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Matthew 24:6 says:

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. (NIV)

The word "akoe" is translated as "rumors" in this and all major translations (I checked KJV, NKJV, ESV, CSB...). But I don't personally understand the concept of a "rumor" of a war - in our modern age of global news and information, if there was a war going on, we'd know about it and not only a rumour of it.

Strong's Concordance gives "report" as an alternative meaning of the word "akoe". Why do all major translations translate "rumors of war" rather than "reports of war"? "Reports of war" would seem more understandable to me.

Alternatively, is it more like a "rumor that a war might break out" rather than a "rumor that a war is currently in progress"?

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    Just ask Russians what's going on in Ukraine. Is that a war? Is it not? There's something going on and there are rumors it's a war. And this uncertainty is despite the internet, TV and so on.Back then it was even easier to hide small scale conflicts. Are those troops just on a training exercise? Peacefully meeting a neighbor for negotiations? Did those negotiations fail? Especially if the war isn't going great you won't have official reports. So all you get is rumours trickling back without any avenue for verification (if the rulers don't do that)
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Mar 25 at 13:20

3 Answers 3

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First, the word ἀκοή (akoe) is often used in the sense of hearing "rumor", eg, Matt 4:24, 14:1, 24:6; Mark 1:28; 13:7, etc. A rumor is, by definition, an unconfirmed report that may or may not be true and thus, might (or might not) be a warning of an impending event.

The current internation situation is filled with such "rumors of wars". Even the current war between Russia and Ukraine was preceded by many months of the rumors of war, which in that case turned out to be true.

The word ἀκοή (akoe) can mean, in other contexts, simply a report that that is heard, eg, John 12:38; Romans 10:16. The context determines that meaning.

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  • +1 Yep! And I was able to confirm your explanation in my shiny new BDAG, third edition. :-)
    – Dieter
    Commented Mar 24 at 23:19
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Context The verse in question is found in part of the Olivet Discourse given by Jesus to describe the coming destruction of Judea, and in particular, the Temple. This is the context that must be kept in mind.

Also note that Jesus put a limit on the time frame of this Discourse :This generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34; this time limit was a repeat of 23:36, so it must be taken seriously) The wars talked about were in the first century.

In this Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave several signs of the impending doom: some near and on going...and then a major, final sign of immediate danger. This sign in verse 6, You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars", is followed by but that is not the end. Much more tragedy was to strike later on.

General Roman History The first century saw a lot of turmoil in the Roman Empire. Josephus, Seutonius, and Tacitus, have recorded incidents of famine, plague, civil wars, and rebellions by foreign provinces: Africa, Thrace, Gaul, Parthia, Armenia, Britain, Dacia...and the tumultuous Judea! The guerilla tactics of the Judaean Zealots were especially troublesome to the Roman rulers who tried desperately to keep peace in the Empire.

All throughout the first century reports, rumors, and hear-say about these wars and battles would be spread throughout the market places of Jerusalem! Even the emperors of Rome came and went by civil war, assassination, or suicide. Just before the Destruction of Jerusalem, three emperors went in quick succession, right after the suicide of Nero, and a fourth one was called to Rome to take over (General Vespasian).

Persecutions Along with the concern over the military wars in the first century, there were the reports of persecution against the Jews and Christians throughout the Empire. Caligula, Claudius, and Nero took turns taking out their anger on them. The expulsion of the Jews (and Jewish Christians) by Claudius was mentioned in Acts 18:1-2. And Nero's horrible persecution of the Christians by torture, burning, and amphitheater slaughter was recorded by Tacitus (Annals, XV,44). It was Nero who sent General Vespasian and his Legions to Judaea to quell the revolt of the Jews...which eventually led to the total Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Notice again, that Jesus predicted that these were just the harbingers of what was to come in a greater way later. The end is not yet (vs. 6). These are merely the beginning of birth pangs (vs. 8).

Historical InformationWhat we have gleaned from the history of the Jews is that there was an invasion of Judea by the Romans that lasted for 3 1/2 years! (See Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews; 67 A.D.-70 A.D. The initial invasion was not the end. But day after day, week after week, year after year, the Romans marched all over Judea, Samaria, Perea, Galilee, and the Negev, leaving paths of destruction!

Every day reports and rumors of attacks and destruction of villages reached Jerusalem. Notice that insight into the usage of these words is found in the posted Question itself: the modern age of global news and information did not exist in the first century. There was no accurate "5 o'clock news programs that were based on immediate information by telegraph, telephone, nor satellite communications. What was spread throughout the city was, by word of mouth, rumors and reports of the destruction of villages one by one, week by week.

Last week Samaria was torched and the city burned to the ground; yesterday it was rumored that Capernaum was razed and the people killed by the sword; today someone reported that Nazareth was captured and the women and children made slaves!

This went on for 3 1/2 years. All the territory around Jerusalem was attacked; and people were enslaved, killed, sent to the copper mines in the Sinai, or made to row in the galley ships (recall Ben Hur movie.). Rumors and reports ran wild throughout the capitol city, day after day.

Recall that Jesus told the disciples to flee Judea (the whole territory), not just Jerusalem! (24:16). It was the whole land that was under seige, not just Jerusalem (which was later destroyed along with the Temple, 70 A.D.).

Along with the reports of the horrible invasions, Jesus also gave warnings about false hope given by false prophets, as well as other warnings about spiritual deception. (See F. Josephus, Wars of the Jews for specific examples.)

Wars and Rumors of Wars The fact that the Romans were not just engaged in one military operation but came and went many times for three and a half years, is the reason for the plural of these words: wars rumors.

[Note the Providence of God: it was persecution that caused many of the disciples to go to Antioch, Ephesus, Alexandria, and to far away Rome and Spain. If there were no persecution, and the Early Church disciples stayed in Jerusalem, the Church would have been wiped out, along with the Temple and backslidden Jews in 70 A.D.!!! Acts 8:1]

Addendum For further study, compare the words of Jesus about rumors with similar Old Testament verses:

Now lest your heart grow faint, and you fear the report that will be heard in the land--for the report will come one year, and after that another report in another year, and violence will be in the land with ruler against ruler--Therefore behold, days are coming... (Jeremiah 51:46)

Disaster will come upon disaster; and report will be added to report; then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but the Law will be lost from the priest and counsel from the elders. (Ezekiel 7:26)

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  • I find it hard to believe that when Jesus said "this generation" in Matthew 24:34, he was referring to the generation of 1st Century AD. That would also mean that they would see standing in the holy place "the abomination that causes desolation" (24:15) and also that "all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven" (24:30). I interpret this as referring to prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled. There are a few different commnetaries of Matthew 24:34 which don't require it to be referring to the people alive at the time of Jesus.
    – Kidburla
    Commented Mar 25 at 11:19
  • @Kidburla - Thank you for your comment. If one is not familiar with O.T. imagery, it is hard to understand the sayings of Jesus. Fortunately the abomination is defined for us in Luke 21:20 (synoptic parallel of the Gospel) as "the Roman armies." This all is just a matter of taking Jesus at His word. See commentary, Times, They Are A'Changing by Raymond Grant (Amazon).
    – ray grant
    Commented Mar 25 at 20:09
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The term "rumors of wars" is understood to refer to reports or indications of potential conflicts which may or may not be confirmed.

So, the use of "rumors" in this context conveys the idea of a bit of uncertainty or speculation about the possibility of war. Not as much definitive reports of ongoing conflicts though they might be. It suggests that people will hear about potential threats and conflicts but points out the need not to be alarmed by such reports.

Ellicott's Commentary says:

but we may probably think of the words as referring specially to wars, actual or threatened, that affected the Jews, such, e.g., as those of which we read under Caligula, Claudius, and Nero (Jos. Ant. xx. 1, 6).

Expositor's Greek Testament says:

“wars and rumours of wars” = wars near and remote (Bengel, Meyer), or better: “actual and threatened” (Speaker’s Com.). The reference is not to wars anywhere in the world, but to those in the Holy Land, arising, as they were sure sooner or later to do, out of Messianic fanaticisms.

In conclusion, Matthew 24:6 presents Jesus' prophetic warning, including wars and rumors of wars. The term "rumors of wars" signifies not only reports of ongoing conflicts but also indications or speculations about potential hostilities.

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  • @ Jason - Indeed, reports of wars near and far, in Judaea and in the Roman Empire provinces. But one wonders what you mean by the "end times." Certainly Jesus was referring to the "End of the Jewish Era" with the demolishing of the unneeded Temple. The New Era of the Kingdom of God was to become in full force soon. Hebrews 8:13 confirms this: When He said a New Covenant, He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.. Thanks for your input. Keep studying the Bible; it's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Commented Mar 25 at 21:19

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