Time (in the New Testament)

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The authors of the New Testament texts use two Greek terms for time: chronos and kairos. Although they do not engage in philosophical speculation about time, it is quite evident that their perspective is solidly rooted in the Jewish understanding of time as linear. That is to say, for the New Testament authors, time moves forward, and events can be certainly located in their own historical context. That linear notion of time, however, is not without a theological perspective: that God's activity has been discernible within the history of the Jewish peoplefrom the creation to the rebuilding of the Templeis now discerned within the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Moreover, there is a view of time forward to the ultimate fulfillment of the age, which will not so much bring an end to time per se, but at which time God will reestablish the idyllic state of creation.

This linear, chronological sense of time is most evident in the Greek word χρόνος (chronos ), which means "time" or "span of time." Χρόνος is used 54 times in the New Testament. It seems fair to say that the author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles finds this term most fitting for his grand two-part narrative, since he uses χρόνος seven and seventeen times, respectfully much more frequently than any other New Testament author. For some examples, see the use of χρόνος in Mt 2.7, 16; Mk 2.19; 9.21; Lk 1.57; 4.5; 8.27; 18.4; 20.9; 23.8; Jn 5.6; 7.33; 12.35; 14.9; Ac 1.6, 21; 3.21; 7.17, 23; 8.11; 13.18; 14.3, 28; 15.33; 17.30; 18.20, 23; 19.22; 20.18; 27.9; Rm 7.1; 16.25; 1 Co 7.39; 16.7; Ga 4.1; Hb 4.7;5.12; 11.32; 1 Pt 1.17; 4.2, 3; Rv 2.21; 6.11; 20.3.

There is, however, another Greek term which can be used as a synonym for χρόνος in the sense of "time" or "span of time," namely, καιρός (kairos ; used 85 times in the New Testament; cf. Ac 1.7 and 1 Th 5.1 where both terms are used in the plural: "[the] times and [the] seasons"). Despite that usage, καιρός often carries much more theological freight than is normal for χρόνος. καιρός can mean "the proper time," or "a decisive moment," "a moment of grace," "a time requiring a decision and commitment." St. Paul uses both terms (as well as αών [aiwn = eon]), but while χρόνος normally designates a chronological, linear sense of time, καιρός "frequently refers to 'eschatologically filled time, time for decision"' (Baumgarten, 232; cf. Rm 3.26; 5.6; 8.18; 9.9;11.5; 13.11; 1 Co 4.5; 7.5, 29; 2 Co 6.2 bis ; 8.14; Gl 4.10; 6.9, 10; 1 Th 2.17; 5.1). For the New Testament authors, the "time" of Jesus is more than just a chronological moment in history, it is a time that demands a decision, a time that fulfills the meaning of the time that has gone before and the foretaste of the consummation of all time.

Although the biblical authors believe that God is present and active in χρόνος, that very belief calls one to recognize God's presence and to decide for God, in other words, to grasp the καιρός.

Bibliography: "καιρός" and "χρόνος" in w. bauer, w. f. arndt, and f. w. gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. by f.w. danker, (Chicago 3rd ed., 2000). Gerhard Delling, "καιρός" and "χρόνος", in g. kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament trans. and ed., g. w. bromiley, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI 19641976) v. III, 455464 and v. IX, 581594, respectively. j. baumgarten, "καιρός", in Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols., (Grand Rapids, MI 1990) v. 2, 232235. H. Hübner, "χρόνος", idem., 488489.

[t.a. friedrichsen]