The Temporal use of ἀπὸ: In part II of this series, I covered the three passages which contain the clause ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου in which the preposition ἀπὸ is used causally, meaning “because of the casting down of the world.” In this post I would like to address the remaining four passages which have this clause where the preposition ἀπὸ is used temporally, meaning “since the casting down of the world.”
I. Matt. 13:35 (NKJ) “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”
This is the only instance where the critical clause is part of a quotation from the Old Testament, Psalm 78:2. However, there is little help from that passage since Matthew’s quote follows neither the Hebrew nor the LXX. What Psalm 78:2 renders as “from of old” Matthew paraphrases as “from the casting down of the world.” Some might argue that the LXX has “from the beginning” and therefore this clause must refer to the beginning of creation in Psalm 78. However, the LXX does the same in other places where it is clear the same Hebrew word rendered (“of old”) does not refer to the beginning of creation. For example, Joshua stated that the ancestors of Abraham lived in Ur beyond the Euphrates “from of old” and the LXX translates this also as “from the beginning.” The “beginning” in both passages must be defined by the context. There is nothing in the context of Psalm 78 which refers to the beginning of creation. Rather, the history recounted in the verses that follow through the end of the chapter refer exclusively to Israel’s history after the exodus. The LXX translators were no doubt referring to the beginning of Israel’s history by the clause, “from the beginning,” when God first called Abraham while He was living in Ur (Acts 7:2-3). Neither the Hebrew nor the LXX of Psalm 78:2 offer any support for linking this clause with the beginning of the creation.
It is also clear that Matthew was adapting this verse to Jesus’ use of parables. But Jesus’ parables were not in any way limited to Israel’s history after the exodus, but had a much greater scope. Matthew’s point, in quoting this passage but changing it to suit his purpose, was not to show that Psalm 78 was a prophecy of Christ. Rather, it was to illustrate a general principle stated in the Scripture, a principle that Jesus also followed. It is that God approaches His hard-hearted people, not in plain speech, but in riddles and metaphors which require spiritual understanding (cf. Isaiah 6:9-13 & Matt. 13:13-15).
Matthew 13:35 should be translated as follows: “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things concealed since the casting down of the world.” It should be kept in mind that there was no need to conceal things before sin entered and death and the curse befell Adam and the creation. The “mystery” was hidden from fallen mankind as Paul clearly stated (1 Cor. 2:6-8). Consequently, this passage fits well with the translation I have offered. This passage was not spoken by Jesus, but was Matthew’s application of Psalm 78 to Jesus’ entire ministry style.
II. Luke 11:50 (NKJ) “that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation,”
This is the passage that sets the very first precedent chronologically as this technical term flowing from the lips of Jesus. As with several of the others already analyzed, it makes better sense if it is translated: “that the blood of all the prophets which was shed since the casting down of the world may be required of this generation.” The next verse qualifies this statement, reaching back to the martyrdom of Abel to the recent prophets whom the Israelites murdered. There was no bloodshed of the righteous before sin entered. Abel’s martyrdom marks the beginning of this period of time, characterized as “since the casting-down of the world.” Cain’s murder of Abel was characteristic of the overthrow of the world, and the most outrageous offense to date. John referred to this incident while claiming that Cain was a child of “the wicked one,” who instigated the “overthrow” of the world in the first place. It is difficult to imagine that Jesus would include in His characterization of depraved humanity the period of time before sin and death entered the world.
III. Heb. 9:26 (NKJ) “He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
This passage works much better in the LGV translation: “25 not so that He may offer Himself repeatedly, like the high priest enters the holy of holies once a year with the blood of others, 26 (since that would have required Him to suffer repeatedly since the casting down of the world).” The need for Christ’s shed blood was not continuous ever since “the foundation of the world,” but only “since the casting down of the world.” Prior to that there was no need.
IV. Rev. 17:8 (NKJ) “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”
This verse could be understood with either the causal or temporal nuance of the preposition ἀπὸ. It could mean either “since” or “because of.” However, the temporal sense is preferred in my opinion. The word “written” is in the perfect tense, and indicates that a name was written at a point in time. This does not require that all of the names were written at the same time, at the “casting down of the world.” The preposition is not “at,” but “since.” The temporal use of the preposition meaning “since” covers the entire time from the casting down of the world to the present. Each name individually has been written (perfect tense) over the period of time called, “since the casting down of the world,” and in each case that individual name remains. No doubt Abel’s name is at or near the top of that list. There was no need for the “Book of Life” until death entered the world (Rom. 5:12), thus making the resurrection of the dead necessary in order to enjoy the perfect original order that Adam and Eve enjoyed before they sinned. The names are those who will be included in the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:1-4). No doubt, names are written when one enters a covenant relationship with God. Yet names can and are blotted out when someone departs from that covenant (Exod. 32:32-33; Deut. 29:20; Rev. 3:5; Rev. 22:19).
It is evident that all seven of the passages that use the clause ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου are either neutral or strongly favor the interpretation I have given. None of them offer any support whatsoever for the translation, “from the foundation of the world.” None support the Calvinistic suppositions that are wrongly derived from two of them by presupposing the faulty definition of the noun καταβολῆς.
In the next post, we will consider the last three verses where the clause πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου appears, using the preposition that means “before.” These all refer to the brief time period from the beginning of Day One of creation week until the “casting down of the world,” when everything was still “very good.” None of them refer to eternity past, as they are wrongly interpreted, giving cover to Trinitarianism in one passage and Unitarianism in another.