ELEMENTS SHALL MELT WITH FERVENT HEAT
Elverne George Bauman, Canada
II Peter 3:10-14
THE KJV New Testament renders II Peter 3:10-14 as follows:
But the day ofthe Lord will come as a thief in the night in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.
Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless.
These verses, if translated literally, give us an almost 2000 year old description of nuclear reality. Bible translators of more than two thirds of a century ago could not think in such terms. Anyone in King James time insisting that man could make a device so powerful that it could incinerate the entire city of London in less than one minute would have been laughed at (or worse).
1. Translators have traditionally presented these verses to us as describing a conflagration engulfing the entire globe. However, a precise rendering of the literal meaning of the words in these verses, with the definite article placed only where the Greek places it, presents to us a description of intense nuclear fire burning on the earth, without disclosing on how much of the earth, or where on the earth. These verses tell us that some of the earth will be burned with intense heat, but if translated literally, they do not tell us that this includes all of the earth.
Explanatory notes: The New Testament term "heaven," Greek word number 3772, refers to different spheres above the earth. Paul was caught up to the third heaven (II Corinthians 12:2), inferring there are two others below that. At least eight times the New Testament names heaven as the place where birds fly (Matthew 8:20, 13:32, Mark 4:4,32, Luke 9:58, 13:19, Acts 10:12, 11:6). In each of these the KJV uses the word "air" but the Greek word is "heaven." This could answer to the first heaven.
2. Jesus told the Pharisees and Sadducees they could predict the weather when the sky was red (Matthew 16:2, 3). In these verses the word "sky" is a translation of the Greek word "heaven" answering again to the first heaven which is the atmosphere just above the earth. It is logical to take this atmospheric meaning of the word "heaven" as the meaning of this word in II Peter 3:10,12. The words "pass away" in verse 10 are a translation of Greek word number 3928. It is a compound word that means "to come or go to the side of."
This Greek word is used 31 times in the New Testament. A number of these present no thought of "passing away" whatsoever, but simply mean "a moving to the side of." Some examples are as follows:
a) No one could go to that side of the area near to where the two possessed with demons lived (Matthew 8:28).
b) When Jesus was walking on the water He intended to go past the side of the boat in which the disciples were, which He then did not but instead went into the boat (Mark 6:48).
c) In Luke 12:37 Jesus said He would come to the side of the servants who were watching for His coming and would serve them.
d) In Luke 17:7 Jesus said a master does not tell a servant that has come from the field at mealtime to go to the side and first serve himself before he serves his master, but tells him to serve His master first.
e) As Jesus was walking to Jericho, the multitude that went before Him told the blind man that Jesus was about to come by the side of where he was, which caused the blind man to cry out to Jesus for mercy (Luke 18:37).
f) In Acts 16:8 Paul and Silas came to the side of Mysia, but kept on going past it.
g) In Acts 24:7 Lysias came to the side of Paul to rescue him from his assailants.
No thought of extinction presents itself in any of these usages, only that of movement. If we think in a similar vein, concerning the meaning of this word as it is used in II Peter 3:10 to describe the heavens, we have before us a vivid picture of powerful atmospheric movement. When great pressure is applied to something it moves to the side. In this case it will be the atmosphere. The atmosphere will be displaced. The powerful heat and rushing winds will cause great changes to the atmosphere as the hot air and radiation rise in it. This Greek word describes this change literally. The atmosphere will move and change from its former position.
3. The word "heavens" in II Peter 3:10 has the definite article (the word "the") preceding it in the Greek, but in verse 12 it does not. The description in verse 10 of the heavens moving to the side implies a change in the atmosphere of the entire earth because it says "the heavens." This description of "the heavens" in verse 10 only has to do with movement and noise; it does not have to do with burning as the description of "heavens" does in verse.12. The description in verse 12 is that of a burning atmosphere let loose, and implies the burning atmosphere of a given area because it says "heavens" without the definite article which gives the impression of some of the atmosphere but not all of it. In verse 10 it is "the heavens" (definite): in verse 12 it is "heavens" (indefinite). In verse 10 it is "the heavens" (definite) having change applied to them. In verse 12 it is "heavens" (indefinite) that are let loose as they are burning.
4. The Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon gives the meaning of the Greek word translated "noise" in verse 10 as "whizzing, rushing." These words wonderfully describe the gusting sounds of the strong winds that will accompany the movement of the atmosphere following a mega nuclear explosion (or explosions).
5. The word "dissolved" in verses 11 and 12 is a translation of the Greek verb "to loose" (Greek word number 3089). Also the word "melt" in verse 10 is a
translation of the same word. The word "loose" means to undo what up until that time has been restrained, kept together and kept in place. The New Testament uses this word 43 times. Following are several examples (although not always translated "loose" in the KJV):
a) The owners of the colt Jesus was to ride on said, "Why loose ye the colt?" (Luke 19:33).
b) The Lord told Moses at the burning bush to loose his shoes off his feet (Acts 7:33).
c) The hinder part of the ship that Paul had sailed on was loosed (Acts 27:21).
d) In his vision on Patmos John saw the four angels loosed that were appointed to slay one third of the earth's population (Revelation 9:15).
e) John saw Satan loosed out of the bottomless pit after the thousand years were over (Revelation 20:7).
Three times II Peter 3:10-12 tells us of the loosing of something that up until that time had been held in place. In verse 10 it is burning elements, in verse 11 it is "all these things" and in verse 12 it is an atmosphere that has been set on fire. Both the first use of the verb "loose" (its reference to burning elements), and the third use of it (its reference to an atmosphere on fire), are in the future tense. The second use of it, however (that of its reference to "all these things"), is in the present tense, bringing home to our hearts in present time the reality of these things that will be loosed. It will take place suddenly and unexpectedly-like a thief coming at night when people are asleep. Suddenly, in a moment of time it will happen, when people are not expecting it.
6. The word "elements" in verses 10 and 12 is not preceded by the definite article in the Greek. Without the definite article, the scope of the burning and melting of "elements" is indefinite. We are told that elements will burn and melt, but we are not informed of the scale. The extent is left indefinite.
The Liddell and Scott Lexicon gives the meaning of the Greek word translated "elements" as "the components into which matter is ultimately divisible." Vine's Expository Dictionary says this word "primarily signifies any first things from which others in a series, or a composite whole, take their rise" and gives its usage in II Peter 3: 10,12 as meaning "the substance of the material world." In both verse 10 and 12 the word "elements" is modified by the present participle "burning." Verse 10 says these burning elements are loosed. Verse 12 says they are melting. In verse 12 both the participle "burning" and the verb "melt" are in the present tense. After these burning elements are loosed they are burning with a heat so intense that they literally melt. The Liddell and Scott Lexicon gives the meaning of the word "melt" (used only here in the New Testament) as "be dissolved, melt away," and according to this lexicon this word was used in Greek classical literature for the melting of snow. The intense heat of this conflagration will melt physical material substance in the area that it engulfs like a red-hot stove melts snow that comes in contact with it.
7. The word "earth" in verse 10 does not have the definite article preceding it in the Greek. The Greek word translated "earth" can also mean "land" and is so translated 42 times in the KJV New Testament. It is translated "land" in Acts 7:11 where Stephen used this word to refer to both the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan. In Matthew 4:15 it appears twice (without the definite article) in reference to both the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali. Similarly, in Matthew 2:6 it refers (without the definite article) to the land of Judah. Again, in this same chapter, once in verse 20 and once in verse 21, it is used (without the definite article) in reference to the land of Israel (which Joseph in Egypt was told to go back to). Then in Mark 6:53 this word is used of the land of Gennesaret which was an area on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee a mile and a quarter wide and three miles long.
This Greek word is often used in the New Testament with the definite article to mean all the earth. This is especially so in the Book of Revelation. Without the definite article, however, it can mean a land area that is only a part of the earth. It can mean a larger land area such as the country of Egypt, or it can mean a smaller area as that of the original inheritance of Zebulon, Naphtali or Judah. It can mean a smaller land area yet as that of the Biblical Gennesaret which was only a few square miles in size. Without the definite article this word simply means "land," with no designation of how much land or what land, unless that designation is supplied. In the United States this word could mean the land area of the state of California, or the land area of the state of Florida, or that of New York City. It could mean separate land areas simultaneously either in the same country or in separate countries. It could mean all the land area of a single country only. It could
mean the land area of the country of Egypt. (Read Ezekiel 29:9-12.)We are only told in these verses that "land" will be intensely burned, but we are not told how much land or what land.
8. The word "works" in verse 10 includes all the building, technical, cultural and agricultural works that man has produced in that land area. They will all burn along with the land they are on. In this case the word "works" has the definite article which truthfully conveys the meaning, that all "the works" in the land area in question will be burned.
9. The words "burned up" at the end of verse 10 are a translation of a compound Greek word that means "to burn utterly." It is the Greek word "burn" with an added preposition which intensifies its meaning. The works in the land area in question are not just burned but they are intensely burned.
10. The words "looking for" in verse 12, and "look for" in verses 13 and 14 are a translation of a compound Greek word that literally means "to think toward." We are to think toward the reality of these events that are coming including the reality of new heavens and a new earth to follow (new atmosphere and new land).
11. As Vine's Expository Dictionary explains, the word "coming" (used in verse 12) "denotes both 'an 'arrival' and a consequent 'presence with.' This word takes the mind of the reader into the very presence of that day called "the day of God."
12. The Concordant Greek Text in its sublinear "ultraliteral English translation" uses the words "being diligent" to translate the word "hastening" in verse 12 (Greek word number 4692), which might let the words "being diligent to the presence of the day of God" pass as a translation. Other forms of this same Greek word found in the New Testament have the meaning of "diligence" and are translated as such. The lexicons insist, however, that the transitive usage of this particular word depicts a hurrying or an eager seeking, which possibly is meant to bring before the readers of this scripture a sense of their need of readiness for the presence of this day. This does not necessarily infer that they will be in it, but it does bring before them a present earnest consideration and acceptance of this day's coming and its events.
13. In verse 13 the words "new heavens and a new earth" (with no definite article) could be translated "new atmosphere and new land." (Greek does not have an indefinite article.) According to Vine's Expository Dictionary, the Greek word translated "new," in this case means "not new in time, recent, but new as to form or quality." This suggests that God will reconstruct the atmosphere and land of this world into something totally new after man is finished exercising upon them the power of destruction that God has allowed him to have. In that new atmosphere and new land only righteous will dwell. This is a promise and we are exhorted to "think toward" that promise.
14. The word "wherein" in verse 12 is a translation of the Greek preposition "through," meaning in this case "because of" (which is the way the New American Standard Bible translates it). These events will take place "because of the presence of God's day". God has a day. When that day has arrived and begins, then these things will happen. The sins of mankind will bring it on. (Isaiah 24 is a commentary on this.)
15. The words "conversation" and "godliness" in verse 11 (more literally "conduct" and "devoutness") are both plural in the Greek further emphasizing the
necessity of holy conduct and devoutness in our lives.
The following is a translation of II Peter 3: 10-14 from the Textus Receptus Greek taking the primary meaning of each word and placing the definite article only where it is found in the Greek:
But will come the day of Lord as a thief in a night in which the heavens with rushing sound will come beside and elements burning will be loosed and land and the works in it will be intensely burned.
Then these things being all loosed what manner ought you to be in holy conduct and devoutness.
Thinking toward and looking for the presence of the day of God because of which heavens being on fire will be loosed and elements burning will be melted.
But new heavens and new land according to His promise we are thinking toward, in which righteous dwells.
Wherefore. beloved, these things thinking toward be diligent spotless and blameless by Him to be found in peace.
On July 16, 1945 at 5:29 AM local time in the desert of New Mexico the world's first atomic explosion tore into the atmosphere. The intense heat melted desert
sand into greenish gray glass. Huge chunks were ripped out of the earth. The 100 foot high steel tower on top of which the bomb was detonated vaporized. Windows were shattered 125 miles away. The explosion was visible in three states but the regional newspapers had been told to report it as only an accidental explosion in an ammunition dump. People did not know what the mushroom cloud meant that rose eight miles into the atmosphere (unless a Bible student among them knew that the phrase "vapour of smoke," which Peter quoted from the prophet Joel in Acts 2:19. is actually worded "pillars of smoke" in Joel 2:30, and that the Hebrew word translated "pillars" literally denotes "palm trees").
Three weeks later on August 6 at 8:15 AM local time the world's first atomic explosion against human flesh and blood turned the atmosphere, 1900 feet above
Hiroshima. Japan. a city of approximately 345,000 at the time, into a ball of nuclear fire. About 70,000 people were instantly killed and about 70,000 more wounded. About four square miles of the city were incinerated. (By 1950, radiation had pushed the death toll to 200,000.) Three days later on the morning of August 9 the world's second atomic explosion against men, women and children ignited the atmosphere above Nagasaki, Japan, a slightly smaller city than Hiroshima, instantly killing about 40,000 and wounding about 40,000 more. The death toll eventually climbed to 140,000. For those people it was the day of (the) Lord that came as a thief at night.
We are told that these bombs were little ones. Today they are many times more powerful and there are many of them in the world. Will the time come when some of them, or a number of them, will get used?
The Apostle Peter presents just such a reality to us. Given to us near the end of his second and last epistle in his account of what to expect in the last days, this description fits the sudden detonation of mega nuclear weapons. May God's people take to heart the necessity of devout and holy living. Peter said (KJV), "that ye may be found of him in peace without spot and blameless."