David Alan Black’s NT Greek DVDs Now on YouTube

These DVDs consist of recorded lectures from 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And they are now available for free viewing! Read Dr. Black’s announcement in his blog post. The post contains a link to his beginning New Testament Greek grammar used in the course (and here’s a direct link to the YouTube videos).

Escorting the King of Kings?

In the previous article (Rapture Ready?) on the pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR) we looked at, among other things, the primary passage used to support the doctrine, namely 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17. Parallel and similarly-themed passages to these Thessalonian verses—ones mentioning a “trumpet” in the context of the gathering of believers (both dead and alive)—were shown not to support the PTR. In fact, these parallel passages suggest a completely different understanding, which in turn suggests a non-PTR interpretation in the Thessalonian passage.

In this post we will more closely analyze this same passage. Understanding Paul’s primary and secondary purposes in preparing this passage will further support our non-PTR position. At the same time, this may provoke other intriguing lines of inquiry.

Additional Revelation

Before proceeding further, however, I shall provide two additional passages relating to Jesus’ Parousia. These were left off the preceding article due to length. They are presented here as further evidence for the previous article’s stance as well as background for the current one. Both are from Revelation. The first is the seventh of seven trumpets (cf. Rev 10:7), which is the last trumpet of all:

11:15 Then the seventh angel trumpeted, and [then] there were loud voices in heaven, saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. 16 Then the twenty-four elders, who sit upon their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God 17 saying: We give you thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and reign. 18 The nations/people were enraged, but then came your wrath and the time for the dead to be judged—and to reward your bond-servants: the prophets, the saints, and those who fear your name, the small and the great—and to destroy those who destroy the earth.

The above passage has its own focal points, yet this last of seven trumpets is certainly the same as the “last trumpet” of 1Corinthians 15:52—and, as pointed out in the previous article, the Corinthian passage is a parallel to 1Thess 4:15–17. Though the Parousia and the gathering of the saints are not explicitly mentioned, both are implied, given the other similarly-themed passages which do mention them. That is, the Parousia and gathering are assumed to be nearly coincident with the trumpet sound yet prior to he shall reign forever and ever (compare And so we shall be forever with the Lord in 1Thess 4:17). Judgment, in both its negative (“wrath”) and positive (“reward”) aspects, is one of the foci (cf. Matt 25:31–46, the sheep and goats). And judgment is the sole focus of the remaining Revelation passage we will explore:

14:14 Then I saw—behold!—a white cloud. And sitting upon this cloud was one like a son of man—upon his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle. 15 And then another angel/messenger came out of the temple crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting upon the cloud: Apply your sickle and reap! For the hour has come to reap, because ripe is the earth’s harvest. 16 And the one sitting upon the clouds thrust his sickle upon the earth and the earth was harvested.

The imagery of one like a son of man seated upon this cloud evokes both Daniel 7:13 (cf. Rev 1:7, 13–14) and Matt 24:30. One might initially mistake this passage as indicating negative judgment (cf. Joel 3:13)—perhaps especially considering the “sharp sickle” symbol—but that would misinterpret the ‘reaping of the harvest’ metaphor here and in its broader context. See Matt 3:11–12/Luke 3:16–17 and the parable of the weeds (Matt 13:24–30) for comparison. To keep in proper context, this Revelation passage (14:14–16) should be contrasted with the wrath of God expressly stated in the verses immediately following it (14:17–20;1 cf. 1Thess 5:3). Thus, Revelation 14:14–16 is the harvesting of believers—though no distinction is made between those still alive and the dead in Christ.

As Paul states in 1Thess 5:9: For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved from wrath, but not necessarily from tribulation (just ask the Thessalonians). We may suffer at the hands of our enemies (or not), but we will not suffer God’s wrath. Believers are whisked away just prior to God’s wrath pouring out upon the earth on the Day of the Lord.

A Closer Look

Now we will scrutinize the Thessalonians passage, adding verse 18 (1Thess 4:13–18):

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. 18 So, encourage one another with these words.

Paul opens with a plea for the Thessalonians not to grieve about the dead in Christ (13–14) and closes with an exhortation to encourage each other (18). There seems to have been some mistaken notion about the ‘fate’ of the dead in Christ (13–14). The Thessalonian ekklēsia was primarily, if not exclusively, from a pagan background.2 Accordingly, they believed the dead had no positive future. Thus, Paul wanted to remind (or apprise) them of our future resurrection hope (14–17)—and the disposition of those surviving until Jesus’ Parousia. This future meeting of all believers dead and alive with Christ at the Parousia would provide the reason they could “encourage one another” (18) in the (then) present time.

So, Paul’s primary objective in this passage was to correct their misunderstanding—whatever this was exactly—regarding the dead in Christ (“those who have fallen asleep through Jesus”). And, toward this end, Paul quite likely went beyond what most English readers would perceive. That is, in his use of the verb harpazō (“caught up”) he may well have consciously repurposed this term (17) from pagan ideology, as Malherbe asserts:

Of special interest is the consolation tradition, which casts light on Paul’s use [of harpazō] and shows once more how he turns conventional expressions to a pastoral use. Epitaphs lament Fate’s snatching (harpazein) away the dead from their loved ones to Hades . . . Letters of condolence then use harpazein and its cognates in addressing or speaking of the grief stricken . . .

 . . . [Paul’s] purpose is to console . . . The dead in Christ will rise, and their separation from those who were left is overcome as, ironically, they are snatched up together with them. In a neat twist, Paul uses the conventional language of grief to comfort. He does not say who snatches them up, but v 14 would seem to indicate that it is God who gathers them together by snatching them up.3

In other words, Paul took a term (harpazō) with a negative connotation and inverted it. Instead of “Fate” ‘snatching’ all the dead to Hades forever, God will ‘snatch’ the dead in Christ together with those believers still alive at Jesus’ Parousia. We will all then meet Him “in the air”. The Apostle linguistically ties this idea together in his use of “along with Him [Jesus]” (syn autō̹) in verse 14 and “together along with them” (hama syn autois) in 17. In verse 14 God will bring/lead the dead in Christ along with Jesus, i.e., once the dead arise as Jesus had done God will snatch them (together with those yet alive) to meet Jesus in the air (17).4 As Paul states in his first Corinthian epistle, For the [last] trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (15:52).

In service of his primary objective, Paul necessarily had to explain some end time events. However, importantly, this was subsidiary. Similarly, in the immediately following section (5:1–11), Paul’s primary purpose is again pastoral, with a brief explanation of eschatology toward that goal. As Green helpfully explains in his overview of 1Thessalonians 5:1–11,

The purpose of the whole discussion of this theme is pastoral and not speculative (v. 11; cf. 4:13, 18). Paul demonstrates no interest in fueling an apocalyptic perspective in order to hypothesize about the end or to foster escapism. The teaching about final events is meant to inform and encourage them in their daily life and conduct. Clear thinking about the end is designed to help them live as true Christians in the present.5

The Day of the Lord comes as “a thief in the night” (5:2) solely with respect to unbelievers (5:3), not to believers, who will not be caught by surprise (5:4; cf. Luke 21:29–31). Importantly, note that Paul linguistically ties this section together with the previous section (1Thess 4:13–18): “Jesus died for us, so whether awake [alive] or sleeping [dead] we will live together along with Him (hama syn autō̹)” (5:10). Following this affirmation, Paul provides his concluding exhortation (5:11).

Where Do We Go From There?

An unanswered question in the Thessalonians passage—and not explicitly answered elsewhere in Scripture—is this: Where do we go after meeting Jesus “in the air”? Clearly, at the Parousia Jesus will descend from heaven (16), while believers will be caught up with Him “in the clouds” (17). One comes down, the others up. But once we meet “in the air”, where do we believers go? Do believers and Jesus go together, or do believers continue on to one destination, while Jesus proceeds to another?

In the PTR view, Jesus reverses course and believers continue on, escorting Him to heaven.6 But the analyses in this and the preceding article related to it have shown the PTR view to be insupportable when placed in the broader context of Scripture as a whole. Taking the similarly-themed passages as a group, the most logical movement for Jesus is to continue earthward, or, alternatively, to remain in the clouds to pour out His wrath upon the earth from there. Where, then, would believers go (or remain)? Scripture elsewhere records judgment/rewards at the end of the age (e.g., Daniel 12:1–3; John 5:28–29).

The remainder of this article will be necessarily speculative in probing for answers to this question of movement and/or destination. To be clear at the outset, I do not wish to make any firm conclusions from any of the data presented below. I am merely providing the following as intriguing [to me anyway] food for thought. That said, let’s dive into the data!

In 1Thess 4:16 the first command could be understood as a battle cry (see various English versions: “shout of command”, “cry of command”, etc.). And the “trumpet of God” could be similarly understood. Adding the “voice of the archangel”, Witherington observes, “The images are martial, as if Jesus were summoning His army.”7 These images accord well with the battle imagery of the Rider on the White Horse (Rev 19:11–16). Note that His army here includes those “wearing fine linen, pure white” (19:14; cf. 19:7–8; 7:9, 13–14). And Paul states something intriguing in 1Cor 6:2–3, almost in passing: “Do you not know that the saints/holy ones (hoi agioi) will judge the world? . . . Do you not know we will judge angels?” When are we to judge the world and the angels? Whatever the timing, this idea must be harmonized with God’s clear words, “Vengeance is mine” (Deut 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

In another article on CrossWise it was noted that the term Parousia had been used in antiquity for the fanfare surrounding the arrival of a king, ruler, or dignitary (see definition A2 here). The ISBE records how parousia was found in various inscriptions, noting specifically its application to the Greek god of medicine:

In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC…‘Parousia’ is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius [Aσκληπιός Asklēpiós]. Consequently, the adoption of Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.8

Considering their pagan background, surely the Thessalonians understood Paul’s intention behind his use of Parousia. Such a regal backdrop can add substance to the battle imagery noted earlier. But there is even more to consider here.

The words translated “to meet” in 1Thess 4:17 are from the Greek eis apantēsin. This is an accusative (direct object) phrase, and the infinitive “to meet” in translation is somewhat of a compromise. The Greek is actually a preposition (eis, “into”, “in”, “for”) and noun (apantēsin, “meeting”). We might think of it more along the lines of eis martyrian in John 1:7: “This man came for testimony, to witness about the Light.” As such it would be more like: “for a meeting with the Lord in the air”.9

With that background, we can proceed further. Two different Christian sources claim this noun apantēsis (in its accusative form apantēsin) carried particular significance in Hellenistic culture:

According to 1 Th. 4:17 . . . there will be a rapture eis apantēsin tou kyriou eis aera [“to meet the Lord in the air”]. The word apantēsis (also hupantēsis . . .) is to be understood as a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. Similarly, when Christians leave the gates of the world, they will welcome Christ in the aēr [“air”], acclaiming Him as kyrios [“Lord”].10

The word seems to have been a kind of technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary—a usage which accords excellently with its New Testament usage.11

Before exploring the New Testament (NT) examples, a selection from historian Polybius (Histories, V 26:8–9) will illustrate its usage in Hellenistic culture near-contemporaneous with Scripture. Note that Polybius also uses a verb form (apantaō) of this noun to restate the initial meeting, and he uses a separate verb (gignomai, “came”) to record the escort back to Corinth:

So, with Apelles nearing Corinth, Leontius, Ptolemy and Megaleas—commanders of the foot soldiers and the other army divisions—with great urgency, spurred the young men to go for the meeting [eis tēn apantēsin] with him [Apelles]. Consequently, Apelles came [to Corinth] with great fanfare, due to the multitude of soldiers and officers who had come to meet [apantēsantōn] him, and marched directly to the royal court.12

Note that the welcoming party would first go out with the purpose of meeting the dignitary en route, and then turn back toward their own locale to accompany him for the remainder of his journey.

Backing up for a moment, it might prove beneficial to further define both apantēsis and hupantēsis. Each is a compound of a preposition + noun. The first is from the verb apantaō: apo (“from”) + antaō (from anti, meaning “against”, “opposite”, “instead of”). Danker defines the term ‘come opposite to’, hence ‘meet face to face’.13 The second is from the verb hupantaō: hupo (“under”, “below”) + antaō, defined as draw up close for encounter.14 The two are synonyms but may well have different nuances, depending on context.

The first NT passage we will explore is, appropriately, in the long discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1–25:46), which contains Jesus’ teaching on the end times. The passage in question is known as The Parable of the Ten Virgins:

25:1 “At that time the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins taking their lamps to meet [eis hupantēsin] the Bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were foolish, yet five wise. 3 For the foolish taking their lamps had not taken any oil with them, 4 but the wise had taken flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 Because of the Bridegroom’s long delay, they all became tired and fell asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night came a shout, ‘Look, the Bridegroom! Come out to meet [eis apantēsin] Him!’ 7 So all those virgins arose, and they trimmed their lamps. 8 Then the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil because our lamps are burning low.’ 9 But the wise replied, saying, ‘No, there may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to the sellers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 But as they were leaving to buy, the Bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready entered the wedding with Him. Then the door closed. 11 Later the remaining virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us!’ 12 Replying, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you: I do not know you.’ 13 So, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The substance of this parable does not quite fit the pattern of going out to meet the dignitary, and then accompanying him back to the originating locale. However, it does match a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. And the five wise did accompany Him to the wedding. Moreover, the content is thematically related to both 1Thess 4:13–18 and 1Thess 5:1–11. So it is useful for analysis.

As with any parable, it can be perilous to attempt to make concrete parallels to the figurative language. But it would be safe here to understand the oil as indicating degree of readiness. In this sense, the oil could signify the amount of Holy Spirit infilling (Eph 5:15–21). If so, this idea of purchasing oil could be understood as akin to Simon Magus, aka Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24)—except maybe for the fact that the five wise suggested the idea to the foolish. Whatever the case, it is clear that Jesus (the Bridegroom) ‘does not know’ the foolish (cf. Matt 7:21–23). All ten desired to meet Jesus, but half were not ready, thereby missing the wedding (Rev 19:6–9; cf. 19:17–18).

The next NT selection for consideration is in Acts 28, which follows the pattern of the Polybius’ passage. While on his journey to Rome, Paul is welcomed by some brothers from Rome, and the brothers accompany him for the rest of his trip:15

28:15 After hearing the things concerning us, the brothers from there [Rome] came up to Appias’ Forum and Three Taverns to greet (eis apantēsin) us. Upon seeing them, Paul, thanking God, was encouraged. 16 So when we entered [eiserchomai] into Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

The next passage, like the first, is from Matthew’s Gospel. But it is very different in that it is regarding Jesus’ encounter with the two demon-possessed men from the land of the Gadarenes, whom he exorcises by sending the demons into nearby swine:

8:28 Upon His arrival to the other side, to the land of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs—exceedingly violent, such that no one is able to pass through that way—confronted [hupantaō] Him. 29 Excitedly they cried out, “What is it between us and you, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Off in the distance from them was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” So, after they came out, they went into the swine. Immediately, the entire herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and died in the waters! 33 Those who were tending the pigs fled; and then, going into town, they reported all, especially concerning the two demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town left to confront [eis hupantēsin] Jesus. Upon seeing Him, they urged that he should turn away [metabainō] from their borders.

Given the context, I decided to translate to the stronger “confronted”/“to confront” instead of simply “meeting”. The recurrence of the two words (verb in 28, noun in 34) may have been intended as a linguistic framing device to tie the story together. The final verse (34) is the primary one to analyze here, for it begins with the accusative eis hupantēsin and ends with the verb “turn away” (metabainō). I perceive the townspeople’s message here as one of ‘go away and don’t come back!’ Accordingly, I interpret this passage: After Jesus drove the demons out of the two men and into the herd of pigs, the townspeople drove Jesus from their town to any other!

In any case, verse 34 at least partly follows the pattern— it does not specify whether or not they escorted Jesus back to the shoreline—though in a negative way. That is, Jesus is not considered a dignitary by the townspeople. However, this could be a case of irony. That is, though the townspeople saw Jesus as villainous, the fact that they intercepted Him and essentially drove Him out of town, follows this pattern as if He were the dignitary He really is!

Tangentially, though still relatedly, observe the demons’ question to Jesus regarding “the appointed time”. Is this the time believers will “judge angels”?

The final passage to consider is The Triumphal Entry in John’s Gospel (John 12:12–15):

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast, after hearing Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took palm branches and came to welcome [eis hupantēsin] Him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD: the King of Israel!” 14 Then Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat upon it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion. Behold! Your King is coming, sitting upon a donkey’s colt!”

 . . . 17 Now the crowd—those who were with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead—continued bearing testimony. 18 Because of this also, the crowd greeted [hupantaō] Him—for they heard He had performed that miracle.

Though not explicit, it is strongly implied that those who went out with palm branches to welcome Jesus also escorted Him into Jerusalem. This, then, fits the Polybius pattern.

Verses 17–18 may not be directly related to The Triumphal Entry, but they do exhibit a similar pattern to the Polybius passage. The difference is that a verbal form is used instead of the accusative phrase.

What Can Be Concluded?

Having provided the applicable Hellenistic background and all the NT examples corresponding to or approximating this background, what, if anything, can we make of the data? Can any of this be used in attempting to determine where believers go immediately after our meeting in the air with Jesus?

What do you think?

____________________________

1 Note that these clusters of grapes are from the vine of the earth, that is, they get their sustenance from the earth as opposed to from the Lord (cf. John 15:1–17).

2 See 1Thess 1:9 how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

3 Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 276. Emphasis added.

4 “Those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” will rise from the dead first, then both the newly-arisen/formerly-‘sleeping’ in Christ and believers yet still alive will be ‘snatched’ up together. This sequence is the most faithful to the text. It is probably only a nanosecond after the dead arise that both these newly-arisen and the remaining believers are ‘snatched’ up together by God to meet Jesus in the air. In this way, all believers will be ‘snatched’ up together simultaneously in order to have one single meeting “in the clouds” with Jesus. This concurs with Paul’s statement that those remaining (those alive) when Jesus comes “will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep”—the living will not precede the dead in Christ, but the dead in Christ will not precede those yet alive either, with respect to the meeting in the clouds. Put simply, we are all ‘snatched’ together (hama) “to meet the Lord in the air”.  Accordingly, the ‘Rapture’ is a ‘snatching’ of both the newly-raised-formerly-‘sleeping’and those still alive in Christ at His Parousia. This, then, conforms to the one gathering of believers in Matthew 24:31 and the one harvesting of believers in Rev 14:14–16. This also concurs with 1Cor 15:51–52: Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed—in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [those yet living] will be changed. Paul then refers to the living as “the mortal”, which will be changed to “immortality” (15:53). In other words, Paul makes a distinction between the two groups and always places the dead before the living in the texts. Thus, all these passages easily harmonize by judiciously employing Occam’s razor.

5 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p 230. Emphasis added.

6 Very likely due to a committed PTR stance, Robert L. Thomas (“1 Thessalonians”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians – Philemon, rev. ed., Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006]) states: Since God the Father is in heaven, the verb ά̓ξεί (axei, “will bring” . . .) indicates that the destination of the movement of Jesus and those with him in this verse is upward, not downward. At this moment of Jesus’ return in the air, the company named will not move back to the earth but toward the Father’s presence in heaven . . . (p 418). But this does not necessarily follow.

7 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), p 138.

8 Burton Scott Easton, “Parousia”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st Ed. (1915), prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.4, para 43388

9 I retained “to meet” in my translation above because no other English version translated it “for a meeting” and I did not wish to cause any initial confusion. It was decided to leave the explanation of “for a meeting” for later—here—when explaining this speculative portion.

10 Erik Peterson, “ἀπάντησις”, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), G. Kittel & G. Friedrich, eds.; transl. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–76), p 1:380; Greek transliterated, bold added.

11 J.H. Moulton & G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), p 53.

12 Polybius, Histories, V.26.8–9 [Book 5, Chapter 26, section 8–9] (my transl.); Greek text [transliterated above] Theodorus Büttner-Wobst after L. Dindorf, 1893, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, specifically  here.

13 Frederick W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p 40. Danker is the “D” in BDAG and the older BAGD.

14 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 361.

15 Without a firm grasp of ancient geography—and Luke’s rather confusing narration in this part—it is difficult to follow Paul’s journey and that of the brothers who wish to welcome him; so, I’ll rely on the almost always reliable F. F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982]): Cf. . . . Acts 28:15, where the Christians from Rome walk south along the Appian Way to meet Paul and his company (eis apantēsin hēmin) and escort them on the remainder of their journey to Rome (pp 102–103).

Rapture Ready?

Are you ready for the ‘Rapture’? That is, are you living such that you are prepared for Jesus to return to first raise up the dead in Christ, then to ‘catch up’ those in Christ yet still alive?

As Christians, we should all be living as if the ‘Rapture’ were a near-future event. (I’m preaching to myself here, too.) But the relevant question to ponder is this: When does the ‘Rapture’ occur relative to the “Great Tribulation” period or the “Day of the Lord”?

Here’s one take, by Pastor Greg Laurie:

The Great Escape? Will there be a pre-Tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR)? Will those alive when Jesus returns escape the “Great Tribulation”? Is this PTR position supportable Biblically?

I strongly contend that the PTR view collapses under Scriptural scrutiny. In the following I shall show how and why.

Before doing so, let me state that I am not writing this to be argumentative or anything of the sort. Quite the contrary, I write this out of love and concern for my Christian brothers and sisters.

I recognize this is a secondary doctrine (eschatology) and, thus, not something to divide over. Yet it seems that the very fact that this is a secondary doctrine induces some (or even many) to forgo any critical analysis. In other words, many who believe in the doctrine appear to accept it without reservation (perhaps because the thought that we might go through the Tribulation is just too much to bear?1). My concern is that adherents to PTR could be lulled into a false sense of security, and when real persecution should come, they may be spiritually unprepared. This weighs heavily on me.

Unwrapping the ‘Rapture’

One of the usual tenets of the PTR is that the ‘restrainer’ in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7 is the Holy Spirit.2 As part of this view (with respect to PTR), some, or even many (though not all—see below), believe the Holy Spirit is ‘removed’ from the earth when the Church is ‘Raptured’. This then sets up the Great Tribulation period during which the “man of lawlessness” (2Thess 2:3, 8), aka the Antichrist (1John 2:18) is revealed. Yet, at the same time, adherents to this tenet of the PTR believe that “the saints” (hoi agioi) referenced in Revelation 13 and beyond refer to ‘Tribulation saints’, meaning individuals saved during the Tribulation period—usually understood as seven years long. But how can individuals come to Christian faith during this Tribulation with no Holy Spirit to indwell them, let alone bring about initial conviction unto salvation (John 16:8—11)?

The PTR requires two ‘Second Comings’ of Jesus. The first is for the ‘Rapture’, the second is for the final stage of the Great Tribulation. In attempts to alleviate the inherent incongruity of two ‘Second Comings’, some proponents claim there will be one ‘Second Coming’ but in two aspects (‘Rapture’ → ‘Great Tribulation finale’). But this strains language, especially given the presumed seven (literal) year tribulation gap separating the two. Pastor Laurie above makes the hard distinction between the Rapture, which immediately precedes this Great Tribulation period, and the Second Coming when “Jesus returns with His believers . . . to end that period, and to establish His Kingdom on the earth.” Can such a distinction and such a gap be supported Biblically, in proper context?

The ‘Rapture’ is said to be “secret”. Yet the primary passage used to support the doctrine is 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (as Laurie does in the video above), in which ‘the Rapture’ is preceded by a loud command (shout) and the trumpet of God (4:16). It is difficult to imagine how such imagery can be construed as secretive—that it can be understood as quiet enough not to disturb non-Christians. Below is larger context:

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord.3

I contend that two ‘Second Comings’—or two aspects of one ‘Second Coming’, or (per Laurie) “the Rapture” followed by “the Second Coming”—must be read into the relevant texts (eisegesis). One Coming, one Parousia, is the most natural reading of the associated passages. Surely Occam’s razor (do not multiply unnecessarily) should be applied here. The last sentence of v 17 above (And so we shall be forever with the Lord) most logically implies the closing of the present age and the beginning of the next. In other words, in view of the closing sentence above, does it not seem that the ‘Rapture’ occurs just before the end of this age?

The Greek word Parousia (see v 15 above) will play a key role in our analysis below. This term is understood to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, i.e., His (one) return (see dictionary definition here.).

How Many Trumpets Herald Jesus?

It will prove instructive to compare 1Thess 4:16—17 with similarly-themed passages.

In Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives (Olivet Discourse) regarding the end times, He is asked by His disciples (Matt 24:3), “Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Your coming [Parousia] and the end of the age?” Note that their question combined Jesus’ return with the end of the age.

In response, Jesus provides a list of things which must occur prior to His return [Parousia], seemingly in chronological order. This includes famine and seismic activity (24:7), Christian persecution unto death on account of faith in Jesus (24:9), apostasy and betrayal (24:10), deception (24:11), increasing wickedness leading to cold hearts (24:12)—all before the beginning of the end (24:14). These events are followed by the “abomination of desolation” (24:15; cf. 2Thess 2:3), which leads to unequaled “great tribulation (thlipsis)” (24:21). This then is followed by Jesus directly answering the latter part of their question:

24:23 “Then if anyone should say to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ!’ or ‘Over there!’, do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and display great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take heed! I have forewarned you. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness’, do not go out; 27 For as lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the Parousia of the Son of Man.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation [thlipsis] of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from the sky. The powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and all the tribes/people of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels/messengers with a great trumpet, and He will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Here we have a ‘trumpet’, which clearly occurs after some awful celestial events (24:29).4 Does this not appear like the end of the age? The italicized portions are quoted or paraphrased from, respectively, Joel 2:31 (sun . . . not give its light),5 Joel 2:10 (stars shall fall),6 and Daniel 7:13 (Son of Man coming). Joel 2:31 is not quoted in full, its latter portion reading …before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes (cf. Acts 2:20).7 And Joel 2:10 is followed by this in 2:11: The Day of the LORD is great and dreadful; who can endure it? Since these celestial events are followed by “the sign of the Son of Man in the sky”, this seems to imply His appearing signifies what is elsewhere called the Day of the Lord (LORD).

More importantly, Jesus’ return (Parousia) will be both clearly visible to all (24:27, 30) and in concert with the gathering of His elect (24:31). Will there be two trumpets with two separate gatherings: (a) first the dead in Christ and those ‘raptured’ (1Thess 4:16-7), (b) and then some later gathering of “Tribulation saints”? A look at the next similarly-themed passage should definitively answer that question.

Chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains the most extensive narration on Christians’ future resurrection hope, including a description of the post-earthly bodies of the faithful. Paul begins with a proclamation of the Gospel message (1Cor 15:1-4; cf. 1Thess 4:14a), which he then uses as a basis for our future hope (1Cor 15:22-23; cf. 1Thess 4:14b-4:17) and for the final end to Christ’s (and our) adversaries (1Cor 15:24):

15:22 For just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in order: Christ, the first fruit, then all those of Christ, with His coming [Parousia] 24 Next: the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after He has nullified every ruler, and every authority and power.

So, according to Paul the Apostle here, all those in Christ “will be made alive” (resurrected [or ‘raptured’, see 15:51 below: Not all will sleep]) with His coming/Parousia. Compare Paul’s usage of Parousia here with his usage in 1 Thessalonians 4 and also Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. Also note that in the Corinthians passage just above, Jesus’ Parousia is followed by the end. This seems to concur with the chronology of events in 1 Thessalonians (4:17: And so we shall be forever with the Lord.) and Matthew (24:35: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away.).

But there is more. In describing our future ‘resurrection bodies’, the Apostle compares and contrasts with our current flesh and blood bodies (1Cor 15:43—44a, 49):

15:43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body . . . 49 Just as we bear the image of the earthly [Adam], we will also bear the image of the Heavenly [Jesus].

Our new ‘spiritual bodies’ will be just like Jesus’ post-resurrection glorified body!

Paul now brings us to the climax of this passage:

15:50 Now this I say, brothers [and sisters]: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither does the perishing inherit imperishability. 51 Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed— 52 in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must be clothed with imperishability and this mortal clothed with immortality. 54 But when the perishable has been clothed with imperishability and the mortal has been clothed with immortality, then the written Word will be fulfilled: Death has been swallowed up in victory!

Paul explicitly refers to this trumpet call as the last trumpet. And he refers to ‘the Rapture’ in not all will sleep. In other words, this should be understood as a parallel passage to 1Thess 4:16—17. Thus, the Thessalonians passage cannot refer to a separate gathering from the First Corinthians passage. And it certainly appears that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 refer to this same gathering. Moreover, the quote of Isaiah 24:8 (Death has been swallowed up) in 1Cor 15:54 connotes the same finality as the similar verbiage in 1Thess 4:17 and Matt 24:35 (as noted above).  Sure the words in the surrounding contexts are a bit different, but each passage has different emphases, accounting for these variations.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, observes:

The tribulation is quite clearly linked with the Lord’s return in some passages. First, the loud trumpet call to gather the elect in Matthew 24:31, the sound of the trumpet of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and the last trumpet at which our bodies are changed in 1 Corinthians 15:51—52 all seem to be the same trumpet—the last trumpet that is blown just before the millennium (or, on the amillennial view, the eternal state). If it is indeed the “last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52), then it is hard to see how another loud trumpet call (Matt 24:31) could follow it seven years later.8

Apparently some PTR teachers construe Matthew 24:31 as describing separate, later events than the Thessalonians passage. The burden of proof is on the PTR teachers to conclusively demonstrate that these are indeed completely separate events, and, more generally, to provide a coherent overall doctrine. This would include (though not be limited to) explaining how the Matthew passage refers strictly to the gathering of “Tribulation saints”, while the Thessalonians passage excludes them, and how the “loud command” and “trumpet of God” of 1Thess 4:16 can be understood as “secret” and quiet enough not to awaken unbelievers.

Once again, I think Occam’s razor should be employed. The Parousia is mentioned in all three passages. Most logically, this refers to the one return of Jesus—to gather all the saints and bring about the end of the current age. This is the Day of the Lord—our blessed hope, yet a Day for God’s wrath to rain down on his adversaries.

Tribulation Saints and “The Church”

Pastor/teacher John MacArthur is another example of one who holds to the PTR. To his credit, however, he rejects the view that the Holy Spirit leaves at the PTR. Instead, MacArthur claims the Spirit remains and is ‘taken out of the way’ (2Thess 2:7) midway through the seven year Tribulation so the Antichrist can be revealed; yet the Spirit’s presence continues on the earth even after that.9 Laying aside for now the other problems with the PTR (as detailed in the previous section), MacArthur’s view here retains one of the attendant problems of the ‘Holy-Spirit-leaves-with-the-Raptured-Church’ camp: the relation of the “Tribulation saints” to the universal Church.

The best way to explain is to begin by quoting from his sermon “A Jet Tour Through Revelation”, as found in his book Truth Endures:10

The end of Revelation 3 is the end of the message to the churches. We do not hear the word “church” again in the book of Revelation until the very end of chapter 22 when Jesus says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches.” The church is not particularly in view from here on until the church is called by another name in the millennial Kingdom, and that is the “bride.”11

The Greek word for “church” is ekklēsia (plural ekklēsiai).12 In the New Testament (NT), with respect to Christ-followers,13 this word refers to gatherings or congregations of believers, as it does for the seven churches in Revelation 2—3. This word is even used of a gathering at Prisca and Aquila’s home (Romans 16:3—5). True believers are referred to as hoi agioi, “the saints”, or more literally “the holy ones”—always in the plural, never in the singular. The saints/holy ones are inseparable from “the Church”. We may call an individual gathering at a specific locale a “church” (ekklēsia), but every ekklēsia is part of the one larger, universal ekklēsia: “the Church”. All true “holy ones” (agioi) belong to the same universal ekklēsia as the Apostle Paul and the Apostle John.

To exemplify, the two terms overlap in the beginning of First Corinthians (1:2): To the church/assembly [ekklēsia] of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints [agioi], with all those calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place—both theirs and ours. Thus, Paul is implying that the Corinthian ekklēsia is made up of agioi.14 And so it follows that all Corinthian agioi make up the one ekklēsia at Corinth. And in Paul’s address here he also includes others outside Corinth: all those calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place. All these are obviously agioi, as well. This implies a universal ekklēsia. Certainly, we could expand this to include all agioi throughout the centuries, constituting one universal ekklēsia.

After Revelation 3, hoi agioi (“the saints”, “the holy ones”) are referenced multiple times (13:7, 10; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6). Therefore, these hoi agioi are part of the universal ekklēsia.

With this background, let us return to the MacArthur quote above. Though we do not see the word “church” (ekklēsia) again until Jesus’ summation in Revelation 22, clearly “the saints” (hoi agioi), as used between chapters 3 and 22, refers to believers in the Tribulation period, i.e., individuals in “the Church”. Given this, MacArthur’s argument unravels. More pointedly, though “church” is not mentioned again after chapter 3 (until 22), “the saints” are, and since “saints” make up the “church”, it is dubious to make the distinction he makes. “Tribulation saints” are part of “the Church”.

To recap: While MacArthur avoids the conversion problem for “Tribulation saints” other PTR teachers create, he retains their failure of accounting for “Tribulation saints” (agioi) as part of the Church (ekklēsia). And, like other PTR enthusiasts, he fails to explicitly account for their end-times gathering.

Once again, the simplest solution is that the ‘Rapture’ occurs at the end of the age and includes ALL “holy ones”, all members of the universal Church (ekklēsia).

To see that we are not being overly harsh in our judgment of MacArthur’s position, following is his stance on just where the ‘Rapture’ occurs in Revelation:

Now we come to chapter 4 and leave the church age. People often ask, “Where does the Rapture come in?” It’s in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4. You have the church on earth in chapters 2 and 3; all of a sudden we appear in heaven in chapter 4.15

Setting aside the obvious eisegesis inherent in such an assertion (“white spaces”?!), MacArthur, knowingly or not, excludes Tribulation saints from “the church age”. Similar to other PTR teachers, he has orphaned them. With his claim that “the church age” ends at the ‘Rapture’ “in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4”, he leaves Tribulation saints ‘churchless’—more explicitly than other PTR teachers.

If, per MacArthur, Tribulation saints are excluded from “the church age”, then what age would they be in exactly? Is there an “age” between the PTR and the millennial Kingdom (or eternal state)? Is it “the Tribulation age”? Is there Scripture to substantiate such a view?

Wrapping Up

As the critical, analytical reader can see, there are flaws in the PTR doctrine. And I cannot view these as anything less than fatal flaws. If a reader can trumpet a Biblically coherent PTR doctrine—one devoid of the flaws exposed here—I will listen raptly.

I will close with commentary from Gene L. Green:

[1 Thessalonians 4:13—18] has suffered much ill as it has been mined to provide clues concerning the timing of the “rapture” of the church . . .  In the haste to answer this question, the real purpose of [this passage] is overlooked. This teaching was presented to comfort those in grief by connecting the confession of the creed (“Jesus died and rose again”) with the reality of the resurrection of the dead in Christ. This is not the stuff of speculative prophecy or bestsellers on the end times . . . The decidedly bizarre pictures of airplanes dropping out of the sky and cars careening out of control as the rapture happens detract from the hope that this passage is designed to teach. The picture presented here is of the royal coming [Parousia] of Jesus Christ. The church, as the official delegation, goes out to meet him, with the dead heading up the procession as those most honored. One coming [Parousia] is envisioned, which will unite the coming King with his subjects. What a glorious hope!16

 Glorious indeed!

[see also Escorting the King of Kings?]

________________________________

1 Why would we think end-times Christians should escape persecution and even martyrdom considering the first century Apostles and disciples were martyred? That’s not to mention those persecuted and martyred in the intervening centuries, or those persecuted and martyred throughout the world in our present age.

2 Yet not only is the Holy Spirit completely absent from the immediate and surrounding context, the Spirit as ‘restrainer’ does not fit well grammatically. Specifically, though the occurrence of ‘restrainer’ in 2:6 is grammatically neuter in the Greek, thereby matching the grammatically neuter pneuma (Spirit), 2:7’s ‘restrainer’ is instead grammatically masculine. The argument then sometimes goes that the grammatically masculine word paraklētos (paraclete: counselor, helper, advocate), which is used for the Spirit in John’s Gospel (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), is to be understood here. But this strains credibility, since this word occurs for the Spirit solely in the Gospel of John, never in the Pauline epistles. A related argument extends on this use of the grammatically masculine paraklētos for the Holy Spirit, in that masculine pronouns are used in John 14—16 and these masculine pronouns are claimed to refer to the grammatically neuter pneuma, thereby “personalizing” (indicating personhood for) the Spirit (whereas the neuter pneuma and its associated pronouns are erroneously construed as implying non-personhood). But this not only confuses grammatical gender with biological gender, it fails to recognize that these masculine pronouns refer back to the grammatically masculine paraklētos, not the neuter pneuma, thereby conforming to conventional grammar norms. A similar argument posits that a masculine grammatically gendered ‘restrainer’ would be appropriate given the Personhood of the Holy Spirit, as derived from contexts indicating such Personhood (the Spirit can be grieved [Eph 4:30], can be lied to [Acts 5:3], etc.). Yet, again, this overlooks that the Holy Spirit is absent in this context, while simultaneously presupposing erroneously that masculine grammatical gender can imply P/personhood, while the neuter cannot. See CrossWise articles Misgendering the Spirit and The Holy Spirit as “Restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2?. See also Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 331, 332, cf. 338.

3 My translation, as are all here.

4 These celestial events bear strong resemblance to those described in Revelation 6:12—14, which are followed by pleas from the inhabitants of the earth: …hide us from the face of the One seated on the Throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great Day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (6:16—17).

5 Cf. Isaiah 13:9—10.

6 Cf. Isaiah 34:4.

7 Cf. Rev 6:17. Jesus’ Jewish audience might know these passages well enough to mentally ‘fill in’ the Day of the LORD (YHWH) verbiage. See Peter’s address to the crowd in Acts 2:14—21, particularly 2:20 which sources Joel 2:31.

8 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p 1134; emphasis added. The parenthetical comment is taken from the same page, but two paragraphs above this particular quote. This comment is included here in order to retain his thoughts in the current context. In other words, since the author had used this parenthetical comment earlier on the page in a similar context, the thrust of his comment is assumed to carry over, and so appending it here seems appropriate.

9 See this video segment John MacArthur – The Restrainer (“The Coming Man Of Sin” Part 4), as edited by “310revelation” from a larger sermon at gty.org. Accessed 8/14/2021. Note that MacArthur assumes some of the faulty pronoun arguments as detailed in note 2 above.

10 John MacArthur, Truth Endures: Commemorating Forty Years of Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time, 1969—2009, Phil Johnson & Mike Taylor, eds. (Panorama City, CA: Grace to You, 2009), pp 125—151. I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention the following: In my car as I was listening to MacArthur on local radio, an advertisement for Grace to You (gty.org) followed, stating that first time callers could receive a booklet of the sermon “A Jet Tour Through Revelation”, free of charge. I requested a copy, but was delighted to instead receive a full-length hard cover book with an accompanying note card: “Thank you for requesting a free copy of John MacArthur’s booklet, A Jet Tour Through Revelation. Due to the unexpected death of a member of our editorial staff, production of the booklet was delayed. As a result, we’ve taken the liberty of sending you John’s new book Truth Endures. It contains the “Jet-Tour” material you requested, as well as eleven additional, full-length messages. Please enjoy it with our compliments. We apologize for any inconvenience. Grace to You.”

11 MacArthur, Truth Endures, p 132.

12 The modern word “church” carries multiple meanings, has a skewed etymology, and generally confuses the meaning behind the NT use of ekklēsia in relation to Christ-followers. See CrossWise article Re-Assembly Required.

13 This word is not exclusively reserved for Christ-followers (see Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 40). See article referenced in note 12 above.

14 The first three clauses, separated by commas, are all in apposition (all dative clauses), meaning these three refer to the same group. This is akin to: Bob, my neighbor, the baker at Bob’s Bakery. They all refer to the same entity.

15 MacArthur, Truth Endures, p 132.

16 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 229; emphasis added. For more on the Parousia, see Not One Parousia, But Two.

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”, 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.

Jesus’ Kingly Appearance

What did Jesus look like? We have no portrait of his likeness. We have no bust showing his facial features.1

What we know is that Jesus was born in a manger—that it was as a baby he came into our world. Though we don’t know much about his childhood, we can read about him as a twelve-year-old in the Temple (Luke   2:41-52), providing amazement to the teachers there (Luke 2:47). But, again, we don’t know what he looked like: his facial features, build, etc.

Yet we can state with some confidence what Jesus didn’t look like. Almost certainly, he resembled nothing like some images of Him, portrayed as a fair-skinned, fair-featured European. On the contrary, Jesus had Middle Eastern Jewish ancestry. Accordingly, he was likely olive-skinned with dark or brown hair, in keeping with others hailing from the Judean area. But as regards any specific physical characteristics, the New Testament (NT) is silent.

We might be able to infer that Jesus was an average looking man by analyzing some NT scenes. For example, Judas Iscariot pointed Jesus out to the soldiers marshalled to arrest him (Matt 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-49).2 This might suggest Jesus had no special physical qualities to make him stand out amongst the others. But, then again, it was dark, and the light from the torches may have distorted the faces of Jesus and the disciples such that an insider like Judas could more easily identify him. Or, it could be that at least some in the group were in the dark as to what Jesus looked like in the first place.

This Jesus a King?

Perhaps more compelling, Pilate showed apparent surprise upon meeting Jesus. Was he expecting someone more kingly, more ‘regal’ looking? All four Gospels are unanimous in how they record Pilate’s question, which can be phrased either “You are the king of the Jews?” or “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). By the phraseology (syntax) of the Greek, emphasis seems to be on “you” here.3 But there is no specific wording in the context with which to find a substantive answer as to what exactly provoked Pilate’s response.

However, viewing the description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 may provide a glimpse. Of Isaiah 53:2 J. Alec Motyer observes and opines:

[H]e looked unimpressive (no beauty . . . to attract). To such an extent was he but a man among men that the ordinary tests of beauty (‘looks’), majesty (‘unimpressiveness’) and appearance could be applied—with negative results.4

From this we might conclude that the earthly Jesus was an average looking man. No striking features. But it is possible the physical description here strictly relates to Jesus’ battered body hanging on the cross.5 Yet, even if Isaiah 53 is specifically about the Atonement, the description in verse 2 cannot be ruled out as simultaneously providing a description of the earthly Jesus in a general sense.  Whichever the case, this passage, on its face, cannot be used to definitively determine Jesus’ physical features.

Motyer’s statement above may prompt another possible avenue for inquiry. If we consider the example of Saul’s selection as king, we may find a more solid basis upon which to accept Isaiah 53:2 as providing a description of the earthly Jesus. This, in turn, may provide some substantiation for understanding Pilate’s surprise as pertaining to Jesus’ physical characteristics.

To be more specific, recall that one of the apparent reasons Saul was selected king was because he was tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:2; 10:1,23-24). In other words, the Jews seemed to have selected Saul, at least partly, because he ‘looked like’ a king, in their eyes. In comparison, using the same criteria, the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah did not ‘look like’ a king. Thus, if Isaiah 53:2 describes Jesus, Pilate may have been bewildered upon seeing him, for he may have been expecting someone more ‘regal’ in appearance.

A basis for such thought finds itself in the pseudo-science of physiognomy, as detailed in the work of Mikeal C. Parsons.6 This term reflects the idea in the idiom ‘judging a book by its cover’. To some even the converse is true: judging a cover by its book. In this latter view, by knowing a person’s character, one can determine corresponding physical characteristics even before first sight.

Returning again to Motyer’s statement, observe his final words, “with negative results.”  It appears the author here understands some sort of physiognomic connection.

Parsons notes the presence—and the possible presence7—of the practice of physiognomy in the Old Testament (OT), using the selection of King Saul as but one example. 8 Extra-biblical Jewish texts from this time period evidence this same outward/inward connection.9 All this could point to the lack of physical descriptions of Jesus in the NT—if indeed he was an average man in terms of earthly physical characteristics, such as the description in Isaiah 53:2.

In other words, the Gospel writers’ silence on this issue may be quite purposeful. Knowing the contemporary tendency towards judging outward characteristics as the bases for determining inner qualities, the writers may have been dissuaded from describing Jesus’ physical form in any way. They may have been concerned that readers might make a caricature of him.

A stronger connection of this practice of physiognomy rears its ugly head in contemporary Hellenistic (Greek) culture.10 It “permeated the Greco-Roman thought world.”11 This thought may have emanated from the prominent anthropological and philosophical notions centering on a separate soul and body:

[S]oul and body react on each other; when the character of the soul changes, it changes also the body, and conversely, when the form of the body changes, it changes the character of the soul.12

The Hellenistic version of physiognomy encompassed a wide range of criteria, differing a bit according to the eye of the beholder. These include color of hair, eyes and skin; shape and size of forehead, nose, ears, cheeks, hands, etc.; size of head; sizes of features relative to others; asymmetry/symmetry; size of physique generally; as well as gait and other movements.13

An example of a negative imagining of Jesus’ physical features based on this pseudo-science is found in Cook’s The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism.14 In this work Celsus described Jesus as “small and ugly and ignoble”.15 Celsus apparently arrives at his conclusions on Jesus’ physical features based on distorted understandings of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, which thereby informed Celsus’ view of Jesus’ morality.16 Since the crucifixion was reserved for criminals, Jesus’ death ‘confirmed’ his supposed “base origins and unworthy character”.17 In other words, a person of such ‘lowly’ character—according to Celsus’ misconstruals—surely was correspondingly “small and ugly”.18

Celsus sarcastically critiques Jesus in his mock-questioning of an imagined Jesus: Upon learning of the child king Jesus, Herod slaughtered innocent children (Matthew 2:3-16),

“lest you should reign instead of him after you were grown. Why then, when you were grown did you not reign? But you, ‘child of God’, ignobly beg in this manner [cf. Matt 10:9-11], poking about in fear and wandering up and down in ruin.”19

Celsus’ apparent awareness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus carrying neither food nor money20 likely contributed to his scathing judgment as “ignoble”.21 In accordance with such a view,

‘Evangelical poverty’ was unimpressive to Celsus. The title ‘king’ for such an impoverished individual is ridiculous to Celsus. Jesus never became a ‘king’ in the sense of the word that Celsus takes for granted.22

Considering all the above, isn’t it possible, perhaps even probable, the silence in the NT regarding Jesus’ earthly physical form is, in fact, by design? And could this account for why there are no direct NT quotations of the physical features portion of Isaiah 53:2?

Appropriating Jesus’ words in John 8:15, “You judge according to the flesh” (cf. 7:24).

Yes, Jesus is King!

Some use Psalm 45:2 to support the idea of a handsome Jesus. But this is probably best understood—if applicable to Jesus at all—as reflective of the post-earthly Jesus, his glorified form.23 And while the NT is silent regarding Jesus’ physical features during his earthly ministry, a few NT texts feature descriptions of a post-glorified Jesus.

We catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration scene (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). But John the Revelator describes Jesus in his post-earthly glory. In the first chapter of Revelation, John witnesses:

13 someone like a son of man, dressed in a foot-length robe and girded with a golden wrap around his chest, 14 his head and hair white like wool—white as snow—and his eyes like flames of fire, 15 his feet similar to fine bronze polished in a furnace, and his voice as vibrant as voluminous waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth a sharp double-edged sword proceeds. His face shines like the sun in its full force.

What a description!

With the words “like a son of man” (homoios huios anthrōpou), John evokes the human-like figure in Daniel 7:13 (hōs huios anthrōpou).24 To explain, “son of man” is a rendering of the Hebrew idiom ben Adam, which translates as son of Adam, and is understood to mean human.25 Thus, “son of man” also means human. Comparatively, the particularized the Son of Man, used by Jesus in self-reference throughout the Gospels, refers solely to him. Accordingly, without the attached to “son of man” in both Rev 1:13 and Daniel 7:13,26 this conveys that the figure coming on the clouds (Dan 7:13; Rev 1:7) is human-like in appearance—though, of course this figure is King Jesus at the Second Coming, the parousia. In other words, in Rev 1:13 John is not using the Son of Man, because this term represents Jesus in his earthly ministry. Therefore, the context here (and Dan 7:13) is best understood as referring to King Jesus in his suprahuman, glorified form—like a human.

John provides another magnificent description of King Jesus in Revelation 19:

11 Then I saw heaven standing open, and behold! A white horse! The one riding it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like flames of fire, and on his head are many diadems. A name has been written upon him, which no one knows except him. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and he has named himself THE WORD OF GOD. 14 The armies in heaven follow him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. 15 Out of his mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which he may strike the nations/people. He will shepherd them with an iron staff. And he tramples the winepress of the furious wrath of Almighty God. 16 And upon this robe, where it rests on his thigh, a name is inscribed: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

To use a term that has been diluted in popular culture due to persistent misuse, but here meant in all its original splendor: AWESOME! The verbiage appears to be figurative to some degree, yet we can see points of contact with 2Thessalonians 2:8:

And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of his coming/arrival (parousia).

The “breath of his mouth” seems to be a rephrasing of both Rev 1:16 and Rev 19:15 (cf. Isaiah 11:4). The “radiance of his coming” is similar to the final portion of 1:16, though it is implied in the whole context of 19:11-16.27

Come soon King Jesus!

_________________________

1 For possible reasons why, see the section titled Use of ΙΧΘΥΣ in early Christianity in Fishers of Persons article.
2 John’s Gospel portrays this scene a bit differently (John 18:3-5).
3 The Gospels are uniform here, to include word order: Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, Su ei ho basileus tōn Ioudaiōn, You are the king of the Jews? This would be the word-for-word rendering, and the one I prefer here. Since Greek finite verbs encode person and number, a pronoun is not necessary unless the subject is unclear in the context. In this case the referent is obvious: the 2nd person singular encoded in the present tense-form “are” (εἰ̑, ei) can only refer to Jesus. Thus, the presence of the Greek pronoun “you” (σὺ, su) here is unnecessary, for the question can just as easily stand without it: Εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων (You are the king of the Jews?). The reading of the text per all four Gospels could even possibly be rendered: You? You are king of the Jews? (see Bernard and Evans just below). This would be in keeping with the context. For these reasons, I deem the use here emphatic.

Though not the consensus, this view of su as emphatic is far from rare. Cf. Charles L. Quarles, Matthew, EGGNT, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p 333: Σύ is emphatic and may imply a mocking tone . . .; Joel Marcus, Mark 8—16, The Yale Anchor Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2009), p 1033: . . . the sarcastic tone of Pilate’s initial question . . . [is] because the Jewish authorities have reported his royal pretensions and/or reputation…however, such pretensions seem outlandish, since . . . Jesus’ bound condition is the opposite of the unfettered power associated with kingship; Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27—16:20, Word Biblical Commentary [WBC] (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p 478: The emphatic pronoun carries with it a touch of mockery, perhaps suggesting Pilate had anticipated meeting someone more impressive (i.e., “You? You must be kidding!”); B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. version 2.8 (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), para 5147: The form of the sentence . . . suggests a feeling of surprise in the questioner: “Art thou, poor, and bound, and wearied, the King of whom men have spoken?”; J.H. Bernard, The Gospel According to St. John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. version 2.8 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928), para 15345: “Thou! (σύ is emphatic) art Thou the King of the Jews?” Evidently Pilate did not believe that Jesus was a revolutionary leader . . . There was nothing in His appearance or His demeanor to make such a charge plausible.; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale UP, 1974), p 2.851: In the question Pilate asks, it is possible the ‘you’ is emphatic . . . expressing incredulity. Pilate . . . may have been amazed at the mien of Jesus who has been accused of claiming the title.; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), p 768: “Thou” is emphatic. “Art thou the King of the Jews?”; Murray J. Harris, John, EGGNT (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), p 305:If Pilate’s question is formal, σύ will be without emphasis…but if he is being sarcastic, σύ will have the sense, “Are you, of all people, the king of the Jews?”

Some commentators supporting no emphasis tend to see a direct parallel between Pilate’s question (Su ei . . . ) and Jesus’ response (Su legeis . . . ), therefore construing that if emphasis (“You!”) is understood with Pilate, then Jesus was similarly snarky in return, which is then deemed untenable; however, as Lidija Novakovic remarks (John 11—21: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT [Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2020]) regarding Jesus’ response: σὺ [su] is contrastive, distinguishing Pilate from others . . . (p 239).  (Novakovic is non-committal regarding su in John 18:33 [p 238], though.) In all those supporting emphasis there are slight variations as to the reasoning, but most agree Pilate’s surprise relates to fathoming Jesus as king. There is the possibility that Pilate was expecting—at least in part—an individual with more striking physical features, such as being taller in height, handsomer, etc., which then elicited his surprise. See below.
4 J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p 377.
5 That is, the description here could provide a graphic description of the ‘slain Lamb’ of Revelation 5:6 (cf. John 1:29) instead of the earthly Jesus in his usual appearance. See, e.g., G. K. Beale & Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007): The Isa. 53 background especially highlights the atoning aspect of the lamb’s sacrificial death and also applies the metaphor’s “root” (cf. Rev. 5:5) and “lamb” to the sacrificial victim. In fact, “root” also occurs in Isa. 11:1, 10 (alluded to in Rev. 5:5), which may have inspired attraction to the same metaphor in 53:2 (p 1101). Cf. Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew” in Beale & Carson, who describes, the servant’s disfigured appearance (p 31).
6 Mikeal C. Parsons, Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006 / Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2011). The Baylor appears to be a straight reissue of the Baker. All references below will refer to the original Baker issue. (See my review of this work here.) Parsons’ main thesis is that Luke/Acts illustrates the reversal of physiognomic thought as “Luke presumes physiognomic principles only to overturn them by story’s end” (p 15).
7 Here Parsons references Lev 21 and its requirements for both sacrifice and priest (p 40), noting how some construe the lack of corresponding moral requirements to go with the physical in Lev 21:16-18 as implying “a connection between the outward and the inward” (p 41).
8 Parsons, pp 39-40. The author also uses King David (1 Sam 16:12) and Absalom (2 Sam 14:25) as examples (p 40).
9 Parsons, pp 42-45.
10 Parsons, pp 17-37.
11 Parsons, p 17.
12 Parsons, p 14. I note that this is not foreign to modern culture, as evidenced, e.g., in the band Talking Heads’ track “Seen and Not Seen” (from the 1980 Remain in Light), in which the narrator wishes to change his facial features by consciously adapting his thoughts, assuming others shared this same ability.
13 Parsons, 18-37.
14 John Granger Cook, The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).
15 Cook, p 35.
16 I draw these inferences from the way Cook frames some of his statements (p 35, 48), but particularly his quote of Celsus—which follows in the main text above—as viewed through the lens of the pervasive influence of physiognomy.
17 Eugene V. Gallagher, Divine Man or Magician: Celsus and Origen on Jesus (Chico, CA: Publishers Press, 1982), p 122, as cited in Cook, p 48.
18 See the corresponding verbiage in the main text of note 15, and see note 16 and its corresponding text.
19 Cook, p 35. Though Cook does not place child of God in quotes, I understand Celsus’ use here as sarcasm, since it is obvious he deemed Jesus unworthy to be a son of god or a king; and, therefore, my quotes are to indicate this cynicism. See also the comments relating to Origen’s Against Celsus in Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli’s Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History: Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005): Celsus . . . criticized the idea of a descent (future for Jews, past for Christians) of a Son of God to earth, for this contradicts the very nature of God by attributing a change to him (p 291). Given such an a priori view (mistaken as it is), Celsus clearly does not grant ‘Son of God’ status to Jesus.
20 Cook, p 35.
21 This is my extrapolation of Cook (p 35) here given his earlier quote of Celsus’ “ . . . and ignoble” (see content referenced at note 15 above).
22 Cook, p 35.
23 Psalm 45:2 is variously translated in the English versions; however, the first part of the verse, which includes “handsome” in some versions, is not quoted or alluded to in the NT—as far as I’ve determined. The latter part of the verse (with “grace” or “gracious”) may be alluded to in Luke 4:22, though. Thus, I infer the possibility of this pertaining to Jesus only insofar as the citing/allusion to other verses in Psalm 45 (6-7) in the context of Hebrews 1:8-9 (See George H. Guthrie, “Hebrews” in Beale & Carson, pp 937, 939). And even if it does apply to Jesus, then it must be post-resurrection, as per the Hebrews context (1:3ff).
24 The words homoios and hōs are synonymous; in fact John uses the latter quite a bit in vv 13-16. John also uses homoios huios anthrōpou in Rev 14:14.
25 For more explanation on this, see ‘Son of Man’ in the LXX here.
26 In other words, these lack both Greek articles—one before huios (“son”) and one before anthrōpou (“man”), in comparison with the other occurrences in the NT where Jesus self-references as the Son of [the] Man during his earthly ministry. Relatedly, I have argued extensively that this same non-particularized huios anthrōpou in John 5:27 is meant to indicate “son of man”, aka “human” in that context in order to tie it to Daniel 7:13 and Rev 1:13; 14:14: see The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 4 and pt 5.
27 And the latter part of 19:16 is parallel to 14:14, and 19:11-16 has other points of contact with 14:14-20.

Providing Christian Witness

Some may think battle lines have only recently been drawn. But the battle began long ago. Paul provided instructions on how to wage this war in his letter to the saints in Ephesus, the Ephesians. Of course, his instructions are for the entire Church age.

In the face of threatening opposition, we don’t wield a sword to slice off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10; Matt 26:51). Jesus soundly rebuked Peter for doing so (John 18:11; Matt 26:52). This foolish act prompted Jesus to heal the man’s ear in response (Luke 22:51). We are to clutch a very different kind of ‘sword’.

The way we are to do battle is difficult, yet relatively easy. We stand. And pray. We put on the armor of God and stand firm (Eph 6:13). For our battle is not against earthly flesh and blood, it is against dark spiritual forces (Eph 6:12).

6:14 Therefore, stand: your waist belted in truth, adorned with the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and your feet equipped for the gospel of peace 16 —in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the evil one’s flaming arrows. 17 And grasp the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. 18 With every prayer and request, pray in the Spirit at all times, in this keeping alert, in all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

We clothe ourselves in Divine armor (Eph 6:11). Then we stand for truth and righteousness, ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. We do this while holding onto our faith in Christ in order to ward off the devil’s attacks. We latch onto our salvation and the Word of God. And we persevere in prayer for all the saints.

We stand. We pray. These are the defensive and offensive weapons we must use in this spiritual warfare. And they are all we need.

The ‘easy’ part is doing this through the Spirit (consider Moses parting the Red Sea). The hard part is submitting to the Spirit and staying submitted.

In this we provide testimony for Christ. And this testimony may result in earthly martyrdom for some. It certainly has over the past two millennia.

In fact, there is one Greek word for testimony, witness, and martyr. It is martyria (also martyrion), and closely related is martys (or martyros). The first noun refers to the testimony provided, the second to the person providing the testimony. Also, there are associated verb forms (martyreō, martyromai). Both a noun form and a verb are used in John 1:7:

This man [John the Baptizer] came as a witness (martyria), to testify (martyreō) about the Light

In Acts 22:20, Paul identifies Stephen posthumously as Jesus’ witness, by using the other noun form martys (cf. Rev 2:13; 17:6). He was recounting the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60):

And when the blood of Stephen your witness (martys) was being shed, I myself was standing there, even approving of his death, guarding the coats of those who were executing him.

Though some English versions translate the Greek martys here as martyr, this may be a bit anachronistic; that is, it may have been a bit later that the term was understood as martyr in the sense we know it today. Nonetheless, Stephen’s witness (Acts 6:8—7:60) lives on in Scripture. It was his testimony (Acts 6:8—7:53) that led to him being the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54-60). His martyrdom surely provided more notoriety for his witness. And observe what Stephen himself witnessed during his martyrdom: He saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). How glorious!

Are you prepared to be such a witness, such a martyr (martys), if necessary?

Can I get a witness?

Contrasts: One Reads “The Palmist”; the Other “2 Corinthians”

The crickets are chirping so loudly I can’t hear myself think. I’m referring to the lack of Big Media coverage of Joe Biden’s gaffe in reading from “the palmist” on Thanksgiving Day. Now, I cannot know what was on the teleprompter he was struggling to read, but when Biden got to the actual quote from Psalm 28:7, surely he should have realized his error and corrected himself.

In any case, Big Media has, as usual it seems, given Biden a pass on this gaffe.

Contrast this to the Big Media lambasting then-candidate Trump received when he quoted 2 Corinthians 3:17. He was even chastised in Christian and “Christian” media for pronouncing it “2 Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians”. That’s wrong, right?

Isn’t it?

Go to your Bible—whether a physical book or an online version—and search for 2 Corinthians 3:17. Doesn’t it have a “2” in front of “Corinthians” either at the top of the page (physical book) or in front of/on top of the chapter and verse? Can you find one that actually reads “Second Corinthians” on the page or screen?

In the online criticisms of Trump I find many are printed as “Two Corinthians”. But why not “2 Corinthians”—as in the number 2—which is more likely what Trump was reading from?

Arguably, Trump was even correct from a technical perspective. Though it may be current convention to refer to the verse aloud as “Second Corinthians three seventeen”, this is not even the way the inscription reads in the Greek manuscript tradition.

Go here , select “Jump to Book” (left side of page under 1. Description of Manuscript) and select “2 Cor” from the drop-down menu. Then look at the top of the manuscript page, which reads:

ΠΡΟC ΚΟΡΙΝΘΙΟΥC B

The “B” represents the number 2 in Greek isopsephy (similar to Jewish/Hebrew gematria). Most literally, this translates “To [the] Corinthians, 2”. The first letter to the Corinthians is identical except it has “A” instead of “B” at the end of its inscription. This practice is the same in Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians and Timothy.

However, Peter’s and John’s epistles have different inscriptions. Instead of a Greek “A” or “B” (or “C”), these spell out either “First” (prōtos), “Second” (deuteros), and, in John’s last brief letter, “Third” (tritos).

Thus, we might more correctly read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, the Thessalonians, and Timothy with the appropriate number “1” or “2” in front, while prefacing Peter’s or John’s epistles with the corresponding “First”, “Second” or “Third”.

To conclude, an argument can be made that Trump was not incorrect in the way he cited the Scripture reference as “2 Corinthians 3:17”. Comparatively, there is no realm of possibility in which Biden was correct when he stated—twice—“the palmist” in his preface to reading Psalm 28. Why the Big Media disparity in the treatment of these two?

The Holy Spirit as “Restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2?

(In this post I had to go into the weeds a bit. My goal is to have trimmed them to a level the reader can see the path I made—to allow the reader to see the forest beyond the weeds. I hope I’ve achieved it.)

Quite a few issues hinder identifying “the restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7. A fair number of theologians argue for the Holy Spirit in these two verses. And some of these do so based on a questionable pronoun argument. From this shaky foundation the Holy Spirit is imported into the context. This then is used by some as support for the pre-tribulation “Rapture” doctrine.

One shaky foundation upon another.

The Dubious Pronoun Argument

I’ve touched on this dubious pronoun argument elsewhere (Misgendering the Spirit, which has a basis in Another Paraclete?). To briefly identify the issue:

The Greek word for “Spirit” is pneuma, which is neuter in grammatical gender. Because the term is neuter, a literal English translation of the pronouns substituted for pneuma would be “it” or “which” (instead of the personal “whom”). For example, in Acts 5:32, we would translate “we are His witnesses of these words, and so is the Holy Spirit (pneuma), which God gave to those obeying Him [Jesus].” And some deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit simply because pneuma is neuter. But this erroneously imposes English grammar notions upon the Greek.

Some, accepting this error, attempt to counter it by construing (erroneously) a different way to promote the personhood of the Spirit. In John 14:16—16:15 the Holy Spirit is also called another “paraclete” (paraklētos), which is masculine in grammatical gender. In addition, there are a number of masculine pronouns throughout this section. Consequently, some have mistakenly assumed that at least some of these masculine pronouns refer back to pneuma instead of “paraclete”, thus (also erroneously) implying personhood. But it is context that establishes personhood—not pronouns. Moreover, these masculine pronouns all refer back to “paraclete” or to a masculine pronoun substituting for “paraclete”.

An analogy will illustrate the problem with this argument. The term logos, “word”, is a grammatically masculine noun. If we impose English grammar rules upon the Greek here, then every occurrence of logos, would be translated “he” or “him”. This works fine for “the Word” as the pre-incarnate Jesus in John 1:1-14. But it doesn’t work in Mark 4:16, which would be “…whenever they hear the word (ho logos) they immediately receive him (autos) with joy.” This context is about the Gospel message, which should more properly be “it” (not “him”) in English.

The 1977 movie The Car provides a different angle. While the noun “car” in English is “it”—a thing—The Car as portrayed in the movie is a sentient, willful being. So, does The Car have personhood? The Car, which self-drives, certainly has a mind of its own—even mockingly ‘laughing’ via the car horn.1 Or should we instead say, ‘The Car, who self-drives, certainly has a mind of his own’? ‘A mind of her own’? Do pronouns—whichever we apply—affect the consciousness, the volition of The Car in the movie?

Also consider the many ships named after humans (Queen Elizabeth II; Edmund Fitzgerald). Though we may call them individually “she” or “he” according to name, each is still “it” in English. Unless fictionally personalized as in The Car, none are sentient beings.

Grammar Limits Importing the Holy Spirit into 2 Thessalonians

Those relying on the pronoun argument for 2 Thessalonians 2 do so because there are two different grammatical genders used for “the restrainer”. One is neuter (2:6: to katechon), the other masculine (2:7: ho katechōn). To account for this, Robert L. Thomas argues:

To one familiar with Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, as Paul undoubtedly was, fluctuation between neuter and masculine recalls how the Holy Spirit is referred to. Either gender is appropriate, depending on whether the speaker (or writer) thinks of natural agreement (masculine because of the Spirit’s personality [Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13—14; cf. Robertson, Grammar of the New Testament, 708-9]) or grammatical (neuter because of the noun pneuma…). This identification of the restainer…is most appealing.2

To support his stance, Thomas sources Robertson’s respected grammar. We will critique Robertson’s argument—and by extension Thomas’—with respect to the verses in John after first defining and analyzing “natural [gender] agreement” elsewhere.

“Natural gender” is such that a word’s grammatical gender correlates to the sex/gender inherent in the person the word is referencing. For example, “he” is masculine in grammatical gender, correlating to a male. “Stewardess” implies a woman. Etc.

Below we will challenge the above claim that the Holy Spirit’s “natural” gender is “masculine because of the Spirit’s personality” (personhood).

Defining “Natural [Gender] Agreement”

“Natural [gender] agreement” occurs when a word’s gender correlates to the biological sex/gender of the person it directly refers to (“natural gender”) in distinction from the grammatical gender of its antecedent (preceding reference)—the word it refers back to. Stated another way, instead of agreeing in grammatical gender with its previous reference, the word agrees with the biological sex/gender of the person (“natural gender”) referred to.

An analogy from English should clarify:

A1: Though the player grew weary, the athlete was spurred on by the crowd.
B1: Though the player grew weary, she was spurred on by the crowd.

The antecedent (preceding reference) in each sentence is the player. In A1 the athlete is unspecified as to gender, just like its antecedent. For the sake of this example, we’ll call both neuter in grammatical gender.  In A1 there is the usual grammatical gender agreement (the playerthe athlete). In B1 the natural gender of the person (feminine, she) to whom the word refers is used instead of one matching the grammatical gender (neuter) of its antecedent. In Greek, this dissimilarity would be a case of applying natural gender agreement in place of grammatical gender agreement—a grammatical mismatch.

This sort of thing is also called “construction according to sense”, or constructio ad sensum.

From Mark’s Gospel, Robertson finds an example of natural gender agreement over the grammatical:

In Mk. 5:41 αὐτῇ [autē̦, her] follows the natural gender of παιδίον [paidion, child] rather than the grammatical.3

The applicable portion of the verse is “Taking the child (paidion, neuter) by the hand, He said to her (autē̦, feminine)…” Alternatively, Mark could have chosen the neuter form of the pronoun (autō̦4) for grammatical gender agreement between the two words. By choosing “her” (autē̦), he followed “natural gender” instead. Mark went from the general “child” (paidion, neuter) to the more specific “her” (autē̦, feminine)—a grammatical mismatch.

Let’s look more closely at this. In the larger context, Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter. The feminine thygatēr, “daughter”, is used for her in 5:35. Thus, we already knew the child is female rather than male. But the intervening references, up to and including 5:41 (39, 40, 41), all use the more general neuter paidion, “child” as a synonym. Here is the chain of referents:

thygatēr (5:35) > paidion (5:39) > paidion, paidion (5:40) > paidion (5:41) > autē (5:41)
daughter (5:35) > child (5:39) > child, child (5:40) > child (5:41) > her (5:41)

Thus, while 5:41 clearly is an instance of “natural [gender] agreement” over grammatical agreement, the natural gender is determinable by the larger context by a preceding reference.5

An Evil Pneuma Has Masculine “Natural Gender”?

For our purposes here, Mark 9:20 provides a more fitting example. Its context contains “spirit”, pneuma. Robertson opines that this is another example of natural gender usage:

“…surely this is…treating πνεῦμα [pneuma] as masculine (natural gender).”6

But what makes a malevolent spirit inherently masculine in “natural gender”? Is a spirit male?7 Let’s scrutinize.

In the larger context beginning at Mark 9:17, a particular pneuma possesses a man’s son, preventing him from speaking. In 9:18 a neuter pronoun appropriately correlates to pneuma, its antecedent: “…I asked your disciples to cast it (auto) out…”. Correspondingly, in 9:28 the disciples asked Jesus, “Why weren’t we able to cast it (auto) out?”

Yet 9:20 causes a bit of confusion. It contains four different uses of the masculine ‘personal’ pronoun (auton, “him”). Related to this is a grammatical anomaly: the masculine pronoun encoded in the participle “saw” (he). This will take a bit to sort out:

ēnegkan auton pros auton. kai idōn auton to pneuma euthys synesparaxen auton
They-brought him to Him. And [when] he-saw Him, the spirit immediately convulsed him…
They-brought the son to Jesus. And when he-saw Jesus, the spirit promptly convulsed the son…

The proper correspondent for the masculine “he-saw” in this sentence would be “the spirit” (to pneuma). But, of course, pneuma is neuter instead of masculine.8 The late Rodney Decker explains: “As an adverbial participle idōn [he-saw] should agree [in gender] with the subject of the main verb (pneuma), but this is constructio ad sensum.”9 Decker then refers to Ezra Gould, whom I’ll quote in larger context:

[S]ince the action of the verb [convulsed] belongs to the spirit, and is occasioned by the action denoted by the participle [saw], it would be the spirit which is described as having seen Jesus. But [the spirit] does this with the eyes of [the son], and hence the masculine form of the participle.

In all these stories [exorcisms], the man and the evil spirit get mixed up in this way. The outward acts belong to the man, but the informing spirit is sometimes that of the man, and sometimes the evil spirit.10

In other words, though there is a grammatical gender mismatch, Gould thinks this is due to the mixing of the spirit (neuter) and the boy (masculine). Since the spirit (pneuma, neuter) acts through the son (huios, masculine), a masculine-gendered participle represents the son as the spirit’s ocular vehicle here. The possessing spirit sees through the eyes of the possessed son.

Sometimes the person acts apart from the demon. Sometimes the demon acts through the person. From the evidence thus far, one could consider this a case of “natural gender” agreement (constructio ad sensum) correlated to the son (son/spirit), not the spirit.

Mark 1:23-26 provides a good comparison. The translation below is as ‘literal’ (formally equivalent) as possible. Subscripted brackets identify grammatical number (singular[sg] or plural[pl]) and gender (masculine[ms] or neuter[nt]) where necessary for analysis:

1:23 Suddenly, in their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit! He cried-out, 24 saying[ms sg], “What is it between You and us[pl], Jesus the Nazarene? Have You come to ruin us[pl]? I-know[sg] who You are: The Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him/it[ms/nt sg] [autō̦], saying, “You[sg] be-quiet and you[sg] come-out of-him [autou]!” 26 And the unclean spirit, [it-]violently-convulsing[nt sg] him and [it-]shouting[nt sg] with a loud voice, came-out of-him [autou].

Like 9:20 above, the possessing pneuma acts through its chosen vessel. This is grammatically shown by Mark’s use of the masculine singular “he”, instead of the neuter in 1:23/24. Note that the spirit self-references with the plural “us” once each in the two questions posed. Yet when the unclean spirit reveals that it knows Jesus’ identity, it reverts back to the singular (I-know)!11 In 1:25 Jesus addresses the pneuma either (a) through the man [him, ms], or (b) directly [it, nt], in commanding exorcism. The better of the two would be (b), for it makes the most sense in this context (see next paragraph). In this way, the pronoun refers to the spirit in distinction from its host.12 And finally, in 1:26 the unclean spirit (nt sg) comes out of the man (autou), freeing him.13

Though there are a number of interpretive options, we should reject any notions that the plural indicates more than one spirit possessing the man.14 Jesus specifically exorcised only one demon. In view of the grammatical evidence of 9:20, at minimum we should harmonize the plural (1:24) with the masculine singular “he”, such that we construe the plural “us” to include the possessed man along with the unclean spirit.15 Thus, the “I” in 1:24 comes from the spirit, which Jesus rebukes in 1:25. Surely the possessing spirit is concerned Jesus has come to exorcise him from his chosen host.16 And Jesus promptly does.

If we understand the grammatical anomaly of 9:20 through the contextual lens of the grammar in 1:23-26, Gould’s above comments fall right into line.

In the account of “Legion” in Mark 5 we find a similar thing. Once the man with an unclean spirit is introduced (5:2), there seems to be no differentiation between the acts of the man and the acts of the possessing spirit. These verses, again, appear to reflect the spirit’s actions through the man:

5:6 Seeing[ms sg] Jesus from afar, he-ran and bowed down to-him. 7 In a loud voice he-was-crying-out, saying[ms sg], “What is between me and You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God: Don’t torment me!” 8 For [Jesus]-had-said to-him/it[ms/nt sg], “You-come-out[sg] of the man unclean spirit!” 9 And [Jesus]-had-asked him[ms sg], “What is your name?” He-replied[sg] to-Him[Jesus], “Legion is my[sg] name[sg], for we-are[pl] many.” 10 Then he/it-began-begging[sg] Him further that [Jesus] would not send them[nt pl] out of the region.

11 Nearby, on the hillside, was a large herd of pigs grazing. 12 So they-began-begging[pl] Him, saying[ms pl], “Send[pl] us[pl] into the pigs so that we-may-enter[pl] them!” 13 And [Jesus]-permitted them[nt pl]. So, after coming-out[nt pl], the unclean spirits entered[pl] into the pigs; and, the herd of pigs—about two-thousand—rushed down the steep bank into the lake. And they were drowned in the lake.

Though the actor in 5:6 is the man, in reality it is the possessing spirit acting through the man, as evidenced by its words in 5:7. In 5:8 where Jesus starts exorcising the spirit through the possessed man, the Gospel writer uses a pronoun (autō̦) that could be either masculine or neuter. We might expect neuter in order to grammatically agree with pneuma, as found at the end of this verse.17 This would concur with the usage in 1:25-26. And this seems the best understanding here.

In 5:9 Mark records Jesus having asked his (auton, ms) name—apparently to the spirit through the man—and the unclean spirit replied, “My name is ’Legion’, for we are many.” This plurality of unclean spirits then (5:10) implores Jesus to not send them (auta, nt pl) away.18 At first blush the masculine singular at the beginning of 5:10 appears to contradict the analysis above; however, the narrator is describing the singular possessed man’s actions spoken by the one spirit representing them all. It is paralleled with 5:9 in that the narrator records a singular spirit (through the man) explaining its collective existence in the man (“Legion”).

Next, in 5:12 Mark records things from the plurality of spirit’s perspective (“They began begging”). Once again the Gospel writer prefaces their statement with a masculine participle (“saying”), but this time he uses the plural to signify the plurality of demons speaking through the man.19 Evidence to support this position finds itself in the next verse: “Jesus permits them” (nt pl). Further, we can deduce that when the spirit is self-referencing, the neuter should be understood (“me” and “I” in 5:7; “my” and “we” in 5:9; “us” and “we” in 5:12). This also assists in confirming the analysis above that the sequence “us”, “us”, “I” in 1:24 refers to the pneuma/possessed man in the “us” as compared to the pneuma only in the “I”.

When prefacing direct speech—except before words commanding exorcism—Mark uses the masculine to indicate pneuma/possessed person. By contrast, in narration describing the scene the Gospel writer uses, or implies, the neuter (5:10, 12, 13), to distinguish the spirit(s) from the possessed man.

Therefore, all the above best explains the example in 9:20 above. In narration, acts of the pneuma independent of the possessed person are expressed by the neuter. And the neuter is used when the spirit is referenced by another in distinction from the possessed person (9:18, 28). Therefore, it could well be argued that grammatical gender and “natural gender” are the same for pneumaneuter. Or, perhaps better, that a pneuma does not have “natural gender” at all. To add strength to this position, we’ll look at one final account of demon possession.

The possessed slave-girl in Acts 16:16-18 provides a great comparison and contrast.20 Luke records the girl as speaking what are obviously words coming from the possessing spirit (16:17).21 The gender of both the pronoun (hautē, “This one” [slave-girl]) and the participle preceding the speech (legousa, “[she]-was-saying”) is feminine, but the words certainly originate from the pneuma. In other words, the feminine grammatical gender is apparently due to the biological sex/gender of the spirit’s mouthpiece—its oracular vehicle.

Thus, harmonizing these accounts with respect to gender—and applying a bit of Occam’s razor—one can make a strong argument that none of these accounts of spirits/demons contain examples of “natural gender” as pertaining to pneuma. That is, pneuma remains neuter. When a masculine or feminine referent is seemingly used for pneuma this merely indicates the biological sex of the possessed person. These examples also cast doubt on any notions of “natural gender” for spirit beings generally. I think we must be very careful not to impose human gender ideas upon spirit beings.

The Holy Spirit Has Masculine “Natural Gender”?

Finally, we shall directly engage Robertson’s argument that the Holy Spirit has implied masculine “natural gender”. He asserts, “Two passages in John call for remark, inasmuch as they bear on the personality of the Holy Spirit.”22 The first part refers to 14:26, the second 16:13. In the following we shall see that English grammar notions inform part of his argument on the Greek, which is then contended to indicate the Spirit’s personhood (“personality”).

This is the first part of the grammarian’s argument (Greek replaced with English transliteration):

In 14:26…ho de paraklētos, to pneuma to hagion, ho pempsei ho patēr en tō̧ onomati mou, ekeinos hymas didaxei, the relative [pronoun] ho follows the grammatical gender of pneuma. Ekeinos (“That One”), however, skips over pneuma and reverts to the gender of paraklētos.23

Essentially, he is correct, which I will unpack below. First, here’s biblical context for his argument:

14:26 But the paraklētos[ms]—the Holy Spirit[nt], Which[nt] the Father will send in My name—That One[ms] will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I told you.

Robertson is right: “That One” skips over “the Holy Spirit” to agree in gender with paraklētos (advocate, counselor, helper, comforter). This is precisely why I prefer to separate the middle clause by em dashes (—). The neuter relative pronoun “Which” (hos) correlates to “Spirit” (pneuma), while the masculine demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) “That One” refers to paraklētos. This is grammatical agreement. There is no reason to press this further. However, Robertson uses this as background for the second part of his argument:

In 16:13 a more striking example occurs, hotan de elthȩ̄ ekeinos, to pneuma tēs alētheias. Here one has to go back six lines to ekeinos again and seven to paraklētos. It is more evident therefore in this passage that John is insisting on the personality [personhood] of the Holy Spirit, when the grammatical gender so easily called for ekeino[nt] [ED: nt instead of ms].24

With respect to the gargantuan effort evident in Robertson’s mammoth grammar, his conclusion “when the grammatical gender so easily called for ekeino [nt]” is a non sequitur. The chain of referents follows:

paraklētos (16:7) > ekeinos (16:8) > ekeinos (16:13)
paraklētos (16:7) > That One (16:8) > That One (16:13)

After providing a brief synopsis of things to come (16:1-6), Jesus again mentions the paraklētos in this discourse (16:7). “That One” in 16:8 directly refers to paraklētos. The verses following this pronoun (16:9, 10, 11) detail functions of paraklētos; so, the same subject is assumed. 16:12 provides a transition to the next thought. There are neither intervening occurrences of pneuma nor intervening neuter pronouns. Thus, there is no basis to assume a neuter would have been “so easily called for” in place of “That One” in 16:13. In fact, the grammar is against it. Consequently, “That One” in 16:13 directly refers to “That One” in 16:8, which in turn directly refers to paraklētos. Therefore, this is not an implied instance of “natural gender” usage, which would somehow go towards supporting “the personality [personhood] of the Holy Spirit”.

Note that Thomas extends his argument a bit further (“Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13—14”). We’ll engage the last reference first, since it is a direct extension of Robertson’s with respect to 16:13. Here’s the text in English:

16:13 But when That One comes—the Spirit of truthHe/It-will-guide you into all truth, for He/It will not speak on His/Its own[ms/nt], but He/It-will-speak only what He/Ithears. And He/It-will disclose to you things yet to come. 14 That One[ms] will bring glory to Me[ms/nt], because He/Itwill receive from Me and disclose it to you.

Since Thomas does not develop his argument—in all fairness, his commentary is part of a larger volume, so was necessarily limited—I can only speculate. Thus, I don’t think it very profitable to ‘read his mind’, so to speak. However, to reduce this down to its simplest, there is ambiguity as to whether the verbiage after “the Spirit of truth” pertains to “the Spirit of truth” or, alternatively, to “That One” (paraklētos). If the former is assumed, then the second em dash should be placed at the end of 16:13. But this doesn’t seem to do justice to the context. In any case, with the presence of “That One” (ms) at the beginning of 16:14, it is clear this pronoun is intended to agree with “That One” in 16:13.

But surely if this were integral to Robinson’s argument above, the grammarian would have included it.

Thomas’ final reference is John 15:26. But this is much like 14:26 in which there is a split between paraklētos and “That One”. Thus, Thomas may include it as a parallel reference with Robertson’s 14:26. But I fail to perceive how this helps the cause:

5:26 “When the paraklētos[ms] comes, Whom[ms] I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth[nt], the One Which[nt] comes forth from the Father—That One[ms] will testify about Me.”

Daniel B. Wallace, in his grammar, engages this kind of argument.25 After refuting it, he concludes (Greek transliterated):

Although one might argue that the Spirit’s personality [personhood] is in view in these passages, the view must be based on the nature of a paraklētos and the things said about the Comforter, not on any supposed grammatical subtleties. Indeed, it is difficult to find any text in which pneuma is grammatically referred to with the masculine gender.26

In a related footnote, Wallace makes a brief comment about 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7, noting that “Holy Spirit” is absent from the surrounding context.27 Nevertheless, he does think the Spirit is a possible referent for these two verses, though any argument for this cannot rely on the erroneous claim that masculine is the “natural gender” of pneuma.28

Concluding Thoughts

Pneuma is neuter, whether in reference to the Holy Spirit or an unclean spirit.

Yet, isn’t each individual pneuma in the Mark and Acts accounts above in actual fact a sentient, conscious being? Yes, of course. Though each demon (pneuma) uses its chosen vessel as its actor, each pneuma has its own thoughts and will in distinction from its possessed victim. Each is cast out against its will. And doesn’t such sentience necessarily indicate personhood? And shouldn’t this be somewhat analogous to the Holy Spirit? That is, if an unclean spirit is a person in and of itself, how much more should we consider the Holy Spirit to be a ‘Person’ in and of Itself/Himself, regardless of pronoun usage?

We might say “Sally discerned an evil spirt at that meeting” but we understand that it was the Holy Spirit working through her. The difference, of course, is that a Holy Spirit indwelt Christian is not possessed. While an unclean spirit imposes its own will upon its victim, the Holy Spirit allows the indwelt believer a choice. The believer retains complete control yet can allow the Spirit to work through by submitting to His/Its leading. A Holy Spirit indwelt person can choose either to be led by the flesh or led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26).

Too many times it seems theological motives override grammar and context in a misguided effort to bolster a particular position. Sometimes it is needless, for the doctrine in question is secured by other means elsewhere in Scripture. I’m inclined to believe these are motivated by good intentions. I might call these ‘over-interpretations’ and ‘over-apologetics’.

There are other ways to argue for the Holy Spirit as “the restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2. From my own research thus far, however, I don’t find them persuasive. If the Holy Spirit is deemed not to be “the restrainer”, how might that impact the pre-tribulation “Rapture” doctrine? And how might that impact your day to day life?

__________________________

1 Trivia: the horn blast sequence is the same each time, which is intended to indicate “X” in Morse code: dash-dot-dot-dash. (Technically, the second “dash” is too long—should be the same length as the first—and the space between the first “dash” and the “dots” is a bit too long.)
2 Robert L. Thomas, 2 Thessalonians, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Ephesians ~ Philemon; Rev. Ed., D. Garland & T. Longman, Gen. Eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), pp 470-71; underscore added. (A typographical error in the page number references to Robertson’s Grammar [“208-9”] was corrected.) The bracketed portion was moved from the second set of parentheses to the first, given that it seems to be more accurately apply there (“masculine because of the Spirit’s personality”), which becomes evident below when Robertson is critiqued on this.
3 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), p 684.
4 But, then again, since the neuter is the same as the masculine in the dative (and genitive), this could possibly have caused confusion!
5 The original reference to the girl comes in 5:23, in which she is introduced by thygatrion (little daughter)—the diminutive form of thygatēr—and this term is neuter though clearly referencing a little girl by its definition. This illustrates that even when the very definition of a term indicates the sex/gender of the person described by the term this does not necessarily mean it will also correlate to the person’s “natural gender”.
6 Robertson, Grammar, p 436.
7 Bear in mind that Robertson’s work was written in the early 1900s, well before any modern ideas of gender.
8 On the surface, this is a grammatical error. A rough equivalent in English would be, “When the boy saw Jesus, the woman…” in which ‘the woman’ is the same person as ‘the boy’ at the beginning. But I think Mark was quite purposeful here. In light of his previous accounts (1:23-26; 5:2-13)—which we’ll investigate below—the Gospel writer intended to more sharply show the distinction between the possessing spirt and its host.
9 Rodney J. Decker, Mark 9—16, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2014), p 17 (Greek transliterated). I very much respect the late Decker, recalling his words from the Introduction in the BHGNT here explaining his selection of commentaries sourced for his two-part volume: “My choice to engage these writers beginning with the old ICC volume by Gould (1896)…is an attempt to give writers their due. Sometimes more recent commentators are simply a collection of snippets from older works, with or without credit” (p xxiv).
10 Ezra P. Gould, The Gospel According to St. Mark, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), paragraph 5185 (at 9:20). Craig A. Evans, in his WBC (Mark 8:27—16:20, Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001]), disappointingly, at best merely indirectly addresses the grammatical issue, if at all: “The spirit is said to have seen Jesus, and it is the spirit that is said to have convulsed the boy. The symptoms may have been those usually associated with epilepsy, but the Markan evangelist makes it clear that it was an evil spirit, something distinct from the boy himself, that caused the illness” (p 52, emphasis added). But even this is better than the others consulted which didn’t mention the grammatical issue in any manner.
11 Gender is not specifically expressed here, but neuter is implied from its use in both participles in 1:26.
12 Interestingly, in my software the NA28 is tagged neuter, while the GNT is tagged masculine. There is no textual variant here.
13 Though autou is ms/nt in both 1:25 and 1:26, these obviously refer to the man as distinct from the unclean spirit.
14 Such a faulty notion can come from the plural “the unclean spirits” (to pneuma to akathartos) in 1:28, but this is unnecessary. An exclamation in the plural for one singular surprising action is not uncommon in English: Upon discovering your seemingly non-mechanically-inclined neighbor had replaced the brake pads on his car you respond, “I didn’t know you worked on cars!”
15 Contra, e.g., Robert H. Stein (Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the Greek New Testament {BECNT} [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008]), who specifically asserts, “The ‘us’ refers not to the man and the unclean spirit, but to unclean spirits as a group” (p 87). Couldn’t it be both/and? See next note.
16 This comports with the local context here. Thus, the verb “destroy” (apollumi)—rendered “ruin” here—in 1:24 is likely intended polysemy. On one level the possessing spirit is concerned Jesus will separate it from its host. This is reflected in the second entry in Frederick W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2009): “’experience disconnection or separation’—a. lose with focus on what one has or possesses” (p 47). Though Danker specifically places Mk 1:24 in his first entry (“’cause severe damage’—a. by making ineffective or incapable of functioning destroy”, p 47), I think both apply. More specifically, the latter (destroy) applies both singly to the possessing spirit here and collectively for all demons in the new eschatological age Jesus inaugurated. See Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1—8:26, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1989), pp 58-60.
17 Gould, St. Mark, states: “Only the man had been mentioned before, which would lead us to refer this [ambiguous ms/nt pronoun] to him. But the command is evidently addressed to the demon. This confusion is due to the identification of the two” (para 4631 [at 5:8]; emphasis added).
18 The Textus Receptus has the masculine plural pronoun rather than the neuter. Gould thinks this is original (para 4640 [at 5:10]). In view of overall context (to include 9:20), I’m inclined to disagree with Gould, though the manuscript evidence is far from definitive—from what little I know, admittedly. Yet it’s curious that neither Metzger nor Comfort (New Testament Text and Translation Commentary) make note of this variant, for there seems legitimate cause to question the proper text. The NA28 (Holger Strutwolf, ed., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th, Accordance electronic ed. [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012], p 119) lists the following in the apparatus:

αυτους αποστειλη D ƒ13 28. 565. 700. 1424. (ƒ1 2542) 𝔐 ¦ αποστειλη αυτους A 579. 1241. ℓ 2211 it ¦ αυτον αποστειλη ℵ L (⸉ K W 892) lat syp bo ¦ txt B C Δ (⸉ Θ).

It may not matter much in translation, but it might be worth discussion by specialists.
19 The opinion of Gould, Mark, is nuanced somewhat differently, “Here the subject changes from the man speaking for the demons to the demons speaking through the man” (para 4646).
20 See I. Howard Marshall, Acts, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), pp 285—87.
21 F. F. Bruce (The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary; 3rd rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990]) sources Plutarch’s De defectu oraculorum (9.414E) which “calls such soothsayers…ventriloquists who uttered words not only apparently, but really, beyond their own control” (p 360). Cf. Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the Greek New Testament [BECNT] (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pp 535 note 2, 535—37.
22 Robertson, Grammar, pp 708-709. Here is the complete quote in its context, with transliterations in parentheses after the Greek: “Two passages in John call for remark, inasmuch as they bear on the personality of the Holy Spirit. In 14:26, ὁ δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει (ho de paraklētos, to pneuma to hagion, ho pempsei ho patēr en tō̧ onomati mou, ekeinos hymas didaxei), the relative ὅ (ho) follows the grammatical gender of πνεῦμα (pneuma). Ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos), however, skips over πνεῦμα (pneuma) and reverts to the gender of παράκλητος (paraklētos). In 16:13 a more striking example occurs, ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας (hotan de elthȩ̄ ekeinos, to pneuma tēs alētheias). Here one has to go back six lines to ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) again and seven to παράκλητος (paraklētos). It is more evident therefore in this passage that John is insisting on the personality of the Holy Spirit, when the grammatical gender so easily called for ἐκεῖνο (ekeino) [ED: neuter (instead of masculine)].”
23 Robertson, Grammar, pp 708-709.
24 Robertson, Grammar, p 709.
25 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 331, 332,
26 Wallace, Grammar, p 332; cf. p 338.
27 Wallace, Grammar, p 332, ftnt 44.
28 Wallace, Grammar, p 332. Wallace does not, however, advance any sort of argument.

Misgendering the Spirit

Language learners should master the concept of grammatical gender. This is especially true for native English speakers. I’ve found many Christians, even some in scholarly circles, who are confused on this issue. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit is sometimes ‘misgendered’.

The problem is birthed from confusion between (and conflation of) grammatical gender and biological sex, as in male and female. From this confusion, faulty ideas arise as to what constitutes personhood.

To state simply: grammatical gender does not necessarily indicate biological sex. Most times there is no correlation whatsoever.

Grammatical Gender en Español

Since Greek has three grammatical genders, it may be helpful to first illustrate from a language with only two. Below are some examples in Spanish, the world’s fourth-most spoken language (after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi).

the cat = el gato
the dog = el perro
the table = la mesa
the bank = el banco
the store = la tienda

Notice how “the” is spelled two different ways in Spanish. The words for “cat”, “dog”, and “bank” have el before them. These words (gato, perro, banco) are masculine in grammatical gender, so the corresponding word for “the” is also masculine (el). Comparatively, the Spanish words for “table” and “store” have la preceding them. These words (mesa, tienda) are feminine in grammatical gender and therefore have la to match.

This use of el in front of grammatically masculine nouns and la in front of grammatically feminine nouns must be maintained. You should never see ‘la gato’ or ‘el mesa’—these are grammatical mismatches, errors.

Now, we would hardly think any table or store is female. Nor would we think any bank is male. And, of course, we would hardly think all cats and all dogs are male.

In Spanish, there is a simple way for designating female cats and female dogs. An extra word is added to el perro and el gato to specify a male:

the female dog = la perra
the female cat = la gata
the male dog = el perro macho
the male cat = el gato macho

The astute student can readily see that the last letter of both perro and gato is changed from “o” to “a” to make it feminine in grammatical gender. This way, the grammatical gender also indicates the female sex of the dog and the cat. But since perro and gato mean “dog” or “cat” generically (without regard to biological sex), adding macho to the end indicates that the dog or the cat is male. In these examples grammatical gender correlates to biological sex.

Below are the final Spanish examples for our purposes:

the Father = el Padre
the Son = el Hijo
the mother = la madre
the spirit = el espíritu
the Holy Spirit = el Espíritu Santo

The only feminine grammatical gender above is found, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. However, when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood, of course.

The word for “spirit” is masculine in grammatical gender. But this doesn’t mean that a spirit has biological sex. To specify “the Holy Spirit”, the word Santo follows el Espíritu. And since the Holy Spirit is part of the Triune God, once again, we don’t construe biological sex.

The Three Genders in the Greek

As noted earlier, Greek has three grammatical genders, adding neuter:

the sun = ho hēlios (masculine)
the earth/land = hē gē (feminine)
the water = to hudōr (neuter)

Like Spanish, the Greek word for “the” must match the grammatical gender of its associated noun. In the examples above, “sun” (hēlios) is masculine, “earth/land” (gē) is feminine, and “water” (hudōr) is neuter. So, correspondingly, the words for “the” are masculine (ho), feminine (hē), and neuter (to), respectively. Of course, none of the words in these examples indicate biological sex.

the world/universe = ho kosmos (masculine)
the land/region = hē chōra (feminine)
the lake = hē limnē (feminine)
the open/deep sea = to pelagos (neuter)
the deep sea = ho bythos (masculine)

In viewing the above, the reader may perceive a seeming randomness to the assignment of grammatical gender. The last three all relate to water, yet each one has a different grammatical gender! In fact, the last two are synonymous.

Once again, none of these can be construed as implying biological sex. And none of these are persons in any sense, of course.

the word/speech = ho logos (masculine)
the word/saying = to rhēma (neuter)

Despite what some Word of Faith (Word/Faith) teachers claim, these two words are essentially synonymous when referring to speech.1 And when referring to speech generally, we do not assume biological sex or personhood, of course.

In the case of ho logos the difference comes in the preexistent Jesus Christ, “the Word” (John 1:1—14). Certainly, we recognize the personalization—the ‘Personhood’2—of “the Word” here. However—and this is an important distinction—the masculine grammatical gender of ho logos does not indicate personhood in and of itself. Nor does it indicate biological sex—God is not intrinsically a sexual Being. It is the flesh (human) aspect of Word-become-flesh (Jesus the Christ) that indicates biological sex. Jesus is a biological male in virtue of His human nature, not His Divine nature. In His pre-earthly existence as “the Word” He was not even a biological being.

the Father = ho Patēr
the Son = ho Huios
the mother = hē mētēr
the spirit = to pneuma
the Holy Spirit = to Pneuma (to) Hagios

Not surprisingly, the first three above parallel the Spanish in terms of grammatical gender. The only feminine occurs, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. And again, as in Spanish—or any translation of Scripture—when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood.

But when compared to the Spanish word for “S/spirit” grammatical gender differs. In Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter. Consequently, confusion results among many. To some apparently, the neuter grammatical gender necessarily construes a non-being, a thing. And from there it would follow that non-beings are non-persons. But this conflates distorted notions of grammatical gender with biological sex/gender in the English and imposes them upon the Greek.

Christendom, We Have a Problem

Confusion manifests in two ways, with one mistaken notion following the other. Because the word for “Spirit”, pneuma, is neuter in grammatical gender, some interpreters wrongly assume:

(a) this must mean that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘person’, since the Spirit is neither masculine (misconstrued as “male”?) in grammatical gender nor feminine (misconstrued as “female”?);

(b) however, because one section of Scripture (John 14:15—16:15) uses the grammatically masculine paraklētos (“counselor”, “advocate”, “comforter”) to refer to the Spirit, then this makes the Holy Spirit a person.

Now, to be clear, I absolutely affirm that Scripture declares the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. But this is not due to the masculine grammatical gender of paraklētos. More on this further below.

Generally, the Got Questions site explains Christian concepts adequately (if a bit simplistically at times). But their page for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit, Is the Holy Spirit a person?, contains the errors identified in this blog post. To unravel, I will analyze one sentence at a time. First the text, from the second paragraph at the preceding hyperlink:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing. First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.” The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit. The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement. Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14). Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

Error begets error. Beginning with the first sentence:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing.

This is true.

First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.”

Though this may be true in English translations, this is absolutely untrue in the Greek New Testament. This will be clarified as we go.

The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit.

In the original Greek language the word for “S/spirit”, pneuma, is neuter, as stated earlier. But this has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not the Holy Spirit is an impersonal thing any more than the masculine kosmos (“world”) indicates that the world is a personal being. It’s not the Greek language that establishes personhood; it’s the contexts describing the Holy Spirit that establish it.

The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement.

This is absolutely true. And it absolutely does in the Greek.

Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14).

Three masculine (demonstrative) pronouns are used in these cases (and one more each in 14:26 and 16:83) because they refer to the noun paraklētos, which is a masculine noun! Moreover, this is hardly “many cases”, as these are only found in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:16—16:15) when the pronoun refers to paraklētos. The Farewell Discourse is also interspersed with neuter pronouns in the Greek when referring to pneuma. For example, in John 14:17, the neuter relative pronoun hò is used once and the neuter ‘personal’ pronoun auto is used twice as substitutes for to pneuma at the very beginning of the verse—though all three are translated as the masculine “him” in English. This is to indicate personhood in English. To reiterate, these three neuter pronouns are translated as masculine pronouns in English solely to signify personhood for English readers. This is an issue in translation, not in Greek.

Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

I cannot know if the author is being dishonest or is obtusely conflating issues. As noted just above, the English translations generally use “he” when a pronoun is substituted for the Holy Spirit. But the Greek pronouns here agree in grammatical gender with their antecedents, their referents. And in the Greek New Testament any pronoun which refers to pneuma is also neuter to match in grammatical gender.

So how do we Biblically establish the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit? Murray J. Harris in his exegetical commentary on John’s Gospel provides some helpful introductory apologetics here (the author translates paraklētos “Helper”):

The fact that the pronouns referring to the Spirit…are neuter no more establishes the impersonality of the Spirit than the masculine pronouns ekeinos in 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13-14 and auton in 16:7 [ED: referring to paraklētos] prove the personality of the Spirit. In each case the gender of the pronouns is grammatically conditioned…The personality of the Spirit should be established without appeal to the masculine pronouns in the passages cited above. (One can argue, for example, that since Jesus as Helper [implied by allos, “another” in 14:16] is personal, one would assume that the Spirit as “another Helper” is also personal. And the other personal roles attributed to the Spirit, such as teaching and reminding [14:26], testifying [15:26], guiding [16:13], and informing [16:14-15], would certainly be strange if the Spirit were simply an impersonal force).4

In short, it’s not the Greek grammar that argues for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. It’s the contexts describing Him. A few other contexts in this regard:

  • The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
  • The Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), which is tantamount to lying to God (Acts 5:4).
  • The Holy Spirit is sent jointly by the Father (John 14:26) and the Son (John 15:26; 16:7) and is received by believers (1Cor 6:19, etc.), in whom the Spirit performs some of these personal functions.
  • The Spirit’s Deity finds affirmation in the sharing of the one Divine Name with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19). If the Father and Son are ‘Persons’, then it most likely follows that the Holy Spirit is, as well. Though equality of ‘Personhood’ cannot definitively be established by this one verse, it’s this verse in concert with other verses that help make the case. As another example of such, Jesus is called paraklētos (1John 2:1), while Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘another paraklētos’ (John 14:16).

No Good Apologies for Bad Apologetics

Using bad apologetics can harm the Christian cause. Anyone who is against Trinitarianism specifically or Christianity generally can use that bad pronoun argument against the Christian faith. Such bad arguments can make us seem like the ignorant and unintelligent (or intellectually dishonest) people that many non-believers accuse Christians of being.

Such faulty arguments used in attempts to bolster a theological position undermine proper Christian apologetics. Let’s endeavor to do better. I know we can!

______________________________________

1 But logos has a more expansive range of meanings. For those unaware, many Word/Faith teachers assert (among other things) the false dichotomy that rhēma denotes the ‘higher’ word from God for believers only while logos indicates the written Scriptures as a whole for everyone, including non-believers. Not only is this reductionistic, it fails to account for the fact that the verbal form (legō) of logos is used quite often preceding speech (so-and-so said [legō], “…”). A good example to refute this dichotomy presents itself in Matthew 12:36: But I say (legō) to you that every idle word (rhēma) that men speak (legō) they will give account/reckoning (logos) for in the day of judgment. Moreover, rhēma is found in only 65 verses in the New Testament as compared to over 300 for logos, while the verbal form legō occurs over 2000 times.

2 I always place single quotes around ‘Person’ when referring to individual hypostases of the Father, Son, or Spirit in order to indicate a distinction between modern ideas of personhood and those of Trinitarianism. The Father, Son, and Spirit should not be reduced to such secular notions.

3 These five occurrences of the masculine demonstrative pronoun (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13, 14), plus one masculine personal pronoun, are the only stand-alone pronouns in this entire section referring to paraklētos. There are some others implied in verbs (all finite verbs encode person and number, but not gender), though some are ambiguous as to their intended referent (see previous article Another Paraclete?, especially endnote 10). There are also neuter pronouns—specific and implied—referencing either the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of truth in the Farewell Discourse.

4 John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), p 261 (Greek transliterated). And see note 3 above and my previous article related to this subject.

Another Paraclete?

John the Gospel writer records Jesus’ words describing “another paraclete” (14:16). Though typically spelled paraclete in English, the Greek is (transliterated) paraklētos. The curious reader might wonder, “If Jesus refers to another paraklētos, who is (are) the other(s)?”

Let’s investigate, focusing on the ‘another’ before we search for the ‘other(s)’.

First, we’ll define the term, a noun. A compound word, it combines the preposition para (beside, along, by, near) with the adjective klētos (summoned, called, invited, chosen). Thus, according to its etymology, paraklētos might mean something like “one summoned alongside”.

Seldom used in antiquity, in Demosthenes the term refers to a legal aid, an advocate. The word means intercessor in the works of Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus and the Apostles. These two points of reference lay out the background—not necessarily the impetus—for its usage in Scripture. Completely absent in the Old Testament, the word occurs a mere five times in the New Testament, all in the Johannine corpus (works attributed to John).

Revealing ‘Another’ Paraklētos

Jesus’ speech in the Farewell Discourse (John 14—17) contains all four instances of paraklētos in John’s Gospel. The portions below should provide adequate context for analysis. My commentary interjects. Though the primary intent here is to identify this ‘another’ paraklētos and his associated functions, other related data will also be addressed. All pronouns specifically referring to paraklētos are underlined in the Scripture translations (but not in the commentary).

14:15 “If you love Me, you will obey My commands. 16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another paraklētos, so that He may be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither perceives Him nor recognizes Him. But you know Him, for He stays by you, and He will be in you. 18 I will not leave you abandoned; I will come to you. 19 Yet in a bit the world will no longer see Me. But you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day, you will realize that I am in my Father—and you [are] in Me, and I in you. 21 The one who has My commands and obeys them, that person loves me. And the one who loves Me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and reveal Myself to him.”1

First, observe the prerequisite for the Father to give this paraklētos: you must obey Jesus’ commands, thereby proving you really love Him (vv. 15—16). Reciprocity frames this entire section (vv. 15—16; v. 21). Jesus and the Father love those who love Jesus. The rewards for showing your love for Him are provided in the giving of this paraklētos and in Jesus’ promise to self-reveal.

Another moniker for this paraklētos is the Spirit of truth (v. 17). This Spirit of truth appears to function like the Holy Spirit. That is, the way this is laid out seems to indicate this paraklētos is indeed the Holy Spirit. For after providing a description of the Spirit’s then-current function (He stays by you), His future indwelling is foretold (He will be in you).

Jesus refers to His forthcoming Crucifixion: Yet in a bit the world will no longer see Me (v. 19). Jesus also predicts His Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances in I will come to you (v. 18). This is paralleled with and you [are] in Me, and I in you (v. 20) as well as reveal Myself to him (v. 21).

He will be in you surely refers to the Spirit’s indwelling at Pentecost in Acts 2, and it is possible that day (v. 20) does as well. Specifically, though in context In that day seems best understood as referring to the Resurrection and Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, it may also be intended to encompass the Ascension and the subsequent giving of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost as well (v. 19: you will also live).

Should this analysis prevail, this paraklētos (aka the Spirit of truth) and Jesus appear to overlap in function to the extent the two ‘Persons’ seem entwined to a degree (reveal Myself to him). That is, the Spirit that will be in you (v. 17) may Himself act as Christ in some fashion (v. 20: and I in you). Stated another way, that day may refer to the day of Pentecost (He will be in you) when considered alongside the final clauses of v. 20 (and I [Jesus] in you) and v. 21 (reveal Myself to him2), signifying some sort of intertwining of the two. Assuming so, Jesus self-reveals in conjunction with or via the Spirit of truth. This overlap of ‘Persons’ and functions is borne out in other Scripture, such as Colossians 1:27 (Christ in you, the hope of glory) when viewed in conjunction with Ephesians 1:13—14. These connections will become clearer as we progress.3

And could the Spirit of truth refer back to Jesus’ previous declaration I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6)?

Further Unveiling and Clarifications

At this juncture we might surmise that Jesus Himself is the other paraklētos. Let’s see how the rest unfolds.

Continuing on, we find Judas interrupting Jesus, seeking clarification:

22 Judas (not Iscariot) asked him, “Lord, how can it be that You are going to reveal Yourself to us, yet not to the world?”

In answering Judas’ question, Jesus sheds more light on this paraklētos’ function:

23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves Me, he will obey My word; then My Father will love him, and We will come to him and reside with him. 24 Anyone who does not love Me does not obey My word. Yet the word you hear is not from Me, but from the Father who sent Me. 25 These things I have spoken to you while remaining with you. 26 But the paraklētosthe Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My nameThat One will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I told you.

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you—not as the world gives do I give you. Don’t allow your heart to be disturbed and don’t be afraid. 28 You heard Me tell you, ‘I am going away’, yet I will come back to you.”

Positively, Jesus reiterates that to love Him means to obey My word, which brings about the Father’s love. Negatively, in His somewhat indirect answer to Judas, He implies that those who don’t love Him—as indicated by their refusal to obey His word—are those of ‘the world’.

Apparently Judas assumed Jesus’ words reveal Myself to him (v. 21) were a reference to His Parousia, His return, the Advent. That is, it seems he rightly understood (v. 22) that Jesus’ Parousia would be seen by all (cf. Matthew 24:27); consequently, he couldn’t comprehend how Jesus would be revealing Himself to the Apostles yet not the world. However, Jesus was instead referring to His Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances (and likely beyond—see previous section). Judas’ apparent mistake was in interpreting all Jesus’ words above through the narrow lens of v. 19 (in a bit the world will no longer see Me. But you will see Me), thereby erroneously delimiting them. Because Judas didn’t foresee the Resurrection, he assumed a near-future Parousia.

Yet Jesus was also referring to the future up to and including His Parousia. How so? Jesus would reveal Himself (v. 21) through the functions of this paraklētos—now specifically identified as the Holy Spirit—Who will teach you all things and remind you of everything [Jesus] told you (v. 26). Though Jesus’ immediate audience was the Apostles, the enduring nature of the Scriptures indicates these functions would apply to subsequent believers. Thus, these operations of the Spirit-paraklētos continue all the way to the Advent. This will come into sharper focus as we continue.

The last sentence in v. 27 echoes 14:1 (Don’t allow your heart to be disturbed and don’t be afraid). Thus, in context with v. 28, this likely intends to allude to 13:33 (I will be with you only a bit longer; cf. 14:19) and 14:2—3 (many rooms…I will prepare a place for you…come back to you…so you may be where I am), which would then imply both the Parousia and post-Parousia (the afterlife).

In other words, though Jesus is referring to His Resurrection in v. 18 (I will come to you) and v. 19 (you will see Me), in the larger context the Resurrection itself should be seen as foreshadowing—or perhaps the first stage of—His Parousia. Moreover, though v. 23 (we will come to him and reside with him) surely refers to the initial Spirit indwelling,4 the post-Parousia (afterlife) could also be in view considering v. 19 (Because I live, you also will live).5 That is, these clauses may well refer to both the temporal and the eternal realms (and see Craig Keener’s blog post here). Assuming so, this would not be so much a case of collapsing eschatology (in some sort of over-realized sense6), but indicating the continuing multivalence of—the layers of meaning in—Jesus’ words here.

Christ also clarifies what He means by My word (vv. 23, 24), which is obviously a synonym for My commands (vv. 15, 21; cf. 8:31—32) here.  For, though it is Jesus’ word, its ultimate origin is from the Father who sent Him (v. 24).

The Spirit-paraklētos, aka the Holy Spirit, will be sent in the name of Jesus—in Jesus’ authority—by the Father (v. 26).

To recap, the Spirit-paraklētos that will be in you (v. 17) will function to teach you all things and remind you of everything [Jesus] told you (v. 26).

The Spirit-Paraklētos Testifies about Jesus through Disciples

Now moving to the next section describing the Spirit-paraklētos:

15:26 “When the paraklētos comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth, the One Who comes forth from the Father—That One will testify about Me. 27 And you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Somewhat paradoxically, in 14:26 it is the Father who sends the Holy Spirit (aka the Spirit-paraklētos) in Jesus’ name, whereas in 15:26 Jesus sends the Spirit-paraklētos to the Apostles, though this Spirit of truth comes forth from the Father. In the former (14:26) the Father performs the action (“will send”), in the latter (15:26) Jesus does (“will send”). Note also here in 15:26 Jesus specifies that it is the Spirit of truth that comes forth from the Father,7 while in 14:16 the Father gives the Spirit-paraklētos to the Apostles in response to Jesus’ petition. Thus, the Spirit-paraklētos’ point of departure (“comes forth”) is from the Father yet He is sent by both Father and Son. Once again, ‘Persons’ in the Trinity overlap functionally.8

Another function comes to light here. The Spirit-paraklētos will testify about Jesus (v. 26). In turn, the Apostles will testify about Jesus (v. 27). This implies that the Spirit-paraklētos’ testimony will come through the Apostles. This harmonizes with the activities sketched in 14:26: to teach the Apostles all things and to remind them of everything Jesus told them. The Spirit-paraklētos teaches the Apostles and reminds them of what Jesus told them so He can testify through them.

So the Apostles—and subsequent Christian disciples—are the agents of the Spirit-paraklētos in this regard. And, perhaps, the Spirit-paraklētos is the agent of Jesus in the same: reveal Myself to him through the Spirit-paraklētos (see 2:22; 12:16). Assuming so, the Apostles and disciples act as agents of the Spirit-paraklētos, Who, in turn, performs as Jesus’ agent.

Actions of the Spirit-Paraklētos in the World

Paraklētos appears one last time in John’s Gospel—specifically in chapter 16:

16:5 “Yet now I withdraw to him who sent Me, and not one of you asks Me, ‘Where do you go?’ 6 But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 But I tell you the truth: It benefits you that I depart. For if I do not depart, the paraklētos will not come to you; yet if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 When That One comes He will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment: 9 with regard to sin, because they do not believe; 10 but concerning righteousness, because I withdraw to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and, concerning judgment, that the ruler of this world has been judged.”

As with 15:26, in 16:7 Jesus is the One sending the Spirit-paraklētos.

The three listed functions of the Spirit-paraklētosconvict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (v. 8)—are not well-defined and open to a number of interpretive possibilities. Given this Gospel’s penchant for multivalence, these possibilities may all be true. It is beyond the scope of this article to attempt to exhaustively detail these possibilities.9

Sin in v. 9 could mean He will correct those in the world of wrong ideas pertaining to what constitutes sin. It could mean convict of the sin they are engaging in towards their repentance. It could mean convict of unbelief in Christ.

As pertaining to righteousness (v. 10), the Spirit-paraklētos convicts because Jesus goes to the Father. This may be understood as a simple statement of fact: Now that Jesus is no longer here to point out unrighteousness, the Spirit-paraklētos takes over.  In other words, here “righteousness” may be meant to be understood in a negative sense. In this way, for example, the self-righteous Jewish leaders who coerced Pilate to crucify Jesus may be convicted—deemed unbelievers by the Spirit—because of their push to crucify Him. On the one hand, there are those who remain convicted of their self-righteousness in this regard (“Crucify Him!”). On the other hand, some may be driven to repent (after coming under conviction) from their role in Jesus’ death and thereby come to faith via the Spirit-paraklētos.

So, in regards to the world, the Spirit-paraklētos testifies about Jesus (15:26).

Because Christ has triumphed over the ‘ruler of this world’, the world stands condemned (v. 11). It follows then that those aligning with the ‘ruler of this world’ similarly stand condemned.

The Spirit-Paraklētos’ Future Role in the Disciples

One remaining portion of chapter 16 contains the Spirit-paraklētos, but it is via masculine pronouns referring to it rather than the term itself (as implied from 16:7 above).10

12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you aren’t able to bear them now. 13 But when That One comes—the Spirit of truthHe will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own, but He will speak only what He hears. And He will disclose to you things yet to come. 14 That One will bring glory to Me, because He will receive from Me and disclose it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is Mine; therefore, I said this because He receives from Me and will disclose it to you.”

Potential information overload appears to be Jesus’ concern here (v. 12). So, Christ lays things out slowly, repeating a bit as He goes.

The Spirit-paraklētos, aka the Spirit of truth, will guide them (and future disciples) into all truth (v. 13). This seems to be a summation of all the functions outlined earlier, to include the statement that He will act as Jesus’ agent (vv. 13—15), thus solidifying earlier assumptions (in the conclusion of The Spirit-Paraklētos Testifies about Jesus through Disciples section above). But here also the Spirit-paraklētos has a future role, perhaps eschatological (things yet to come, v. 13).

The mutuality between Father and Son is restated, but this time much more strongly implying a Trinitarian relationship: Since the Father had given all things to Jesus (cf. 3:35; 5:20; 13:3), then Jesus can relay these same things to the Spirit-paraklētos, aka the Holy Spirit, aka the Spirit of truth (vv. 14—15).11 And the Spirit-paraklētos discloses these things to the Apostles and disciples.

Identifying the Other Paraklētos

In Scripture paraklētos finds itself one final time in the first epistle of John (1John 1:5—2:6):12

1:5 This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light and in him is no darkness—none. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we are lying and do not practice the truth. 7 If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, is cleansing us from all sin 8 If we claim that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

2:1 My dear children, these things I write to you in order that you do not sin. Yet if anyone does sin, we have a paraklētos with the Father: Jesus Christ, the Righteous. 2 And He is propitiation for our sins, though not for ours only, but even the entire world.

3 By this we recognize that we have come to know Him: if we obey His commands. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him”, yet does not obey His commands is a liar, and in him there is no truth. 5 But whoever obeys His word, in this one the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know we are in Him: 6 The one who says he abides in Him must himself walk as Jesus walked.

Though tentatively deduced above, this text confirms Jesus is indeed the other paraklētos. Therefore, when Jesus told His disciples He would send “another paraklētos” (John 14:16) He meant one besides Himself.

This section begins (1:5) with Jesus as the one we have heard from. But then it quickly moves to God the Father as its subject, with all third person pronouns through v. 10 referring to God. Jesus, His Son in v. 7 provides the lone exception. The theme of God as light juxtaposed with darkness in vv. 5—7 may intentionally allude to John 1:4—5, with the Gospel’s the Word exchanged here for God. Bolstering this line of thought is the statement in v. 9 that God is faithful and righteous—two attributes applied to Jesus elsewhere, the latter attributed to Him in 2:1 here.

While the focal point is certainly in 2:1—2, note the verbal parallels and similarities in the surrounding context (1:6—1:10; 2:2b—2:5) with the passages in Jesus’ Farewell Discourse above. From John’s Gospel we know that only those who obey Jesus’ word/commands will receive the Spirit-paraklētos. Negatively stated, those who do not obey Jesus’ word/commands will not receive the Spirit-paraklētos. Thus, it follows that those who have come to know Him—as evidenced by obeying His commands—have the Spirit-paraklētos indwelling. This indwelling provides the privilege to petition Jesus, Who acts as paraklētos on our behalf to God the Father.

The referents for the pronouns Him and His throughout 2:3—6 are unclear, and this may well be the author’s intention. From John 14:24 we know that when Jesus referred to My word and My commands, their origin was actually from the Father. Thus, any such purposeful ambiguity would further blur the roles of the Trinitarian ‘Persons’.

Perhaps “intermediary” best defines paraklētos generally in Scripture. In the role of paraklētos the Spirit communicates Jesus’ words to the believer.  Similarly, Jesus communicates the petitions of the believer to the Father. The Holy Spirit acts as Jesus’ agent to the believer; Jesus acts as our agent to the Father.

And through the power and mediation of the Spirit we act as God’s agents in the world, testifying about Jesus. In this sense, each believer is a paraklētos. What a privilege—and responsibility—we have.

_________________________

1 My translation, as is all here. The bracketed are in v. 20 is absent in the Greek, though added here for intelligibility.

2 See paraklētos’ function in this regard further below, especially in The Spirit-Paraklētos Testifies about Jesus through Disciples section.

3 While here we have overlap of Son and Spirit, later we will see overlap of Father and Son as well.

4 Thereby implying Trinitarianism: Father, Son and Spirit will come to live with the one who loves Jesus.

5 Cf. Rev 21:1—22:6; see “Looking Past the Future”.

6 By “over-realized” I mean an extreme interpretation such that the Parousia was to occur at the Resurrection or during the Apostolic era.

7 Regarding the use of the verb ekporeuesthai, “comes forth”, in 15:26, see Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974): This description made its way into 4th century creeds to describe the eternal procession of the Third Person of the Trinity from the Father…However…the coming forth is in parallelism with the “I shall send”…and refers to the mission of the Paraclete/Spirit to men…The writer is not speculating about the interior life of God; he is concerned with the disciples in the world (p 689). In other words, in its context here “comes forth” says nothing about what is known in some circles as the immanent Trinity in terms of the eternal genesis of the Spirit-paraklētos. Rather, it refers to the sending of the Spirit-paraklētos in salvation history.

8 See notes 3 and 5 and related text.

9 See, e.g., D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), pp 534—539.

10 This is in distinction from any referring to the Spirit of truth, which would require a neuter pronoun since the Greek word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter. All the translated-to-English personal pronouns (He) in v. 13 are attached to verbs—which do not encode gender—and therefore could either be masculine referring to paraklētos or neuter referring to the Spirit [of truth]. Similarly, the reflexive His own (in the genitive, heautou) could be either masculine or neuter. Thus, I’ve made an exegetical decision in assigning these masculine, relating to the masculine demonstrative That One due to the presence of the masculine demonstrative yet again in v. 14, thereby assuming this intervening text also refers to paraklētos (v. 7) rather than the Spirit [of truth]. For all practical purposes it matters little for, as noted above, the Spirit of truth is an alternative moniker for this same Entity.

11 See notes 3, 5 and 8 and related text.

12 In 2:2 propitiation should be understood to include both expiation and propitiation. The personal pronoun He is uncertain as to its referent (paraklētos or Jesus), but I take it to be paraklētos in this context, given the mediatory function in forgiving sins.

%d bloggers like this: