THE 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
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
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
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.
THE APOSTASIA/RAPTURE THEORY
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.  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
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,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
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."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.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.