This is a review of Wayne Jackson’s article carried in the Christian Courier, Vol. XXVI, No. 11, March 1991, 3906 East Main St. Stockton, Calif. 95215.
This article will deal specifically with Jackson’s article on the Greek word "mello." Jackson says "The word has a variety of meanings as any Greek lexicon reveals. It may signify intention, imminence, necessity, certainty, etc."
I wish to state two things very clearly. First, I confess I am not a Greek scholar. Second, one need not be a Greek scholar to see very clearly that Jackson’s article denying the imminence factor in mello will hold no water lexically, nor logically. As a matter of fact, I shall demonstrate from Jackson’s own pen that he has contradicted himself.
How do the lexicons define mello? What is the primary definition of the word? Take a look for yourself.
- Vine’s Theological Dictionary, p. 205 under "come" has "to be about (to do something,) often implying the necessity and therefore the certainty of what is to take place…."
- Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, p. 396 – "to be about to do anything." He lists several secondary usages but maintains the primary significance.
- The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 262 – "to be about to, to be on the point of,…it serves to express in general a settled futurity…."
- Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, Second Edition, p. 500 – "denotes certainty that an event will take place," he then gives this "to be on the point of, be about to."
- Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, word # 3195 – "be about to be, do, or suffer something…."
As you can see, the lexicons give the primary definition of mello as "about to be, to be on the point of." That there are secondary definitions, I do not dispute. My point is the lexical evidence is unanimous — mello means "about to, to be on the point of."
Straw Men and the Search For Truth
Jackson has practiced a good debaters trick. He has constructed a straw man, proceeded to destroy it, and then proclaimed victory. He asserts that advocates of realized eschatology generalize the meaning of mello and insist it can never mean anything except about to be or ever refer to anything in the distant future. Thus, reasons Jackson, if he can produce an instance where mello does not have an imminence factor he has disproved realized eschatology. This is poor logic indeed.
The word mello appears some 110-111 times in the New Testament. According to my research there are some 10 perhaps 12 instances where imminence is not demanded or implied in the context. One of Jackson’s examples (Hebrews 11:8) is an instance where mello did not mean about to be. But this is not the issue. The issue here is Jackson’s hermeneutic.
Is the proper way to search for truth to try and find what a word can possibly mean; or to apply the primary meaning of a word unless context demands alternate definitions? In other words, if a word’s definition contradicts our theology should we seek to impose alternate definitions on it to uphold our theology; or should we submit to the primary meaning? Our brother is clearly seeking to escape the primary definition of mello for he recognizes that if he admits it normally means imminent then his position is false.
Bad Logic in the Margins
The Courier urges its readers to write in the margin of their Bibles next to Matthew 16:27 (where mello is used to speak of the coming of the Lord) that Hebrews 11:8 entailed some 500 years thus "imminence is not demanded by mello."
Jackson is guilty of reasoning from the specific to the general. He has found an exception to the imminence rule of mello and then imposed that definition on all other passages. His argument might be framed thusly: Mello in Hebrews 11:8 does not mean imminent, therefore mello in all other passages does not mean imminent. The fallacy of such logic should be evident to all.
Imagine this scenario: a man comes along about the time a pure blood Angus cow gives birth and she happens to give birth to a white calf. The man asks the farmer what kind of calf it is and he replies "It is an Angus." The man may well have heard that all Angus are black; nonetheless here is a white Angus. He therefore reasons "This Angus is white, therefore all Angus must actually be white." He has ignored the mother and father Angus and their heritage and blood-line. He has focused in on one single calf and made it the standard. Faulty reasoning? Positively! But it is the very reasoning employed by Jackson on mello.
On the subject of baptism our friend has debated and argued the meaning of the Greek word "eis" in Acts 2:38. Peter told his audience to be baptized "for [eis] the remission of sins."
The lexicons give the primary definition of eis as "unto" "for" "with a view to." But there are a very few instances where the word means "because of." The advocates of salvation by faith only have noted these instances and attempted to impose that meaning on Acts 2:38. They have reasoned from the specific to the general. More accurately, they have, just as Jackson has on mello, reasoned from the exceptional to the normative. An exception to the primary meaning is found and that exception is then used to establish a new primary definition. This is not good Bible interpretation. An exception is just that — an exception.
The same thing is done by our Pentecostal friends on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The case of Cornelius is cited as proof that a person can receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit before being baptized. Cornelius received the baptism of the Spirit before being baptized therefore anyone today can receive the Holy Spirit before baptism, the argument goes.
The exceptional nature of the circumstance (see Acts 11) is ignored in this interpretation. The exceptional is translated to the normative pattern.
Jackson strenuously objects to such Biblical interpretative practices. He rightly knows that you cannot take an exceptional situation or definition and impose it on all other situations, and contexts; but this is precisely what he is attempting to do in his polemic against realized eschatology. He is guilty of this not only with the word mello but with the other time statements of the Bible. He desperately casts around to find an example where at hand does not really mean imminent; imagining he has found one he confidently proclaims that at hand does not mean imminent when speaking of the day of the Lord. He completely redefines the chronological vocabulary of the Bible to escape the obvious meaning of the eschatological texts.
Now if Jackson objects to the practice of those noted above, upon what basis can he then justify doing the very thing which he condemns in them? If it is wrong to impose an exceptional definition of "eis" upon all other passages how can our brother mitigate the normal imminent meaning of mello by appealing to an exceptional usage of the word?
Jackson Versus Jackson
In point of fact, our friend knows that the literal meaning of mello is "about to be, to be on the point of." That is, he knows and admits this when the subject is not eschatology.
In the June 1987 issue of Reason and Revelation, 230 Landmark Dr. Montgomery, Alabama, 36117-2752, Jackson comments on the text of Acts 23:3: "Paul prophesied the high priest’s death. The Greek literally suggests: "
To be striking you, God is on the point of.’" The Greek which "suggests" Ananias was "on the point of" being struck is the third person singular present indicative form of mello. Jackson continues his comment about Ananias’ death by noting Paul’s prediction was fulfilled within eight years. It is obvious that Jackson is emphasizing the imminence of the original language here; and the word upon which the imminence is based is mello.
Here is a question for our readers and Jackson to ponder. In Acts 17:31 Paul said God "has appointed a day in which he will judge the world." Now the word from which "will" is translated is the identical form of mello which Jackson in Acts 23:3 insists means "on the point of." If Jackson is correct in insisting that in chapter 23 the literal Greek should be "on the point of," then upon what principal of hermeneutic can he say it cannot mean the same thing in chapter 17?
Interestingly, the identical form of the word also appears in Matthew 16:27 where Jesus says "The Son of man shall come in the glory of his father, with his angels and shall judge every man according to his works." Upon what basis can Jackson insist that mello be translated "on the point of" in Acts 23:3 and then deny the same translation of the identical word in Matthew 16:27?
This is even more problematic for Jackson when one realizes you cannot separate Matthew 16:27 from verse 28. Verse 27 tells what was to happen; verse 28 tells when it was to happen — before all those present died. You cannot insert a gap of two thousand years between the period of verse 27 and Jesus’ "Verily" of verse 28. See my first article in this series in which we show how Jackson condemns the premillennial practice of inserting gaps of time into prophetic passages. But in Matthew 16:27-28 he does that very thing.
The problem is compounded when one compares Matthew 16:27-28 with Revelation 22:12: "Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me to give to every one according to his work." Here is an emphatic declaration by Jesus himself that his coming, his coming to judge, the coming in judgment of Matthew 16:27-28 was imminent. This should leave absolutely no doubt whatsoever that mello in Matthew 16:27, and remember it is the identical form of the word which Jackson himself has elsewhere rendered as "on the point of," does, in fact, mean imminent. Our brother has impaled himself on his own pen.
Why is our friend so inconsistent? Why does he insist mello means "on the point of" in non-eschatological passages; but insist that the word cannot mean imminent in eschatological texts? Could it be that his "a priori" assumptions about the nature of the day of the Lord will not allow him to give the word its normal and primary meaning? When our interpretaion determines our translation, it becomes manipulation.
In closing, I do not rest my case for realized eschatology on the Greek word mello. It is but one of many Greek words which contain the idea of urgency and imminence in relation to the parousia. One should examine the original language of Romans 8, for example. It is full of imminence, expressed by several words.
The utilization of mello is corroborative evidence in favor of covenant eschatology. One need not be a Greek scholar to substantiate the view. Any good English translation of the scriptures correctly conveys the immenence of the coming of the Lord in the first century.
What I am seeking to express in this article is that my brother has erroneously sought to alter or deny the primary meaning of the word mello. He has done so by employing faulty logic and by ignoring the lexical evidence as to the primary meaning of the word. He has been guilty of self-contradiction; he is guilty of practicing what he condemns in others by making exceptional definitions become normative definitions.
We have purposely not presented a great amount of material on the usage of mello in the New Testament. Scholars such as Mattill, Alexander, Meyer, Hervey, Berry, Knowling, Rackham, B. Wilson, B. Weiss, Lenski, Alford, Rienecker, Kummel, Weust, Expositors Greek Testament, etc. etc. all comment on the imminence in the word mello. I decided instead to focus on the faulty logic and inconsistencies inherent in brother Jackson’s article.
One final note. In his argument that "engus," normally rendered "at hand," does not denote imminence he offered Acts 7:17 as proof. That verse says "when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied." Jackson says "it was yet more than a century away. And that generation actually never saw it fulfilled at all."
Jackson has for some reason not informed his readers why Israel did not enter the land when it was promised.
Jehovah promised Israel would leave Egypt after four generations (Genesis 15:16) and they did. Further, they would have entered the promised land in that generation had they not rebelled against God (see Numbers 13-14). The time for the promise made to Abraham really was at hand just as Stephen said in Acts 7:17. It was only because Israel refused to obey God that they did not get the land at the time promised. It was not because God said it was at hand and really meant it was actually a long time away as Jackson intimates.
If the time for the fulfillment of the promise was not really "at hand" why did God send Moses to deliver Israel at that time? Why did Moses lead them to believe they were going to a land flowing with milk and honey if in fact the time for receiving the land "was over a century away"? Was Jehovah purposely misleading Israel with language of imminence when He knew He did not intend to give the promise in that generation?
God said Israel would come out in the fourth generation; and they did. Jackson acknowledges this. He also well recognizes the conditional nature of that land promise for he has written well on it in his tract "Premillennialism: A System of Infidelity" p.8. In other words, the promise of receiving and retaining the land was conditioned on Israel’s faithfulness to Jehovah’s word. They sinned — they forfeited. It was that simple.
Since Israel was to come out of Egypt in the fourth generation and receive the land; and since it was the fourth generation when they left Egypt; how can Jackson say the time for the fulfillment of the promise was not really at hand? To say the time for the fulfillment of the promise was not actually, really imminent, is to imply that although Jehovah gave a specific time statement, i.e. four generations, he really did not mean four generations even if Israel was faithful! To say the least this impugns the integrity, faithfulness, and reliability of Jehovah; not to mention his ability to communicate.
Will Jackson apply his own logic to the time statement for the establishment of the kingdom in Daniel 2:44? Hardly! In his tract mentioned above p. 4 he notes that Daniel said the kingdom would be established in the days of the Roman Empire. He concludes that since that empire fell in 476 AD the kingdom "MUST" have been established during Rome’s tenure "or else Daniel was a false prophet."
In both cases just cited a specific time frame had been given by God. Jackson insists we acknowledge the actual imminence of the kingdom prophecy, because Jesus came during the days of the predicted Roman Empire and said "the kingdom is at hand." In fact, Jackson insists that since John, Jesus and the apostles all preached that the kingdom was at hand "such can hardly be harmonized with the notion that it hasn’t come!" But when inspired Stephen
says "when the time of the promise drew near" for the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise, and remember it was a specific promise of the fourth generation, Jackson says we need not believe the time was actually imminent. That is not consistent, logical, or defensible.