Two Articles on Απαντησις
Michael R. Cosby, “Hellenistic Formal Receptions and Paul’s Use of ΑΠΑΝΤΗΣΙΣ in 1 Thessalonians 4:17,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 4 (1994): 15-33.
The TDNT article on απαντησις, written by Peterson, claims that απαντησις is a technical term for a delegation that goes out to meet a dignitary and returns with him to the city. Cosby found this claim attractive since he was seeking to leave behind the pretribulational views of his youth. He planned on translating additional work by Peterson on this matter, but he began to see significant deficiencies in Peterson’s argument as he worked on this project. Though not returning to a pretribulational position, Cosby said scholarly integrity compelled him to abandon Peterson’s understanding of απαντησις as an argument against it.
Cosby found that “only a minority of the uses of these terms describe formal receptions” (20). This alone does not rule out a technical use, but Cosby finds it notable that in all the patristic discussions of this text, only Chrysostom, who lived in an imperial city, makes the connection between this term and an imperial reception. In addition, the evidence adduced by some, namely that Seneca included the word in untranslated Greek in a Latin text referring to a procession, is relativized by Cosby’s observation fact that Seneca often included untranslated Greek terms in his writing. In other words, the fact that Seneca left the word untranslated does not itself demonstrate that the term is technical.
Cosby then notes six differences between 1 Thessalonians 4 and the “Hellenistic receptions.” 1. These receptions were planned, but Christians do not know when Christ will arrive. 2. Those who greeted dignitaries wore special clothes, which Christians will not do at the return of Christ. 3. The dignitary was not announced with trumpets or heralds. 4. Donations were given to the dignitary. 5. Judgement of the wicked was not a part of these dignitary visits, but it is a major part of Christ’s return. 6. The dignitary would offer a sacrifice, but Christ already offered the final sacrifice.
Robert H. Gundry, “A Brief Note on “Hellenistic Formal Receptions and Paul’s Use of ΑΠΑΝΤΗΣΙΣ in 1 Thessalonians 4:17,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 6 (1996): 39-41.
Gundry’s response to Cosby’s article concedes the point that “απαντησις does not by itself connote a reception of that kind,” meaning that it is not a technical term for a delegation that goes out to meet a dignitary and return with him to a city. However, Gundry holds that instead of differences between the Hellenistic receptions and 1 Thessalonians 4, there are similarities. 1. Gundry holds that Christians will know ahead of time when Christ will arrive (2 Thess. 2:3-12). 2. Christians will be newly clothed with imperishable bodies (1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5). 3. Gundry grants the difference between “the shouts of acclamation” at a Hellenistic reception and “the summoning shout and trumpet blast at the Parousia.” But he claims that they “share the element of happy noise.” 4. Gundry holds that believers present themselves to Christ as holy, blameless, and mature (Col. 1:22, 28). 5. Gundry observes that Cosby noted that prisoners were sometimes executed at these events. 6. Gundry says that Cosby presents a good reason for the absence of the sacrifice—Christ already provided the final sacrifice.
How does Gundry’s critique hold up? Points 1 and 3 do not hold. Even if there are signs preceding this event, a matter that is debated, that doesn’t mean Christians know when Christ will return. And the granted difference in point 3 cannot be erased by claiming they are both happy noises. Points 2 and 4 depend on reaching outside the passage. There is no case made that the Thessalonians would have been able to make these connections. Gundry seems to be correct with regard to point 5. Gundry seems to indicate that point 6 is an exception to the rule. I’d grant that if there were sustainable parallels in the other five points, but it is hard to maintain when four of the other five points fail to hold.
It seems that απαντησις can refer to a Hellenistic dignitary reception, and if one holds to a post-tribulation position it makes sense to float that as a possibility here. But it also seems that the word is not a technical term. Further, given the absence of the elements of such a reception in this passage, a post-tribulation reading of this passage cannot be mandated on the basis of this term.
Thoughts on Dispensationalism in Scholarship
Toward the beginning of his article, Cosby makes plain that though he is opposing a key argument in a posttribulational reading of 1 Thessalonians 4, he is not advocating the pretribulational position. Problematically, Cosby only engages with Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and a popular book by John Walvoord. This article was published several years after the initial wave of books on Progressive Dispensationalism came out. So there were plenty of recent scholarly books and articles that Cosby could have interacted with.
Similarly, in reading Robert Cara’s 2009 commentary on the Thessalonian epistles, when he footnotes his discussion of pretibulationalism, he cites two articles by Walvoord from the 1960s and 1970s. I read the articles, and if they were unimpressive―an exercise faulty assumptions and in reading one’s system into the text.
What troubles me is that both Cosby and Cara’s citations show exceedingly poor scholarship. Why, at a time when the first wave of Progressive Dispensationalist articles and books were being published, is Cosby citing Hal Lindsey in an academic journal? And why, in a 2009 commentary are articles from 30 to 40 years ago being cited? Why is there no interaction with more careful and more recent literature? I am a bit at a loss as to why scholars whose work I appreciate in other areas set aside their scholarship when dealing with dispensationalism.