For quite a while I have not been altogether happy about the translations wait for and await which usually in versions represent the two Greek words anamenO (up-remain) and apekdechomai (from-out-receive). Notwithstanding the considerable difference between these two words in the Greek, in practise most of our versions really ignore it. This is very unsatisfactory.
We must consider the latter Greek word apekdechomai first, as Mr. Alexander Thomson has already discussed it (The Differentiator, Vol. 21, No.6, December, 1959, pp. 247, 248) and provided accurate translations of its seven occurrences, Rom. 8:19, 23, 25; 1. Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:28. He agrees with Rotherham's rendering ardently await, and I do not see how there can be any doubt that he is correct. Yet one of these passages, Gal. 5:5, certainly raises a difficulty. How can we be awaiting expectation of righteousness if we have already been made righteous?
First, let us take a look at the two other passages where
elpis, expectation, and a word with the root idea of righteous
The three are:
Acts 24:15. "expectation having unto God, which these
themselves also are anticipating, that there shall
be resurrection impending for both righteous and
Gal. 5:5. "for we, as to spirit, out of faith, expectation of
righteousness are ardently awaiting."
Titus 3:7. "having been made righteous by that One's
grace, we should be made to become heirs,
according to expectation, of life eonian."
I suggest that these three together indicate the solution of the problem. Although God has made us righteous out of faith, that is to say, has accepted our faith as attainment to a sufficient degree of righteousness for Him to be able to reckon us as righteous, that does not mean that we have run the race already and actually achieved that complete righteousness which He intends shall be ours in Him. What we are awaiting is "expectation of righteousness," that complete and perfect righteousness which is to be ours in resurrection glory.
Romans 4 keeps on speaking of faith being reckoned for righteousness (4:3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 22, 23, 24). By an act of supreme grace God has accepted our faith as, for the present, an adequate standard of righteousness; but nowhere is it ever said or even suggested that we can leave it at that. Faith is a great deal more than acquiescence in some formula. If anyone should think it is only that, he is falling far short of Abraham's standard in Rom. 4:16-22. The righteousness conferred on us by faith is not a final goal but a springboard from which we are to advance to complete and perfect righteousness. So the Apostle Paul exhorts the Apostle Timothy, and so exhorts us, to be pursuing righteousness (1. Tim. 6:11; 2. Tim. 2:22). Yet this is no late after thought to Romans 4. On the contrary, after setting out the great truth of reigning grace in Romans 5, Paul turns to persistence in sin—in other words, to the evil assumption that by faith we have got enough righteousness to go on with and need not bother about the subject any more. He soon explodes any such idea in Rom. 6:13, 16, 18, 19.
This is a vast subject which ought to be examined in detail. The point I want to make here is that the issue in Gal. 5:5 is something rather different from that in Romans 4, where the point is that Abraham, and we, are reckoned to be righteous out of faith, and where the question of subsequent circumcision does not arise so far as we are concerned. But in the context of Galatians it not only arises, it becomes of vital importance, not because it is part of God's plan for us, but because some were trying to force it on to the Galatian church. So Paul's argument in Gal. 5:1-5 is this: Some of you think that in present conditions you can come under law, and have circumcision, and achieve righteousness that way; but if you do make the attempt you become debtor to do the whole Law, and that is impossible under present conditions. Why? Because the Law has been utterly broken by those under it. So, for the present, there is no covenant; the Law has become a curse out of which Christ reclaims us (Gal. 3:10-14). You who want to be circumcising are exempted from Christ and fall out of the grace. We have turned to Him, to faith operating through love; so that we, as to spirit, out of faith, expectation of righteousness are awaiting.
On the other hand, in Romans 4 Paul can refer to circumcision after a man has been made righteous out of faith, as well as righteousness altogether apart from law-works and covenant, including circumcision, because no question of departure from the truth has yet arisen. Such circumcision is at present a departure from the truth, but a time will come when it will be as normal as Abraham's circumcision, in fact, the only normal act for one who has become righteous out of faith. Romans 1 to 4 is universal: it covers both conditions.
Furthermore, the fact that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is availing anything, nor uncircumcision—but faith, operating through love" (Gal. 5:6) in no way conflicts with the fact that, at present, the Evangel is "of the uncircumcision." For though it can be received only "in uncircumcision"; once it is received, uncircumcision itself becomes as obsolete as circumcision, since instead there is new creation (Gal. 6:15).
All this is no more than a summary, but a necessary one in order to show that in Gal. 5:5 the meaning of apehdechomai is the same as in the other six occurrences. We are awaiting perfect righteousness as well as the other promises God has made to us; and this is borne out by Paul's words at very nearly the close of his ministry (2. Tim. 4:8): "Furthermore there is reserved for me the wreath of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will be rendering to me in that day."
But why am I following Rotherham and translating apehdechomai by ardently awaiting? The answer is that there is another word for wait for, namely, ekdechomai, and the prefix apo- here seems to have an intensifying force which certainly ought to be indicated somehow. The shorter word occurs seven times: John 5:3; Acts 17:16; 1. Cor. 11:33; 16:11; Heb. 10:13; 11:10; James 5:7; and it will be seen that it implies a quiet and even patient wait.
There is, however, one passage which has been deliberately left out of this list, namely, 1. Peter 3:20. Here the balance of textual evidence is in favour of apexedecheto, ardently awaited, though the texts from which King James' version was made read exedecheto, waited, which certainly seems to harmonize better with makrothumia, patience. However, there is no sufficient reason known to us why God should not be patient and yet be ardently or eagerly awaiting. It is only creatures like ourselves who are unable to be both ardent and patient.
The former word noted at the start of this paper, anamenO, up-remain, occurs only once, so there is no basis for comparison; but the opposite idea, katamenO, down-remain, is found in Acts 1:13 and 1. Cor. 16:6. It is a pity that the C.V. could not be concordant with these and use reside in both, for that appears to be the meaning: to settle down and dwell in some spot for an indefinite period. The essential ideas are patient settled continuance in one position for an extended period and rooting oneself or confining one's attention to one spot on or near the ground. So with anamenO, we would expect to have the first of these ideas again, together with the idea of confining one's attention to something or someone up above. Such a notion is so far outside ordinary experience that there is no English word for it; so we cannot better wait for in its one occurrence, provided that we keep in mind the implications of the Greek word.
It is the notion of settled continuance in one position that is usually left out of 1. Thess. 1:10; and I have come to the conclusion that we ought to reconsider our interpretation in the light of it. Evidently now this verse cannot mean that the Thessalonians were expecting the immediate, or even early, appearance of God's Son. If that idea had been intended, there is no evident reason why Paul should not have used apekdechomai as he did in Phil. 3:20.
But we must avoid misunderstanding this, for it in no way affects the now established fact that the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 must occur before any of the other events of Prophecy can take place on earth; but it certainly knocks out finally the idea that they were expecting it "at any moment." Evidently they had been told by Paul that a considerable period of patient waiting lay ahead. Yet nevertheless it was not a string of earthly events that they were to expect, but God's Son out of the heavens, just as in Phil. 3:20 the saints in Christ Jesus are awaiting a Saviour. In so far as I have been unaware of the significance of this point of translation, I have gone astray here, as most others seem to have done. Although the next event of Prophecy for any of us is our being snatched away to meet the Lord in the air and thence to our homeland, we must beware of suggesting that it may happen at any moment, unless world-events appear to us to be conforming to the prophecies of 1. Tim. 4:1 and 2. Tim. 3:1. I think it can fairly be said that the former has been fulfilled, at least in some measure, many times during the Christian era. The latter, however, is a different matter, and we should interpret it with special care. In the first place, it refers to "last days" (no "the" as in most versions), and secondly to "ferocious seasons." The words last and days come into juxtaposition five times in the Greek Scriptures. "Last days" appears here and in James 5:3; "in the last days" in Acts 2:17; "last of these days" in Heb. 1:2; and "last of the days" in 2. Peter 3:3. No doubt these distinctions have a purpose, though what it can be is very hard to suggest. Yet the fact that they exist must prevent us from placing them all together at the same point of time; indeed, Heb. 1:2 includes the life on earth of the Lord Jesus. Moreover, it is at least arguable that our own times come within the period described in 2. Peter 3:3, 4. Acts 2:17, 18 had at least a partial fulfilment at Pentecost; yet it certainly would appear that the whole prophecy is to have complete fulfilment at the future, and greater, Pentecost which will usher in the Lord's Day.
Thus it would appear that we have to interpret this type of expression in accord with its context, so that "last days" in 2. Tim. 3:1 would be the closing days before the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17. The fact that it is "last days," not" the last days," strongly supports this; for "the last days" would have to include those of Acts 2:17, whereas "last days" simply conforms to context: in such a passage as this, the close of the period the writer had in mind.
Can we properly suggest that we may be in those "last days"?
The word "ferocious" occurs only in Matt. 8:28 and 2. Tim. 3:1. The latter should read, "In last days ferocious seasons will become present." Paul then goes on to detail the way the human race will behave at that time. Certainly this section (3:2-9) describes quite faithfully the present state of the world and its visible tendencies. We have only to read the newspapers, listen to the radio and look at the television to perceive something of all the things here described. Yet it must be admitted that matters could be a great deal worse, There is still much good in the world among ordinary people; and we are only deceiving ourselves and, to be frank, looking foolish, when we pretend otherwise. Yet it is undeniable that all the evils foretold exist in a large measure and have become much worse since the first World War. On the other hand, the world has never been wholly free from these evils, so Paul must have had in mind a much higher concentration of them than existed in his day, which was a time when living standards as well as public morals among the pagan Gentile were such as would be hardly bearable to a modern European. Yet, again, we have only to read 1. Thessalonians to become aware of a community altogether delightful, standing as it did in things of the spirit far above everything that can be found on earth today.
I am aware that this summing-up reads like that of a highly scrupulous judge. To change the figure, in it, I am "sitting on the fence"; and in such matters that is a very good place to sit. We are not commissioned to prophesy, nor are we given any means to fix dates. If anyone should assert: "Those last days have already presented themselves," I certainly would not care to contradict; but neither would I contradict anyone who were to declare that they are yet to come and possibly a long way ahead. I frankly admit that no one knows.
So I would place myself in the same position as, the Thessalonians, who in things spiritual were in every respect my betters. I do not believe we can find a sounder and holier way than indicated in Col. 3:1-4.
No. That sort of thing will not do. "Up-remaining God's Son," that is to say, remaining in an attitude of mind that looks upward to Him—that is what the Thessalonians did, and what the Colossians were exhorted to do, and the proper attitude of mind and of conduct of life that we ought continuously to practise.
And it is not an attitude of slackness or indifference in earthly matters. On the contrary, a life disposed on what is above is the fullest life imaginable; for the heavenly vision involved in it provides a continual intense stimulus to serve the Lord Jesus to the utmost as we wait for that glory to be made manifest. This re-appraisal throws fresh light on the violently contested matters in 1. Thessalonians 5 and 2. Thessalonians 2.
Long ago it was pointed out that when Paul had to write his second epistle to the Thessalonians, what had been upsetting them was not his prophecy of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 but the perversion of it quoted in 2. Thess. 2:2. They thought that the Day of the Lord had then already arrived.
Their alarm was explained by the fact that, as no event of Prophecy was scheduled to occur before the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17, and as the Day of the Lord is an event of Prophecy, something had apparently gone wrong. It was therefore quite reasonable for Paul to reassure them by disclosing further particulars about the Day of the Lord. That is sufficient to explain why Paul made these disclosures in such detail. And on no account ought we to lose sight of the fact that we are now aware that Paul was not writing to the Thessalonians alone, but to all of us who were to follow them and even the faithful of Israel who are to follow us in due course. Is it not, then, a little unreasonable for anyone to find the account unduly copious? Personally, if I were to presume to complain (as some are far too willing to do) it would be on the ground that it leaves out so many things that I would dearly like to know. But Paul resisted any temptation to wander off into side issues. For the sake of the great revelation he had made in 1. Thess. 4:13-17, it was necessary to prove that his prophecy concerning it had not failed. They thought the Day of the Lord had arrived already. He reassured them by disclosing to them a salient event that had to occur first, before it could arrive. What sounder way could he have chosen?
Our better understanding of 1. Thess. 1:10 that is now possible does nothing to destroy the validity of this argument, but it shows that it is only half the truth, and the lesser half. We can now perceive that the Thessalonians were troubled over any event of Prophecy being fulfilled at all. Not even the event specially disclosed to and for them ought yet to have occurred. Such an apparent fulfilment of a prophecy had no business to occur at that time. Its occurrence did not only invalidate one particular prophecy of Paul's, 1. Thess. 4:13-17, vitally important though that is: it invalidated his whole teaching. The Thessalonians were being induced to believe that the reign of grace (with much of the teaching of Romans and Galatians associated with it), and the whole of the teaching set forth later in the Prison Epistles, had already been made obsolete by the opening of the Day of the Lord before ever any of it had been committed to writing—at least, to any writing now extant. They had received God's Evangel verbally from the Apostle Paul and had been proclaiming it everywhere over an area about the size of Great Britain at least; yet now their mission had apparently been terminated by the arrival of the Day of the Lord before it had more than just got into its stride. The ground seemed to have been cut from under their feet. No wonder they were so shaken and alarmed! No wonder the Apostle Paul judged it necessary to set out the details in 2. Thess. 2:3-12. If we have any cause at all for surprise, it is that he did not go into more particulars. Most of us would!
Anyhow, however that may be, Paul did explain enough in 2. Thess. 2:3-12 to make plain to the Thessalonians, and to us what will be involved in the events that must occur before the Day of the Lord can become present. Before it can arrive there will be a Temple of God in which the Man of sin can be seated. That, by itself, is sufficient to shut out any idea that Paul's Evangel could still be in force. God's Temple. now, is a very different thing (1. Cor. 3:16-18).
What is actually the most curious feature of 2. Thess. 2:3-12 is v. 5: "Do you not remember that, being still with you, these things I told you?" They knew that the Day of the lord could not possibly be present, and yet their faith failed them! If such a failure could have happened to the Thessalonians, of all people, who else is safe? It is this unfaith that induced Paul to tell all these things to a Gentile church and to commit it to writing for our benefit. In spite of such knowledge imparted to them verbally, even the Thessalonians had misled themselves into thinking that the Day of the Lord had come on them like a night thief; that is, not merely come on them, but come on them surreptitiously and unawares. So Paul placed all this on record in writing, so that none of God's people would ever again have any excuse for thinking they had been taken by surprise, or that they ever would be. Furthermore, this is not for us only. It will be of benefit also to saints of Israel in days to come. There, on permanent record, is the description of the major event in the world's affairs, after we have been snatched away, of the era before the Day of the Lord can become present. No one, any longer, has any excuse for being deceived over this matter. The "them" who will be sent an "operation of deception" (2. Thess. 2:11) cannot be the faithful of Israel in days to come, still less faithful Christians now. That stands written, and cannot be upset.
Frankly I have to confess that I had grasped only half the, truth about all this. The whole truth is far more satisfactory and reassuring. All now ought to admit that none of us have been wholly in the right in this discussion. Now is the time to make amends by readjusting our thinking. Those who have, mistakenly, been insisting that the Thessalonians believed that the prophecy of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 might occur for them at any moment, should frankly admit their error. Those who have so strongly opposed the teaching that this must occur before any other event of Prophecy can take place should reconsider their own position also. Each party has been able to perceive the weaknesses of the other, so each should now concentrate attention on his own weak spots.
All of us are far too eager to put out a hand to steady the ark. In our desire to defend the truth about 1. Thess. 4:13-17 I and others have mistakenly tried to bolster it up by making out that it could, in theory at last, have been fulfilled in the days of the Thessalonian saints. It is all a great pity! Let us learn from this episode to be more humble, far more humble. Then, and then only, can we profit from our mistakes.
R.B.W. Last updated 23.12.2005