Fred Sanders – Paul and ‘Y’know’ in First Thessalonians

Y’Know, For the Thessalonians by Fred Sanders Theology,  contributor at

You know what Paul says a lot in First Thessalonians?

“You know.”

It’s not the theme of the letter, but it’s the refrain. One of the main things Paul wants to say is that there’s a lot he doesn’t have to say. He points over and over to what can be presupposed as already known:

1:5. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you…
2:1. You yourselves know that our coming to you was not in vain…
2:2. You know we were mistreated in Philippi…
2:5. You know we never came with words of flattery nor with a pretext for greed…
2:9. You remember, brothers, our labor and toil…
2:11. You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted and encouraged you…
3:3. You yourselves know that we are destined for afflictions…
3:4. You know our afflictions came to pass, just as we told you beforehand…
4:2. You know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus…
5:2. You know full well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…

click image to read about Thessalonica

Add to those instances the times when he says things like “concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another” (4:9), and “concerning times and seasons, you have no need for us to write anything to you” (5:1). And in the introduction, Paul even plays on the same motif when he says “Your faith has gone forth everywhere… so that we need not say anything” (1:8).

What’s the significance of this motif in First Thessalonians? A few ideas:

1. First Thessalonians is probably the earliest-written document in the New Testament. The first Christians must have been passing some sort of documents around, and sharing eyewitness accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus, but the gospels in their final forms were probably written later than Paul’s first letters. So chronologically, the first voice you hear in the New Testament is Paul in First Thessalonians. And it’s nice to hear that voice saying, “You know,” rather than saying something like “Listen to me, because I am starting something from scratch.” Paul’s apostolic ministry springs up in the middle of a Christian movement already well on its way.

2. Paul is a good teacher, not just dumping new info in, but drawing connections to what his readers already know.

3. Paul did a lot of good teaching in Thessalonica, establishing all the main things. In a follow-up letter, he can presuppose that substantial teaching ministry. What a teaching ministry it must have been! I thank God for First Thessalonians, but just imagine how many volumes the oral teaching of Paul would have filled, if it had been transcribed and preserved. In the wisdom and providence of the Holy Spirit, what we have instead is only the five short chapters of First Thessalonians.

4. Paul and his partners must have really behaved in an exemplary way in Thessalonica. If he and his fellow-laborers had been jerks, or been lazy, or had in any way failed to live above reproach, it would be disastrous for him to write to them afterwards and say, “You know how we lived when we were with you.” He must have already walked the walk before he dared to write like that. So he’s writing partly to vindicate his ministry, but the point is that he doesn’t have to win an argument in order to do so: His ministry was conducted in a way that speaks for itself.

5. Paul apparently already taught them about “the times and the seasons,” and that the coming of the Lord would be like a thief int he night. But note how he changes his tone at 4:13-18, saying “we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep,” and then provides some new teaching. That new teaching includes a “word of the Lord.” This was probably new information for them, one of the main things he wanted to say in a letter where he admitted he didn’t need to say much.

You know another reason why Paul talks like this in First Thessalonians? You don’t need me to tell you. You yourselves already know.


Thessalonica in Easton’s Bible Dictionary a large and populous city on the Thermaic bay. It was the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia, and was ruled by a praetor. It was named after Thessalonica, the wife of Cassander, who built the city. She was so called by her father, Philip, because he first heard of her birth on the day of his gaining a victory over the Thessalians. On his second missionary journey, Paul preached in the synagogue here, the chief synagogue of the Jews in that part of Macedonia, and laid the foundations of a church (Acts 17:1-4; 1 Thes. 1:9). The violence of the Jews drove him from the city, when he fled to Berea (Acts 17:5-10). The „rulers of the city” before whom the Jews „drew Jason,” with whom Paul and Silas lodged, are in the original called politarchai, an unusual word, which was found, however, inscribed on an arch in Thessalonica. This discovery confirms the accuracy of the historian. Paul visited the church here on a subsequent occasion (20:1-3). This city long retained its importance. It is the most important town of European Turkey, under the name of Saloniki, with a mixed population of about 85,000.

Where else is Thessalonica mentioned in the Bible? (from

Thessalonica Scripture – 2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.

Thessalonica Scripture – Acts 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

Thessalonica Scripture – Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Thessalonica Scripture – Acts 17:13 But 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.

Thessalonica Scripture – Acts 27:2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; [one] Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.

Thessalonica Scripture – Philippians 4:16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

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