Parousia Ė Epiphaneia

By Samuel P. Tregelles

The Apostle Paul, himself the Apostle of the Gentiles, when writing to Gentile Churches or to individuals, holds forth the hope of the Lordís conning as that which is public, open, and manifest. Thus he describes believers as "looking for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). In writing to Timothy, he thus addresses the man of God: "I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession, that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Tim. 6:13, 14). In 2 Timothy 4:1, "the appearing and the kingdom" of our Lord are spoken of as truths of primary importance; and what they are to the believer is shown by verse 8; for there the apostle says of our hope, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." This passage is enough to show that those who are looking to the coming of Christ in His manifest glory, have the true hope of His advent. Not a word or a hint is there on St Paulís part that this coming shall be a secret thing: it is a manifestation in glory. One of the events of that point of time is the destruction of "the man of sin, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of His mouth, and destroy with the brightness (or manifestation) of His coming" (2 Thess. 2:8). This is the same word as in the passages previously cited; in all these it belongs to our Lordís second coming; in its only other occurrence it relates to His first coming, when the apostle speaks of Godís "purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 1: 9,10). It is from the word rendered "appearing" (epiphanea) that we derive our English term epiphany, applied to our Lord manifestly set forth as the incarnate Son of God.

The same Apostle speaks of the coming of Christ, for which the Church waits, as a revelation; thus the Corinthians are described as "waiting for the coming (margin, revelation) of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:7). The hope of the Thessalonians was "rest . . . when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day" (2 Thess. 1:7-11). If then the coming which the Church expects can be secret, then equally may all these particulars be secret also: but if secrecy is here intended as to the hopes of the Church, what words could be used which should unequivocally express open publicity?

Even if it were true that the writings of other apostles were "Jewish," surely those of the Apostle of the Gentiles could not be so restricted: and thus the point that our hope is the manifest appearing of our Lord (and no supposed secret coming) when proved by the teaching of St Paul, ought to carry conviction even to those who introduce and teach such groundless distinctions.

It has indeed been said[1] that our hope is the coming of the Lord signified by another term (parousia), which is, they say, more strictly presence; and in contrast to this, they say, is His shining forth (epiphanea), the word found in passages already cited, and rendered appearing; this, they say, is the Jewish hope. But,

First, parousia--the word said to be connected with our hope, is habitually used for "coming" in ordinary expressions: thus, "the coming of Stephanas" (1 Cor. 16:17); "the coming of Titus" (2 Cor. 7:6, see, too, verse 7); "my coming to you again." (Phil. 1:26).

This word (parousia), which is said to imply a hope for the Church of a secret coming, is that which is used in Matthew 24 (the very chapter which some would represent to be Jewish), in speaking of our Lordís public and glorious appearing. In verse 3, the disciples ask, "What shall be the sign of thy coming?" Our Lord, in His reply, says, "As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be" (v. 27). "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (v. 30). This, then, is that coming which shall be as the lightning in open visibility. "As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (vv. 37-39). Is this a secret coming known only to the Church, and not affecting others?

Third--The word epiphanea, which, on the supposition now under consideration, has to do with the visible appearing of our Lord at some period subsequent to the rapture of the Church, is that which, in Titus 2:13, 1 Timothy 6:14, and 2 Timothy 4:8, is given as the hope of that very Church, whose existence on earth at the time is denied by such theories. This word is not used, except in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, in connection with others besides the Church.

When one event is spoken of in various aspects, different words may be rightly used; and thus parousia is the most general term for that one coming of our Lord, which is the object of the Churchís hope. Those who have mystified the minds of the uninstructed by incorrect teaching as to the use of the words of Scripture, incur a solemn responsibility; they obtain an advantage as teachers, based wholly on rash assertions; the best that can be supposed of such is that they "understand neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." But they are responsible for misleading others by their assertions, for the sin of ignorance is still sin.


[1] So little had I heard of this argument on the words epiphanea and parousia for many years (ever since 1839, when it seemed to be abandoned for other theories), that I should have scarcely thought it needful to notice it, had I not found that it was again revived. I well remember how some used to press it, and how unspiritual they thought the endeavor to show how these words are really used in the New Testament. It is one of the cases in which the attempt has been made to misrepresent the facts of Scripture, and in which the uninstructed and unwary have been misled.