DEFINITION OF BIBLE TERMS
There are several different words in the original New Testament that are translated in the common version by this one English word, WORLD; the two principal ones are æon and kosmos. Though both of these words are usually rendered world, yet they are really very distinct, and different in their meaning, and ought to have been rendered respectively age and world. We shall have space in this number for the consideration of only the former word, Aeon, i.e. Age.
Our knowledge of God's "plan of the ages" depends upon a correct understanding of the meaning of this word; and without a knowledge of that plan we can understand but little of the truth. Hence we can see how very important is the study of this word.
There are only two places in the common version where the word aeon is rendered, as it should be in every case, age; but these two instances are significant, because they show of themselves the meaning of the word. In Col. 1:26 we read of "the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations but now is made manifest to his saints." In Eph. 2:7 we read that "in the ages to come God will show the exceeding riches of his grace," etc. Now these passages plainly indicate two things in regard to this word. 1. The ages are limited periods of time; several of them have run their course and come to an end in the past, and there are yet more to come. 2. The "ages to come" are to be richer in the manifestation of the grace of God than the present or past ages; in other words it appears that God's grace broadens and his plan develops as the ages roll, mysteries that have been hid in past ages are made known, and the future ages are to witness the "riches of his grace" to an extent "exceeding" that of any previous age. These points are clear from these passages but we could not determine from these whether the ages are definite periods of time, or not;-whether Paul refers to the centuries, or whether he uses the word in a loose, indefinite sense as it is sometimes used at the present time, or whether he refers to specific and definite periods in the past and the future. To determine this point let us look at other Scripture.
Heb. 9:26. "Now once at the end of the ages (N.V.*) hath Christ been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." It plainly appears from this passage that when Christ came to suffer and die it was at the end of a series of ages; this is positive. 1 Cor. 10:11, N.V.* "These things were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of ages are come." This pecuIiar expression," ends of the ages," is clear when we understand that the apostle, and they, to whom he wrote, lived during the transition period between two ages. The Jewish age was closing and passing away, the Gospel age was beginning, hence the "ends of the ages had come upon them. That this is the meaning here is still further confirmed when we understand that the word here rendered "are come," literally means, are met, thus bringing out the idea of the meeting of the two ends of the ages. Furthermore it is apparent from many Scriptures that the time from the first to the second advent is called an age; for example see Gal.1:4, "this present evil age;" Tit. 2:12, "this present age;" also, 1 Cor. 2:6,7,8; 3:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12; 1 Tim. 6:17; and many other passages; look these out in the new version*, both text and margin. Now, to still further confirm this point, see Matt. 24:3. "What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age." From this passage it is evident that the end of "this present evil age" is synchronous with the second coming of Christ; the gospel age extends from the first to the second advent of Christ; and then what? then comes eternity, most Christians think; this is a mistake, however; then comes another age, and beyond that are more ages, even "ages of ages." In proof of this see Luke 20:34-36. "The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but they, which shall be counted worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage," &c. This passage plainly teaches three important points: 1. At the close of this age the resurrection takes place. 2. Then comes another age. 3. Some will obtain "that age" who will not obtain the resurrection.
Jesus is plainly talking here of two ages, "this age" and "that age;" and at the "meeting" of these two ages he locates the resurrection; (if I err not, "the first resurrection") then comes, not eternity, but another age, "that age." Some will obtain "that age and the resurrection from the dead;" some who do not obtain the latter will obtain the former and will be living here on the earth in "that age," after one "order" have experienced a resurrection. I cannot now go into a full explanation of the passage; I only briefly notice it in order to show how it establishes the three points mentioned above, which I think it does very clearly.
Very many more passages might be noticed to still further explain this word had I space, but lacking this, I will refer to only one more point. This word Æon occurs in the New Testament in so many peculiar and varying forms as to make it certain, that it expresses some deep and important meaning, well worth searching out. First we have the simple word many times repeated, both in the singular and plural; then we have the word in combination with several prepositions; from the age, Lu. 1:70; and from the ages, Eph. 3:9; out of the age, John 9:32; before the ages, 1 Cor. 2:7; before times of ages, or before age-times, Tit. 1:2; the purpose of the ages, Eph. 3:11, (N.V.*, margin); the age to come, Heb. 6:5; the ages to come, Eph. 2:7; the end of the age; Matt. 24:3; the end of the ages, Heb. 9:26; the end of the ages, 1 Cor. 10:11; furthermore in connection with the preposition unto we find the following remarkable changes.
1. Unto the age, Mark 3:29.
2. Unto the age, Luke 1:33.
3. Unto all the age, Jude 25.
4. Unto the age of the age, Heb. 1:8.
5. Unto all the generations of the age of ages, Eph. 3:21.
6. Unto the age of the ages, Rev. 1:6.
7. Unto the day of an age, 2 Pet. 3:18.
Can any one suppose that these peculiar forms have no special meaning? Is all this a mere play upon words?-simply purposeless repetition? Remember, God by his spirit is the real author of the inspired word. "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the holy spirit." Is it not certain then, as I have said, that these varying forms, so peculiar and striking, hide some spiritual mystery? and would it not have been more respectful to the Word if the translators of the common version, and of the new version too, had rendered these expressions literally, even though they did not know what they meant, rather than to obscure the sense altogether by false and capricious renderings? These translators have handled this word apparently without any respect whatever to its real meaning; they have rendered its various combinations in thirteen different ways, viz., age, course, world, eternal, since the world began, from the beginning of the world, ever, for ever, forever and ever, for evermore, while the world standeth, world without end, and, with a negative, never. These are not translations but paraphrases, and look to me like "handling the word of God deceitfully," although it may have been unintentional. We might expect that this unaccountable capriciousness of rendering would be corrected in the new version, but such correction would have endangered the creed; it would have set some Christians (those who read their Bibles) to thinking, and there is nothing that the upholders of shaky creeds dread so much as to have the people think for themselves. It seems as though these creed-bound revisers thought "We must not open this subject, we must not disturb the 'traditions of the elders, by translating these expressions correctly; better leave them just as they are and then the people will not be unsettled, and the creed will remain intact." Whether they thought this or not, they certainly did not correct this glaring fault of the common version (although, according to their own representation, to correct such faults as this was the very purpose for which the New Testament was revised) , but perpetuated it; and hence we have the same confusion in this respect in the new version as in the old, and thus God's wonderful "counsel" is "darkened by words without knowledge." To my mind it is positive that this word must be connected with some great truth; and it seems to me that we may be sure of this even though we may not be able to tell what that truth is, but the scriptures reveal something of this mystery to those who "search." God's "plan of the ages," as we have noticed in several articles in this and the preceding paper, makes this truth apparent. God, through ages past, present and to come, is working out a glorious "purpose." The accomplishment of this purpose progresses through these ages, as is prophetically typified in the first account of the creation, grandly and majestically, until it shall be complete, and man shall be made in the image of God.
I must stop at this point for the present. In the next paper I think I shall be able to make the subject still clearer, in the consideration of the related word, Kosmos.
*i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)