The Theophanies (Appearing) In The OT and NT

Theophany means "coming down of God from heaven to the earth" in the Old Testament
. The term "theophany" is not a biblical word. It derives from the Greek word, which is a compound of the noun and the verb (to appear, to make manifest). There is no Hebrew equivalent for this term. God manifests Himself, and the Unknown One condescends to make Himself known. He comes. He appears, he descends, and history is punctuated by the divine arrivals.

In his book, Eliade has properly grasped their significance in the history of religion: "The God of Jewish people is no longer an Oriental divinity, creator of archetypal gestures, but a personality who ceaselessly intervenes in history, who reveals his will through events. Directly ordered by the will of Yahweh, history appears as a series of theophanies, negative or positive, each of which has its intrinsic value”.

The phenomena of theophanies of the Old Testament are of many different forms and kinds. A very rich and varied terminology gathers about the theophanies. Nowhere are the imagery and symbolism more profuse, more impressive, and wide-ranging than in theophany. There is no consistent form of appearance; it changes from one occasion to the next. Ernst Jenni conveys a threefold differentiation of the coming of God in the Old Testament:

(1) Revelational Encounter -- It should be noted that in the first group, the theophanies appear "without introduction, without preparation, without anticipation or expectation” (See Muilenburg).
(2) God's cultic visualization
(3) Judgment and Salvation

  • The first group includes accounts of God's coming to converse with a particular person (e.g., Num 12:4- 5), whether directly or through a messenger, or a dream (e.g., Gen 20:3; Num 22:9).
  • The second and third groups deal with theophany to the community as a whole (e.g., Exod 19; Num 16:19).
  • For a better understanding of the conception of the Parousia in Matt 24, it is necessary to explore briefly some Old Testament theophany passages. The most important passage is that of the theophany on Mount Sinai, setting the pattern for many other theophanies (Exod 19:16-25 is the first occurrence of theophany unless one goes back to creation).

The appearance of Yahweh is accompanied by natural phenomena, which include:

  • "A thick cloud"
  • "Flashes of lightning"
  • "Thunders"
  • "A very loud trumpet blast" (The shofar is first mentioned in Exod 19:16 at the Sinai theophany).
  • "The smoking"
  • "Fire"
  • "The great quaking of the whole mountain”. Two ideas expressed in Sinai theophany: the coming forth of the Lord, and the reaction of nature at His coming.

What do the OT theophanies (appearing) have to do with Matthew's use of Parousia? CM

-- Marcea Eliade. The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History, trans. W. R. Trask (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1959), 104-7.
-- James Muilenburg, "The Speech of Theophany," HDB 28 (1964): 37.
-- George R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 4.

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