The beginning from the end

December 22, 2003 | 7 comments
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As I was preparing my Sunday School lesson for today, I hit on the idea of using the phrase, “know the beginning from the end” as the hook for class discussion. It is an odd phrase, though I hear and see it fairly regularly in LDS talks and writings. My point was that by knowing the end (as both final point and purpose), we would understand what came before. Thus, Revelation?the revelation of Christ?is a book about the meaning of human history that we see if we understand the end of that history in Christ. But I ran into trouble when I found out that the phrase isn’t a scriptural one.

The more expected phrase, “know the end from the beginning,” appears twice (Isaiah 46:10 and Abraham 2:8), but the phrase I was planning to use doesn’t appear at all, though according to GospelLink it occurs fairly often in LDS non-scriptural writings. I went ahead and used the phrase as a hook, and I didn’t feel the least guilt since I gave the disclaimer that it isn’t a scriptural phrase and it nevertheless makes the point I wanted to use for the lesson.

But I wonder: where does this phrase come from? Is it merely an accidental reversal of terms that stuck as an idiom?

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7 Responses to The beginning from the end

  1. Clark Goble on December 22, 2003 at 1:06 pm

    That’s an interesting question. I wonder if it isn’t just the idea that “beginning from end” sounds better in English than “end from the beginning.” It really doesn’t seem like they mean that much different.

  2. Scott on December 22, 2003 at 1:56 pm

    In the context of the verses in both Isaiah and Abraham, the chosen expression emphasizes God’s foreknowledge of events. Knowing the end from the beginning requires foreknowledge. Knowing the beginning from the end does not.

    Scott

  3. Scott on December 22, 2003 at 2:06 pm

    Two observations, in doing some searches online: (A) It appears that Mormons are far from alone in speaking of knowing “the beginning from the end.” (B) In context, those using the expression seem to want to say something about God’s omniscience or specifically foreknowledge.

    Scott

  4. Clark Goble on December 22, 2003 at 2:32 pm

    I don’t quite see how “beginning from end” and “end from beginning” imply different degrees of foreknowledge. In both cases one has a knowledge of the end.

    I suppose one could argue that the saying could be taken as not confusing beginnings with ends and in that case what comes from might imply some privileging of one over the other. But I’d be loath to say that *solely* on the basis of that ordering in the phrase.

    I think I’m sticking with the idea that in English lists simply sound better in one order over an other. Presumably for this phrase that ordering is different than in Hebrew or Greek. If you repeat both forms of the saying quickly numerous times I think you’ll find that the normal English phrasing is superior to the way it is presented in the KJV.

  5. Scott on December 22, 2003 at 4:28 pm

    Clark,

    For one to know the end from the beginning means that, in the beginning (Day Zero, Creation, whatever), one knows what will happen in the end (hundreds, thousands, millions of years later), even though it hasn’t happened yet. That’s the sense in Isaiah 46:10, in which God describes Himself as “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done….” It’s foreknowledge. (In this case it also involves causation, apparently. In the beginning, God *declares* what the end will be; He’s not just a passive “knower.”) That sense of foretelling is preserved in all (i.e., 16) translations available on the Bible Gateway web site. The Abraham 2:8 usage is pretty much the same.

    I’m struggling to understand what meaning you’re finding in the expressions that would render them basically identical in meaning. Perhaps you could rephrase them so I can get a better sense of what you have in mind.

    Scott

  6. Jim on December 24, 2003 at 2:44 am

    Though I think we often use the phrase, “know the beginning from the end” as if it means the same thing as “know the end from the beginning,” as Scott points out, it seems fairly clear that, taken literally, the two don’t mean the same thing. However, if we use both to mean the same thing, which I think is the point Scott is making about what he sees in his research, then both have to do with the foreknowledge of God. In that case, perhaps Clark’s explanation is the better one.

    However, I’m a little leery of explanations that invoke the idea that one sounds better than the other in English. That may simply be the result of our familiarity with one.

  7. Clark Goble on December 26, 2003 at 5:01 pm

    Oh, OK, I see how you are reading it. I was taking “from” to mean “as distinct” or “as different.” You were taking “from” to imply the “when” of the knowing. I’m sure it will sound shocking, but I honestly have never read that in temporal terms. I always read both phrases as simply meaning that the beginning and end are different and shouldn’t be confused. (Something many do)

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