than 2000 years have passed since then: Paul and his entire Thessalonian congregation, along with everyone else, has died; and Jesus still hasn’t returned. (If Paul’s gospel was divinely inspired, how could God have permitted its emphasis to be so skewed?) Had the Thessalonians been taught Christianity by my parents, or by any of the churches in my neighborhood, they would have zero questions about death—however confused they might remain about other notions, at least that issue would be very clear to them.
Paul’s take on Christianity differs from the teachings of the Christs of the gospels; and Paul’s letters reveal a religion that is as alien to modern forms of Christianity as Paul himself is alien to Jesus. But this is not apparent until one reads the letters of Paul with care—for, as they say, the Devil’s in the details.