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Sunday, February 18

Translating all the words of Scripture (Matt 24:34)

I know this is a difficult and controversial verse, and I don’t think I have anything new to add to the discussion — how’s that for garnering excitement to read the rest of the blog? But there are a couple things that are interesting.

Jesus has been discussing the destruction of the temple and his second return. In vv 34-35 he says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away (οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ) until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν)”( ESV).

First of all, most translations give up at trying to translate the emphatic οὐ μὴ plus aorist subjunctive, and I understand why. It is hard to do without over-translating or messing with English style. Jesus is saying that this generation will, in no way, pass away before “all these things” happen. The NIV has “certainly not pass away”; the rest skip the emphatic negation. That’s too bad. There can be no doubt of the emphasis Jesus is placing on his prophecy, and this emphasis makes the lack of apparent fulfillment even more problematic. And why would translations claiming to be “literal” and “reflecting the Greek structures” omit translating this construction?

The second οὐ μὴ plus aorist subjunctive construction, however, does receive some emphasis in the NET, “my words will never pass away” (also NIV and NLT). Now, the οὐ μή construction does not in and of itself mean “never”; it is just a strengthened negation. But in this context, it makes good sense.

The other point is emphasized by Craig Blomberg in his NAC commentary on Matthew (pp. 363f.). What is the antecedent of “these things” (ταῦτα)? Some people read the verse to say everything Jesus has talked about, including his return, must happen with a generation’s life-span, and of course this did not happen. (The discourse makes it abundantly clear that his return will be visible and public, and so a supposedly secret return is impossible.) But what is the antecedent of ταῦτα?

It must go back to the πάντα ταῦτα in v 33. “So also, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, at the very door.” Jesus’ return is “near, at the very door,” in that everything that must happen before his return will have happened within a generation. Depending on your understanding of this passage, this is exactly what happened. All the signs — in my opinion — point to the destruction of the temple, but there are no signs heralding Jesus return. (If you want to hear my fuller explanation, you can check out my lecture at BiblicalTraining.org.) Remember, always locate the antecedent of a pronoun.

On a personal note, my 65th birthday was the 17th of February, so I am going to retire, take my lifetime of learning and throw it away, go play golf three times a week, take and not give in the church, and basically coast for the rest of my life. ;-) I guess if I hated my job, I would be tempted to do this. But I love the tasks that the Lord has gifted and called me to — BiblicalTraining.org — and I have every intention of dying exhausted. Lots of time to golf in heaven where the angels will stop my stupid slice.

P.S. Preterists. Please don't bother arguing with this blog.