Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Wars and Rumors of Wars

A reader recently asked me what exactly Jesus meant by "wars and rumors of wars" in Mt 24:6. First, it might be helpful to provide the passage in context:
Mt 24:3-8 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the sufferings.
My understanding has always been that Jesus words here have a double meaning: they speak of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple there, AND they also refer to the Second Coming and the end of the world. But, I was keen to do some research on this and see what the various bible reference works at my disposal have to say. Here is what I found:

Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series (734–735). New York: United Bible Societies:
Wars and rumors of wars is the well-known and traditional rendering. But the noun translated rumors may also mean “noise” (of battle), which is the grounds for “the noise of battles close by and the news of battles far away” (TEV). Both GeCL (“when wars break out near and far”) and NEB (“the noise of battle near at hand the news of battles far away”) reflect this same exegesis. The word rumors in English is usually used for news about things that may or may not have happened, but it is important to note that the sense here is that there will be wars everywhere. The TEV rendering is thus a good model to follow.

Are … alarmed translates a verb which also appears in the Marcan parallel (13:7); elsewhere in the New Testament it is used only in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. Translators may render the sentence as “Don’t let yourself become frightened” or “Be sure that you don’t panic.”

This must take place states a basic assumption of apocalyptic literature: history is under the control of God, and so the course of human events is determined by divine decree (see Dan 2:28). This belief, which developed among the Jews during a period of extreme persecution, is now used to encourage Christian believers to remain calm, even when earth-shaking events are taking place. Nothing can take place that contradicts the divine will.

Note that this refers to the wars that will go on, not to the panic or fear the disciples might experience. In some languages the pronoun used will make this clear, but other translators will say “these things (or, events)” or even “these wars.”

But the end is not yet receives fuller explanation in TEV: “but they do not mean that the end has come.” NEB prefers a positive reformulation: “but the end is still to come.” Verse 8 repeats the affirmation that the end is not signaled by historical happenings.

The end refers to the end of the age, the same as “the close of the age” in verse 3, and translators can render it with a similar expression.

Maas, A. J. (1898). The Gospel according to Saint Matthew with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary (239–240). St. Louis, MO: B. Herder:
6. Secondly, “you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars,” a prediction that refers not merely to the seditions and disturbances mentioned by Josephus [Ant. XVIII. ix. 1; XX. iii. 3; v. 3, 4; B. J. II. xii. 1, 2; cf. Wetstein, ad h. l.], nor to the Syrian commotion under Florus [cf. Chrys. Theoph. op. imp. Thom. Jans. Tost. Calm.]. For the predicted events are more definitely described in what follows: “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”; even if the latter part is not a fuller development of the foregoing, its broad generality cannot be limited to the war of the Romans and Parthians [Tacit. Annal. xii. 13, 14, 44; xiii. 6–8, 34; xiv. 23; xv. 1, 2, 25; Suet. Ner. 39] and to Vitellius expedition against Aretas [Jos. Ant. XVIII. v. 3; cf. Wetstein], nor to the disturbances in Cæsarea, Scythopolis, Ascalon, Ptolemais, Alexandria, Damascus [cf. Jans.], even if the contention between Otho and Vitellius after the death of Nero, and between Vitellius and Vespasian [cf. Calm.], be added. This becomes the more evident if we consider the consequences of these wars; for the “famines” cannot be identified with the Palestinian famine in the reign of Claudius [cf. Acts 11:28; Jos. Ant. III. xv. 3; XX. ii. 5; v. 2], nor are the “earthquakes” those that destroyed Colossæ, Laodicea, Pompeii [cf. Tac. Ann. xiv. 27; xv. 22], or Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos [cf. Grotius, ad h. l.; Calm.]. “Now all these are the beginnings of sorrows,” or, according to the Greek text, “of the pangs of childbirth,” a term often used in Holy Scripture to denote the most intense suffering [cf. Ps. 47:7; Is. 13:8; 21:3; 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; Ez. 30:16; Os. 13:13; Mich. 4:9, 10; etc.], so that the coming pain will exceed the preceding indefinitely [cf. Mald.]. The appropriateness of the figure in the present case has been shown by Theoph. [cf. Buxtorf, p. 700; Schöttgen, ii. p. 509 f., 550; Weiss, Schegg, Schanz, Keil].

Robertson, A. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Mt 24:6). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press:
Matthew 24:6
See that ye be not troubled (ὁρατε μη θροεισθε [horate mē throeisthe]). Asyndeton here with these two imperatives as Mark 8:15 ὀρατε βλεπετε [orate blepete] (Robertson, Grammar, p. 949). Look out for the wars and rumours of wars, but do not be scared out of your wits by them. Θροεω [Throeō] means to cry aloud, to scream, and in the passive to be terrified by an outcry. Paul uses this very verb (μηδε θροεισθαι [mēde throeisthai]) in II Thess. 2:2 as a warning against excitement over false reports that he had predicted the immediate second coming of Christ. But the end is not yet (ἀλλʼ οὐπω ἐστιν το τελος [all’ oupō estin to telos]). It is curious how people overlook these words of Jesus and proceed to set dates for the immediate end. That happened during the Great War and it has happened since.

Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (51). London; New York: United Bible Societies:
24:6 γενέσθαι {B}
The shortest reading is supported by a wide variety of early witnesses. It is probable that copyists expanded the saying by adding such natural expressions as “all things must take place,” or “these things must take place,” or “all these things must take place.” If any of these had been the original reading, there is no satisfactory reason that would account for its deletion.

Jones, A. (1953). The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St Matthew. In B. Orchard & E. F. Sutcliffe (Eds.), A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (B. Orchard & E. F. Sutcliffe, Ed.) (894). Toronto;New York;Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson:
6–7, Still anxious to warn his own rather than to foretell the future, our Lord speaks of the inward peace the disciples must preserve in a troubled world. The prophetic style he uses does not call for minute verification though this is not lacking for the years before A.D.70. It was a period savage in its wars, ferocious in its very peace (Tacitus, Hist. 3, 2, 1) with war’s usual concomitants: plagues (Tacitus, Annales 16, 13) and famine (Ac 11:28; Jos., Ant. 20, 2, 5); even earthquakes (in towns of Asia Minor, A.D. 61–2; Pompeii in A.D. 63 etc.). All this does not closely concern the Apostles, as the Jerusalem catastrophe will; cf. 15 ff. The ‘end’ of Jerusalem with its final break with the old order is still to come.

Haydock, G. L. (1859). Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary (Mt 24:6). New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother:
Ver. 6. Shall hear of wars. Most authors understand this second sign of the Jewish wars which preceded the ruin of Jerusalem; others of the wars of Antichrist, previous to the end of the world. Both are very probable. The first is proved from history, and from the events; the latter, from what we learn from the Apocalypse, will certainly happen. M.—These things must happen, as is said of scandals and heresies, not absolutely, but considering the malice of man, and the decree of God, by which he had determined to punish the Jews. Maldonatus.

Thomas Aquinas, S., & Newman, J. H. (1841). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers, Volume 1: St. Matthew (802–805). Oxford: John Henry Parker:

6. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom:and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8. All these are the beginning of sorrows.

AUGUSTINE. (Ep. 199. 25.) To this enquiry of the disciples the Lord makes answer, declaring all things which were to come to pass from that time forwards, whether relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, which had given occasion to their enquiry; or to His coming through the Church, in which He ceases not to come to the end of time; for He is acknowledged as coming among His own, while new members are daily born to Him; or relating to the end itself when He shall appear to judge the quick and the dead. When then He describes the signs which shall attend these three events, we must carefully consider which signs belong to which events, lest perchance we refer to one that which belongs to another.

CHRYSOSTOM. Here He speaks of the battles which should be fought at Jerusalem; when He says, Ye shall hear wars, and rumours of wars.

ORIGEN. To hear the shouts raised in the battles, is to hear wars; to hear rumours of wars, is to hear accounts of wars waged afar off.

CHRYSOSTOM. And because this might alarm the disciples, He continues, See that ye be not troubled. And because they supposed that the end of the world would follow immediately after the war in which Jerusalem should be destroyed, He corrects their suspicions concerning this, These things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

JEROME. That is, Think not that the day of judgment is at hand, but that it is reserved against another time; the sign of which is plainly put in what follows, For nation shall rise against-nation, and kingdom against kingdom.

RABANUS. Or, this is a warning to the Apostles not to flee from Jerusalem and Judæa in terror of these things, when they should begin to come upon them; because the end was not immediately, but the desolation of the province, and the destruction of the city and temple should not come till the fortieth year. And we know that most grievous woes, which spread over the whole province, fell out to the very letter.

CHRYSOSTOM. And to shew that He also should fight against the Jews, He tells them not only of wars, but of calamities inflicted by Providence, And there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in divers places.

RABANUS. Nation shall rise against nation, shews the disquietude of men’s minds; pestilences, the affliction of their bodies; famines, the barrenness of the soil; earthquakes in dicers places, wrath from heaven above.

CHRYSOSTOM. And these things shall not happen according to the order of nature before established among men, but shall come of wrath from heaven, and therefore He said not that they should come only, or come suddenly, but adds significantly, These all are the beginnings of troubles, that is, of the Jewish troubles.

ORIGEN. Or otherwise; As the body sickens before the death of the man, so it must needs be that before the consummation of this world the earth should be shaken, as though it were palsied, with frequent earthquakes, the air should gather a deadly quality and become pestilential, and that the vital energy of the soil should fail, and its fruits wither. And by consequence of this scarcity, men are stirred up to robbery and war. But because war and strife arise sometimes from covctousness, and sometimes from desire of power and empty glory, of these which shall happen before the end of the world a yet deeper cause shall be assignable. For as Christ’s coming brought through His divine power peace to divers nations, so it shall be on the other hand, that when iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold, and God and His Christ shall desert them; wars shall be again when actions which beget wars are not hindered by holiness; and hostile powers when they are not restrained by the Saints and by Christ shall work unchecked in the hearts of men, stirring up nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. But if, as some will have it, famine and pestilence are from the Angels of Satan, these shall then gather might from opposite powers, when the salt of the earth, and the lights of the world, Christ’s disciples, shall be no longer, destroying those things which the malice of dæmons hatches. Ofttimes in Israel famines and pestilences were caused by sin, and removed by the prayers of the Saints. (1 Kings 17:1. Jer. 14. James 5:17, 18.) Well is that said, In divers places, for God will not destroy the whole race of men at once, but judging them in portions, He gives opportunity of repentance. But if some stop be not put to these evils in their commencement, they will progress to worse, as it follows, These all are the beginnings of sorrows, that is, sorrows common to the whole world, and those which are to come upon the wicked who shall be tormented in most sharp pains.

JEROME. Figuratively; Kingdom rising against kingdom and pestilence of that discourse which spreadeth as a plague-spot, and hunger of hearing the word of God, and commotion throughout the earth, and separation from the true faith, my be rather understood of the heretics, who fighting among themselves give the victory to the Church.

ORIGEN. This must come to pass before we can see the perfection of that wisdom which is in Christ; but not yet shall be that end which we seek, for a peaceful end is far from those men.

JEROME. These all are the beginnings of sorrows, is better understood of pains of labour, as it were the conception of the coming of Antichrist, and not of the birth.

MacEvilly, J. (1898). An Exposition of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (444–445). Dublin; New York: M. H. Gill & Son; Benziger Brothers:
6. “And you shall hear of wars,” &c. For “and,” the Vulgate has “enim,” “for,” and the Greek, δε, “but.” If the Vulgate reading be adopted, “for,” has reference to what follows; as if He said: See that you be not troubled, because of your “hearing of wars,” &c. In the Greek, it is a digression to another precursory sign. Our Redeemer having warned them against being seduced from the path of justice by the blandishments of false teachers, now cautions them against being turned aside by the fear of evil. “Wars,” tumults, seditions, &c., and what is more embarrassing and terrifying, “rumours of wars.” This was literally verified at the destruction of Jerusalem. The history of the wars and bloodshed among the Jews, which preceded the final destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, as well in Jerusalem itself, as in the provinces, is given by Josephus (Lib. 2 de Bello, Jud. to the end of Lib. 7). The same shall happen, no doubt, at the end of the world (Apocalypse). So that this second sign applies to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.
“For, these things must come to pass,” not from absolute necessity; but, as a matter of consequent necessity, like scandals, heresies, &c., considering the malice of man, on the one hand; and the decrees of God, drawing good out of the evil, which He permits, on the other. “These things,” wars, and rumours of wars. Why, then, should men be disturbed or turned aside from the straight path, by events which cannot be avoided, that must come to pass by a just judgment of God?
“But the end is not yet,” that is, the end of the evils, which are to fall on Jerusalem. Greater ones still are to follow, or, “the end” of the world, which is to be preceded by the wars of Antichrist. (St. Jerome, Theophylact, &c.) The word, “end,” may, probably, refer to both, one being the type and precursor of the other.

Cornelius à Lapide. (1891). The Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide, Volume 3: S. Matthew’s Gospel—Chaps. 22 to 28 and S. Mark’s Gospel—Complete (T. W. Mossman, Trans.) (Third Edition) (61). London: John Hodges:
When ye shall hear of wars, &c. Rumours: Gr. ἀκοάς, reports; Arab, news, which are often more miserable than the battles themselves, and more thoroughly torment the mind with the fear of evils to come, even though they do not come. Here is another sign given by Christ, prior to the destruction of the city and the world, viz., tumults, wars, seditions, &c. Josephus shows that such took place before the destruction of Jerusalem (lib. 2, de Bello, cap. 11). As S. Chrysostom says, “He declares there shall be a twofold war, one by the seducers, the other by the enemies.”
Take heed, &c. That through fear of the enemy ye do not depart from My faith, or by despairing of fruit give up preaching the Gospel; but with generous minds struggling against fear and all opposition, go forward and proclaim faith in Me and My Gospel. He adds the reason why the Apostles must not be troubled, saying,
For all those things must be. The Greek has all, which the Vulgate omits. But the end is not yet, the end of Jerusalem and the Temple, much less of the world, also of the battles and evils prior to the destruction of both. For the end of any one battle or trouble will be but the beginning of some greater one, as Josephus says happened at the siege of Jerusalem. Be not troubled, or lose confidence, but have greater courage, that ye may be prepared for the greater evils which shall follow, so as to sustain and overcome them. Do not hope for peace on earth, but by bearing troubles here, pass on to the eternal and happy rest of Heaven.

Jose Maria Casciaro, Director. (2002). The Navarre Bible, St. Matthew: Texts and Commentaries (202). Ireland: Four Courts Press:
4-14. Our Lord says that between then and the end of the world, the Gospel will be preached to every creature. In the intervening period, the Church will experience all kinds of tribulations. These are not signs of the end of the world; they are simply the normal context in which Christian preaching takes place.

Hahn, Scott and Mitch, Curtis. (2000). Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, The Gospel of Matthew: Commentary, Notes, and Study Questions (59). San Francisco: Ignatius Press:
24:1--25:46 The Olivet Discourse is Jesus' final sermon in Matthew (see outline). His words have two shades of meaning: (1) At the literal-historical level, Jesus forewarns the disciples that Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed. The Holy City is about to reject Jesus as the Messiah and erect itself as a barrier to God's New Covenant. The Temple, an architectural symbol of the Old Covenant, must be eliminated to make way for the Church, the new Temple of God (cf. 16:18; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-8). Jesus uses dramatic imagery- called "apocalyptic" language-and draws heavily on the OT to forecast this coming military catastrophe. Forty years later, in A.D. 70, the prophecy was fulfilled when Roman troops marched on Jerusalem, destroying the city and Temple. (2) On a spiritual level, the Temple's devastation foreshadows the destruction of the world itself to make way for the eternal dwelling of heaven. This will coincide with Jesus' Second Coming and the General Judgment of all nations (CCC 585-86). See topical essay: End of the World? at Mt 24 * The earliest summaries of the Church's faith - the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed - affirm Jesus' Second Coming in glory. The Church has always maintained that Christ will come again from heaven as mankind's Judge and Lord (Acts 1:11; CCC 671, 681).

Brown, Raymond E; Fitzmeyer, Joseph A; Murphy, Roland E. (1968). The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Vol. II: The New Testament and Topical Articles (104-105). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.:
6. Widespread wars, earthquakes, and famine are commonplaces in biblical and extrabiblical apocalyptic literature. There can be no allusion to events contemporary with the composition of the Gospel unless we suppose that the author exaggerates the Jewish War into a cosmic catastrophe, which he may very well do according to the principle mentioned (--> 164 above).

Pax Christi,

1 comment:

  1. I've always understood it to refer primarily to the destruction of the Temple, but to then point towards the Second Coming.

    I've actually just been reading Dr. Michael Barber's "Coming Soon" where he talks about the "soonness" of Jesus' coming.


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