Thesis: There is a very important clause that appears ten times in the New Testament but is mistranslated in virtually all English versions. This mistranslation gives cover to certain incorrect doctrines, including Calvinism, Trinitarianism, and Unitarianism. The important clause is καταβολῆς κόσμου (pronounced kata-bol-ace kos-moo). It is wrongly translated “foundation of the world” in virtually all English versions. This sense comes, not from the meaning of the clause in Greek, but from early Latin translations which use “constitutio mundi” (establishment of the world). However, the Greek clause is literally translated “casting-down of the world.” It always refers to the overthrow of the original “very good” order after Satan tempted Eve, Adam sinned and was condemned to death, and God placed the curse upon the whole earth (Gen. 2:16-17; Gen. 3:9-19). This clause never refers to the creation (a foundation, or a founding) of the world as in the Latin translations. The Greek noun for “foundation/founding” is θεμέλιος (themelios) which is always carefully “laid” or “placed,” as in Luke 6:48-49; Luke 14:29; 1 Cor. 3:10. It is not typically “thrown down.” The Greek verb for laying a foundation or “founding/establishing” something is θεμελιoώ as in Job 38:4 LXX; Psalm 102:25 LXX; Isa. 48:13 LXX; Matt. 7:25.
Biblical Usage: In all ten cases where the clause καταβολῆς κόσμου (“casting down of the world”) appears in the Bible, it is the object of one of two prepositions, either πρὸ (pro – before) or ἀπὸ (apo – from, or because of). These are as follows:
“Before the casting down of the world” (πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου) appears in John 17:24; Eph. 1:4 & 1 Pet. 1:20. This clause always refers to the period of time between the very beginning of measured time (Day one of creation) until Adam and Eve were condemned to death and driven from the Garden of Eden. This includes the short period of time when everything was still “very good” (Gen. 1:31), as Adam and Eve tended the Garden of Eden and had free access to the Tree of Life which provided immortality. This clause πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου (before the casting down of the world) never refers to eternity past, time or eternity before the beginning of Day One of creation week.
“From the casting down of the world” (ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου) appears in Matt. 13:35; Matt. 25:34; Luke 11:50; Heb. 4:3; Heb. 9:26; Rev. 13:8 & Rev. 17:8. This clause either means ever since the overthrow of the world, or because of the overthrow of the world. The preposition ἀπὸ means either “from” (i.e. “away from” – spatially, or “ever since” – temporally) or else “because of” (causally), depending on context. (See Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 368). The texts where this clause means “ever since the casting down of the world” (temporally) are: Matt. 13:35; Luke 11:50; Heb. 9:26; Rev. 17:8. Those that indicate “because of the casting down of the world” (causally) are: Matt. 25:34; Heb. 4:3; Rev. 13:8. The causal use of the preposition ἀπὸ is the same as the causal use of the English preposition “from” to indicate cause (because of). For example, I could say “My brother and my wife’s sister nearly died FROM Covid-19, FROM disregarding the CDC guidance.” In Greek, the causal usage of the preposition ἀπὸ is fairly common.
The Root Verb: The noun καταβολῆ is derived from the verb καταβαλλω which is a compound of the preposition κατα (down) and the verb βαλλω (to throw). The verb describes the action of throwing something down, and the noun describes the event of a “throwing down,” a “casting down.” Exactly what is thrown down depends entirely on the context. The sense of the verb is not to lay something down carefully as if laying down a foundation (which requires precision and care), but rather to cast down with violence. That this is the correct meaning of the verb can be shown from the Septuagint (LXX) where it is used about 30 times, always in reference to an “overthrow,” or “casting down,” something destructive, never constructive. Here are a few examples:
2 Samuel 20:15 LXX “And they came and besieged him in Abel and Phermacha: and they raised a mound against the city and it stood close to the wall; and all the people with Joab proposed to throw down [καταβαλλω] the wall.“
Job 12:14 LXX “If he should cast down [καταβαλλω], who will build up? if he should shut up against man, who shall open?“
Isaiah 26:5 LXX “who hast humbled and brought down them that dwell on high, thou shalt cast down [καταβαλλω] strong cities, and bring them to the ground.“
The same verb is used in the New Testament, in 2 Cor. 4:9, “persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down [καταβαλλω], but not destroyed.”
Thus the root verb in the Scriptures sticks pretty close to the literal sense of the compounding of the two words, “down” and “throw,” virtually always having a negative connotation.
The Noun Derived from the Root Verb: The noun that is derived from the verb still carries at its core the basic sense of the verb. Its strictly literal, essential, meaning is defined in lexicons as a “throwing/casting down.” However, like the verb, the sense is also shaped by the context, specifically by the thing that is thrown/cast down which can vary. The interpreter makes a serious mistake if he tries to incorporate one of the various applications (from the thing that is thrown down) and imports that into the basic definition of the term. In secular Greek, the noun has a wide variety of uses including a farmer throwing down seed in his field, a male impregnating a female with seed, paying down a debt, an overthrow, and rarely complete construction of a stone building (probably from a mason setting stone upon stone). This is the mistake made by the translators of our English Bibles where the noun καταβολῆς is wrongly translated as “foundation,” which is not a part of its essential meaning, only the event of “throwing down.” Exactly what is “thrown down” is supplied by the genitive noun that actually modifies this noun in all ten places, “κόσμου” (of the world [order]).
That “foundation” is not part of the essential meaning of the noun καταβολῆς is easily shown by the only time this noun appears in the New Testament apart from the clause καταβολῆς κόσμου (“casting down of the world”) This is Hebrews 11:11 where it is very awkwardly rendered “conceive” in most English translations. Yet, in the LGV I have translated it as “overthrowing” instead. This is exactly the literal meaning and it makes perfect sense in this context.
Hebrews 11:11 LGV “By faith Sarah herself received strength for the overthrowing [καταβολῆς] of a seed, and being beyond the season of childbearing, gave birth, since she deemed faithful the One promising.”
The clause, καταβολὴν σπέρματος (overthrowing of a seed) does not refer to a “foundation of a seed,” or even to “conceive seed.” It refers to the “overthrow” or “casting down” of a seed, Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born. Ishmael was overthrown as “Abraham’s seed” by Sarah’s giving birth to Isaac, the child of promise. God had promised Abraham, “In Isaac your seed will be called,” bypassing the real firstborn, Ishmael. This is explained in verses 17-18: “’By faith’ Abraham, being tested, has offered Isaac. And the one who welcomed the promises was sacrificing the only-begotten, about whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called’.” Ishmael was “cast down” or “overthrown” as Abraham’s seed/heir and no longer reckoned by God to be “Abraham’s seed” with regard to the covenant. This is evident by the reference to Isaac as Abraham’s “only-begotten” even though Ishmael was born to Abraham first. Paul inferred this “only-begotten” concept from God’s statement to Abraham in Genesis 22, to offer up “Your only son, Isaac” (Gen. 22:2,12,16). Thus, Ishmael was “overthrown” or “cast down” as Abraham’s heir by Sarah’s submitting to becoming the mother of Isaac, the seed of promise. In this passage, the noun καταβολὴ does not refer to a foundation, a founding, or conception, but to an overthrow, a casting down, the overthrow of Ishmael.
The translation of καταβολῆς as “conceive” is very far removed from the essential meaning of the noun. Had Paul meant “conceive” he would have used the Greek expression which in both the LXX and NT refers to the female conceiving a child, συλλήμψῃ ἐν γαστρὶ, literally “receive in the womb” (ex. Luke 1:31). Note that in this common clause the female receives the “seed” rather than produces the seed. Hebrews 11:11 has given rise to debate among scholars simply because the idea of the female (Sarah) casting down a “seed” (meaning conception) is extremely awkward and contrary to the Greek and Hebrew way of thinking. When referring to conception it is assumed that the male casts down the seed into the womb of the female. The descendants are called “Abraham’s seed” never “Sarah’s seed.” The use of καταβολῆς in this passage is extremely awkward IF Sarah is understood as “foundation/founding” or “casting down” a seed as in conception. Because of this awkwardness, scholars have argued that the words “Sarah herself” were added at some point and that the “casting down of a seed” refers to Abraham in the previous verse. Yet this solution has two major problems: All copies include the words “Sarah herself” making it extremely unlikely that they are not original. Secondly, the probability that a scribe would add these words to clarify something, yet his alteration has the effect of introducing an absurdity (a female casting down seed), plus that absurdity finding its way into every Greek copy without correction or challenge, is so remote as to be considered impossible. When scribes are bold enough to add words to the text they are copying (as translators often do), the intent is not to add confusion and absurdity, but to clarify something that appears difficult. In this case, if “Sarah Herself” was added by a scribe, it has the opposite effect and creates the difficulty. The probability that “Sarah herself” has been added, and thus the implied action refers back to Abraham, is virtually zero.
Sarah was not the source or the one who “founded” Isaac. She is not the one who “planted” or “cast down” the “seed” into her own womb which became Isaac. Sarah would never have been spoken of as the one who founded, established, began, or planted the “seed” that became Isaac. Either God or Abraham would have been the subject of the implied action IF this noun referred to impregnation in any way. The extreme awkwardness of καταβολῆς in this passage is due exclusively and entirely to translator bias, imposing an unwarranted definition which they have deduced from the other ten cases in the New Testament in the clause καταβολῆς κόσμου (casting down of the world) occurs. But their false assumption is entirely driven by their misunderstanding the clause καταβολῆς κόσμου (casting down of the world) due to their wrong theological presuppositions. It means an “overthrow” both in Hebrews 11:11 and in the other ten occurrences. As such, it perfectly fits the context and the Abrahamic Covenant flawlessly.
The basic concept of a “seed” being “overthrown” or “cast down” is not unique to this passage. It is also found in the following passage:
Psalm 106:26-27 LXX “So he lifted up his hand against them, to cast them down [καταβαλλω] in the wilderness; 27 and to cast down [καταβαλλω] their seed [σπέρμα] among the nations, and to scatter them in the countries.“
It is far more reasonable to conclude that καταβολὴν σπέρματος, “casting down of a seed” in Hebrews 11:11 means to overthrow a seed, as in Psalm 106:26-27, rather than “founding/foundation” of a seed by the female. Since this is the only place in the Bible where this noun occurs outside of the clause “casting down of the world,” it is painfully obvious that “foundation” is not part of the essential meaning of this term. It would be much more productive and objective for translators to allow the free and uncluttered usage in Hebrews 11:11, where the context itself fits much better with the concept of “overthrow,” to inform the meaning in the clause, καταβολῆς κόσμου (casting down of the world). The reason this more objective process is not typically followed is because there are certain sacred-cow doctrines which depend on one or more of the ten occurrences to help prop them up.
The Meaning of the Entire Critical Clause: As we turn our attention to the entire clause καταβολῆς κόσμου, special consideration must be given to the genitive term, κόσμου (“of the world”). This is the genitive case form of the noun κόσμος (kosmos). This word, while usually applied to the whole world as a complete system, has as its core literal meaning an orderly arrangement rather than something concrete (as the physical creation itself is). The same term is used of a woman’s “arrangement” of her hair (1 Pet. 3:3). When not modified by another genitive noun (such as hair), it is sometimes applied to the whole Roman Empire as a political and government system (ex. Rom. 1:8). When not defined or narrowed by context, it usually refers to the whole of human civilization. That is, the whole world as an orderly system arranged by God. The abstract (order) rather than concrete (physical world) emphasis of this noun can be shown from the very first time it appears in the Bible.
Gen. 2:1 LXX καὶ συνετελέσθησαν ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ καὶ πᾶς ὁ κόσμος αὐτῶν
and were-completed the heavens and the land and all the arrangement of them.
Notice that the word κόσμος in relation to the creation emphasizes its orderly arrangement rather than its concrete makeup. This orderly arrangement includes the physical creation, but also includes God’s physical laws that govern it, and even mankind and God’s oversight of His creatures and nature. The same word is used of the corrupt world system governed by greed and other inclinations of the flesh, which is why we are commanded: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17 NKJ). Note that the κόσμος “world” is viewed as corrupt and in opposition to God. Further, we are not told to abhor the creation itself. We are told to abhor the fallen world as a system. This fallen state is the direct result of sin and its immediate consequence, the “casting down of the world.” The world was “very good” prior to sin and the curse. After that event, it is corrupt and we are not to be enamored with the “world,” but rather by “the world to come” (Heb. 2:5). Since emphasis of the genitive case noun κόσμου is on the orderly arrangement that God established, the καταβολῆς (casting down) of that κόσμου (orderly arrangement) easily fits the calamity that befell the κόσμου (orderly arrangement) described in Genesis 3 rather than the creation itself described in Genesis 1. It is an extremely awkward concept to refer to the beginning of creation using a clause that is literally translated “casting down of the world order.” If the beginning of creation was the intended meaning in these ten passages where καταβολῆς κόσμου (casting down of the world) is found, a much better and less problematic choice would have been either the clause “the beginning of the world” ἀρχῆς κόσμου (Matt. 24:21) or “the beginning of creation” ἀρχῆς κτίσεως (2 Pet. 3:4). The fact that these clearly understood clauses were not used, but rather καταβολῆς κόσμου was used in these ten references (a clause that appears no where else in the NT, LXX, or secular Greek), should raise suspicions that the Bible translators and the editors of lexicons have fallen prey to personal theological bias and are imposing their presuppositions upon both the Scriptures and lexicons. It appears that they have unintentionally imposed a theological meaning into the Bible that was never intended. While καταβολῆς (casting down) alone might not always be a negative thing in secular Greek (depending on other terms that modify it), when modified by κόσμου (“of the world order”), it certainly implies a negative thing – the undermining and overthrow of the original order which was very good but is now something to be abhorred and resisted by God’s people. The entire clause, “the casting down of the world” explains why the word κόσμος (world-order) is presented as very good prior to Genesis 3, but thereafter is not so good simply because it has been “cast down.”
A Technical Term: The repetition of the exact same unique and entirely new clause ten times means that it is a technical term, always referring to the same very specific event. Technical terms have a specific origin. This one was not borrowed from the Septuagint as are many technical terms in the New Testament. In this case, Jesus Himself coined this technical term when speaking to His disciples about the overthrow of the perfect world-system which God originated. The first time it is recorded that Jesus spoke this technical term is in Luke 11:50, then again in Matthew 25:34, and finally in His prayer to the Father in John 17:24. In all of the other occurrences in the New Testament, the writer borrowed from Jesus’ original usage, using the phrase that He personally coined in exactly the same way that He used it, always referring to the same event.
A Very Early Misunderstanding: The apparent misunderstanding and mistranslating of this clause began very early in Christian history, during the second century. Because this was an entirely new technical term, not found in the Septuagint or even represented by a similar clause in the Hebrew Scriptures, it was very easy to mistake and misapply this new phrase by Greek readers, depending on their presuppositions. This problem was pointed out only about a century after John’s death by Origen of Alexandria, a student of Greek literature who also spoke Latin fluently. Origen pointed out the following: “καταβολὴ which has been very improperly translated into Latin by “constitutio;” for in Greek καταβολὴ signifies rather “dejicere,” i.e., to cast downwards, — a word which has been, as we have already remarked, improperly translated into Latin by the phrase “constitutio mundi” [establishment of the world] … It seems worth while, then, to inquire what is meant by this new term; … And if this is so, then there has been a descent from a higher to a lower condition … ‘Because the creature was subjected to vanity, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected the same in hope;’ [Rom. 8:20] … From this it follows, that by the use of the word [καταβολῆ] a descent from a higher to a lower condition, shared by all in common, would seem to be pointed out. The hope indeed of freedom is entertained by the whole of creation — of being liberated from the corruption of slavery.” (Origen, DePrincipis, BK. III, ch. 5). Origen had his own bizarre theological explanation as to why Scripture would use this apparently odd clause (the casting down of the world), interpreting it according to Greek philosophy, especially Platonism. However, his point in the above quote still stands regardless: that (1) this was an entirely new Greek technical term, (2) at its core it means “casting down of the world,” and (3) its true meaning in Greek is not compatible with the very early Latin translation which meant “constitution of the world.”
Unfortunately, our Bible translators and lexicon editors have ignored this very ancient witness to what this term really meant in second century Greek and have instead followed the early Latin translation instead of the original Greek. They have then read the incorrect Latin meaning back into their definitions of this term in their Greek lexicons. There is no justification in the Greek language, either from the essential meaning of the term, or its usage in secular Greek, to give “foundation” as the lexical definition of this word. It means only a “casing down,” leaving whatever is being cast down to be determined by the context and other modifying words. Our translators have not faithfully translated the text, but instead have interpreted the text based on their own presuppositions and then read that into our translations.
In the following posts in this series, I will deal with all ten passages in the New Testament where the clause καταβολῆς κόσμου is found. I will demonstrate three things: (1) that understanding this clause as “casting-down/overthrow of the world” is far superior because it works seamlessly in every context where it is found, not to mention agrees with the only other occurrence of the noun – Heb. 11:11; and (2) by using this definition certain passages that appear nonsensical become crystal clear and harmonize perfectly with the rest of Scripture; (3) that this definition removes the theological cover for certain wrong doctrines in a couple of important passages.