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The Olivet Discourse- Matthew 24:2- What Were “all of these things”?- #1

The Olivet Discourse
What did Jesus mean in the Olivet Discourse by referring to “all these things”?

Just recently, (2019) on FaceBook, Sam Frost proposed a truly unique (and aberrant) view of Matthew 24:1-3 and the Olivet Discourse. He suggested that the Greek of the text shows that Jesus not only predicted the destruction of the temple, but, when he said “do you not see all these things” that he was now referring to the wider horizon, i.e the material creation. Frost’s argument was that the disciples showed Jesus the stones (masculine) of the temple and then, Jesus spoke of “all these things” (neuter). He likewise claimed that when Jesus said “do you not see all these things” he was no longer at the temple, but, was actually on the Mount of Olives. Based on the difference in the “gender” of the words, Frost argued:

“They point out the stones,. he says “do you see all these things.” This is hilarious. “stone” is masculine….”all these things’ is neuter….Greek 101. Jesus is including more than what they were pointing out.”

So, for Frost, “all these things” referred to more than the temple and the buildings. It had to refer to the larger vista, and by that he means material creation. I knew immediately that Frost was trying to “run a bluff” in his appeal to the Greek. (He does this very often). I called him on that bluff by noting that throughout the OT, Israel and Jerusalem are  referred to as both masculine and feminine. No response from Frost to this. I likewise pointed out how when one includes Mark 13 in the exegesis, that Frost’s claims melt away– dramatically and definitively. I showed that Matthew 24:1-2 was not spoken on the Mount of Olives, as Frost claims. No response from Frost.

The fact is that even in our modern speech we use different “gender” references to speak of the same thing. For instance, “car guys” often refer to their car as “her” or “she.” but they also refer to that same vehicle as “it.” Now, if we used Frost’s “logic” we cannot do that! “She” would have to refer to a totally different car from “it.” Frost’s argument is simply specious.

Since I am no Greek scholar (even though I knew enough to know that Frost was abusing the text) I reached out to Dr. Dallas Burdette, who has taught both Greek and Hebrew on the University level. I asked him to analyze Frost’s claims about the Greek, the text and context. I will share Dr. Burdette’s analysis in two parts.

 

Demonstrative Pronoun:

ταύτας (tautas, “these things”)  

By: Dallas Burdette 

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. Do you see all these things?” [ταῦτα πάντα, tauta panta] he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen [πότε ταῦτα ἔσται pote tauta estai, “when will these things be”], and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3)

 This short study is in response to an article written by Sam Frost. In his study, he alleged that the “demonstrative pronoun” (ταῦτα, tauta) used by Jesus in Matthew 24:1-2 had to do with the end of creation (Planet Earth), not the demise of Judaism with its massive stones and massive buildings. In my study of New Testament Greek, Sam has allowed his assumptions to color his application of the demonstrative pronoun used by Jesus. If one is to interpret the Olivet Discourse accurately, one must began with Matthew 23:29-39 as the background concerning the disciples’ three questions (24:3) presented to Jesus on the Mount of Olives. There is a separation of time between 24:2 (leaving the Temple) and 24:3 (on the Mount of Olives). The following is a description of the Mount of Olives in order to deal with 24:2 and 24:3 concerning the demonstrative pronoun:

The Mount of Olives is a flattened, rounded ridge with four identifiable summits. Its name is derived from the olive groves that covered it in ancient times. It is of cretaceous limestone formation, something over a mile (almost two km.) in length, and forms the highest level of the range of hills to the east of Jerusalem (Ezek 11:23; Zech 14:4), rising 250 feet (78 m.) higher than the temple mount, and to 2,600 feet (813 m.) above sea level.  (J. D. Douglas and Merrill Chapin Tenney, New International Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 733).

While leaving the Temple complex, Jesus responded to the disciples’ remarks about the beauty of the Temple. This exchange is recorded in Matthew 24:1-2. This particular conversation resulted from Jesus’ earlier remarks as found in 23:29-39 about the demise of Jerusalem. Matthew involves the Twelve in this discussion about the end-times of Jerusalem, but, on the other hand, in Mark’s Gospel, the dialogue was initiated by one of the disciples calling attention to “what great stones” (ποταποὶ λίθοι)- (Λίθοι (lithoi, noun, nominative, plural, masculine) is from the Greek word λίθος (lithos, “stone”) and “what great buildings” (ποταπαὶ οἰκοδομαί), (οἰκοδομαί (oikodomai, noun, accusative, plural, feminine) is from the Greek word οἰκοδομή (oikodomē, “building”) which buildings and stones involved the whole of the Temple complex (Mark 13:1). Apparently, the sight of the enormous stones and enormous buildings were breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

In Mark’s Gospel (13:2), Jesus responds to one particular disciple’s view; yet, we know from Matthew’s Gospel that all the disciples were present.  According to the Greek text in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ response included all the disciples, not just one, even though one was mentioned by Mark. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus spoke directly to this individual: Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ (αὐτῷ (autō, pronoun, personal, third person, dative, singular, masculine) is from the Greek word αὐτός (autos), (Iēsous eipen autō, “Jesus said to him”); “Do you see [βλέπεις, blepeis, “you see”]- (Βλέπεις (blepeis, verb, present, active, indicative, second person, singular) is from the Greek verb βλέπω (blepō, “I see” ), all these [ταύτας, demonstrative pronoun] – (Ταύτας (tautas, pronoun, demonstrative, accusative, plural, feminine) is from οὗτοςαὕτητοῦτο (masculine, feminine, neuter). In Greek, you have “near” and the “remote” demonstrative pronouns. The near demonstrative οὗτος relates to something near at hand. The remote demonstrative pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) points out something farther removed)- great buildings?”

Even though Mark calls attention to the one who asked the question along with Jesus’ response to him, yet, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ comments were directed toward the whole group. Since Matthew was present, he understood that Jesus’ comments were for the entire twelve, not just this one disciple. For instance, Matthew writes: “And he [Jesus] answering said to them [αὐτοῖς–  autois- αὐτοῖς (autoispronoun, personal, third person, dative, plural, masculine)- ‘Do you not see [βλέπετε,  blepete- Βλέπετε (blepeis, verb, present, active, indicative, second person, plural)-  ] all these things [demonstrative pronoun]?’” (Matthew 24:2, my translation of the Greek text). Mark writes “to him,” but, on the other hand, Mathew writes “them,” which statement confirms that Jesus’ message applied to the whole band of His disciples. In this conversation as recorded in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus said that “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” The near demonstrative pronoun (ταύτας, tautas, “these”) calls attention to the massive stones and the massive buildings that the disciples were seeing at that moment in time. Jesus’ comments had to do with the ultimate destruction of the nation of Judah in AD 70, not the end of Planet Earth (destruction of creation) as alleged and unproven by Sam Frost.

Sam Frost sought to escape the implications of what Jesus said on this occasion by pointing out that the Greek word for “stone” is masculine and the near demonstrative pronoun (“these things”) is neuter. He makes a play on the use of the masculine noun “stone” versus the neuter demonstrative pronoun (“these things”). Since the demonstrative pronoun is neuter and the word “stone” is a masculine noun, then, according to Frost, Jesus could not be referring to the stones. As a result of his theology, he asserts that Jesus was addressing the destruction of creation, not (just) the Temple complex, which destruction of the Universe, according to Frost, is still in the future, even after two-thousand years.

His argument is totally fallacious and deceptive. His interpretation of the Greek grammar of this section of Scripture is superimposed upon the text. This particular conversation (24:1-2) between Jesus and His disciples occurred before Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Matthew 24:1-2 took place prior to 24:3 where Jesus and His disciples were leaving the Temple area. At this moment of time, Jesus was not yet on the Mount of Olive. The following explanation by Stanley E. Porter[1] of the use of demonstrative pronouns is very insightful:

Demonstrative Adjectives/Pronouns

The three main demonstratives in Greek, which may appear either alone as pronouns or modifying nouns as adjectives, are οὗτος, ἐκεῖνος, and ὅδε.

▶   Demonstratives are words that indicate nearness or remoteness, whether in time (“this hour”) or in space (“that tree over there”).

  • οὗτος and ὅδε are near demonstratives
  • ἐκεῖνος is a remote demonstrative

Demonstratives may also indicate discourse proximity, that is, the relationship between the actors in a text (e.g., “I am sending Timothy to Philippi. This one is worthy of praise”).

 

•           Demonstratives usually refer back to objects already mentioned in the discourse; this is called anaphoric [ˌa-nə-ˈfȯr-ik, “being a word or phrase that takes its reference from another word or phrase and especially from a preceding word or phrase”[2]] usage.

•           Occasionally, however, demonstratives refer to something mentioned subsequently; this is called cataphoric usage.

•           οὗτος is translated “this, these,” or, after an enumeration of two or more items, “the latter” (“… the bread and the wine. This one [the wine] …”).

•           ἐκεῖνος is translated “that, those,” or, after an enumeration of two or more items, “the former” (“… the bread and the wine. That one [the bread] …”).

•           ὅδε, like οὗτος, means “this, these”; it occurs only ten times in the New Testament.

 

Demonstratives used as adjectives usually appear in the predicate position. That is, they stand outside the article-noun group that they modify and are not covered by the article (see 3.4.2).

•           The forms of the near demonstrative (οὗτος, αὕτη, τοῦτο) and those of the remote demonstrative (ἐκεῖνος, ἐκείνη, ἐκεῖνο) utilize the first and second declension endings, as do, for example, the article and the relative pronoun.

•           For both οὗτος and ἐκεῖνος the word is formed in the normal way—that is, with the ending attached to the end of the stem of the word. For οὗτος note that, except for the masculine and feminine nominative singular and plural, all forms begin with τ.

•           For ὅδε, however, the form is constructed using the article placed before the connective particle δέ. Unlike with the article, accents appear on every form of ὅδε, giving it the accenting of the relative pronoun.[3]

 

After 24:1-2, apparently, some of the Twelve (possibly all) walked with Jesus across the Kidron (kĭdʾrŏn) valley toward the Mount of Olives. It is evident from the context that some of the disciples wanted more information about the coming judgment, which, outwardly, they found incredible. The Near Demonstrative Pronoun helps to identify the near relative proximity (präk-ˈsi-mə-tē: nearness, vicinity, closeness) of the stones and buildings. Jesus used buildings (feminine gender) and stones (masculine gender with the “near” demonstrative pronoun (feminine). Even though the relative pronoun is feminine gender, this pronoun still applied both to the masculine (stones) and feminine (buildings) nouns. The “near” demonstrative pronoun refers to something in relative proximity or closeness to what they had just commented upon. The following comments by William Mounce[4] is extremely helpful in interpreting Jesus’ catastrophic judgment against Jerusalem:

 Demonstratives in English are “this/these” and “that/those” (singular/plural). For example, “This book is the greatest Greek textbook.” “Those students really work hard.” The demonstratives are never inflected except to indicate singular and plural.1      [5] (Number 8 is my footnote to this citation; number 1 is Mounce’s footnote).

 In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus spoke bluntly about the Temple’s demolition along with its massive stones and massive buildings. Following this conversation, Jesus left for the Mount of Olives (24:3). The Olivet Discourse begins with 24:3 and ends with 25:46. For example, according to Mark, we observe that four of the disciples went privately to Jesus who were already with Him prior to their journey over to the Mount of Olives in order to get more answers concerning His reaction about the stones and the buildings, which included the Temple (Matthew 24:1-2). Mark mentions these four disciples by name (Peter, James, John, and Andrew—Mark 13:3). The context indicates that the questioning about the stones and the buildings took place on the Mount of Olives that had been mentioned earlier.

These men, privately, asked Jesus three questions concerning the fulfillment of what He had told them before He went to the Mount of Olives. Since these four disciples understood that the destruction of the Temple along with its stones and buildings would occur at the end of the age (αἰών, aiōn, pronounced as “eye own”), not the end of the world (κόσμος, kosmos, “the universe, that is to say, the sum-total of creation”). These four disciples wanted to recognize the signs that would enable them to know about the age-ending of Judaism, which age-ending would occur with His coming in AD 70: (1) “when shall these things be” [destruction of the stones and buildings], (2) what shall be the sign of your coming, and (3) the completion of the age, that is to say the Mosaic Age. Matthew writes:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately (κατ̓ ἰδίαν, kat idian). “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)

According to Sam Frost, he does not advocate a break between 24:1-2 and 24:3. On the other hand, Grant R. Osborne has justly differed from Sam Frost. If I have understood Osborne correctly, he does advocate a break between 24:1-2 and 24:3. In his comments on 24:3, he has captured the heart or core of what Jesus said in 24:1-2. Prior to their going to the Mount of Olives, Jesus’ disciples called attention to the magnificence of the stones and buildings 24:1-2. “Do you not see all these things?” Jesus then informs His disciples about God’s impending judgment against Israel. Osborne[6] captures the essence of God’s judgment when he writes about “these things” as mentioned in 24:3, that is to say: the complete destruction of Jerusalem. He pens the following insightful words:

Jesus’ description, not “one stone upon another stone,” forecasts total destruction, which did take place as the Romans razed the temple in AD 70 (Josephus, J.W. 7.1.1). Of course, some of the massive stones of the retaining walls were left in place (see the Western Wall today), but the temple was thoroughly razed, and that is what Jesus is referring to. Nolland draws a parallel with Haggai 2:15, where “one stone … on another” was used in rebuilding the temple. Here the restoration is reversed and turned to destruction[7]

  1. kilometers (kə-ˈlä-mə-tər)
  2. meters
  3. meters

[1] Stanley E. Porter (1956–) is a respected expert in Greek and New Testament studies. He received a BA from Point Loma College, an MA from Claremont Graduate School, another MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a PhD from the University of Sheffield. Porter is best known for his works on verbal aspects in New Testament Greek. He is a respected expert in Greek and New Testament studies worldwide, and is actively involved in OpenText.org and the Linguistics Institute of Ancient and Biblical Greek. He is also a regular columnist for Christian Week. Porter currently serves as president, dean, and professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College. He is the author or editor of numerous studies in the New Testament and Greek language, including Idioms of the Greek New Testament, Discourse Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results, and Dictionary of New Testament Background.

[2] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

[3] Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 134-135. (Emphasis and definition of anaphoric in brackets [] )

[4] William D. Mounce (PhD, Aberdeen University) lives as a writer in Spokane, Washington. He is the president of Biblical Training, a nonprofit organization offering the finest in evangelical teaching to the world for free. Formerly he was the preaching pastor at a church in Spokane, and prior to that a professor of New Testament and director of the Greek program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestselling New Testament Greek resource, Basics of Biblical Greek, and served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version translation of the Bible.

1 (Footnote within the above citation): “A distinction some find helpful is between the “near” and “far” demonstratives. The near is “this/these” and the far is “that/those.” The idea is that “this/these” refers to something in relative proximity, and “that/those” to something relatively far away.).

[5] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek: Grammar, ed. Verlyn D. Verbrugge, Third Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 107.

[6] Grant R. Osborne (1942–2018) (was an award-winning author and theologian. Osborne earned a PhD from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He also did academic research at the University of Cambridge and the University of Marburg. Osborne served as the professor of New University of Aberdeen.  Osborne was a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Institute of Biblical Research. His areas of expertise included the Gospels, hermeneutics, and the book of Revelation. Along Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Prior to that, he taught at Winnipeg Theological Seminary and edited The IVP New Testament Commentary Series and The Life Application Bible Commentary, Osborne also authored several titles including The Hermeneutical Spiral, the volume on Revelation in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, and several other commentary volumes.

J.W. Jewish War (Josephus)

[7] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, vol. 1, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 868.

We will continue with Dr. Burdette’s analysis of Frost’s argument in the next installment, so stay tuned, as we look at “all these things” in the Olivet Discourse.

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