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In Paul's writings, what is "Parousia"? Does it have any relation to the second coming of Christ?

Here is the main text I am seeking to understand:

1 Thess 2:19 (RSVCE)

19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming [ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ]? Is it not you?

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    You'd get a decent start at Wikipedia... – Dɑvïd Oct 28 '14 at 22:27
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    I've narrowed this down to focus it on one specific text and its application to the broader Pauline corpus. We don't have a clear definition of what constitutes 'the Bible', and that would be much too broad since παρουσία is a Greek term and 'the Bible' is written in at least two additional languages. I've also removed the secondary question which begins from a theological concept rather than from the text. You should be able to get a good understanding from the question as it is currently worded. – Dan Oct 29 '14 at 1:10
  • Thank you David and @majnemɪzdæn. I guess what I want to ask is "Parousia" in Paul's writing and if that is described and understood, will the second coming be in like manner? – FMS Oct 30 '14 at 19:30
  • @FMS here we can certainly answer that first question, but the second would be best for Christianity – Dan Oct 30 '14 at 20:40
  • @majnemɪzdæn From the answers below BH has provided some excellent answers. Thank you! – FMS Oct 30 '14 at 20:45
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Lexical Analysis

The Greek word παρουσία is formed from the combination of the preposition παρά (para) and the noun οὐσία (ousia), which is derived from the participle οὖσα (ousa), meaning “being.” Hence, παρουσία literally means “the act or state of being with,” in other words, “presence.” Therefore, the παρουσία of Jesus Christ is his presence with us. While some English translations translate it as “coming,” such a translation is slightly inaccurate, as the Greek would likely be the infinitive ἐλθεῖν followed by a preposition.1 The Greek verb meaning “come” is ἔρχομαι, while the verb meaning “to be with” (i.e., to be present) is πάρειμι. Nevertheless, Jesus’ presence with us would naturally assume his prior coming from some other place, i.e. heaven.

Analyzing the English Translation of the RSVCE

To note, the translation provided by the original poster (i.e., RSVCE) is certainly different than the KJV. What accounts for the difference?

RSVCE:

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? RSVCE, ©2006

KJV:

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? KJV, ©1769

The Greek text of the Textus Receptus (Stephanus, 1611) states,

τίς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἐλπὶς ἢ χαρὰ ἢ στέφανος καυχήσεως ἢ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ

Henry Alford commented,2

The words ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ must not be transposed in the rendering...for the Apostle, after having asked and answered the question τίς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἐλπὶς ἢ χαρὰ ἢ στέφανος καυχήσεως, breaks off, and specifies that wherein this hope and joy mainly consisted, viz. the glorious prospect of their being found in the Lord at His appearing. But he does not look forward to this as anticipating a reward for the conversion of the Thessalonians (Est., al.), or that their conversion will compensate for his having persecuted the Church before, but from generous desire to be found at that day with the fruits of his labour, and that they might be his boast and he theirs before the Lord: see 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 2:16.

However, the RSVCE does just that—it transposes the Greek phrase ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ and changes the Greek from this:

τίς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἐλπὶς ἢ χαρὰ ἢ στέφανος καυχήσεως ἢ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ

to this:

τίς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἐλπὶς ἢ χαρὰ ἢ στέφανος καυχήσεως ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ ἢ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς


Literary Context

In order to understand an author’s intent in using a word, it’s helpful to examine his use of the word in contexts within the same literary genre. Hence, we first in look in the Thessalonian epistles, then the Pauline epistles as a whole. In his epistles to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul uses the Greek word παρουσία seven (7) times in seven (7) verses.3 Elsewhere, the apostle Paul uses παρουσία seven (7) times in seven (7) verses in three (3) other epistles.4

The Thessalonian Epistles

The παρουσία of the Lord Jesus would be a future event5 that would occur “with all his holy ones” (μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ), likely referring to his angels.6 As discussed earlier, the KJV appears to retain the more accurate translation of the Greek text, compared to the RSVCE. Hence, “at his presence” (ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ)—that is, the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Thessalonians, like all Christians, would be “before the Lord Jesus Christ” (ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), i.e. standing before him. Although I hesitate to refer to another literary genre (i.e., the Gospels), I am inclined to refer to Matt. 25:31–32 which states,

31 Now when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he shall sit upon the throne of his glory, 32 and all nations shall be gathered before (ἔμπροσθεν) him, and he shall separate them from one another just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

ΛΑʹ Ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι ἄγγελοι μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ ΛΒʹ καὶ συναχθήσεται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη καὶ ἀφοριεῖ αὐτοὺς ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων

Here we see the Lord Jesus Christ coming, with his angels. Of course, after he comes, he is then in the presence (παρουσία) of Christians and non-Christians who both stand before (ἔμπροσθεν) him. Hence, I cannot help but believe that Matt. 25:31–32 provides insight into the very παρουσία of the Lord Jesus Christ that the apostle Paul later refered to, and himself awaited.

To clarify, the Lord Jesus Christ comes from heaven7 at which time a command is given and the dead Christians are resurrected from the dead and then the Christians who remain alive until the παρουσία of the Lord Jesus Christ (and his descent from heaven) are gathered with the resurrected Christans “for meeting the Lord in the air.”8 Those Christians who were alive are changed into incorruptible bodies before meeting the Lord in the air.9

The apostle Paul repeately emphasized Christians being kept altogether blameless by God10 and established by the Lord Jesus Christ with hearts “blameless in holiness”11 until the παρουσία of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Relation to “Second Coming”

As discussed earlier, the Greek word παρουσία is often translated as “coming” in many English translations despite the English word “presence” being more true and literal to the actual meaning. In fact, out of its twenty-four (24) total occurrences, the KJV translates παρουσία twenty-two (22) times as “coming” and only twice as “presence.” However, this isn’t a serious error as the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (to earth) would obviously immediately precede his “presence” with humans on earth. Thus, the two events are essentially coincidental and the terms synonymous.

To answer your question, early Christian authors and literature did often distinguish “the second presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ, or ἡ δευτέρα παρουσία, with a first, i.e. his incarnation.

For example, in his Apology on behalf of Christians to Antoninus Pius, Justin Martyr (100–165 A.D.) wrote,12

For the prophets have previously preached two “presences” (δύο...παρουσίας) of his. One [presence], that which has already occurred, as a dishonoured and suffering man, but the second [presence] was preached to arrive, when he shall come with glory from heaven with his angelic host, when he shall also raise the bodies of all humans who have existed, and he shall clothe those [bodies] of the worthy with incorruptibility, and he shall send those [bodies] of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked demons.

δύο γὰρ αὐτοῦ παρουσίας προεκήρυξαν οἱ προφῆται· μίαν μέν, τὴν ἤδη γενομένην, ὡς ἀτίμου καὶ παθητοῦ ἀνθρώπου, τὴν δὲ δευτέραν, ὅταν μετὰ δόξης ἐξ οὐρανῶν μετὰ τῆς ἀγγελικῆς αὐτοῦ στρατιᾶς παραγενήσεσθαι κεκήρυκται, ὅτε καὶ τὰ σώματα ἀνεγερεῖ πάντων τῶν γενομένων ἀνθρώπων, καὶ τῶν μὲν ἀξίων ἐνδύσει ἀφθαρσίαν, τῶν δ' ἀδίκων ἐν αἰσθήσει αἰωνίᾳ μετὰ τῶν φαύλων δαιμόνων εἰς τὸ αἰώνιον πῦρ πέμψει.

Thus, the early Church fathers held that the “first presence” or “coming” spanned the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ until his death and ascension, and the “second presence” or “coming” would span his descent from heaven, resurrection of the dead, and the eternal judgment of the righteous and wicked.


Footnotes

1 cf. Mal. 4:5 LXX
2 Alford, p. 262
3 1 Thes. 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2 Thes. 2:1, 2:8, 2:9
4 1 Cor. 15:23, 16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6, 7:7, 10:10; Phil. 1:26, 2:12
5 The preposition εἰς preceding τὴν παρουσίαν (cf. 1 Thes. 4:15, 5:23) indicates that the παρουσία is the (future) temporal limit and not a current reality. (Thayer, p. 183–184, εἰς, A., II., 4.)
6 The Greek τῶν ἁγίων is ambiguous and could refer to either humans, i.e. Christians, or angels. However, see 2 Thes. 1:7 which seems to confirm the latter (i.e., angels).
7 1 Thes. 4:16
8 1 Thes. 4:17: «εἰς ἀπάντησιν τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα»; cf. Matt. 25:1, 25:6; 2 Thes. 2:1
9 cf. 1 Cor. 15:54
10 1 Thes. 5:23
11 1 Thes. 3:13
12 Ch. 52

References

Alford, Henry. The Greek Testament. Vol. 3. Boston: Lee, 1878.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

  • Absolutely terrific answer! – FMS Oct 30 '14 at 3:32
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    This is great, thanks and +1. To be fair to the RSVCE's decision...not only do most recent translations agree, but both NA28 and SBL5 set off ἢ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς with dashes, apparently indicating by their choice of punctuation that they understand it to interrupt the flow of the sentence, which then continues (contra KJV). It would be difficult to do this in English without moving it to the end. I don't know whether this is the right decision on the part of the editors of the Greek text, but the RSVCE certainly isn't alone in its interpretation. – Susan Oct 30 '14 at 4:23
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 Welcome back! Thank you for your analysis of the Greek. This question sat for a couple of days, and I felt compelled to answer it; but it needed the Greek understanding, of which I wasn't able to contribute as much to. Thank you! – Tau Oct 30 '14 at 14:12
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From Thayer's Lexicon:

*παρουσία, παρουσίας, ἡ (παρών, παροῦσα presence: 1 Corinthians 16:17;

2 Corinthians 10:10; opposed to ἀπουσίᾳ, Philippians 2:12 (2 Macc. 15:21; (Aristotle, phys. 2, 3, p. 195a, 14; metaphys. 4, 2, p. 1013b, 14; meteor. 4, 5, p. 3>82a, 33 etc.)).
2. the presence of one coming, hence, the coming, arrival, advent, ((Polybius 3, 41, 1. 8); Judith 10:18; 2 Macc. 8:12; (Hermas, sim. 5, 5, 3 [ET])): 2 Corinthians 7:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:9 (cf. ἀποκαλυφθήσεται; ἡ ... πάλιν πρός τινα, of a return, Philippians 1:26. In the N. T. especially of the advent, i. e. the future, visible, return from heaven of Jesus, the Messiah, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the kingdom of God:*

The "Parousia" is defined as Christ's Second Coming, illustrated by the verse you quoted and also 1 Thess. 4:15,

Τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου ὅτι ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν τοὺς κοιμηθέντας·

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

Since this "Parousia" describes the "Rapture", in which the word ἁρπάζω ,(harpazo) or "caught up" is used (1 Thess. 4:17), many believe there is another "Parousia" in which His feet touch the Mount of Olives(Acts 1:11); the forces of Antichrist are destroyed(Rev. 19:20), the 7 year period of Tribulation are ended, and Christ reigns over Israel(and the world) in a Millennial Reign, all the while the "church" which was "caught up" is enjoying the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. This view is called Dispensationalism, and it attempts to reconcile Christ's Return to Israel, which it sees as a separate 'dispensation' from the Church Age.

Christ Himself did not speak of a 'separate' Parousia (or harpazo), in fact He told His disciples,(Matt. 19:28)

Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,

therefore, the idea of a 'separate Jewish Millennium' from the church is far from being conclusive. We can conclude that the Parousia consists of 1) Resurrection of the saints and the Rapture(harpazo) of the Church, along with the Return of the saints with the Lord, to destroy the wicked and establish His Millennial Reign. This is more consistent with Rev. 19, and 1 Thess. 4.

  • Thank you for your answer! Will the coming be visible to everyone? What is the understanding? – FMS Oct 30 '14 at 2:36
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    @FMS "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen."(Rev. 1:7) Since He comes in the clouds, it must be seen as the "Parousia", rather than the Final Judgment, where He sits on the Throne of His Glory(Matt. 25:31-32). – Tau Oct 30 '14 at 14:03
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In this answer to a question regarding why Stephen saw Jesus "standing" rather than sitting at God's right hand I argue that Stephen was graphically alluding to:

[1Ki 22:19 KJV] 19 And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.

The allusion indicates that Stephen's vision was very bad news for those who murdered him. In a sense he was "pulling back the curtain" as Elisha did:

[2Ki 6:15-17 KJV] 15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? 16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that [be] with us [are] more than they that [be] with them. 17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain [was] full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

Jesus had warned:

[Mar 9:42 KJV] 42 And whosoever shall offend one of [these] little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

In Revelation the Jewish theocracy is referred to as "Babylon" or "Secret Babylon" having that very millstone tied about their neck as they and their city are killed along with their covenants with God and their temple:

[Rev 18:21 KJV] 21 And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast [it] into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.

Jesus had warned that the angel of these children of God had instant access to God with the option to dispatch the angels to protect the child:

[Mat 18:10 KJV] 10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

How much more so when it is God's special son?:

[Mat 26:53 KJV] 53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

[Mat 21:36-45 KJV] 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. 37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. 38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. 39 And they caught him, and cast [him] out of the vineyard, and slew [him]. 40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out [his] vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. 42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.

So in summary, what Stephen saw was Jesus at the head of God's armies about to visit Jerusalem in judgment and end the Jewish covenants by destroying the temple. John saw the same thing in Revelation 12 and elsewhere. Jesus spoke of it in Matthew 24.

But what about the word "parousia"? The word appears in the literature of the time so there is not need to [appeal to etymology].2

If we look at how the word was actually used it becomes apparent that it was used (among other usages) to refer to "an army assembled for engagement for war":

[2 Maccabees 8]12 Judas learned that Nicanor was advancing with his army toward Judea, so he informed his men. 13 Some were cowardly and did not believe in the justice of God, and they ran away as fast as they could. 14 But others sold all their remaining possessions so that the Lord would consider them worthy to be saved from the godless Nicanor, who had sold them as slaves even before the battle had taken place. 15 They prayed that if God was not willing to do this for their sake alone, he might be willing to rescue them because of the covenants he had made with their ancestors, and because he, the great and wonderful God, had called them to be his people. 16 Judas brought together all 6,000 of his men and encouraged them not to be frightened or to flee in panic at the sight of the large number of Gentile troops who were marching against them without cause. Instead they should fight bravely, 17 never forgetting the crimes the Gentiles had committed against the Temple and how they had made Jerusalem suffer terribly and had done away with Jewish traditions.

2 Maccabees 15:20 Everyone was waiting to see who would win the battle. The enemy troops were already moving forward, with their cavalry on each side of them, and their elephants placed in strategic positions. 21 Judas Maccabeus looked at the huge enemy force, the variety of their weapons, and their fierce elephants. Then he raised his hands toward heaven and prayed to the Lord, who works miracles, because he knew that the Lord gives victory to those who deserve it, not to those who have a strong army.

So I believe that the saints of the first century were taught to wait expectantly, prepared for the arrival of the messiah and his army coming to judge Jerusalem because the believers were beleaguered by persecution by the Jews:

[2Th 1:5-8 KJV] 5 [Which is] a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: 6 Seeing [it is] a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

In conjunction with Christ's parousia, Paul mentions "our gathering to him":

[2Th 2:1 NLT] 1 Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him.

Paul describes the order of the rapture of the saints in two steps:

[1Th 4:13-18 KJV] 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [IE: "precede"] them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

So when the messiah and his army appear in the sky above Jerusalem the dead in Christ will be awakened by a Shofar call to war:

[Zec 9:14 NASB] 14 Then the LORD will appear over them, And His arrow will go forth like lightning; And the Lord GOD will blow the trumpet, And will march in the storm winds of the south.

Those found worthy at his arrival join him in battle:

[Rev 17:14 KJV] 14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him [are] called, and chosen, and faithful.

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