The word πριν "before" appears in the phrase πριν η "before" in a number of verses of the New Testament and of the LXX translation of the Old Testament. By considering these verses, it can be concluded that πριν η appears in the context of relatively short amount of times by which something precedes something else. Thus, πριν η could be understood with the meaning of "shortly before". Some of the most obvious examples are Ex 1:19, 2Ki 2:9, 1Sa 3:7, and Ac 2:20. Additionally, in Is 66:7 it could be noted that "at the time when" would provide a more clear translation of πριν η than "shortly before"; see also the comments below on Is 7:15 and Is 28:4. The phrase πριν η has also been used with a negative particle when the text expresses statements of the form "X cannot happen before Y". By considering the Bible verses with such statements, it can be concluded that these imply not only that Y precedes X, but also that Y precedes X by a relatively short amount of time. A good example here would be Lk 22:34. In what follows, the verses in which πριν η appears without a negative particle are considered first. The verses in which a negative particle is used are considered at the end of the article.
πριν η without a negative particle
(Mk 14:30) και λεγει αυτω ο ιησους αμην λεγω σοι οτι σημερον εν τη νυκτι ταυτη πριν η δις αλεκτορα φωνησαι τρις απαρνηση με
Peter denied the Lord in three different occasions before the first time a rooster was heard, and in three more occasions before the second time a rooster was heard. The three denials between the two rooster crowing instances are as follows: the first in Mt 26:71-72, the second in Mk 14:69-70, and the third in Mt 26:73-74, Mk 14:70-71, and Lk 22:59-60. Taken as a group, the three denials happened shortly before the second rooster crowing, for the rooster crowed while Peter was still speaking (Lk 22:60). Moreover, each of the three denials happened shortly before the second rooster crowing, as can be inferred from the phrase μετα μικρον "after a little while" in Mt 26:73 and Mk 14:70. The prediction of Mk 14:30 uses the phrase πριν η, and it is clear that the meaning "shortly before" fits these three denials. Understanding πριν η with the meaning "shortly before", the prediction of Mk 14:30 stated two things. First, that three denials would take place within a time interval ending shortly before the second rooster crowing. Second, that each of the three denials would occur shortly before the second rooster crowing. "Shortly" is understood to refer to an amount of time that is short in the context of the prediction. Since the prediction implies two times when the rooster would crow, a short amount of time must be short relative to the time between the two crowing instances. It follows that in Mk 14:30 the Lord predicted that there would be three denials between the two rooster crowing instances, and that these would happen shortly before the second crowing. See also the note below on Lk 22:34.
(Ac 2:20) ο ηλιος μεταστραφησεται εις σκοτος και η σεληνη εις αιμα πριν η ελθειν την ημεραν κυριου την μεγαλην και επιφανη
Since Ac 2:20 mentions a sign of the end, it is clear that the sign will not precede by much time the great day of the Lord..
(Ac 7:2) ο δε εφη ανδρες αδελφοι και πατερες ακουσατε ο θεος της δοξης ωφθη τω πατρι ημων αβρααμ οντι εν τη μεσοποταμια πριν η κατοικησαι αυτον εν χαρραν
Considering Ac 7:2, given the way Abraham responded to God in other occasions, it would seem appropriate to interpret πριν η as "shortly before". In other words, it did not take Abraham much time to begin doing what he was asked to. The intent was to move to Canaan, but somehow Abraham and his family ended up settling in Haran for a while (Ge 11:31-32).
(Mt 1:18) του δε ιησου χριστου η γεννησις ουτως ην μνηστευθεισης γαρ της μητρος αυτου μαριας τω ιωσηφ πριν η συνελθειν αυτους ευρεθη εν γαστρι εχουσα εκ πνευματος αγιου
With the "shortly before" interpretation of πριν η, the passage above indicates that Joseph found out about Mary's pregnancy shortly before they came together. While Joseph did not know Mary until she gave birth to Jesus (Mt 1:25), it is clear that they came together before the birth of Jesus (Mt 1:20-21, 24). It could be noted here that in the New Testament the verb συνερχομαι "to come together" does not imply the intimate relationship of a man and his wife. This could be inferred by considering the Byzantine text of 1Co 7:5, where it can be seen that the apostle had to add to συνερχησθε "come together" the phrase επι το αυτο "for this" in order to indicate what kind of coming together was meant.
(Ex 1:19) ειπαν δε αι μαιαι τω φαραω ουχ ως γυναικες αιγυπτου αι εβραιαι, τικτουσιν γαρ πριν η εισελθειν προς αυτας τας μαιας και ετικτον.
A midwife would come shortly after she was called, so it is clear that the amount of time from the birth of a child to the coming of the midwife was small.
(Nu 11:33) τα κρεα ετι ην εν τοις οδουσιν αυτων πριν η εκλειπειν, και κυριος εθυμωθη εις τον λαον, και επαταξεν κυριος τον λαον πληγην μεγαλην σφοδρα.
If πριν η εκλειπειν in Nu 11:33 (טרם יכרת in Hebrew) is interpreted as "shortly before it ceased'", this interpretation would fit the passage and would also provide an explanation for the presence of טרם יכרת in the Hebrew text. (If טרם יכרת was understood as "before" and not as "shortly before", then טרם יכרת would not seem to add any information to the text, though it could be seen as adding emphasis to the time when the Lord's anger was kindled.)
(Jos 2:8) και αυτοι δε πριν η κοιμηθηναι αυτους, και αυτη ανεβη επι το δωμα προς αυτους
The interpretation of the LXX in Jos 2:8 would be that shortly before the men lay down to sleep, Rahab went up to speak to them.
(1Sa 3:7) και σαμουηλ πριν η γνωναι θεον και αποκαλυφθηναι αυτω ρημα κυριου.
The interpretation of the LXX in 1Sa 3:7 would be that the previous verses took place shortly before Samuel came to know the Lord. Indeed, the Lord revealed himself to Samuel that very night.
(2Ki 2:9) και εγενετο εν τω διαβηναι αυτους και ηλιου ειπεν προς ελισαιε αιτησαι τι ποιησω σοι πριν η αναλημφθηναι με απο σου και ειπεν ελισαιε γενηθητω δη διπλα εν πνευματι σου επ εμε.
In 2Ki 2:9, before being taken up to heaven, Elijah asked Elisha whether there was something he could do for him. Clearly, πριν η refers to a short interval of time.
(Is 7:15) βουτυρον και μελι φαγεται πριν η γνωναι αυτον η προελεσθαι πονηρα εκλεξεται το αγαθον
The LXX interpretation of Is 7:15 is similar to that of NASB®, in which לדעתו מאוס ברע ובחור בטוב is translated "at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good." Since the LXX translator interpreted the preposition ל in a temporal sense, his understanding of לדעתו must have been "at the time of him knowing". Then, since πριν η γνωναι αυτον was used to convey the meaning "at the time of him knowing", it must be that the translator understood πριν η with the meaning "shortly before".
(Is 23:7) ουχ αυτη ην υμων η υβρις η απ αρχης πριν η παραδοθηναι αυτην;
The verse above could be interpreted in the sense that Tyre was their pride from the beginning, and even shortly before it was destroyed.
(Is 28:4) και εσται το ανθος το εκπεσον της ελπιδος της δοξης επ ακρου του ορους του υψηλου ως προδρομος συκου, ο ιδων αυτο πριν η εις την χειρα αυτου λαβειν θελησει αυτο καταπιειν.
Here, πριν η εις την χειρα αυτου λαβειν θελησει αυτο καταπιειν renders בעודה בכפו יבלענה "while it is yet in his hand he swallows it". In Greek, the idea would be that he wishes to swallow it even before he grabs it. The meaning "shortly before" fits, since when he sees it, he hurries to get it.
(Is 66:7) πριν η την ωδινουσαν τεκειν, πριν ελθειν τον πονον των ωδινων, εξεφυγεν και ετεκεν αρσεν.
Is 66:7 considers a hypothetical situation in which a woman would give birth quickly without birth pains. In this situation, the woman escapes the birth pains by giving birth before they come. Considering the translation of the LXX text of this verse, it would be more meaningful to translate πριν η with "at the time" than with "before". The LXX text could be translated, "At the time when she that travailed brought forth, she escaped the travail pain and gave birth to a male child before the travail pain could come."
The phrase πριν η appears also in Is 7:16, 8:4, 17:14. While these verses do not seem to provide any evidence against the interpretation "shortly before", they do not seem to provide any for it either, so they are not discussed here.
With a negative particle
The phrase πριν η has been used for short intervals of time also in the context of a negative particle. When πριν η appears in a statement of the form "X cannot happen before Y", there seems to be an implication that Y will precede X by a relatively short amount of time. The passages that use πριν η with a negative particle are as follows.
(Lk 2:26) και ην αυτω κεχρηματισμενον υπο του πνευματος του αγιου μη ιδειν θανατον πριν η ιδη τον χριστον κυριου
As could be inferred from Lk 2:29, Simeon was not having much time to live when he saw the Messiah. Thus, μη ιδειν θανατον πριν η ιδη τον χριστον κυριου "to not see death before seeing the Messiah of the Lord" seems to imply not only that he would see the Messiah during his lifetime, but also that this would happen towards the end of his life.
(Lk 22:34) ο δε ειπεν λεγω σοι πετρε ου μη φωνησει σημερον αλεκτωρ πριν η τρις απαρνηση μη ειδεναι με
Peter denied the Lord in three occasions before the first time a rooster was heard, and in three more occasions before the second time a rooster was heard. Clearly, Lk 22:34 refers to the first three occasions. The first denial appears in Jn 18:17, the second in Mt 26:69-70, Mk 14:66-68, and Lk 22:56-57, and the third in Lk 22:58 and Jn 18:26-27. Taken as a group, the three denials happened shortly before the first rooster crowing, for the rooster was heard immediately after the third denial (Jn 18:27). Considering everything that happened that night, the interval of time of the three denials couldn't have been too long; a few hours were involved, perhaps less than two hours. These facts are consistent with the view expressed in this article that the phrase πριν η indicates a relatively short amount of time. Understanding πριν η to refer to a short amount of time, the prediction of the Lord in Lk 22:34 stated two things. First, that three denials would take place within a time interval ending shortly before the rooster crowed. Second, that each of the three denials would occur shortly before the rooster crowing. "Shortly" is understood to refer to an amount of time that is short in the context of the prediction. In the context, the Lord spoke about an interval of time in which the disciples would be "sifted like wheat", in which Peter would almost lose his faith (Lk 22:31-33). This would fit the period between the arrest of Jesus and the time when the disciples realized that Jesus was risen from the dead. The context also includes the word σημερον "today" in Lk 22:34. Therefore, understanding an amount of time that was short in comparison with the 24 hour length of a day, each of the three denials took place shortly before the first crowing of the rooster. It follows that in Lk 22:34 the Lord predicted that there would be three denials before the first rooster crowing, and that the denials will precede the rooster crowing by an amount of time that is short in comparison to the length of a day. See also the note above on Mk 14:30.
(Ac 25:16) προς ους απεκριθην οτι ουκ εστιν εθος ρωμαιοις χαριζεσθαι τινα ανθρωπον εις απωλειαν πριν η ο κατηγορουμενος κατα προσωπον εχοι τους κατηγορους τοπον τε απολογιας λαβοι περι του εγκληματος
In the passage above the implication is that a person was executed shortly after he was judged and sentenced to death.
(Ge 29:26) ειπεν δε λαβαν ουκ εστιν ουτως εν τω τοπω ημων, δουναι την νεωτεραν πριν η την πρεσβυτεραν
The LXX text of Ge 29:26 could be interpreted in the sense that shortly after the older daughter was given in marriage, the parents would accept giving also the younger daughter in marriage.