The measurement of time has been consistent since the beginning. Yes, various calendars throughout the ages had to be retooled to fit our current Gregorian calendar, but the measurement of time has never been altered. A day was 24 hours in the beginning and it stands that way today. God graciously created time for our benefit.
Yet, when it comes to interpreting time sensitive words in the Bible concerning eschatological (last days) events that were to take place shortly, soon, at hand, or quickly, we’re constantly told that accepted linguistic rules simply don’t apply. So, contrary to the way all other pieces of literature in history are understood, many argue that the very Word of the living God stands completely alone in the way it must be interpreted. Let me elaborate.
When we read verses like “He who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb 10:37), “the end of all things is near” (1 Pet 4:7) and “things which must take place shortly” (Rev 1:1), we immediately default to an interpretational free-for-all arguing that time must be allegorized. It’s bizarre that this principle of interpretation has become the default position. If a passage doesn’t fit our preconceived eschatological paradigm, we lose all sense of intellectual honesty and look for an excuse to change what the plain language of these passages imply.
The argument usually goes like this. God is infinite and with Him there is neither beginning nor end. Therefore, to an eternal God, time is irrelevant. To Him a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day. All completely true. So, when God, through His inspired Canon authors, says that something must come to pass shortly, we immediately assume that God doesn’t really mean it. It’s assumed that God has chosen to speak in a manner only He can comprehend… and therefore, soon can be thousands of years and thousands of years can be soon.
If I had a dollar for every time someone quoted 2 Peter 3:8, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” when confronted with passages they struggle to understand in context, I would be a wealthy man. Is this truly a legitimate method of interpretation? Every we come across “the end of all things is near”, is using 2 Peter 3:8 a legitimate argument which allows us to ignore the imminence and say, “God’s ways are not our way?”
Have you ever wondered why, if this passage means that time is irrelevant to God as He relates to His finite creatures, does He ever choose to use time sensitive words? Seriously, why? Why not, “the end of all things will one day come?” Why, when God fully knows what is meant by “soon” does He choose language which might confuse us? If soon and at hand can mean far-off, how can we know when God is speaking literally (as if He actually meant soon or far) and when He is speaking in some ethereal, eternal, other-worldly context? We act as though God is engaging in subterfuge and that concerns me a great deal.
We seem to forget that the Bible was written TO finite man who has both a beginning and an end. If we default to playing the 2nd Peter 3:8 card every time we are uncomfortable with the implications of a passage, pause and ask yourself if this is an honest interpretational rule. I find it ironic that those who consider themselves “literalists” are the ones who are so quick to nullify the imminent time expectancy of any anticipated event. If, in a given verse we aren’t supposed to know if shortly means thousands of years or if it actually means shortly, how can we possible understand what God is attempting to communicate?
Whether we read a piece of literature from the 2nd, 12th or 21st centuries, time is never allegorized, well except for interpreters of the Bible. If any author expects his/her readers to understand what he/she has written, how could “shortly” be stretched, elasticized or massaged? In all literature except THE ONE which is inspired, authoritative and inerrant, when something was said to take place soon or perhaps far off, we know exactly what the author means. So, how have we come to this place where the simplest of language (time sensitive words) has become so utterly ambiguous?
Let’s consider a few examples. When you read the following verse, do you have any doubt if Festus intended to remain only for a short period?
(Acts 25:4) us then answered that Paul was being kept in custody in Caesarea, and that he himself was about to leave shortly (tachos).
Is there any ambiguity concerning what Festus meant by shortly? Does anyone actually think that Festus waited indefinitely? One need only read down two verses…
(Acts 25:6) After Festus had spent no more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered that Paul be brought.
So, why don’t we immediately assume that Festus may have remained for 10 or 20 years? You say, that’s absurd! And I agree because it’s obvious, but no less obvious than any other verse which contains similar imminent language. It should go without saying what the Greek word tachos (shortly) means, but sadly, it has become vogue to argue that shortly can mean thousands of years i.e. if it doesn’t fit the reader’s eschatological paradigm. Don’t you find it odd that we only use the 2 Peter 3:8 excuse in prophetic passages?
I would venture to guess that no one reading the above would question what Luke meant by shortly. And they, therefore, have no problem recognizing that tachos, in fact, means shortly.
Let’s look at a few more usages of tachos?
(1 Tim 3:14) I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;
(Acts 12:7) And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near Peter, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands.
(Acts 22:8) and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’
In these verses is there a even a remote doubt what tachos means? Whatever was going to happen, it would take place soon.
Let me also introduce another way to play fast and loose with the word tachos. Some have tried to another nuanced method of linguistic gymnastics. They say that tachos can mean doing something with incredible speed, and therefore, they argue that it has nothing to do with the duration of time until the event is supposed to take place. But rather it’s all about speed. Is this a legitimate argument?
Let’s see. Does it make any sense that “hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly,” meant that they were supposed to wait for a long period, and then suddenly flee on a dead run? This is an absurd assertion driven solely by presupposition.
It might surprise you to know that I have actually heard a pastor use the above rationale that “tachos means lightning speed” in the following two verses. And, admittedly, I am baffled by it.
(Rev 1:1) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,
(Rev 22:6) And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.
As the pastor began to preach through the Revelation (the unveiling) he actually argued that “must soon take place” had nothing whatsoever to do with the near-term expectancy of the events described thereafter. And he didn’t even play the 2nd Peter 3:8 “time is irrelevant to God” card. Rather, he argued that when the things were to happen they would happen with lightning quick speed. In other words, he said that tachos had to do with the speed of execution and was completely disconnected from the duration of time until fulfillment. So, in effect he said that Jesus could wait thousands of years and then when He executed the events He would do it with incredible speed. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I am incredulous at such an assertion. Not only is that none what the word means, it’s never used that way in the Bible.
1 This is the revelation of Jesus Christ [His unveiling of the divine mysteries], which God [the Father] gave to Him to show to His bond-servants (believers) the things which must soon take place [in their entirety]; and He sent and communicated it by His angel (divine messenger) to His bond-servant John,
Why would anyone much less a pastor make this argument? Because he simply refuses to acknowledge that the events in the Revelation “MUST take place shortly.” And, does “MUST take place FAST” even make sense? This, in my view, is a sad commentary on the state of hermeneutics employed by too many pastors.
The fact that tachos is never used in this manner doesn’t seem to be enough of a roadblock. I’m sure he hasn’t been the only one to make this argument, so it makes one wonder who originally concocted this idea? On its surface it seems absurd but digging deeper it is, borders on dishonest. I’m not accusing this pastor of intentional dishonesty because he has probably taken someone else’s word for it, but he is nonetheless responsible to rightly divide the Word. So I’m confident there was no ill intent, but at best it’s sloppy and unscholarly. That seems to be the lay of the land in the 21st century Wild West of hermeneutics. It seems too many will do anything to maintain their paradigm.
In both instances at the beginning and end of Revelation, tachos clearly means “right away”, having nothing whatsoever to do with the speed in which the event was carried out. If you have fallen for this line of reasoning, please pause and take inventory of how you are interpreting the Bible. This is a really a big deal and unwittingly gives the skeptics and critics fodder to wreak havoc.
So, let’s get back to the 2nd Peter 3:8 “time is irrelevant” card. This kind of interpretational end run is eroding not only the integrity of the Bible but it is compromising our credibility to an already skeptical world. Without presupposition, who would read “things which MUST TAKE PLACE SHORTLY” and think to themselves, oh, that means thousands of years? No one would come to that interpretation without being told.
Humor me and when you come to these “problem passages” (that are only a problem for one whose paradigm requires it), allow the Bible to speak for itself without reading into the Sacred Text. Allow shortly to mean shortly, and at hand to mean at hand and struggle with the implications. Then, if it puts you at odds with what you’ve been taught, perhaps you need to deconstruct a potentially errant view.
Back to the pastor. If it wasn’t problematic enough for him to redefine tachos, he then conveniently neglected to consider the implications of another imminent word two verses down. During the sermon he never even mentioned “for the time is near”. Why? Perhaps because he couldn’t fit “near” into his “it’s gonna happen at the speed of light” redefinition of tachos.
(Rev 1:3) Blessed is the one who reads, and those who hear the words of the prophecy and keep the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
So what kind of linguistic gymnastics is required to push BOTH “things that must take place shortly” and “for the time is near” into the distant future?
“Near” is the Greek word engys, which means “near, imminent and soon”. So, if this pastor would have simply struggled a bit with the time essence in verse 3, he should have realized the impossibility of shoehorning his wishful redefinition of tachos to mean really, really, really fast. Engys can mean either near in space or time. It CANNOT and DOES NOT mean fast. And if you click on the hyperlinked engys you will see every usage in context. Here are but a few…
(Matt 24:33) so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
(Luke 21:30) as soon as they put forth leaves, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near.
(Heb 8:13) When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear.
(Rev 22:10) And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.
So, if one still believes that the “things which must take place shortly”… “for the time is near”, refers to events almost 2,000 years removed from the date the Revelation was written, they have unwittingly assaulted the integrity of language and have abandoned any semblance of sound interpretational methods. Consider these quotes from two 19th century scholars regarding 2 Peter 3:8. The first from Milton S. Terry who wrote “Biblical Hermeneutics.”
The language is a poetical citation from Psalm 90:4, and is adduced to show that the lapse of time does not invalidate the promises of God. . . . But this is very different from saying that when the everlasting God promises something shortly, and declares that it is close at hand, He may mean that it is a thousand years in the future. Whatever He has promised indefinitely He may take a thousand years or more to fulfill; but what He affirms to be at the door let no man declare to be far away. ((Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 406.))
J. Stuart Russell wrote with a bit more biting disdain for those who used 2 Peter 3:8 so carelessly:
Few passages have suffered more from misconstruction than this, which has been made to speak a language inconsistent with its obvious intention, and even incompatible with a strict regard to veracity.
There is probably an allusion here to the words of the Psalmist, in which he contrasts the brevity of human life with the eternity of the divine existence. . . . But surely it would be the height of absurdity to regard this sublime poetic image as a calculus for the divine measurement of time, or as giving us a warrant for wholly disregarding definitions of time in the predictions and promises of God.
Yet it is not unusual to quote these words as an argument or excuse for the total disregard for the element of time in the prophetic writings. Even in cases where a certain time is specified in the prediction, or where such limitations as ‘shortly,’ or ‘speedily,’ or ‘at hand’ are expressed, the passage before us is appealed to in justification of an arbitrary treatment of such notes of time, so that soon may mean late, and near may mean distant, and short may mean long, and vice versa. . . .
It is surely unnecessary to repudiate in the strongest manner such a non-natural method of interpreting the language of Scripture. It is worse than ungrammatical and unreasonable, it is immoral. It is to suggest that God has two weights and measures in His dealings with men, and that in His mode of reckoning there is an ambiguity and variableness which will make it impossible to tell ‘What manner of time the Spirit of Christ in the prophets may signify’[cf. 1 Pet. 1:11]…
The Scriptures themselves, however, give no countenance to such a method of interpretation. Faithfulness is one of the attributes most frequently ascribed to the ‘covenant-keeping God,’ and the divine faithfulness is that which the apostle in this very passage affirms. . . . The apostle does not say that when the Lord promises a thing for today He may not fulfill His promise for a thousand years: that would be slackness; that would be a breach of promise. He does not say that because God is infinite and everlasting, therefore He reckons with a different arithmetic from ours, or speaks to us in a double sense, or uses two different weights and measures in His dealings with mankind. The very reverse is the truth. . . .
It is evident that the object of the apostle in this passage is to give his readers the strongest assurance that the impending catastrophe of the last days were on the very eve of fulfillment. The veracity and faithfulness of God were the guarantees of the punctual performance of the promise. To have intimated that time was a variable quantity in the promise of God would have been to stultify and neutralize his own teaching, which was that ‘the Lord is not slack concerning His promise.’ ((J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books,  1983), 321ff. Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” 134–35.))
Did you catch that? J. Stuart Russell didn’t just say that using 2 Peter 3:8 in this manner is ungrammatical, but is actually immoral.
Listen, I understand why so many covet the use of 2 Peter 3:8. I truly do. Anything to avoid dealing with the possibility that the Olivet Discourse/John’s Apocalypse, pertained to events in the first century and aren’t in our short-term future. As unnerving and disorienting as that is, wouldn’t it better to abandon the absurd notion that God can’t communicate clearly? God can, in fact, tell time and He made it abundantly clear through the prophet Ezekiel that he would no longer put up with those who refused to believe Him.
(Ezek 12:21-25) 21 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 22 “Son of man, what is this proverb you people have about the land of Israel, saying, ‘The days are long, and every vision fails’? 23 Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says: “I will put an end to this proverb so that they will no longer use it as a proverb in Israel.” But tell them, “The days are approaching as well as the fulfillment of every vision. 24 For there will no longer be any false vision or deceptive divination within the house of Israel. 25 For I the Lord will speak whatever word I speak, and it will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, you rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,” declares the Lord God.’”
God made it crystal clear that whatever He spoke would NOT and could NOT be delayed. So why do people still cling so tightly to this elasticizing time method of interpretation? Because if we are forced to abandon playing the 2 Peter 3:8 card every time we encounter a verse that we don’t like the implication of, we will have to confront the reality of what the verse actually says.
for a more in-depth analysis of God’s usage of time throughout the Bible, click on this link.