In the last blog we saw how the Septuagint is critically important in understanding how the people to whom the New Testament was written understood its teachings. For it was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (Greek being the universal language at that time). Of the 459 times that the Septuagint uses aionios and aion to translate a Hebrew word – 455 times that word is olam. So its safe to say that the definition of aionios will be similar to the definition of olam. And we have seen that as nouns both aion and olam generally refer to an age, or as adjectives – age long.
We will now look at some instances of how the Septuagint uses aion and aionios to translate olam. Note: There are literally hundreds of verses that I could use here, the following, is but a tiny sampling. If anyone has a Bible Study program with The Hebrew Old Testament and the Septuagint, you could easily look up every reference for yourself. In some instances, after I quote the verse, I will add a comment below it to point out that the idea of it meaning forever simply doesn’t work.
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old (aionios), men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4)
Mighty men of eternity?
“Those from among you will rebuild the ancient (aionios) ruins; you will raise up the age-old (aionios) foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” (Isaiah 58:12)
How do you rebuild an eternal ruin?
“For My people have forgotten Me, They burn incense to worthless gods and they have stumbled from their ways, from the ancient (aionios) paths, to walk in bypaths, not on a highway, to make their land a desolation, an object of perpetual (aionios) hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished And shake his head.” (Jeremiah 18:15,16)
“You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent (aionios) ordinance.” (Exodus 12:17)
“The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual (aionios) statute throughout your generations.” (Numbers 10:8)
These all obviously are not still happening.
“The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient (aion) times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence.” (Jeremiah 28:8)
How were these long dead prophets from eternal times?
“I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever (aion), but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.” (Jonah 2:6)
Jonah says here that he was in the belly of the whale “forever,” but we know it was only for 3 days.
“Behold, these are the wicked; and at ease forever (aion), they have increased in wealth.” (Psalm 73:12)
We know that the Bible also talks about the wicked’s prosperity coming to an end and that they will be judged for their deeds, so they cannot be at ease forever.
“No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, they shall not enter the assembly of the LORD forever (aion).” (Deuteronomy 23:3)
Here “forever” only lasts until the 10th generation.
“But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, ‘I will not go up until the child is weaned; then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD and stay there forever (aion).’” (1 Samuel 1:22)
Samuel did not live in the temple forever.
“Therefore, the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever (ton aion). So he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow…” (2 Kings 5:27)
Perhaps this is still true, perhaps Gehazi’s descendents to this day still all suffer from leprosy, but I doubt it. Leprosy has mostly been eradicated.
“Remember the former things long (aion) past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,” (Isaiah 46:9)
How can they be ‘forever’ past?
“For the enemy has persecuted my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long (aion) been dead.” (Psalm 143:3)
It is not possible for them to have been dead forever. The same exact phrase is found in Lamentations 3:6.
“You, O LORD, rule forever (aion); Your throne is from generation to generation.” (Lamentations 5:19)
This is a form of poetry known as Hebrew Parallelism. It is when you say something, and then repeat it, but with different words. The second line is equal to first. So here “forever” (or aion) means the same thing as “from generation to generation.”
“then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever (aion).” (Deuteronomy 15:17)
He will really only be able to be a servant until he dies.
David wrote in a Psalm about God’s blessings upon him as a king. One of the blessings was for his length of life to be extended.
“He asked life of You, You gave it to him, length of days forever and ever (eis aiona aionos.” (Psalm 21:4)
But we know that David didn’t live forever; he died. We also know that nobody’s earthly life will last forever.
Speaking to the nation of Judah God says,
“I will put an everlasting (aionios) reproach on you and an everlasting (aionios) humiliation which will not be forgotten.” (Jeremiah 32:40)
But God also says later on that,
“after the fullness of the Gentiles come in, all of Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:25,26.)
So their “eternal” reproach and humiliation is only for a limited duration.
Speaking about the sun, moon and stars in Psalm 148:1-6 David declares that,
“[God] has also established them forever and ever (ton aiona tou aionos – to the age of the ages); He has made a decree which will not pass away.”
And yet the Bible says that all these things will pass away one day (see Luke 21:33; Hebrews 1:11,12 and 2 Peter 3:10).
The Hebrew and Greek languages use these words (aion, aionios and olam) to speak of ‘days of old,’ (Deuteronomy 32:7; Isaiah 63:9; Amos 9:11 and etc…) ‘generations of old,’ (Isaiah 51:9) ‘people of old,’ (Ezekiel 26:20) not to mention that David’s seed is said to endure “forever,” (Psalm 89:4) his throne is to be “forever” and his house is to continue “forever;” (2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 2:45 and etc…) the Passover is also declared to endure “forever.” (Exodus 12:24)
In Isaiah 32:14, the forts and towers were to be “dens forever, until the spirit is poured upon us.” The smoke of Idumea was to ascend forever, (Isaiah 34:10) though it no longer rises. The priesthood of Aaron was to exist forever (Exodus 40:15; Numbers 25:13; Leviticus 16:34) and continue through everlasting duration; but Christ’s priesthood replaced it. Solomon’s temple was to last forever (1 Chronicles 17:12), although it has long since ceased to be; and was really replaced by the new temple of our body.
As I said above, there are literally hundreds of verses that we could look at, which we don’t have time for, but I think that what little I have shown gives you a good sense of how the Septuagint uses the words aion and aionios. This is how the people in the time of Jesus understood these words. Not in the sense of endlessness, but in the sense of an age, or belonging to an age.
In the next blog I will show how aion and aionios were used in Classical Greek literature. I will also include quotes from historians and philosophers during the time of Christ.