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PAROUSIA pə rōō’ zhĭ ə (παρουσία, G4242, presence, then coming or arrival). This term is transliterated from the Gr., to denote in recent theology the eschatological coming of Christ. This use of the term is based upon its NT meaning when related to Christ.

The usage of the term

In the NT.

Six of the NT occurrences of the term have this simple meaning, of the arrival or presence of some individual or individuals. In 1 Corinthians 16:17 Paul wrote, “I rejoice at the coming (παρουσία, G4242) of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus” (see also 2 Cor 7:6, 7; 10:10; Phil 1:26; 2:12).

The remaining eighteen NT occurrences of the term have an eschatological connotation. In all of these passages the term is used with a genitive to identify the person whose “coming” or “presence” is in view. In 2 Thessalonians 2:9 it is used of “the lawless one” (the Antichrist) whose parousia is a satanic parody of Christ’s parousia. The remaining occurrences all relate to Christ and are eschatological in connotation (the eschatological meaning in 2 Pet 1:16, however, is not beyond dispute).

The term parousia does not in itself denote a return. The exact phrase “the Second Coming” is not used in the NT and does not occur in Christian lit. until the time of Justin Martyr (c. a.d. 150). The entire teaching of the NT makes it clear that Christ’s eschatological parousia is His Second Coming. This fact is expressly asserted in Hebrews 9:26-28.

Outside the NT.

The LXX tr. of the OT books does not use the term parousia. It does occur in those apocryphal books that were originally written in Gr. (Judg 10:18; 2 Macc 8:12; 15:21; 3 Macc 3:17) but always in a secular sense. It does not occur in Philo. Josephus uses it of the presence of God to help, but without eschatological import.

Moulton and Milligan point out that from Ptolemaic times onward, parousia was used as a “quasi-technical” term to denote the official visit of a king, emperor, or other governmental official to a province or city (MM 497). In Hel. lit. the term also was used in a cultic sense of the manifestation of some hidden deity who made his presence known by revelation or whose presence was celebrated in the ritual.

The opening pages of the NT make it clear that at the time of Christ’s first advent there was a prevailing expectation among the Jews of the coming of the Messiah. The Heb. nation had been established and preserved by the mighty manifestations of Yahweh on behalf of His people and the Jews confidently looked forward to a further divine manifestation with the coming of the Messiah. The nature of these Messianic hopes was not uniform; political, ethical, and apocalyptic elements mingled in the expectations. They looked for the coming of the Messiah in history, but that coming was not without eschatological implications.

The related NT terms.

Another synonym is ἐπιφανεία, from which we derive our Eng. word “epiphany.” It was used in Koinē Gr. of the visible manifestation of a deity either in person or through some act of power. In the NT it is used only by Paul, once of Christ’s first appearing (2 Tim 1:10), but elsewhere of the Second Coming (2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13). This term draws attention to the actual presence of the returning Christ through the visible manifestation of His person.

The teaching in the NT

The common teaching.

The eschatological coming of Christ is a prominent theme in all parts of the NT. The Messiah who has already come to achieve redemption through His death and resurrection is expected to return to consummate His redemptive work.

The term parousia does not occur in Acts but it is clear that the hope of Christ’s return was central in the faith and teaching of the Early Church (Acts 1:10, 11; 3:20, 21; 10:42; 17:31).

The term parousia does not occur in Revelation, but from its opening statement in 1:1 to the closing prayer in 22:20 the book is filled with this truth. It paints an elaborate picture of end-time events and gives a glorious view of the returning Christ in open triumph over all enemies (19:11-21).

The expectant attitude.

The modern reactions.

Modern interpretations of the scriptural teaching concerning the parousia have given rise to three basic reactions. The liberalism of the 19th and early 20th century chose to discard the eschatological hope as a mistaken feature of the message of the Early Church. Neo-orthodox theologies seek to reinterpret the eschatological message by demythologizing it in terms of acceptable modern categories. Conservative interpreters continue to accept the Biblical teaching as a valid part of the eternal revelation and hold that it will yet have its fulfillment in the personal return of Christ as the climax of history.


G. Milligan, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians (1908; 1952 reprint), Note F, 145-151; A. Deissmann, Light From The Ancient East (1910), 372-378; J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (1930; 1952 reprint), 497; J. F. Walvoord, “New Testament Words for the Lord’s Coming,” BS, 101, No. 403 (July 1944), 283-289; P. S. Minear, Christian Hope and the Second Coming (1954); W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (1957), 635; A. Oepke, “παρουσία, πάρειμι,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G. Kittel, editor, V (1967), 858-871; H. A. Hoyt, The End Time (1969).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Terms

2. Data and Sources

3. Consistency

4. Meaning of the Symbolism


1. Critical Problems

2. Summary

3. Fall of Jerusalem

4. Time


1. Solution of Problem

2. The Church a Divine Quantity


I. The Apostolic Doctrine.

1. Terms:

The Second Coming of Christ (a phrase not found in the Bible) is expressed by the apostles in the following special terms:

(2), Number 803, 34), "Parousia" is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius. Consequently, the adoption by the Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural. (The evidence is well summarized in Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East3, 372-78, German edition, 281-87.) (2) "Epiphany" epiphaneia), "manifestation," used of the Incarnation in 2Ti 1:10, but of the Second Coming in 2Th 2:8; 1Ti 6:14; 2Ti 4:1,8; Tit 2:13. The word was used like Parousia in Hellenistic Greek to denote the ceremonial arrival of rulers; compare Deissmann, as above.

(3) "Apocalypse" apokalupsis), "revelation," denotes the Second Coming in 1Co 1:7; 2Th 1:7; 1Pe 1:7,13; 4:13.

See Day of the Lord.

Of the first three of the above terms, only Parousia is found in the Gospels, 4 times, all in Mt 24:3,17,37,39, and in the last three of these all in the set phrase "so shall be the Parousia of the Son of Man." As Christ spoke in Aramaic, the use of "Parousia" here is of course due to Matthew’s adoption of the current Greek word.

2. Data and Sources:

The last of the 4 terms above brings the apostolic doctrine of the Parousia into connection with the eschatology (Messianic or otherwise) of the Old Testament and of the intermediate writings. But the connection is far closer than that supplied by this single term only, for newly every feature in the apostolic doctrine can be paralleled directly from the Jewish sources. The following summary does not begin to give complete references to even such Jewish material as is extant, but enough is presented to show how closely allied are the eschatologies of Judaism and of early Christianity.

3. Consistency:

It is of course possible, as in the older works on dogmatics, to reconcile the slight divergences of the above details and to fit them all into a single scheme. But the propriety of such an undertaking is more than dubious, for the traditional nature of these details is abundantly clear--a tradition that is not due solely to the fact that the Christian and the Jewish schemes have a common Old Testament basis. That the Jewish writers realized that the eschatological details were merely symbolic is made obvious by the contradictions that every apocalypse contains--the contradictions that are the despair of the beginner in apocalyptics. No writer seems to have thought it worth while to reconcile his details, for they were purely figures of dimly comprehended forces. And the Christian symbolism must be interpreted on the same principle. No greater injustice, for instance, could be done Paul’s thought than to suppose he would have been in the least disturbed by John’s interpretation of the Antichrist as many persons and all of them ordinary human beings (1 Joh 2:18,19).

4. Meaning of the Symbolism:

II. The Teaching of Jesus.

1. Critical Problems:

It will be found helpful, in studying the bitter controversies that have raged around Christ’s teaching about the future, to remember that the apostolic idea of the word "Messiah" is the only definition that the word has; that, for instance, "Messiah" and "Saviour of the world" are not quite convertible terms, or that a redefinition of the Messiah as a moral teacher or an expounder of the will of God does not rest on "spiritualizing" of the term, but on a destruction of it in favor of "prophet." Now the three expressions, "Messianic work," "coming of the Kingdom," and "Parousia" are only three titles for one and the same thing, while the addition of "Son of Man" to them merely involves their being taken in the most transcendental form possible. In fact, this is the state of affairs found in the Synoptists. Christ predicts the coming of the Kingdom. He claims the title of its king (or Regent under the Father). The realization of this expectation He placed on the other side of the grave, i.e. in a glorified state. And in connection with this evidence we find His use of the title Son of Man. From all this the doctrine of the Parousia follows immediately, even apart from the passages in which the regular apocalyptic symbolism is used. The contention may be made that this symbolism in the Gospels has been drawn out of other sources by the evangelists (the so-called "Little Apocalypse" of Mr 13:7-9,14-20,24-27,30-31 is the usual point of attack), but, even if the contention could be made out (and agreement in this regard is anything but attained), no really vital part of the case would be touched. Of course, it is possible to begin with the a priori assumption that "no sane man could conceive of himself as an apocalyptic being walking the earth incognito," and to refer to later tradition everything in the Gospels that contradicts this assumption. But then there are difficulties. The various concepts involved are mentioned directly so often that the number of passages to be removed grows alarmingly large. Then the concepts interlock in such a way as to present a remarkably firm resistance to the critical knife; the picture is much too consistent for an artificial product. Thus, there are a number of indirect references (the title on the Cross, the "Palm-Sunday" procession, etc.) that contradict all we know of later growths. And, finally, the most undeterred critic finds himself confronted with a last stubborn difficulty, the unwavering conviction of the earliest church that Christ made the eschatological claims. It is conceivable that the apostles may have misunderstood Christ in other matters, but an error in this central point of all (as the apostles appraised things) is hardly in the realms of critical possibility. On the whole, such an attempt to force a way through the evidence of the documents would seem something surprisingly like the violence done to history by the most perverse of the older dogmatists.

2. Summary:

3. Fall of Jerusalem:

4. Time:

III. John’s Evaluatlon.

1. Solution of Problem:

It is on these lines of the church as a supernatural quantity (of course not to be confused with any particular denomination) that the immediate realization of the Parousia promises is to be sought. Into human history has been "injected" a supernatural quantity, through which a Divine Head works, whose reaction on men settles their eternal destiny, and within which the life of heaven is begun definitely.

2. The Church a Divine Quantity:

The force in this body is felt at the crises of human history, perhaps especially after the catastrophe that destroyed Jerusalem and set Christianity free from the swaddling clothes of the primitive community. This conception of the church as a divine quantity, as, so to speak, a part of heaven extended into earth, is faithful to the essentials of the predictions. Nor is it a rationalization of them, if the idea of the church itself be not rationalized. With this conception all realms of Christian activity take on a transcendental significance, both in life and (especially) death, giving to the individual the confidence that he is building better than he knows, for even the apostles could not realize the full significance of what they were doing. Generally speaking, the details in the symbolism must not be pressed. The purpose of revelation is to minister to life, not to curiosity, and, in teaching of the future, Christ simply taught with the formal language of the schools of the day, with the one change that in the supernatural process He Himself was to be the central figure. Still, the end is not yet. "The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice" (Joh 5:28; compare Joh 6:40; 21:23; 1Joh 2:28). In Christ human destiny is drawing to a climax that can be expressed only in spiritual terms that transcend our conceptions.



This is overwhelming. For the presuppositions, GJV4 (HJP is antiquated); Volz, Judische Eschatologie; Bousset, Religion des Judentums(2). General discussions: Mathews, The Messianic Hope in the New Testament (the best in English); Sanday, The Life of Christ in Recent Research; Holtzmann, Das messianische Bewusstein Jesu (a classic); von Dobschiitz, The Eschatology of the Gospels (popular, but very sound). Eschatological extreme: Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Von Reimarus zu Wrede), is quite indispensable; Tyrrell, Christianity at the Cross Roads (perverse, but valuable in parts); Loisy, Gospel and the Church (compare his Evangiles synoptiques). Anti-eschatological: Sharman, The Teaching of Jesus about the Future (minute criticism, inadequate premises, some astounding exegesis); Bacon, The Beginnings of Gospel Story (based on Wellhausen). For the older literature see Schweitzer, Sanday, Holtzmann, as above, and compare Fairweather, The Background of the Gospels, and Brown, "Parousia," in HDB, III.

See also

  • [[Eschatology

  • Second Coming