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So I was trying to sync my iPod to the doomsday clock when I realized that I don't know what is meant by:

You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.

Matthew 24:6 (NABRE)

I do recall that being said "Rumors of war", but that must be in another Bible.

So, even if it's not the end, it's still important. My conception of rumors of war is all wrapped up in George Orwell, but since he didn't write for quite a few years after Matthew perhaps it's not the right notion.

So here's my two parter, which is really a four parter.

  1. What to Jesus and His disciples, what constituted a "Report of war"? Was it the result of deliberate misinformation campaigns by the Romans?
  2. Was the Cold War a "Rumor of a war"? In reading the signs of the times, was the confluence of wars (i.e. Vietnam) and rumors of war (i.e. Cold War) anything to get worked up about, as a harbinger bringing about the end times?
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"Rumors of war" is used in many translations, including NIV/ESV/NASB/KJV etc. –  dancek Oct 23 '11 at 9:17
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Re part 2 (and relating to current day) I think there's an inherent problem trying to over-interpret such a vague prophesy, especially about common things like war, and where we have given it a few thousand years, with the entire world to look at (let's not forget that it is pretty unlikely scripture is knowingly talking about the USA, for example), with countless wars, skirmishes a feints to consider. –  Marc Gravell Jan 26 '12 at 19:34
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50,000,000 murdered in USA in last 30 years. 400,000,000 in China in the last 50 and that's before birth! There's no way we're getting better, we're just getting more efficient. –  Peter Turner Jan 26 '12 at 19:52
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@Peter "before birth" - is that an abortion rant? if so, no matter what your views, it is unrelated to a question on war. –  Marc Gravell Jan 27 '12 at 7:12
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@Peter I repeat: neither your views on abortion, nor mine, would seem to be in any way related to the question as asked –  Marc Gravell Jan 27 '12 at 17:01
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6 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

First: a translation issue. I am not literate in Greek but I have studied Latin; the Vulgate renders Matt 24:6 as: "audituri autem estis proelia et opiniones proeliorum videte ne turbemini oportet enim haec fieri sed nondum est finis" Notice the noun "bellum, belli" is not in that sentence, but "proelia" (plural form of proelium) which means "battle, combat, or conflict." Like the Eskimos having many different words for snow with subtle differences in meaning, so the Romans had different words for war-like activity. The English use of the word war in the term "cold war" implies a non-kinetic state of potential hostility, something Latin speakers would have called "pax" (peace) or "indutiae" (truce, or suspension of hostilities). So looking at the Latin Vulgate (from which the King James Bible was translated) it's important to understand that while "war" can fit the meaning of "proelia" it would more precisely be rendered as "skirmishes," "battles," or "armed conflict" in contemporary (2012) American English parlance. (A modern example of "proelia" would be what's going on in Libya, Syria, Somalia, and possibly even Iran.)

Specific answers to your questions:

  1. My guess as to what constituted a report of war would be a report (by whomever reports things) of a war. Lacking a media like we have today news would have traveled by word of mouth, carried by traveler, merchants, soldiers, vagrants... whomever might have been in a position to see a war or hear about a war.

  2. Based on the translation background I laid out above, no, the cold war isn't a rumor of war. I would also say that Vietnam doesn't count either. It's possible that current times (February 2012) might count as there are "active, kinetic operations" taking place in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the Philippines, South America, Indonesia, Africa... and those are just the ones we know about. The big rumor right now is that things might go hot with Iran but that remains to be seen. Given the news media we have now, I'm not sure what constitutes fact versus rumor in this regard. I think the spirit of the verse is that we will have reason to be very agitated, nervous, and fearful because of war and the prospects thereof... which is a subjective standard to say the least. But in final answer on this point, I would say "no" to the way you phrased the question.

One more point regarding what Christ is saying in Matthew Chapter 24: there will be worrying and troubling events coming and that we should not allow the turmoil of the world to affect our interior peace which comes from union with Him, the Prince of Peace. I know that doesn't address the question of determining when the end of the world will arrive, but Christ said that His return will be like a thief in the night. We don't gain any extra merits spiritually by knowing when Christ is going to return: we only merit by being ready. Have your soul so disposed as to be ready for Christ to return at any time and you'll have the peace which the world cannot take from you -- regardless of "proelia" or rumors of them.

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How many ways can opiniones be translated? My goals is not so much to pinpoint when the end of the world (hard to do), but to read the signs of the times (important to do). For instance in 1984 there's some war going on all the time, but it's just a rumor. Is this what Jesus is talking about? Pretty much what I want to know is, is He talking about gossip or propaganda? –  Peter Turner Feb 1 '12 at 15:46
    
+1 BTW, you're doing great answering my Catholicism questions! –  Peter Turner Feb 1 '12 at 15:46
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Without access to a good Latin-English reference I would have to go on context and 'linguistic smell' and say "opinion" or "estimation." The first Latin-English dictionary I found online translates 'rumor' to 'fama' or 'opinio.' While the Romans had fine distinctions for degrees and types of 'kinetic military activity' I don't know that they were so precise with news/opinion/rumor -- this wasn't much covered when I read Caesar's Gallic Wars in high school :-) -- so it's possible that 'opiniones' is accurately rendered as 'rumors.' –  Audio Sancto Feb 1 '12 at 15:58
    
"Like the Eskimos having many different words for snow with subtle differences in meaning." A well-know myth. Anyway, how many names for snow do we have? drift, blizzard, slush, sleet. Or how about rain? drizzle, downpour, storm, fine mist, etc. –  TRiG Mar 9 '12 at 15:14
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I don't think that we can say for sure. I think that this particular verse could apply to just about any time in history. Rumors of wars could mean any fear of a coming war, including the cold war.

In fact most of the things foretold in Matthew 24 have happened since His time - false messiahs, nation rising against nation, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, Christians being persecuted, killed, and hated for their faith, and so on.

The general consensus among pastors that I have spoken to (and sites that you can find by Googling this verse) is that these signs will increase as we get nearer to the end times.

The fact that there is not a definitive answer to this question, and that it could apply to any time in history is perfectly within Biblical teaching, since Jesus Himself said that no man would know when the coming of these times are.

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No.

What I think people don't get is that Jesus wasn't saying these things to us. Matthew 24:1 makes it obvious that Jesus was talking to his disciples. "Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings."

Jesus said "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars..". Not, "People in the future will hear of wars and rumors of wars.."

This is consistent with Matthew 23:36, Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32, which states quite simply that this would all happen in their generation (The first century) which was a long time ago.

Believe it or not,... that is what the bible says. Check it.

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I guess I should have asked this on the bible site. Even though you're right about the interpretation being for here and now, there's no reason to think that it doesn't also have an an eternal sense to the interpretation. –  Peter Turner Jan 29 '12 at 2:53
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Unfortunately, the disciples asked Jesus three questions in Matt. 24:3. "When will these things be" and "what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age"? Jesus foretells (in 24:2) that the destruction of the temple is coming. The disciples are too caught up with the moment that they clump the events into one period in time, thinking first that Jesus was going to actually establish His kingdom at His first coming and then later they thought Jesus was coming in their lifetime (which accounts for people selling all things in Acts). I think it's a simple passage that merely says, "there's coming a time when there will be so much war and rumor (or fear) of war". So, I wouldn't narrow it down to one incident, but I also wouldn't exclude it of course.

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The ESV (among others) still uses "rumors":

Matthew 24:6 (ESV)
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

As you probably know, texts such as this are very controversial among Bible scholars. In relation to this passage, there are four main views:

  1. Preterist—Essentially all of Jesus' prophecy has already been accomplished (usually in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD).
  2. Historicist—Events described in prophecy are linked to specific historical events
  3. Futurist—Prophecy will be fulfilled in the future and we are still waiting expectantly for those events to happen.
  4. Idealist—Apocalyptic language in the Bible ought be primary seen as symbolic and representative of a larger, spiritual conflict.

These are gross caricatures of serious positions, however, since almost all scholars hold more nuanced opinions. For instance, I lean toward a Partial Preterist position that links quite a bit of Matthew 24 to the great Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The Roman campaign started far to the north, in Galilee, during the spring of 67 AD and ended with the siege of Masada seven years later. To answer your first question, rumors of war meant hearing about war in some distant place that might be headed your way. (The Greek word translated rumor is akoe <189>. It's primary definition is "the sense of hearing".)


If I may take this space to make a plug, your first question seems ideal for Biblical Hermeneutics. If my answer so far whets your appetite for more, that's where I would look.


For interpretation #1, the Cold War wouldn't qualify as "rumors of war". Since the text is clear that this part of the prophecy is before the end, under #3 the Cold War might be a sign. And of course for #2, it almost certainly is. Under #4, the Cold War was a sign of ongoing conflict in the spiritual realm, but so was the Crimean War and the Hundred-Year War.

As Christians, I think it's probably a mistake to spend too much time thinking about whether this event or that event is a sign of the end. For one thing:

Matthew 24:36 (ESV)
    36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

But I think we really are missing the point of apocalyptic language in the Bible. The word in Greek, ἀποκάλυψις, means "lifting of the veil". God's purpose in speaking to prophets is to show us what's behind the curtain. Our tendency in Western culture is to hear the Great and Powerful Oz, pull back the curtain, and expect a man speaking into a microphone. We have an insatiable desire to deconstruct and find out how things work on a mechanical level. If we say that Vietnam and the Cold War are "wars and rumors of wars", begin to loose track of what God is trying to say to us.

If I had to boil all of prophecy down to one message, it would be God saying, "I got this. All of human history fits in my design for the world. Here's a glimpse of what I'm planning, but you'll see that everything is for my Glory in the end." If thinking about the Cold War as a fulfillment of prophecy helps you think that way, go for it.

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Heh, I think I better join Biblical Hermeneutics after all, because I won't be able to ask the question again here! I think I wrote too much in the question. I really just want to know if rumors of war means a false war used to drum up popular sympathies for the purposes of nationalism or a true war in a foreign land. –  Peter Turner Feb 1 '12 at 19:35
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πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων

Wars and rumours/hearings/rumblings of wars.

πολέμους is accusative, masculine plural. Seems like it's the first part of a content (or object) clause of the infinitive ἀκούειν ("to hear"). I guess it could also be indicative, but infinitives can be taken as indicatives when context allows.

πολέμους and ἀκοὰς are both the same case and number. These are linked by the copulative καὶ which means that wars is to be taken with what follows --- as part of the clause. The final πολέμων is a genitive which should be taken as a descriptive genitive that modifies the ἀκοὰς (hearings/rumors).

What does all of this mean? It seems that based on this cursory grammatical overview that A sign of the events that Jesus is describing is the presence of actual wars and rumors of wars. What these rumors are is open for interpretation. Is it just general sense fear, anxiety, uneasiness about international relationships? Political pundits and the like ACTUALLY "forecasting" war? Certainly all of the events that you mentioned qualify. Take note that though this criterion is mentioned first, it is not the only criterion for "end times."

The reality is that the end time has been near since Jesus initiated the Messianic Age (Luke 4). Since then, Christians have been awaiting the return of Messiah under the belief that they are in the end time.

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