The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

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Bernd Strauss
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The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

Post by Bernd Strauss » June 22nd, 2018, 1:03 pm

Heb 1:1, 2: “Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, δι᾽ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας·”

A lot of Bible translations render the Greek phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων with such phrases as “in these last days,” whereas some other translations read “at the end of these days.” Some Bible commentaries say that the Greek phrase means “at the end of these days” or “at the last of these days.”

It appears that the reason why some Bible translations render the phrase as “at the end of these days” is because the word ἐσχάτου is a singular, not plural, form of the word ἔσχατος, leading to the rendering “at the end of these days.”

Since a lot of Bible translations render the phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων as “in these last days,” whereas others read “at the end of these days,” which rendering is correct? Or can the Greek phrase have either of those meanings depending on the context?
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

Post by Barry Hofstetter » June 23rd, 2018, 9:31 am

(1:2a) ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου … ἐν υἱῷ. Some editions of the TR, followed by older German commentators, include these words in v. 1. Ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν is Septuagintal, used in eschatological contexts such as Nu. 24:14 and Dn. 10:14 LXX, passages which have other points of contact with Hebrews. Ἐσχάτου is neuter, meaning, not “on the last of the days,” but “in the last days,” or more idiomatically “in the end time.” Ψ 629 pc have the more common ἐπʼ ἐσχατῶν, which is a more literal translation of the Hebrew. There is similar variation in Je. 49:39 (LXX 25:19): ἐσχάτου B א pc, ἐσχατῶν rel; and Dn. 8:23: ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου LXX, ἐπʼ ἐσχατῶν Θ; but no difference of meaning. On either reading, the use of a genitive instead of an adjective is Hebraic (BD §234[8], cf. 165).

Ellingworth, P. (1993). The Epistle to the Hebrews: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 93). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Bernd Strauss
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Re: The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

Post by Bernd Strauss » June 23rd, 2018, 12:18 pm

Thank you for the quotation. Contrast what is stated in some other commentaries:

“In these last times (ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων). Lit. at the last of these days. The exact phrase only here; but comp. 1 Pet. 5:20 and Jude 18. LXX, ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶπ ἡμερῶν at the last of the days, Num. 24:14; Deut. 4:30; Jer. 23:20; 25:18; Dan. 10:14.” (Vincent, Marvin Richardson. Word Studies in the New Testament.)

“The expression “in these last days” is in the Greek text, “in the last of these days.” The word “last” is eschatos (ἐσχατος) which means, “the outermost, the extreme, last in time or in place.” The writer had just been speaking of the times in which God spoke through the prophets. Now, at the very termination of the times in which He is speaking to man, He speaks, not through the prophets, but IN SON.” (Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English Reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.)

“Ver. 2.—In these last days. The true reading being ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων, not ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων, as in the Textus Receptus, translate, at the end of these days. The Received Text would, indeed, give the same meaning, the position of the article denoting “the last of these days,” not “these last days.”” (The Pulpit Commentary: Hebrews. Edited by H. D. M. Spence-Jones. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004.)

“ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμ.] at the end of these days. … The full phrase in this place emphasises two distinct thoughts, the thought of the coming close of the existing order (ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου at the end), and also the thought of the contrast between the present and the future order (τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων of these days as contrasted with ‘those days’).” (The Epistle to the Hebrews the Greek Text With Notes and Essays. Ed. Brooke Foss Westcott. 3d ed. London: Macmillan, 1920.)

“Επʼ ἐσχάτου is the reading of the best MSS. It should perhaps rather be translated, “in the end of these days.” (Conybeare, William John, and J. S. Howson. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. New ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1893.)

“In these last days. In 'Aleph A B Delta [ep' eschatou], 'at the last part of these days.' The rabbis divided time into 'this age' and the 'age to come' (Heb 2:5; 6:5). The days of Messiah were the transition period, or 'last part of these days.’” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)
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Bernd Strauss
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Re: The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

Post by Bernd Strauss » June 26th, 2018, 4:01 pm

Since different explanations are given in the commentaries, which of the two proposed meanings would be correct?
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Scott Lawson
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Re: The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

Post by Scott Lawson » June 30th, 2018, 12:55 pm

Bernd, it looks like your question hinges on whether or not τουτων is anaphoric or deictic.

Is there any way to determine this with grammar/syntax alone?
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Scott Lawson

Scott Lawson
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Re: The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

Post by Scott Lawson » June 30th, 2018, 1:50 pm

Bernd,
As I ponder your question I think “in these last days” and “at the end of these days” really mean the same thing. However, the idea present in the minds of the NT writers is of a period known as “the last days”. So translating the phrase in question as “at the end of these days” misses the mark for a formal equivalent translation as well as the concept held by the writers.

Note that Peter understands that they are, as GK Beale says, “breathing the air of the last days”. So no doubt they viewed the last days in which God spoke by the prophets as the end of those days when he then spoke by a son/His son (ἐν υἱῷ).

Acts 2:17 καὶ ἔσται ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις, λέγει ὁ θεός, ἐκχεῶ ἀπὸ τοῦ πνεύματός μου ἐπὶ πᾶσαν σάρκα, καὶ προφητεύσουσιν οἱ υἱοὶ ὑμῶν καὶ αἱ θυγατέρες ὑμῶν καὶ οἱ νεανίσκοι ὑμῶν ὁράσεις ὄψονται καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι ὑμῶν ἐνυπνίοις ἐνυπνιασθήσονται·.... 20 ὁ ἥλιος μεταστραφήσεται εἰς σκότος καὶ ἡ σελήνη εἰς αἷμα, πρὶν ἐλθεῖν ἡμέραν κυρίου τὴν μεγάλην καὶ ἐπιφανῆ.
(GNT28-T)


Joel 2:10 πρὸ προσώπου αὐτῶν συγχυθήσεται ἡ γῆ καὶ σεισθήσεται ὁ οὐρανός, ὁ ἥλιος καὶ ἡ σελήνη συσκοτάσουσιν, καὶ τὰ ἄστρα δύσουσιν τὸ φέγγος αὐτῶν.
(Joel. 2:10 LXX1)
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Scott Lawson

Bernd Strauss
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Re: The Meaning of the Phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων at Heb 1:2

Post by Bernd Strauss » June 30th, 2018, 6:00 pm

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the passage in question. It is clear that the last days were viewed as already in progress in the first century, in agreement with what is stated at Ac 2:16, 17; Jude 16-18. So different translations of Heb 1:2 can have essentially the same meaning.

The phrase ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν is found at 2Pe 3:3, where it is rendered as “in the last days” rather than “at the end of these days,” perhaps because the word ἐσχάτων at 2Pe 3:3 is a plural form, whereas the word ἐσχάτου at Heb 1:2 is singular.
it looks like your question hinges on whether or not τουτων is anaphoric or deictic.

Is there any way to determine this with grammar/syntax alone?
I do not know whether it is possible to determine with certainty how the phrase at Heb 1:2 is exactly to be understood based on the grammar and syntax alone and apart from the context of the entire Christian Greek Scriptures. Bible translations render the Greek phrase differently. Therefore, I myself am interested to know whether there are some clues in the structure of the phrase itself which would warrant a particular rendering.
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