Inadequate or inaccurate translations are responsible for many, perhaps most, of the errors that afflict Christians. A well-known. example is the rendering of parousia, presence by coming—an error that has frequently been exposed but is still followed by many teachers who ought to be aware of the facts. It is an outstanding example of an inaccurate translation deliberately perpetuated in order to conform with orthodox traditions.
Another translation that, this time, is inadequate rather than downright erroneous has recently forced itself on my attention through a suggestion by a friend in a private letter that already we may be living in the period described in the first half of 1. Thess. 5:3; for certainly the ideas behind "Peace and security" are everywhere in the Press and on men's lips.
As it stands in many translations, this startling suggestion appears to have considerable weight; and if it is correct it tends to undermine the belief, which I have long defended in these pages, that the prophecy of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 must be fulfilled before any of the Hebrew prophecies can be fulfilled and long before the "Lord's Day" can possibly dawn. So I followed the sound rule so often advocated in these pages, and took a closer look at the Greek of 1. Thess. 5:3 in which the expression is found.
The word translated security by the Concordant Version and by other modern versions such as "The New English Bible" and "The New World Translation" is asphaleia. The C.V. Sublinear is un-totter and its concordance defines totter as "having an insecure footing"; but my dictionaries hardly agree with this, one having "to shake so as to threaten to fall," the other "stand or walk unsteadily." Bullinger's Concordance gives for asphalOs, firmly, without falling and for asphaleia it gives firmness, fixedness, security from falling. The only fact that comes clearly out of this is that both concordances think of "security" as security from falling, not the usual ideas of security which imply making safe from attack or theft or spying. Obviously, there has been some confusion of mind about all this.
Let us, then, take a look at the Greek words containing the root -sphal-.
The verb asphalizO occurs four times: Matt. 27:64, 65, 66; Acts 16:24; and in each the sense is to make firm and immovable. Pilate wanted to make the sepulchre firm, to fix it, so that the Lord's body could not be stolen; the magistrates wanted to fix the feet of Paul and Silas in the stocks so that they could not move them. Once only does King James' Version use fix, in Luke 16:26 for stErizO, but establish as in the C.V. is better. It is difficult to see how a chasm can be "fixed." The adjective asphalEs occurs five times, in Acts 21:34, 22:30, 25:26; Phil. 3:1; Heb. 6:19. It appears to be best rendered by certainty or certain, according to context. The abstract noun asphaleia occurs in Luke 1:4; Acts 5:23; 1. Thess. 5:3. In the first of these the meaning is certainty with behind it the idea of stability, fixedness. The second has the same idea behind it; everything in the prison was fixed as it was intended to be, all was stable, in proper order. Thus, with the third there ought to be the same background meaning as in the other two; but the word security has unfortunately taken on a very different colour in conjunction with such a word as peace. About a century ago, the primary meaning of secure was "free from danger of attack or from fear, and so, confident." The verb meant "to make safe or certain." Later it has acquired the meanings "certain not to fall or give way, firmly fastened"; and then the verb came to mean "fortify, confine, enclose, fasten, close, guarantee, make safe against loss, succeed in getting"; and consequently security becomes "a thing that guards or guarantees." The Security Council is thought of as a council guarding against aggression and war; hence, the rendering "peace and security" necessarily produces in modern minds the thought of an assembly to bring about safety from attack ana so from war. This idea is not in the Greek.
I suggest that here the word that comes nearest to the original meaning is stability. In the C.V. this word is allotted to stereOma, which occurs in Col. 2:5 only; but in its own Concordance it allots the idea of solid to the Greek root -ster-. Here, then, there is really a departure from the concordant idea, because what is solid is not necessarily stable. Many explosives are solid, but nevertheless extremely un stable; as anyone who strikes a large piece of gun cotton or fulminate with a hammer will duly discover, if he survives. In Co1. 2:5, solidity is not only more concordant, but it makes better sense. The word streos means solid. A stereoscope makes a suitably constructed picture look solid. God's solid foundation has stood (2. Tim. 2:19). The Hebrews needed solid nurture which is for the mature (Heb. 5:12, 14). Peter exhorted young men to be solid in the faith (1. Peter 5:9). The same applies with the verb stereoO. The lame man's insteps and ankles were (literally) made solid (Acts 3:7), a very expressive way of saying that they had become normal again. The same idea is found in Acts 3:16; though here English will not bear strict concordance. In Acts 16:5 the churches were consolidated.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is simple. Any rendering of 1. Thess. 5:3 that gives the general idea of safety from attack or war is misleading, and ought to be avoided. The notion behind the Greek is that at the time under consideration men will think that, at long last, they have attained a peaceful, stable world-society, incapable of being upset and therefore free from any danger to its peace. Nobody thinks that now, nobody even dares to hope for it in the foreseeable future. Threatened peace (of a sort) and universal insecurity are the outstanding characteristics of our time, and matters appear to be worsening fast. Perhaps when they have become intolerable, an irresistible demand will arise for a man who, apparently at least, can give peace and stability; and that will be the opportunity for the man of sin. When he comes to reign over the earth, grace will already have ceased to reign.
R.B.W. Last updated 23.3.2006