2 Thessalonians 2:2- Whose WaterLoo Is It? A Response to Howard
The acerbic and caustic Howard Denham recently wrote an article
on Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2:
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (NKJV)
Denham calls this text “Preston’s Waterloo” Denham claims that:
2. The proper translation should be, as the KJV renders it, “not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ is just at hand.”
Denham is absolutely desperate to negate the NKJV rendering of “had come.” (It should be noted of course, that the NKJV was for the specific purpose of correcting some of the errors in the original KJV. So, when the NKJV renders the text as “has come” this is significant).
Denham knows that no one could convince anyone that his concept of the Day of the Lord, i.e. an earth burning, time ending event, had already come. The idea is ridiculous.
In addition, Denham seeks to create a “false contradiction.” His goal is to show that Paul was denying the imminence of the parousia as early as AD 52. This would- in Denham’s mind – somehow negate the other (and later) NT declarations that the Day of the Lord was at hand.
So, in his attempt to negate the NKJV rendering of “had come,” Denham cites different commentaries and lexicons, among them A. T. Robertson, Vincent, Perschbacher, Mounce, Thayer, Bloomfield, Lightfoot. After citing those sources, Denham then says:
“These and a myriad of other sources show that the construction is not referring, as Don Preston, has claimed to something that had already occurred – is in the past in the sense that Christ had already come, but rather it is impending and present, that it stands in the state of being upon them, so that Christ may appear at any moment!” The fact is that Denham has done nothing but reveal his willingness to ignore– even distort- the text, and the scholars, to maintain his futurist eschatology.
What Denham fails to share with the reader is that often, the motivation of these sources for rejecting the “has come’ rendering is due to the theological bias of the sources! This is found in many cases.
The Pulpit Commentary says that enesteken means “literally is present,” although they confess they find it, “difficult to conceive how the Thessalonians could think that the day of the Lord was actually present. We cannot imagine that they thought that Christ had already come for judgment.” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol 21 (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1977), 24).
Similarly, the late F. F. Bruce, a world class Greek scholar, rendered the text as “present.” In his commentary he says, “It cannot be seriously disputed that ‘is present’ is the natural sense of enesteken.” He says there is, “considerable support for the sense of imminence,” but admits enesteken “will not bear” this. In similar fashion, Now, note Bruce’s reason for wanting to reject the indisputably correct rendering of “present”: “it cannot be supposed that the Thessalonians could have been misled that the events of I Thessalonians had taken place.” (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 45,(Dallas; Word Incorporated, 1982), in loc). In my book, How Is This Possible? I document this kind of attitude even more.
Do you see what is going on here? These commentators- like Denham- believed in a literal, physical coming of the Lord at the end of time –- and because of that theological bias wanted to reject what they admitted was the undeniably correct linguistic translation, but, could not bring themselves as a scholar to do it.
Denham, thinking he has rendered the translation of “has come” as untenable, then tries to make his point:
“Remember, Don Preston has affirmed that mello with the infinitive means “about to be, at the point of” occurring relative to the coming of Christ a few years before this passage was ever written! A text that speaks of it in the present tense is not one that helps him. He needs this text to read “that the day of the Lord had come in the past,” and not “is come,” “is present,” “is at hand,” “is upon” etc.]”
As usual, Denham either misses the point, or abuses it.
First of all, Jesus had affirmed, unequivocally, that he was coming in the first century. He was “about to come”- Matthew 16:27-28- which is defined as in the generation of his audience.
Second, since Jesus had affirmed is first century parousia in judgment (Matthew 24:29-34 / 26:64f), then Paul could not have been denying that in Thessalonians, since he said he got his gospel message from Jesus!
With these preliminaries in mind, I want to offer a few brief observations that reveal the untenable and specious nature of Denham’s argument.
1. The irony of Howard Denham’s article cannot be overlooked. In on-line discussions with Denham in the past, between me and with others, Denham has absolutely – and harshly – condemned us for not honoring the Greek tenses in any text that he appealed to. He has called anyone that dared challenge his application of Greek tenses in a given text a “liar,” a “snake in the grass,” and other hateful terms. But, what has now happened in 2 Thessalonians 2? Denham rejects, categorically, the Greek tense of the Greek (the word is enesteken).
This word, is in the perfect active indicative. The perfect active indicative indicates the continuation and present state of a past action. Thus, the meaning, in a proper, accurate translation of 2 Thessalonians 2 would be “has come and is now present.” (Many translations render it just that way).
So, we have in Denham’s article, an overt self contradiction. On the one hand he has called anyone that dares not accept the Greek tenses in other texts a “heretic.” But, when we come to 2 Thessalonians 2, which, properly translated falsifies his eschatology– he says “No, No! Don’t pay attention to the Greek tenses!” Such irony! Such self-contradiction!
2. It is also revealing that Denham refused to share with his readers what the translations have to say about 2 Thessalonians 2:2. I have been studying the issue of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 for many years now, and am constantly examining the translational evidence. I have now examined well over 50 translations. To this date, I have found a total of nine translations (some of them rather obscure ones) that render the text as “at hand.” By far the vast majority of the translations render the text as “has come.”
So, we have the preponderant testimony of the translations arrayed against Denham. We have the acknowledged theological bias stated, by at least some noted scholars, as the only reason for their rejection of the indisputable linguistic translation. But, this is by no means all.
3. Could Paul– if one accepted the “at hand” rendering of 2 Thessalonians 2– have condemned the teaching that the Day of the Lord was imminent? Not without contradicting himself – and other NT writers – for make no mistake, Paul affirmed the nearness of the Day of the Lord!
Take a look at Romans 12:11f, from Paul’s pen:
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” Observe just a point or two.
✔ Paul said that they “knew the time” (eidontes ton kairon). They fully understood what the appointed (kairos) time was!
✔ He even said that the “hour” (from hora) had arrived for them to rise out of their sleep. This is resurrection language , and an echo of Daniel 12:2.
✔ He said their salvation– which would come at the Day of the Lord (Romans 11:25-27) was “nearer now than when we first believed.” Now, Denham would have us believe that this “nearer” simply means nothing! He would say that we today are even nearer than they were, thus destroying the time element.
✔ Paul “the Day has drawn near” (there is that pesky- for Denham – perfect active indicative!).
So, what we have in Romans 13– and a host of other texts – is the clear cut affirmation by Paul that the Day of the Lord, the appointed time of the resurrection, had drawn near. Was he now contradicting what he said in Thessalonians? No, he was declaring the consistent message of the NT- the end of the age, Christ’s coming and the resurrection was truly imminent.
4. Follow me here closely on this next and final point, for it is definitive.
In the past, Denham has – and continues to – appeal to 2 Timothy 2:17-18 as a condemnation of preterists. Here is what Paul wrote to Timothy at Ephesus:
“And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”
Denham says preterists are guilty of the Hymenaean Heresy, i.e. of saying that the resurrection is past, over, done! Do you see a train coming? If not, look closer! But, before proceeding to that, let me ask the reader to consider:
If the resurrection is a time ending, earth burning event, in which every human that has ever lived is raised out of the dirt, (as Howard Denham affirms)– ask yourself: How could anyone, convince anyone, that time had ended already, that the earth had burned up already, that the literal graves of every human who had ever died, was now empty? If you cannot explain how anyone could possibly believe that Howard Denham’s view of the resurrection was already past, then you have a serious problem with your eschatology! Now, to an exposure of Denham’s desperation.
To my knowledge, Denham, nor anyone on his side of the eschatological controversy, has ever suggested that Hymenaeaus and company were saying that the resurrection as “at hand.” (BTW, the Greek of 2 Timothy 2:18 is in the perfect infinitive indicative (“to have taken place, and stands). The invariable appeal to 2 Timothy 2 is to say, “Hymenaeaus said the resurrection was already past. He was a heretic. Preterists say the resurrection is past. They are therefore, guilty of the same heresy as Hymenaeaus!”
Oh, my goodness! What a quandary for Denham! Let me state this as succinctly as possible.
The resurrection occurs at the Day of the Lord.
Hymenaeaus said the resurrection was past.
Therefore, Hymenaeanus said the Day of the Lord was past!
Would Denham deny that the resurrection occurs at the Day of the Lord? Well, he basically affirmed that the two events are synchronous in his 2016 debate with Holger Neubaur! And, make no mistake, in the church of Christ fellowship to which Denham belongs, there has never, ever been a suggestion otherwise. There is no doubt, not a hint of a clue of a suggestion, that Denham would deny the connection between the Day of the Lord and the resurrection. It is unthinkable for them.
Well, would – Will? – Denham now claim– in a drastic, 180% change of position – that Hymenaeaus simply said that the resurrection was “at hand”? Believe me, Denham and his followers are so desperate to counter preterism, that it is possible that they would now make such an incredible, unprecedented claim! I guess we shall see!!
So, again, if Denham admits – and make no mistake, he does – that Hymenaeus taught that the resurrection was PAST (not “at hand,” or “near”) then he was saying that the parousia of Christ had already taken place! This is indisputably true.
I should note that to my knowledge, there has never been a commentator that has ever suggested that Hymenaeaus was saying the resurrection was “near,” or “at hand.” There is not so much as a hint in any of the literature that this was the problem with Hymenaeaus! And I can assure you that Denham would never make that argument!
So, unless Howard Denham now wants to create a brand new, unprecedented claim that Hymenaeaus was simply claiming that the resurrection was near, then Denham has met his Waterloo.
Unless Denham now wants to say that the resurrection and the Day of the Lord occur at different times, he has met his Waterloo.
Unless Denham wants to say that in Thessalonians 2 Paul was dealing with a totally different issue from that in 2 Timothy 2, then he has met his Waterloo. I can assure you that this is not Denham’s argument. His little article proves beyond any doubt that he believes that the false teachers in Thessalonica were saying that the “final” Day of the Lord – the resurrection day of 2 Timothy 2 – was at hand.
So, Denham’s “argument” that the false teachers in Thessalonica were saying that the parousia was “at hand” shatters in pieces in the light of 2 Timothy 2. He has never taught, and does not believe, that Hymenaeaus was saying that the resurrection / Day of the Lord was at hand / imminent. So, to reiterate, since Hymenaeaus was saying that the resurrection was past, then he was saying the Day of the Lord had already come. To say that this is devastating to Denham is a huge understatement.
This is fatal. “Napoleon Denham” – Not Preston – has met his Waterloo!