WHAT DOES parousia MEAN?
In the study of things to come there is no word that encompasses any greater truth than the word parousia. This is a Greek word that has been brought over into English without any change in its spelling, and it will be found in most dictionaries, even though the definition given is far from accurate. It is a word that should be found in the vocabulary of every diligent Bible student. There is no English word that will accurately express the Greek word parousia; therefore, it should be transliterated and a maximum effort should be made to fix in our minds its meaning as used by the Spirit of God in the New Testament.
This word is found twenty-four times in the Greek New Testament and is used in numerous contexts making it possible for us to discover its true meaning from its usage, the only way that any word in any language should ever be defined.
In the King James Version it is translated "coming" twenty-two times and "presence" twice. Other translations as a rule have used the words coming, presence, arrival, and personal presence to represent the word parousia. And at this point it needs to be stated unequivocally that it does not mean coming in any occurrence in the New Testament. To so translate it was an egregious error that is constantly perpetuated by lexicographers and theologians. I do not believe that the definition of "coming" would be given in any lexicon, there being not one shred of evidence to support it, if it had not been for the fact that the King James Version translators arbitrarily rendered it this way so that it would not flatly contradict their creedal position.
The translators of the King James Version were men who held firmly to the theology that arose out of the reformation, and especially to the later ideas developed by John Calvin, a man who studiously avoided ever coming to grips with the great eschatological problems of Scripture. A very simple doctrine of future events was worked out which was a slight refinement of Roman Catholic doctrine. According to this, there was to come what was called "the day of judgement", and this was equated with the second coming of Christ, even though it was not held that He returned in person. On this day of judgement all mankind, living and dead, were to be summoned before God to be judged. A great separation was to be made, with all the righteous finding a place forever in heaven, and all the wicked being consigned to live forever in a place of torment called hell. The earth was then to be destroyed by fire, an event that was supported by mistranslating sunteleias tou aionos "the end of the world".
In view of beliefs such as these there was no place in the thinking of these men for a time to come when Jesus Christ would be personally present upon the earth. So they eliminated the parousia by translating it "coming" and making it to be a coming universal judgement.
There is no truth to be gained by pointing to 1 Cor. 16:17 (as many do) as proof that parousia means coming, where Paul declares that he was glad for the parousia Stephanas and Fortunatus.. The fact that the word "coming" seems to fit well in this sentence is no proof that this is what it means. The word health or prosperity would fit just as well, but the fact is that parousia does not mean health or prosperity and neither does it mean coming. These men were a deputation from the Corinthian ecclesia to the Apostle Paul. Thus they were there because of who they were and the help they could be to Paul. He was rejoicing in their personal presence, a presence which he exalts and honours by calling it a parousia. The importance of this designation will be seen when we get to the actual technical meaning of this word.
The word parousia does not mean "arrival" as the occurrence in 2 Cor. 10:10 will clearly show. The weakness of Paul's "bodily presence" was not limited to his arrival. It continued through his entire parousia in Corinth. And this word does not mean "presence" or "bodily presence" even though it does contain these two ideas. It means more than "presence" and more than "bodily presence" and to so translate it is to weaken this strong word. It is actually a simple word and should present no problem to the translator as long as he can rise fully above the confusion that was imposed upon it when it was made to mean "coming". It is made up of the word para which means "beside", and the participial form of the word "to be", ousia, which means "being". The compound word parousia means being beside, being with, or being present. However when all occurrences of this word in the New Testament, in Classical Greek, in the Septuagint, and in the papyrus manuscripts are examined it will be found that this word means more than presence and more even than personal presence. It is used of a certain kind of personal presence, and only such a presence can be properly called a parousia.
Adolf Deissmann's pertinent comment that parousia is "a technical expression" has been repeated by many commentators, but invariably they leave us without any explanation of the technical (exact) meaning of this word. This is a fault of which I do not wish to be guilty so I will give at once the technical definition of this important term.
The Greek word parousia means a personal presence when one is present because of who he is and what he does. Thus, a personal presence may not be a parousia if the one present is not there in relationship to his position or office and the service he performs as such.
The word for "personal presence" in the New Testament is pareimi, not parousia, a fact that is easily established by its many occurrences. (See list on page 594 of the Englishman's Greek Concordance.) These occurrences show that pareimi always means a personal presence when it is used of men, and an actual presence when it is used of things.
At first glance these two words may seem to be only different inflections of the same word, but usage has established them as two words with distinct meanings. We must not stultify parousia by giving it the same meaning as pareimi. The distinction between the two is of the utmost importance, so I will give several illustrations of these two words.
If I should go to the courthouse and sit in on a trial, my presence there would most certainly be a personal one, and it could be described by the Greek word pareimi, but not by parousia. I am not there because of who I am, any position I hold or service I will perform. However, the judge, the prosecutor, the attorneys, and the witnesses are all there because of who they are and the service they will render in view of this. Thus, their personal presence there can be called a parousia.
Consider another illustration. A teacher of a class in New Testament Greek begins by calling the roll to which each member responds, "Pareimi" (present), a word they had learned in the previous lesson. The teacher then says, Your personal presence, that is, your pareimi having been established, I now trust that your pareimi will at once become a parousia, that you will be here because you are students and, therefore, are here to learn.
The definition of a word can be determined only by an analysis of its usage. This is the method by which dictionaries are compiled. In getting the definition of New Testament words we are primarily interested in the usage made by the Holy Spirit in its pages. Nevertheless, consideration needs to be given to occurrences outside of the Bible.
CLASSICAL GREEK USAGE
Of special interest is a quotation by Sophocles, cited by Liddell and Scott, where one said, "that we have no friends present (parousia) to assist us. This man desired the presence of friends who would be there because they were friends and who would undertake to do what a friend would do under such circumstances.
Adolf Deissmann cites many of these occurrences, prefacing them by saying, "From the Ptolemaic period down to the second century A.D. (about 500 years) we are able to trace the word in the East as a technical expressional for the arrival or visit of the king or the emperor." (Light from the Ancient East, Pages 368 to 373.) However, all the examples cited by Deissmann are indicative of an official visit rather than a mere arrival. On the occasion of such visits parousia coins were struck and parousia taxes were levied. And it will also be seen in every occurrence that these visits were described as parousias because they were present because of who they were and were there to perform the duties of their position.
The occurrences in the papyrus are most interesting. These are pointed out by Moulton and Milligan (Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, page 497). In one a man says, "The repair of what has been swept away by the river requires my parousia". The owner would need to be there because of who he was and what he would direct to be done.
In another occurrence someone says, "It is no use if a person comes too late for what required his parousia." The correctness of the definition that has already been given is evident in this sentence.
Another occurrence is quite intriguing, causing us to wonder about the incident that generated it. A woman declares that her husband, "swore in the parousia of the overseers (episkopon) and of his own brothers, 'Henceforward I will not hide all my keys from her.' " One can only surmise from this that there was serious trouble between a man and his wife and that the overseers and his brothers were called in to arbitrate the matter. Thus they were there because of their positions and relationship, also the services they were to perform.
In the pre-recorded history (prophecies) of the benevolent services which the Lord Jesus Christ will yet perform on behalf of mankind the most important service will be accomplished in His parousia. He is to be personally present upon the earth for a thousand years and He will be present because of all that He is and the services to be performed in view of each glory given to Him. The good that will come out of this is beyond comprehension and volumes would not suffice to tell about it. For now, it is enough to say that this thousand year term in God's school of life, when the master teacher is personally present, will produce a people who know God to the fullest extent that He can be known by man.
Since the Lord Jesus Christ is not now upon the earth, a coming will be required in order for Him to be personally present. I believe in the second coming of Christ (Acts 1:11). His coming will result in His parousia, and we should not confuse the two.
SEED & BREAD Number 25: NEXT
THE PAROUSIA OF THE LORD JESUS
In the pre-recorded history (prophecies) of the future benevolent services which the Lord Jesus Christ will yet perform for mankind, one of the most important is that which will be accomplished in His thousand year parousia. Having established in Issue No. 23 the meaning of the Greek word parousia, I shall henceforth use it as an English word in the confidence that my readers will understand that by it I mean a personal presence when one is present because of who or what he is and what he does in view of this.
The great truth of the parousia of the Lord Jesus is unknown and unrecognised by most readers of the English Bible since the word is not found there. It is wrongly translated "coming" in twenty-two of its twenty-four occurrences. It is the parousia of Jesus Christ that will prepare and qualify mankind for the place he will have and the services he will perform in the new heaven and new earth. Under that new order the tabernacle of God will be with men and He will dwell with them and they will be His people and He will be their God (Rev. 21:3). Not even that long term of school in the kingdom of God will fully prepare men for this position and service. We will yet need the learning and discipline that comes from Christ being personally present because of Who He is and what He will do.
When we consider that the event which is commonly called "the rapture" is one that is related to the parousia, and which so many are saying is the next event in God's prophetic program, it causes us to realise the need for an objective study of the parousia of the Lord Jesus.
It is in Matthew 24:3 that we find the first mention of this great event. The Lord's twelve apostles came to Him privately upon the Mount of Olives and asked the question, "What will be the sign of your parousia, even the consummation of the eon?"
The eon here is the kingdom eon, that pre-advent time of divine government that prepares mankind for the parousia of Jesus Christ. The eon consummates in the parousia, and it is the consummation of that eon. In justification of the above translation I would cite the following:
- There is a rule of Greek grammar which is as follows. When two nouns in the same case are connected by the word kai (and), and the second noun lacks the definite article, then the second noun refers to the same person or thing as the first noun and is a definition of it. An example of this will be found in 1 Cor. 15:24 where Paul speaks of "God, even the Father" (Theo kai patri).
This rule applies to the two nouns found in the question asked by the apostles (parousia and sunteleia). They are asking about one thing, not two things. The parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ is the consummation of the eon -- not this present evil eon, but the glorious eon of the day of Christ, that eon of divine government which is next to come upon the earth.
I am fully convinced that the word sunteleia means a coming together of all that is necessary to produce a desired goal or end, so I have used the word consummation to translate it. The word here is not telos (the actual end) but sunteleia, the act of completing to produce a desired result.
It will help us to fix the meaning of sunteleia in our minds if we will remember that the consummation of a woman's pregnancy is the birth of a living child. A child born dead would be the end of her pregnancy but it would not be the consummation of it. The goal would not have been reached.
There is nothing in this passage about the coming of Christ. How could there be when He was then present with them? The disciples' question concerns His parousia, which they further describe as being "the consummation of the eon". As said before, the eon spoken of here is the eon of the kingdom of God. The consummation of the kingdom eon is the parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, His parousia will not be ushered in without a great struggle of opposition on the part of Satan. The developments and the outcome of this struggle are set forth in the ensuing portion of Matthew 24.
In answer to their question the Lord sets forth certain significant events that will precede His parousia. They asked for the signs of it and this is what He gives to them. These are:
- Men coming in His character claiming they are the Anointed One,
- Battles and reports of battles,
- Nation rising up against nation and government against government,
- Pestilences, and
And since these things have always been prominent in the earth from the time of the entrance of sin (they were prominent when the Lord spoke these words and have been prominent ever since) the logical mind will wonder how they can possibly be signs of the nearness of His parousia.
The answer is that they cannot be and it is illogical to cry "signs of the times" every time a famine or earthquake or pestilence occurs. However, when we understand the flow of events set forth in the time periods of the New Testament we realise that these things have ceased under God's government which precedes these events and the parousia. The rigid restraints (Isa. 30:31) and the swift punishments that will characterise the government of God will keep all such things from happening. But when these restraints are lifted and the restrainer Himself (the Holy Spirit) is removed, evil men and evil conditions will again appear and be highly significant. It should also be apparent that the great drama that is written out in detail in Matthew 24 can never be acted out until the twelve apostles have been raised from the dead and are in their positions as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. These words and warnings were spoken to them, and not to us. Nevertheless, all readers are cautioned, "Whoso readeth, let him understand" (Matt. 24:15).
The actual period of time being dealt with here is the seventieth week, a seven year period, of Israel's seventy weeks as revealed in Daniel 9. This seven year period is divided into two parts and it is the last three and one-half years that makes up "the great tribulation". This begins the great struggle for it in the middle of the week that Satan is cast down to earth, raging with great wrath because he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12).
It is then that all the governing people in Israel ("them which be in Judea" Matt. 24:16) must flee to the mountains. This will be an orderly migration, a work of faith, and the apostles will be in absolute charge. They are to take nothing, since the same Lord who fed and clothed their murmuring fathers in these same mountains for forty years can certainly supply the needs of this righteous band for forty-two months.
It is the presence of Satan, the great deceiver, upon the earth, that makes this to be a time of affliction such as has never been before. But they are safe in their divinely appointed place in the mountains and the forces of antichrist do not dare to go in and bring them out, so they spend their time marching up and down the streets of Jerusalem. This is the time when "Jerusalem shall be trodden of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled". See Eze. 30:2, Luke 21:24, Rev. 11:2. But it seems they begin to look foolish marching up and down the streets of Jerusalem when the ones they seek to capture and destroy are in the mountains. And it is when they assemble at Megiddo in preparation for turning into the mountains that the Lord comes and fights against them. This is the battle of Armageddon, in which not one life is lost except those who are in revolt against Israel and against God's government. Remember that the "man of sin" is destroyed by the blazing forth (epiphaneia) of His parousia (2 Thess. 2:8).
In answering their question concerning the signs of His parousia He warns them to disregard all declarations that He has returned to the earth and is in the desert or hidden away in some secret chamber in the city, thus to avoid all stratagems that would lure them out of their divinely appointed place of safety. He then states with absolute finality:
- "For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall the parousia of the Son of Man be." (Matt. 24:27.)
From this we know that His parousia will be sudden, dramatic, and public. The idea of a secret parousia is unknown in the Word of God.
As the Lord continues His message He declares that it is "immediately after the tribulation of those days" that they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24: 29, 30). This is the coming that results in His parousia.
One evident fact that will be apparent to all who examine the four occurrences of the word parousia in Matthew 24, is that it is an event that comes after the great tribulation and not before. It cannot be moved around to suit the whims of faulty prophetic schemes. It is also seen to be one definite event. Any attempt to make two parousias will not stand the test of Scripture.
One of the most important references to the parousia of the Lord is found in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 where Paul prefaces his declaration by saying, "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord," which indicates a new revelation not made by anyone before. He continues by saying that those who are alive and remain unto the parousia of the Lord shall in no wise be a step ahead of those who are asleep. He declares that the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the chief messenger, and with the trump of God. This is His coming, His coming in order to be personally present. As He descends those who are then "dead in Christ", a martyred group who gave up their lives in the great tribulation, will be raised and these with the living shall be caught up with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. It is wrong to twist this into the idea that He is coming to take these people to heaven. He is coming to be personally present upon the earth and here to accomplish all the great works that His many offices indicate. He is not coming to govern. After the kingdom experience those who still need government have not acquired the maturity that is necessary for a place on earth when He is personally present in view of all that He is and all that He will do.
The words of the scoffers who ask, "Where is the promise of His parousia?" (2 Pet. 3:4) are tantamount to saying, "There is no promise of a parousia in the Bible." The amillennial school of interpretation is doing this today. They are a sign that we are in the closing days of this dispensation. Don't listen to them. NEXT