One of the strongest, most emphatic means to negate something in Greek is by the use of the double-negative “ou me.” The figure of speech, “Repeated Negation,” is a type of Synonymia in which two negatives are placed in apposition to strengthen the force of an assertion.
This particular form of negation was used by our Lord on forty-six separate occasions. In the King James Version it is usually translated “by no means” or “in no wise.” In Matthew 24: 34 it appears in the former clause, as follows: “Verily I say unto you, in no wise (ou me) shall have passed away this generation.” The double-negative is likewise found in the former clauses of the following texts which indicate the time of the Lord’s second coming. Matthew 10: 23; 16: 28; 23: 39.
But in the latter clause of Matthew 24: 34, the action of the verb is modified by the Greek particle “an,” which, though untranslatable in English, makes the entire clause conditional and contingent upon some circumstance either express or implied. Edward Robinson writes that this small and practically untranslatable particle always imports and element of contingency or doubt into any statement where it is included, “giving to a proposition or sentence a stamp of uncertainty, and mere possibility, and indicating a dependence on circumstances.” (A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 43).
This is corroborated by the leading authorities on Greek literature. Giving this primary sense of the usage of the Greek particle ‘an,’ William W. Goodwin, Ph. D. writes: “It denotes that the action of the verb to which it is joined is dependent upon some condition, express or implied.” (Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, pg. 54).
Hence its usage in the latter clause of each of the four New Testament timing-statements used by Preterists to support the concept of an A.D. 70 parousia, cannot be overlooked without creating grave errors in the interpretation of eschatological passages.
Regarding this use of the Greek particle “an,” Dr. E.W. Bullinger, an acknowledged authority on Greek grammar, writes that it “has no meaning in itself that can be expressed in translation, but which, whenever it is used, makes the whole clause, or sentence, conditional.” (Foundations of Dispensational Truth, pg. 62).
Thus, when we come to study the Greek text of Matthew 24: 34, we see that the former clause contains the strongest negative that could possibly be used, whereas the latter contains an equally-defined conditional element. So likewise in Matthew 10: 23, 16: 28, and 23: 39. Translated into plain English, the text of Matt. 24: 34b reads: “Until all these things may take place (heos an panta tauta genetai)”.
Incidentally, Young’s Literal Translation preserves (though somewhat ambiguously) this contingent element inherent in the Greek text. Here is how Young translates these four all-important verses:
(Matthew 10: 23) “And whenever they may persecute you in this city, flee to the other, for verily I say to you, ye may not have completed the cities of Israel till the Son of Man may come.”
(Matthew 16: 28) “Verily I say to you, there are certain of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they may see the Son of Man coming in his reign.”
(Matthew 23: 39) “For I say to you, ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye may say, Blessed [is] he who is coming in the name of the Lord.”
(Matthew 24: 34) “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things may take place.”
Well, what are we to infer from all this? Quite simply, we are to infer exactly what the inspired texts indicate; namely, that the fact of Christ’s coming was certain, albeit His coming at a specified period, within the lifetime of the first-century disciples, was entirely contingent on some condition not necessarily expressed by the text. Naturally, we ask, what was that condition?
The condition was, as quite clearly stated in the Old and New Testament Scriptures, the repentance of the Jewish nation (Lev. 26: 40-42; Jeremiah 22: 3-4; Hosea 5: 15; Micah 5: 3; Matthew 23: 39; Acts 3: 19-21). It was this alone that would bring the “times of refreshing” and the fulfillment of ALL THINGS that were written by the prophets. Jesus clearly stated that the nation would not see Him again until they repented. Their seeing Him again is certain (Matthew 24: 30; Rev. 1: 7; Zech. 12: 10). This same certainty, however, is conditional upon national repentance.
The concept of prophetic deferment is demonstrated by the fact that all of Israel’s blessings were conditional upon the obedience of the nation (Exodus 19: 5-6; Leviticus 26; Deut. 11: 13-15, etc.). The supreme blessing, the advent of Messiah, was first offered to Israel as a nation under law, providing groundwork for the conditional elements later put forward in connection with the timing of Christ’s return. Preterists (as well as Futurists) agree that the law remained in effect for national Israel until the destruction of the temple and the nation’s dispersion in A.D. 70. Israel’s failure to meet the conditions required of them under the Mosaic charter explains why the blessing of a returned Redeemer never materialized during the lifetime of those to whom it was first promised.
Inasmuch as there was no national repentance that satisfied the conditions required to bring about Christ’s certain return and the subsequent national restoration and New Covenant blessings, there was no return of Christ. It’s that simple. The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 attested to the fact that the period of national probation had ended, and all things regarding the parousia of Christ put in abeyance until a future time. The “times and seasons” of Christ’s return now remain in the safe-keeping of the Father’s Divine counsel.
Such an interpretation as ours fits in, of course, with consistent Protestant exegesis of the Scripture, where timing elements expressing imminency are taken quite as literally as language descriptive of those very events which were to happen “soon“–if only Israel had “received” John the Baptist as Elijah (see Matthew 11: 14), and later Christ as Messiah.
This “apotelesmatic” principle, when properly and systematically applied, is the Christian’s only answer to the non-Protestant interpretive methods of those who take the timing-texts literally, but use a subjective understanding of the same to impose false meanings on the plain and literal statements of inspired Scripture, thus tampering with the controlling context of the very time-indicators upon which they profess to base their interpretations.
We hold, emphatically, that the timing-statements are to be taken quite as literally as those that indicate the nature of what was to occur when the inspired writers received the oracles of God. A proper understanding of the usage of the Greek double-negative ‘ou me,’ as well as the particle ‘an,’ in all the primary texts which speak of the Lord’s second advent, while not the sole foundation of an apotelesmatic interpretation of New Testament prophetic passages, is an essential key in the hands of Christians who would unlock sacred truth, and a powerful weapon against those who attack our “blessed hope.” Maranatha!