APOSTASIA: Greek word group  



The verb, aphistāmi translated as "fall away," means to take a stand away from something. It can refer to a physical departure from a location or a person; or it can refer to an ideological departure from political or religious viewpoint. In fact, the primary use of the verb is to indicate a "physical" removal from something. It is for this reason that sometimes the argument is made that "apostasy" at 2 Thessalonians 2:3, means "departure" and has in view a physical departure of the saints from the earth via the rapture. However, the meaning and use of a verb is not always the determinative factor for establishing the meaning of a noun that derives from it. Many times a noun develops a specialized meaning based on usage. It seems that just such a case has occurred concerning the noun, apostasia, which occurs only at 1 Thessalonians 2:3 and Acts 21:21 in the New Testament.

In about 58 AD, Paul said at Acts 20:29, "I know that after my DEPARTURE savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock."
Since Paul was very proficient in Greek, he used the EXACT word which would clearly describe his PHYSICAL departure from the group of believers. (Perhaps he had in mind his physical departure from the world through his death).
He used the word aphixis.
About 2 years earlier he wrote to the Thessalonians REMINDING them that there would be a falling away (departure) from the faith, and he used the word apostasia.
Now, given that he had a pretty good vocabulary and surely knew the exact difference between aphixis and apostasia; and given that he probably knew apostasia was used in the LXX for a falling away from a previously held belief about something (political or religious), he chose rightly to use that word group in his letter INSTEAD of aphixis. Let me suggest that if Paul had intended to describe a physical removal of the church from the earth, given his PRECISE understanding of Greek, he most certainly would have used aphixis. IE. "the day of the Lord will not come unless THE APHIXIS (physical departure) comes first."
Furthermore, since Paul knew exactly what the apostasia word group meant, he used the verb form of that very word (aphistāmi) in his letter to Timothy, "some will fall away from the faith." (1 Tim. 4:1).

Every time the noun is used in the LXX, it carries the meaning of ideological departure (Josh. 22:22; 2 Chron. 29:19; 33:19; Ezra 4:19; Jer. 2:19). Its only other use in the New Testament (Acts 21:21) indicates an ideological departure. It is therefore, determined by this writer, that the contemporary use of the noun in connection with an immediate context, that certainly recognizes the dangers of "apostasy" for believers (verse 15), that the word, apostasia, was used by Paul to speak of that specific "end times" apostasy which will occur in connection with the revealing of the man of lawlessness and the placement of his image (abomination of desolation) in the Holy Place at the beginning of the tribulation (midpoint of the 70th week) just as Jesus taught at Matthew 24:9-26.

Furthermore, as already mentioned, 10 years later, Paul used the verb aphistāmi at 1 Timothy 4:1 to refer to the very same apostasy of the tribulation that he referenced in 2 Thessalonians and that Jesus taught about at Matthew 24.


Dr. John Feinberg, while being a pretrib rapture advocate presents a very good argument against interpreting the noun apostasia at 2Thes. 2:3, as a reference to the rapture. He presents this interpretation in the appendix of his article in the Pre-Trib Study Group, in 1992, entitled, Arguing About the Rapture: Who Must Prove What and How

While the majority of commentators on 2 Thessalonians 2:3 take apostasla to refer to apostasy or religious defection, some argue that it is reference to the rapture. [19] If this claim is defensible, then Paul does use his teaching about a pretribulational rapture to instruct the Thessalonian believers about the Day of the Lord. The accuracy and defensibility of this claim rests on the etymology and usage of the Greek verb aphistemi and its cognate nouns.

Aphistemi and its cognates are found widely in Greek literature. The verb is first thought to have been found in the writings of Thucydides (Thuc., 1, 122). In the period from second century B.C. to first century A.D. there are at least 355 occurrences of this word group,[20]making these rather common words in the Greek language. Aphistāmi is a compound verb from apo (from) and histāmi (to stand). It is both a transitive verb, meaning "to cause to revolt, mislead," and an intransitive verb, meaning "to go away, withdraw, depart, fall away." From this verb are derived two nouns, apostasion and apostasla. Apostasion comes to have a fixed meaning, "a bill of divorce," while apostasy (a means "rebellion, abandonment, state of apostasy" or "defection." It is the latter noun that is found in our text.

The question that we are now ready to answer is whether the noun apostasia ever refers to a physical departure, allowing Paul to make a reference to the rapture of the church by using this word. Let us take how the words are used in the biblical Greek (the LXX and the New Testament) as the context for establishing how these words are used. These would be the primary contexts for setting the usage of any biblical term, although at least in this case what is true in biblical Greek is true more generally. The first thing that we can say is that the verb aphistāmi is clearly used of physical departure in both testaments. In the Old Testament (the LXX) the verb is used in Genesis 12:8 of Abram's departure from Shechem toward the hills east of Bethel. It is used of the physical separation of persons as in 1 Samuel 18:13, where it is used of David's departure from Saul, and in Psalm 6:8, of the physical separation of the wicked from God's presence. In New Testament Greek there are clear examples of the use of the verb to express physical departure or separation. Forms of this verb appear 15 times. Luke uses this word 10 times (Luke 2:37; 4:13; 8:13;13:27; Acts 5:37-38; 12:10; 15:38; 19:9; 22:29). It is found four times in Paul (2 Cor. 12:8; 1 Tim. 4:1; 6:5; 2 Tim. 2:19). It is used once by the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 3:12). All but Acts 5:37 are intransitive uses. The idea of physical departure is prominent in many of the occurrences. In Luke 2:37 Annais said to have never left the temple. In Acts 19:9 Paul was teaching in the synagogue in Ephesus for three months, but he left or departed when some obstinate hearers refused to believe. Thus, there are clear examples where the verb means to physically depart or leave in both the Greek Old Testament and New Testament.

There are fewer uses of the two related nouns in biblical literature, but again both are found in the Greek Old Testament and New Testament. Apostasion is found with a fixed meaning in both testaments. It is related to the breaking of the marriage covenant (Mal. 2:14). And it means "a certificate of divorce" (Deut. 24:1,3; Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8; Matt. 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4).

This leads us to the noun in 2Thessalonians 2:3, apostasia. It is found in the Greek Old Testament and has the idea of rebellion (Joshua 22:22), wickedness (Jeremiah2:19), and unfaithfulness (2 Chr. 28:19; 29:19; 33:19). Apostasta is found twice in the New Testament, in our text and in Acts 21:21. In Acts, the noun is used in Paul's teaching that the Jews who lived among the Gentiles that forsake the teaching of Moses about circumcision. None of the uses of the noun in either testament indicate a physical departure of any sort. The point can be made even more strongly. If one searches for the uses of the noun "apostasy" in the 355 occurrences over the 300-year period between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D., one will not find a single instance where this word refers to a physical departure. The uses outside biblical Greek are exactly parallel to those in it.

Let me summarize my findings: 1) aphistemi and its cognates are found widely in Greek literature; 2) the verb aphistemi has many and clear uses where a physical departure can only be meant; 3) the noun apostasion has a clear and fixed meaning that relates it to the marriage covenant, and it is the common way of expressing the giving of a certificate of divorce; 4) the other noun, apostasia, has a variety of meanings, but none of them relate to a physical departure. It seems that any fair assessment of the data leads to the conclusion that Paul does not refer to the rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

Before I conclude this appendix, let me state and respond to two possible objections to the conclusions that I have argued for above. It might be argued that though the derivative noun may never be used of a physical departure, the idea is nonetheless justified because of the underlying verb which has that etymology and usage. In other words, one rests the rapture interpretation of this text not on apostasia but on the verb aphistmi. This simply cannot be done. In most cases the meaning of the underlying verb carries over to its derivative noun. But there are instances where this is not the case, and to do so leads to false conclusions. This is even true where the word is a compound. Anaginsko is a word in the New Testament. It is a compound from the preposition ana which means "up, upwards" and ginosko which means "to know." To base the meaning of the compound on the meaning of its parts leaves one with a meaning for anaginosko of "to know up" or "to know upwards, "when in fact the word means "to know certainly, recognize" or "to read."[21]There is at least another clear example of the difference between a verb and its cognate noun. There is a verb eperotao which is found a number of times in the New Testament, 53 times in the Gospels, and five times in the epistles(e.g., Mart. 12:10; Luke 3:10; Rom. 10:20). The meaning of the verb, invariably, is "to ask" or "consult." A derivative noun occurs once in the New Testament, in 1 Pet. 3:21. The noun is eperotema. The idea here is of a pledge, quite different from its cognate verb meaning.[22]That is, water baptism is "a pledge of a good conscience toward God. "Thus, the meaning of derivative nouns must be established through their usage.

A second objection to what has been argued is that, in the history of the interpretation of this text, there are some interpreters, important ones too, who have suggested that a physical departure is at least a part of the meaning of this word. That may be, but that does not settle the matter. If they came to their conclusions on the basis of the etymology and usage of aphistemi, they were wrong, at least in my judgment. If, on the other hand, they reached their conclusions for some other reason, then we would have to know what those reasons were, so that they could be evaluated. However, it does seem that given what we presently know, there is no reason to understand Paul's use of apostasia as a reference to the rapture.


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