How did the Early Church Writers view 2 Thess 2? With one voice, both those who spoke Greek natively and those who learned it as a Scriptural language, seem to agree that "Apostacia" in 2 Thess 2:3 refers to an apostacy, not a rapture. Several of these men spoke Greek natively and all studied it and knew it as an academic language.
How the Scriptures appear in various languages can sometimes remove ambiguity if one language has ambiguity another does not. Irregardless of what new meanings theologians with an agenda try to read into the Greek "apostacia", it was translated in early Church times as "abscessio" (dispute, rebel, etc) in the Old Latin and appears in Aramaic as "מרודותא" = rebellion. The modern Vulgate translates "Apostacia" as "discessio", which means division or rebellion. Both the Old and Modern Latin fit the theme of rebellion, not rapture. All of these confirm that the Greek "apostacia" means "apostacy", and not a rapture.
2 Thess 2:3 uses the Latin / Greek / Aramaic words for "Rebellion" / apostacy = "abscessio" / "apostacia" / "מרודותא", and not the words for rapture, which is "raptum" / "arpages" / "chatufa". So no early manuscript of 2 Thess 2:3 interprets "apostacia" to mean "rapture", as some WANT it to mean.
Irenaeus quoted the Old Latin translation of "abscessio" in Against Heresies V.25. In Against Heresies V.25.5, he says this after quoting 2 Thess 2 and commenting on it,
"From all these passages are revealed to us, not merely the particulars of the apostasy (apostaciae), and [the doings] of him who concentrates in himself every satanic error..." (Against Heresies V.25.5)
What is interesting here is that Latin has a direct transliteration of "αποστασία" into Latin, which is "apostaciae". This of course indicates that he was aware of the original Greek wording of 2 Thess 2:3, and uses it in Latin, analyzing it as "apostacy" and not with some other meaning. Irenaeus was born in Smyrna / Izmir of modern day Turkey, and thus would have grown up speaking Greek. He was bishop to Lyons, France (Southwest France about 90 miles from Geneva, Switzerland) where he would have had to have learned Provencial French and Latin to function as a cleric in that society.
Here, Irenaeus is saying something I've said before, that the CONTEXT of 2 Thess 2 fits interpretting "apostacia" as "apostacy" because the entire chapter is talking about apostacy. It is talking about the apostacy the son of perdition will lead. So Irenaeus uses the Latin "apostaciae" in V.25.5 and paraphrases it as "abscessio" in V.25.1, which has a variant of rebellion, not rapture.
In fact, in the chapter preceeding this section, before he quotes 2 Thess 2, he is discussing the concept of apostacy before he quotes this passage. So both the context that sets up the quote and his commentary on it support that he understood this passage to refer to an "apostacy", not a rapture. So the flow of the context of what he says following like this....
Against Heresies V.24 A general discussion of apostacy, not related to end times Against Heresies V.25-early Quotes 2 Thess 2:3 and related text and analyzes it Against Heresies V.25-late Discusses the apostacies the lawless one will cause.
So Irenaeus definitely shed a lot of light on how "αποστασία" was interpretted as meaning apostacy, not rapture.
In Chapter 28, titled "...the future apostacy in the time of the AntiChrist...", he goes into even mroe detail about the apostacy of the end times.
Justin Martyr (150-160 AD)
Like Irenaeus, Justin also sees "apostacy" in the meaning of 2 Thess 2:3 and sees the word indicating what the "Lawless one" will cause, since he calls him the "Man of Apostacy" in Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter CX. He qualifies what apostacy is by saying he would, "speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians" (ibid).
He also says, " 'Sata' in the Jewish and Syrian tongue means apostate" (Dialogue, Chapter CIII) and later calls Satan "an apostate from the will of God" (Dialogue, Chapter CXXV).
Tertullian (160-225 AD)
Tertullian quotes 2 Thess 2:3 with the same Latin wording as Irenaeus, but makes little comment on it.
Hippolytus seems to connect the abomination of desolation with 2 Thess 2:3, suggesting that he sees the abomination of desolation as the act of apostacy referred to in 2 Thess 2:3 when it refers to "apostacy". This is a bit different from Irenaeus' view, who sees "apostacy" as referring to MANY things that will occur, both a rebellion against the faith by people but also the wide range of rebellions that the False Messiah will lead the populace into.
Ephraim the Syrian (306-373)
Ephraim quotes 2 Thess 2:3 and says this...
"The Apostle has penned a warning for us in his epistle to the Thessalonians:
‘Let no word or no letter trouble you that is not from us.
For the rebellion comes first, also the Man of Sin
And he will exalt himself over God, Making himself to be God.’
And when the Accursed One comes and displays his mighty works and wonders, the nations will gather together and come as (if) they were going to see God....every person will renounce their deity;"
(Sermon by Ephraim on the End of the World )
So he clearly interprets "apostacy" here as rebellion and sees that "apostacy" as meaning, "every person will renounce their deity." Muslims will renounce Allah in favor of the False Messiah as their god. Buddhists will renounce Buddah in favor of the FM. Nominal Christians will renounce the Real Messiah for the False one. That is the picture of "apostacy" that Ephraim paints for his reader. They will accept the "man of sin" as "god".
Cyril attempts to reconstruct the chain of events that will occur in sequential order during the end times, but omits any mention of a rapture. Like Hippolytus, he too connects the abomination of desolation with 2 Thess 2:3 seeing it as the apparent act of apostacy cited in 2 Thess 2:3.
He also quotes heavily on the word "Apostacy" itself, saying this,
"Thus wrote Paul, and now is the falling away. For men have fallen away from the right faith; and some preach the identity of the Son with the Father, and others dare to say that Christ was brought into being out of nothing. And formerly the heretics were manifest; but now the Church is filled with heretics in disguise. For men have fallen away from the truth, and have itching ears." (Cyril Lecture XV)
His comments give plenty of examples of how he interpreted the word "apostacia", and he sees it as something that has already begun, citing heretical teachings of his day.
Augustine (354-430 AD)
Augustine has this to say,
"No one can doubt that he wrote this of Antichrist and of the day of judgment, which he here calls the day of the Lord, nor that he declared that this day should not come unless he first came who is called the apostate —apostate, to wit, from the Lord God" (City of God, Book XX, Chapter 19)
So here Augustine seems to suggest a similar interpretation to what Irenaeus and Justin proposed.
John Chrysostrom (349-407)
John Chrysostrom was a Greek speaker who wrote in Greek. He quotes 2 Thess 2:3 and then says this....
"...except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed...Here he discourses concerning the Antichrist, and reveals great mysteries. What is “the falling away?” [The Greek word translated “falling away” is that which we borrow as apostasy.—J.A.B.] He calls him Apostasy, as being about to destroy many, and make them fall away....he will not introduce idolatry, but will be a kind of opponent to God; he will abolish all the gods, and will order men to worship him instead of God" (Homily on 2 Thess)
Other early writers quote 2 Thess 2, but some don't analyze it is a way to indicate how they interpreted "apostacia." Some analyze other aspects of the text. For example, many early writers commented on who the "Restrainer" was.
But of those that did comment in such a way as to indicate HOW they interpreted the word "apostacia", they all interpret it to mean APOSTACY and give enough examples of that. They discuss different aspects of what "apostacy" could mean, indicating they are getting at least part of their analysis out of the meaning of the word, rather than from tradition. For example,
- Iranaeus, Justin, Augustine and Chrysostrum see the "apostacy" as the rebellion of the False Messiah himself.
- Hippolytus and Cyril both see the abomination of desolation included in the meaning of "apostacia".
- Ephraim sees "every person will renounce their deity" in the meaning of "apostacia"
- Cyril sees heretical ideas of his time in the meaning of "apostacia"
So a variety of aspects of "apostacy" are included in how the early Church interpreted the word "apostacia" / apostacy in 2 Thess 2:3. But all of them see some form of rebellion in the meaning of the word and none see this as a rapture.
Note that all 3 Latin writers see "apostacy" in the rebellious acts of the Man of Apostacy, and 2 Greek writers see the abomination of desolation in "apostacia". Iraenaeus grew up speaking Greek, so he counts in both categories linguistically, but more with the Latin West culturally.