The word "age" is the translation of the Greek word
aeon, and occurs also in the plural, and in the progressive form "the ages of the ages". In the
A.V. the word aion is given the following renderings: age 2, beginning of the world 2, course 1, world 32, eternal 2, world began 1.
In conjunction with eis (unto, or for): for ever 27, for evermore 2, ever 1, while the world standeth 1. Followed by genitive for ever and ever 21, for evermore 1, beside ever, never and world without end. Aionios the adjective is translated eternal 42, everlasting 25 and for ever 1.
The Hebrew equivalent of aion is olam. This Hebrew word comes from a root meaning something hidden or secret (as in
Psa. 19:12, "secret faults") and indicates a period of undefined
limits. Aion, the Greek word is used by the translators of the Septuagint to render the Hebrew word
olam into Greek.
Students of the purpose of the ages will often find themselves turning the pages of Ecclesiastes, realizing in the preacher one whose problems and experiences are often much like their own. In Ecclesiastes the word olam occurs seven times, and is translated by the AN. as follows:
1:4. The earth abideth for ever.
1:10. It hath been already of old time.
2:16. There is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever.
3:11. He hath set the world in their heart.
3:14. I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever.
9:6. Neither have they any more a portion for ever.
12:5. Man goeth to his long home.
Here we have "for ever", "old time", "world", and "long" as translations of the one word
olam. Such a variety of renderings gives no connected thought, and consequently the evident relation of these passages is missed. Supposing we take the original word in each passage and translate it by the word "age", we at once realize that seven such references may contain much helpful teaching. Their order and
connection likewise are made apparent, and their claim upon our attention is emphasized.
Olam in Ecclesiastes
A I :4. The earth abideth to the age-The passing generation.
B I :10. It hath been already in or to the ages-Nothing new under the sun.
C 2:16. No remembrance of the wise more than of the fool to the age Forgotten in the days to come.
D 3:1 I. He hath set the age in their heart--Beginning, to end of God's work. Past finding out.
C 3:14,15. Whatsoever God doeth it shall be to the
age --God's work remains
B 9:6. Neither have they any more a portion to the age-No
under the sun
A 12:5. Man goeth to his age-home-The passing generation.
Leaving these passages until we are more prepared to consider their teaching in detail, we pass on to another cluster of seven, this time in the New Testament, namely, in the epistle to
Ephesians. There the word aion is translated as inconsistently as we found its parallel olam had been in Ecclesiastes.
1:21. This world.
2:2. The course of
2:7 The ages
3:9 From the beginning of the
3:21. Throughout all ages
world without end
6:12. Rulers of the darkness of this world.
Here we have a strange assortment. This world, which had a beginning, but which has no end, the course of this world, and the eternal purpose. Translate the word
aion consistently, and order, light and instruction take the place of human tradition and confusion.
Aion in Ephesians
A I :21. Rulers of this and the coming age.-Subject to Christ in resurrection.
B 2:2. The age of the world.-Satanic energy (energo).
C 2:7. Ages to come.-Display of divine grace (future).
D 3:9. Hid since
the ages.-The mystery.
C 3:11. The purpose of the ages.-Display of divine wisdom (now).
B 3:21. The generations of the age of the ages.-Divine energy.
A 6:12. Rulers of the darkness of this age.-Withstood by believers in resurrection power.
All lovers of the Word must see how great is the loss which we have sustained through the traditional translation. "The eternal purpose" sounds very grand, it gives a certain feeling of reality and indefectibility to the purpose of God, yet it is a double violation. The noun aion is translated as though it were the adjective
aionion, which is a serious liberty to take with inspired Scripture apart from the mistake of putting eternity where an age should have been. What we have to learn is that the Bible does not speak of eternity. It was not written to tell us of eternity. Such a consideration is entirely outside the scope of revelation. Many, many undreamed wonders will doubtless be unfolded when the ages are no more. What they will be and what they will involve is idle and profitless speculation. The
Word of God as it has been given is a complete system of teaching for us; it does not treat fully of the creation around us, much less of the time before or after the Creation.
While we acknowledge that there is much which our curiosity would tempt us to ask, we do most heartily bow before the divine boundaries of our studies, realizing that by the repeated emphasis upon the teaching of the ages, and the absence of teaching concerning eternity, the Lord is still showing us (as is expressed in Ecclesiastes) that the time has not yet arrived when we may "find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end". Accepting the fact of the ages, and of the
age-times, we shall have to inquire from the Scriptures an answer to the question "when did they commence?"
As an added contribution to the subject, we place before the reader, some of the most important expressions that are found
in the N.T. dealing with the time factor of the ages. Such expressions as "the end of the world"; "since the world began";"this world"; "the world to come" are known to all, we now
propose to submit them to a more careful scrutiny, so that the Scriptural association of time with the ages shall be better seen.
The reader will already know that aion is often translated "world" in the A.V. and while it is a good rendering, meaning
etymologically "the age of man". (vir man, eld age), it simpliies the
inquiry, if we to translate kosmos by "world" and aion by "age",thereby
preserving the distinction that must be maintained between words dealing with place
and words dealing with time.
"The end of the world." There are more words than one that can be translated "end", the word used in this phrase is
sunteleia. In Matthew 13:39,40,49, 24:3 and 28:20, aion is in the singular,
but in the one remaining occurrence, namely in Hebrews. 9:26, aion is used in the plural. What the significance of this change may
be we do not pause at the moment to consider, but just make a note of the fact that
nowhere else except in Matthew or Hebrews do we meet the expression
sunteleia tou aionos . If there is a period that can be called "the end of the world", there is also a
period which speaks of a time "since the world began", or "from the beginning of the world". We should remember
when reading this expression that the word arche "beginning" does not occur in this phrase, all that is found in the original being the
two words ap' aionos "from (an) age", when used in Luke 1:70,
Acts 3:21 and 15:18; and apo ton aionon the plural with the article, in Ephesians 3:9 and Colossians 1:26.
We observe that in the last reference the ages are coupled with generations, a term which we must consider separately.
"The world to come", translates two forms, one in which aion
is spoken of as erchomeno "coming", Luke 18:30; and aion
spoken of as mello "about to be", Matthew 12:32, Ephesians 1:21 and Hebrews 6:5. "This world" and "that world" are contrasted, the former expression using toutou with
aion, the latter using ekeinos. "That world" occurs but once, namely in Luke 20:35, but "this world" occurs some fourteen times, and these will be given in fuller detail when the occurrences are being examined in detail. Variations of this expression are found in Galatians 1:4 which adds the words "present" and "evil", and 1 Timothy 6:17, 2 Timothy 4:10, and Titus 2:12 where the word "now" nun, is added.
One passage contains the phrase "before the ages" (plural) pro ton aionon, 1 Corinthians 2:7, the other passages which speak of "before the world" contain the word
kosmos not aion.
The word "generation" is used in association with the ages. Genea has three meanings in the
N.T. It means the simple succession from father, to son (Matt. 1:17); it means a company of men living at the same time and sharing similar characteristics; and thirdly, it means a mark of time, the successive lives of offspring being taken to indicate so many stages in the world's history.
Aion "age"belongs to no one particular dispensation or line of
teaching. Aion occurs in all but five of the twenty-seven books of the 'N.T. The epistles that contain no reference are I and 2 Thessalonians, James, Philemon and 3 John. Aionios the adjective, translated "eternal" and "everlasting", occurs in nineteen books of the
N.T. being omitted in 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, James and 2 and 3 John. The books therefore which contain both
aion and aionios are the four Gospels, Acts, Galatians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, Jude and the
Revelation. We must examine some of these occurrences in detail, and we shall have to consider the bearing of apo "from" and "since", pro "before", and eis "unto" or "for", before we can even begin to come to any conclusion as to when the agetimes began.
What does the Scripture mean by "age times"? Is such a term a correct translation of the original? What light do parallel
constructions throw upon the phrase? Where does the expression occur? What light do we get from the context? Are there parallel-though different-expressions that should be considered? Let us address ourselves to these and any related questions that may occur during the investigation.
The rendering "age-times" is not found in either the A.V. or the R.V. In the A.V. the translation reads "before or since the world began" and in the
R.V. the rendering is "through" or "before times eternal". "Before the world began" is at least understandable, but "before times eternal" cannot be understood without a very drastic revision of the meaning ascribed to "eternal". If eternal things have neither beginning nor end, then it is impossible to speak of a "period" before times eternal-the translation is figurative, and does not contribute to our understanding or add to our knowledge. The occurrences of the expression are three in number and we give them first of all as they occur in the
"Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but is now made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith, To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen" (Rom. 16:25-27).
"Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord nor of me His prisoner; but be thou partaker of the afflictions
of the Gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our
works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made ' manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 1:8-10).
"In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested His Word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our
Saviour" (Titus 1:2,3).
The Greek words translated "since the world began", are chronois aioniois in Romans 16:25, and "before the world began",
pro chronon aionion in 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2. We observe
that the expression in either form is exclusive to Paul, and that such an exclusive character is emphasized in the context by such added terms as "my gospel"; "through the gospel whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles"; "through preaching which is committed unto me."
Our first note therefore is that "before the world began" or "since the world began", however ultimately we are obliged to translate the original, belong exclusively to the ministry of Paul.
Secondly we note that there is a difference between the phrase found in Romans 16, and those found in 2 Timothy and Titus.
The former speaks of a period "since", the latter of a period "before" the beginning of
the world. We must be careful therefore to keep these two periods distinct, together with
the revelations associated with them.
Ignoring for the time being the preposition pro "before", or the dative case translated by the
A.V. "since", let us examine the words
chronon aionion. It is not a matter of debate, that aionios is an adjective, derived from aion the noun, or that
chronos is a noun. If we read in Matthew 25:19 meta de chronon polun, we naturally translate "but after a long time". If we find the order of the words reversed as in John 5:6
polun . . . chronon, while the emphasis may be shifted, the translation must remain the same, polun still remains an adjective,
chronon still remains a noun. The word chronos "time"is not of frequent use in the epistles, occurring only twelve times in the fourteen written by Paul, and when we turn to Romans, 2 Timothy and Titus in the hope of observing the usage of
chronon in those three epistles which use the phrase since, or before "the world began" we find but
one passage, namely Romans 7:1, "the law hath dominion over a man as long
as he liveth". literally "for a long time", eph hoson chronon.
the adjective is derived from aion, and must retain whatever essential meaning pertains to the noun. It is impossible that the noun should be translated "age", which most certainly had a beginning, and will certainly have an end, and to translate the adjective "everlasting" or "eternal". Keeping to Paul's epistles we find
aionion translated eternal, everlasting and for ever, except in the three passages before us, Romans 16:25, 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus. 1:2, where we read "since, or-before, the
world began." If chronos be translated "world" then aionios must have been translated "began", or if
chronos has been translated "began" because of its association with time, then
aionios has been translated "world". In any case the translation is exceedingly wide.
The Revisers were evidently unsatisfied with this rendering for in the three passages they substitute, "times eternal", which though it adheres more to the actual words so translated, is still too poetic to be of use,. for "times" belong to one category and "eternal" to another. We can speak of "a living death" but only in a figure, we can speak of "times eternal" but only in a figure;
for the purpose of discovering at what point in the outworking of the purpose of the ages, these "times eternal" commence, such a
translation is valueless. There is nothing for it, but to adopt either the foreign sounding phrase
"eonian times", or the cumbersome expression "age-times". This latter has the advantage of resenting to the eye the fact that we are still within the
bounds of the ages, and not dealing with either "the world" as in the A.V. or
"eternitv" as in the R.V.
We must now ~return to those passages that are under review, to observe any particular features that will help us in our attempt to place them in the outworking of the Divine purpose. First, we will give Weymouth's rendering of Romans 16:25-27, with our own emphasis of each occurrence of
aion and aionios.
call to Abraham, and
during a period of Israel's discipline this inner teaching of Romans remained
unemphasized, but with the commission of the Apostle, the hour struck for its proclamation. A comparison of Romans
1:1-7 with Romans 16:25-27 will reveal some things in common, and some that differ.
The structure of the epistle to the Romans is exceedingly complex, as we can well believe of so mighty an epistle. Simplified to the extreme it appears somewhat like this:
A Rom. I-5:1 I. Sins, rather than sin.
The conclusion to which an examination of the word aion leads, is that eternity
is never in view, but the word is employed to cover the period of time since Genesis 1:2 and reaching up to the day when God will be all in all, when the
Ages will have reached both their goal and their end.
The reader would find considerable help, if the notes on "age" given in the appendix of Rotherham's "Emphasized New Testament" were consulted; Weymouth's "Translation of the New Testament in Modern Speech," and Appendix 129 and 151 of "The Companion Bible".