Greek: 1 Ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, ὑπὲρ τῆς > παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἡμῶνἐπισυναγωγῆς ἐπ’ αὐτόν, 2 εἰς τὸ μὴ ταχέως σαλευθῆναι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ νοὸς μηδὲ θροεῖσθαι μήτεδιὰ πνεύματος μήτε διὰ λόγου μήτε δι’ ἐπιστολῆς ὡς δι’ ἡμῶν, ὡς ὅτι ἐνέστηκεν ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου. 3 μή τις ὑμᾶς ἐξαπατήσῃ κατὰ μηδένα τρόπον· ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ ἔλθῃ ἡ ἀποστασία πρῶτον καὶἀποκαλυφθῇ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας,
My Translation: 1 But we ask you, brothers, for the presence of our lord Jesus Christ and the assembling to him, 2 that you not be suddenly shaken in understanding or troubled, not through inspiration, not through speech, not through letter from us as it were, as that the time of the lord is present. 3 No one should deceive you through any manner, because it must not come except a rebellion first and uncovered is the man of iniquity, the son of destruction,
KJV: 1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of > our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.
Did Paul Write These Scripture Mastery Verses to the Thessalonians?
1 Thessalonians is regarded by most scholars to be the oldest written part of the Christian New Testament. Written by Paul to his followers at Thessalonica, his first letter impressed upon them the immediacy of the end of the world. It appears to have been written in response to events in Thessalonica where old members of the Christian community had died and neither the resurrection nor the arrival of God's kingdom had yet occurred. Paul told them that when God's kingdom arrived, the dead would be raised and that "we will meet them in the air", including himself in the description. That was how close everything was to being accomplished when Paul was writing 1 Thessalonians.
We're not talking about Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, however, but about a letter that claims to be a follow-up letter to that first letter. And, as you can tell by my use of the word "claims", the authorship of 2 Thessalonians is disputed. However, unlike Colossians or especially Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians is viewed by many more scholars as actually being written by Paul, but it is nowhere near beyond dispute.
Part of the issue is how Paul's perspective has changed in this letter from the first one. In his first letter, Paul encourages his followers to comfort themselves with the thought that the end was near and that their loved ones would be soon raised and they would all arrive in the coming Kingdom of God. In this second letter, Paul is responding with a much more cautious approach, now detailing several signs that he feels must first occur before the end. Also, whereas in the first letter, Paul, as a good Jewish Christian should, talks about the coming judgements of God, in this second letter he talks about how Christ will judge the people.
Of course, nobody stays the same throughout their lives. Bruce R. McConkie in his younger days as a regular General Authority felt that D&C 20:1 indicated that Jesus must have been born on April 6, 1 BCE, but near the end of his life he'd softened on this point considerably, indicating that it was an exercise in futility to determine when Jesus had been born. It's entirely possible that as Paul himself aged and saw friends and acquaintances age and die before Jesus returned with his father's kingdom his mental position started to shift towards a more uncertain approach to the end.
Of course, 2 Thessalonians is not written as though much time had passed. It's written as though in response to the first letter causing a great laziness among the Christians at Thessalonica. Paul is encouraging them not to simply quit their jobs and live in expectation of the end.
That's where the scripture in question occurs. After the introductory chapter, Paul launches into his more cautious approach, telling his followers not be concerned by different sources of information they trust that the "day of the lord" has come.
Interestingly, the author mentions that the Christians should not be concerned even if they receive a letter written as though it came from Paul. If this is truly a letter written by Paul, then it appears that people were already forging letters in his name, and in this case someone pretending to be Paul had written a letter to the Thessalonians saying that the end had come. And if 2 Thessalonians is itself a forged letter, well you've gotta admit that the author's got some boldness to assert his "Pauline" authorship by telling his readers to beware of forgeries. Related to this, the end of the letter features Paul signing the letter with his signature (obviously, in the versions we have today there's no such mark, since we depend upon later copies of the letter) and saying that he signs "all of his letters" this way. Again, either the real Paul is very concerned about fake Pauline letters (like Ephesians or Colossians?) flying around the ancient world, or the author himself is attempting to distract attention away from this letter by claiming other letters are forged (perhaps even real letters of Paul that don't line up exactly with this one?).
In many respects, 2 Thessalonians reads very similarly to 1 Thessalonians. In many instances, entire phrases are copied, leading some scholars who doubt that Paul wrote it to assume that it was either written soon after Paul died by someone who knew him, or was written by someone in order to reinforce 1 Thessalonians. Of course, if Paul didn't write it, and it says many of the same things as 1 Thessalonians, then we're at a loss as to why anyone would feel the need to forge it. That's not the same thing as saying that there's no reason, just none that we can know about. Personally, I find the introduction of signs before the end and the subtle changes in doctrine from the first to the second letter enough to convince me that this second letter was not actually written by Paul, but it's a tenuous approach at best, I admit.
The "Great" Forsaking and the Son of Perdition
All right, what's all this about a "falling away" or a "forsaking"? Mormons feel that Paul is here prophesying about what is known by Latter-day Saints as the "Great Apostacy", where the early Christian Church fell from God's favor and required a restoration, which began in 1820 with the First Vision of the 14-year-old Joseph Smith. This falling away included changing doctrines, loss of authority, and loss of scriptures. A Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, prophecies of this process occurring where many "plain and precious truths" are lost, and the world must wait for the Book of Mormon to be revealed by Joseph to bring those truths back.
The word underlying "falling away" is ἀποστασία apostasía, literally means "falling away from", but can mean a forsaking, a rebellion, or a divorce. Paul does not indicate what this apostasía is occurring from or any other details about it, but instead moves onto the second sign he feels must precede the coming of the Kingdom of God: the man of lawlessness must be revealed, the son of destruction.
Mormons are familiar with the term son of "perdition", but the word itself is ἀπώλεια apōleia, meaning perdition, destruction, perishing, and loss. It's a negative term. Paul doesn't identify who this character is, but the next few verses go into more detail about him (NIV version):
4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not > believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
Now, I'm not going to go into all of the crazy Christian speculation about this "man of lawlessnes". He's been identified with hundreds of unpopular figures from various Roman Emperors to various Popes, to various political leaders, religious leaders, and just about everyone else in the world it seems sometimes. The wide variety speaks to the vagueness of this particular character as described by Maybe-Paul. My personal opinion? I believe that the author of this letter, whether Paul or not, was an apocalyptic. While the tone is more cautious than 1 Thessalonians, the end is still near. The coming Kingdom of God is coming to overturn this fallen and unjust world and set up a reversed world where justice occurs and the oppressed of this world become the rulers. In many other apocalyptic religious movements, from Jewish purity movements such as the groups that produced and hid the Dead Sea Scrolls to Zoroastrianism of ancient Persia, the end of the world was accompanied by great battle between the forces of evil in this world and the forces of good in the next, a battle which would be won by good. I think that this man of lawlessness is a character the author feels is to take part in this last battle much as Christ will take part. Does that make him the so-called "Anti-Christ"? I guess so, but as an agnostic non-Christian I don't take stock in this as a real prophecy of the future so I make no statement about what this means for the future of the world. Many scholars feel that the author possibly intended for this figure to be identified with a Roman Emperor like Nero, who killed the Christians of Rome after claiming that they started a fire that burned a good portion of the city (later Roman historians would put the real blame on Nero himself to free up land for building projects he wanted to pursue).
Interestingly, attention to this verse for regular Christians tends to focus on this individual, the man of lawlessness. This is borne out as the author's intended focus by the numerous following verses describing him and his roles before the end.
For Mormons, however, this verse is about the Apostasy and the loss of truth that occurred before Joseph Smith was called to begin the Restoration.
Since we're talking the language of prophecy, I find it difficult to make much of a statement as to which approach is superior or more "right". In this case, there's not much out of context because the context itself is so vague. The LDS perspective could make sense with the only problem being that it goes directly against the imminent theme of the coming Kingdom of God that permeates Paul's other letters. For the author, if this "falling away" indeed was meant to be a falling away from the truth it was not going to last very long, and was something that the Thessalonians should be on the lookout for to inform them as to when the Kingdom of God was approaching. An apostasy lasting roughly 1700 years seems like a very useless fact to tell a bunch of 1st Century Christians who expect the end to come afterwards. Long time to wait, right?
Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?
I think these verses were chosen because Mormons only care about finding Biblical justification for their insistence that the Christian movement "fell away" and that thus Joseph Smith and the Church he founded were necessary. Since, apart from this verse, the idea of a universal apostasy is not found in the Christian New Testament (probably because most New Testament writers felt that the end of the world was too close to their own times for any such apostasy to take place) it's not surprising that one of the necessary doctrines for the Restoration is part of scripture mastery. Because of the vagueness of the scripture itself, I'll personally say that I think this scripture, while deeply problematic within context, is appropriate for inclusion among the scriptures that LDS youth should know in studying the unique doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They just shouldn't be surprised when their Christian friends and associates make a bigger deal of the "son of perdition" than they do of the "falling away" since that's also what the author of the letter does, too.