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J. Paul Lenhart May 4th, 2012
THE DAY OF GOD : WHAT AND WHEN IS IT? When writing about the end of the world, the biblical writers often identify this period with some kind of ‘day’. They write about such times as the ‘day of the Lord’, ‘day of wrath’, ‘day of Christ’, ‘that day’, etc. Much can be gleaned from a study of these ‘days’. Many commentators see all of the days lumped together as one event – the Second Coming of Christ. Other writers, especially Dispensationalists, believe that the days ought to be distinguished. They appeal to the context of the passages, contending that different periods or aspects of a period are being written about in the different passages. If the texts are taken at face value, there seem to be differences between these prophetic days. One example can be taken from 2 Peter 3:10-13, which reads: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 1 Many commentators believe that this passage equates the day of the Lord with the day of God. It is the purpose of this paper to demonstrate that the context of this passage suggests that the day of God is a separate eschatological period from the day of the Lord. It is a description of the
mine. All Scripture quotations are from the NASB unless otherwise noted. 1
eternal state which is either included in the day of the Lord, or occurs at its consummation.2 The Uniqueness of the Phrase The term ‘day of God’ is unique to Peter.3 The uniqueness of the phrase is well-attested to.4 Because of the unique nature of this phrase, many writers equate the day of God with the day of the Lord. This is not a valid step to take exegetically. Isolation does not require identification with other terms used in Scripture. Rather, it demands a careful consideration of the context to determine the meaning of the phrase. To provide a positive identification of the day of God, the exegete must look first to the context of the passage. Because the term has been so confused by interpreters, this essay will first look at the similarities and differences between the day of the Lord and the day of God, followed by an identification of the term. A Comparison of the Day of the Lord and the Day of God Similarities There are many similarities between the day of the Lord and the day of God in 2 Pet. 3:10-13 (see Figure 1 for a side-by-side comparison). Both verses seem very much alike at first
is some debate whether the day of the Lord concludes with the events described in 2 Pet. 3:10-13, or if it extends throughout the eternal state. Most commentators tend to view the day of the Lord as concluding at the destruction of the universe [e.g., J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), 230-31]. This identification is not important to the present discussion. The contention of this essay is that the days are different; the day of God refers only to the eternal state. commentators [e.g., Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude, vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 2nd ed. (1987; repr., Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), 153-54] see this phrase as being equivalent with the phrase found in Rev. 16:14 (. . . to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty). This is doubtful, however, as there are a number of differences between the two phrases. The phrase in Revelation has numerous modifiers that are not found in Peter. First, the day itself is modified by the adjective ‘great’. Second, ‘God’ is modified by the term ‘the Almighty’. Third, in Revelation the day is linked with a war, while in Peter it is linked with the destruction of the universe. Finally, the time period in Revelation occurs just prior to the Second Advent of Christ, when he comes to set up His earthly kingdom (Rev. 19-20), whereas the reference in Peter occurs near (during or after) the destruction of the universe, as this essay seeks to demonstrate.
4This is admitted even by those not in the Dispensational camp [e.g., Donald Senior, 1 & 2 Peter, vol. 20 of New Testament Message (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1980), 136]. 3Some
3 Figure 1 The Day of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. The Day of God (2 Pet. 3:12) . . . looking for and hastening the coming day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!
glance. Both verses reference the ‘heavens’ and the ‘elements’. In verse 10, “the earth and its works will be burned up;” in verse 12, “the heavens will be destroyed by burning.” In verse 10, “the elements will be destroyed with intense heat;” in verse 12, “the elements will melt with intense heat.” Both verses reference the heavens, the elements, intense heat, something being destroyed, something being burned, and a particular day [i.e., the day of the Lord (v. 10) and the day of God(v.12)]. With all of these similarities, would it not be reasonable to assume that the day of God is just another name for the day of the Lord? Is this not a clear case of parallelism, as many capable exegetes have understood it to be? Differences The careful exegete will argue that the differences between the two ‘days’ are more relevant than the similarities. The similarities exist because the two phrases occur near the same eschatological event – the destruction of the present universe. However, these verses indicate that the two days are related differently to that event. The following points demonstrate that these two concepts refer to different periods. Difference of Prepositions Peter uses two different prepositions in connecting the day of the Lord and the day of God with the destruction of the universe. In verse 10 he uses the phrase ἐν ᾗ οἱ οὐρανοὶ (en hē hoi ouranoi). The important thing to note is his use of the preposition ἐν (en). This word is a catch-all preposition which is normally translated in. The most common usage of the preposition
is to indicate a temporal or spatial aspect of sphere.5 The context determines the meaning of the preposition. Figure 2 compares four common translations of 2 Pet. 3:10. Notice the way the prepositional phrase is translated (the prepositional phrase is italicized).
Figure 2 NKJV But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise. . . NASB But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with roar. . . ESV But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar. . . NIV But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, The heavens will disappear with a roar. . .
For some reason, the NIV drops the preposition from the translation, and splices the sentence in two. The ESV gives the translation ‘and then’, which implies that the destruction takes place after the day of the Lord. They completely leave out the relative pronoun ᾗ (hē). Both the NKJV and the NASB give a clear translation of the Greek. The idea that Peter is setting forth is that the destruction of the universe takes place in the day of the Lord. Further evidence that this is what Peter intended can be seen by his wording, ‘the day of the Lord will come. . . in which the heavens will pass away. . . .’ He is stating that the day of the Lord will come, and that the destruction of the universe will take place sometime during that day. It is not clear from this passage when the destruction takes place within the day of the Lord (i.e., somewhere in the middle, or at the end). The only positive statement that can be made from this verse is that the destruction of the universe occurs at some point during the day of the Lord. Verse 12 shows a different relationship. The prepositional phrase which connects the day of God with the heavens being destroyed is δι᾽ἣν οὐρανοὶ (di’ hēn ouranoi). The preposition used
5This is the most common usage of the preposition. However, the preposition is very difficult to deal with systematically, and the lexicons list a wide range of meanings for the word itself [see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 372n43].
by Peter here is διά (dia). When used with the accusative case, as it is used here, this preposition almost always indicates a causal relationship.6 Figure 3 below compares common translations of verse 12 (the prepositional phrase is italicized).
Figure 3 NKJV . . . the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved. . . NASB . . . the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed . . ESV . . . the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens set on fire and dissolved. . . NIV . . . the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens. . .
Once again the NIV splits the sentence into two. However, this time it translates the preposition as a verb - will bring about. The other three versions are more accurate in their translations. The day of God in some way causes the destruction of the heavens and the melting of the elements. This idea is strengthened by the wording, ‘the coming day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved. . . .’ It is because the day of God is coming that the universe is destroyed. William MacDonald rightly states: “the day of God is not the time in which the final judgment takes place. Instead this ultimate judgment must occur before the day of God can be ushered in.”7 Other Differences There are a number of other, smaller differences between the day of the Lord in verse 10 and the day of God in verse 12. These differences are seen in the word ‘heavens’, the word ‘destroy’, the word ‘burn’, and the mention of ‘the earth and its works’. While these differences may bot be significant in and of themselves, they form the basis for an argument against a strict
lists one exception (Lk. 17.11). MacDonald, II Peter & Jude: The Christian and Apostasy (Kansas City, KS: Walterick, 1972),
parallelism in the passage when taken together. First, the word translated as ‘the heavens’ in both verses 10 and 12 is οὐρανοὶ (ouranoi). There is a difference, however, between the two words. The word in verse 10 includes the article, while the word in verse 12 does not. Verse 10 would then be translated ‘the heavens’, while verse 12 would be translated as simply ‘heavens’ – without the. This translation is awkward in English, so the definite article is added in most English translations.8 It may be that Peter is making a differentiation between the content of verse 10 and that of verse 12, although this is unclear.9 Second, the word ‘destroy’ is linked with ‘elements’ in verse 10, and ‘heavens’ in verse 12. In verse 10, the elements are destroyed in the same way that they melt in verse 12. In verse 12, the ‘heavens’ are destroyed by burning. Third, the word ‘burned up’, found in many good translations in verse 10, is probably based on a textual corruption.10 There are a few different textual variations for this particular phrase, but it is likely that the phrase ought to read, ‘καὶ γῆ καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ ἒφγα εὐρεθήσεται [kai gē kai ta en autē erga heurethēsetai; and the earth and the works in it will be discovered (personal translation)]. The idea of being ‘laid bare’, as the NIV renders it, is likely correct. The word ‘burn’ is different in verses 10 and 12. This further damages the idea of a parallelism. Finally, there is no mention of ‘the earth and its works’ in verse 12. This is exclusive to verse 10. One might argue that the earth and its works have nothing to do with the day of God,
8The notable exception is Darby, who puts brackets around the article. His translation maintains a rigid literalism, making it awkward to read, but useful for Bible students with no facility in Greek. 9The word elements also appears without the article in the Greek text. However, the article is missing from the word in both verses. It seems unusual that Peter would be inconsistent with his use of the article in relation to ‘heavens’ – while consistent with the absence of the article in relation to ‘elements’ – if he had no intention to differentiate between the terms. 10Green,
because the day of God describes the eternal state, the new heavens and new earth. This cannot, however, be stated dogmatically. There is a clear difference in the relationship between the day of the Lord and the day of God to the destruction of the universe. It is unlikely that Peter is using the literary device of parallelism to expound on the day of the Lord. It seems much more probable that Peter intends a distinction between the day of the Lord and the day of God in this passage. The Significance of the Phrase, ‘Looking For’ One final clue that the day of God is not to be identified with the day of the Lord is found by the content of what we are ‘looking for’. In verse 12, Peter says we are ‘looking for . . . the coming of the day of God’. In the following verse he continues, ‘we are looking for new heavens and a new earth’. There is a parallel in this passage, but it is not between the day of the Lord and the day of God. The parallel is between the day of God and the new heavens and new earth. This is suggested by the word ‘looking for’ (προσδοκώ, prosdokaō) in both verses, and that the ‘heavens’ in both verses are absent the article. In verse12, we are told that we ought to be looking for the coming of the day of God. In verse 13, we are looking for a new heavens and new earth. Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his classic systematic theology, comments on the day of God, that it “is evidently and identification of the eternity yet future when the new heavens and the new earth will have been created.”11 Conclusion Although the day of the Lord and the day of God are closely linked, it is evident from 2 Pet. 3:10-13 that they are not identical terms. The passage contains too many striking
Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (1948; repr., Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1980), 7:112.
differences for the terms to be referring to the same event. The day of the Lord is an extensive time period which in some way includes the destruction of the present universe. The day of God is the eternal state, a new heavens and a new earth, which occurs after the destruction of the present universe. It is separate from the day of the Lord.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology, Vol. 7. 1948. Reprint, Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1980. Green, Michael. 2 Peter and Jude. 2nd ed. Vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Reprint, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999. MacDonald, William. II Peter & Jude: The Christian and Apostasy. Kansas City, KS: Walterick, 1972. Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964. Senior, Donald. 1 & 2 Peter, Vol. 20 of New Testament Message. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1980. Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
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