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I'm working on Luke 11:48-54, and the phrase, katabolēs kosmou. It's not in the LXX; any idea of its usage pre-NT?

51 As a result, this generation will be charged with the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the foundation of the world [καταβολῆς κόσμου katabolēs kosmou]

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    – Dottard
    Dec 20, 2023 at 20:32
  • lsj.gr/wiki/κόσμος lsj.gr/wiki/ταρταρούγα Both have a meaning of some tag, label, maybe delineating a societal order. Thus distributing cosmou - creating order. Compare Cosmos and Tartarus (Golden Orda).
    – grammaplow
    Dec 26, 2023 at 11:56

2 Answers 2

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The phrase doesn't appear very much. The NIDNTTE, which usually has sizable paragraphs of description, has the following. But the listing does give us a decent synopsis of how the phrase is used:

JL 1 In the LXX the vb. καταβάλλω occurs c. 45x (incl. 11x in Ezekiel) to render a variety of Heb. terms, esp. the hiph. of נָפַל H5877 (“to cause to fall down,” thus also “to tear down, destroy,” etc.; e.g., of breaking down a city wall, 2 Sam 20:15). Only in 2 Macc 2:13 does it have the sense “to found” (Nehemiah founded a library by collecting the ancient writings of Israel; cf. also 5:6, of setting up monuments). No theological significance attaches to the use of this term. The noun καταβολή occurs but once, with ref. to the construction of a house (2:29).

2 It is worth noting that the Letter of Aristeas uses καταβολή twice: once with ref. to the foundation of the temple (§89) and once in the phrase μία καταβολή with ref. to the “one creation” (§129); it also uses καταβάλλω with the noun διδαχή G1439 to describe the laying of foundational teaching (§294). The vb. is found with some freq. in both Philo and Jos. (the former uses it several times with the sense “to sow, implant,” both lit. and fig., e.g., of sowing plants (i.e., virtues or vices) in the soul, Leg. 1.49). The noun occurs occasionally, as when Jos. speaks of ἀποστάσεως καταβολή, “the beginning of a revolt” (B.J. 2.260), or when Philo uses the phrase ἡ πρώτης καταβολὴ τῆς τούτων γενέσεως, “the first origin of the birth of these [i.e., the Hebrews]” (Mos. 1.279).

NT 1 The vb. καταβάλλω occurs 2x in the NT: once in the lit. sense “to strike down” (2 Cor 4:9), and once of laying the foundation (θεμέλιον καταβαλλόμενοι) of Christian doctrine (Heb 6:1, parallel with ὁ τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ Χριστοῦ λόγον, lit., “the teaching of the beginning of Christ,” i.e., the basic teaching about Christ). The noun occurs 11x, once in the expression καταβολὴ σπέρματος (Heb 11:11), which would normally refer to the man’s part in procreation, “begetting” (cf. NRSV, NIV 1984), but here the subj. is apparently Sarah, so the meaning may be more general, “having children” (cf. NIV 2011; see also Σάρρα G4925). All of the remaining instances consist of the combination ἀπὸ [or πρὸ] καταβολῆς κόσμου, “from [or before] the foundation of the world” (with the poss. exception of Matt 13:35, where the word κόσμου is textually suspect, but the meaning is the same). The rest of the art. is devoted to this phrase.

2 It is clear that καταβολὴ κόσμου has become a fixed expression for the point from which historical dates are reckoned (cf. the use of A.M., Anno mundi, in Jewish chronology). When God’s free activity is dated before (πρό) this point in time, as in John 17:24 (where the obj. of God’s love is Jesus) and Eph 1:4 (where the obj. is the believer), the purpose is to declare the independence of God’s providence from the abs. beginning that he himself set and thus from history. This independence enables him to break into history in his loving purposes and to bring the course of history to its completion, again in his love. Two points stand out in all the texts that mention the foundation of the world. First, it is always associated with a statement about human destiny. Second, there is an implied connection between God’s foreknowledge and predestination. In partic., Matt 25:34 and Eph 1:4 speak of election (see ἐκλέγομαι G1721). In the case of Rev 13:8 and 17:8, the theme is reprobation. Luke 11:50 (a lamentation of Jesus) and Heb 4:3 speak of historical failure for which account must be rendered. Finally, the unique, central position of Jesus Christ in the history of salvation is highlighted in Matt 13:35 (quoting Ps 78:2 [LXX 77:2], with some textual differences, such as καταβολή where LXX has ἀρχή); Heb 9:26; and 1 Pet 1:20 (cf. John 17:24). He reveals in the midst of history what has been hidden since the foundation of the world, and thus fixes the end of time. The phrase “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20) is foreign to the OT and is prob. an attempt to express the independence of the Creator from his creation in the face of Hellenism—and thus to make his acts of salvation dependent on him alone.

(The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, s.v. “καταβολή καταβάλλω,” 2:635-636.)

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The appendix below gives the instances of the noun καταβολή which (with a single exception) occurs in the phrase καταβολῆς κόσμου = "foundation of [the] world". BDAG gives a good definition of the meaning of καταβολῆς as:

the act of laying something down with implication of providing a base for something, foundation

BDAG also provides a number of references for documents containing this word outside the NT such as 1 Clem 57:1, Theophilus Antiochenus, etc. However, none contain the exact phrase καταβολῆς κόσμου.

The key to understanding the phrase καταβολῆς κόσμου is in the meaning of the word κόσμος (kosmos) for which BDAG provides this definition:

  1. The sum total of everything here and now, the world, the (orderly) universe

Thus, the phrase καταβολῆς κόσμου appears to be a direct allusion to Gen 1:1, Ps 33:6, 9, Isa 44:24, 45:18, John 1:3, Heb 1:2, Col 1:16; these concepts are unique to Judeo-Christian theology and thus, it unsurprising that they do not exist elsewhere. [Greek mythology had creation stories involving multiple gods who squabbled among themselves, but fiat creation is unique to Genesis and the theology that flows from it.]

Indeed, many version translate this phrase, "creation of the world".

However, the Greek text also has -

  • "creation of the world" κτίσεως κόσμου, Rom 1:20
  • "*beginning of creation" ἀρχῆς κτίσεως, Mark 10:6, 13;19, 2 Peter 3:4

... all with exactly the same meaning.

APPENDIX - καταβολή in the NT

The 11 occurrences of καταβολή in the NT fall into exactly three forms:

  1. ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου = since/from the foundation of the world
  • Matt 13:35 - so that it might be fulfilled that having been spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world."
  • Matt 25:24 - Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, those being blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom having been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
  • Luke 11:50 - so that the blood of all the prophets having been poured out from the foundation of the world might be charged against this generation
  • Heb 4:3 - For those having believed enter into the rest, as He has said: "So I swore in my wrath, 'they shall not enter into My rest.'" And yet the works have been finished from the foundation of the world.
  • Heb 9:26 - Otherwise it was necessary for Him to have suffered repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now He has been revealed once in the consummation of the ages for the putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
  • Rev 13:8 - All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
  • Rev 17:8 - The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go into destruction; and those dwelling on the earth whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will wonder, seeing the beast which was, and is not, and yet will be.
  1. πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου = before the foundation of the world
  • John 17:24 - Father, those whom You have given Me, I desire that they also may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory that You gave Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
  • 1 Peter 1:20 - having been foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but having been revealed in the last times for the sake of you,
  1. εἰς καταβολὴν σπέρματος = for conception (initiating) seed/posterity
  • Heb 11:11 - By faith also Sarah, herself barren, received power for the conception of seed, even beyond the opportune age, since she considered the One having promised faithful.
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  • Thank you, but I'm still looking for an answer to my actual question: I can find for myself all the uses of the individual words; the question is whether there is any origin for the phrase itself. Dec 21, 2023 at 22:30
  • @WesHoward-Brook - the origin, as my answer suggests, is in Gen 1;1 - the creation of the world.
    – Dottard
    Dec 21, 2023 at 22:56
  • Well, except, of course, that the LXX of Genesis doesn't use that language. I understand what the reference is to. That's obvious from the various contexts. I guess it's simply a mystery where that specific phrase originated. But given its use across such a wide array of NT texts, it seems surprising that there is no common origin that the writers are drawing from. Dec 23, 2023 at 1:30

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