Questions From Readers
I understand that the Greek word “toʹte” (then) is used to introduce what follows. So why does Matthew 24:9 read: “Then [“toʹte”] people will deliver you up to tribulation,” whereas the parallel account at Luke 21:12 says: “But before all these things people will lay their hands upon you and persecute you”?
It is correct that toʹte can be used to introduce something that follows, something in sequence, so to speak. But we need not understand that this is the only Biblical use of the word.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, shows that the word toʹte is used in two basic senses in the Scriptures.
One is “at that time.” This can be “of the past then.” An example given is Matthew 2:17: “Then that was fulfilled which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet.” This is not referring to something in a series but indicates a particular point in the past, at that time. Similarly, toʹte can be used “of the fut[ure] then.” One instance is found at 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For at present we see in hazy outline by means of a metal mirror, but then it will be face to face. At present I know partially, but then I shall know accurately even as I am accurately known.” Paul here used toʹte in the sense of ‘at that future point.’
According to this lexicon, the other usage of toʹte is “to introduce that which follows in time.” This lexicon gives many examples found in the three accounts of Jesus’ answer to the apostles’ question about the sign of his presence.a As examples of the use of toʹte “to introduce that which follows in time,” the lexicon cited Matthew 24:10, 14, 16, 30; Mark 13:14, 21; and Luke 21:20, 27. Considering the context shows why something subsequent in time is rightly understood. And this is helpful in getting the sense of Jesus’ prophecy that contained the development of future events.
However, we need not conclude that every instance of toʹte in these accounts must strictly introduce what follows in time. For instance, at Matthew 24:7, 8, we read that Jesus foretold that nation would rise against nation and that there would be food shortages and earthquakes. Mt 24 Verse 9 continues: “Then people will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” Would it be reasonable to understand that the foretold wars, food shortages, and earthquakes must all occur, and perhaps cease, before the persecution could begin?
That is not logical, nor is it borne out by what we know of the first-century fulfillment. The account in the book of Acts reveals that almost immediately after members of the new Christian congregation began preaching, they experienced serious opposition. (Acts 4:5-21; 5:17-40) We certainly cannot say that all the wars, famines, and earthquakes that Jesus spoke of happened prior to that early persecution. On the contrary, that opposition came “before” many of the other things foretold, which is in accord with the way Luke phrased matters: “But before all these things people will lay their hands upon you and persecute you.” (Luke 21:12) That would suggest that at Matthew 24:9, toʹte is used more in the sense of “at that time.” During the period of the wars, famines, and earthquakes, or at that time, the followers of Jesus would be persecuted.
a These parallel accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke were set out in columns on pages 14 and 15 of The Watchtower of February 15, 1994. The instances of toʹte, rendered “then,” were in bold type.