If I get too detailed with the portion of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s Paul: A Critical Life that deals with each of the epistles, I am going to get bogged down.
So let me just list some facts about the first letters he treats. The first one is the ministry of Paul at Thessalonica.
Fact 1- Murphy-O’Connor treated Paul’s ministries in the order in which he thought the letters were written. So, even though on geographical grounds and the itinerary of Acts, the ministries at Galatia and Philippi came first, the first letter was to Thessalonica. So that is the ministry he treats first.
Fact 2-Also in keeping with his letter-centered approach, he believed Paul’s ministry at Thessalonica must have lasted at least a year rather than just three Sabbaths (Acts 17:2). This was based on the kind of relationship Paul had with the congregation and the knowledge he displayed of their situation. It would have taken a while to develop. His ministry there may have begun in 48 or 49.
Contrary to Luke, who claims Jews stirred up the persecution,
Fact 3-He divided 1 Thessalonians into two letters: Thessalonians A and Thessalonians B. This was based on internal literary factor within 1 Thessalonians. The letter seems to have two thanksgivings at 1:2-10 and 2:13-14. To Murphy-O’Connor this signaled that two letters have been incorporated since no letter that scholars agree is a unit has more than one thankgiving, which was usually Paul’s way of opening a letter.
Fact 4-1 Thessalonians A was written first. It consisted of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-4:2. Paul had escaped a persecution by fleeing to Athens. He wrote this letter out of worry about the church and anxiety about his coworkers.
Fact 5- Paul moved to Corinth after failing to found a church at Athens. From there he wrote 1 Thessalonians B, 1:1-2:12 and 4:3-5:28. He was no longer concerned about persecution and no longer expressed a desire to see the Thessalonians He had become too absorbed in his work at Corinth, and some Thessalonicans had traveled to other churches, including Corinth ((1:7-9) . Now Paul dealt with moral issues and the question of the Day of the Lord.
Fact 6: Murphy-O’Connor defended the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians. Many critics have questioned whether Paul wrote it. Murphy-O’Connor thought the case against Paul’s authorship of the letter was weak. Also, in regard to the order of the Thessalonian letters, he admitted it is possible that 2 Thessalonians was composed before Thessalonians B. But he didn’t think so because he thought he saw an attempt by Paul to correct possible misunderstandings from both of other letters. The occasion for 2 Thessalonians was that Paul heard that his other letters were being used to undermine his future-oriented view of the return of Christ.
So the writing of 2 Thessalonians should bring us to the Spring or Summer of the year 50 with Paul immersed in his work at Corinth.
I am considering Murphy-O’Connor’s theory about 1 Thessalonians. It is attractive in several ways. Certainly many scholars believe 2 Corinthians and Philippians are stitched together from more than one letter. So perhaps the same was true of 1 Thessalonians.
One thing I have wondered about is whether Paul might have edited his own letters before his death, so that he is responsible for these composites.