There are two different Greek words translated as “time” in the New Testament. Their meanings are somewhat different.
E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien define the two terms in their book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (IVP Books, 2012).
Chronos is the way of speaking about time that we are more familiar with in the Western world. Here is how Richards and O’Brien define it:
“Greeks commonly used chronos to describe the more quantitative aspects of time, such as chronology or sequence. Chronos time is what we might call clock or calendar time: discrete units of time that need to be measured (relatively) precisely.”
Kairos time is measured differently:
“The ancients used kairos to refer to the more qualitative aspect of time, when something special happened. This term is used much more often—almost twice as frequently—in the Bible. Sometimes translated ‘season,’ kairos time is when something important happens at just the right time.”
Westerners Focus on Chronos Time
One reason we like chronos time is that we like what we can control. And, although we can’t control chronos time, we can measure it and predict it. At least that makes us feel like we are in control.
Even when we call something a “season,” we might still be thinking about chronos time. We are just thinking about an extended period instead of a moment.
For example, winter is a season defined by certain conditions. But it also has an exact beginning, an end, and a specific duration. So it’s a kairos time and chronos time.
The Timing of the Banquet
Jesus told a parable about people who were invited to a banquet, but when the day came, they all gave excuses why they couldn’t go (Luke 14:16-24).
This becomes easier to understand when we know that even things like banquets went by kairos time, not chronos time. Richards and O’Brien explain:
“In antiquity, one announced a banquet was happening ‘soon.’ The exact date was always a bit negotiable for several reasons. First, they didn’t have five-day weather forecasts; who knew in advance if the weather would be conducive to banqueting? Second, some supplies had to come from out of town. When supplies were ready, you would let the guest know the banquet was ‘near.’ Finally, one did not kill the fatted calf until the day of the feast. There was no refrigeration. When all the preparations were made, the host looked outside. If the weather looked good, he’d give the order: ‘Today is the day.’ They’d kill the calf, and messengers would go to tell the guests to come. The feast happens on the right day (kairos).”
Why would you accept an invitation to a banquet but then be totally unprepared when it was time to go? This is easier to understand if you were told that the banquet would be “soon.”
People needed to wait with uncertainty and stay ready.
How to Live in Kairos Time
For those of us who are used to living only in chronos time, here are some ways we can adjust our thinking.
Look for the appropriateness of seasons and events.
Richards and O’Brien tell us that this means being more concerned with timing than with time. Learn to see what is fitting about the season you are in.
Trust God’s timing.
Like a man preparing a banquet, God knows what needs to happen and when. He sees all the moving parts and he alone has perfect timing.
Don’t get tangled up doing your own thing because of the uncertainty of waiting on God.
The parable of the banquet was about the second coming of Jesus. But if you stay ready for that, you will be ready for any other season that comes into your life.