Monday, February 1, 2010

Exegetical Eschatology: Parousia and the Definite Article

In "The Coming(s) of the Son of Man" we identified the presupposition we read into eschatological passages in which the "coming" of Jesus is foretold. We learned that παρουσία (parousia, "pehr-oo-see-uh") is merely the noun equivalent of the verb ἔρχομαι (erchomai, "ehr-koh-my"). The former is "His coming," the latter is "is coming." And since ἔρχομαι (erchomai) is used to refer to Jesus "coming" in other ways besides His final, bodily return, the assumption that παρουσία (parousia) must refer to that final "coming" at the end of history is unwarranted.

However, I recently happened upon an article in which it is pointed out that in every case where παρουσία (parousia) is used, it is preceded by the "definite article", which basically means "the" thing instead of "a" thing. It concludes, therefore, that whenever Jesus' παρουσία (parousia) is used, the same event is in mind:

"Parousia is a noun and is found 24 times in the New Testament. In each of its 24 uses, it is always accompanied by the definite article the. It never has the indefinite article a. The parousia, therefore, appears to refer to one specific event rather than to one of several events. This means that Jesus and the New Testament writers designate His coming to be present as the coming and not just a coming, one coming as opposed to several comings. The definite article appears to negate the possibility of multiple comings. As far as they are concerned, there is only one future coming, not two or three."

If this is true, then I would be wrong, and we would be justified in presupposing the final, bodily return of Jesus Christ whenever we read of His "coming" (so long as παρουσία is used). So, is this argument sound? No, it's not. For one, we all have only one παρουσία, our "presence," although we may come to be present at different times. For two, Paul also used the definite article to speak of his παρουσία despite having been present with the Corinthians twice before. And thirdly, the definite article is often used primarily to assign belonging to a thing--their treasures instead of the treasures--and it is in this sense that the article is used with παρουσία.


Although the word παρουσία (parousia) is typically translated "coming," that is not really its primary meaning. Instead, it refers primarily to one's "presence," as opposed to one's absence. It comes from the root verb πάρειμι (pareimi, "pah-ray-me") meaning "to be present." In both cases, the sense of "coming" or "having come" is inferred when the thing present had not previously been present.

For example, πάρειμι (pareimi) is used in 1 Corinthians 5:3 where Paul says, "I, on my part, though absent in body but present [πάρειμι] in spirit, have already judged him..." In this verse the word πάρειμι (pareimi) carries no sense of "having come." In Matthew 26:50, on the other hand, Jesus says to Judas "Friend, do what you have come [πάρειμι] for," but literally the words are "what you are here for" (see Amplified and CEV). Here πάρειμι (pareimi) is rendered "come" only because Judas was not previously there. In other words, his presence required his arrival.

The same is true of παρουσία (parousia). Its literal meaning is "presence" as illustrated by Paul's use of it and πάρειμι (pareimi) in his second letter to the Corinthians where he writes, "For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence [παρουσία, parousia] is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.' Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present [πάρειμι, pareimi]" (2 Corinthians 10:10-11). There is no sense in which either word carries the meaning of "coming" in this passage.


This distinction between the primary, inherent meaning of "presence" in παρουσία (parousia) and its secondary, inferred meaning of "coming" is important, for even where "coming" is inferred, the word doesn't lose its primary meaning. We can't escape from the meaning of "presence" when we see παρουσία (parousia) used. We might then ask ourselves, how many presences does ANYBODY have? "Presence" is a state of being, and though we may "come" numerous times, we could only be said to have one "presence."

Consider the state of consciousness. Every day most of us transition from a state of unconsciousness in sleep to a state of consciousness when we awaken. Thus, we can be said to "awaken" numerous times. But how many "consciousnesses" do we have? Of course, just one. Likewise, we go from being unaware to being aware many times throughout our lifetime, but how many "awarenesses" do we have? Of course, just one. In the same way, then, though we "come" to be present repeatedly during the course of our lives, how many "presences" do we have? Of course, just one.

Therefore the fact that the definite article is used with παρουσία (parousia) does not limit the number of times Jesus "comes" to one. Indeed, in the passage we looked at earlier Paul uses the definite article to speak of his presence in the past: "ἡ [definite article] δὲ [but] παρουσία [parousiaτοῦ [definite article] σώματος [his bodily] ἀσθενὴς [is weak]" (2 Corinthians 10:10). Yet, Paul had been present with the Corinthians twice before!

"This is the third time I am coming to you EVERY FACT IS TO BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone" (2 Corinthians 13:1-2, emphasis mine)

Just as Paul used the definite article in referring to his παρουσία (parousia) in the past despite having been "present" with the Corinthians twice before, neither does the presence of the definite article (excuse the pun) alongside Jesus' future παρουσία (parousia) limit Him to "coming" only once.

Why, then, is the definite article used when speaking of anybody's παρουσία (parousia)? Because it is not only used to refer to a specific thing, but is also used in a "reflexive sense" to assign belonging or relationship to a noun (see here). In these cases, what makes the noun specific is that it belongs to some one or thing. Let's look at some examples:

"Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home" (Matthew 8:6)
Κύριε [Lord] ὁ [definite article] παῖς [servant] μου [pronoun, "my"] βέβληται [is lying] ἐν [at] τῇ οἰκίᾳ [my home] παραλυτικός [paralyzed]

"Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him" (Matthew 8:3)
καὶ [and] ἐκτείνας [stretched out] τὴν [definite article] χεῖρα [hand] ἥψατο [and touched] αὐτοῦ [pronoun, "His"] ὁ [definite article] Ἰησοῦς [Jesus]

"remember that your brother has something against you" (Matthew 5:23)
μνησθῇς [remember] ὅτι [that] ὁ [definite article] ἀδελφός [brother] σου [pronoun, "your"] ἔχει [has] τι κατὰ [something against] σοῦ [your]

The definite article is used to refer to a specific thing in these cases. However, the kind of specificity is one of ownership or relationship. Its presence does not suggest that the centurion had only one servant, but rather that it was his servant. The use of the definite article doesn't tell us Jesus had only one hand, but that it was with His hand that He touched the leper. And in His sermon on the mount Jesus doesn't speak of you remembering that your only brother has something against you, but of your remembering that your brother has.

This pattern, definite article + noun + pronoun, is used throughout the New Testament in this fashion. When we look at how παρουσία (parousia) is used in reference to Jesus' "coming," we see the same pattern:

"after that those who are Christ's at His coming" (1 Corinthians 15:23)
ἔπειτα [after that] οἱ [those who are] Χριστοῦ [Christ's] ἐν [at] τῇ [definite article] παρουσίᾳ [parousia] αὐτοῦ [pronoun, "His"]

"the appearance of His coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8)
τῇ [the] ἐπιφανείᾳ [appearance] τῆς [definite article] παρουσίας [parousia] αὐτοῦ [pronoun, "His"]

"the promise of His coming" (2 Peter 3:4)
ἡ [the] ἐπαγγελία [promise] τῆς [definite article] παρουσίας [parousia] αὐτοῦ [pronoun, "His"]

"at His coming" (1 John 2:28)
ἐν [at] τῇ [definite article] παρουσίᾳ [parousia] αὐτοῦ [pronoun, "His"]

"of Your coming" (Matthew 24:3)
τῆς [definite article] σῆς [pronoun, "Your"] παρουσίας [parousia]

"at His coming" (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
ἐν [at] τῇ [definite article] αὐτοῦ [pronoun, "His"] παρουσίᾳ [parousia]

The intent, therefore, behind including the definite article is merely to assign the "coming" to Jesus, calling it His and Your.


Another pattern is used throughout the New Testament in which the definite article is used in the reflexive sense. This construct is rendered "blank of the blank," and the definite article is included with the first noun because that noun belongs to the second noun which also is assigned the definite article. Here is one telling example:

"Martha, the sister of the deceased" (John 11:39)
[definite article] ἀδελφὴ [sister]  τοῦ [definite article] τεθνηκότος [deceased] Μάρθα [Martha]

In this passage in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, we know Martha was not Lazarus's only sister:

"Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister MarthaIt was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.'" (John 11:1-3, emphasis mine)

"and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'" (John 11:19-21, emphasis mine)

Martha was not Lazarus' only sister; Mary was his sister as well. Yet, John uses the definite article in verse 39 in referring to her. Its purpose, then, is not to suggest that she was THE brother of Lazarus, as if she were the only one, but rather that she was his brother, that of Lazarus. Again, we see the reflexive sense of the definite article in use, not limiting the noun to being the only of its kind, but merely assigning relationship.

Again we see this pattern, definite article + related noun + definite article + primary noun, throughout the New Testament. And we see the same pattern used to refer to Jesus' παρουσία (parousia):

"the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:27, 37, 39)
[definite article] παρουσία [parousia] τοῦ [definite article] υἱοῦ [son] τοῦ [definite article] ἀνθρώπου [of man]

"the coming of our Lord Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
τῇ [definite article] παρουσίᾳ [parousia] τοῦ [definite article] κυρίου [Lord] ἡμῶν [of our] Ἰησοῦ [Jesus]

"the coming of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:15, James 5:7)
τὴν [definite article] παρουσίαν [parousia] τοῦ [definite article] κυρίου [Lord]

"the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1)
τῇ [definite article] παρουσίᾳ [parousia] τοῦ [definite article] κυρίου [Lord] ἡμῶν [of our] Ἰησοῦ [Jesus] Χριστοῦ [Christ]

"the coming of the Lord" (James 5:8)
[definite article] παρουσία [parousia] τοῦ [definite article] κυρίου [Lord]

In the same way this pattern was used elsewhere to indicate that one thing belongs or is related to another thing, the definite article is used with the first noun, παρουσία (parousia), because it is used with the second noun to which it belongs. It refers to "the coming of the Son of Man" and to "the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ." By my count, that's 15 of the 17 times Jesus' παρουσία (parousia) is mentioned. Two remain:

"the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:16)
τὴν [definite article] τοῦ [definite article] κυρίου [Lord] ἡμῶν [of our] Ἰησοῦ [Jesus] Χριστοῦ [Christ] δύναμιν [power] καὶ [and] παρουσίαν [parousia]

"the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:12)
τὴν [definite article] παρουσίαν [parousia] τῆς [definite article] τοῦ [definite article] θεοῦ [of God] ἡμέρας [of the day]

In these last two cases, the same pattern is used, but with a slight difference because of the inclusion of some additional information. In the former verse, the definite article for παρουσία (parousia) appears at the beginning of the sentence and belongs also to δύναμιν (power), both of which are "of" τοῦ (definite article) κυρίου (Lord). In the latter case, two definite articles are needed in the second half of the sentence, τῆς and τοῦ, because there are two nouns, "the day" and "God." Nevertheless, the definite article is used with παρουσία (parousia) to assign relationship, not singularity.


So we're in the same boat we were after the previous entry in this series. Neither the word παρουσία (parousia) nor the presence of the definite article justifies presupposing the final, bodily return of Christ whenever we read of Jesus' "coming." It may be that παρουσία (parousia) always refers to the same event when applied to Jesus, but we must determine that from the contexts in which it is used.


  1. The question becomes in reference to Parousia as to whether or not the word is used to describe more than one event associated with what is described as the "parousia of Christ"? Does the word refer to His "presence" in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and ALSO to a "yet future" "parousia of Christ" at the end of history? Are BOTH events mere "a" parousia or is one of them considered to be "the" parousia"?

  2. A word of warning to my readers: Larry's question is likely being asked from the perspective of a hyperpreterist, particularly if he is the friend of Dee Dee Warren's and reader of her The Preterist Blog. For a primer on the difference between hyperpreterism and orthodox preterism, read my article earlier in this series, "A War Over Words."

    I don't issue this warning against Larry personally. Quite the contrary, if he's the Larry I think he is--and if you're not, forgive me, please--he seems very respectful in his comments at Dee Dee's blog, both in terms of tactfulness as well as in compliance with her terms in allowing hyperpreterists to comment there. No, I issue this warning because I want my readers to be aware that Larry is likely not asking this question in order to steer the reader toward a historic, orthodox Christian position, but is instead trying to steer the reader toward a new, unorthodox, heretical (in my opinion) position which Paul called "gangrene" which was "destroying the faith of some." Just be cautious as you read, is all I'm saying.

    With that warning in place, hi, Larry. I don't want to go too far down the road of debating hyperpreterism at my blog. Like Dee Dee and her blog, I would prefer hyperpreterists not advance their view at my site. But I think your question is a good one, and could just as easily be asked by someone insisting that there must only be one parousia and that it must be in our future. Therefore, I'll answer it here.

    In this article I demonstrate that the presence of the definite article does not suggest that there is only one parousia of Christ. And in the previous article in this series I demonstrate that it is used merely as the noun equivalent of a verb, one which is used to describe several kinds of "coming" on the part of Christ. Therefore, yes, there absolutely can be more than one parousia of Christ.

    However, I think there may be a better answer to the question, one which Dee Dee has discovered and articulated as well. In one of my reviews of Breaking the Apocalypse Code, "The Corpse of Caiaphas," I touch on this. Jesus equated His parousia with His sitting upon the throne in heaven, which happened well before AD 70, and which is ongoing to this day. Therefore, it seems perfectly plausible that yes, there is only one parousia of Christ, and it is His present, ongoing reign, following which He will return bodily to usher in the resurrection and the final judgment.