Although there are multiple passages in Scripture which are difficult for us to read and understand completely, Christians should always remember never to ignore these passages, but rather compare them with other Scripture passages and various Bible translations, keeping in mind the historical and literary context of the verses in question. Ignoring passages of the Scripture is to be in defiance of God’s intentions concerning the perfection of His Word and in disobedience of Christ’s command to read Scripture in its entirety, not only picking and choosing the passages that are easy to comprehend. Timothy 3:16-17 asserts, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Therefore, Christians should be as ready to tackle the difficult passages as they are eager to utilize the easier ones. The importance of this topic being clarified, let’s address the issues of historical context, translation, and Scriptural support in one of the most difficult passages to understand, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-11.
Focusing on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-11, let us attempt to view this passage in historical and Scriptural lights in order to more fully understand it. In 2 Thessalonians 1:1-11, Paul discusses the second coming of Christ and focuses particularly on the coming of the Antichrist. For some historical context and for a clarification of the problem in this passage, Augustine wrote on these verses in City of God, stating, “It is uncertain in what temple he shall sit, whether in that ruin of the temple which was built by Solomon, or in the Church; for the apostle would not call the temple of any idol or demon the temple of God. And on this account some think that in this passage Antichrist means not the princes himself alone, but his whole body, that is, the mass of men who adhere to him, along with him their prince.” (City of God XX.19) Augustine continues by explaining that some have believed that Paul was referring to the Roman empire and that was why he (Paul) refused to use more explicit language in clarifying his position on the matter of the Antichrist. Perhaps when Paul stated, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work,” he was referring to Nero and his evil persecution of believers. Understanding history, therefore, can aid in understanding the Scriptures; however, translation must also be taken into account.
We all use different Bible translations – King James Version, New King James Version, New International Version, English Standard Version, and the list continues. While most all of the major translations of the Bible are accurate in their English translations and versions, there will always be slight variations in verbiage, as there are many ways to say one phrase in any given language. For example, just as there are six primary words that can be used to mean “love” in Greek (eros, philia, ludus, agape, pragma, and philautia), there are just as many ways to translate any portion of the Scripture, and therefore other translations, such as the ones from the Hebrew, the Latin, and the Aramaic languages, must be consulted thoroughly before one can draw any resounding conclusions about a difficult passage of Scripture. Augustine addresses the translation issue in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-11 by explaining, “They also think that we should render the Greek more exactly were we to read, not ‘in the temple of God,’ but ‘for’ or ‘as the temple of God,’ as if he himself were the temple of God, the Church. Then as for the words, ‘And now ye know what withholdeth,’ i.e. ye know what hindrance or cause of delay there is, ‘that he might be revealed in his own time;’ they show that he was unwilling to make an explicit statement, because he said that they [the Thessalonians knew].”(City of God XX.19) This is just one example, among many, which exemplifies the dilemma translators face when attempting to produce the most accurate translation of the Scriptures because there is simply an overwhelming amount of slight translation variations that can be produced. Nonetheless, however, most translations are extremely, and almost perfectly, accurate despite the slight verbiage variations.
Although taking into account historical context and translation variations may be used to effectively demonstrate the accuracy of Scripture, according to 1 Corinthians 2:13, Paul states, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Additionally, the Bereans in Acts 17:11 searched the Scriptures, not the history texts, for answers to spiritual matters. Historical support will only prove the Bible to a certain extent, and, therefore, Christians must be able to prove the inerrancy of Scripture through the use of Scripture itself. Augustine, for example uses a quote from John’s writings in order to support another conjecture about the meaning of Paul’s passage in 2 Thessalonians. Augustine maintains, “But others think that the words, ‘Ye know what withholdeth’ and ‘The mystery of iniquity worketh,’ refer only to the wicked and the hypocrites who are in the Church, until they reach a number so great as to furnish Antichrist with a great people, and that his is the mystery of iniquity, because it is hidden; also that the apostle is exhorting the faithful tenaciously to hold the faith they hold when he says, ‘Only he who now holdeth, let him hold until he be taken out of the way,’ that is, until the mystery of iniquity which now is hidden departs from the Church. For they suppose that it is to this same mystery John alludes when in his epistle he says, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that is it s the last time. They went out form us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.’ As therefore there went out from the Church many heretics, whom John calls ‘many antichrists,’ at that time prior to the end, and which John calls ‘the last time,’ so in the end they shall go out who do not belong to Christ, but to that last Antichrist, and then he shall be revealed.” (City of God XX.19). In this passage, Augustine uses 1 John 2:18-19 in order to support a particular interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 1:1-11, thus perfectly demonstrating the effective use of Scripture in order to support and validate Scripture itself.
Christians should be wary of those who seek to ignore the difficult passages of Scripture because ignoring an issue will not make it disappear. Historical and literary contexts are extremely important to consider when addressing a difficult Scripture passage, and it would be wise for the reader to consider all possible translations of the passage, consulting various sources, before coming to a conclusion concerning the interpretation of a certain Scripture passage. Finally, Christians must realize the importance and effectiveness of using Scripture itself to validate and support the hard-to-grasp Bible verses. Misinterpreted Scripture is dangerous, but when the Word of God is viewed the way the Lord intended, through the very lens of His own Word, it will always show forth the truth.
Augustine, and Marcus Dods. The City of God. Modern Library, 1994.