What Does the Greek Word Kairos Mean in the Bible?
- Jessica Brodie Contributing Writer
- 2021 12 Mar
Photographers often call it “golden hour” or “magic hour,” that time just before sunset or just after sunrise when the lighting is that just-perfect glow, giving their subjects a soft, warm, photogenic hue. Brides schedule their wedding portraits around it, for it feels almost magical—after all, everything looks just as it should during golden hour, right and natural and flawless. But there’s an even better moment in life than “golden hour,” a time so true and perfect it could only have been designed by the Master of the Universe, God Himself. Ancient Greeks used the word kairos for this, and it means “time” or “season” by definition, but kairos is more than mere time. It’s like a perfect moment, a special, opportune time—one seemingly designed just for “this,” whatever “this” is. And for Christians, kairos means something far deeper.
What does the Greek word kairos mean in the Bible, and how does its meaning influence Christian living?
What Does Kairos Mean in Greek and Where Is it Used in the Bible?
According to Strong’s Greek Concordance, kairos means time or season, and it is a noun used to represent a fitting season or opportunity, an occasion. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon notes it comes from the root word kára, meaning head or summit, and that kairos is universally understood to mean a “certain” or “fixed” time, or even the “right” or “appointed” time. We see kairos used in this way in the Bible.
For example, in Luke 1:20, Zechariah didn’t believe the news when God’s angel revealed Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, would give birth to a prophet, so the angel told Zechariah he would not be able to speak until this miracle did indeed happen. As the angel said, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time” (Luke 1:20). The original Greek used here was kairon, a version of kairos, translated by scholars into English as the “appointed time.”
In the Gospel of Mark, after John was put in prison, we’re told that is when Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel. “‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15). Here, the original Greek for “the time” is kairos. It’s not just any time but “the” time—God’s appointed hour for His Word to be shared through His Son, Jesus. The NIV Study Bible calls this use of kairos “not simply chronological time, but the decisive time for God’s action.” The NIV Application Commentary takes this notion a step further, noting, “Mark is not interested in telling us when precisely this occurred on the human calendar. The only thing that counts for him is ‘the time seen from the divine side.’”
This kairos is a special time, the chosen time. It’s God’s time, powerful and right, fixed by Him and to be used for His purposes. Note that kairos is different from chronos. Chronos, a more linear and quantitative sequence of moments, also refers to time, but kairos doesn’t necessarily refer to the chronological duration of time but rather the moment itself, the season, the nonlinear and qualitative version of time. That is, kairos is like Time (with a capital T), not time.
Examples of Kairos in the Bible
One example of kairos in the Bible is when Jesus teaches on the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13. Jesus uses the example of wheat and weeds to illustrate the kingdom of heaven, noting that a farmer doesn’t pull up the weeds when they first begin to grow, as this might also pull up the wheat along with it. Instead, the weeds and wheat are to grow together until the harvest, the right/appointed time (kairos). That is when the harvesters will “first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:30).
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says the Father will reward His faithful servants at “the proper time” (Luke 12:42). And later, after He rides the donkey into Jerusalem less than a week before his crucifixion, Jesus weeps, lamenting all the horror that the city will one day experience. “They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you,” Jesus says in Luke 19:44. They didn’t honor God’s appointed time, the kairos—moment—He chose to send His Son to them. And for that, Jesus mourns, they will suffer.
Jesus isn’t the only one who referred to kairos in the Bible. When Jesus drove demons out of two possessed men in Matthew 8, the demons recognized Jesus as the Christ and railed violently against Him. “‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’” (Matthew 8:29).
Kairos is also mentioned in books beyond the Gospels. In 2 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul echoes God’s divine invitation in Psalm 32:6, noting God referred to a time of His favor. Believe now, before it’s too late, Paul urges the early church, for “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” And in Galatians 6:9, Paul also urges people to stay strong in their faith and their good works, “For at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
All of these occasions, these kairos moments, are not known precisely, but we are to know they come at God’s will and command, and we are to have faith and hope that they will, indeed, occur, though nobody knows the exact hour or day.
How Does the Meaning of Kairos Influence Christian Living?
It is that concept—the not knowing about kairos, when it will happen, or precisely what it will be like—that can be difficult for some Christians. After all, early Christians acted as if they expected Christ to return any day. Today we too urgently cry out “repent and be saved” knowing that, as Jesus said, only God knows when that time will be. How, exactly, do we live as Christians when we don’t know exactly what to expect? That is where the challenge exists—and the opportunity.
Sometimes, we mistakenly think we have all the time in the world, not knowing we might die tomorrow when in an accident or natural disaster. Other times, we feel discouraged or overly confident that day is far into the future. After all, we’ve been looking out for the “end of the world” for centuries, yet it still hasn’t happened. But, as we’re told in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
We are called by God to be people of faith, to trust Him, His perfect will, and His perfect time. It can be a challenge to wait patiently on God and God’s time. But that challenge is something God asks us to do, and so we must—with joy, with hope, and with love for one another. It also factors into doing what God asks when He asks it. For instance, we might feel a nudge to speak to a particular person, not knowing then but perhaps learning later that “nudge” was actually the Holy Spirit steering us into a kairos moment to be used for God’s purposes.
The Christian today is challenged to set his or her own concept of time aside—and indeed not to worry about time—but rather to trust in the Lord, know all things work together for His glory, and align ourselves with prioritizing God’s time and God’s will foremost.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Carolyn V
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.