There is a Problem Here!

Earlier, we took a look at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, and ended up with a couple of ideas, and a bunch of questions. The next step is to have a closer look at the text itself. Since the ideas we came up with have led to more questions than answers, a closer look at the actual text is one way to see which way “the wind is blowing”. Any time I begin to wonder about the translation of the NIV (the example I’ve been using here) I first look at the NASB translation. The NASB (New American Standard Bible) is more difficult to read for many, because it is very literal, resulting sometimes in cumbersome English sentences. However, when you are looking at a passage that is hard to figure out, and you didn’t just want to jump onto another writer’s bandwagon, it is a great tool to get a sense of the text, to see if your translation might be what is making the text hard to understand, or harder than necessary to understand. I began by comparing our current text (2:1-4) and here is what I found:

NIV:

 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.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. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

NASB:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 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, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

Well now, isn’t that interesting do you see what I see? No, not just that some words are slightly different, not that the NASB puts added words in italics and NIV does not; how about the tense in verse 4…

NIV:

He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

NASB:

who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

The NIV speaks in future tense while the NASB speaks in present tense, and if the NASB is correct, that changes everything. Here’s why: Remember in the earlier post when I asked what good it would do for Paul to insert a chapter with information that is for “us” in our time, in a letter written to encourage the Thessalonians in their time? This is the type of question that should set off alarm bells in your head, because it tells you there is a possibility that the text might be taken out of context, and we do not want to do that, for it often leads to difficulty in understanding, and even outright error.

Yet, to be fair, we aren’t finished quite yet, for the NASB, like any other translation, can be the one that is wrong; we need to check the Greek, so grab your interlinear.

  1. The Greek words in question here are antikeimai (to oppose) and hyperairo (to lift one’s self up, be exalted, be haughty). Both are in the present tense; there is no word in the original for “will”. Thus, I conclude that the NASB has it more correctly translated than the NIV does. Of course, I tested that conclusion by doing the same comparison in the rest of the passage, and here are the results of that investigation:

2:9

NIV:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie,

NASB:

that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,

2:6-7:

NIV:

 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.

NASB:

And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.

Once again, I have checked the Greek to confirm the NASB rendering, and found it to be the more accurate of the two. In verse 9, we can again see the addition of future tense into the verse; that should be present tense to be faithful to the Greek. I also noticed an interesting variance in 6-7, in which the NIV adds the definite article “the one who” where the NASB (and Greek) have “he who”. Now this might not be a big deal; we haven’t gotten that far yet, but here’s why I mention it: If the NIV is right then there is only one person holding lawlessness back, and that is probably God. However, if the NIV is not right, then there may be more than one holding lawlessness back; just think about that! Without the definite article, which isn’t found in the Greek, God might be holding lawlessness back all by Himself, yet it could also turn out to be the faith of the Thessalonians (Body of Christ) that holds it (or him) back, and wouldn’t that put a whole different look to things? I guess that might make our investigation all the more interesting to complete…

Over the years, I’ve had a number of people ask questions like, “How do you figure these passages out?” That’s why I’ve taken you through all of this, to show you some ways you can look into these kinds of tough passages on your own; of course if you are an old pro at this sort of thing, you might find it a little bit dull. In any case, I hope it’s been helpful to some. One last thing, I mentioned that we just grab our interlinear, and I realize that most people probably don’t have one, particularly since I write this blog for “regular people” rather than for “academics”. If you don’t have one, there are several available on the internet for free; there is one you can check out here if you like.

Next time, we’ll start finding answers to our questions; see you then!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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4 Responses to There is a Problem Here!

  1. paulfg says:

    Masterclass! Thank you.

  2. Steve B says:

    There is my theory on the use of the present tense instead of the future tense which of course you can discard and that is Paul didn’t know when Jesus would return so he wrote his words in a tense that could indicate that Jesus may return as they are reading his letter (and the rebellion and lawless one) so that they could be ever ready as we should be ever ready. In Matthew 24 Jesus speaks in future tense because He hasn’t fulfilled His first task let alone able to complete task 2. That way we don’t just laze back and say something like, “It’s OK Jesus won’t return for a long time.”

    Hope that makes sense.

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