One of the words for the world in greek is οἰκουμένῃ. I´ve heard people use this to mean the roman empire.

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. [Matthew 24:14 KJV]

But if this is true, then wouldn't that mean Jesus prophesied wrongly about his coming? Since the disciples preached into the roman empire?


5 Answers 5


τοῖς ἔθνεσιν quite clearly means 'all nations' therefore ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ could not possibly mean 'in all the Roman Empire', for the Roman Empire, historically, did not cover the then known earth in its entirety.

'The Barbarians' (for example in Scotland, beyond Hadrian's wall) were outside the Empire, but are included within Jesus' meaning.

  • 4
    Interesting to note that where the Romans failed (e.g. in Scotland, north of Hadrian's wall) the good news of the gospel has succeeded and conquered.
    – Lesley
    Feb 1, 2021 at 15:01

BDAG has four definitions:

  • the inhabited earth (as opposed to the heavens and hell)
  • the "known" inhabited world (which could be the Roman Empire, but others have Greek Empire -- whatever empire you are a part of)
  • the inhabitants of the earth
  • (extraordinary use) the whole world including the heavens (!)

Interestingly a lot of people focus on Rome and forget all about Greece, but in many ways Greece was more important as the source of Hellenism which Rome also adopted and that spread even beyond the borders of the Roman empire (into Mesopotamia, all the way to India).

This interpretations of "world" and "earth" is something moderns struggle with because in the past there was less specific interest in political geography than we expect. See especially debates about Kosmos. Usually when these words are used, the main point is not areas of a map but there is some other meaning intended which leaves many readers unsatisfied, as they insist on knowing what area of the map is being colored by the term.

The only solution to this problem is to stop trying to think like a modern and take the text for what it does tell you rather than for whatever questions you bring to it.

Specifically with Matthew 24:14:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (LEB)

We should look at the parallelism and conclude that the gospel will be preached to all the parts of the earth that are inhabited by people so that it will be preached to all the nations. I would not try to paint a specific geographic area and say that it means one empire or another.


οἰκουμένη, ης, ἡ (the pres. fem. part. pass. of οἰκέω; sc. γῆ. Hdt.+; loanw. in rabb.). ① the earth as inhabited area, exclusive of the heavens above and nether regions, the inhabited earth, the world (Ps 23:1 and often; Iren., Orig., Hippol., Did., Theoph. Ant.): πάσας τ. βασιλείας τ. οἰκουμένης Lk 4:5. Cp. 21:26; Ro 10:18 (Ps 18:5); Hb 1:6 (but s. FSchierse, Verheissung u. Heilsvollendung ’55: ‘heavenly realm’). ὅλη ἡ οἰκ. the whole inhabited earth (Diod S 12, 2, 1 καθʼ ὅλην τὴν οἰκουμένην; EpArist 37.—Diod S 3, 64, 6 and Jos., Bell. 7, 43 πᾶσα ἡ οἰκ.) Mt 24:14; Ac 11:28; Rv 3:10; 16:14; GJs 4:1. W. πᾶσα as qualifier AcPl Ha 9, 5. οἱ κατὰ τὴν οἰκ. ἄνθρωποι PtK 15:20. αἱ κατὰ τὴν οἰκ. ἐκκλησίαι the congregations throughout the world MPol 5:1; cp. 8:1; 19:2. ② the world as administrative unit, the Roman Empire (in the hyperbolic diction commonly used in ref. to emperors, the Rom. Emp. equalled the whole world [as e.g. Xerxes’ empire: Ael. Aristid. 54 p. 675 D., and of Cyrus: Jos., Ant. 11, 3]: OGI 666, 4; 668, 5 τῷ σωτῆρι κ. εὐεργέτῃ τῆς οἰκουμένης [Nero]; 669, 10; SIG 906 A, 3f τὸν πάσης οἰκουμένης δεσπότην [Julian]; cp. Artapanus: 726 Fgm. 3, 22 Jac., in Eus., PE 9, 27, 22: God as ὁ τῆς οἰκ. δεσπότης; POxy 1021, 5ff; Sb 176, 2.—Cp. 1 Esdr 2:2; Philo, Leg. ad Gai. 16; Jos., Bell. 4, 656, Ant. 19, 193; Just., A I, 27, 2; Ath. 1, 1) ⓐ as such Ac 24:5 (as Jos., Ant. 12, 48 πᾶσι τοῖς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην Ἰουδαίοις, except that οἰκ. here is used in the sense of 1 above as surface area. Cp. PLond VI, 1912, 100). ⓑ its inhabitants 17:6.—GAalders, Het Romeinsche Imperium en het NT ’38. ③ all inhabitants of the earth, fig. extension of 1 (cp. γῆ) : world, humankind Ac 17:31 (cp. Ps 9:9; Artapanus: 726 Fgm. 3:22 Jac., God as ὁ τῆς οἰκ. δεσπότης); 19:27. Of Satan: ὁ πλανῶν τὴν οἰκ. ὅλην who deceives all humankind Rv 12:9. The passage ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην (cp. κόσμον … πάντα LBW II, 1192, 6) Lk 2:1 belongs here also. For the evangelist considers it of great importance that the birth of the world’s savior coincided w. another event that also affected every person in the ‘world’. But it can also be said of Augustus that he ruled the οἰκ., because the word is used also in the sense of 2 above. For connection of the birth of a ruler with the fortunes of humanity s. IPriene 105, 4–11 on the significance of the birth of Caesar Augustus. ④ an extraordinary use: τὴν οἰκ. ἔκτισας 1 Cl 60:1, where οἰκ. seems to mean the whole world (so far as living beings inhabit it, therefore the realm of transcendent beings as well). S. Johnston s.v. κόσμος.—Also ἡ οἰκ. ἡ μέλλουσα Hb 2:5=ὁ μέλλων αἰών (6:5); JMeier, Biblica 66, ’85, 504–33; s. αἰών 2b.—JKaerst, Die antike Idee der Oekumene 1903; JVogt, Orbis terrarum 1929; MPaeslack, Theologia Viatorum II, ’50, 33–47.—GHusson, ΟΙΚΙΑ: Le vocabulaire de la maison privée en Égypte d’après les papyrus Grecs ’83; Pauly-W. XVII 2123–74; Kl. Pauly IV 254–56; B. 13.—DELG s.v. οἶκο C. M-M. EDNT. TW. Sv.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., pp. 699–700). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


The original question correctly recognizes that in the NT, οἰκουμένη most often appears to refer to the Roman empire, but then incorrectly sees this as an indication that Jesus' prediction about the end following upon the testimony to the empire. The solution is not to change the referent of οἰκουμένη to the leavening of the entire planet but instead, correctly identifying what the "end" was the end of.

οἰκουμένη in the NT:

[Mat 24:14 YLT] (14) and this good news of the reign shall be proclaimed in all the world, for a testimony to all the nations; and then shall the end arrive.

[Luk 2:1 YLT] (1) And it came to pass in those days, there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world be enrolled --

[Luk 4:5 YLT] (5) And the Devil having brought him up to an high mountain, shewed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,

[Luk 21:26 YLT] (26) men fainting at heart from fear, and expectation of the things coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.

[Act 11:28 YLT] (28) and one of them, by name Agabus, having stood up, did signify through the Spirit a great dearth is about to be throughout all the world -- which also came to pass in the time of Claudius Caesar --

[Act 17:6, 31 YLT] (6) and not having found them, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the city rulers, calling aloud -- 'These, having put the world in commotion, are also here present, ... (31) because He did set a day in which He is about to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom He did ordain, having given assurance to all, having raised him out of the dead.'

[Act 19:27 YLT] (27) and not only is this department in danger for us of coming into disregard, but also, that of the great goddess Artemis the temple is to be reckoned for nothing, and also her greatness is about to be brought down, whom all Asia and the world doth worship.'

[Act 24:5 YLT] (5) for having found this man a pestilence, and moving a dissension to all the Jews through the world -- a ringleader also of the sect of the Nazarenes --

[Rom 10:18 YLT] (18) but I say, Did they not hear? yes, indeed -- 'to all the earth their voice went forth, and to the ends of the habitable world their sayings.'

[Heb 1:6 YLT] (6) and when again He may bring in the first-born to the world, He saith, 'And let them bow before him -- all messengers of God;'

[Heb 2:5 YLT] (5) For not to messengers did He subject the coming world, concerning which we speak,

[Rev 3:10 YLT] (10) 'Because thou didst keep the word of my endurance, I also will keep thee from the hour of the trial that is about to come upon all the world, to try those dwelling upon the earth.

[Rev 12:9 YLT] (9) and the great dragon was cast forth -- the old serpent, who is called 'Devil,' and 'the Adversary,' who is leading astray the whole world -- he was cast forth to the earth, and his messengers were cast forth with him.

[Rev 16:14 YLT] (14) for they are spirits of demons, doing signs -- which go forth unto the kings of the earth, and of the whole world, to bring them together to the battle of that great day of God the Almighty; --

To my mind, every one of these instances maps best to the Empire rather than "the planet".

So I turn to the question of, "the end of what"?

I propose that what is in view is the end of the age of the Sinai covenant brought about by the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, Jerusalem itself and the Jerusalem temple Sinai covenant based theocratic polity:

[Mat 13:39, 49 YLT] (39) and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is a full end of the age, and the reapers are messengers. ... (49) so shall it be in the full end of the age, the messengers shall come forth and separate the evil out of the midst of the righteous,

[Mat 24:3 YLT] (3) And when he is sitting on the mount of the Olives, the disciples came near to him by himself, saying, 'Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?'

[Mat 28:20 YLT] (20) teaching them to observe all, whatever I did command you,) and lo, I am with you all the days -- till the full end of the age.'

[Isa 47:7 YLT] (7) And thou sayest, 'To the age I am mistress,' While thou hast not laid these things to thy heart, Thou hast not remembered the latter end of it.

[Eze 35:5 YLT] (5) Because of thy having an enmity age-during, And thou dost saw the sons of Israel, By the hands of the sword, In the time of their calamity, In the time of the iniquity of the end:

[Mat 13:40 YLT] (40) 'As, then, the darnel is gathered up, and is burned with fire, so shall it be in the full end of this age,

[1Co 10:11 YLT] (11) And all these things as types did happen to those persons, and they were written for our admonition, to whom the end of the ages did come,

[Heb 9:26 YLT] (26) since it had behoved him many times to suffer from the foundation of the world, but now once, at the full end of the ages, for putting away of sin through his sacrifice, he hath been manifested;

It is also the time of a new covenant:

[Jer 31:31 YLT] (31) Lo, days are coming, an affirmation of Jehovah, And I have made with the house of Israel And with the house of Judah a new covenant,

[Mat 26:28 YLT] (28) for this is my blood of the new covenant, that for many is being poured out -- to remission of sins;

[Mar 14:24 YLT] (24) and he said to them, 'This is my blood of the new covenant, which for many is being poured out;

[Luk 22:20 YLT] (20) In like manner, also, the cup after the supping, saying, 'This cup [is] the new covenant in my blood, that for you is being poured forth.

[1Co 11:25 YLT] (25) In like manner also the cup after the supping, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; this do ye, as often as ye may drink [it] -- to the remembrance of me;'

[2Co 3:6 YLT] (6) who also made us sufficient [to be] ministrants of a new covenant, not of letter, but of spirit; for the letter doth kill, and the spirit doth make alive.

[Heb 8:8 YLT] (8) For finding fault, He saith to them, 'Lo, days come, saith the Lord, and I will complete with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, a new covenant,

[Heb 9:15 YLT] (15) And because of this, of a new covenant he is mediator, that, death having come, for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, those called may receive the promise of the age-during inheritance,

[Heb 12:24 YLT] (24) and to a mediator of a new covenant -- Jesus, and to blood of sprinkling, speaking better things than that of Abel!

So the problem is not that of a failed prediction but of faulty expectations. Christ came and brought the end, and the new beginning:

[2Co 5:17 YLT] (17) so that if any one [is] in Christ -- [he is] a new creature; the old things did pass away, lo, become new have the all things.

[Gal 6:15 YLT] (15) for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation;

For more information on this subject, please visit my Quora Space.


It means the world, not the Roman Empire in which the Jews have no interest. The same idiom is said about finishing all the towns of Israel. The end of the world and the coming of the Son of man denotes to the same destruction of the world, that is Israel. The disciples did not finish preaching in all the nations before the desolation happened, from 60-70 AD. Concerning the abomination of desolation and day of the Lord, search the relevant topics for details.

Matt 10:23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

[Matt 24:14-15 ESV] And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place ( let the reader understand),


This one is more about the other words and the words he didn't use than about the word itself.

The Greek

Matthew 24:14 (SBL emphaiss added)

καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος.

What the Greek tells us and what it doesn't

You're not going to get any debate-ending, all-certain answers from a Greek dictionary. The word οἰκουμένῃ basically means the same thing for "world" as we mean it in English—and all the variants.

Noun case: Dative

It's Dative, which pretty much means the same as using in, through, or throughout, as the preposition.

Other word: "all"

The key here is the word for "all" or "whole" ὅλῃ. In my own translation style, I'd translate it throughout all the world. This is because "all" or "whole" as the adjective with the Dative would best fit "throughout" in how we talk in English.

Greek = English in clarity and concept

Sometimes Greek is more or less detailed than English. Not here. The vagueness and clarity in English and Greek are as coterminous as you'll ever get.

If you're goal is to end all doubt, the clarity from the Greek will have as much clarity as you'd get from "throughout all the world" in English. We all know what it means and we all know there is room for doubt.

Only Rome?

To argue that this is a reference only to Rome is an unreasonable stretch, hermeneutically speaking. The use of language here—English or Greek—is quite all-encompassing.

Tone: all or local?

That word "all/whole" isn't the kind of word you would choose if your point was that it only applied to the current empire.

Theologically Consistent

We'd really need to stand on our heads while interpreting to think that Jesus was thinking, "Just whole world known to us. As for everyone else... I didn't die and go through all this for anyone except those Rome knows about. Forget about the rest."

That's the implication of claiming that Jesus only meant Rome or the "known world". You won't find any other texts to agree with that. So, hermeneutically, it's absurd.

Ideology: Look at the words he had, but didn't use

If Jesus were a fan of seeing the world in terms of only Rome or only the parts of the world Israel and Rome knew about, he had the words to say, "...the known world..." or, "...through the whole empire..." But, he didn't. There's your answer.

As for Jesus "prophesying", he prophesied about many things, but here he is "instructing", basically: Preach throughout all the world first, then I'll be back. ...or something along those lines.

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