THE ETERNAL QUESTION
The biblical word 'eternal', influenced by philosophical ideas and by imposed religious dogma, has come now to mean an infinite extension of time. Embracing this meaning, such terms as Eternal Life, Eternal Punishment and the Eternal Son (not found in any version), have been subjects for heated disputes; yet disputants never seek the true sense of the Hebrew and Greek background words, i.e. OLAM and aiOn, and the adjective aiOnios.
Some Bible translators, however, have given better renderings as with John 3:16: Wilson's Diaglott has "aionian life"; J.B.Rotherham has "life age-abiding"; Young has "life age-during"; 20th Century NT has "enduring life"; Weymouth has "Life of the Ages"; the Concordant Version has "eonian life". Rotherham has some helpful Notes, of which one states, "The primary meaning of aiOn is duration indefinitely extended".
It is accepted that this is a derived meaning, possibly the commonest: but it is not the "primary" one as it fails to account for its use by the Platonic and Gnostic philosophies for an emanation, abstract or personified. The root meaning seems to be an influence proceeding from an unseen source. An Age is but the time frame within which the influence remains effective.
The limited view of Rotherham has been developed by A.E.Knoch and his associates, and even though not satisfactory on some points their writings can be helpful. Useful studies are "Whence Eternity?" by Alexander Thomson, and "The Ages" by Vladimir Gelesnoff, from Concordant Publishing Concern.
The tract "The Eons of the Bible" is doubtless useful to stimulate deeper enquiry from those in bondage to eternity ideas; in many instances an Eon is an Age, but it does not always mean this, the matter is much more complex. It is probable that nobody yet has fully discerned its meaning in all its usages, and I do not have all the answers, but I do have some of them.
Back in 1962 Otis Sellers of Los Angeles, being concerned about the fine points, made a thorough re-examination of OLAM/aiOn giving his results in his magazine *The Word of Truth'. The latter is no longer available but recent issues of Seed and Bread summarise his findings, being found in Nos.126/7/8. In No.127 he states, "The idea of 'outflowing' is the thread that runs so true through every occurrence of the word OLAM and continues on through the word aiOn". Yes, this is the basic meaning, to which one could add the idea of influence, course, channel, mediator and hidden source. It is an evident effect the cause of which is not apparent. But Sellers missed some truths.
A phrase of very frequent occurrence is eis ton aiOna. Sellers wishes to translate this as "with respect to the eon'^ but it is obviously an idiom, and such cannot be literally translated as they are peculiar to the language, times and customs of those who use them; they can only be conveyed by meaning. This phrase, which occurs some thirty times in the NT, has a basic meaning of a human life-time; and in the LXX of Ex.21.6. the slave who declined release had to serve eis ton aiOna, i.e. for the rest of his life. So Paul in 1Cor. 8.13. would not eat meat for the rest of his life; and Peter in John 13.8. said "not while I live", or in modern idiom, "over my dead body". This is recognised by Gelesnoff on p.6 of 'The Ages'.
So, unless the context demands otherwise, eis ton aiOna should always be understood in the sense of a lifetime. Thus the duration of the priesthood of Melchizedek was lifelong, in contrast with that of the Aaronic order which was from 20 to 50 years of age. That was how the Samaritan woman at the well understood the term with respect to never thirsting, Heb 7:21; Jn. 4:14/15.
It needs to be recognised that both E.T.A. and aiOn alone commonly refer simply to human life, e.g.Mt.13:22., Mk.4:19., Lk..20:24., Eph.1:21., 1Tim.6:17., 2Tim.4:10. & Tit.2:12.. But the two terms do sometimes refer to the Age that is now running on, which prophetically is concerned with primary blessing for the seed of Abraham, e.g. Mt.13:39., Lk.1:55., Jn.6:51., Jn.16:28. & Jn.14:16. The last days of this Age are envisaged in Hos.3:5. LXX, Acts 2:17., Heb.1:1., 2Pet 3:3.
The Septuagint of Psa.10:16. reads basileusei kurios eis ton aiOna kai eis ton aiOna tou aiOnos. Here the sense of E.T.A. is applied to convey the sense of 'duration'; and the statement should be expressed as, "(the) Lord shall reign for the duration, even for the duration of the age". This surely makes plain what looks to be incomprehensible.
A similar NT verse is Heb.1:8., of which the last five words in Greek are identical, and which should read, "Thy throne, 0 God, is for the duration of the age". The age alluded to both here and in Psa.10:16. is that when Christ reigns upon the earth, not this Age but the next one.
There can only be but one age during which Christ reigns and fully subjugates every enemy before that "end" of 1 Cor.15:25; to assume two ages is to attribute to Him an impotence to rule effectively within one session. So when E.T.A, is found in Lk.1:33. in the plural it has to be recognised as a Hebraism (though used in Greek) often found in poetic expression.
I have noted eight (ther may be more) NT occurrences of this simple plural, all being attributive, devotional or doxological in character. In the Apocalypse there are 14, and elsewhere six, instances of the fuller plural form of eis tous aiOnas tOn aiOnOn (literally, 'unto the eons of the eons'); but this has to be understood as a plural of majesty for, "for the duration of the Age", that great Age embracing Christ's Parousia and the Millenium.
Now just as E.T.A. is an established idiomatic phrase meaning continuance from the present time into the indefinite future, so also there is another meaning, continuance from the indefinite past until the present moment. It is apo tou aiOnos ; and it occurs in the LXX of Isa. 46:9., 64:4. and Joel 2:2., where it could well be represented by the English idiom, "from of old". It does not occur exactly like this in the NT but is contracted instead to ap' aiOnos, being found in Luke 1:70., Acts 3:21. & 15:18..
Translators in general have assumed that this same meaning is to be applied to Eph.3:9, but that is not so, and cannot be. This verse, referring to The Mystery, says apokekrummenou apo tOn aiOnOn en tOi theOi; and this means, "hidden away from the eons in God". The prefix to tlie verb is repeated as a preposition to stress its meaning, a common construction in Greek also occurring with those same two words in Luke 10:21.. If ages were intended here the context is meaningless, hut it makes sense if these eons are intelligent channels of influence or invisible mediators, i.e. angels.
The complementary passage in Col.1:26., as to this same Mystery, says, apokekrummenon apo tOn aiOnOn kai apo tOn geneOn, nun de ephanerOthE tois hagiois autou, meaning, "hidden away from the eons aud from the generations, but now is made manifest to His saints". A superficial glance may lead to concluding that here what was true is compared with what is now true. But closer examination shows that "from the generations" does not fit; and that as a comparison "saints", "eons" and "genurations" must all be comparable group nouns. The saints in 1Tim.5:10. are hunau beings, as are generations: the saints in Jude 14 are angelic beings, as are these eons. The statement therefore compares "hidden away from" certain created beings with what now is "manifested to" other created beings.
It is evident from tlie contexts of Epbesians 3 and Colossians 1 tliu t these eons are otherwise called Principalities and Authorities. It is also stressed that they are creations, since Eph. 3:9. adds, "God, the one who all these created" (my translation). In Col. 1:15. Christ is "firstborn of every creation", not because he was created but rather "because in Him all these were created, those in the heavens (i.e. eons) and those on the earth, those visible (mankind) and those invisible (eons)".
The Literal Version of Young, with reference to God's Son, gives Heb.1:2. as, "through whom also He oadc the uges" [as also do Sharpe, Bowes, Fenton and Rotherham), a translation which is near to accuracy. It would have been completely so had "ages" been given as "eons", which the CV does, .and which Schonfield here ventures to give as "aeons". But ages do not co-exist; they come into being only one at a time; which is a problem some have sought to resolve by modifying the normal meaning of the verb, e.g. CV using Present Tense, Schonfield's "instituted", Diaglott's "constituted". Others deal with this problem by misconstruing aiOnas while retaining the proper meaning of the verb epoiEsen as "made" or "created" (see its use in Matt.19:4.). So what is here stated in Hebrews, in a context of comparison of angels with the Son of God, is the same truth as expreascd in Ephesians and Colossians.
This verse, Heb.1:2., gives meaning to Eph.3:10/11; it should read, "according to a purpose of the eons which He had made (epoiEsen) in Christ Jesus our Lord". It ia not merely that "He made a purpose, but that it was a purpose concerning the eons which He had made in Christ.
Since the noun can have at least two senses it follows that "eonian", the adjective, is not limited to one meaning. It is evident that the Eonian God cannot be so restricted to One age; and the most likely meaning is that He does, or did, make Himself known to Man through invisible mediatorial channels, that is by angelic agencies.
The only NT occurrence of "Eonian God" is Rom.16:26., the preceding verse mentioning eonian times. Being in the same context this adjective can hard1y carry a dissimilar sense in the two cases; so eonian times have to be understood as those when God has spoken through angelic channels, seldom in a manifest way and usually involving also a human agent like a prophet. But in some instances, e.g. Daniel, the heavenly mediator revealed himself.
The eonian times ended with the resurrection of Christ. Now, "God having spokeu ---- to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in SON"; this opening verse of Hebrews states what is implied in Rom.16:26., as also 2Tim.1:10/11 which should read, "--- God, who saved us and called us --- according to His own purpose (and the grace which is given to us) in Christ Jesus before eonian times, but now is manifested" (It should be noted that what is now manifested is not grace but a purpose).
The eonian times began in the days of Abraham, since only of him is it recorded that he "called on the name of Jehovah, the Eonian God" Gen. 21:33.. From Abraham's days until Christ's resurrection the eonian times were in effect, and during their tenure certain truths were suppressed, not only the purpose of God as to Messiah but also concerning eonian life.
The last of the three references to eonian times is Titus 1:2. which has to say of eonian life, "which God, who docs not lie, promised before eonian times, but. manifested in its own seasons by a proclamation with which I was entrusted", says Paul of one feature of what in Rom. 16:25. he calls "my gospel". Thie full sub-stance of Paul's gospel, which previously had been hushed, he here states had been a mystery --- later on termed the Mystery of the Christ.
This Messianic Mystery, though not proclaimed to mankind during eonian times, was not entirely hidden and was then known to every kind of spirit being even before Christ's resurrection. It needs lo be distinguished from that Mystery which was "hidden away from the eons in God" until given to Paul alone to rcveal after the Jewish nation was set aside at the end of Acts.
If eonian times are concerned with mediatorial channels flowing out to Man from God, of like character also is eonian life. However, this Life does not entail many eons but one only; and He is not said to be an eon because, as the Son of God, he is the 'image of the invisible God' Whom he manifests. So Paul writes of "the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus" 2 Tim. 1:1, and John of " the testimony that God gives us eonian life, and this life is in His Son" 1 John 5.:1.CV. Eonian life is not "age-duriug", "age-abiding' or "age-lastiug"; it is available in Christ now in this age, and it is also to be entered into in the age to come.
How rightly has Gelesnoff written in 'The Ages' on p.29 --- "Aeonian life therefore is not, as is generally supposed, a life having neither beginning nor end; but rather a life, the distinctive feature of which is, that it has to do with a Saviour".
NB. It is of interest to observe that Arndt & Gingrich in their Lexicon cite Col. 1:26 as an example of aiOn used of a being.
M.S.Lloyd Glasgow July 1991
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