IN the providence of God, concerning all terms of
consequence, the sacred writings provide their own internal evidence which establishes the
significance of their vocabulary terms and grammatical forms.
Many important passages,
however, are nonetheless not definitive passages. For example, in themselves, those
passages which refer to the life which pertains to Gods people, or to the duration
of certain adversative judgments, simply are not definitive. This is because perfectly
conceivable ideas may be represented by both eonian and
everlasting. Whether these should be foreign or familiar to our traditions is
In the majority of
instances, words are not used definitively. A passage may be vital, but that has nothing
to do with whether its key terms are used definitively. For example, the words of Romans
3:24 are of the greatest importance to us, for they lie at the heart of the gospel:
Being justified gratuitously in His grace, through the deliverance which is in
Christ Jesus. But what does it mean to be justified? What does it mean for
something to occur gratuitously? What significance is there to the fact that this
gratuitous justification (whatever that may be) occurs in Gods grace? The
passage itself will not inform us.
We must learn the force of
each of these terms from other places. For example, justify appears
definitively in passages such as Luke 7:29 and Romans 3:4, gratuitously in
John 15:25 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8, and grace in Romans 4:4 and 11:6.
It is through such
passages as these latter ones that we determine the meaning of these key expressions. We
then carry the knowledge we have gained concerning the meaning of these words into our
considerations of Romans 3:24. Before we read it, we already know what each of these terms
mean, and only wish to note their particular usage in the passage at hand. There is no
other way to be certain of the meaning of a word whenever it appears (as is often the
case) in a passage that is less than definitive. In many texts it is possible to assign
any one of several ideas to a term and still express a conceivable thought through the
clause in which it is found. But this is only to speculate; it is not to know. We are not
to guess; we are to believe. Yet we cannot know what to believe if we do not know what has
It is popularly believed
that many words have two or more meanings. Actually, however, this is not the case. In any
certain instance, according to its usage, a word may indeed convey a special connotation,
one which is not present in other passages in which it is found. Yet no such specialized
usageeven in the slightest degreechanges a words essence, its denotation
or basic meaning.
Within any certain era,
those words which come into common use during such a period (or already exist at its
beginning) cannot possibly denote more than one idea, even if they should soon find
themselves being employed in a multiplicity of special applications. Otherwise,
communication (much less translation), except for perhaps a few well-placed grunts, would
be impossible and vanish from the face of the earth.
A word, then,
is simply a linguistic form which is used to communicate an idea, a form which, by itself,
is capable of conveying an unmistakable thought. Strictly speaking, a word
(apart from homonyms) is a linguistic form that can meaningfully be spoken in
Dictionary definitions of
a words usage must be distinguished from a words own definition, its meaning,
which distinguishes it from other expressions. Since many derived usages
necessarily enter into popular speech in reference to new applications or objects, most
people hazily and mistakenly refer to such usages (which, in turn, become dictionary
definitions) as different meanings. Nonetheless, whether we speak
of a dining room table, a multiplication table, a desert table (a mesa or plateau) or
tabling (postponing) a project, the meaning of table (viz., a flat
horizontal surface) never changes. This principle, then, must be true
concerning the word aion as well. Therefore, while all scriptural passages in which
some form of aion is found are either definitive or indefinite, none of them
present any essential different meaning than the rest. As we shall see, the idea of an
eon, or of that which is in some way eonian, is always present in any of the
definitive usages of this word. None of the definitive occurrences of aion can sensibly be
conceived as signifying that which has no end.
THE MEANING OF EON
been asked to give a simple explanation concerning the word eon. Basically, an
eon (or age) is simply a period of time; in most cases, it is used of a very long
period of time. Being a period, it has a beginning and an end.
The Scriptures make
reference to five notable eonsfive epochal periodswhich are determined, or
marked off, by exceptionally extraordinary occurrences, tremendous upheavals in the
established order. They run their course, (1) from the beginning of creation to a great
cosmological disruption (evidently of a geological nature though occasioned by
moral disruption or sin); (2) from the disruption of the world to the great flood; (3)
from the flood to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom on earth (which includes the
present era, necessitated by the Pauline evangel which unfolds the untraceable riches of
Christ for the nations); (4) from the establishment of the terrestrial kingdom (primarily
the thousand years or millennium) to the destruction of the earth by fire; and
(5) from the creation of the new earth to the consummation revealed by the
After the consummation of
vivification and of the eonian times which are revealed in Scripture, the kingdom of the
Son of the Most High will continue on, never ceasing, for of His kingdom there shall
be no consummation (Luke 1:33b). The Scriptures do not reveal any certain events
during the endlessness which follows the time when God becomes All in all. Long periods of
time may well be marked off by notable events and termed eons, but any such things are not
revealed to us now.
Christs literal rule
will be so effective as to rule out all rule. None will be needed, for all
will be subject, vivified, headed up in Christ and reconciled. The term
kingdom will be retained not because He is still finding it necessary to rule
those who are insubjection, but, by association, in honor of what was accomplished and
permanently established as a result of His literal reign until the time when He gave up
the kingdom to His God and Father.
means of or pertaining to, the eons [or eon]. In the Scriptures, the
eonian times are from the beginning to the
consummation. The meaning of eon and eonian never change,
even though they are sometimes used in different senses and in reference to more than one
subject. Aionios never means age-lasting, and so should
not be translated thus, even though some of its occurrences are in accord with this
thought (others are not, only making reference to a portion of an eon). In most cases, it
is the oncoming eons (Eph.2:7) which are in view. Some passages refer directly
to the periods of time themselves; others, by association, have in view the character or
nature of things which will prevail during the periods being discussed. God has various
operations (economies or administrations) during the eons for the accomplishment of His
goals, all leading to the greatest one of all, becoming All in all at the consummation.
DEFINITIVE EONIAN PASSAGES
following are a few representative examples of passages in which the Hebrew olam,
and its Greek equivalents, aion and aionios, are definitively used in the
Scriptures: Yahweh, He shall reign for the eon and further (Exodus
15:18); the earth is standing for the eon (Ecc.1:4); a statute for Aaron
and for his sons. . . . it is an eonian statute (Lev.24:9); Across the stream
dwelt your forefathers from the eon (Joshua 24:2); The years of the eons will
I remember (Psa.77:5); before the eons (1 Cor.2:7); before times
eonian (2 Tim.1:9); a secret hushed in times eonian, yet manifested now
(Rom.16:25, 26); the present eon (Gal.1:4); the current eon (1
Tim.6: 17); the eon of this world (Eph.2:2); this eon
(Matt.12:32); that eon (Luke 20:35); the coming eon (Mark 10:30);
the oncoming eons Eph.2:7); the conclusion of the eon (Matt.24:
3); the conclusion of the eons (Heb.9:26); and the consummations of the
eons (1 Cor.10:11).
Thus we can be certain
that eon means a period of time; it is the longest segment of time known in
the Scriptures. It is not used to speak of endless time, or of any foggy philosophical
speculations about eternity.
HE WHO IS LIVING FOR THE EONS
concerning Gods living for the eons (Rev.4:9, 10; 10:6; 15:7), it is
only because this expression is unfamiliar to us that it seems awkward or difficult. A
parallel familiar expression should make this evident. Were we to declare that the living
God is living today, this would be found quite acceptable. It becomes
evident, then, that it is just as sensible (even if most are not familiar with the
expression) to declare that He will be living tomorrow, namely, in the
glorious scriptural morrow of the oncoming eons. The fact that He Who is living during
this current era will also be living for (actually, into, eis)
the eons of time ahead, constitutes a further word of assurance concerning His
providential care during these future long eras of time.
It is to be regretted that
the hazy English for can be misused in connection with the eons. The literal
rendering into, in such cases, however, would unduly strain English idiom.
Opposers imprudently couple for with their own gratuitous inference only
(for) in order to disprove the meaning of aion as eon. This
is done in order to make the meaning eon appear to be obviously mistaken with
regard to the revelation that God is living eis tous aionas ton aionon (for
the eons of the eons, CV). The Authorized Version rendering, God, Who liveth
for ever and ever, adds to the confusion, and lends support to the popular
misunderstanding. For it makes the reference appear to be to the length of Gods
life, when it instead is a reference to a particular time during which God will be living
(God, Who is living for the eons of the eons, CV).
Inasmuch as the word aion
appears in both classes of passages, crude reasonings from the usual mistranslations of
those passages which interconnect God, or Christ (Rev.1:18), a form of the word
life, and the word aion, are routinely set forth as clear proof in
favor of everlasting aionion punishment (e.g., Matt.25:46). That is,
since God liveth for ever and ever, and it is felt that the thought here must
be that His life never ends, it is concluded that the punishment of the lost must likewise
be endless, since the same Greek word is used concerning these respective revelations.
This conclusion, however,
is based on mistaken premises, ones which are derived from false inferences and
mistranslation: (1) the injecting of only (for) into for (in
relation to the phrase for the eons) while failing to note the literal
into; (2) the AV mistranslation liveth
(lives in modem English) instead of the correct form is living;
(3) the gross mistranslation for ever and ever instead of the accurate
rendering for the eons of the eons.
Whenever we read the
expression for the eons, we should always keep in mind the actual
literal idea of into. That is, God will be living on, into those eras of
time, in order that He should be living within or during those time periods
as well, even as He is living within or during these present hectic times, when we
need Him so much.
The fact that I lived
during the nineteen seventies is no proof that I now am dead in the nineteen eighties! And
if I should say that I am living in the year 1988, and that, the Lord
willing, I shall be living on into the year 1989, this would give no license
to any of those who might translate my words into another language to make a claim, and so
translate, to the effect that while in one case where I used the word year I
actually meant a year, while in another place where I used this same word I did not mean a
year at all (even if I did say so!).
Yet this is just the sort
of thing that most translators of the Scriptures have done with the words in the Original
for eon. Most simply lacked the insight to see the point of many of the
passages that spoke of the eons. Since they were able, however, to make sense of
these passages by translating by everlasting or eternal, they
simply went ahead and did so, any resultant problems notwithstanding. Due to a lack of
sensible thinking and an abundance of confidence in the flesh, it is impossible for most
to face the fact that the usual translations of this word are quite mistaken and extremely
We believe that Gods
life will never end, not because of any passages in reference to Him which include the
word eon, but because it is written that His years shall have no
end (Psa. 102:27). Furthermore, since God is the Source of all life, and since, at
the consummation, all will be gloriously made alive so that He may become All in each one,
it is evident that He must ever have life Himself in order to impart it to His creatures.
As the Lord declared,
Seeing that I am living, you also will be living (John 14:19). In light of the
fearful nature of the terrible judgments in the Revelation, one might infer that all hope
is lost. But this is not the case at all. For the living God, Who is living today, will be
living on as well into the coming eons! The fact that He is said to be living,
at any time, is not declared in order merely to inform us that He still exists, but is a
lively figure of association designed to testify to His great power and subjectorship. He
lives! He is the living God, and so is great and marvelous, strong to save, and able
to do superexcessively above all that we are requesting or apprehending (Eph.3:20).
We rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind,
especially of believers. These things be charging and teaching (1 Tim.4:10,11).
THE EONIAN GOD
light of these things, we may join Paul in saying, Wherefore we are not despondent,
but even if our outward man is decaying, nevertheless that within us is being renewed day
by day. For the momentary lightness of our affliction is producing for us a transcendently
transcendent eonian burden of glory, at our not noting what is being observed, but what is
not being observed, for what is being observed is temporary [proskairon, TOWARD-SEASON],
yet what is not being observed is eonian (2 Cor.4:16-18).
Paul is not making a
contrast between time and eternity, as the Authorized Versions terms
temporal (pertaining to time, from the Latin tempus) and
eternal would suggest. Antithetical terms are not the only ones which may be
set in contrast to one another. Paul is contrasting this present lifetime, the present
brief season in which we are afflicted, with the exceedingly long future eons in
which we will enjoy a great burden of glory.
Our God and Father is the
God of the eons, the eonian times or ages revealed in the Scriptures (this fact is
reflected in the well-known hymns, Rock of Ages, and, A Mighty Fortress
is Our God, which includes the line, From age to age the same). The
Greek word for God, Theos, means Placer (or,
Subjector; cf KEYWORD CONCORDANCE entry, p.127; e.g., 1
Cor.12:18,28). It is not His name, nor is it a reference to Him as the Creator of nature
or as the heavenly Father. Instead, God is a title which represents the Deity
as the Disposer, Subjector or Placer of all things (Acts 17:24,25).
It is not improper to
accommodate custom and use the English word God when speaking of the Supreme.
It is not so vital just which word we use as the idea we conceive whenever we use a
certain word. God is the great Placer of men, nations, and the entire world during the
eonian times. Consequently, He is the eonian God (Rom.16:26). Thoughts along these
lines are in view in those passages in which God is identified with the eons.
By the consummation, all
will have been placed by Him into such conditions as have been best and for the good of
all. Then there will be no more need for authority and government. Rule will be ruled out;
all will be ideal, for the living God will be All in all.
*1 FUNK AND WAGNALLS STANDARD
COLLEGE DICTIONARY, The Readers Digest Association (1966), p.1547.
*2 cf Eternal Torment or Universal
Reconciliation? pp.25-28, A. E. Knoch