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Thread: Katabole: its meaning and implications for interpretation

  1. #1

    Katabole: its meaning and implications for interpretation

    From "Critical thinker":

    "Katabole": its meaning and implications for interpretation

    The New Testament phrases often translated as “from / before the foundation of the world” hinge on the idea that [GREEK]katabolh[/GREEK] means “foundation”. I present here some reasons I think this idea is questionable. I also suggest some alternative meanings and offer an outline of possible interpretations for the relevant verses using them.

    The literal meaning of the verb form, [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK], is clear. [GREEK]ballo[/GREEK] means "to cast", and [GREEK]kata[/GREEK] refers in such a usage to “down”. So the meaning of “down-casting” is clear in the verb form. The noun form, however, seem be able to be used in two senses. The first refers to directly to the idea of “a casting down”. The second meaning refers to indirectly to “what is cast down”, which is where the idea that it means a foundation comes from.

    According to my brief look at the listings in the LSJ, the majority of classical usages of [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK] are referring to casting, striking or laying down something, rather than referring to what is laid down as a foundation, deposit, or payment. For the noun form [GREEK]katabolh[/GREEK], there are a number of examples where it refers to the act of casting down of something, such as the act of sowing or of laying down a foundation. There seem to be only few cases where it refers to the thing that is cast down, such as a foundation itself.

    In the LXX and New Testament, we find the following usage of related words:

    [column=Comparison of usage for related words]
    [row][break]LXX[break] LXX [break] NT[break] NT[/row]
    [row]Broad meaning [break][GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK] [break][GREEK]qemelioV[/GREEK] [break][GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK][break] [GREEK]qemelioV[/GREEK][/row]
    [row]A “casting down”, hence fall, end, destruction, etc [break]30 [break]0 [break]2 + Heb 6:1[break] 0[/row]
    [row]Foundation (or what is “cast down”, hence foundation) [break]0 [break]25 [break]0 [break]15[/row]
    [/column]

    In the LXX, [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK]is used in the context of bringing down, casting down, causing to fall, breaking, or bringing to an end (II Sam. 20:15; II Kings 3:19, 3:25, 6:5, 19:7; II Chron. 32:21; Job 16:14; Ps. 37:14, 73:18, 106:26, 106:27, 140:10; Prov. 7:26; 18:8; 25:28; Jer. 19:7; Ezek. 6:4; 23:25; 26:4; 26:9; 32:12; 39:3.). Never does [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK] refer to a foundation. In contrast, [GREEK]qemelioV[/GREEK] is invariably the word used when a “foundation” is referred to. To give some idea of the semantic range of [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK], according to the Internet it is used in the LXX to translate the following nine Hebrew words (meanings are from Gesenius and Furst, Hebrew Lexicon, edited by B. Davies), many of which seem to be related to destruction, degradation, decay, disintegration, overthrow, etc:

    1. haras, to tear down, break down, devastate, overthrow, destroy, extirpate.
    2. laqah, to take, lay hold of, seize, snatch away, captivate.
    3. natash, to stretch or spread out, scatter abroad, reject, let loose, disperse, give up.
    4. naphal, to fall, fall away, fall out, fail, hurl down, cast down, fall upon (attack).
    5. nathatz, to break down, destroy, smash down.
    6. paratz, to break, demolish, scatter, break up, spread abroad.
    7. satam, to lurk for, way-lay, entrap.
    8. shahath, to break to pieces, destroy, ruin, lay waste, devastate, violate, injure, corrupt.
    9. shaphel, to fall or sink down, to be laid low, humiliate, humble.



    [GREEK]katabolh[/GREEK] is not used in the LXX, and only 11 times in the NT. Once, in Heb 11:11, it clearly carries the meaning of “laying down seed”, by which it refers to bearing a child. The remaining 10 usages are usually found in the phrases “[GREEK]apo / pro katabolhV kosmon[/GREEK]” – usually translated into English as “from / before the foundation of the world”.

    In the context of "[GREEK]katabolhV kosmos[/GREEK]”, [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] is typically assumed to take the indirect meaning of “what is cast down, hence foundation”. I see a number of reasons to think this is not the meaning intended:

    1. There is clear evidence to suggest that [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK] almost exclusively refers not to laying a foundation but to casting down in the context of judgment.
    2. If “foundation” was intended by the authors, [GREEK]qemelioV[/GREEK] would seem to be the obvious word they would have used. Given the usage of the verb [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK], writing [GREEK]katabolh[/GREEK] would have been ambiguous or possibly misleading if foundation was intended.
    3. The phrase “before / from foundation of the world” seems out of place in many of the verses it occurs in. It seems to insert quite a specific theological idea into sentences that are discussing totally unrelated topics. Furthermore, the idea finds little mention in the NT outside of these phrases.
    4. Origen (2nd century) comments: “[GREEK]katabolh[/GREEK], which has been very improperly translated into Latin by “constitutio;” for in Greek [GREEK]katabolh[/GREEK] signifies rather “dejicere,” i.e., to cast downwards… From this it follows, that by the use of the word a descent from a higher to a lower condition, shared by all in common, would seem to be pointed out” (De Principiis, III.4). However, he wrongly uses this to support his view of the pre-existence of souls. Note that it is also possible that these Latin translations influenced later translations.
    5. Usage of [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK] alongside [GREEK]qemelioV[/GREEK] in Heb 6:1 suggests these two refer to quite different things. The traditional interpretation of this verse is that the author does not want to keep “laying down again the foundation of repentance, etc” but instead grow the readers on to maturity. However, the common translation clearly misses the author’s point that he wants the readers to not forsake the foundation of repentance, etc. It seems that an outline of the argument is:
      1. The author says in 5:12 that his readers need to be taught again the rudiments of the Words of God which form the “beginning” ([GREEK]stoiceia thV archV twn logiwn tou qeou[/GREEK]).
      2. Because of this, he implores his readers in 6:1 to go on from the Words of Christ which form the “beginning” ([GREEK]afenteV ton thV archV tou cristou logon[/GREEK]) and to not again cast down this foundation ([GREEK]mh palin qemelion kataballomenoi[/GREEK]) of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, etc.
      3. He says that this (not again casting down the foundation) we will do (6:3) because he says it is impossible to return to repentance if people fall away from the foundation (6:4-8).
      4. He carries on to say that he is persuaded they will instead hold fast to salvation (6:9).
      5. In 6:10 he notes that God does not forget our good work (and not reward us for it)
      6. He implores the reader to show the same eagerness not to lay aside the foundation of repentance, etc so that they can expect reward (6:11), and to imitate those who are rewarded because of their endurance.


    Hence, interpreting [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] to mean "foundation" in 6:1 seems to destroy the point the author is trying to make in this passage.


    What then, could [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] mean if not “foundation”? I can think of three possible alternative interpretations of [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] for the relevant verses:

    Possible alternative interpretations:

    1. That the word refers not to idea not of “what is cast down, hence foundation”, but of “who is cast or fallen down, hence unrighteous people or something similar”. This is in the sense of moral degradation or falling, which was a common idea of the day, especially in the context of the “ages” (see G J Riley, One Jesus, Many Christs, 31-35). Unfortunately, I can’t think of an English word that perfectly fits the semantic range of this meaning of [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK]”.
    2. That the word refers to the idea of “a casting down” in the same sense of moral degradation. Thus the event or process of corruption in the world is the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of it.
    3. That the word refers to the idea of “a casting down” in the sense of an act of God’s of negative judgment. This carries more the idea of destruction and bringing to an end.



    What follows is my attempt to see how these interpretations might work in the 10 usages of [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] that are commonly translated as “foundation” (knowing that I am not an expert in the intricacies of Greek yet). Keep in mind that none of these rule out "foundation" as a meaning, they are merely alternatives. Only the first interpretation seems to be a possible meaning for the majority. For each case, I have listed only the alternative interpretations that I think could possibly make some sense in the context, where the numbers correspond to the options listed above.

    Mat 13:35 ... so that was fulfilled that spoken through the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will speak out things hidden from ([GREEK]apo[/GREEK]) the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK].” (Psa. 78:2)
    1) LXX says “I will open my mouth in parables: I will utter dark sayings which have been from the beginning.” Yet here Paul adds the idea of these sayings being hidden. The Psalm refers to many examples of unfaithful people forgetting the good teachings to which he seems to refer. So is Paul paraphrasing and saying these things have been hidden away from these “fallen down” of the world (people who did [GREEK]kataballo[/GREEK] from obeying the teachings)? Here I’m interpreting [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of separation, rather than in the sense of origin.

    Mat 25:34 Then the King will say to those on His right, Come, the blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world.
    1) Again if we take [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of separation, we see an obvious meaning that fits with the context – the “[GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK]” are the people of the world who have “fallen down”, perhaps morally, separate from the blessed righteous.
    2) This interpretation would emphasize that the righteous escape the corruption of the world.
    3) The blessed will inherent the kingdom prepared for them that is separate from the “casting down” (destruction) of the world.

    Luk 11:50 that the blood of all the prophets which has been shed from the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world may be required from this generation,
    1) Taking [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of origin of action, this could mean “shed by the unrighteous of the world”.
    2) Taking [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of origin of time, it could mean that the blood of the prophets has been “shed ever since the corruption of the world”. This ties in nicely as the next verse refers to Abel and seems to work as nicely as interpretation 1. Note that it is also quite similar to the interpretation that comes from translating it as "from the foundation of the world".
    3) Taking [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of origin of action, this would mean that their blood was shed because the world "cast / struck them down" - hence the "casting down of the world".

    Joh 17:24 Father, I desire that those whom You have given Me, that where I am, they may be with Me also, that they may behold My glory which You gave Me, because You loved Me before ([GREEK]pro[/GREEK]) the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world.
    1) [GREEK]pro[/GREEK] can be taken to mean “in front of” or “in preference to”, either works with the idea that the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] are the unrighteous people of the world.
    3) This could be an allusion to final judgment - the "casting down of the world".

    Eph 1:4 even as He elected us in Him before the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world, for us to be holy and without blemish before Him in love,
    1) Same as above
    2) The "down-casting" of the world could be in the context of an idea that there would be a future "falling down" of the world into unrighteousness.
    3) The "down-casting" of the world could be an allusion to final judgment

    Heb 4:3 For we, the ones believing, enter into the rest, even as He said, "As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest," [and yet] the works had come into being from the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world. (LXX-Psa. 94:11; MT-Psa. 95:11)
    1) This is a difficult verse for any meaning of [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK]. In the Psalm referred to, the “rest” appears to refer to the promised land. It is not clear what “works” refers to. It may refer to God’s works to bring the Israelites back from captivity. If this is the case, this meaning may work if we take [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of separation. Thus, “separate from the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world” could refer to them coming to be free from the unrighteous Egyptians.
    2) This could also carry a similar idea of them escaping from the corruption of the Israelites.
    3) If the "works" refer to God's acts to deliver the Israelites, they could also refer to the plagues and troubles he inflicted on the Egyptians. So, perhaps the "[GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] could refer to these acts of judgment against them.

    Heb 9:26 since He [Christ] must often have suffered from the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world. But now once for all, at the completion of the ages, He has been manifested for putting away of sin through the sacrifice of Himself.
    1) This verse is interesting. Taking [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of origin of action, this implies that Jesus suffered from the unrighteous of the world.
    2) Christ suffered from the unrighteous actions of the world because it "cast him down".

    1Pe 1:20 [Christ] indeed having been foreknown before the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world, but revealed in the last times because of you,
    1) This verse requires an interpretation of what “foreknown” means, and who is doing the foreknowing. After much study, I concluded that “foreknown” is often used when it is talking about God or people knowing things in an ordinary way at times in the past. In this case, it doesn't make much sense to say "foreknown before", where both are in a chronological sense, so we could take "before" in the sense of "in front of". Thus, we could get the meaning that in the past, "Christ" was somehow known in the midst of the unrighteous people of the world. If we wanted to, we could go on to take the "[GREEK]dia[/GREEK]" near the end of the sentence in the sense of "through" instead of "because of" - thus giving a meaning for the second half of the sentence of "Christ has now become manifest in these last times through you."
    2) This verse mean that Christ was known “before the world fell into unrighteousness”, or "in the midst of the unrighteousness of the world".
    3) This could somehow mean that Christ was known before some past judgment of the world by God.

    Rev 13:8 (and similarly 17:8) And all those dwelling in the earth will worship it, those of whom the names had not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb having been slain from the [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] of the world.
    1) Taking [GREEK]apo[/GREEK] in the sense of origin of action, this would mean “slain by the unrighteous of the world.”
    2) In the same sense of [GREEK]apo[/GREEK], this could mean “slain because of the unrighteousness of the world”
    (As an alternative, Malina and Pilch suggest that here [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] refers to “foundation” in the context of the constellation Aries (which means "lamb"), which was part of the created universe.)

    There seem to be many options for interpretation, and no particular interpretation stands out to me as an obvious meaning for all passages. However, there seem to be some options that make sense.

    There are theological implications If [GREEK]katabolhV[/GREEK] does not have the meaning of "foundation" in these passages. These 10 verses listed above form an important set for some theological ideas because they are seen to refer to a time at or before the Creation of the universe. These alternative meanings provide little support for such interpretations. And indeed, beyond these verses, clear references to the "foundation of the world" are not found, possibly leaving such ideas without much scriptural support from at least the New Testament.

    In contrast, I believe the themes in these three alternative meanings I have listed are also echoed elsewhere in the NT. And while I am still unsure which of these three (or other) alternatives are intended in each of these passages, I think they may encompass the original intent in some of these passages.

  2. #2

    Re: Katabole: its meaning and implications for interpretation

    That which is shall always be and there's nothing new under the sun!

    Jer 4:23-27; "I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger. For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end."

    Notice Jeremiah says the tohu va bohu (or void) had broken down cities and mankind was destroyed?

    This is essential for understanding what happened in Genesis 1:2.

  3. #3

    Re: Katabole: its meaning and implications for interpretation

    I think you may be onto something with this. If foundation doesn't always mean 'the beginnings, the start, etc' but rather literally a casting down, then I think we should pray about it. It does shed a different light on the verses provided, and can allude to a deeper form of love from Yahweh towards His people. In a sense, we live in the era of 'casting down', whether it be morals and ideals or the very people that make up your kind. It more common to see whites and blacks portrayed as equals and naturally wanting to help one another, but in reality we all know this is not the case.

    If we are known before the 'casting down' of the earth, that deepens the aspect of being chosen and called. Granted, there is not a hair on our head that is not numbered by Yahweh, and I'm certain He did know all of His elect from the very beginning of time. But also, it is our choices that lead us to him or away from him. It is that walk we take that determines the outcome, Yahweh gives us the opportunity to make the choice. If the world is 'casting down', especially our own brethren, we should be praising Yahweh daily that we are loved before His judgment upon our enemies.

    Yah bless
    " For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

    And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest." Hebrews 8:10-11

  4. #4

    Re: Katabole: its meaning and implications for interpretation

    Excellent points.

    Man usually thinks he's inventive but pride goes before destruction. The first shall be last and meek inherit the earth.

    How I hasten the day!

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