The Antichrist in John’s Epistles: Part II

One of the other arguments used to show that John is referring to some future world leader is the use “anti” on the front of Antichrist. “Anti” is a preposition, which can mean in the place or against. Usually what happens is that someone takes “anti” to mean someone who seeks to replace Christ. Then they are able to find the Antichrist in all sorts of places he is not mentioned, such as II Thessalonians 2:3-4 and the beast in Revelation 13. Here is long quote from Pastor MacArthur where he does this exact thing:
“Now without needing to go into all of the rest of what’s in this wonderful section, we can sort of focus, to begin with, on this matter of Antichrist, a term that has become very familiar to Christians in this generation, as I’m sure in many other generations. The word Antichrist is well known to us. It occurs in the New Testament only in John’s letters. It occurs in 1 John several times, and then it occurs in the seventh verse of 2 John. And though it is limited as a term to John’s epistles, it expresses a widely known reality that is dealt with in other portions of the Bible, not only in the New Testament but even in the Old Testament as well. The term “Antichrist” which John uses is antichristos in the Greek. Christos obviously means Christ, anti can have two possible meanings. It is a Greek preposition that can mean either against or in the place of…against or in the place of. Antichrist can then mean either someone who is against Christ, or someone who seeks to replace Christ. Someone who is an adversary of Christ, or someone who is a false representation of Christ. We can take it then to mean the one who opposes Christ. In that case, the opposition is clear, it is plain. Or we can take it to mean one who seeks to be put in the place of Christ and then the opposition becomes more subtle and more disguised. And antichrist can mean either of those, or both. We don’t need to choose between them. Clearly antichrist is one on some fronts who is openly and overtly against Christ. That is to say they speak lies concerning Christ, such as in verse 22 that I just read. They deny that Jesus is the Christ, a denial of the nature and identity and work of Jesus Christ. This is clearly an antichrist perspective.”

By focusing on the anti at the beginning of the word, Pastor MacArthur finds the Antichrist in places where the word is not used and where John’s picture of the antichrist is absent. For example, II Thessalonians 2 describes a man of lawlessness who exalts himself and tries to take the place of God. This fits with Matthew 24:17 and Daniel 9:27. However, this idea is absent from I and II John. The same thing is done with the beast of Revelation (see Revelation 13). The beast is someone who is worshipped, who makes war on the saints, etc. But none of these ideas are found in John’s teaching on the antichrist, which is all the more odd since John wrote Revelation. In other words, the man of lawlessness and the beast are not the Antichrist. 

D.A. Carson warns against what he calls the “root word” fallacy.[1]This is where the root of a word is used to determine its meaning instead of the context. This is what has happened here. Because “anti” can mean “seeks to replace,” and the person in II Thessalonians seeks to replace God then it must be the Antichrist. However, just because a word can mean something does not mean that it does. The context of I and II John must determine the meaning of antichrist, not the various uses of “anti.”  I and II John are clear on the character traits of antichrists. They are false teachers, who have left the Apostles, gone out into the world, so that they might deceive churches by teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh and that he is not the Christ. Of course, Pastor MacArthur will agree with these points, but by using “anti” he can drag in another point, that Antichrist is the beast and man of lawlessness, which is foreign to I and II John. 

[1]Carson, D.A. Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p.26-32.