Re: Parousia

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Jun 09 1999 - 03:35:55 EDT

Alex Hopkins wrote:

>Mitchell Gray asked,
>>Would the word "parousia" mean "coming" or "presence"?
>Previous responses have noted the usage of the word in relation to the
>coming of official persons in state visits.
>If Mitchell is interested in papyrological evidence, some is to be found in
>New Documents illustrating Early Christianity, volumes 1 and 4.
>The 11th article of the first volume gives an example of the cognate verb,
>PAREIMI, used of an official's coming. The editor, Greg Horsley, also
>refers the reader to "the old but still valuable treatment in Deissmann,
>Light from the Ancient East, 368-373. For the verb used of gods from Homer
>onwards, see L. Robert, Hellenica 13 (1965) 129-131; also SEG 821.10."
>The 78th article of the fourth volume gives two examples of the noun. The
>examples occur in two letters of King Mithridates of Pontos; in both, he
>speaks of the rebel, Chairemon's flight upon hearing of Mithridates'
>coming. In the first, we read 'and now having found out about my coming he
>has ... fled'; in the second, 'and now having learnt of my coming he has
>escaped'. The editor of New Docs 4 notes, "In this context parousia takes
>on connotations of retribution (the purpose and consequence of the king's
>coming) and makes a good parallel to eschatological uses of the word in the
>NT (e.g., Mt. 24.27, 37, 39)."
>The article then refers to another piece of papyrus evidence, a business
>letter in which a certain Didymos asks someone 'to wait for the arrival of
>The editor's comment addresses Mitchell Gray's question: "Didymos is
>speaking of an arrival which he sees as an event that will only affect the
>person waiting when it achieves actual physical fulfilment (through the
>presence of Phanias). In the letters of Mithridates above, however, the
>parousia is an impending arrival: Chairemon fled on hearing not of the
>king's actual presence, but of his imminent arrival. It is not clear who
>Phanias is, but it seems that he is a business associate rather than a
>visiting official, in which case this example parallels the use of parousia
>in the NT for the arrival of Titus (2 Cor. 7.6, 7) and Paul (Phil. 1.26;
>Ceslas Spicq also has an entry on PAROUSIA in his Theological Lexicon of
>the New Testament (translated and edited by James Ernest).

Dear Alex,

Thank you for your fine references which I will read at first opportunity.
You speak about "the usage of the word in relation to the coming of
official persons in state visits". Taking this as a point of departure, I
would like to ask: How can we differentiate between the senses "coming" and
"presence" related to such a situation? The normal understanding of the
words is that "coming" is punctiliar and refers to the point of arrival
while "presence" is durative and refers to someone who has arrived and is
here. However, while durativity is a semantic property (it is not
dependent on the context and cannot be canceled) punctuality is a pragmatic
property (it must be construed by help of the context and can be canceled),
and therefore punctiliarity is much more difficult to pinpoint. (Se for
instance Matt 24:30 where even ERCOMAI is durative as are the Aramaic words

There can be no doubt that PAROUSIA in the NT in some cases has a durative
meaning. This is seen by the parallel between the word and "the days
(plural) of Noah" in Matt 24:37-39 and that it is contrasted with APOUSIA
in Philippians 2:12. But what kind of tests or what kind of expressions
could show that only the moment of arrival was focussed upon? Take the
English expression "Sit down!" as an example. In almost all cases the
meaning is resultative. We usually do not focus upon the downward movement
when the person takes her seat or the moment when this movement ends, but
rather on the result - the state of sitting. So how can we know that this
is not the case with PAROUSIA as well, and that the noun has the same
meaning as the verb hHKW, a possibility mentioned by Carl (in the thread
"coming or presence)?

Of the 24 examples of PAROUSIA in the NT, there is not a single instance
where the context unambiguously shows that only the punctiliar coming of
someone is focussed upon, but a durative understanding is possible in all
cases. It seems to me that the reason why Bible translations in most
instances render PAROUSIA by "coming" is theological rather than
philological - it is based on the view of how Jesus will return. I wonder
how many of such translators (and others) have taken into consideration
that durativity is semantic and punctiliarity is pragmatic and have made
tests to find out whether result is stressed rather than the moment of
coming. Your comments regarding the material suggests that the punctiliar
coming is meant in some instances. But I would like to know if there in
your opinion is anything in the context that excludes a durative or
resultative interpretation.


Rolf Furuli
lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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