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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Man of Sin

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(2 Thessalonians 2:3; Revised Version margin ‘man of lawlessness,’ substituting the better reading ἀνομίας for ἁμαρτίας of Textus Receptus )

Apart from such apparent references to the subject as 2 Corinthians 6:15, Colossians 2:15, St. Paul’s doctrine of the Antichrist is found in the passage 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, in which he associates ‘the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ with a previous ‘falling away’ or apostasy (ἀποστασία) and the revelation of ‘the man of lawlessness,’ whom he also designates ‘the son of perdition’ (2 Thessalonians 2:3), ‘the opponent’ (ἀντικείμενος) of God (2 Thessalonians 2:4), ‘the lawless one’ (ὁ ἄνομος, 2 Thessalonians 2:3), whose future revelation in his own time, however, is anticipated even now by a working of ‘the mystery of lawlessness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The revelation of the man of lawlessness, he further says, is delayed by a restraining power which he refers to in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 as an impersonal influence (τὸ κατέχον) and in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 as an actual person (ὁ κατέχων). From the days of the early Fathers the interpretations of this passage have been exceedingly various. A good summary of the history of previous opinion is given by H. Alford (Gr. Test.5, iii. [1871], Proleg., p. 55 ff.), but modern scholars are agreed in holding that the Apostle was speaking of an apocalypse of evil which was only a crowning manifestation of contemporary influences hostile to God and His Kingdom (2 Thessalonians 2:7), and of a restraining power within the knowledge of the Thessalonians themselves (2 Thessalonians 2:6). They are also generally agreed in the view that the two magnitudes which underlay the Apostle’s cryptic language in regard to the man of lawlessness and the restrainer are to be found in Judaism and the Roman Empire as represented by its ruler. But at this point opinion divides into two exactly contradictory theories, each of which is able to point to some favouring considerations in the language used by the Apostle.

(1) According to one theory the man of lawlessness is Roman Imperialism with the Emperor at its head, while the restraining power is Judaism (for a clear and able exposition of this view see B. B. Warfield in Expositor, 3rd ser. iv. [1886] 40 ff.). The deification of the Emperors, and especially Caligula’s attempt to set up his statue in the Temple of Jerusalem (cf. E. Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] I. ii. [1890] 98 ff.), certainly afford a very direct explanation of the language of v. 4 as to the blasphemous pretensions of the man of lawlessness. Moreover, the early history of Christianity suggests that it was part of the Divine plan that the new religion should be developed for a time under the protecting shadow of Judaism as a religio licita. The failure of the Roman authorities at first to distinguish the Church from the Synagogue (cf. Acts 18:14-16) did shelter the former in its days of weakness from the persecuting rage of pagan Imperialism that burst upon it as soon as its separateness and its absolute claims were clearly recognized. But the objection to this theory is that it attributes to St. Paul, whose authorship of 2 Thess. may now be assumed with some confidence, an attitude to Judaism and to Rome respectively which finds no counterpart either in the Thessalonian Epistles or in any other of his writings. It was from Judaism, not from the Empire, that the opposition and persecution he had to encounter as the Apostle of Christianity invariably came (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; cf. Acts, passim). The philosophic historian may see in Judaism the protective sheath of the opening bud of Christianity; but it was not so that St. Paul regarded it. On the contrary, the language in which he describes its treatment of Christ and the gospel, and his denunciation of the wrath of God upon it (1 Thessalonians 2:15 f.), suggest that the ‘mystery of iniquity’ already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7) was nothing else than the secret ferment of its own anti-Christian spirit. And Rome with its Emperor could hardly be the man of lawlessness to St. Paul, not only because it had not yet begun to persecute the Church, but because he sincerely respected its authority as a power ordained of God (Romans 13:1-7), and did not hesitate to appeal to Caesar himself against his Jewish enemies (Acts 25:10 f.).

(2) The other and more probable theory, accordingly, takes the man of lawlessness to be anti-Christian Judaism coming to a head in the person of a pseudo-Messiah, and the restraining power to be the Roman Empire personified in the Caesar himself. It is sometimes objected that under this theory an insuperable difficulty is presented by 2 Thessalonians 2:4, as it would be contrary to the rôle of a Jewish Messiah to sit in the Temple of God and set himself forth as God. But this is to overlook the fact that we have to do here with an apocalyptic picture coloured with the language of an OT apocalypse (cf. Daniel 11:36) and influenced by the Antichrist tradition which had been developing in Judaism ever since the days of Antiochus Epiphanes (see article Antichrist, 1). To St. Paul as a Rabbinical scholar the portentous figure of the Jewish Antichrist, Satanic, blasphemous, and God-defying, must have been very familiar. His familiarity with it may be traced not only in the language of Daniel 11:4, but in the references to the Beliar-Satan conception which are present in the passage. In Daniel 11:9 the coming of the man of lawlessness is said to be ‘according to the working of Satan.’ And E. Nestle has pointed out (Expository Times xvi. [1904-05] 472) that on the evidence of the Septuagint and Aquila ἡ ἀποστασία (Daniel 11:3) is a rendering of Heb. בְּלִיַעַל, ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας (Daniel 11:3) of אִישׁ בְּלִיַעַל (‘man of Belial’), and ὁ ἀντικείμενος (Daniel 11:4) of שָׂטָן. The Jewish conception of the Antichrist, not as a mere political figure but as an eschatological monstrosity in the shape of a diabolic opponent of God, St. Paul boldly transfers from the sphere of paganism in which Jewish apocalyptic had placed it, and sets down in the sphere of Judaism itself. Out of Judaism he pictured the Antichrist as coming, though there are features in his representation which imply that the sway of the man of lawlessness would extend far beyond the confines of Judaism-that he would cause an apostasy in the Church (Daniel 11:3), that he would break down the restraining power of the Empire (Daniel 11:7), that he would draw after him a deluded and perishing world (Daniel 11:10-12). In the persistent malevolence of his own race against Christ and the gospel, the Apostle saw the mystery of iniquity working; but he conceived of that malevolence as culminating at length in the appearance of an Antichrist endowed with Satanic and superhuman qualities, who would deceive men by ‘power and signs and lying wonders’ (v. 9ff.; cf. Mark 13:21-23), and whose hostility to the truth of God which brings salvation would reach its climax in the blasphemous claim to be himself Divine. Then Christ would return to a world now ripe for judgment, slaying the lawless one with the breath of His mouth, and bringing him to nought by the manifestation of His coming (v. 8).

Literature.-Besides the references given in the article , and the Literature appended to article Antichrist, see A. Sabatier, The Apostle Paul, Eng. translation , 1891, p. 117 ff.; B. Weiss, Biblical Theology of the NT, Eng. translation , i. [1882] 305 ff.; J. Moffatt, The Historical NT, 1901, p. 142 ff., Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., 1911, p. 76 ff.

J. C. Lambert.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Man of Sin'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/m/man-of-sin.html. 1906-1918.

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