Rapture Verse Proves Pre-Trib Position?|
Or Post-Trib views?
The "Rapture" or the "Apostasy" Verse?
For decades we were confused by a statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4:
"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" (NASB).
Post Trib Rapture - For many of us, the above verse seems to say that the tribulation times (called "day of the Lord") including the appearance of the antichrist (called the "man of lawlessness"), will appear first, prior to the rapture event (called "our gathering together to Him").
Pre Trib Rapture - Yet at the same time, many pastors have also used the same verse to teach that the "rapture" of the church will take place before the tribulation period. We suspect that many of these teachers may read 2 Thessalonians 2:3 with a presuppositional meaning that they already understand, not by what the verse actually says grammatically. (Read the verse several times if necessary).
Briefly explained, the "rapture" (a word derived from the Latin Vulgate translation) is a moment in time when Christians will be evacuated off of planet Earth prior to severe political, earthly and cosmic disasters. These events are described in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and Revelation chapters 6-19. The horrific disasters appear to include violent earthquakes, brutal wars, massive pandemics and famines, tsunamis, economic collapse, asteroids, disturbances from outer space and a world dictator who rivals Hitler. During the rapture, both living and dead Christians will receive new, glorified bodies as they are gathered together with Christ in the air (1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thess. 4:17).
Greek Word "Apostasy" as it is translated Before KJV
Part of the problem with correctly interpreting 2 Thessalonians 2:3 has to do with the translation of the word "apostasy." Let no one deceive you for the day of the Lord will not come unless the "apostasy" comes first. It's likely that the word "apostasy," translated from the Greek, may not be quite accurate. Let's look at some reasons why:
Surprisingly, the first 15 centuries of translation use "departure" as the properly translated word for "apostasia" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (House 1995, 270). In fact, the first seven English bible translations of "apostasia" prior to the King James Version, rendered the word as "departure" (as in the "rapture" or "gathering together to Him"). Also, Jerome's Latin bible known as the Vulgate from 400 A.D. used the word "discessio," meaning "departure" as well. This historical fact is meaningful. While noting that spellings and English have changed over the centuries, here are a few of those pre-KJV English translations:
1. Wycliffe New Testament (1384): That no man deceyue you in any maner/for no but departynge aweye (or dissencon) schal come firste and the man of synne shall be schewid the sone of perdicioune.
2. Tyndale N.T. (1534): Let no ma deceave you by eny meanes for the lorde commeth not except ether come a departynge first and that synfnll man be opened ye sonne of perdicion.
3. Coverdale Bible (1535): Let no man disceaue you by eny meanes. For the LORDE commeth not, excepte the departynge come first, and that Man of Synne be opened, even the sonne of perdicion.
4. Cranmer Great Bible (1539): Let no man deceaue you by any meanes, for the Lorde shall not come excepte there come a departinge fyrst, and that that synfull man be opened, the sonne of perdicion.
5. Matthew's Bible (1549): Let no man decide you by any meanes, for the Lord comnmeth not, except there come a departyng first, and that, that sinful man be opened, the sonne of perdicyon.
6. Beza Bible (1565): Let no man deceiue you by any meanes: for [that day shall no come] except there come a departing first, and that man of sinne be disclosed, [even]the son of perdition.
7. Geneva Bible (1575): Let no man deceiue you by any meanes for that day shal not come, except there come a departing first, and that man of sinne be disclosed, even the sonne of perdition.
(House 1995, 270).
Making Sense from Eight Pre-KJV Historical Bible Versions
Simply put, if our modern English translations rendered the verse as it was in those eight pre-KJV versions, it would read something like this:
"Let no one in any way deceive you, for the day of the Lord (tribulation) will not come unless the departure (rapture) comes first and then the antichrist appears" (2 Thess. 2:3).
In other words, once the unbelieving population begins to witness the tribulation and identifies the world leader (called "antichrist" in the Bible) who declares himself to be "god" in the rebuilt Jewish temple, then they will know that the rapture has already occurred. It will be evident. Millions of Christians will have disappeared worldwide (2 Thess. 2:3-4; Daniel 7:25; 1 Thess. 4:17).
Swiss Reformer Creates New Word
No historian knows exactly why, but the Swiss reformer, Theodore Beza, was the first one to transliterate the word "apostasia" to "apostasy." Rather than translate the Greek word "apostasia," Beza "transliterated" or created a new word, "apostasy." Thus, the King James Version translators rendered "apostasia" to mean "falling away" rather than a physical "departure." Ever since, Protestant and Catholic translators have used the word "apostasy" or "rebellion."
This changed a once strong rapture verse which spoke of believers evacuated off the planet to be with Christ in the air, into a verse meaning defection from church teachings, morality and doctrine, i.e. a "spiritual" rather than a "physical' departure.
Turning Bible Texts into Polemics
One theory proposes that Theodore Beza may have changed the word "apostasia" to mean a spiritual departure rather than a physical removal, for a good reason. Dr. Andrew Woods postulates that in the 250 years before the King James translation, there was a growing schism between traditional Catholics and the newly emerging "protestant" faction. Each group may have looked to the other as "apostate." Thus, translating 2 Thess. 2:3 as "apostasy" might have been their way of indicting those who strayed from their own position. They forgot to do good bible exegesis and turned the text into a polemic to support their own position (Woods, 2017).
Context Should Always Determine Meaning
The careful Bible student may wish to refer to The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon which defines "apostasia" first as "defection, revolt;" then secondly as "departure, disappearance." The context of First and Second Thessalonians suggests that "departure" or "disappearance" is the correct usage - just as the eight translations before the King James Version had declared.
Paul's Use of Synonyms
We need to remember that in his two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul utilized good writing techniques by using synonyms to describe the rapture in several passages. In 1 Thessalonians he wrote of the "harpazo" which referred to a catching-up of believers into the clouds to join Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 4:17). In 2 Thessalonians he referred to the same event as our "gathering together to Him" (2 Thess. 2:1). So, it makes good sense that Paul used the word "apostasia" as meaning a "departure" to again refer to the rapture in 2 Thess. 2:3. Effective writers do the same sort of thing today.
Theologians Who Hold to "Apostasy" as the "Rapture"
Recent theologians and historians who have understood this and hold to "apostasy" as meaning "departure" rather than church "defection" include:
E. Schuyler English
H. Wayne House
There are others, but this is an impressive list of scholars. Although in the minority, their translation of "apostasy" as meaning "departure" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, is well supported historically.
Thessalonica Believers Not Left Behind
After all, why shouldn't theologians consider "apostasia" in 2 Thess. 2:3 to mean "departure" (or the rapture)? Context should always determine meaning. Think about it. Here in his two letters, Paul was comforting the church against false teachers or a fraudulent letter that had frightened Thessalonica believers into thinking that the Day of the Lord had already come. Paul was assuring them that they had not been physically "left behind" to suffer through God's wrath.
In fact, the apostle Paul had already clearly told believers that they were not subject to God's wrath (1 Thess. 5:9). Therefore, the common-sense interpretation of this passage reassures believers that they would be gone before the "great tribulation" (Matt. 24:21) and appearance of the antichrist. The "Day of the Lord" would not come until two events occurred:
1. The gathering of Christians to the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17, called the "rapture").
2. Then, the appearance of the "man of sin" (2 Thess. 2:3, the antichrist).
Enjoy Your Pre-Trib Rapture Movies Again
Hooray! Hallelujah! Pull out your old Left Behind movies and enjoy them once again, without apology. The next time your Reformed or post-trib friends try to spoil your joy, tell them about:
- those eight pre-KJV translations that used the word "departure" instead of "apostasy" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
- Tell them about The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon that gives two definitions for "apostasia," one of which means "departure" or disappearance.
- Name some of the reputable scholars who hold to this view.
Remind naysayers that context should always determine which definition of "apostasia" fits the passage best. Suggest that they study alternative views. Most of all, point out that this is not a "salvation" issue and post-tribbers don't need to become angry or pushy about it! Arrogance and ridicule are foreign to spirit-filled Christians. They are encouraged to learn both sides of the issue and leave it to the individual to decide which makes more sense. Unrestrained mockery, anger and ridicule is not a fruit of the Spirit and Christians should refrain from indulging in it anyway (read Galatians 5:19-20).
Squabbles Over 3 Year Difference
Okay…okay…we can already hear the protests. Sure, I guess it's possible that we could be here for part of the first three years of the seven-year tribulation, although there are arguments against that as well. It's even possible that we could face the antichrist. (We're only talking a little over 3 years difference here).
But, the chances are better that we won't face the murderous dictator called the "antichrist" in the bible. Chances are that we won't have to decide whether to accept a "mark," perhaps in the form of a bio-chip in our hand or forehead that allows us to purchase consumer goods and to be tracked worldwide - or be killed if we refuse it (Rev. 13:16; 20:4). Chances are that we won't face the worst of cosmic and earthly disasters, either - it's bad enough now. We can once again be comforted by the apostle Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 1 Thess. 4:18.
Looking for Jesus Christ - Not for Antichrist
Best of all, we can look forward to the soon return of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ - not the antichrist! "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:14-17, ESV).
Gulan, Gary. 1986. "Departure" (Greek "apostasia"): Rapture or leaving the faith? 2 Thessalonians 2:3 PDF online.
House, Wayne. 1995. Apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3: Apostasy or Rapture? In: Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, ed. When the trumpet sounds. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.
…Is the rapture found in 2 Thessalonians 2:3? PDF online.
Ice, Thomas. 2009. The rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Liberty University. DigitalCommons@LibertyUniversity.
…The "Departure" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. PDF online. Tom's Perspectives.
H.G. Liddell and R. Scott. 1982 . A Greek-English Lexicon. UK: Oxford University Press.
Woods, Andrew. 2015. 2 Thess. 2 - Apostasy or rapture. (DVD). Steeling the Mind Conference. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Compass Intl. compass.org.
…2014. 10 truths about the rapture. (DVD). Steeling the Mind Conference. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Compass Intl. compass.org.
…2015. 7 irrefutable reasons you can trust the pre trib rapture position. (DVD). Steeling the Mind Conference. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Compass Intl. compass.org.
…2017. One verse proves a pre-tribulation rapture. (DVD). Prophecy Watchers. (DVD 372). Studio 2. ProphecyWatchers.com.
Valorie Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA focusing upon Christian Origins while her husband, Ken, holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist U. She teaches and works with women at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Kenneth, serves as Director.