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Apostasia: The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3

Apostasia: The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3

Dr. Thomas Ice

Some who are reading this will be shocked by the mere suggestion that apostasia could mean anything but what we’ve been led to believe. I know because that was my initial reaction a few years ago when I was first introduced to it. I’m referring to a thesis advanced by Dr. Thomas Ice that challenges conventional wisdom by suggesting that the falling away Paul disclosed in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 may be a reference to a departing we call the rapture rather than a defection from the faith. In light of the fact that Dr. Ice is a sound theologian who is not alone in his interpretation, I think you may find the following discussion somewhat compelling. My edits and/or comments are inserted in [brackets]. Shalom, Dr. Mike Johnston

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3). I believe that there is a strong possibility 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of the rapture. What do I mean? Some pretribulationists, like [me], think that the Greek noun apostasia, usually translated “apostasy,” is a reference to the rapture and [could] be translated “[departing].” [1] Thus, this passage would be saying that the day of the Lord will not come until the [departing] rapture [occurs]. If apostasia is a reference to a physical departure, [rather than a spiritual defection], then 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is strong evidence for pretribulationism.

[There are at least 4 reasons cited by Dr. Ice for apostasia referring to the rapture of the church]:

The Meaning of Apostasia

The Greek noun apostasia is only used twice in the New Testament. In addition to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, it occurs in Acts 21:21 where, speaking of Paul, it is said, “that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake (apostasia) Moses.” The word is a Greek compound of apo “from” and istemi “stand.” Thus, it has the core meaning of “away from” or “departure.” The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon defines apostasia first as “defection, revolt;” then secondly as “departure, disappearance.”

Gordon Lewis explains how the verb from which the noun apostasia is derived supports the basic meaning of departure in the following: The verb may mean to remove spatially. There is little reason, then, to deny that the noun can mean such a spatial removal or departure. Since the noun is used only one other time in the New Testament of apostasy from Moses (Acts 21:21), we can hardly conclude that its Biblical meaning is necessarily determined. The verb is used fifteen times in the New Testament. Of these fifteen, only three have anything to do with a departure from the faith (Luke 8;13; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:12).

The word is used for departing from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19), from ungodly men (1 Tim. 6:5), from the temple (Luke 2:27), from the body (2 Cor. 12:8), and from persons (Acts 12:10; Luke 4:13).

“It is with full assurance of proper exegetical study and with complete confidence in the original languages,” concludes Daniel Davey, [2] “that the word meaning of apostasia is defined as departure.”

Paul Lee Tan adds the following: “What precisely does Paul mean when he says that “the falling away” (2:3) must come before the tribulation? The definite article “the” denotes that this will be a definite event, an event distinct from the appearance of the Man of Sin. The Greek word for “falling away”, taken by itself, does not mean religious apostasy or defection. Neither does the word mean “to fall,” as the Greeks have another word for that- [pipto, I fall; TDI]. The best translation of the word is “to depart.” The apostle Paul refers here to a definite event which he calls “the departure,” and which will occur just before the start of the tribulation. This is the rapture of the church.”

So the word has the core meaning of departure and it depends upon the context to determine whether it is used to mean physical departure or an abstract departure such as departure from the faith. [Moreover, if the Holy Spirit wanted Paul to convey the unequivocal idea of a spiritual defection, there are perhaps other more definitive Greek words he could have used such as hairesis (G138) Acts 24:14; schism (G4978) John 7:43; dichostasía (G1370) Rom. 16:17; diamerismós (G1267) Luke 12:51] to name a few.

[King James Bible] Translation History 

[Many King James Bible proponents hold to a 7 fold refinement of our Bible (Psa. 12:6) with the following six English translations leading to the final KJV. This simply helps us understand how apostasia was understood through the years: Tyndale Bible (1526); Coverdale Bible (1535); Matthews Bible (1537); The Great Bible (1538); Geneva (1560); Bishops Bible (1568); King James (1611). One could find interesting the rendering of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 in each of them]:

Tyndale Bible (1526): Let no man deceive you by any means, for the Lord cometh not, except there come a departing first,

Coverdale Bible (1535): Let noman disceaue you by eny meanes. For the LORDE commeth not, excepte the departynge come first, and that that Man of synne be opened, euen the sonne of perdicion,

Matthews Bible (1537): Let no man deceyue you by any meanes, for the Lord commeth not, except there come a departyng first, and that, that sinful man be opened, the sonne of perdicyon

The Great Bible (1538): Let no man deceaue you by eny meanes, for the Lorde shall not come excepte ther come a departynge fyrst, and that that synfull man be opened, the sonne of perdicyon,

Geneva (1560): Let no man deceiue you by any meanes: for that day shall not come, except there come a departing first, and that that man of sinne be disclosed, euen the sonne of perdition,

[For some reason, this interpretation was suddenly changed in the following translations with no explanation I know of]:

Bishops Bible (1568): Let no man deceaue you by any meanes, for [the Lorde shall not come] excepte there come a fallyng away first, & that that man of sinne be reuealed, the sonne of perdition.

King James Bible (1611): Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3)

[Even Jerome’ s Latin Vulgate 400 AD renders apostasia with the “word discessio, meaning departure”. [3]]

The Use of the Article 

It is important to note that Paul uses a definite article with the noun apostasia. What does this mean? Davey notes the following:

“Since the Greek language does not need an article to make the noun definite, it becomes clear that with the usage of the article reference is being made to something in particular. In II Thessalonians 2:3 the word apostasia is prefaced by the definite article which means that Paul is pointing to a particular type of departure clearly known to the Thessalonian church.”

Dr. Lewis provides a likely answer when he notes that the definite article serves to make a word distinct and draw attention to it. In this instance he believes that its purpose is “to denote a previous reference.” “The departure Paul previously referred to was ‘our being gathered to him’ (v. 1) and our being ‘caught up’ with the Lord and the raptured dead in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17),” notes Dr. Lewis. The “departure” was something that Paul and his readers clearly had a mutual understanding about. Paul says in verse 5, “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?”

The use of the definite article would also support the notion that Paul spoke of a clear, discernable event. A physical departure, like the rapture would fit just such a notion. However, the New Testament teaches that apostasy had already arrived in the first century (cf. Acts 20:27- 32; 1 Tim. 4:1- 5; 2 Tim. 3:1- 9; 2 Pet. 2:1- 3; Jude 3- 4, 17- 21) and thus, such a process would not denote a clear event as demanded by the language of this passage. Understanding departure as the rapture would satisfy the nuance of this text.

E. Schuyler English explains as follows: Again, how would the Thessalonians, or Christians in any century since, be qualified to recognize the apostasy when it should come, assuming, simply for the sake of this inquiry, that the Church might be on earth when it does come? There has been apostasy from God, rebellion against Him, since time began. Whatever Paul is referring to in his reference to “the departure,” was something that both the Thessalonian believers and he had discussed in-depth previously. When we examine Paul’ s first letter to the Thessalonians, he never mentions the doctrine of apostasy, however, virtually every chapter in that epistle speaks of the rapture (cf. 1:9- 10; 2:19; probably 3:13; 4:13- 17; 5:1- 11). In these passages, Paul has used a variety of Greek terms to describe the rapture. It should not be surprising that he uses another term to reference the rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

Dr. House tells us: Remember, the Thessalonians had been led astray by the false teaching (2:2- 3) that the Day of the Lord had already come. This was confusing because Paul offered great hope, in the first letter, of a departure to be with Christ and a rescue from God’ s wrath. Now a letter purporting to be from Paul seems to say that they would first have to go through the Day of the Lord. Paul then clarified his prior teaching by emphasizing that they had no need to worry. They could again be comforted because the departure he had discussed in his first letter, and in his teaching while with them, was still the truth. The departure of Christians to be with Christ, and the subsequent revelation of the lawless one, Paul argues, is proof that the Day of the Lord had not begun as they had thought. This understanding of apostasia makes much more sense than the view that they are to be comforted (v. 2) because a defection from the faith must precede the Day of the Lord. The entire second chapter (as well as 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11) serves to comfort (see vv. 2, 3, 17), supplied by a reassurance of Christ’ s coming as taught in his first letter.

Departure and the Restrainer 

Since pretribulationists believe that the restrainer mentioned in verses 6 and 7 is the Holy Spirit and teaches a pre-trib rapture, then it should not be surprising to see that there is a similar progression of thought in the progression of verse 3.

Allan MacRae, president of Faith Theological Seminary in a letter to Schuyler English has said the following concerning this matter: I wonder if you have noticed the striking parallel between this verse and verses 7- 8, a little further down. According to your suggestion verse 3 mentions the departure of the church as coming first, and then tells of the revealing of the man of sin. In verses 7 and 8 we find the identical sequence. Verse 7 tells of the removal of the Church; verse 8 says: “And then shall that Wicked be revealed.” Thus close examination of the passage shows an inner unity and coherence, if we take the word apostasia in its general sense of “departure,” while a superficial examination would easily lead to an erroneous interpretation as “falling away” because of the proximity of the mention of the man of sin.

Kenneth Wuest, a Greek scholar from Moody Bible Institute added the following contextual support to taking apostasia as a physical departure: But then hee apostasia of which Paul is speaking, precedes the revelation of Antichrist in his true identity, and is to katechon that which holds back his revelation (2:6). The hee apostasia, therefore, cannot be either a general apostasy in Christendom which does precede the coming of Antichrist, nor can it be the particular apostasy which is the result of his activities in making himself the alone object of worship. Furthermore, that which holds back his revelation (vs. 3) is vitally connected with hoo katechoon (vs. 7), He who holds back the same event. The latter is, in my opinion, the Holy Spirit and His activities in the Church. All of which means that I am driven to the inescapable conclusion that the hee apostasia (vs. 3) refers to the Rapture of the Church which precedes the Day of the Lord, and holds back the revelation of the Man of Sin who ushers in the world-aspect of that period. 

Conclusion

The fact that apostasia most likely has the meaning of physical departure is a clear support for pretribulationism. If this is true, (Dr. Tim LaHaye and I believe that it is), then it means that a clear prophetic sequence is laid out by Paul early in his Apostolic ministry. Paul teaches in 2 Thessalonians 2 that the rapture will occur first, before the Day of the Lord commences. It is not until after the beginning of the Day of the Lord that the Antichrist is released, resulting in the events described by him in chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians. This is the only interpretation that provides hope for a discomforted people. Maranatha! Source: https://www.raptureready.com/featured/ice/TheRapturein2Thessalonians2_3.html

Addendum – others holding to this view

Misc Scholars: The teaching that apostasy may refer to the departure of the church has been embraced by a number of scholars including E. Schuyler English, Stanley Ellisen, Gordon Lewis, Kenneth Wuest, Dr. Tim LaHaye, and many more.

Institute for Creation Research: The “falling away” (Greek apostasia) has commonly been transliterated as “the apostasy” (the definite article in the Greek indicates Paul had already told them about it), and then assumed to apply to the final great religious apostasy at the end of the age. The context, however, as well as the etymology of the word itself, makes this interpretation unlikely. In this precise form it is used nowhere else in the New Testament, so its meaning must be defined by its context here. It is derived from two Greek words, apo (meaning “away from”) and stasis (meaning “standing”). It thus could properly be rendered “standing away” instead of “falling away.” In Paul’s previous letter, he had made no reference whatever to a coming departure from the faith, but he had discussed at length a coming departure from the earth by all believers, when Christ returns to meet them in the air (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Thus this “standing away from,” in context, seems to refer to all the raptured believers standing away from the earth, as they stand before their returning Lord when they meet Him in the heavens. Paul here is simply reminding them that the “sudden destruction” that would come upon unbelievers when “the day of the Lord” begins could not happen until the rapture—“the standing-away” from the earth before Christ (note Romans 14:10)—had taken place. The entire context, before and after, fits this understanding of the text better than the idea of the apostasy from the faith. Over the 1950 years since Paul wrote these lines, there have been numerous great apostasies form the faith, and none of these introduced the day of the Lord, although persecuted believers in each case might easily have so interpreted them. Source: http://www.icr.org/books/defenders/8028/

You may order our detailed tract entitled: The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–10 – by Myron J. Houghton, Ph.D.

[1] Each of the previous 6 editions leading to the KJV translated apostasia as “departure”.

[2] [Professor Bible Exposition at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary]

[3] I’m not endorsing this work but merely calling attention to how apostasia was being interpreted in that era.

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