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2:7  τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας· μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται

2 THESSALONIANS 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.

There is already a question asking ‘who’ the ’he’ is, and I am aware that there is much historical and current debate over this.

But, I’d like to take a step back and ask …. how do the translators get ‘he’?

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το γαρ μυστηριον ηδη ενεργειται της ανομιας μονον ο κατεχων αρτι εως εκ μεσου γενηται [2 Thess 2:7 TR (undisputed) Beza, Stephanus, Elzevir and Scrivener all identical]

The literal reading of this (partly taken from the Englishman's Greek New Testament of 1870) gives :

For the mystery already is working the iniquity only who restrains at present until out of midst he be.

The mystery is already working.

But there is one who restrains (himself) at present.

Until, out of the midst, he becomes apparent.

Translators have misunderstood the concept. They have followed one another in thinking that there is outside restraint which, once it is exerted fully, results in the complete ejection of the party under consideration.

The literal Greek does not support that concept.

There is one in the midst who works iniquity anonymously, showing restraint.

But there will come a time when that iniquity will make itself, personally, known - and he will already be in the midst. (Not external.)

This agrees very precisely with what John sees in vision of the last times, regarding the sea-beast and the harlot and the earth-beast and the making of an image and the global acceptance of an entity which works within humanity yet remains unknown until the very end . . . .

. . . . . when it becomes horribly apparent just who it was who was gathering the nations into one 'glorious' unity to raise up a 'utopia' and all under the deception that God (supposedly) in Christ (supposedly returned to earth) was the instigator of the process.


Note added after comment :

The 'who' is genderless and on reflection I think that gives emphasis to the 'who' being identified as 'iniquity'. The iniquity works by an agency (which is a person) but the inquity itself is conspicuous - more so than the 'restrained' individual.

Once they cease to restrain and appear, already there - in the midst - the person will be apparent. But until then it is 'iniquity' that is manifested and the genderless 'who' is yet to come.

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  • 1
    Nigel, thanks. +1 for your input - which actually reflects why I asked this Q. That is, the reasoning you outline - which this verse leaves room for such interpretations [only] because it does not have a pronoun. If we rely on the gender of the associated language, it allows speculation - and that has generated debate.
    – Dave
    Oct 8 at 17:48
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    That's an immensely significant note at the end of your answer, that "iniquity works by an agency (which is a person) but the iniquity itself is conspicuous". In light of Rev.16 (demonic spirits out of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet performing miracles to deceive the nations) and Rev.18, "By thy sorceries were all nations deceived", the church needs to alert to being deceived herself. She will be if she misunderstands this text. The 'he' should not be capitalized! (See vss. 9-10) @Dave
    – Anne
    Oct 10 at 11:24
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There is no personal pronoun in 2 Thessalonians 2:

7 τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας· μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται

Let's look at the genders:

For the mystery [neuter] of lawlessness [feminine] is already at work; only He who now restrains

the [one who]
ὁ (ho)
Article - Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong's 3588: The, the definite article. Including the feminine he, and the neuter to in all their inflections; the definite article; the.

restrains [it]
κατέχων (katechōn)
Verb - Present Participle Active - Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong's 2722: From kata and echo; to hold down, in various applications.

Let X be the implied subject.

How do the translators get ‘he’ from X?

We know that X is not referring to the mystery [neuter] or to the lawlessness [feminine]. We also know that X is the masculine subject/actor for the verb restrains or holds down. It is reasonable to assume that X is not a thing or it. So 'he' is a reasonable translation here.

now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.

he is taken
γένηται (genētai)
Verb - Aorist Subjunctive Middle - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's 1096: A prolongation and middle voice form of a primary verb; to cause to be, i.e. to become, used with great latitude.

This Greek word is only two Greek words away from the article. Due to referent proximity, it is probably referring to what the masculine article implies. That's why translators use 'he' here as well.

In any case, a more faithful and conservative rendering is the following:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now restrains will do so until it is taken out of the way.

This way, I can avoid the gendered pronouns.

Why Paul didn’t use a pronoun?

Unlike Greek, English articles and verbs do not have gender declensions, so we have to articulate the gender in the form of its pronoun explicitly. However, implied pronouns by the Greek article and verbs were standard practices by the NT writers. They didn't have to write out the pronoun. Paul probably thought that he was obviously talking about a 'he' when he wrote this verse. This bears out among the sentiments in https://biblehub.com/2_thessalonians/2-7.htm; 20 out of 27 versions use the pronoun 'he'.

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  • Thanks Tony. +1. I knew there was no personal pronoun - but Greek does have them, and uses them. But not here. You say “inclusive he”, but I say ‘inferred he’ - because of exactly what you do (well!), that is, reason it out. Now I’m not saying that reasoning is wrong, but am curious as to why Paul didn’t use a pronoun. Reasoning leads to debate, which is has in this verse.
    – Dave
    Oct 8 at 17:48
  • Good question. I added :)
    – Tony Chan
    Oct 8 at 18:13
  • Appreciate the further clarification - I will consider this. And yes, I concur with your exposition regarding pronouns, but here many (translators) are assuming a personal pronoun - but the issue is disagreement over who/what that [person etc] pronoun should be referencing (example, Nigels response.). So the translators are ‘adding’ a personal pronoun that isn’t there, based on their interpretation of ‘who/what’ that is. And all the time the verse can actually make ‘sense’ without that addition - so why add it? (My Q).
    – Dave
    Oct 8 at 19:39
  • Good follow-up. Nigel's answer is conservative. I added more detail. Basically, the 2nd 'he' refers to the 1st 'he' because of referent proximity. The 1st 'he' is 'he' because it is the subject of the verb to 'hold down'.
    – Tony Chan
    Oct 8 at 21:08

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