Pre-Tribulation “Apostasy” as ‘Rapture’?

I recall my reaction when I first heard it. Confused and in a temporary state of cognitive dissonance, I thought to myself, “It can’t mean THAT!” I may have even said it aloud.

I was alone, driving my car, listening to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, whom I very much enjoy generally. I find his slow, Southern drawl aurally appealing, and his occasional dry humor sometimes makes me laugh. But, more importantly, his core doctrinal beliefs are orthodox. Yet here he was making statements that raised my eyebrows.

He was working through 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, which was and is of particular interest to me. When he came to the words “falling away” (KJV) in verse 3 (other translations read “apostasy”, “rebellion”), he claimed this meant not merely apostasy in the sense of renouncing faith, but also “the departure of the true Church”, aka the “Rapture” of the Church. In other words, Dr. McGee asserted that the Greek word apostasia meant both here. Upon reflection I thought, “That sure extracts a lot of meaning from one word!”1

Below you can hear his explanation (timestamped at the appropriate spot):

At present I cannot recall if it was in response to the above2 or if I had a different motivation, but I downloaded a pdf titled “Who Is Antichirst?” from the Thru the Bible website, which contains similar verbiage.3 In its text McGee relates how, upon doing an independent word study, he concluded (just as above) that the Greek term apostasia means both “Rapture” and “falling away” in this context:

. . . The root word means “departure” or “removal from.” And the verb means “to remove, to depart, to leave.” It comes from two words: histēmi, meaning “to stand,” and apo, meaning “away from.” . . . Apostates, we understand today, are men who held the truth at one time . . . and now they apo-histēmi, they stand away from it.4

So far, so good.5 However, it’s the next portion that goes beyond the typical understanding of the word. McGee continues to focus on “departure”, but he appends an entirely new meaning to the definition he had just provided:

. . . What departure is [Paul] talking about? Well, the same departure he talked about in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. That’s the Rapture of the church . . .6

McGee then references 1Thess 4:16-17. Yet there Paul uses a different word—anistēmi (verb, ana + histēmi; noun is anastasis), as opposed to apostasia. They are close, but they are not the same word. Lewis Sperry Chafer notes the difference:

Note: The word “Rapture” does not occur in Scripture. The Greek word associated with the Rapture of the Church is anastasis, better translated “resurrection.”7

This is a distinction with a difference. A big one. The prefixed preposition ana means “up”, as opposed to apo, which means “from” (as found above in 2Thess 2:3).

Nevertheless, Dr. McGee specifies two “departures”—to occur one after the other—for this one word in this specific context:

1. The true church is to the leave the earth;

2. The professing church will just move away from the truth.8

Now, I am one who searches for multivalence (multiple meanings, paranomasia) in words. Such literary devices add richness. But with McGee’s explanation of two events, one preceding and then directly impacting the other, this hardly seems plausible here. In other words, even if the word apostasia could be construed as having both meanings, Paul would have had to use it twice, in succession, in order to get his point across. Even so, Paul would much more likely have chosen anastasia instead of apostasia for the first usage (and this would have provided a fantastic opportunity to rhyme with synonyms—Paul was fond of using various poetic devices for effect).

Disappointingly, this appears as though it could be a case of arguing from a predisposed theological position (eisegesis) rather than a careful interpretation of the text (exegesis).

To be clear, I’m not suggesting the reader stop (or never start) listening to Thru the Bible radio broadcasts. On the contrary, I find them edifying. As I stated above, McGee’s doctrinal stances are orthodox. And my criticism here is regarding an interpretation of a secondary doctrine (eschatology, specifically, the ‘Rapture’).9

None are perfect. And this is why we should always read with a critical eye and listen with a critical ear.

_________________

1 I am now reminded of D. A. Carson’s excellent Exegetical Fallacies (2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996]), in which the author explains Unwarranted adoption of a semantic field (pp 60-61): “The fallacy in this instance lies in the supposition that the meaning of a word in a specific context is much broader than the context itself allows and may bring with it the word’s entire semantic range” (p 60). However, the specific issue here is slightly different in that McGee is importing an additional meaning foreign to New Testament and contemporaneous usage. This will be discussed further below.

2 At one time I uncritically accepted the “pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’” view. After studying the doctrine at some length, I have since rejected that position.

3 I can no longer find the link to this download. Included on the title page of my “Who is Antichrist” print-out: “This message was originally published in 1973, later fell out of print, and then was revised in 2006 for online publication. The message is also included in the hardback book, J. Vernon McGee on Prophecy, copyright 1993 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.” In keeping with the site’s Copyright Policy, I hereby include the following: “Who is Antichrist”, by Dr. J. Vernon McGee © Thru the Bible Radio Network, www.ttb.org.

4 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9. Note: though the original text does not place the accent over the “e” in “histēmi”, I added it here, since this is the usual transliteration for the η (eta), in order to prevent confusion with the ε (epsilon).

5 Though I have seen this sort of thing quite often in the technical literature, I might question the methodology in looking to an associated verb form (histēmi, apo + histēmi) when the text contains a noun form instead (apostasia). This may provide helpful background at times, but it seems best to focus primarily on the noun form when the text in question contains a noun. See my comment at note 7.

6 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9.

7 From the website “Chafer Theological Seminary”, chafer.edu: Glossary: “R”, as accessed 07/04/2021. Though Paul uses the verb form of this word in 1Thess 4:14 and 16, he tends to prefer egeirō (“raise”) when otherwise using a verb referring to our future resurrection; however, when using a noun, he favors anastasis. When referring to the ‘Rapture’ event itself, most point to the verb harpagēsometha (from harpazō), “caught up together”, in 1Thess 4:17, though the timing of this event relative to the Tribulation period or “Day of the Lord”, is hotly debated.

8 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9.

9 Though beyond the scope of this present article, it can be argued—and I would—that the apostasia is not to be split from the revealing of the “man of sin”. In other words, the two refer to the same thing; that is, the apostasia reveals the identity of the “man of sin”. If this is indeed the case, then this context does not refer to Christians “falling away”, apostatizing, from the faith.

12 Responses to Pre-Tribulation “Apostasy” as ‘Rapture’?

  1. Chris says:

    It was years ago, but I’m pretty sure I remember this exact same thing while listening to “Thru the Bible.” I remember having the same reaction you’ve had and I remember coming to the same conclusion about J. Vernon’s orthodox view of Christianity being a reason to keep listening. He could make me laugh too and the man had a lot of common sense besides his Biblical knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Craig says:

    Thanks for your comment, Chris. I cannot recall the analogy presently, but McGee made a comment about women and makeup. It was something to effect that if a barn needs painting, it’ll look better once painted.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chris says:

    That is pretty funny and I can just hear him saying it.
    I grew up with McGee as my mom listened to him every day. I grew to like him as well. At one point I had all of his Bible outlines. He is still a favorite even though I don’t listen to him as often as I used to.
    Thanks for your post and God’s blessings…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. R Morrow says:

    This is a very old “wives-tale” generated in the 70’s when the NAR False-Prophet Movement first began having a problem with explaining what is clearly the Rapture of the church. They want, and still teach to believe in the “Rapture” puts a HUGE hole in their theory- and it certainly does- that the church must take the World away from Satan so Jesus can come back.

    The reference in ll Thess. 2:3 is translated from the original manuscript as “ap-os-tas-ee’-ah
    Feminine of the same as G647; defection from truth (properly the state), (“apostasy”): – falling away, forsake.”
    Forsaking, not departing. It goes on the identify what the ‘Restrainer” is- The Holy Spirit that indwells the believers of the Church of Christ. Antichrist cannot come forth to power with the Catholic Pope in tow as the False Prophet as long as the Body of Christ is on earth. Only when it [the church] is removed can Antichrist Sign a peace treaty with Israel- one that will last for 3 1/2 years. Then the worst parts of the Bible will take place during the last 3 1/2 years.
    But Be WARNED:

    2Th 2:7  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth {From G2596 and G2192; to hold down (fast), in various applications (literally or figuratively): – have, hold (fast), keep (in memory), let, X make toward, possess, retain, seize on, stay, take, withhold.} will let, until he be taken out of the way. 
    2Th 2:8  And then shall that Wicked {Antichrist} be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming {At Armageddon- the end of the 7 years “Daniel-Jacob’s Trouble}: 
    2Th 2:9  Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 
    2Th 2:10  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 
    2Th 2:11  And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 
    2Th 2:12  That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 

    So if you go to church and pretend, or worse are caught up in one of the multiplicities of deceptions and cults- when the Rapture takes place- Tim LaHaye’s little fairy tale “Left Behind” books are not gonna happen. If you know and ignore or deny God- there will be no hope for you for salvation- only the ones who have never heard will be saved. 144,000 Jewish Evangelist will preach to Jews all over the world- for the Tribulation is for Israel-only. The 6th Dispensation of mankind ends with the rapture. Known as The Church Age or Age of Grace. All my life I’ve heard people question- Why Did Got let —-happen? Because His judgement was withheld during the Age of Grace. But it will be loosed after the Rapture. The New testament warned us about False Teachers, False Prophets, Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing. I don’t ever think there has as many as we have today. Watch therefore, for the Day of the Rapture comes. And make sure- The Blood is Still There.

    Like

  5. SLIMJIM says:

    I’m not committed with the rapture question, thank you for your take

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Craig says:

    Hey SlimJim,

    I was concerned this post would be misunderstood to a degree. Let me explain. Most adherents of the Pre-Trib ‘Rapture’ doctrine understand 2Thess 2:3 as indicating that the falling away (apostasia) and the revealing of the “man of sin” occur AFTER the ‘Rapture’, explaining that these events fall within the Day of the Lord. This is how, e.g., Robert L. Thomas explains it. According to this understanding, the issue Paul addresses here is the Thessalonians’ supposed misunderstanding that they were already living in the Day of the Lord, and that this necessarily meant they had missed the ‘Rapture’.

    Though I do not think this is correct (and for me to explain why would take quite a bit of explaining, as one interpretation of this section impacts another, and etc.), this is not what I’m addressing in this post (by implication). I’m solely pointing out McGee’s unique position that apostasia means BOTH the ‘Rapture’ AND the falling away in this context, thus putting two completely different events (with one impacting the other, one preceding the other) into one word.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. SLIMJIM says:

    Gotcha. In the past I have appreciated Robert Thomas’ journal articles related to eschatology though I myself am still not decided with the rapture. I agree with you that McGee is wrong to see apostasia as both rapture and the apostasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Craig says:

    Though there are some who construe apostasia as the ‘Rapture’, Thomas is not among them. I find such a view untenable, given the usage of apostasia elsewhere in the LXX and NT, plus the use of different words for our future resurrection (to include anastasis).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jim says:

    This seems to be a far reaching attempt to shore up a pre-trib position with some fanciful interpretive manoeuvring. You have to go to the root of the root to get to Greek Strongs G868 aphistemi which can include ‘depart’ as a translation. It can also mean ‘depart from a position of faith’, not just physical departing.

    It’s stuff like this that gives pre-trib rationalisation the impression of continually clutching at scriptural straws. Apologies if that came over as harsh, but this is an error that will shake the faith of its proponents in the days ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Craig says:

    I can’t say I disagree with your words or tone!

    I know many who uncritically accept this view, having not studied it at any length. I understand it; I get it. But I think this is an important secondary doctrine (eschatology) to scrutinize. I think it leads many to complacency, as does ‘once saved, always saved’.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jim says:

    The problem, though, with phrases like ‘once saved, always saved’, is that scripture talks about us having been saved (at a point in time), that we are being saved (in the present moment), and will be saved ( in the future resurrection). So which ‘saved’ is it that we can or cannot lose?

    Rhetorical question, but these blanket statements get embedded in Christian thinking which tends to negate any Christian thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jim says:

    A bit like ‘I’m a pan-millenialist because it will all pan out in the end’! Agreed, not an essential doctrine, but one which indicates how you read, interpret and act on scripture, so it does have a real world effect, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

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