(ho anthropos tes hamartias; many ancient authorities read, "man of lawlessness," anomias):
1. The Pauline Description:
The name occurs in Paul’s remarkable announcement in 2Th 2:3-10 of the manifestation of a colossal anti-Christian power prior to the advent, which some of the Thessalonians had been misled into thinking of as immediately impending (2:2). That "day of the Lord," the apostle declares, will not come till, as he had previously taught them (2:5), there has first been a great apostasy and the revelation of "the man of sin" (or "of lawlessness"; compare 2:8), named also "the son of perdition" (2:3). This "lawless one" (2:8) would exalt himself above all that is called God, or is an object of worship; he would sit in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God (2:4). For the time another power restrained his manifestation; when that was removed, he would be revealed (2:6,7). Then "the mystery of lawlessness," which was already working, would attain its full development (2:7,8). The coming of this "man of sin," in the power of Satan, would be with lying wonders and all deceit of unrighteousness, whereby many would be deceived to their destruction (2:9,10). But only for a season (2:6). Jesus would slay (or consume) him with the breath of His mouth (compare Isa 11:4), and bring him to nought by the manifestation of His coming (2Th 2:8).
2. The Varying Interpretations:
Innumerable are theories and speculations to which this Pauline passage has given rise a very full account of these may be seen in the essay on "The Man of Sin" appended to Dr. J. Eadie’s posthumous Commentary on Thessalonians, and in Lunemann’s Commentary, 222 ff, English translation).
(1) There is the view, favored by "moderns," that the passage contains no genuine prediction (Paul "could not know" the future), but represents a speculation of the apostle’s own, based on Da 8:23 ff; 11:36 ff, and on current ideas of Antichrist (see Antichrist; Belial; compare Bousset, Der Antichrist, 93 ff, etc.). This view will not satisfy those who believe in the reality of Paul’s apostleship and inspiration.
(2) Some connect the description with Caligula, Nero, or other of the Roman emperors. Caligula, indeed, ordered supplication to be made to himself as the supreme god and wished to set up his statue in the temple of Jerusalem (Suet. Calig. xxii.33; Josephus, Ant, XVIII, viii). But this was long before Paul’s visit to Thessalonica, and the acts of such a madman could not furnish the basis of a prediction so elaborate and important as the present (compare Lunemann and Bousset).
(3) The favorite Protestant interpretation refers the prediction to the papacy, in whom, it is contended, many of the blasphemous features of Paul’s representation are unmistakably realized. The "temple of God" is here understood to be the church; the restraining power the Roman empire; "the man of sin" not an individual, but the personification of an institution or system. It is cult, however, to resist the impression that the apostle regards "the mystery of lawlessness" as culminating in an individual--a personal Antichrist--and in any case the representation outstrips everything that can be conceived of as even nominally Christian.
(4) There remains the view held by most of the Fathers, and in recent times widely adopted, that "the man of sin" of this passage is an individual in whom, previous to the advent, sin will embody itself in its most lawless and God-denying form. The attempts to identify this individual with historical characters may be set aside; but the idea is not thereby invalidated. The difficulty is that the apostle evidently conceives of the manifestation of the "man of sin" as taking place, certainly not immediately, but at no very remote period--not 2,000 years later--and as connected directly with the final advent of Christ, and the judgment on the wicked (compare 2Th 1:7-9), without apparently any reference to a "millennial" period, either before or after.
It seems safest, in view of the difficulties of the passage, to confine one’s self to the general idea it embodies, leaving details to be interpreted by the actual fulfillment.
3. The Essential Idea:
There is much support in Scripture--not least in Christ’s own teaching (compare Mt 13:30,37-43; 24:11-14; Lu 18:8)--for the belief that before the final triumph of Christ’s kingdom there will be a period of great tribulation, of decay of faith, of apostasy, of culmination of both good and evil ("Let both grow together until the harvest," Mt 13:30), with the seeming triumph for the time of the evil over the good. There will be a crisis-time--sharp, severe, and terminated by a decisive interposition of the Son of Man ("the manifestation of his coming," the Revised Version margin "Gr presence"), in what precise form may be left undetermined. Civil law and government--the existing bulwark against anarchy (in Paul’s time represented by the Roman power)--will be swept away by the rising tide of evil, and lawlessness will prevail. It may be that impiety will concentrate itself, as the passage says, in some individual head; or this may belong to the form of the apostle’s apprehension in a case where "times and seasons" were not yet fully revealed: an apprehension to be enlarged by subsequent revelations (see Revelation of John), or left to be corrected by the actual course of God’s providence. The kernel of the prediction is not, any more than in the Old Testament prophecies, dependent on its literal realization in every detail. Neither does the final manifestation of evil exclude partial and anticipatory realizations, embodying many of the features of the prophecy.
See THESSALONIANS, THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE, III.
Man of Sin