The Greek words seismos and seismoi are usually thought of as meaning earthquake and earthquakes, because they literally mean, a rumbling. In fact, the modern study of earthquakes is called seismology.
Therefore, when Jesus mentioned seismoi (at Matthew 24:7), most translators assumed that it referred to earthquakes.
However, seismos doesn’t necessarily imply just earthquakes:
- The same word is used at Matthew 8:24 to describe an agitated sea when Jesus was on a boat with his disciples.
- In the Greek Septuagint, 2 Kings 2:11 uses the word to describe the storm in which EliJah was taken into the sky in a flaming chariot.
- The Greek lexicon states that in addition to ‘earthquake,’ the ancient writers Plato and Julius Pollux used the word to mean ‘shock, agitation, commotion.’
From this, we can see that Jesus’ use of the word at Matthew 24:7 could imply more than just earthquakes, since it carries a broader meaning. It could actually be speaking of any forms of natural disasters, such as windstorms, or perhaps even political turmoil or civil unrest.
However, Jesus likely spoke his words in Aramaic, not Greek. So what does the Aramaic word mean?
Much the same. The word is zawa, and the Aramaic lexicon (which tracks the use of these words by ancient writers) defines it as meaning various things, including: vigorous motion, commotion, trouble, power, force, trembling, a loud sound, and terror. So while the word could well describe earthquakes, it also has a broad range of meaning, just like the Greek.
For the above reasons, this translation coveys the broader range of meaning by translating the term as ‘shaking,’ ‘rumbling,’ and ‘agitated’ (for the sea in Matthew 8:24).