"A letter as by Us": intentional ambiguity in 2 Thessalonians 2.2

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In 2 Thess. 2.2, the Greek (di’ e0pistolh=j w(j di’ h9mw~n) is ambiguous, meaning either ‘a letter supposedly [but not truly] from us’ or ‘a letter as [truly] by us’. The article argues that this ambiguity is intentional. It mirrors the author’s struggle to reconcile his conflicting interests of relevance (for his real addressees) and (alleged) authenticity—a struggle that is typical of pseudepigraphical letters in general. For the sake of relevance, the author allows for a reading that takes 2 Thess. 2.2 as a reference to 1 Thessalonians—a letter that obviously played a vital role in the conflict about ‘correct’ eschatology. Thus, ‘Paul’ makes 2 Thessalonians relevant as an attempt to rectify the (mis)interpretation of 1 Thessalonians. However, for the sake of the appearance of authenticity, he throws doubt on this understanding of 2.2 by inserting the w(j. Throughout his letter, he avoids explicit references to his literary model, 1 Thessalonians. Among modern proponents of authenticity, this lack of explicit references in 2 Thessalonians has been interpreted in terms of chronological priority. The article argues that this is the reaction the author intended to provoke among his real addressees. The (supposed) chronological priority indirectly vouches for authenticity (cf. 2 Thess. 3.17). Thus, in 2 Thess. 2.2, the author deliberately chooses an ambiguous wording in order to allow his letter both to be taken as pointing back to 1 Thessalonians and to carry the implication that it is older than 1 Thessalonians. © 2006, Sage Publications. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal for the Study of the New Testament
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)107-124
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2006

    Research areas

  • 2 Thessalonians, authenticity, intentional ambiguity, pseudepigraphy