Paul’s Successful Preaching in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-8)
According to Acts 17:4, many were convinced and joined Paul, establishing a church in the city of Thessalonica. Luke uses another term which indicates Paul was a persuasive orator: he “persuaded” many and they were joined to Paul.
Paul has success among some of the Jews, but many of the God-Fearers and prominent women. The NIV adds the word “Jews” in verse 4, the Greek simply says “some of them were persuaded and were joined with Paul and Silas.” Since God-fearing gentiles are mentioned next, it is likely that this inference is correct. The “prominent women” were also likely Gentile women who were also God-Fearers. It is possible that this should be translated “wives of leading men,” but it is true that Gentile women were often attracted to Judaism so it is not unlikely this refers to women like Lydia.
Why was Paul successful in Thessalonica?
First, Paul’s presentation of the Gospel was focused on who Jesus was and what Jesus did.He did not downplay the importance of the suffering and death of Jesus, even though it was culturally shocking to think God would choose to become flesh and become obedient even to death on a cross. This would shock the Jewish listeners and offend the Greeks. Paul could not set aside the core of the Gospel in order to manipulate people into believing the Gospel then later tell them the “secret mysteries” of the faith or the “dark secrets” only the mature Christian can know. Biblical Christianity is not a cult which holds back some things until people are brainwashed; Paul’s Gospel was an open book from the beginning.
Second, Paul’s presentation of the Gospel was based on Scripture.The Gospel of Christ Crucified stands on the foundation of the Old Testament, texts like Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22 are important for showing God’s plan of redemption. Since we have the complete canon of Scripture, we cannot be shy about presenting the Gospel as the teaching of the whole Bible.
Third, Paul’s presentation of the Gospel was rational and reasonable.Although he could have used rhetoric to manipulate his listeners into making a decision, Paul laid out the evidence and the Holy Spirit drew people to the Gospel. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-7 makes it clear Paul did not engage in the kind of manipulative rhetoric common in the Greco-Roman world to lead people to Christ.
Fourth, this success radically challenged the way both Jews and Greeks thought about the world.Paul’s Gospel was “turning the world upside down.” Here is where the modern church tends to fail, it simply does not challenge culture with the truth of the Gospel.
Paul began to disciple those who accepted Jesus as savior, but his success among the gentiles and prominent people in Thessalonica created a dangerous situation, forcing him to leave the city before he was ready. The first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians record his fear for the church which was suffering for their faith in Jesus.