Translating All the Words of Scripture (Matt 24:34) – Mondays with Mounce 311
I know this is a difficult and controversial verse, and I don’t think I have anything new to add to the discussion — how’s that for garnering excitement to read the rest of the post? But there are a couple things that are interesting.
Jesus has been discussing the destruction of the temple and his second return. In vv 34-35 he says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away (οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ) until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν)” (ESV).
First of all, most translations give up at trying to translate the emphatic οὐ μὴ plus aorist subjunctive, and I understand why. It is hard to do without over-translating or messing with English style. Jesus is saying that this generation will, in no way, pass away before “all these things” happen. The NIV has “certainly not pass away”; the rest skip the emphatic negation. That’s too bad. There can be no doubt of the emphasis Jesus is placing on his prophecy, and this emphasis makes the lack of apparent fulfillment even more problematic. And why would translations claiming to be “literal” and “reflecting the Greek structures” omit translating this construction?
The second οὐ μὴ plus aorist subjunctive construction, however, does receive some emphasis in the NET, “my words will never pass away” (also NIV and NLT). Now, the οὐ μή construction does not in and of itself mean “never”; it is just a strengthened negation. But in this context, it makes good sense.
The other point is emphasized by Craig Blomberg in his NAC commentary on Matthew (pp. 363f.). What is the antecedent of “these things” (ταῦτα)? Some people read the verse to say everything Jesus has talked about, including his return, must happen within a generation’s life-span, and of course this did not happen. (The discourse makes it abundantly clear that his return will be visible and public, and so a supposedly secret return is impossible.) But what is the antecedent of ταῦτα?
It must go back to the πάντα ταῦτα in v 33. “So also, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, at the very door.” Jesus’ return is “near, at the very door,” in that everything that must happen before his return will have happened within a generation. Depending on your understanding of this passage, this is exactly what happened. All the signs — in my opinion — point to the destruction of the temple, but there are no signs heralding Jesus return. (If you want to hear my fuller explanation, you can check out my lecture at BiblicalTraining.org.) Remember, always locate the antecedent of a pronoun.
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Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.