Since I’ve started talking about Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the earliest Christian writing of any kind that we have, in preparation for discussion one tiny little textual variant in 1 Thess. 2:7,which involves only the presence or absence of a single letter in a single word, but on which the meaning of the passage hinges, I can’t let the opportunity pass without saying something further by way of background (none of which is especially relevant to this particular textual variant!) on the letter. The reason: this is the letter that modern-day conservative Christians who believe that the “rapture” is about to occur base their views on.
The “rapture” is a modern doctrine/idea. Even though some conservative Christians think this is one of the main points of the Christian faith, historically it has rarely been that. In fact, for most of history, most Christians simply haven’t believed in a rapture.
The doctrine of the rapture is that Jesus will be returning from heaven (sometime soon) and when he does those who had believed in him before they died will be raised from the dead and taken up to meet him in the air, and all those who are living will also be taken up (raptured). Those who do not believe in Jesus will be “Left Behind.”
What will follow, for those still around on earth, will not be pretty. There will be seven years of horrible suffering, known as the “Tribulation,” before Jesus finally puts an end to it all by destroying the Antichrist and his forces of evil and bringing in the millennium, a utopian time and place where God will rule the earth through his Christ.
I used to firmly believe this myself when I was an evangelical Christian. I passionately believed it. And preached it. And convinced others about it. So did my friends. I’m not in evangelical circles any more (you may have noticed) so I don’t know if this still enjoys the prominence that it used to have in the 1970s (I rather doubt it), but for us it was a big deal.
Christians who believe in the rapture base their views on several passages of Scripture, but above all on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
I should say, to begin with, that…
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