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Using the Wrong Text to Make a Point

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“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14).

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis(AiG) sees the newly opened Creation Museum contributing to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words in Matthew 24:14:

The remarkable international media buzz surrounding the opening of the Creation Museum on May 28 [2007] reminded me of the verse above from Matthew 24. In many ways, reporting by the secular and Christian media (from around the world) has certainly greatly contributed to seeing the gospel “preached in all the world.”[1]

While I applaud Ken and Answers in Genesis with how they confront the secularists head on the topic of creation, Ken’s use of Matthew 24:14 is misapplied. Matthew 24 is describing events that will take place before that first-century generation passes away. Jesus concludes the first section of Matthew 24, which deals with specific signs that will take place in the lifetime of his disciples (famines, earthquakes, tribulation, war), by stating that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (24:14). Futurists, especially dispensationalists, maintain that the specifics of Matthew 24:14 are yet to be fulfilled because “whole world” means the entire globe as we know it today, and “all the nations” means all the nations that are in existence today. Since the gospel did not reach the entire globe prior to that first-century generation passing away, futurists argue, the passage awaits an end-time fulfillment.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that Matthew 24:14 can’t be used to make this case. Ham and Young Earth creationists claim that only a “literal reading of Genesis” is faithful to Scripture. Why is so much made of the way “day” is used in Genesis 1, but almost nothing is said about how time words and phrase like “near,” “shortly,” “at hand,” “quickly,” “inhabited earth,” and “this generation” are used in relation to Bible prophecy? I suspect that it has something to do with where the majority of AiG’s financial support comes from. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article,[2] this issue is going to come back to haunt Young Earth creationists if they don’t deal with it soon, as in near, shortly, and quickly. Following Young Earth interpretive principles, Matthew 24:14 cannot be applied to a future generation of believers, and here’s why:

The events of Matthew 24 take place before “this generation” passes away (v. 34). Jesus always uses “this generation” to refer to His contemporaries (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 42; 23:36; Mark 8:12; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32). He never uses “this generation” to refer to a future generation. No matter how hard anyone tries, the Greek word genea cannot be made to mean “race,” as in the “Jewish race.”[3]

The Greek word often translated “world” in Matthew 24:14, as Ham does, is oikoumene. This is the only place in Matthew’s gospel where oikoumene is used. If Jesus had wanted to convey the idea of “the whole wide world,” He would have to use the Greek word kosmos, a word that is used eight times by Matthew.[4] As we will see, however, even the use of kosmos does not require a global reference.

A more accurate translation of oikoumene is “inhabited earth.” The 1995 update to the New American Standard Bible notes that the use of oikoumene in Matthew 24:14 “literally” means “inhabited earth.” If oikoumene “literally” means “inhabited earth, as the notes on Matthew 24:14 and Acts 11:28 state, then why didn’t the translators translate it “inhabited earth”? Most modern translations translate oikoumene in Luke 2:1 as “the inhabited earth,” so why not elsewhere? Given the geographic boundaries of the Roman Empire in the first century, the use of oikoumene is easy to understand in Luke 2:1 (the extend of taxing power) and Acts 11:28 (the extent of an earthquake). If we follow the way oikoumene is used elsewhere in the NT, Matthew 24:14 means that the preaching of the gospel had to go no further than the census decreed by Caesar Augustus(Luke 2:1) or the earthquake during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28).

We learn from Romans 1:8 that the faith of the Roman Christians was “being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”[5] In Colossians 1:5–6, Paul states that the “gospel” is “bearing fruit and increasing “in all the world.”[6] Later in the same epistle, Paul writes “that the hope of the gospel . . . was proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23). These are not descriptions of a global event. The gospel had been preached in what was the world of the first century—the Roman Empire—therefore, Matthew 24:14 is not describing a distant future event.

The use of “all the nations” is often used to describe the nation make-up of an empire. In this case, all the nations is a reference to the nations under the rule of Rome. We see this use in Acts 2:5 where we read, “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.” A similar use of the phrase is found in1 Timothy 3:16: “He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”

The end spoken by Jesus is the “end of the age” (24:14), not the end of the world. The “end of the age” was coming to pass in the time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (see 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1–2; 1 Pet. 4:7).

While I commend Ken Ham and the people at AiG for their hard work in proclaiming the creation message, it does not help that message when the wrong text is being used to present that message. Some day, someone might call AiG on it.

Footnotes:
[1]
Answers in Genesis Article - August 13, 2007
[2]
American Vision Article - January 16, 2007
[3]
American Vision Article - July 10, 2007
[4] In Matthew 13:32, the Greek word translated “world” in the NASB is aion, best translated as “age.” In Matthew 13:35, kosmos is understood. It is not found in the Greek text.
[5] Paul uses kosmos instead of oikoumene. So even if Jesus had used kosmos in Matthew 24:14, a first-century fulfillment was still in view.
[6]
As in Romans 1:8, Paul uses the more expansive word kosmos.
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