When Authors of the Bible Change Their Minds

1 Thessalonians is widely believed to have been the first letter written by St. Paul in the New Testament, and is generally believed to be the earliest document in the New Testament that was written around the year 49 CE. 2 Thessalonians is also attributed to Paul, but over the past couple centuries, many scholars have doubted that this letter was penned by the historical Paul, and instead was written by a disciple of his. The reason for this doubt is that, in the first letter, Paul seems to anticipate the second appearing of Jesus to take place very soon, and indeed within his own lifetime, but in 2 Thessalonians, it seems that the coming of Christ is delayed. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15, Paul refers to “those of us who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord.” Yet, in 2 Thessalonians, the writer seems to be saying “Don’t quit your day job, we might be here awhile,” as they list events that must occur before the coming of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).

It is entirely possible that a disciple of Paul wrote this letter after his death, perhaps in attempt to correct some misunderstandings that people were having about his first letter to the Thessalonians. There are intelligent Christians who would say this, and that would not change a great deal for me. However, I think 2 Thessalonians likely was written by St. Paul, and marks a change in his thinking. He had to reshape his vision of the future in understanding that, perhaps Jesus would not appear during his lifetime. Rather than completely scrap everything, Paul (and all Jesus followers) had to reconfigure what it would look like to live sustainably for an indefinite span of time. Rather than saying a different author wrote 2 Thessalonians because the ideas are different, I would say that Paul wrote it, and the ideas are different because Paul changed his mind.

The reason I want to note this change of mind for St. Paul is to point out: Changing your mind about God is part of the journey. Once you experience something that challenges the way you see the world, there is no turning back. After you see something, you can’t un-see it. Upon the rupturing of your nice and neat belief system, things will never be the same. Perhaps you are going through a phase of deconstruction or change - it will be disorienting for awhile. You will feel as though you are hurdling through space, not knowing up from down, longing for the familiarity of the faith of your childhood. But eventually you will emerge more mature, more seasoned, and with greater depth to your being. The pilgrimage is worth it, and there is something on the other side. You may be in a church or religious community that will not accommodate your growth, and will try to keep you from evolving. This may be a prompting that it is time to find a new community of faith that will not shun your questions or give pat answers from books that you’ve already read.

As we follow Jesus, our understanding of God will perpetually be expanded, deepened, and paradoxically become clearer and more mysterious at the same time. Faith is not somehow obtaining certainty, but it is learning how to embrace mystery and live exuberantly in the midst of uncertainty. An indispensable element of this adventure is changing your mind; do not be ashamed of this. Indeed, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” May we do this and live.