2 Thessalonians 2:5-7

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 323 - April 1883


2 Thessalonians 2:5-7

It appears from Ver. 5 that the apostle had in no way kept back these solemn truths as to the apostacy and the man of sin during his first visit to 1hessalonica. Reserve is the reverse of the truth in Christianity, which if veiled is veiled in those that are lost, in whom the god of this world has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving, that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ should not dawn on then. Reserve is the more strikingly false, as the time the apostle spent there was short, and the saints had been only just brought to God: yet did he not withhold either the coming of the Lord οr His day when He introduces the kingdom, nor the awful defection from the gospel and the manifestation of the lawless one which His day is to judge.

"Remember ye not that, being yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which restraineth, that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness already worketh: only [there is] one that restraineth now until he be out of the way " (Ver. 5-7).

Had the Thessalonians only borne in mind the oral testimony, they would have resisted more effectually the inroad of error. But they, as we, should learn even from that failure the incalculable value of the written word. Even a primitive tradition is unreliable, and as it needs, so it receives the correcting hand of the Holy Spirit. The inference from the Lord's word in John xxi. 22 seemed to the early brethren inevitable; but the disciple whom Jesus loved lived long enough to prove by inspiration the danger of inferential reasoning from an oral report, and the all-importance of the written word. How easy it is to let slip the words of the Lord, or what the apostle used to say!

There is no real ground of course for such a solecism as taking νύν with τὸ κ. like Macknight and others. It is simply resumptive with κα4, a particle of transition and not temporal, which is the less necessary as we have subsequently ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι.. Even if "now" were used temporally as to the Thessalonians, it would not imply that there was a time coming when they would cease to know, which is ridiculous, but a contrast of present knowledge with past ignorance. And the logical force of the adverb here, as determined by the order of the words and the context or coherence, does not suppose, more than the false construction, any undue knowledge of God's ways by His saints.

But the apostle does not say that he when with them had explained the restraint of which he here speaks. They knew, he says, that there is that which restrains the revelation of the man of sin till the fit and destined moment come. That he had told them what it was is more than is intimated; and there is no reason therefore to suppose this an unwritten tradition. All he says is that the Thessalonians knew the fact; and there he leaves it mysteriously for others, as it appears to me with perfectly given wisdom from on high. For the form of the restraining power might change in God's providential government; and that which the Thessalonians knew as then standing in the way of the lawless one's manifestation might give place to another hindrance later. Thus other and better reasons might lead the apostle to be reticent, than the prudent fear which the Fathers imputed to him of offending the Roman Empire, the dne barrier in the eyes of most. If the man of sin be not yet revealed, it is clear that the breaking up of the Empire then did not bring an Antichrist, as Tertullian expected. Yet their idea is perhaps rather defective than false. For the powers that be are ordained of God, and do act as a bulwark against that spirit of lawlessness to which the corruption of Christianity gives an immensely increased impetus. It matters not whether we look at the clerical party or at the radical, they both help on self-will, and are each unfriendly to civil government when it opposes either. Outside both, yet in the bosom of Christendom, rise up ever increasing masses of men whom it would be unjust to class with either churchism or dissent; men perhaps baptised, certainly animated with hatred of all restraint, yet notwithstanding their irreligion or infidelity skilful and eager to avail themselves of Scriptural words, facts, and principles in order to overthrow not only all recognition and honour of God, but all reality of human government. This is among the premonitions of the approaching apostacy, and the man of sin. lint as yet there is "that which restraineth that he may be revealed in his own season." God is meanwhile gathering out His children, the members of Christ's body, as He is sending His gospel to the ends of the earth. The empire is gone.; divided kingdoms of more or less constitutional character have followed the downfall of feudalism. The energy of the Spirit of God has wrought as yet, during each and all, to hinder the outbreak of the apostacy, and the manifestation of the lawless one before his appointed hour. But the Roman Empire is to rise again, ordained of Satan, not of God; when its active re-existence will operate as the main support, and be the manifest sign, if sign be wanted, of Antichrist in his opposition and self-exaltation against every one called god or object of veneration. The beast, or fourth empire revived, and the false prophet, as they work together in evil, so must they perish together, as Scripture plainly shows. The patristic scheme was therefore defective, to say the least.

It is quite erroneous to confound "the apostacy" with " the mystery of lawlessness." The apostacy is future, and only just precedes the revelation of the man of sin, both of which must be before the day of the Lord. But here (Ver. 7) we are expressly told that " the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." The apostacy will be an open abandonment of all revelation, after that the coming and work of the Lord Jesus, and the consequent presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, had made divine truth manifest in the richest grace to man on earth. When the unfaithfulness of Christendom has corrupted the testimony and made the church utterly and hopelessly despicable, to the shame of the Lord Jesus, men will rise up in rebellion, not merely against the faithless church, but yet more against the holy revelation itself, spurning God's grace and hating the truth, and resolved on nothing so much as their own will and way. "The mystery of lawlessness" is the hidden energy of Satan meanwhile in mingling error with truth under Christ's name, either swamping grace by legalism or prostituting it to licence. Even then this lawlessness was secretly at work in apostolic days soon to rot inwardly and foul contagion spread, as we see in Acts xx. 29, 30, in these Epistles, and almost all the others especially those called catholic where the evil germinating from the first is no longer a matter of prediction, but of fact and denunciation in the darkest cοlοurs and the most solemn notes of sure judgment. It is lawlessness secretly at work, and so called its " mystery," in contrast with the revelation of the lawless one when the resisting power no longer acts, and his own season is arrived.

It is also a mistake that ἁνομιά, lawlessness, is never in the New Testament the condition of one living without law, but always the condition or deed of one who acts contrary to law; for this would be παρανομία (as the verb in Acts xxiii. 3 and the noun in 2 Pet. ii. 16). The usual term for such a violation or transgression of law is παράβασις· (Rom ii. 23; iv. 13; ν. 14 &c.) The truth is that ἁνομιά is both a wider and a deeper word, as we may learn from 1 John iii. 4, where the Revisers have at length vindicated the mind of God from the darkening cloud with which theology had too long veiled the truth. Sin is not transgression of law but lawlessness, and lawlessness is sin. It is a convertible or reciprocating proposition, the subject being identified with the predicate. Hence it is exactly where there is no law, that ἁνομιά (properly speaking) is found. For, the apostle declares (Rom. ii.), as many as sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as sinned under law shall be judged by law. The Gentile was a sinner and lawless, the Jew a transgressor of the law. It is wholly to miss the truth therefore to say that the Gentiles sinning without law might be charged with sin, but could not be charged with ἁνομιά. For this is precisely the designation of their state; and besides, as a universal principle ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία. Had it been said that they could not be truly called "transgressors," it would have been correct. For where no law is, neither is there transgression; but if there be sin, as there is, there cannot but be lawlessness. Hence, says the apostle in 1 Cor. ix. 20, 21, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them under law, as under law, not being myself under law, that I might gain those under law; to those without law, as without law, not being without law to God but under law to Christ, that I might gain those without law." Theology is but a blind guide in the truth of God.

How then comes " lawlessness" to be appropriate in this ease? Just because it is the abuse of grace in Christendom. For every Christian ought to know himself dead with Christ, not to sin only but to law (Rom. vi., vii.), but for this very reason sin not having dominion over him as under grace, not law. Flesh (man in his natural state) may profess the name of the Lord, but either would be justified by law and so is fallen away from grace, or avails itself licentiously of the notion of grace to live lawlessly. Thus the flesh, which used to oppose and persecute, learnt to corrupt and pervert the truth; as its idea of grace was the utter relaxation of law for self-indulgence or self-will. In those only who are in Christ Jesus. posseesed of new life in Him and resting on His sacrifice for sin, is fulfilled the righteous import of the law, for they walk not according to flesh but according to Spirit (Rom. viii. 1-4). Thus lawlessness had been from early days secretly working within the circle of christian profession, as it will be developed openly in the lawless one ere long; when as the gospel will be flouted as worse than heathenism, so the law will be discarded as putting an unworthy restraint on the will of man that owns no superior on earth, and looks for heaven and hell as being no- where. Not " wickedness" or " iniquity," or " righteousness," still less " transgression of the law," is the true reflexion, but "lawlessness."

The rendering of Ver. 7 in the older English Versions is singularly perplexing.1 Wiclif simply reproduces the Vulgate's error of "hold" twice, for "withhold" which both the Vulgate and Wiclif gave rightly in Ver. 6. The Rhemish follows suite with its usual servility. I confess inability even to conjecture W. Tyndale's meaning, if he meant what is printed; or to correct the misprint if he did not mean it. "For the mystery of that iniquity doeth he all readie worke which only loketh, untill it be taken out of the way." (Ed. 1534.) That of Cranmer (1539) resembles the rendering of Alford and Ellicοtt, save that "only" with them precedes "until:" "tyll he which now only letteth be taken out of the ways." Geneva led the way in substance for the Authorised Version. The Revisers appear to me justified in their Version, save that "taken" goes too far. "Till he withdraw" is perhaps unobjectionable, or " be out of the way."

But this last and very important clause has of late been questioned, thought happily by few. It might have been thought that the last words of Ver. 7 were too plain to be misconstrued. Nor are they in any version at all known, hot even in G. Wakefield's, or in Gr. Penn's. The Vulgate takes it, as all the English from Wiclif to the Revised, to indicate the removal of the restrainer, leaving (its the Bishop of Gloucester says) the manner of the removal wholly undefined. So does the Memphitic; so the Pesch. and the Philox. Syriac Versions; so the Arabic and the Aethiopic of Walton's Polygott. Alford and Meyer may be adventurous, but here abide with the unbroken column of translators everywhere.: Here then is a bold suggestion: "For the mystery of wickedness is already working (only there is at present one that restraineth) until it becomes developed out of the midst2" &c. That is, even when abandoning the old "holding fast" for the sense here intended of " restraint," he dislocates the sentence in order to avoid the truth of its withdrawal, when it will no longer be the secret working of lawlessness as now, but the lawless one displayed, with whom the Lord Jesus will then deal. There is nothing, says he, in the words ἐκ μεσοῦ to signify removal or taking away! which he argues is "derived entirely" from the connected έρπᾶζῳ, αἴρω, ἐξέρχ· (Acts xxiii. 10; 1 Cor. v. 9; 2 Cor. vi. 17); whereas γίν. has not at all the sense of removal, but rather of origin or of existence. Now, waiving the " half" in Thuc. iv. 133, and " in common" in Aristides ii.120 (Jebb), Herodotus over and over again refutes the statement that it is only the connected verb that gives, though of course it may strengthen, the' notion of keeping aloof or neutral, a wholly different idea from development (iii. 83, iv. 118, viii. 22, 73 twice). The most fanciful cannot attribute movement to ἓζεσθαι or καθῆσθαι, to sit or sit down; yet Weaseling; a competent scholar, properly interprets the phrase, secedere e medio. The truth is precisely opposed to this objector, for it is ἐκτ. μ. which lends the force of secession to the verb. ' Compare Eur. Electra 797, where Paley takes ἐκ. μ. as meaning apart from the company; but it is probably abruptly or in the midst. Wetstein (ii. 311) long ago cited Anton. viii. 12, μικρόν, καὶ τέθνηκα, καὶ πάντ’ ἐκ μέσον, Ι am dead, and all gone. Let me add Dion C who in his H. R. says of Lucullus (ed. Sturz. 1 188) that he kept aloof from both, ἐκ μέσου ἀμφοῖν, and similarly of others (i. 686, ii. 48, 768), save that in the last the connected word is ὄντας, which is akin to γίν. In i. 388 Nepos is said to have withdrawn himself ἐκ τ. μ. away. Now we need not dwell on passages like that of Demosth. de Cor. (Reiske i. 323) where ἀνελόντας is connected with , ἔκ μέσον, "putting away," or laying aside; or again yet earlier, ἀν. ἐκ μ. in his Fourth Phil. (i. 141) "if we remove or take out of the way." But two passages of later Hellenistic Greek are the more decisive, as we have the precise phrase contested. Plutarch says of Timoleon (Ed. Bryan ii. 109) ἔγνω ζῇν κᾳθ’ ἑαυτὸν ἐκ μέσου γενόμενος, he decided to live by himself away from all. Achilles Tatius, ii. 27 (ed. Roden, 186) has τῆς Κλειοῦς ἐκ μέσου γενομένης, submota Clione, "if Clio be removed." Is it not plain then that the scholarship which could deny to ἐκ μ. γ. the force of removal is as bad as attributing the spurious sense of development to a phrase which never bears it in one single instance, nor I believe could bear it? The ordinary version is unquestionably correct.

Thus far I had written when a third modification from the same source meets me, somewhat more sober, and mainly brought about by a passage in Aesehines' Epist. xii. (Reiske iii. 695), where is another instance, ἐκ μέσου γενομένων, referring to men dead or exiled. In either case they were "gone away." H. Stephens need not be summoned to inform us that γενόμενος cannot be rendered "taken away" (sublatus), though this sense ho unhesitatingly gives to the whole phrase. Every scholar knows the wide range of meanings γ. derives from prepositional phrases attached to it as here. It is uncritical to cite texts like Exod. xxiv. 16, and Deut. xviii. 18, in view of a wholly different construction. For in all the Septuagint appears no instance of the phrase used absolutely as here with γ. But even so, calling "out of the midst" of the cloud, or raising up a Prophet "from among" (though here it is probably ἐκ only) their brethren, is in no way development. Removal, destroying, taking, sending, or going out, are among the frequent associations in the Greek Bible.

Take however Amos vi. 4 as one not so common, where it is a question of eating, and ἐκ represents "out of" and ἐκ μ. "out of the midst of." Development is never the connexion there. Does it not then seem strange to extract that idea for the latter phrase from Matt. xxi. 19, Mark i. 11, ix. 7, Luke iii. 22, ix. 25, Gal. iv. 4, 1 Tim. vi. 4, Heb. ix. 3; when not one has ἐκ μ. γ. but only γ. ἐκ, which last nobody disputes may mean development? And why cite the identification by Hederich of ἐκ μ. γ. (at least in Eur. Iph. in Au1. 342) with ἐκ μ.,  its regular inverse? It is herd to conceive, if it be not to bring doubt or darkness into the question. Even there is it not meant that A. would secure to himself the object of his ambition "apart from others"? In general the one means " in the way," &c., the other, "out of the way," &c., somewhat like the stronger ἐμποδών and ἐκποδών. That mind must be singularly constituted which could regard ἕζ. or καθέζ. in Herod. as giving the meaning of "secession"! quite as much as αἴρω in Col. ii. 14 gives "removal." If the author had said " session," it would be true but irrelevant. But it is true that the idea of secession from party really does come from ἐκ μ. and not from the verbs, which mark inaction rather. The passage from Aeschines' supposititious letter must be added to those from Plutarch and Achilles Tatius, clearly proving that the secession implied in the phrase is intrinsic, not contextual, and due to ἐκ μ. rather than to the associated verb, here the very same as in the clause in dispute.

Again, the inspiring Spirit had the best grounds for avoiding ἅρθῆ here, though Chrysostom, who applied it to the Roman empire, so paraphrases it; and he surely knew his own tongue. Besides, the preceding clause implies only a present constraint, se that its future withdrawal is the natural sequel; whereas the device of enclosing the central clause of verse 7 in parenthesis is not only harsh and uncalled for, but cuts the thread of the truth. And then, what an insignificant parenthesis when you have made it! If the Thessalonians knew that which restrains, did they not knew that there is one restraining now? Tautology might be truly said to attach to the desired parenthesis. One would think that the mystery of lawlessness must have been "developed omit of the midst," ill order to be already at work. in short the idea is at all points unfounded.



1) Some years ago use was made of some such version as this, or the even stronger one of. "holding fast," to oppose any application to the Spirit or the church. It was insinuated that the kind of restraint meant is illustrated by Zech. v. 8, i.e., some secret agent of God forcibly constraining till in his withdrawal the wickedness rises in its strength and the man of sin is revealed. But this sense seems to be changed now.

2) Since writing these words I find that a Dominican, le Père Lambert (in his Exposition des Prédictions et des Promesses faites à l' Eglise pour lea derniers temps de la Gentilitέ, ii, 314-318, Paris. 1806), resorts to a similar distortion of the last clause, "jusqu'à ce que ce mystère sorte de son secret, ου paraisse au grand jour." There is no parenthetic interpolation here, but no less violence is done otherwise to the preceding words, which are actually supposed to mean, " Seulement que celui qui salt maintenant en quoi consiste ce mystère, le relienne bien, jusqu'à," &c. That is, κατέχ. is taken in three distinct senses in order to banish the true meaning which supposes but one: (1) "ce qui empêche" (Ver. 6),' (2) " celui qui sait," and (3) "le retienne bien," the understood supply (Ver. 7). The alternative for Ver. 6, "a quoi il tient," or, " ce qui est necessaire," would in no way improve matters. Whether the English writer was indebted directly or indirectly to the older French work is of no moment; but it is of interest to see in both how one false step is apt to involve more, and that the truth is both simpler and deeper than either of these incoherent conjectures.