We have now established that aion and aionios do not necessarily mean endless, in fact, it seems to be an exception when/if it does. However, there yet remains for us to understand its true significance. For that, let us finally look at instances of the word “forever” as it is translated in our English Bibles.
Having seen previously that aion means an age, and that there are multiple ages; previous, present and future, it becomes curious then, why some translators choose to render aion as “forever.” It is done so about 49 times in the New Testament, which is a little less than half the times that aion is used, but in such cases, it would be more grammatically correct to the Greek language if it was translated as “into the ages,” or “for the age” depending upon whether the form is singular or plural.
When we see the word “forever” in the New Testament, it is actually a Greek phrase that it comes from – “eis ton aion,” the word ton in that phrase means of-the. There are also various forms of this phrase, and as we have seen previously it is used many times in the singular as well as in the plural. In a plural case it would literally be translated as “into the ages.”
A great example of this is found in Jude 25 where aion is used in a very distinct fashion; the NASB translates the end of that verse as,
“…before all time, and now and forever. Amen.”
But this completely obscures what Jude is actually describing. The literal translation is as follows,
“…before all of the age (aion – singular form) and now and into all the ages (aion – plural form). Amen.”
It is clear from the adjective “all” that there are not only multiple ages but also that “into the ages” is a better translation than “forever.” If the plural form of aion truly meant “forever” then Jude would not have attached the adjective “all” to it. This unfortunately obscures the picture that is being presented to us in the Greek language.
Sometimes aion is repeated twice and translated as “forever and ever.” When that is the case it is the Greek phrase “eis tous aion ton aion.” It literally says, “to the age of the ages,” depending upon whether the two forms of aion are plural or singular or various mixtures of the two. This phrase is used in every combination possible, plural and singular, singular and singular, and plural and plural. This makes the one phrase, “forever and ever,” miss the many nuances of what God is revealing. It would be better to translate them in their respective forms, such as, “to the age of the age,” or “to the age of the ages,” or “to the ages of the ages.”
The majority of times that the phrase “forever and ever” occurs it is in the double plural form, that is, “to the ages of the ages.” Almost every single instance of this combination is found in an expression of worship towards God. For instance, Paul writing about God in 1 Timothy 1:17 cant help but pause and give God the honor due Him,
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Likewise Peter also uses this phrase to acknowledge God’s glory,
“…so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11)
When the writers use the double plural form they are signifying the overarching totality of history, when all time ultimately culminates according to God’s predetermined plan. (see also Revelation 11:15, etc…)
However, Revelation does use this form 3 times to describe the torment of those who will suffer in the Lake of Fire. But curiously, 1 of these 3 instances is worded uniquely in the Greek. Revelation 14:11 employs the phrase, “eis aion aion,” instead of “eis tous aion ton aion.” This is the only instance where this combination of aion is worded this way. The difference is that instead of saying, “to the ages of the ages,” it reads, “to the ages of ages.” This is highly significant b/c the author of Revelation employs this “eis tous aion ton aion” phrase 13 times, so why would he phrase it differently in this one instance?
Here is a link to website that does a good job addressing this exact issue in this one instance in Scripture.
Anyways…the reason I even address these nuances is b/c it all bears significant importance. Especially if we believe that “every word of God is inspired.”
So to move on; another way that this phrase is used is in the double singular form, which would be literally translated as “to the age of the age,” as in the following,
“But of the Son He says, “Your throne, o God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.” (Hebrews 1:8)
The only other combination that this phrase is found in is the singular/plural combo, which would literally be “to the age of the ages.” A good example of this combination is found in Ephesians 3:21,
“…to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
I believe that this signifies a specific period of ages, kind of like a week signifies a period of 7 days and month signifies a period of 4 weeks. In the Old Testament there were laws concerning every 7th day, which were called Sabbaths. And whenever there were 7 Sabbaths they would have a “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” Which was 7 periods of 7. They did the same thing with the Jubilee, which was 7 periods of 7 years. The authors of the New Testament used this same technique when they referred to “the age of the ages.” It is a description of a specific set of ages – an age of ages. In other words it is a large, distinct period of time that encapsulates numerous smaller periods of time. This therefore did not describe the full culmination of all the ages, as in “to the ages of the ages” but merely 1 of those periods of multiple ages, of which history is made up.
Now, some people will say that these various combinations of singular and plural forms of aion were merely a Hebrew idiom, a cultural, round about way of referring to eternity. Unfortunately, there is very little (if any) cultural insights to establish this as true. However, there IS evidence of using this type of repetition as a way to emphasize something. For example, the Bible speaks of “the holy of holies,” which is a way of emphasizing the Most Holy Place, or the Holiest of all holies and so on. The Bible also speaks of “the Song of Songs,” which is a way of emphasizing that it is the Greatest Song ever. The same goes for when Scripture declares God to be “the King of kings” and Jesus Christ as “the Lord of lords!” It is not trying to say the holy and holies or the King and kings, etc… Thus, “the age of the ages,” is a way of emphasizing the GREATEST Age or the Grandest age, the Age of All Ages, etc….
The Purpose of the Ages
Not only that, but we have several references in Scripture that seem to indicate some sort of grand scheme concerning these ages. For instance, Paul writing to the Ephesians touches upon a mystery, which he declares has been kept hidden for ages,
“to me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to…bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been kept hidden in God…this was in accordance with the purpose of the ages which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:8-11)
Paul states in no uncertain terms that there is a purpose to the ages. This revelation is completely lost upon our western minds b/c our translations obscure it. This is ironic, for Paul is expounding upon the fact that a mystery which has been kept hidden for ages is now being revealed…but it yet remains a mystery to us b/c of our English translations! This is not only ironic but sad.
So we have a purpose to these ages. History is more than just a progression of events throughout a passage of time. History and time itself have been designed; and it unfolds in stages. Each stage in time being an “age.” And these ages have been specifically designed according to some sort of purpose; they therefore were created for a reason. It is like chapters in a book. Each chapter has a specific purpose.
Along these lines there are many who believe that each “age” has a specific design, or to put it in a more colorful way – a specific theme. There has been a noticeable increase in revelation or insight that occurs at certain points in history. There was the time before the Law was given; followed by the time during which the Law ruled; followed by the time where the Law was fulfilled by Christ ushering in an age of grace; and there will be a time when Christ returns and rules the world.
Therefore we ought to study the Scriptures to discern not only the various ages, but their over arching purpose! What was God revealing during those ages, and what can we discern from following the progression of revelation that He gave at each age?
Hebrews 1:2 confirms that God did indeed design various ages through which He will accomplish His purpose,
“In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages (aion – plural form).”
It literally says that God made the ages; the same as He made the rest of creation. And all this was accomplished through Christ. If creation is so intricate and its every aspect revealing incredible design, then the ages have also been created with the same intentional purpose. The writer of Hebrews is trying to convey that the ages are more than just ‘history.’ God has planned to reveal something through them.
Later on in Hebrews he again references this when he states in chapter 11 verse 3 that,
“by faith we understand that the ages (aion – plural form) were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”
The ages were prepared by the word of God! What were they prepared for? Whatever it is, they were prepared for a purpose, and this purpose involves Christ, mankind and the culmination of history. This is all part of that “mystery” which Paul declared had been kept hidden for so long, and unfortunately b/c of our translations is still hidden from us. God has given us an incredible revelation concerning the fulfillment of history and the ages, we ought to make a point of seeking to discover it and understand it.
By settling for a false and fanciful interpretation of the ages as “forever,” we lose a significant amount of that special revelatory light that God intended for His people in this specific “age” that we happen to be living in. I don’t know about you, but I wont settle when it comes to the Word of God; I want to know His mind and His will!
The truth of the “ages” gives us an insight into understanding what Scripture means when it refers to “eternal life” and “eternal punishment.” For they would better be translated as “age-long life” or to make it clearer to us in English, “life in The Age.” And that will be the topic of the next blog.