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The history relates, that after they had been some time at Thessalonica, "the Jews who believed not set all the city in an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason where Paul and Silas were, and sought to bring them out to the people." Acts xvii. 5. The epistle declares, "when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know,” (iii. 4).
The history brings Paul and Silas and Timothy together at Corinth, soon after the preaching of the gospel at Thessalonica : "And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia (to Corinth), Paul was pressed in spirit.” Acts xviii. 5. The epistle is written in the name of these three persons, who consequently must have been together at the time, and speaks throughout of their ministry at Thessalonica as a recent transaction: "We brethren, being taken from you for a short time, in presence not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face, with great desire," (ii. 17).
The harmony is indubitable; but the points of history in which it consists, are so expressly set forth in the narrative, and so directly referred to in the epistle, that it becomes necessary for us to show, that the facts in one writing were not copied from the other. Now amidst some minuter discrepancies, which will be noticed below, there is one circumstance which mixes itself with all the allusions in the epistle, but does not appear in the history any where; and that is of a visit which St. Paul had intended to pay to the Thessalonians during the time of his residing at Corinth: "Wherefore we would have come unto you (even I Paul) once and again, but Satan hindered us," (ii. 1.) "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith. Now God himself and our father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,
direct our way unto you," (iii. 10, 11). Concerning a design which was not executed, although the person himself, who was conscious of his own purpose, should make mention in his letters, nothing is more probable than that his historian should be silent, if not ignorant. The author of the epistle could not however have learnt this circumstance from the history, for it is not there to be met with; nor, if the historian had drawn his materials from the epistle, is it likely that he would have passed over a circumstance, which is amongst the most obvious and prominent of the facts to be collected from that source of information.
Chap. iii. 1-7. "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and sent Timotheus, our brother and minister of God, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith ;—but now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith."
The history relates, that when Paul came out of Macedonia to Athens, Silas and Timothy staid behind at Berea: "The brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea; but Silas and Timotheus abode there still; and they that conducted Paul brought him to Athens." Acts, ch. xvii. 14, 15. The history further relates, that after Paul had tarried some time at Athens, and had proceeded from thence to Corinth, whilst he was exercising his ministry in that city, Silas and Timothy came to him from Macedonia, Acts, chap. xviii. 5. But to reconcile the history with the clause in the epistle which makes St. Paul say, "I thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and to send Timothy
unto you," it is necessary to suppose that Timothy had come up with St. Paul at Athens: a circumstance which the history does not mention. I remark therefore, that, although the history do not expressly notice this arrival, yet it contains intimations which render it extremely probable that the fact took place. First, as soon as Paul had reached Athens, he sent a message back to Silas and Timothy "for to come to him with all speed." Acts, chap. xvii. 15. Secondly, his stay at Athens was on purpose that they might join him there: "Now whilst Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him." Acts, chap. xvii. 16. Thirdly, his departure from Athens does not appear to have been in any sort hastened or abrupt. It is said, "after these things," viz. his disputation with the Jews, his conferences with the philosophers, his discourse at Areopagus, and the gaining of some converts, "he departed from Athens and came to Corinth." It is not hinted that he quitted Athens before the time that he had intended to leave it; it is not suggested that he was driven from thence, as he was from many cities, by tumults or persecutions, or because his life was no longer safe. Observe then the particulars which the history does notice that Paul had ordered Timothy to follow him without delay, that he waited at Athens on purpose that Timothy might come up with him, that he staid there as long as his own choice led him to continue. Laying these circumstances which the history does disclose together, it is highly probable that Timothy came to the apostle at Athens, a fact which the epistle, we have seen, virtually asserts when it makes Paul send Timothy back from Athens to Thessalonica, The sending back of Timothy into Macedonia accounts also for his not coming to Corinth till after Paul had been fixed in that city for some considerable time,
Paul had found out Aquila and Priscilla, abode with them and wrought, being of the same craft; and reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath day, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks, Acts, chap. xviii. 1-5. All this passed at Corinth before Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Acts, chap. xviii. 5. If this was the first time of their coming up with him after their separation at Berea, there is nothing to account for a delay so contrary to what appears from the history itself to have been St. Paul's plan and expectation. This is a conformity of a peculiar species. The epistle discloses a fact which is not preserved in the history; but which makes what is said in the history more significant, probable, and consistent. The history bears marks of an omission; the epistle by reference furnishes a circumstance which supplies that omission.
Chap. ii. 14. "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus; for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews."
To a reader of the Acts of the Apostles, it might seem, at first sight, that the persecutions which the preachers and converts of Christianity underwent, were suffered at the hands of their old adversaries the Jews. But, if we attend carefully to the accounts there delivered, we shall observe, that, though the opposition made to the gospel usually originated from the enmity of the Jews, yet in almost all places the Jews went about to accomplish their purpose, by stirring up the Gentile inhabitants against their converted countrymen. Out of Judea they had not power to do much mischief in any other way. This was the case at Thessalonica in particular: "The Jews which believed not, moved with envy, set all the city in an uproar." Acts, ch.
xvii. ver. 5. It was the same a short time afterwards at Berea: "When the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people." Acts. ch. xvii. 13. And before this our apostle had met with a like species of persecution, in his progress through the Lesser Asia; "in every city the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren." Acts. ch. xiv. 2. The epistle therefore represents the case accurately as the history states it. It was the Jews always who set on foot the persecutions against the apostles and their followers. He speaks truly therefore of them, when he says in this epistle, "they both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us-forbidding us to speak unto the Gentiles." (ii. 15, 16.) But out of Judea it was at the hands of the Gentiles, it was "of their own countrymen," that the injuries they underwent were immediately sustained: "Ye have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews."
The apparent discrepancies between our epistle and the history, though of magnitude sufficient to repel the imputation of confederacy or transcription (in which view they form a part of our argument), are neither numerous, nor very difficult to reconcile.
One of these may be observed in the ninth and tenth verses of the second chapter: "For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travel; for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe."