His Achievement Are We
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 God’s 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 altogether irrelevant.
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 God’s 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 been said.
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 usage—even in the slightest degree—changes a word’s 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 isolation.”*1
Dictionary definitions of a word’s usage must be distinguished from a word’s 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”
We have 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 eons—five epochal periods—which 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 apostle Paul.*2
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.
Christ’s 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.
“Eonian” simply 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
The 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
Likewise, concerning God’s 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 God’s 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 harmful.
We believe that God’s 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
In 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 Version’s 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 Reader’s Digest Association (1966), p.1547.
*2 cf “Eternal Torment or Universal Reconciliation?” pp.25-28, A. E. Knoch
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