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A church member recently asked me to review a book he picked up at a local bookstore. Entitled In the Twinkling of an Eye (no publisher or date listed), author Gene Williams, Th.D. writes a very simple book to illustrate the events of the Tribulation in light of a pre-tribulational rapture.

In chapter 4 of his book, Dr. Williams begins with an explanation of the Antichrist's revelation in 2 Thessalonians 2.

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 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 (vv. 1-3).

Concerning verse 3, he writes, "This verse is difficult to understand. There are two distinct opinions about this verse, so I will give you two interpretations to help you understand. Despite the disagreement, however, both interpretations indicate that the true church will not go through the tribulation" (emphasis added, p. 29).

He continues, "Notice that Paul says, 'Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come. . . .' If you have a Bible that is not cheaply printed, you will notice that those five words 'that day shall not come' are in italics. . . . when italics are used in the King James Version, it means these words were not in the original language. Instead, these words were added to make the translation more understandable. . . . Most of the time this practice was helpful, but sometimes when they added the italicized word, it caused numerous difficulties. . . . the phrase 'that day shall not come' . . . [is] the translation of one negative word not. Therefore, a more accurate rendering of this verse reads, 'Let no man deceive you by any means: for except there come a falling away first that man of sin shall not be revealed, the son of perdition'" (italics in original, pp. 29-30).

Let's examine Dr. Williams' point more closely. The Greek text for verse 3 reads as follows:
μή τις ὑμᾶς ἐξαπατήσῃ κατὰ μηδένα τρόπον ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ ἔλθῃ ἡ ἀποστασία πρῶτον καὶ ἀποκαλυφθῇ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας
me tis humas exapatese kata medena tropon oti ean me elthe he apostasia proton kai apokaluphthe ho anthropos tes amartias, ho huios tes apoleias

Dr. Williams is correct in pointing out the italicized words in the KJV were added for meaning by the translators. However, the phrase "that day shall not come" was not derived as Dr. Williams proposes. He contends that the phrase is derived from "one negative word not," which would be the second Greek word me in the verse. However, me (not) is contextually joined with its preceding word ean (if) where it forms what is known as the protasis of a third class condition (see Daniel B. Wallace's book Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics, p. 696). Ean me, as a negative condition, is translated together as "except" or "unless." Me cannot be separated from ean in the Greek syntax as Dr. Williams tries to do.

Protasis
and apodosis refer to the antecedent and main clause of a conditional (if ... then) sentence. For example, "But if ye be led of the Spirit [protasis], ye are not under the law [apodosis]" (Gal. 5:18). A third class condition in Greek refers to those conditional statements which can be considered 1) future in time and likely in situation, or hypothetical, and 2) present in time and generic in situation. The protasis ("if" clause) of a third class condition is always set off by the Greek word ean. For example, Mark 5:28 provides a future/likely condition: "For she said, If (ean) I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole." 1 Cor. 13:2+ are good examples of the hypothetical situation. And John 11:9-10 are good examples of the present/generic condition.

To denote the negative sense, me is joined with eanean me—as noted above. An example of this is Luke 13:5, "I tell you, Nay: but except (ean me) ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Ean me is the construct of 2 Thess. 2:3, "except (ean me) there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." This is the protasis, but the apodosis is not provided.

Dr. Williams wants to place me later in the sentence to imply shall not. He already uses it once in his personal translation by the word except. Separating me from ean, leaves ean to be translated as simply "if." Let it be understood that me has already been used with ean and cannot be re-used in the sentence. Thus, Dr. William's "shall not" is also absent in the original text.

The phrase continues elthe he apostasia proton which translates to "the apostasy comes first." The next immediate word is kai—the Greek conjunction—meaning "and." Dr. Williams willfully ignores this word in his translation because it works against his proposed idea. In the place of and, he wishes to insert the words shall not which are not in the original text at all. Kai is followed by apokaluphthe ho anthropos tes amartias, ho huios tes apoleias, "the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction." Combining it all together, adding in the text from the beginning of the sentence, a literal, word for word translation is obtained:

Let no one deceive you through any manner because unless the apostasy comes first and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction.

Ean me initiates the protasis, but where is the apodosis? It is not provided by Paul in the sentence. To find Paul's intended meaning, we must ask ourselves the basic question, "What was Paul talking about?"

In the beginning of this section of his letter, Paul is writing about "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and . . . our gathering together unto him" which he sums up as "the day of Christ." He tells the Church to not be dismayed by any false news that the day of Christ was presently occurring. He then continues, "Let no one deceive you through any manner because unless the apostasy comes first and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction." The implied meaning points back to the day of Christ with the understanding that day cannot be "at hand" unless the apostasy comes first and the man of sin is revealed. There is no other intelligible way of translating this text, except by inserting the words "that day shall not come" into the text as translators have consistently done.

NKJV: Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.
NIV: Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness* is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.
ESV: Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness* is revealed, the son of destruction.
NASB: Let no one in any way deceive you, for {it will not come} unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.
RSV: Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition.

The adverb proton (first) is generally understood to modify the entire protasis clause. It is generally assumed that if Paul intended proton to apply only to the apostasy, separating it and the revelation of the man of sin by a period of time, then he would have written epeita (after that) before apokaluphthe (the revelation). Therefore, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him cannot occur until the both the apostasy comes and the Antichrist is revealed. This fact alone puts the pre-tribulational rapture theory in jeopardy.

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Comment by Michael V. Frazier on November 13, 2010 at 1:35am
I agree. Although I am willing to recognize alternative ideas, I also feel that the apostasy implies a falling away from the apostolic faith. In addition to the scriptures you've mentioned, I believe there is another that also can apply.

In Matthew 24:10, Jesus foretold, "And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another." The word offended is the Greek word from which we derive our English word scandalize. When used in the passive voice (like Matthew 24:10), it essentially means "to distrust or desert; to fall away" (see Thayer). Compare the word's usage by Matthew in some other passages: Mt. 13:21, Mt. 18:6, Mt. 26:31, 33.

It may be that Paul's usage of the definite article before apostasia in 2 Thess 2:3 was in reference back to Jesus' prior teaching.
Comment by David Huston on November 12, 2010 at 11:48am
If Paul's mention of a coming apostasy does in fact refer to a "falling away" and not the Rapture, then wouldn't the only meaning of apsotasia that would make sense biblically be a falling away or rebellion from the Truth; that is, from the apostolic faith? I ask this because I have heard it described by others as a general societal falling away from morality or, as you mentioned, the decline of the church in the Middle Ages. My thought is that the apostasia refers to the same event Paul mentions eslewhere. For example, in 1 Timothy 4:1 he wrote, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons...." And in 2 Timothy 3:1-2 he wrote, "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers..." and so on. Both of these passages describe a revolt by "believers" against what I would call the true faith. It is hard for me to imagine that the world, at any time in history, could have a falling away. What would the world fall away from? It is already the devil's world. But what would be significant is for a large number of true believers to fall away and put themselves into the devil's hands. Frankly, I see this happening in ever-increasing waves right now.
Comment by Michael V. Frazier on November 12, 2010 at 10:02am
The Greek does contain the definite article: ἀποστασία. The ἡ is the nominative-singular, feminine declension of the definite article. However, I don't believe this detracts from the traditional understanding that Paul was referring to the apostasy. We must remember that Greek syntax is not equivalent to English syntax. The Greek language requires the use of the definite article in places where English would not. Therefore, Paul's use of it here does not in any way require an interpretation of "the rapture."

Secondly, I don't see the Greek text suggesting the apostasy is the necessary stimulus for the man of sin's revelation. It certainly could happen that way, and the text implies the apostasy precedes the revelation, but I don't see the text requiring these events to be back-to-back.

I personally believe that these events will be relatively close together, but I know that some believe the falling away occurred in the dark ages. If the apostasy is still yet to occur, I believe it will be over a course of time, culminating in the man of sin's revelation. In other words, I do feel the apostasy leads into the revelation; however, I can't say that the text demands that interpretation.
Comment by David Huston on November 12, 2010 at 6:41am
Do you know if there is a definite article in front of apostasia? Seems as though if it were referring to the Rapture, Paul would have called it THE apostasia, not A apostasia. On another note, does this passage indicate that the falling away is what will reveal the man if sin? In other words, he will be present on earth, perhaps even in a poistion of great power, but will not be recognizable as the man of sin until the falling away begins. I presume the revelation of who he is will be for the true believers, not the world.
Comment by Michael V. Frazier on November 12, 2010 at 12:43am
You're not missing anything. I certainly agree that the traditional reading means exactly what you point out.

Williams was trying to portray the apostasia as a necessary event for the man of sin to be revealed. His forced translation was "Let no man deceive you by any means: for except there come a falling away first that man of sin shall not be revealed, the son of perdition." By putting the translation in this manner, he can then appeal to the idea that the apostasia is the Rapture. However, his translation is forced by twisting the Greek text.
Comment by David Huston on November 11, 2010 at 6:35pm
Even if we go with the traditional reading with the extra words added (i.e. "that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed"), it seems to me that the only possible conclusion is a post-trib rapture. Isn't this saying that the Day of Christ (the coming and gathering) will not come until the falling away has happened and the man of sin has been revealed? Maybe I'm missing something here, but even with the added words, I can't read this any way other than the gathering comes after the falling away and man of sin.

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