The first instance of the use of the phrase “the foundation of the world” occurs in Matthew’s account at 13.34-35: Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds; he did not speak to them without a parable. This fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has been hidden from the foundation of the world” (NET). The “prophet” Matthew is referencing is probably Asaph, whom David appointed as a leader of songs in the Tabernacle. The citation is Ps 78.2: I will sing a song that imparts wisdom; I will make insightful observations about the past (NET). The NET Bible explains the terminology of the Hebrew:
Heb “I will open with a wise saying my mouth, I will utter insightful sayings from long ago.” Elsewhere the Hebrew word pair חִידָה+מָשָׁל(mashal + khidah) refers to a taunt song [Hab. 2.6], a parable [Ezek. 17.2], proverbial sayings [Pr. 1.6], and an insightful song that reflects on the mortality of humankind and the ultimate inability of riches to prevent death [Ps. 49.4].
Returning to Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry in speaking to the crowds in parables, is it possible to determine when these mysterious and veiled sayings (parables) first occurred to which he and Asaph refer?
Fixing the meaning of the term “world” is the crucial step which allows placement of the idea at a point in time. The lexicon BAGD indicates kosmou (world) as an “adornment.” Or better in this case as the arrangement “of the sum total of everything here and now, the (orderly) universe.” Therefore, it refers to the cosmic ordering of the world system after expulsion from Eden. Some translations render the phrase (here and at other places) as “from before creation.” This rendering is incorrect as shown from the meaning of the term “world.” A further indication that our phrase means after Eden and not the creation of matter, is Jesus’ usage of the phrase in Lk. 11.50-51…for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah… (NET). This shows the “world” is the sphere of influence during this present evil age and not during or before Eden.
With the timing set as the orderly arrangement of the universe, post Eden, what was the “parable” given at the beginning? Gen. 3.15 fits succinctly as it is given in an overt judgment on the serpent by God: He will crush your head, and you will pierce His heal (my translation). This refers to the ‘two hours’ of Christ: the first mentioned is the second hour, crushing of the serpent’s head which is “The Day of The Lord.” The first hour is Christ’s Advent which culminated in the offering of Himself on the cross. Both of these events, or “hours” are judgments since they are given during a scene of judgment after the Fall in Eden. Yes, Christ suffered immensely when His heal was pierced in crucifixion, but it was for us and not because He was guilty. It was the great substitution, His life for ours. Since death could not hold Him, eternal life is given to all who are His.