1 Thessalonians 4:15—Did Paul teach that he would be alive when Christ returned?
Problem: Paul spoke here to the Thessalonian Christians of “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord.” This seems to imply that he was affirming that Christ would come before he died. But Christ did not come before the death of Paul (2 Tim. 4:6–7). Did Paul make a mistake here?
Solution: There are two ways to understand this verse without alleging that Paul made a mistake. First of all, it could be an editorial “we.” That is, it may be a literary expression that is the equivalent of “those” who are alive. This is a perfectly acceptable way of speaking, which authors often use. For example, in view of a friend’s death, I might say “we never know when such an eventuality may overtake us,” without expressing either the belief or hope that it will occur to me.
Second, Paul may simply be expressing his own hope here, without affirming that he would in actual fact be alive when Christ returns. After all, Christ’s return is the blessed hope (cf. Titus 2:13) of all believers. Had Paul wanted to affirm that he would be alive when Christ came back, he could have said very clearly, “I will be alive and remain until the coming of the Lord.” But he did not say this. The “we” could have implied a hope he had without making any affirmation about whether he would or would not remain alive until the rapture.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.