03 September, 2016

II Thessalonians 2:6-7—“… he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way …”

And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way (II Thess. 2:6-7).

Appeal has been made to this text by exponents of the theory of common grace for proof of a general operation of the Holy Spirit whereby the progress of corruption is checked within man’s fallen nature.

The interpretation of the passage is that “what withholdeth” is the power of common grace; and “he who now letteth and will let” is the Holy Spirit. Hence, the conclusion is that the development of the power of antichrist, to which the text refers, is restrained by the power of common grace and the influence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of sinful men.


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered]

If one is to find in this passage a reference to the gracious restraining power of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the unregenerate, then some sort of interpretation similar to the following would have to be given: The apostle is speaking here of the rise of antichrist at the end of time. Antichrist is called “the man of sin” in the context. He is part of the “mystery of iniquity” that is present in the world (I John 2:18). But this rise of antichrist is graciously restrained by the Holy Spirit, for that which “withholdeth” is supposed to be a reference to the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will graciously restrain sin in the hearts of the reprobate, particularly in the antichristian development of antichrist in history, and enable those who stand in this historical development of antichrist to do good throughout most of the new dispensation until the man of sin, the antichrist, is revealed “in his time.”

This is strange exegesis indeed. The objections against such a view are compelling.

1) The apostle tells the Thessalonians that they knew that which was withholding. Now if the reference is to the gracious inner working of the Holy Spirit in the unregenerate, the apostle could not have said that the Thessalonians knew of this work of the Holy Spirit. How could they? In all the apostle’s writings there is no other mention of any such thing. Apart from the fact that this expression, “what withholdeth” is a strange way to speak of the Holy Spirit, found nowhere in Holy Scripture, this interpretation presupposes that the Thessalonians knew about common grace and knew about that aspect of it that involved the restraint of sin almost 2000 years before it became a doctrine sanctioned by the church.

2) The idea of the restraint of sin emphasizes that this restraint is in the hearts of all men in general to restrain all kinds of sin and to enable sinful man to perform good works. But here in this text the expression is limited to the development of the antichrist. In fact, it would seem to me to follow that this restraint of sin is to be found in Antichrist himself, that he is the object of grace, that the Spirit graciously restrains him, and that he is able to do good in the eyes of God.

3) If the Holy Spirit and His work is the reference here, then the last line of the text would have to read this way: “But the Holy Spirit who restrains sin will continue to restrain sin until “he be taken out of the way.” The cessation of the work of the Holy Spirit is ended when the Holy Spirit is “taken out of the way.” What a strange and unbiblical way to speak of the Holy Spirit. It ought to be clear to anyone with a modicum of understanding of Scripture that this interpretation cannot possibly be correct.


Whatever the apostle may be referring to in the text, someone or something, known to the Thessalonians, was preventing a premature appearance of antichrist and would be taken out of the way at God’s time, that is, when in God’s time the time of Antichrist had come. And, therefore, no restraint of the Holy Spirit can possibly be referred to. Such an interpretation of the text is foisted on the text in such an unnatural way that no one can accept it as true.



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965


[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), pp. 375-376]

26.   What may be said of this interpretation?
That it is extremely arbitrary and far-fetched, to say the least. Certain it is that the text does not speak of common grace as the withholding power, nor as the Holy Spirit as the One who now letteth and will let. At the very best, the interpretation is a mere conjecture and invention of ingenuous minds. Besides, it presupposes that the Thessalonians had already become acquainted with the doctrine of common grace; we conjecture it must also be supposed that the apostle had taken pains to instruct them in this wonderful theory. For he writes to them: “And now ye know what withholdeth.”

26.   But is this interpretation not probably correct?
On the contrary, this explanation or conjecture is probably very incorrect. For first of all, it is very improbable that the Thessalonians knew that it was the power of common grace that was withholding the man of sin. How strange it would be that the apostle should presuppose knowledge on the part of the Thessalonians of a doctrine of which he himself never writes in his epistles! In the second place, it is entirely safe to say that, if the apostle had meant to refer to the Holy Spirit in this passage, he would have mentioned Him by name, for he always does. He would certainly not have expressed himself so cryptically, that all might have their guess as to what he really meant. And in the third place, Scripture would not write of the Holy Spirit: “until he be taken out of the way.” For all these reasons, the conjecture of synod is very improbable if not quite impossible.

28.   What is a far more plausible interpretation of this text?
That the apostle is referring to a definite power and person, known to the Thessalonians, that in those days stood in the way of the full realization of the antichristian kingdom. We know not what person and what power the apostle had in mind, neither need we know. Every attempt to determine this must needs be mere conjecture. But this power and person certainly is a type of all those historical powers and persons and circumstances that prevent the ultimate manifestation of the kingdom of antichrist before God’s own time.


[Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), pp. 406-407]

The tacit assumption … [is] that “he who now letteth” is the Holy Spirit who restrains sin so that the man of sin cannot yet be revealed. This explanation is impossible, because Scripture would not write of the Holy Spirit, “until he be taken out of the way.” Yet this refers to the same person as the expression “he who now letteth.” Berkhof in his booklet forgets to mention this text and offers no explanation.

My conviction is that the apostle had in mind a definite person known to the Thessalonians, who stood in the way of the full realization of the antichristian power and kingdom. We know not, neither need we conjecture who that particular person “who now letteth” was. That person of Paul’s time was a type of all those persons, powers, and circumstances that throughout history prevent the realization of the antichristian kingdom before God’s time. However, the text certainly does not refer to the Holy Spirit and his general operation whereby he checks the progress of corruption in man’s nature.



More to come! (DV)

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