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Definitions of the Greek Words "Aion," "Aionios" and the Hebrew word "Olam"
"Usage is always the decisive thing in determining the meanings of words."
"Over time, words often change meaning, sometimes even taking on an opposite one."
Dictionaries only give the meaning of a word as it is used at the time the dictionary is written. Over time, words often change meaning, sometimes even taking on an opposite one. The word "let" in the 20th century usually means "to allow." But in King James' England, the word "let" often meant just the opposite-"to restrain." The word "suffer," had the meaning "let" in the 16th century. This meaning has been removed from the modern use of the word. As word meanings change, so will the definitions found in the dictionaries of that time period. "Carriage" was cargo four hundred years ago-today it describes the vehicle which carries the "carriage." At one time, a "gazette" was a low value coin which could purchase a newspaper. Today, the meaning of "a certain coin" has disappeared. A dictionary, unless it contains the etymology of the word, is usually of little to no help in determining the meaning of a word hundreds of years ago. Lexicons, concordances, and etymology books are needed to ascertain the true meaning of a word within a given culture and period of time.
Listed below are the definitions modern dictionaries give to the set of words we want to look at. Keep in mind ... what they mean today and what they meant two thousand years ago, are two different subjects.
Olam, aion, and aonion are defined in dictionaries, lexicons, commentaries, and the like, as follows: (Here is one of those long listed I mentioned)
Page and Company's Business Man's Dictionary and Guide to English: Eon: A long space of time; cycle; forever; eternally; always; at all times.
New World Dictionary: Eon: Period of immense duration; an age; endless; for eternity.
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Eon (n.): An immeasurable or indefinite period of time; incessantly; synonym of constantly, continuously, always, perpetually, unceasingly, everlastingly, endlessly.
Standard Unabridged Dictionary: Eon: An age of the universe; an incalculable period, constituting one of the longest conceivable divisions of time; a cosmic or geological cycle; an eternity, or eternity. The present age, or eon, is time; the future age, or eon, is eternity.
Shedd Theological Dictionary (vol. II, p. 683): Eonian: pertaining to, or lasting for eons; everlasting; eternal.
Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon: Aion: A period of existence; one's lifetime; life; an age; a generation; a long space of time; an age. A space of time clearly defined and marked out; an era, epoch, age, period or dispensation.
Thesaurus Dictionary of the English Language: Eon: An age of the universe.
Earnest Weekly's Etymological Dictionary of Modern English: Aeon: Age.
Universal Dictionary: Aeon: A period of immense duration; an age.
Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon: Aionios: (1) without beginning or end; that which has been and always will be. (2) without beginning. (3) without end, never to cease, everlasting.
Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible: Eternity: The Bible hardly speaks of eternity in a philosophical sense of infinite duration without beginning or end. The Hebrew word olam, which is used alone (Ps. 61:8) or with various prepositions (Ge. 3:22; 13:15, etc.) in contexts where it is traditionally translated "forever," means, in itself, no more than "for an indefinitely long period." Thus, me-olam does not mean "from eternity," but "of old" (Ge 6:4, etc.). In the N.T., aion is used as the equivalent of olam.
The New Testament in Modern Speech, by Dr. R. F. Weymouth: Eternal: Greek: "aeonion," i.e., "of the ages." Etymologically this adjective, like others similarly formed, does not signify "during," but "belonging to" the aeons or ages.
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (vol. IV, p. 643): Time: The O.T. and the N.T are not acquainted with the conception of eternity as timelessness. The O.T. has not developed a special term for "eternity." The word aion originally meant "vital force," "life;" then "age," "lifetime." It is, however, also used generally of a (limited or unlimited) long space of time. The use of the word aion is determined very much by the O.T. and the LXX. Aion means "long distant uninterrupted time" in the past (Luke 1:10), as well as in the future (John 4:14).
Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible (Matt. 25:46): Everlasting punishment-life eternal. The two adjectives represent the same Greek word, aionios-it must be admitted (1) that the Greek word which is rendered "eternal" does not, in itself, involve endlessness, but rather, duration, whether through an age or succession of ages, and that it is therefore applied in the N.T. to periods of time that have had both a beginning and ending (Rom. 16:25), where the Greek is "from aeonian times;" our version giving "since the world began." (Comp. 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:3) -strictly speaking, therefore, the word, as such, apart from its association with any qualifying substantive, implies a vast undefined duration, rather than one in the full sense of the word "infinite."
Triglot Dictionary of Representative Words in Hebrew, Greek and English [this dictionary lists the words in this order: English, Greek, Hebrew] (p. 122): Eternal (see age-lasting). (p. 6): English: age-lasting; Greek, aionios; Hebrew, le-olam.
A Greek-English Lexicon, by Arndt and Gingrich: (1) Aion: time; age; very long time; eternity. (2) A segment of time; age. (3) The world. (4) The aion as a person: aionios, eternal. 1. Without beginning. 2. Without beginning or end. 3. Without end.
Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, by Abbott-Smith: Aion: A space of time, as a lifetime, generation, period of history, an indefinitely long period-an age, eternity.
Hasting's Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. I, p. 542, art. Christ and the Gospels): Eternity. There is no word either in the O.T. Hebrew or in the N.T. Greek to express the abstract idea of eternity. (vol. III, p. 369): Eternal, everlasting-nonetheless "eternal" is misleading, inasmuch as it has come in the English to connote the idea of "endlessly existing," and thus to be practically a synonym for "everlasting." But this is not an adequate rendering of aionios which varies in meaning with the variations of the noun aion from which it comes. (p. 370): The chronois aioniois moreover, are not to be thought of as stretching backward everlastingly, as it is proved by the pro chronon aionion of 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2.
Usages of Aion
As can be seen from these examples, some of the dictionaries, lexicons, and commentaries consider such words as eternal, forever, and everlasting to be synonymous to the words age, or eon. In addition to the foregoing, some Bible translations such as the King James Version, use the words "forever," "eternal," everlasting," etc., where a period of time, an age, a limited period, is clearly indicated. Some examples of this are given below. I will give the Greek transliteration first, followed by a literal translation. Before we begin I want to stress a very important point. What follows must be read very slowly and probably several times. I have made it as simple as I possibly can. One does not need to learn Greek to see what I hope will become plain to the average reader, but one does need to go to their translations and to a good concordance to verify that what I am writing is actually in the text. A Greek-English Interlinear would also be helpful, but not necessary. Furthermore, there may be some texts I will deal with that I may not be able to make plain enough what I want to express. If there are some passages you do not understand, just set them aside. I will present enough material that it should be easy for anyone to at least see that these words are not adequately translated in the King James Bible and many others which have followed the King James tradition. With that said, let us begin.
The Greek word aion will be translated consistently with the English word "eon," which is but the Anglicized form of the Greek word.
Hebrews 1:2 says: di hou kai epoiesen tous aionas, "through Whom also He makes the eons." Notice the Greek word aionas is rendered "worlds" in this passage in the KJV. The ASV margin says "ages;" and the New Scofield Bible reads "ages." Ephesians 3:11: "according to the purpose of the eons which He makes in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Both these passages state that God makes the eons; therefore they had a beginning, and so were not "eternal" in the past. Yet the KJV translates the passage at Ephesians 3:11: "According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." A purpose carries the idea that there is a goal in view, a plan, an aim, a design. Are we to think that God has a purpose He will never accomplish? That is what such a translation implies. God has the wisdom and power to accomplish whatever purpose He has conceived. Notice that in the KJV translation, the Greek word aionon, a noun, has been translated as though it were an adjective. That is a serious liberty to be taking with the inspired words of God, aside from using "eternal" where it is clear that limited time is in view.
In Ephesians alone, aion has been translated in the KJV the following ways: 1:21 "world;" 2:2 "course [of this world];" 2:7 "ages;" 3:9 "beginning of the world;" 3:11 "eternal;" 3:21 "world without end;" 6:12 "world." This seems to be a strange assortment of English words to represent just one Greek word! As we look at other verses, the confusion even gets worse! Translate aion consistently as "age" or "eon" and we do not have this confusion. Notice how aion, "eon" and aionios, "eonian" are translated in the following: 1 Cor. 2:7 pro ton aionon (before the eons), KJV "before the world," New Scofield "ages," ASV margin "age." 2 Timothy 1:9 and Tit. 1:2, pro chronon aionion (before times eonian), KJV "before the world began." In these verses (2 Tim. 1:9 and Tit. 1:2) the adjective "eonian" in the Greek text is translated in the KJV as though it were a noun.
Before you go on with this book, please read and re-read this section until you clearly see that the King James Bible and its sister translations have not translated these words properly. Pro, in these verses is a preposition which means "before." chronon is a genitive plural of the noun chronos which means "time." Aionion is a genitive plural adjective of the noun aion. Dear reader, please stop and think this section thoroughly through. It may dramatically change your life for the better. The only thing the King James Version got right here was the prepostion "before." The translators of the American Standard and the Revised Version, which are revisions of the King James Bible, realized there were problems in the King James Bible with these words. They therefore made a consistent rendering based not upon the Greek, but upon tradition! They translated that verse in Titus 1:2 "before times eternal." Now what is the world is that supposed to mean? How can there be times (plural) before eternity? This is not translation, this is nonsense. But you see, they had to stay true to the tradition of an eternal "hell" in which many people would be "forever" punished. Realizing how ridiculous a literal rendering of this phrase sounded based upon "tradition," the American Standard translators put in the margin, "or, long ages ago." Now here is a phrase that makes sense to the Greeks and to the English. Why not put it into the English text, since that is a rendering which is far more true to the Greek and English than "before times eternal?" Tradition!!! It is interesting to note that the Revised Standard Version (a revision of the Revision of the King James Bible) finally put into the text itself "ages ago," not quite correct, but certainly much closer than its predecessors. The New American Standard Version, (a revision of the American Standard of 1901,an [BAmerican version of the Revised Version which is a revison of the King James Bible) "long ages ago." It took almost 400 years to break this incorrect "tradition"! They are still dragging their feet in several others places in the English text where they have still translated through the "tradition of the elders," and not according to the Greek text. If it took 400 years for them to come this far with Titus 1:2, referring to a passage which does not touch their "sacred cow," the doctrine of eternal torment in Hell, then how long do you think it will take for them to treat honestly and objectively the other passages we will discuss in this book? We must remember, their very jobs, their very creeds, their very foundation and power of their denominations, that being the fear of "eternal torment" is at stake here. Surely, we can expect a fight to the end. "Tradition" has too much to lose in this fight and the heads of the institutions of the church which have been built upon the fear of hell instead of the love of Christ will war with those who demand sound and correct translations to the very end. My dear reader, I repeat: please do not leave this section until you clearly see that the Bibles in the King James tradition are dragging their feet unwilling to handle these two words, aion and aionios correctly.
These Scriptures show God made the eons (Eph. 3:11 and Heb. 1:2), and that there was a time before the eons, or before eonian times (1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:9; and Tit. 1:2). Since they had a beginning and there was time before they were made, there could not have been "endless" or "eternal" time in the past. When does "eternity" begin?
The Scriptures also speak of the end of the eon and ends of the eons. Matt. 24:3 reads: sunteleias tou aionos, "conclusion of the eon". The KJV here says "end of the world." The ASV has "consummation of the age," telling us of a time when this eon will end-this present wicked eon during which Satan is theos tou aionos toutou, "god of this eon."
First Corinthians 10:11 tells us of tele ton aionon, "consummations of the eons." Here the KJV says "ends of the world;" the ASV "ends of the ages."
The Greek word used here is in the genitive plural, yet the translators of the KJV have changed the plural to a singular word, "world." How many ends can a single world have?
Hebrews 9:26, epi sonteleia ton aionon, "at the conclusions of the eons." KJV: "in the end of the world;" ASV: "end [margin: consummation] of the ages." So we see the eons cannot be endless in the future, for they will end individually and collectively.
The Greek word for eon is used both in the singular and in the plural in the Scriptures. We are told of the past eons, a present eon, and future eons: Col. 1:26, apokekrummenon apo ton aionion, "having been concealed from the eons." KJV: "which has been hid from the ages;" ASV margin: "which has been hid from the ages." So there must be a least two eons past.
Luke 20:34, hoi huioi tou aionos, "the sons of this eon." KJV: "the children of this world;" ASV margin: "the sons of this age."
In Matthew 12:32 Jesus said, oute en touto to aioni oute en to mellonti, "neither in this eon nor in the impending." KJV: "neither in this world, neither in the world to come;" ASV margin: "neither in this age, nor in that which is to come." (See also Galatians 1:4 and 2 Cor. 4:4.) Matthew speaks of two eons: (1) the present eon, and (2) the impending one. The impending eon is that one in which Christ is to obtain His kingdom and rule for the millennium.
In Ephesians 2:7 Paul writes, en tois aiosin tois eperchomenois, "in the on-coming eons." KJV: "in the ages to come;" ASV: "in the ages to come." So there are past eons, a present one, and the coming eons, at least five in all. Included in these eons are all the eonian times that are mentioned in Scripture. The adjective aionios comes from the noun aion and is defined: "pertaining to or belonging to the eons." It is an axiom of grammar that an adjective derived from a noun cannot mean more than its parent word. It must retain the essential meaning pertaining to the noun. As it has been shown, the noun refers to limited time, which had a beginning and will have an end. The adjective, then, should not be translated by such words as "everlasting" or "eternal." The adjective cannot take on a greater meaning than the noun from which it is derived. For example, hourly, an adjective, pertains to an hour, not to a year.