A Word For Today - Time, Season (Gk. Kairos)

Brian Clatworthy, Newton Abbot, Devon, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Category: A Word for Today

Kαιπερ (kaiper) Although
Kαιρος (kairos) Time, season
Καισαρ (kaisar) Caesar

Time plays a very important part in the cycle of human life, and the first question that most of us probably ask in the morning is ‘what is the time’? The rest of the day is similarly punctuated by the same or similar questions, and this reflects the way in which our lives are regulated and constrained by time. The writer of Ecclesiastes in chapter 3 verses 1 to 15 refers to the oppressiveness of times and seasons as if the whole of humanity is trapped in an endless round of cause and effect without any escape. As one commentator puts it, ‘Most direct biblical references to time are neutral in association, denoting simply when something happens. Contrary to a common misconception that the Bible does not deal with cyclic time, many of these references imply an awareness of human life lived in terms of its seasons or cyclic repetitions. We might profitably think of such time as natural time, rooted in the natural creation’.  1 Yet, because God has placed eternity within our being, Eccles. 3. 11, we have the capacity to think beyond the fleeting things of time and sense, and embrace, through the grace of God in Christ, eternal realities, 2 Cor. 4. 18. We now understand that time is simply one measure of the present limitations of faith that will one day give place to sight, 1 Cor. 13. 12. 

The Greek noun kairos occurs frequently in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint [LXX], as well as in Jewish apocryphal texts. It occurs as early as Genesis chapter 1 verse 14 of the set times, or the passage of days and years that are regulated by the luminaries in the sky. These celestial light carriers also provide illumination for the earth. Later, at the beginning of the first of four divine discourses relating to the Flood, the word is translated as ‘resolution’ in the sense that the earth has come into the purpose or time of God’s judgement, Gen. 6. 13 (14 LXX). It is also recorded in Exodus chapter 8 verse 28 that even after God had removed the swarms of flies from Egypt, Pharoah took the occasion to become even more stubborn. When Jonathan sought to intercede for David with Saul, the word is used in the sense that he would seek an opportune moment or occasion to sound out his father on David’s behalf, 1 Sam. 20. 12. In Proverbs chapter 15 verse 23, it refers to the merits of a word that is rightly timed or meets the need of a particular situation. We might compare this to Paul’s injunction in 2 Timothy chapter 4 verse 2, where the teacher should always be ready to proclaim a timely word, that is, a word appropriate for the occasion. There are many other references to the word kairos in the Septuagint [LXX], and even from the limited survey above, it is clear that the word has a multiplicity of meanings. This semantical range, i.e., its subtle shades of meaning, indicates the need to look at the context in which the word is found and not simply translate the word as ‘time’, because what is apparent is that the word kairos refers to a fixed and definite period, e.g., the time of the year when kings go out to battle, as in 2 Samuel chapter 11 verse 1, rather than time in the sense of duration, e.g., lifespan as in Job chapter 10 verse 20, where the synonymous Greek noun chronos is used.

This is an important distinction and can either be thought of in terms of the ‘chronological’ and the ‘realistic’ as argued by Marsh,  2 or as Barr put the difference as, ‘between time as chronological and time as opportunity’.  3 Robinson states the difference with even more clarity, ‘Kαιρος is time considered in relation to personal action, in reference to ends to be achieved in it. χρονος is time abstracted from such a relation, time, as it were, that ticks on objectively and impersonally, whether anything is happening or not; it is time measured by the chronometer, not by purpose, momentary rather than momentous’.  4 Whilst Barr did not ultimately accept this distinction, the use of these synonyms in the Old and the New Testaments does show that the words for ‘time’ exhibit both ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ aspects to their meanings. The ‘quantitative’ aspect is mainly, but not exclusively translated by the noun chronos, and the ‘qualitative’ aspect is mainly, but again not exclusively translated by the noun kairos.  5 This distinction in part can be seen where both words appear in the same text. For example, in Acts chapter 1 verse 7, we read our Lord’s words to His disciples during the forty days prior to His ascension, ‘And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times [chronos] or the seasons [kairos], which the Father hath put in his own power’ [my inserts]. Similarly, in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 1, both words appear in the same order. Bruce writes in respect of Acts chapter 1 verse 7 that ‘χρονους refers to the time that must elapse before the final establishment of the Kingdom; Kαιρους to the critical events accompanying its establishment’.  6 

While the distinction is fairly consistent throughout the Bible, the synonyms are often interchanged where we least expect them. A number of New Testament texts demonstrate this, where we would expect to find one noun, but the writer uses the other:

Acts 7. 17

In Stephen’s apology before the Jewish authorities, he refers to the ‘time of the promise [drawing] nigh’ in respect of Israel. Here we would expect the writer, Luke, to have used the noun kairos because he is referring to the fulfilment of prophecy. In other words, using Bruce’s earlier definition, the critical events will have taken place for Israel’s deliverance. Instead, however, he uses the noun chronos.

Galatians 4. 4

Again, this text, ‘when the fulness of the time was come’ refers to the fulfilment of prophecy, namely the incarnation of Christ, yet Paul uses chronos not kairos to interpret this event. Eadie states that ‘it is the time regarded as having filled up the allotted space, or itself filled up with the inflow of all the periods contained in the pl?r?ma [“appointed time”, v.2 – (my insert)] of the father’.  7 Contrast this, however, with Ephesians chapter 1 verse 10, where Paul uses a similar expression ‘the fulness of times’ but uses kairos not chronos.

In terms then, the noun kairos suggests more than simply a measurement of time, but of a specific age or epoch prescribed by God for the outworking of His sovereign purposes, especially relating to the redemptive work of Christ. In respect of divine judgment, kairos is used almost by way of shorthand as it refers to ‘the time’, Mark 13. 33, or ‘the time is come’, 1 Pet. 4. 17, or ‘the time is at hand’, Rev. 22. 10. As Renn concludes in his study on the word ‘time’, ‘God created the world in space and time. His own intimate personal involvement with the world culminated in the coming of Christ the Messiah at exactly the right time. God’s own son has identified with his fellow human beings in his unique way, thereby gaining salvation for his people that will ultimately transcend space and time in the new heaven and the new earth’.  8 

When our Lord began His Galilean ministry after John the Baptist was imprisoned, the theme of His preaching was, ‘The time [kairos] is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’, Mark 1. 15. Some 2,000 years have elapsed since that declaration, so the actual realization of the kingdom is now much nearer. If, therefore, ‘time’ is short, may we redeem it, because the days in which we live are evil, Eph. 5. 16.

Further reading/study

Introductory

Time in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III (eds.), Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP, 1998, pp. 870-872.

Advanced

James Barr, Biblical Words for Time, SCM, 2012.

Endnotes

 1 Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III (eds.), Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP, 1998, pg. 870.
 2 John Marsh, The Fulness of Time, Nisbet, 1952, pg. 19f.
 3 James Barr, Biblical Words for Time, SCM, 2012, pg. 20.
 4 John A. T. Robinson, In the End . . . God: A Study of Last Things, Fontana, 1968, pg. 45f.
 5 Vine takes a slightly modified view in that whilst he accepts this distinction between the two words, he also recognizes that the distinction is not sharply defined as, e.g., in 2 Tim. 4. 6 (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words – Season A2 – ‘Chronos’, pg. 333).
 6 F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles – The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale, 1970, 
pg. 20.
 7 John Eadie, Galatians, Greek Text Commentaries, Baker Books, 1979, pg. 296.
 8 Stephen D. Renn, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Hendrickson, 2005, pg. 976.

AUTHOR PROFILE: He is an elder and active member of a pioneer assembly work in Newton Abbott. For many years he has been welcomed as a ministering brother in the south of England and has written a number of articles for the magazine. He is married and has two children.

There are 23 articles in
ISSUE (2021, Volume 76 Issue 3)

A Word For Today - Time, Season (Gk. Kairos)

Balaam - Numbers 23. 13-26 - Part 5

Consummate Comforters

Cover Image

Cyrus Ingerson Scofield 1843-1921

Editorial - ‘A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’, Jas. 1. 1.

His face

Introduction to Paul’s First Missionary Journey

Jesus the Son of Abraham

Old Testament women who appear in the New Testament - Rahab

Priests and Levites

Question Time - How can I believe God is in control of my life when I am experiencing such pain?

Seven Postures of Christ - Mervyn Wishart

Shepherding the Sheep - Mark Sweetnam and Walter Boyd

Song of Solomon

Spiritual Warfare

Suffer the little children – the challenges of Parenthood  

The Gospel of Mark - Part 15

The preservation of the Messianic line - Part 1

The Sealing of the Father

The Siege of Samaria - Part 2

Things That Concern Us - Philippians - Part 4

What does the Bible tell us about the future? The final rebellion - Part 11

This article is not part of a series

There are 80 articles by this author

The Order of Melchisedec

The Epistle to Philemon

Paul’s View of the Law

Introducing the Feasts

The Passover

The Feasts of Unleavended Bread and Firstfruits

Feasts of Weeks and Trumpets

Day of Atonement

Feasts of Tabernacles

Paul’s view of the Person of Christ

The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

Paul’s view of the Person of Christ

The Letters of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

The Church at Pergamos

The Kingdom of God in the preaching of the Lord Jesus

John Calvin - A man predestined for greatness?

A Word for Today: Word (Gk. Logos)

A Word for Today: Loving Kindness (Heb. Hesed)

A Word for Today: Coming (Gk. Parousia)

A Word for Today: Be Just, Righteous (Heb. Sedek)

A Word for Today: Hope (Gk. Elpis)

A Word for Today: Hear, Obedience (Heb. Shema)

A Word for Today: Price of Release, Ransom (Gk. Lutron)

The Linguistic Heritage of the King James Bible

A Word for Today: Step, Walk (Heb. Hálak)

A Word for Today: Covenant (Gk. Diatheke)

A Word for Today: Firstfruits (Heb. Bikkûr)

Martin Luther - Doctor of Theology - Part 1

A Word for Today: Fellowship (Gk. Koinonia)

Martin Luther - Doctor of Theology - Full Article

MARTIN LUTHER – Doctor of Theology (2)

A Word for Today: Kinsman Redeemer (Heb. Go’el)

A Word for Today: Reconciliation (Gk. Katallage)

A Word for Today: Shield, Protection (Heb. Magen)

Samuel Prideaux Tregelles - Biblical Scholar

A Word for Today: Good (Gk. Kalos)

A Word for Today: Vine, Grapevine (Heb. Gephen)

A Word for Today: Play-acting, Pretence, Hypocrisy (Gk. Hypokrisis)

A Word for Today: Blood, Bloodshed, Bloodguilt, Murder (Heb. Dam)

A Word for Today: Advocate, Pleader, Intercessor (Gk. Para-kletos)

Edward Dennett

A Word for Today: Wisdom, Skill, Aptitude (Heb. Hokmah)

A Word for Today - Katharos

A Word for Today - Torah

A Word for Today - Zoe

Charles Gahan

A Word for Today - S(h)emesh (Sun)

A Word for Today - καινός

A Word for Today - ‘Or

A Word for Today - Grace

Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit-The

A WORD FOR TODAY. ‘Es (Tree, wood)

Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit-The Part 2

A Word for Today - Panim

A Word For Today - Pistis

The Argument for Galatians - Part 1

A Word for Today - Mashah

TheArgument of Galatians

A Word for Today: Missing the mark, Guilt, Sin (Gk. Hamartia)

Word For Today: Melek

Word For Today: Skandalon

Word for Today - Shebet

A Word for Today

The Son of God His Eternality

Word for Today - Yeshu’ah

Word for Today - Agape

Word for Today - ‘Ol (Yoke)

A Word for Today - Kurios

A Word for Today - Graphe

Cover Image

Word for Today - Leb, Lebab

Word for Today - Anastasis

Editorial - ‘Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light’, John 3. 19.

Word for Today - Qorban

Henry Alford, biblical scholar and polymath (1810-1871) 

Word for Today - Telos

Editorial - ‘My brethren, these things ought not so to be’, Jas. 3. 10.

Word for Today - Shebuah

Editorial - ‘A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’, Jas. 1. 1.

A Word For Today - Time, Season (Gk. Kairos)