2 Thessalonians 2:13, Greek Grammar, and Conditional Election

, posted by SEA

by Brian Abasciano

On his blog, Greek scholar Bill Mounce wrote a post on 2 Thes 2:13. It maintains, among other things, that “through faith” should be taken as modifying “salvation” in the text (which allows for and can favor unconditional election). I made a comment at Bill’s blog on the post, pointing out that Greek grammar actually favors taking “through faith” with “chose”, which would make election conditional on faith in Christ. We are chosen by faith (just as we are justified by faith).

Here is a link to Mounce’s post: http://www.teknia.com/blog/what-do-prepositions-modify-2-thess-2-13

And here is my comment (slightly revised):

Bill, I would disagree with your conclusion about what the prepositional phrase modifies. Your own grammar recognizes that prepositional phrases most often modify verbs (sec. 8.15; cf. Daniel Wallace’s grammar, pp. 356-57, who even speaks as though modification of something other than a verb is exceptional for prepositions, though still obviously possible and something that occurs). Of course, they can modify nouns. But all things being equal, they are more likely to modify the verb. So I think that puts the objective grammar more on the side of taking the prepositional phrase as modifying the verb “chose”, though of course, it does not demand it.

Your point about word order does not count as strongly since word order does not figure strongly in Greek for determining function. Indeed, in the Septuagint (there are no other NT examples), whenever the word salvation is followed by a prepositional phrase beginning with en as in 2 Thes 2:13, it modifies the verb (1 Sam 11:13; 2 Sam 19:3; Ps 73:12; Ps 117:15 [where, notably, the tendency of the prepositional phrase to modify a verb is so strong that here it modifies an implied verb rather than the noun “salvation” that immediately precedes it!]; 1 Macc 3:6) except for 2 Kings 13:17, in which the prepositional phrase modifies a noun other than “salvation,” and there is no verb at all for it to modify.

Your point that the preposition might semantically modify the verbal idea in “salvation” does increase the likelihood that it might modify “salvation” here, but not enough to make it as likely or more likely than it simply modifying the actual verb, as it normally would. The actual usage of “salvation” + “en” in biblical literature does not bear out the idea of modification of the verbal idea in “salvation,” but rather the greater likelihood of it modifying the actual verb in the context.

As for your assertion that, “it would be a strange thing to say that God’s election was in some way connected to our belief,” that appears to be a theological presupposition carrying no weight. It just so happens that a major evangelical theological system (not to mention the consensual Christian tradition! See Thomas Oden, The Transforming Power of Grace) explicitly believes that God’s election is conditional on faith in Christ — Arminianism. So it doesn’t seem strange to me at all, but it seems like the most natural reading of 2 Thes 2:13 supports the Arminian position that election is conditional on faith in Christ.