A Question I Was Asked:

Why Did Matthew Switch the Word He Used for 'World' in Matthew 24:14?

When Was the "Generation" of Matthew 24:34 Fulfilled?

Matthew 24:14:

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

The Question:

Matthew apparently switched the Greek word which he used for 'world' in Matthew 24, a fact which I find intriguing.
Why did Matthew switch the word he used for 'world' in Matthew 24:14, avoiding 'kosmos, and 'aion,' but using 'oikomene'? Any significance?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay. Yes, this is a very interesting question indeed! Without question most of the things which Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24 were fulfilled AD66-73, but especially in AD70 with the destruction of the temple by the Romans.

Yet some would say that verse 14 must refer to the final end time since the Gospel could hardly be preached throughout the entirety of the world by AD70. However, there is a very strong preterist argument which holds that the concept of 'preaching to the entire world' need not mean more than the Roman Empire since that was the 'world' empire of the time.

Before one dismisses this argument just a little too readily, it is worth noting something rather odd about how Matthew suddenly uses the word, 'oikoumene' - rather than 'kosmos' or 'aion' - for 'world' in Matthew 24:14. In the New Testament this word is only ever used for the Roman world, or Roman Empire. See Acts 11:28, and Luke 2:1. As for Matthew, this is the only place that Matthew ever uses this word, although he uses 'kosmos' and 'aion' elsewhere in his book. The Greek 'Oikoumene' usually only refers to the part of the Earth that is inhabited. The ancient Roman and Greek view was of a spherical world, the inhabited region of which was the 'oikoumene.' This world centered around the Mediterranean. So 'oikoumene' restricts an area, it is not boundless but it is the known inhabited world, i.e., it was the Roman-influenced world, mainly - though not entirely - of the Mediterranean.

The gospel had to be preached to the Roman Empire as a whole before the end of the age. So, according to this line of reasoning, Jesus never meant for the Gospel to be preached throughout the entire world, it only had to be preached as a witness throughout the Roman Empire.

We must also bear in mind the following comment of Jesus:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:34).

This plainly refers to a literal generation of around 40 years, taking events up to the AD70 destruction of Jerusalem (Jesus was speaking AD30-33). This agrees with the New Testament's own sense of 'this generation' -

But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Luke 17:25).

Okay, that seems clear enough, but was the Gospel indeed preached throughout the Roman Empire by AD70?

Apparently it was; carefully note Romans 10:18; Romans 16:25-27; also note 2 Timothy 4:17, Romans 1:8 and Colossians 1:6 (the latter does use kosmos but only hyperbolically). Without any question, there were churches as far away from Judea as Italy. As J.P. Holding has pointed out, while evidence of evangelism in places like Britain and Germany (parts of the Roman Empire of the time), are based only on tradition, with a church in Rome by the 50s, it could hardly be argued that evangelism in Britain, the farthest-flung part of Rome's Empire with respect to Judea, was impossible by 70. Very likely (but not certainly) France and Britain were reached.

So where does UK Apologetics stand on this? We are 'open.' We are indeed 'preterist' overall, accepting that a huge majority of Bible prophecy stands clearly fulfilled as we now stand in 2011, but we are not ultra-preterist (nothing is yet to be fulfilled); We certainly believe that the Second Coming in glory and power and the Resurrection are yet future which should be patently evident to all. Having said that, it is plain that Jesus can 'come' in more ways than one and, for sure, He 'came' in judgment on the national people of Israel AD66-73.

So there is strong evidence that the first disciples were possibly only really given the mission to take the Gospel to the known world (the Roman and Roman-influenced world of that era), however, undoubtedly the divine intention was that the remainder of the world would be reached in the centuries to follow.

In fact, Matthew 10 makes it quite clear that the first disciples (that is, before Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles arrived on the scene) were only commissioned to preach to the people of Israel. In this connection some have questioned the meaning of Matthew 10:23. Let us briefly look at that:

23. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23, NIV).

Now, of course, as already stated, the Son of Man can 'come' in judgment, or in power, or, finally, 'come' in ultimate power in the parousia at the end of this age. Obviously this comment from Jesus was specific to the first disciples going to the people of Israel alone. Bearing in mind that Matthew primarily writes with a gospel concern for Israel (he never shows an understanding of the international ramifications of the gospel as one finds in Luke, John and certainly in Paul), I submit, therefore, that the most likely meaning here is that this is a reference to God's 'coming' in judgment on the people of Israel in AD70 (although it is not entirely impossible that Jesus referred to the 'coming' through the Holy Spirit on that first Christian Pentecost) The AD70 explanation obviously finds support in the other verses we have checked out.

This obviously raises questions about Jesus' use of 'come' in Matthew 24:14, and we should willingly concede that He might well not have referred to His eventual parousia, or 'coming' in ultimate power in that verse. It is possible He was telling the disciples of their mission to preach, firstly, to the Israelites, then - mainly through Paul and his team - to the Roman world (hence the use of 'oikomene' rather than 'kosmos' in that verse), and the 'end' could well refer to the truly momentous events of AD70 which would substantially conclude God's working with physical, racial Israel. From that point forwards, only the message to the Gentiles had divine support.

As I have pointed out before, the Gospel message for the Gentiles differed from the Gospel message given to the Jews. Matthew primarily addressed the Jewish people. His 'gospel message' still had a high place for law, but when we come to the message to the Gentiles, the 'law' has virtually disappeared save for 'the law of Christ,' now grace and faith are the primary messages.
Robin A. Brace. February, 3rd, 2011. Further clarified: March 7th, 2011.