In Jesus’ discussion about the sheep and goats, he said:
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. —Matthew 25:34, Berean Study Bible
Some use this verse to argue for predestination, that God must predetermine which individual Christians are saved ahead of time, because, after all God had prepared a kingdom for you since the days of creation in Genesis! Well, we don’t wish to take sides on issues of doctrine, but we will take sides on issues of translation – and it seems to us that many Bible translations are being highly misleading when they translate the words found here as founding of the world (and in many other verses using the same words).
The words translated as foundation of the world come from the Greek words katabole kosmou. You may recognize that the English word cosmos comes from kosmou, as well as the words, cosmetics and cosmetology, and cosmos is the word that modern people use to mean ‘the universe.’
Yet that is not what the Greek word means. The word is used to describe the arrangement or situation of human society in general, while at other times it’s used to describe just the Jewish arrangement (not the whole world). So the terms age or arrangement are frequently the better and more accurate word choices when translating it. Another correct translation could be ‘system of things.’
For example, when Paul urged Christian women to dress modestly in 1 Timothy 2:9, the Greek text uses the adjective form kosmios to describe well-arranged clothing. Exactly what arrangement is being referred to, is dictated by context.
Indeed, multiple different arrangements are mentioned. One began after the Downpour of Noah’s day. The Greek version of Hebrews 11:7 says:
‘And through this righteous faith [of Noah] he condemned that arrangement [kosmos] and became its heir.’
So there was an arrangement that existed in the past. Also notice the Greek version of 2 Peter 2:4-5:
‘God didn’t spare the messengers that sinned, but threw them into the dark pits of Tartarus where they are awaiting His justice. And He didn’t spare that first arrangement [kosmos], but He guarded Noah (who was a preacher of righteousness) along with seven others, when He brought a downpour upon an arrangement [kosmos] of godless people.’
It’s quite clear then, that kosmos cannot simply mean planet earth, but is an arrangement of things, system of things, era, or age.
The Aramaic text agrees, as it uses the word for ‘age’ or ‘era’, which translators also sometimes choose to translate as ‘world’ (again, potentially misleading readers), but which we could also translate as the arrangement or system of things. Usually we translate it as age.
So when the Greek text has Jesus talking about the Kingdom that was prepared from the founding of the world, or kosmos, the word does not (necessarily) mean that the Kingdom was prepared all the way back when planet Earth was being created. It’s literally just saying that the Kingdom was prepared at the start of that arrangement, or age, or era, and the Aramaic text agrees. But which arrangement did Jesus mean? The Christian arrangement? The Jewish one? Or the arrangement that began when Adam sinned? Or could it, in fact, be talking about the planet?
Well, the point is that a translator shouldn’t be making that call. You, the reader should be deciding what is implied by foundation of the arrangement. It is inappropriate for a translator to rule out all but one possible interpretation because it happens to be his or her personal belief. This is especially ridiculous when it starts arguments over predestination, fate, God’s justice, and so on, all because some translator somewhere happened to make a certain decision!
Similar problems arise from verses like Revelation 13:8, which states that Jesus is:
‘The one who had been slaughtered from the founding of the arrangement [kosmos].’
This has led people to think that Jesus was destined to be slaughtered right from the start of creation – again, opening up cans of worm about predestination, fate, free-will, and so on.
Now, as translators, it’s not our job to say whether he was or not.
If we translate it correctly as ‘arrangement’ or ‘age’, then the reader can decide whether the start of the age is referring to his death in 33 CE (the start of the Christian age), or whether it’s some other age. If the former, it may imply that we’ve all been living in an entirely new world, arrangement, or system of things since the time of Jesus’ death. So actually, nothing about fate or predestination is implied.
But again, it’s not appropriate for the translator to decide for everyone else. That’s why our translation keeps the same ambiguity that’s found in the source texts.
By the way, there actually is a Greek word which may mean planet Earth: oikoumene. That word refers to the habitation or home of mankind and was frequently used in the Greek Septuagint in places clearly referring to the physical place that mankind lives.
Our Bible uses older manuscripts than most Bibles do. Check us out!