In the last blog we saw how various Biblical Authorities interpret the words that have traditionally been translated as “Forever” and “Eternal.” We saw how they do not necessarily mean endless and could be interpreted (probably more correctly) as “Age” and “Age-long.” However, I do not presume to expect everyone to believe that simply b/c I offered some Academic support. I merely offered those quotes to prove that my position is not unsupported.
Nevertheless, there are still authorities who would disagree that aion signifies an “age” rather than eternity. And if there is conflict concerning the meaning of a word in the Bible then it behooves us to find further evidence to clarify which side is correct. I personally believe that the truth will always be supported by the majority of evidence (and with enough time, all the evidence). I believe that with the information we will examine through this series on Aion(ios) the truth will emerge much clearer.
That being said, the next logical step to clarifying the true meaning of a word would be to look at how it is used. What is the overall sense of the word as it occurs in Greek literature.
The first piece of Greek Literature we will look at is the Bible and how it uses these words, then in the following blogs we will look at its use in various other forms of Greek literature.
Before we get to how the words aion and aionios are used in the Bible we need to clarify something; the word aion is a noun, and its general definition is, “age.” Even a Concordance will show you that. Aionios is an adjective. Aionios is derived from the noun aion, which is not hard to see b/c (aion)ios contains the word aion in it. Any time that we have an adjective whose root (or lingual relative) is a noun, then that adjective derives its meaning from the definition of the noun. Aionios, therefore, is defined by aion. To say it another way, as Nathaniel Scarlett (1798) states,
“That aiónios, does not mean endless or eternal, may appear from considering that no adjective can have a greater force than the noun from which it is derived. If aión means age (which none either will or can deny) then aiónios must mean age-lasting, or duration through the age or ages to which the thing spoken of relates.” (italics mine)
Here are some examples of what we are talking about: the adjective dysfunctional obtains its meaning from the noun dysfunction. As we saw before the adjective generational receives its definition from the noun generation. And etc…. Again, no one would expect the word generational to mean anything other than pertaining to a generation.
That being said, lets look at the use of the word aion in the New Testament. It is used 102 times in the New Testament and is translated almost half of those times as “age(s).”
“we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages (aion – plural form) to our glory;” (1 Corinthians 2:7)
“to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages (aion – plural form) has been hidden in God who created all things.” (Ephesians 3:9)
“the mystery which has been hidden from past ages (aion – plural form) and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,” (Colossians 1:26)
“…who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age (aion), according to the will of our God and Father.” (Galatians 1:4)
For more instances of a ‘present age’ see Matthew 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 16:8, 20:34; 1 Corinthians 1:20, 2:6,8, 3:18; Ephesians 1:21 and Titus 2:12.
“…in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age (aion) but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:21)
For more instances of the ‘age to come’ see Matthew 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30, 20:35 and Hebrews 6:5.
“when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come (aion – plural form) He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (aion).” (Matthew 28:20)
For more instances of ‘the end of the age’ see Matthew 13:39,40,49 and 24:3.
“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages (aion – plural form) have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)
“now once at the consummation of the ages (aion – plural form) He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)
The descriptions used to complement this word aion ought to concern us. It seems to indicate something far more intricate and detailed than “forever.” The fact that it refers to ages past, ages to come, and the end or consummation of various ages definitely indicates a temporary state, not an endless one. On top of this the fact that aion is used in both the singular and plural form, gives serious discredit to it meaning forever. For how can forever be plural?
The teaching in Scripture concerning the ages deserves our attention. The ages are truly distinct from each other and therefore deserve to be treated with as much reverence as any other teaching God has given us in His Word. But we must wait until a later blog in this series to see exactly what they are indicating.
Aion is also translated as “time,” although it would be just as easily understood if it was translated as “the age” in the following examples.
“Since the beginning of time (aion)…” (John 9:32)
The word ‘beginning’ is not in the Greek, it should say, “since the age.”
“spoken of from ancient time (aion).” (Acts 3:21)
The word ancient is also not in the Greek, it simply says, “spoken of from the age.”
“makes these things known from long ago (aion).” (Luke 1:70; Acts 15:18)
It literally says, “makes these things known from the age.” But notice also that these all seem to refer to previous times that are long past. This would contradict a “forever” definition.
Aion is further translated as “world;” and, like “time,” could easily continue to be translated as “age.”
“do no be conformed to this world (aion).” (Romans 12:2; see also Mark 4:19)
“Instruct those who are rich in this present world (aion) not to be conceited.” (1 Timothy 6:17; see also 2 Timothy 4:10)
“the god of this world (aion) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” (Referring to Satan.) (2 Corinthians 4:4)
And lastly Aion is translated as “course,” as in a race course. It conveys the idea of a beginning and end.
“you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course (aion) of this world (cosmos), according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2)
This world has a set age in which it exists, this world began and it will come to an end – that is the sense that the Greek word aion conveys. The word ‘course’ is a perfect picture of an age; it is not endless, but rather, once an age has run its course, it gives way to the next one.
To move on to the adjective aionios; it is almost always translated as “eternal,” but should more correctly be translated as “age-long.” This word also has its peculiarities because aionios has a plural form!?! How can eternity be plural? Several times it is translated as “eternal ages past,” or “eternities past.” For instance, the NASB translates them as follows.
“[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.” (2 Timothy 1:9)
That phrase “from all eternity” in Greek is ‘pro aionios chronos.’ Pro means ‘before,’ aionios is in a plural form as is chronos, which means ‘time.’ It literally means ‘the times of previous ages.’
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past.” (Romans 16:25)
The phrase “long ages past” in Greek is ‘aionios chronos.’ Again, both aionios and chronos are in a plural form, so it literally reads, “the times of the (previous) ages.” Or “the previous age-long times.”
“…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,” (Titus 1:2)
Again, the phrase, “long ages ago,” in Greek is ‘pro aionios chronos.’ And again, both aionios and chronos are in a plural form. It is unfeasible to have multiple eternities that ended a long time ago. That is why the translators for many versions of the Bible refrain from using the word “eternal” in these verses. The question then remains…if this word means eternal, then how can there be more than one eternity? And how can there be eternities that are past?
We will look more closely at aionios later in this series, but for now, we are just a little bit closer to more clearly understanding these words. The next blog will focus on how the Septuagint uses aion and aionios to translate the Old Testament. This will give us further insight into how these words were not only used, but also understood by the people in Jesus’ time.