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Paul’s New Family in Thessalonica

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AbstractThe ongoing debate about the structure of the earliest Christian communities—an issue of Christian origins—continues to divide Pauline interpreters. While some (e.g. E. Schüssler Fiorenza) are of the view that Paul’s communities were “egalitarian” at the outset only to become more rigid and organized with the passing of time, others ( J.H. Elliott) argue that Paul’s churches were more structured from their earliest inception. Still others have had a change of mind on this issue. In all of this, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians has not been given due consideration. Against the social context of the period, Paul’s relationships—predominantly described in familial terms—with this community is explored. Paul’s parental (nursing-mother, 2:7; father, 2:11) relations towards his convert-children (2:7, 11) show his preference of situating himself above them. Moreover, the Thessalonians’ relations to one another as siblings, often understood as imbued with egalitarianism, also demonstrate a similar degree of differentiation (1 Thess 5:12-15) within the community—some siblings are given to lead, to be respected and to admonish the rest. It is concluded that rather than viewing the community at Thessalonica as egalitarian in composition there is evidence here, in what is regarded by many to be Paul’s earliest extant letter that some degree of structure was in place at the very beginning.

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