Updated: May 17, 2019
By Peter McArthur
Have the translators got it wrong?
This is a study on the word “overthrow” instead of “foundation” as found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. "According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Eph. 1: 4.
“Overthrow” (Grk katabole: see Strong’s G2602 and 2598). Traditionally Christian translators use the word “foundation” in this verse whereas in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the “Old Testament”) the very same Greek word is translated by Jewish scholars as “overthrow, break down, cast down, felled, tear down” etc.
Why is it that Jewish scholars, translating the OT into Greek consistently translated katabole as “overthrow” but that Christian scholars, using precisely the same word, ignore this and put “foundation” in its place? No doubt it has much to do with ‘translators following translators’ and ‘doctrine building on doctrine’, as the sayings go.
However, to replace “foundation” with the legitimate word “overthrow” brings into focus a doctrine that most scholars have been loathed to accept. For if you dare translate this verse accurately you have to concede that there was some kind of “overthrow” or “tearing down” of the earth in its earliest ages.
What is this all about? There is a view which states that God did indeed created all things perfect but that there was some kind of pre-Adamic race of beings on earth before the creation event mentioned in Genesis 1: 2 onward. The notion of another creation prior to that detailed in Scripture, together with the idea of an earlier race before Adam is obviously extremely controversial!
In following this line of thought for a moment (even if you’re not disposed to believe it), we get the following argument for the use of the katabole as “overthrow”.
The initial creation was perfect (Gen 1:1). This was a creative act of God formed “out of nothing” (bara Strongs H1254). There were created human beings (as well as animals, plants, etc) upon the face of the initial earth. But after this early creation an event took place in which the earth passed into a state of chaos and desolation, probably due to some form of angelic, and possible, human rebellion (the Hebrew word to describe earth at this point is tohu meaning “wasteland, chaos, confusion, void” – the earth was tohu; Gen 1:2).
Between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis chapter 1, it seems we have an undisclosed period of time between the original creation and this ruin. The word “and” in some, but not all, English translations may not be accurate and can be rightly left out. By doing this verse 2 is not a direct follow-on from verse 1 as normally thought.
The second verse of Genesis therefore would describe a later period in which the earth had become a wasteland (Strongs H922) through God’s intervention and judgment due to the rebellion.
After a time of the earth laying “void” the Lord brought forth another populating of the earth (Gen. 1: 2 onward). Taking all this into account it’s possible to conceive that God brought forth a “good” creation but one nevertheless in which some form of rebellion took root.
This after all is not controversial for it forms the very basis of our orthodox doctrine in relation to the fall of Adam and Eve. Nothing new or startling here. What is different in this respect is that this took place before the creation of Adam, although it occurred once more again in his time.
This earlier pre-Adamic rebellion was so evil, possibly involving the rebellion of angelic beings, that God had to overthrow His first creation as a judgment on those beings, thus leaving the earth still there, but empty and as a wasteland.
You may or may not be inclined to accept this alternate view of creation, although it has been debated now for some centuries. There are additional passages that hint at this possibility (see Isa. 45: 18 and Jer. 4: 23-27). And of course in no way does the acceptance or rejection of this encroach upon our salvation. So what has all this got to do with the passage in Ephesians?
If katabole is not translated as “foundation” but as “overthrow”, as the Septuagint uses the word, we have in Ephesians a supportive text for a pre-Adamic world. Not only this, Ephesians would then show that even before the initial creative act of God, we were chosen!
We will find it very telling, if we read it correctly translated. “Chose us in Him before the overthrow of the world” is quite different from “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world”.
In order to help understand the depth of this we need to recognise that Scripture gives us a glimpse of two distinct time periods; those things associated with an age declared to be “since (or from) the katabole of the world” and those things associated with a time before the katabole of the earth.
Note these texts with reference to the phrase “from (or ‘since’) the foundation”.
“…so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Matt. 13: 35
“Then the King shall say to those on His right hand, Come, blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world“. Matt. 25: 34
“…so that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation“. Luk 11: 50
“For we who have believed do enter into the rest, as He said, “I have sworn in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest;” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world“. Heb 4: 3
“…even as the high priest enters into the Holy of Holies every year with the blood of others (for then He must have suffered often since the foundation of the world), but now once in the end of the world He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself“. Heb 9: 25-26
“And all dwelling on the earth will worship it, those whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain, from the foundation of the world“. Rev 13: 8
“…and those dwelling on the earth will marvel, those whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world…” Rev 17: 8
All the be passages refer to people and events related to circumstances associated with a time period “from the katabole of the world”. However there are also passages that mention a period “before the katabole of the world”, specifically in relation to Christ and His elect.
“Father, I desire that those whom You have given Me, that they may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me, for You have loved Me before the foundation (overthrow) of the world“. Jhn 17: 24
“…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot; indeed having been foreknown before the foundation (overthrow) of the world, but revealed in the last times for you…” 1 Pet 1: 19-20
“…according as He chose us in Him before the foundation (overthrow) of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…” Eph 1: 41
Note that Christ was loved before the foundation of the world (Jhn 17: 24), and without spot before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1: 19). We can now see that Christ’s elect, chosen before the katabole, are associated with Him through these same concepts of love and blamelessness (Eph. 1: 4).
In other words, what Christ had before the katabole, we the elect also shared before the katabole. So we have three facets of this beautiful jewel. Christ was before the katabole, He was loved before the katabole, and He was blameless before the katabole.
Ephesians 1: 4 says that His elect also share in this same three-fold identification. “…according as He chose us in Him before the should be holy and without blame before Him in love…”
This shouldn’t surprise us at all, for Christ is the Head and we the elect, are His Body. As He is, so we are. What could be simpler to understand? And what a wonderful exciting revelation and truth! My point here is not to either defend, or otherwise, the doctrine of a pre-Adamic race. Whether there was or not such a race is clearly still conjecture. The issue here is really the accuracy of the Word as first penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We need to be correct AND accurate in our translating so that we can build a proper understanding of the knowledge God has imparted to the Body.
What revelations may we have missed out on by not conceding that our translations may have been the product of favoured doctrine or misguided sentiment! So let’s be humble enough to re-visit Truth, take stock of what we’ve been taught before, and be willing to be re-adjusted by the Holy Spirit as our Teacher.
Here are some supportive texts from the Greek Old Testament, commonly called The Septuagint (LXX) for the translation of katabole as “overthrow”.
2 Sam 20:15 Joab battered the wall to throw it down
2 Kgs 3: 19 and 25 They shall cut down every good tree
2 Kgs 6: 5 As one was felling a tree
2 Chron 32: 21 They struck him down with a sword
Job 12: 14 He breaks down and it cannot be built again
Job 16: 9 He tears me in His wrath
Job 16: 14 He breaks me with wound upon wound