Application of Exegesis Methods to Disputed Biblical Passages

Matthew 24:15

Text. Modern English translations (ESV, HCSB, NASB, NET, NIV) as well as major modern Italian ones (CEI, LND, NR2006), reveal no significant variation in the rendering. NET provides extensive translations notes, and no particular dispute in translating this passage is reported. Davies & Allison (2004) agree. 

Paralles are found in Mark 13:14 and Luke 21:20.

Historical BackgroundChrist’s discourse is set around forty years prior to AD 70, during His final week before the crucifixion (Kostenberger, Stewart, & Makara, 2018). In Roman-controlled Israel, the messianic expectation was that “Messiah would lead the nation to throw off Gentile domination” (Myers, 2006, p. 42). Thus, Jesus’ statement in 24:2 puzzles the disciples, who then ask for clarifications in 24:3 regarding three things: the events about to happen; His coming into His Kingdom; and the end of the age (Walvoord, 1971).

Literary AnalysisSimilar to ancient Greco-Roman biographies, Gospels uniquely combine teaching and action in a preaching-based document (Carson & Moo, 2005), whilst still comprising of various familiar genres: parable, discourse, dialogue, biography, etc. (Magnum, 2020). In Matthew’s chiastic structure, the Olivet Discourse is situated at the antipodes of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), the latter laying down the qualifications to enter the Kingdom, and the former explaining when it will actually come (Derickson, 2006).

The word for “standing” is neuter (ἑστὸς) in Matthew, whilst in the Marcan parallel it is masculine (ἑστηκότα), suggesting a personification of the abomination, lending support to the “future Antichrist” view (Davies & Allison, 2004). See also 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Dydache 16; Apoc. Elijah 2:41; 4:21. 

Theological Analysis. The crucial theological element is the explicit reference to Daniel and his ‘abomination of desolation’ (cf. Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11), thus it is interesting that no references to the ‘abomination’ or the prophet Daniel are found in the Lucan parallel, whilst the Marcan parallel does not mention the ‘holy place’ explicitly, and does not directly attribute the ‘abomination of desolation’ to Daniel.

Interpretation. The verse is part of the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25). Some scholars rightly observe that Daniel’s prophecy seems fulfilled in history by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC (1 Maccabees 1:54, 59; 6:7; 2 Maccabees 6:1–5), yet Jesus clearly intends a future fulfilment for it. This first puzzle is solved by noting that not all of Daniel’s abomination passages refer to the same event. Daniel 11:31 (11:20-35) is about Antiochus (Walvoord, 1971), but 11:36-45 refer to an eschatological future (so Daniel 9:27), the one Jesus refers to (also Paul in 2Th 2:3). The debate regarding whether Matthew 24:15 refers to a historical future or an eschatological one (Theophlos, 2009) is resolved similarly, through the early Jewish hermeneutical idea of ‘patterns of fulfilment’ (Haug, 2003), though we favour the “law of double reference” rather than that of “double fulfilment” (Fruchtenbaum, 2003, p. 4-5). Preterists (Bigalke, 2008) use the Lucan parallel to support the idea that the siege of Jerusalem (AD 70) was the historical fulfilment of the passage, since Luke explicitly mentions Jerusalem surrounded by armies and its desolation being near. However, we must observe that Luke (21:7) only reports the first of the disciples’ three original questions that we find in Matthew (24:3); and that first question is what is answered in Luke 21:20-24. Christ’s prophecy, as a whole, contains multiple references, some to the events of AD 70, some to an eschatological future; the latter is what is addressed in the Matthean account, which links the ‘abomination’ to Daniel and to the ‘holy place’. This agrees with Matthew’s chiastic centre being the postponement of the Kingdom (Derickson, 2006, p. 429).

Mark 1:15

Text. Modern English translations (ESV, HCSB, NASB, NET, NIV) as well as major modern Italian ones (CEI, LND, NR2006), reveal no significant variation in the rendering. No translation dispute was found, either. The only parallel is recorded in Matthew 4:17.

Historical BackgroundThe first statement of Jesus found in Mark’s Gospel is pronounced towards the beginning of Christ’s ministry, shortly after his baptism and the arrest of John the Baptist. To Jews living in Roman-occupied Israel, Jesus’ key words “Kingdom of God” would have resonated with their messanic expectation in light of Old Testament prophecies (Myers, 2006).

Literary AnalysisAll four Gospels can also be seen as narrative literature. Cranfield (1959) identifies different kinds of narratives in Mark that suggest direct eyewitness derivation, use of established tradition, and retelling of historical events.

In terms of function, Carson & Moo (2005) see the verse at hand as a transitional text between the preliminaries to Jesus’ ministry and the first part of His Galilean ministry. Johnson (2017) argues the verse is part of a single literary unit (vv.1-15) that plays a rhetorical function. 

Grammatical Analysis. The verb ἤγγικεν could be translated as “has come near” or just “has come” (Wessel & Strauss, 2010). The former is the choice of all the translations we consulted. Yet Stein (2008) suggests that since “the time is fulfilled”, then the alternative rendering should be favoured. 

Lexical Analysis. Several phrases are worthy of attention (Gould, 1922): πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρός, that is, the time is fulfilled, indicating a time ripe for an event; ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ, God’s Kingdom, evidently a familiar thought amongst Jesus’ Jewish audience; μετανοεῖτε, repent, which denotes a continuation of the Baptiser’s message;[1]εὐαγγελίῳ, the gospel.

Theological analysis. Central to this passage is Jesus’ opening of His preaching with the topic of the “Kingdom of God”. Such a kingdom is said to be “good news” (gospel). The “gospel of the kingdom” is defined in the Gospel of Matthew as being the Messianic Kingdom promised by the Prophets, and Mark, too, emphasises Matthew’s kingdom truths when the audience is Jewish (Myers, 2006, p. 43).

Interpretation. Wessel & Strauss (2010) suggest Mark may have been intentionally ambiguous regarding ἤγγικεν, so to allow for both a present, spiritual manifestation of the kingdom, and a future, earthly one (Gould, 1922). However, we agree with Cranfield (1959) when he says that the Augustinian identification of the kingdom of God with the Church is mistaken (p. 67), and maintain that it is the Messianic Davidic kingdom that had arrived with Jesus; but the reception of the same was conditional upon national repentance (Myers, 2006), condition that remains for its future establishment (Vlach, 2016). This also has repercussions for understanding the role of repentance in the gospel: in this passage, the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom (Vickers, 2004) and—for this gospel—repentance is required on the part of Israel as a nation. This is in keeping with the theology presented in the Old Testament, where we see God’s dealing with both nations and individuals, both believers and unbelievers, based on their response to Him (Vlach, 2016). God’s dealings with the Gentile city of Nineveh (cf. Jonah) is a prime example of this. This concept also underpins the conditional nature of blessings and curses for Israel (e.g. Lev 26). Thus, it was Israel’s perversion of the Law and their rejection of the Messiah (Mk 3:22-30) that caused their first century expulsion from the land, until the day they will repent nationally (Lk 13:35). Of course, God used the foreseen hardness of Israel to reconcile the world to Himself (Rm 11:15), the pinnacle of His plan.

Hebrews 1:1-2

Text. Four (ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV) of the five English translations we hvae considered, as well as the Italian translations (CEI, LND, NR2006), have no noticeable differences in the rendering of our text. However, the NET does have a significant difference in rendering, for what is commonly rendered as “in His Son” is here rendered as “in a son”. However, their long notes explain that the choice is not theological; instead, it would seem dictated by what appears to be an excess of grammatical zeal. 

Historical Background. The letter can be dated between AD 64 and AD 68 (MacLeod, 2005), when Jewish revolt was on the rise. It is likely addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians, either belonging to the churches of Judea (Fruchtenbaum, 2005), or former priests now relocated to Antioch (Allen, 2010). Consequently, the epistle builds its theological case from Old Testament passages, in order to present the superiority of the New Covenant. This is visible in the passage at hand already, where God’s revelation of the past is contrasted to the more recent one, and where the Son is contrasted to—and exalted above—the Prophets. 

Literary Analysis. Though catalogued as an epistle, Hebrews is recognised as a written homily by modern scholarship (Bruce, 1990). The first four verses of the book form a unit that “is a single beautifully crafted sentence” (MacLeod, 2005, p. 212), which presents key ideas the author then develops in the subsequent chapters. The unit is arranged in a chiasm of the form “ABCDCBA” (Ebert, 1992), “ABC” being the two verses at hand. Relevant is also the already mentioned rhetorical device of “contrast” (Black, 1987).

Grammatical Analysis. We mentioned the peculiar choice of the NET in saying “in a son” instead of the more common “in the Son” or “in His Son”. In reality, there is no article at all in front of the Greek word υἱός, so the literal translation would be “in son”. Wallace (1996) maintains that this stresses Christ’s Sonship. The NET team, instead, affirm that it is because the Greek emphasises the quality of God’s final revelation over that of the messenger. 

Another word sometimes subject to debate is the word διά in verse 1:2c, which is commonly translated “through”. The latter is the correct translation, because διά is followed by a genitive (Wallace, 1996, p. 368-69). Yet some (e.g. unitarians or Socinians) still leverage an old error (Wilson, 1865), which renders διά as “on account of”, a translation that would only be possible if the word was followed by an accusative (Wallace, 1996, p. 369).

Lexical Analysis. The term αἰῶνας rendered as “universe” or “world” in verse 1:2 literally means “ages”. The NET remarks that “the temporal (ages) came to be used of the spatial (what exists in those time periods)”, which is supported by the usage of the word in verse 11:3.

MacLeod (2005) draws attention to the contrast of particular terms and phrases, such as πάλαι (long ago) with ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων (in these last days), but also the phrase “heir of all things”, because of a “firm link between heirship and sonship” (p. 216).

Theological Analysis. As mentioned already, the author of Hebrews is on a mission to explain the superiority of the New Covenant to a Jewish audience. This is accomplished by way of contrast: things of the past versus things of the “last days”, the fathers versus “us”, the prophets of old versus the Son, the servants versus the heir (cf. Mk 12:1-2), to whom the role of Creator is also ascribed. 

InterpretationThe first four verses summarise the key notions to explain that God spoke long ago, but now He speaks in the last days (the remainder of the present age, before the Messianic future (MacLeod, 2005)). Before He spoke in portions and various ways, now He speaks in the fullness of the Son. Before He spoke via prophets (v1) and angels (v4), now via the Heir (cf. Matthew 21:33-46), very agent (v2) and upholder (v3) of creation, Himself divine (v3). This is the trajectory taken by the author with his audience, to show them both the continuity with the older revelation and the culmination of the same in Jesus and a better covenant through His blood. Noteworthy is the nature of the audience, too: both the “fathers” and the “us” in this passage are Jewish; this is an additional guarantee of the authenticity of the newer revelation, because it is to the Israelites that belong “the covenants and the giving of the Law […] and the promises” (Rm 9:4).

Romans 5:12-14

Text. No significant variation in rendering is found in either of the five English translations we have been using (ESV, HCSB, NASB, NET, NIV), nor in the three Italian ones (CEI, LND, NR2006).

Historical Background. Paul wrote the epistle from Corinth during the winter of AD 56-57, to believers in Rome, both Jews and Gentiles (Hodges, 2013). This is in line with the ethnical diversity of Rome in those days (Edwards, Reasoner, & Porter, 2000), which included an estimated fifty thousand Jews (Dunn, 1992). Jews would not be expulsed from Rome until the great fire of AD 64, which led also to the first major persecution of Christians.

Literary Analysis. The Epistle to the Romans is a Greco-Roman letter (Carson & Moo, 2005). It is peculiar that it is one of only two Pauline letters (the other being Colossians) to having been written to churches which Paul had no dealings with. It is also a treatise on Christian doctrine (Dunn, 1992), thus not addressing the issues of a specific congregation, rather those of the Christian community as a whole. 

Romans 5:12-14 is said to use comparison as rhetorical device, though the debate around the “just as” of verse 12 is still ongoing (Haring, 2018).

Grammatical Analysis. The translation of the phrase ἐφ᾿ ᾧ is the object of the most relevant grammatical debate. Cranfield (1969) reports a discussion of all the possibilities, the major ones being: “in whom” as in the Augustinian tradition, which takes the phrase as a relative clause in which the pronoun refers back to Adam; “with the result that”, by taking the phrase as with consecutive (resultative) force; “because”, by taking the phrase as causal in force. Wallace (1996) discards the first option altogether, because of the great distance of the phrase from the antecedent. All the translations we examined favour the latter option, which to us seems the most likely, since Paul argues extensively that it is sin that causes death (5:12-15, 17; 6:23).

Another phrase worthy of attention is Διὰ τοῦτο, at the very beginning of verse 12. Schreiner (2018) suggests this is best translated “for this reason”, and that it is connecting verses 12-21 with verse 1-11 through the theme of hope, displayed in the first eleven verses and rooted in Christ’s overturn of Adam’s actions; the same hope of life in Christ which delivers from wrath and death (Hodges, 2013).

Lexical Analysis. The debate around ὥσπερ (“just as”) of verse 12 is noteworthy (Haring, 2018), since Paul seems to lose sight of the comparison until he resumes it in verses 18-19 (Moo, 1996); a likely explanation is that Paul decided to clarify (vv.13-17) why people before Moses died despite there being no Law. 

Worthy of mention is also the word τύπος, which codifies the typological relationship between Adam and Christ.

Theological Analysis. The passage, in its larger context found in verses 12-21, is focussed on explaining the relationship between Adam’s sin, death, and our own sin; as well as the typological relationship between Adam and Christ, the latter restoring the life that the former had forfeited for himself and his progeny. 

Traditionally, this section of Romans has been used as supporting text for developing various forms of the doctrine of original (or ancestral) sin (Schreiner, 2018).

Interpretation. The crux of the matter is the debate over whether or not mankind is guilty of Adam’s sin and condemned because of it (federal headship view); or whether we should understand “original sin” differently to the tradition passed down by Augustine. The idea that mankind died before the Law because guilty of Adam’s sin does not actually match—for instance—pre-Mosaic history (Gen 6-9): the diluvian judgement as well as the judgement at Babel are executed on the ground of personal sin, not of Adam’s sin. 

It is often argued that the federal headship view makes the most sense of the comparison between Adam and Christ, because sin is imputed to those in Adam just as righteousness is imputed to those in Christ. We would tend to agree, as long as we can also agree that the faith that places someone in Christ is a genuine free choice on the part of the individual (Meisinger, 2005); which, in turn, would seem to require a choice in order to be placed in Adam, too.

In fact, Paul has already explained in 2:12 that those who sinned without the Law will also perish (ἀπολοῦνται, conveying final judgement (Schreiner, 2018)) without the Law. Thus, there is no need to use inherited guilt to explain verses 13-14; and it is also linguistically impossible to interpret “all sinned” as “all sinned in Adam” (Schreiner, 2018). Paul seems to teach that death spread to all, because all sinned of their own. Yet we should be careful not to adopt a Pelagian reading, as one thing is certain: Adam’s sin produced a race of sinners (Hodges, 2013), that is, of people that will sin because of the sin that is in the world.

Therefore, we must analyse our text in the larger section of verses 12-21. We would argue that the language of these verses is causative throughout. Adam’s disobedience causes sin to enter the world, and through this sin, death also enters the world (v.12a); it also causes universal sin and death (v.12b); it causes death to reign (v.14, 17) and many to die (v.15); it leads all to condemnation (v.18) and produces more sinners (v.19). In essence, Adam’s sin causes our guilt, but is not itself our guilt. We inherit Adam’s characteristics (mortality, sinfulness, etc.) because we are made in his image (Gen 5:3), but we become guilty when we sin ourselves. This view allows also for a coherent doctrine of infant salvation (Harwood, 2017), which alternative views do not permit.


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Johnson, B. T. (2017). The Form and Function of Mark 1:1-15: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to the Markan Prologue. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

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[1] “Repent” is also object of grammatical and theological dispute, with differing views regarding its meaning, as well as its role (Bing, Dillow, Edmondson, Fankhauser, & Hawley, 2016, p. 139-146).