Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:4

I did some spade work in relation to an assignment my Thessalonians/Corinthians class did for today. The following are PowerPoint slides for class discussion today, going through much of the evidence and doing the exegetical process. Very difficult question! Hard to know the answer!

2 Thessalonians 2:4

Interpretive Question: What does it mean for the man of lawlessness “to sit in the temple of God, showing himself to be divine”?

I. Preliminary Look at Immediate Context
a. Thessalonians 2 seems to deal with events prior to the Day of the Lord.

b. This man of lawlessness would appear before the Day and do whatever this verse is talking about.

II. Broader Literary Context
a. 1:7-10 speaks of the “revelation” of Jesus from heaven with his angels, when he will come and visit judgment on those who trouble the Thessalonians.

b. So we observe 1) a context of Jesus’ return to earth in judgment and 2) an apparent expectation that it will happen while the audience is alive.

c. 2 Thessalonians 2 then goes on to speak of the parousia, arrival of the Lord… apparently the same event.

d. Chapter 2 thus would seem to be about events that Paul expects to take place within the audience’s lifetime.

e. The “Day of the Lord” would seem to be another way of referring to the same judgment.

III. Genre and Critical Issues
a. Some argue that 2 Thessalonians is pseudonymous, perhaps meant to balance out the immanent expectation of 1 Thessalonians.

b. If so, we can ask how much later than Paul it would have been written, something to keep in mind.

IV. Historical-Cultural Background
A. Intertextual Evidence
1. The “Day of the Lord” evokes Old Testament imagery of a day of visitation when God judges some group (e.g., Amos 5:18). There the judgment is more local or epochal. In 2 Thess. more universal.

2. Daniel 11:36--in reference to Antiochus Epiphanes, who “will exalt himself over every god.”

B. Other texts by Paul
1. The parousia for Paul refers to Jesus’ return in salvation and judgment. “Gathering together” in 2 Thess. 2:1 would seem to refer to the same event as 1 Thess. 4:17.

2. The idea that the “letter as through us” might refer to 1 Thessalonians seems incredible. Paul elsewhere says nothing about this “man of lawlessness” or any such action in a temple.

3. Temple in Paul
a. 1 Corinthians 3:16--“You are the temple of God.”

b. 1 Corinthians 6:19--“Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

C. Contemporary Literature
1. The rest of the New Testament
a. Mark 13/Matthew 24--“When you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be”--AD70, possibly end times as well

b. Luke 21—Jerusalem surrounded by armies--AD70

c. Revelation 13 and 17
Beast from the sea and beast from the land have some similarities. Beast from the sea makes war on the saints and takes imagery from Nero. Beast from the land performs wonders. No mention of temple in Revelation.

2. Outside the New Testament
Ascension of Isaiah 4:2-12 (2nd cent.)
"After it is consummated, Beliar the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend, who hath ruled it since it came into being; yea, he will descent from his firmament in the likeness of a man, a lawless king, the slayer of his mother: who himself (even) this king, will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted. Of the Twelve one will be delivered into his hands.

"This ruler in the form of that king will come and there will come and there will come with him all the powers of this world, and they will hearken unto him in all that he desires. And at his word the sun will rise at night and he will make the moon to appear at the sixth hour. And all that he hath desired he will do in the world: he will do and speak like the Beloved and he will say: 'I am God and before me there has been none.'

"And all the people in the world will believe in him. And they will sacrifice to him and they will serve him saying: "This is God and beside him there is no other.” And the greater number of those who shall have been associated together in order to receive the Beloved, he will turn aside after him. And there will be the power of his miracles in every city and region. And he will set up his image before him in every city. And he shall bear sway three years and seven months and twenty-seven days."

D. Other Historical Evidence
1. Temple echoes?
a. Desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes (167BC)

b. Entrance into Holy of Holies by Pompey (63BC)

c. Desired desecration by Caligula (40BC)

2. Contemporary Events of Interest
a. Martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome (AD60’s)

b. Jewish Revolt against Rome (AD66-73)

c. Destruction of the Temple (AD70)

V. Immediate Literary Context
Vs. 1— “concerning the arrival of Lord and our gathering”
context of parousia, meeting him in air

Vs. 2– “Day of Lord has come”
Sure seems like some situation must be prompting… too many potential sources of such a belief involved. Could it be over-enthusiasm for Christ’s return? Nero’s persecution? Of Paul? Of Roman Christians or Peter? The revolt?

Vs. 3—“apostasy” and “man of lawlessness”
Apostasy—Acts 21:21: “turning away from Moses”; Jeremiah 2:19—turning away from God; 1 Macc. 2:15—the apostasy as the forced Hellenization of Israel; Seems most likely to refer to Jews or Christians turning from God.

Vs. 4—opposes everything being called God
Evokes images of Antiochus, Caligula. Not obviously a Jew, although how otherwise would he be part of a turning away? Turning away seems to be in the direction of the man of lawlessness, so probably not Jewish revolt.

“sits in the temple to show he is divine”
Everything thus far has seemed literal—real parousia, real gathering, real individual opposing God, real turning away. So probably should take temple literally. The temple was standing at the time, so probably pre-AD70.

So likely resonances:
a. apostasy—like the turn away from God at the time of the Maccabees, turn toward the Romans?

b. man of lawlessness—like Antiochus or Caligula (if a specific person was in view, Nero is the best suggestion)

c. sets himself in the temple—like the desecration of Antiochus or Caligula, but in person like Pompey

d. signs and wonders will accompany

VI. Conclusion
Similarities to Mark 13/Matthew 24, possible blurring of contemporary events with end time events

Expectation of desecration of temple by political figure, perhaps literal originally, metaphorical now?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

"forced Hellenization of the Jews"...seems to be a sectarian view, as hellenism was the "way of the world". But, as "all truth is God's truth", then this would be a false view....

Bill Barnwell said...

Great stuff. I think there may be a good possibility that Paul uses "Temple" metaphorically in 2 Thess. 2 as well. If he is referring to a literal brick and mortar temple, this is unique to the rest of the Pauline library. No where else does he seem to be concerned about physical temples, and every other instance he uses the word he uses it in the metaphorical sense. He uses the word Naos for temple here, which can be taken literally or metaphorically and is used metaphorically elsewhere. If the "secret power of lawlessness" was around then (hence did actually speak to the original audience, as did Revelation) and continues throughout the ages then it is plausible that every age has seen its Caligula's, Nero's, Hitler's, etc and its quite plausible that this will continue in some final (perhaps fiercer?) manifestation in the last of the last days (ala certain flavors of amill and historial pre-mill theology). However, I try to avoid certainty on events that have not yet transpired given the great track record others have had in this area throughout Church history. And of course, nobody really nailed down the first advent and events associated with it, and even Jesus' own disciples still didn't fully get the point even at the time of the ascension.

If Paul was referring to the literal standing Temple, then I think this gives (partial) preterism more merit than anything else. In this case the fulfillment itself happened (70AD and the events and years surrounding it) and the "Day of the Lord" was Jerusalem's judgement, and Christ's coming was a coming in judgement. Application remains, but the historical fulfillment has been exhausted. We'd have to go elsewhere for the Second Coming and I Cor. 15 and Acts 1:11 are a little harder for the "full-Preterists" to explain away.

The third scenario would be a "both/and" approach, such as with the Olivet Discourse. The bulk of the Olivet Discourse pertained to 70AD, but it is written against the backdrop of events surrounding the final generation of things. I think this is a bit harder to prove in the Discourse where there's a clear time text ("This generation shall not pass away until all these things have happened") that sure seems to allign with the first century.

The question then becomes: on what exegetical basis, for long passages, and even an entire book like Revelation, can we say "well it applies to both." Is that like "having our cake and eating it too"? It's often argued that apocalyptic literature is not time linear, but there's a much more obvious and stronger case to be made for Revelation on that point than the Olivet Discourse by nature the way the text is arranged.

Also, when singular OT passages were used differently by NT writers to refer to the First Advent, in this case I have inspired Scripture telling me this is so. I don't have inspired post-NT texts to make the same certain claims with NT texts that may have "double reference."

A lot of different issues going on here. The key for interpretation, I think is: 1. Was Paul referring to something that would only affect his contemporaries, 2. Was he talking something only future, or 3. Something that is both/and. If it's 3, then how can we be certain?

Ken Schenck said...

Bill, we discussed the possibility that, although Paul doesn't give any clues in 2 Thessalonians 2 that he means the temple figuratively for the church, this might have been such a standard way of him teaching that the Thessalonians would have immediately have recognized what he was talking about.

By the way, I suggested that if I were to preach the passage, I might use Jim Jones as a kind of embodiment of the kind of thing going on...

Bill Barnwell said...

Let's assume that the literal standing temple of Paul's time was in fact the referent. Who would you say has the stronger exegetical case, the preterists, or the dispensationalists who say that a Temple must be rebuilt to fulfill the prophecy?

Or, the question could be asked, assuming Paul was referring to a literal standing Temple (and the Thessalonians would have understood it literally), on what grounds could the future ultimate fulfillment then be metaphorical (non literal Temple)?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I thought ancient texts did not "report" history accurately, as it was much more theologically influenced...
Plus, the fact, that all of the discussion has been based on a literal rendering of the "second coming"...apocalytic literature is not historical experience, but a "vision" or "hope", etc. so I wouldn't base my life on it...

James Gibson said...

In 2 Timothy, Paul identifies two men "who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened" (2 Tim. 2:18). These men are, specifically, Hymenaeus and Philetus. Hymenaeus is also mentioned, along with Alexaner, in 1 Timothy 1:20 as having been "handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." Apparently, the danger of their error lies in the fact that it is "upsetting the faith of many" and has the potential for "lead[ing] people into more and more ungodliness."

Whether or not it was Hymneaeus and his gang who started spreading this false teaching in Thessalonica, it would appear to be synonymous with the rumor that "the Day of the Lord" had already come, since the resurrection is a key component of the Day.

Perhaps the claim by Hymenaeus, et al. that the resurrection/Day of the Lord had already happened was a claim of spiritual superiority, that is, that they had attained in this life that which Paul could only hope for in the life to come. Were they, possibly, among the so-called "super apostles" who sought to undermine Paul's ministry?

Ken Schenck said...

Could be, James--great possible connection. I left 2 Thessalonians 2 once again feeling like I don't know what it was really about.

Bill Barnwell said...

Ken, how do you approach the Olivet Discourse, specifically vv.1-35, where do you determine--and what textual clues are given--that the passage shifts in focus from the very near ("this generation") to the very far (stuff that hasn't happened yet)?

Secondly, could the shift in time focus occur in v. 36? The preceding passage is very specific about when "these thigns" would take place, full of details of what it would look like and what would lead up to it. But with what sounds like Second Coming language in verses 36 and continuing (which admittedly sounds a lot like what is in vv.29-31) gets very non-specific and no time table is given.

Rick T said...

Hi there,
I did a post on this text which was more geared toward the pre/post tribulational debate. However, I did unearth an interesting quote:

Interpreting ἐνέστηκεν ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου as “the day of the Lord has already come” in verse 2, rather than as “is at hand,” is important to the discussion as is one’s understanding of the Day of the Lord (DOTL). If the Thessalonians thought the rapture (post-trib) was after the DOTL then perhaps it is strange for the Thessalonians not to be joyful in anticipation of the parousia (MacArthur Study Bible, p1857, 1997). However perhaps “If the Thessalonians believed that the troubles they were enduring were the woes preceding the parousia, an intense level of expectation would result. The delay of the parousia for a community could spell the end of faith for many of its adherents” (D. Michael Martin. 1, 2 Thessalonians. New American Commentary., 2002, 229) BDAG affirms this interpretation (p337) as well as do NASB (“has come”), NRSV (“is already here”), NIV (“has already come”), and ESV (“has come”). Cf. Romans 8:38 “things present, things to come” (NASB).

Rick Tatina