In my last post I discussed whether Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians, whose author claims to be Paul, and explained why scholars widely think that in fact it was someone else. I discuss all the Pauline “forgeries” of early Christianity (including the six in the New Testament) in my book Forged. Here I thought it might be useful to consider a second example that involves a different set of problems: the “Second letter to the Thessalonians.” Again, this is taken from my book Forged (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012).
As a conservative evangelical Christian in my late teens and early twenties, there were few things I was more certain of, religiously, than the fact that Jesus was soon to return from heaven to take me and my fellow believers out of the world, at the “rapture” before the final tribulation came. We read all sorts of books that supported our view. Few people today realize that the best-selling book in English in the 1970s, apart from the Bible, was The Late Great Planet Earth written by a fundamentalist Christian named Hal Lindsey. Based on a careful (or careless, depending on your perspective) study of the book of Revelation and other biblical books of prophecy, Lindsey wrote with assurance about what was about to transpire in the Middle East as the superpowers of the Soviet Union, China, the European Union, and finally the United States converged into massive confrontation leading to an all-out nuclear holocaust, right before Jesus returned. All of this, we were told, had to happen before the end of the 1980s, as the Scripture itself taught.
It obviously never happened. And now there is no Soviet Union. But that hasn’t stopped people from writing about how the end will come very soon now, in our own day, at any time. On the recent book-selling front, dwarfing the sales of the Harry Potter books was the multi-volume Left Behind series about those who will not be taken in the imminent rapture. These books were co-authored by Jerry Jenkins and Timothy LeHaye, who previously enjoyed a career writing books with his wife Beverly about sex for Christians.
What most of the millions of people who believe that Jesus is coming back soon, in our lifetimes, don’t realize is that there have always been Christians who thought this about their own lifetimes. This was a prominent view among conservative Christians in the early 20th century, in the late 19th century, in the 18th century, in the 2nd century, in the 1st century, in fact, in just about every century. The one thing that everyone who has ever thought this has had in common, is that every one of them has been demonstrably and irrefutably wrong.
Paul himself thought
Interested in seeing how any of this relates to whether Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians? Join the blog and you will be able to read the post! Click here for membership options