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2 Thessalonians. 2:1

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 319 - December 1882

 

2 Thessalonians. 2:1

The apostle now enters on the correction of the error which, as we shall see, false teachers had foisted in among the Thessalonians. It cannot be doubted that the early believers, whether those directly addressed or others elsewhere who received the epistles, understood and profited by the instruction conveyed. But it seems demonstrable that too soon afterwards the bare meaning of the apostle's words was lost, if we may judge from ancient versions and comments; and it is equally plain that modern translators and christian writers in general have not recovered its real scope till this day. In the verse before us, as is sometimes the case, the misunderstanding of a single word is the cause and proof of confusion prolific and irremediable. For if Scripture, however unintentionally, be made to speak not alone. ambiguously but in a way that misleads, the result, as far as it goes, is fatal. With the strongest desire to avoid exaggeration and, yet more, falsely accusing any soil, one is bound for the truth's sake to record the conviction that grave mischief is hero done in the Reνised Version, by the introduction of "touching" into their text, and " on behalf of" into their margin. It will be shown that neither suits the context. We are in no way limited to these reflexions of the Greek, especially where connected with words of entreaty. The Authorized Version in the main point before us is substantially better; yet this misrendering has been considered by not a few as a decided improvement, because the aim or argument of the apostle is for the most part misapprehended.

In a comparatively minor detail of the verse that follows, the Revisers have shown better scholarship; for neither "by" nor any substitute for it has a right to stand in the last clause. The structure of the phrase not only requires no such insertion but absolutely precludes and condemns any supplement of the kind. Christ's coming and our gathering together unto Him are expressly bound together as closely associated events of the deepest moment to the saints. The older translation shows that those responsible for it paid no heed to this, the unequivocal import of the construction; for they have, on the contrary, interpolated a word which, however small, severs the objects, which the form of the original does and could not but intimate to be in the strictest union. The Revisers were therefore at liberty and indeed responsible as faithful translators to expunge the second "by." They thereby present the coming of the Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him as the two parts of the joint idea brought before us by the Holy Spirit.

But the great question is, what is the real bearing, in this connection, of that joint object before the reader? and what in particular is the true force of the preposition employed by the Spirit of God? The Authorised Version says "by," the Revisers give touching" in the text, and in the margin they add ` Gr. in behalf of." The usage of ὑπέρ, if we come to facts even in the New Testament alone, is pretty wide; but the context as ever has immense and distinct and decisive control in helping us to determine the intended import. There is the difficulty that ἐρωτᾶν ὑπέρ is only found here, whereas ἐρ. περί is of frequent occurrence and unquestioned meaning. Compare John xvii. where it is found repeatedly, and can have but one force, to pray or make request for in the sense of" touching" or "concerning." sit critical, or reasonable that ἐρ ὑπέρ should mean the same? It appears to me beyond doubt that it is not. The Revisers themselves give us not only "in behalf of" but "for the sake of," or more briefly and far more commonly "for." Now " in behalf of" renders no just sense in this context; but what of for "or" "for the sake of?" "Now we beseech you, brethren, for (or, for the sake of) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him," &c.

Here we have a definite sense which fits in admirably with the connexion. It is the bright object of hope and assured comfort whereby the apostle besought the saints not to be distracted by the agitating apprehension, spread by false teachers, that the day of the Lord had actually dawned. How far the Authorised translators may have so regarded the context, it is difficult to say; but the transition from "for the sake of," or "for" to "by reason of" or "by" is easy, and in this case might perhaps be allowed to approximate. Even Bishop Ellicott, who adopted "touching" for want of duly appreciating the contextual bearing if not necessity, admits that an adjurative meaning is grammatically tenable; and certain it is that from the Vulgate to Erasmus, Zwingle, Calvin, Piscator, Beza, Estius, &c., a crowd of others hold to this as the true scope. Meyer first assumes that it is strange to the New Testament, and then argues against the reasonableness of the apostle's choosing for the object of adjuration the very point he is going to instruct them on. But this is an oversight. They are distinct and even contrasted objects.

I cannot but think therefore that, while the Authorised Version in substance gives the sense, the Revisers have missed it completely, and substituted a meaning which tends to obscure and falsify the passage. The adjurative force "by" with a verb of entreaty is known from the earliest extant remains of classical Greek; and none can deny that the force of a motive or plea ("for the sake of" or "for") abode to the last and nowhere more usual than in the Hellenistic Greek of the New Testament. So rendered, the phrase runs consistently, and the argument or ground of entreaty yields a meaning in perfect accordance with the verse that follows, and the entire paragraph. The blessed hope of being caught up to the Lord at His coming or presence is a most intelligible preservative against the false and disquieting rumour that the day of His judgment of the earth had come. Every one can understand, when it is brought before him, that such a consoling and transporting prospect, if always in view, is calculated to deliver from the agitation and fear created by the delusive cry that the terrible day of the Lord was there. And so the apostle conjures them, not by "the day of the Lord," concerning which he was about to teach them (as he had been laying a ground for it in the previous chapter), but by "His presence" to gather them to Himself above, which was full of joyful association; as the subject-matter he treats of—the day—was full of terror, especially as misrepresented by some at Thessalonica.

But where is the propriety of the supposition that the apostle beseeches them touching the coming of the Lord and the gathering of the saints unto Rim, &c?

Did not the Revisers, like others who have thur translated the clause, assume that the presence of coming of our Lord is identical with His day, and render ὑπέρ here "touching," either because they quite identified these events in their thoughts, or because they had no distinct notion of the context? Now if the coming of the Lord be treated as the same as His day, what is the force of beseeching them touching the same matter as is denied to be then present? If the day of the Lord be a source of disquiet and awful anxiety, nothing can be more appropriate than to beg them, for the sake of their most longed-for blessing in hope, not to be troubled by the false teaching that the dreaded epoch was come.

Further, it is incorrect that " the coming of the Lord and our gathering together unto Him" is the subject-matter either before or after the entreaty in the verses before us. The reader has only to examine the preceding chapter i. in order to be satisfied that the apostle has been laying bare the character of the day of the Lord, when (not the hope of the saints shall be realised, but) the righteous judgment of God shall be manifested. It is for this last they are here exhorted to wait, in patience and faith enduring all present persecution and affliction. Then are the glorified saints to reign with Christ in the kingdom of God, for which they were yet suffering. Then, and not before, will God recompense affliction to those that afflict the saints, and on the other hand to the afflicted saints rest with Paul and his fellow-labourers, not when they are caught up to heaven, but when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with the angels of His power, rendering vengeance to those that know not Good, and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus. For then the day will have come for His and their enemies to suffer as punishment everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He shall come, not to translate His saints to the Father's house, but to be glorified in them, and to be marvelled at in all those that believed in that day. Such is the real matter in hand, not in a single phrase the coming of the Lord to have us changed into His glorious likeness and in the Father's presence, but our appearing with Him in glory to the confusion of His adversaries overthrown before the wondering world, the day of righteous award for both to God's glory. Hence, if the apostle had been beseeching the saints "touching" the subject in discussion, and as to which they needed rectification, it ought to have been the day of the Lord and of our reigning in the kingdom with 1 m. The Revisers appear to have confounded the coming with the day of the Lord; whereas the one is the comfort against the fear of the other.

Equally plain is the bearing of what follows. For the apostle tells the saints that the day, of which the misleaders had falsely spoken as actually there, could not be, however men may beguile about it, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed; and of course therefore the power and person that restrains meanwhile must a fortiori be taken out of the way. For the mystery of lawlessness already works; not yet is the lawless one revealed till the restraint is gone. Once it is, the full display of .Satan's power takes its course in the revelation of the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought, not by His coming simply, but by "the manifestation of His coming." Here again it is the day of the Lord, when righteous judgment, deals publicly with friends and adversaries, and not His coming, when He gathers His saints to Himself on high.

Can evidence then be asked more complete than what the context before and after furnishes that the apostle beseeches the saints for (or by) their inspiriting hope not to be upset in mind nor to be troubled about the day of the Lord as if come with its terrors? To beseech them touching that day, which he had himself painted in the most vivid colours, not to be uneasy as if it were now present, seems vapid and lame, as unlike the accustomed energy and precision of the apostle as can be conceived.

That there is a marked distinction between the Lord's coming and ' His day had already been laid before the Thessalonians in chapters iv. and v. of the First Epistle respectively. Verses 15-17 of chap. iv. explicitly show us the character and circumstances, the aim and consequences, of the coming of our Lord Jesus when the saints, dead or living, are gathered unto Him; as chap. v. 1-3 plainly opens out the dread effect of that day when it comes on the wicked. There is the strongest contrast between them; and not a word intimates that they occur at the same moment, though, no doubt, when the day arrives, it is still the coming of the Lord, and indeed not this only, "but the manifestation of His coming," and therefore, with the utmost suitability called His day. On the other hand, neither here nor in any part of Scripture is there a trace of the saints being caught up to meet the Lord in His day, which is a further and subsequent part of His presence, when it is not the consummation of His love to His own, but the outpouring of His just indignation on His enemies as well as the no less righteous display of His friends with Himself in the same glory