What’s up with NLT in 2 Tim. 4:1?

Premillenial language, if not the intent, is present in the New Living Translation’s rendering of 2 Timothy 4:1, “And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus––who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom:”. Literally, the verse reads, “at his appearing and his kingdom.”

The idea of “setting up” a kingdom comes straight out of the premillenial playbook. One site proclaims that “Jesus Christ Will Descend To Jerusalem To Set Up His Earthly Kingdom.”

The NLT rendering is similar to the “GOD’S WORD Translation” which renders the phrase, “because Christ Jesus will come to rule the world.” Um, nope. He is not coming to rule the world, but to claim his own and take them into eternity.

Christ’s return (his “appearing”) will be that of the full revelation of his kingdom (so The Lutheran Study Bible). In this verse, we see the “eternal kingdom” that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 1:11. At his appearing he will exercise the power inherent in that Kingdom for judgment — both to punish and reward (see 2 Tim. 4:8).

The phrase, “at his appearing and his kingdom,” has been identified as a hendiadys, so the sense would be something like, “his appearing in his kingdom,” or according to Bullinger, “his kingly appearing.” That would contrast with his first appearing in humility. Weymouth translates “kingdom” as “Kingship,” and Moffatt as “reign,” lending weight to Bullinger’s translation and helping us to avoid the picture of earthly borders.

A similar construction of this figure of speech is in the next verse, in 4:2, “exhort with complete patience and instruction,” which ought to come out something like the NRSV: “with the utmost patience in teaching.” ISV is a bit looser, but shows the same idea, “with the utmost patience when you teach.”

That Paul has in mind here the revelation of the eternal kingdom and not the evangelical invention of a millenial earthly kingdom seems clear from verse 18 in the same chapter, where he contemplates being brought safely “into his heavenly kingdom.” Here, at the end of his life, Paul’s thoughts look forward Christ’s “kingly appearing,” and appeals to Timothy in a powerful charge to preach the gospel, under the hastening and powerful shadow of that coming, at the end of all things.

3 thoughts on “Premillenialism in NLT?

  1. I will alert the translation team of your concern that the translation here leans too much toward the premillennial view, and they will review it at their next meeting.

    For now, I can confidently say that it definitely isn’t an attempt to insert any doctrinal system into the translation. There are diverse views on eschatology within the NLT translation committee, and they often discussed ensuring that the translation didn’t unfairly favor one view over another, but simply translated the text as clearly as possible in contemporary English.

    The Greek in 2 Tim 4:1 is actually a little difficult to deal with, and the translations all struggle with it a little bit. The last phrase is appended awkwardly in the accusative case with a conjunction, leaving its relationship to what precedes a little bit muddy (unless you go with the Majority text, which inserts a preposition governing the phrase). What the NLT came out with was one way of trying to convey the words of the original into English. See the notes in the NLT Study Bible on 2 Tim 4:1 and 1 Tim 6:14 for a discussion of the epiphany language (or, better, the excellent discussions in Jon Laansma’s commentary in the Cornerstone series).

    • I can see the difficulty in the translation of the phrase. But I’m surprised that no one on the committee caught that language in reference to premillenialism, since it’s a stock phrase. I realize Bullinger’s work is an antique, but his suggestion of “kingly appearance” avoids the insertion of the phrasal verb “set up” while showing the close relationship between the two nouns. That’d be my vote. Thanks for your comments.

  2. This phrase, “when he appears to set up his kingdom,” is pretty definite because it would define the kingdom as yet future. As you said, Bullinger contrast with the phrase, “kingly appearing” would be more in line with the context of other passages. There’s a fine line between translation and interpretation, but there is a line.

What do you think?

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