Let’s begin by considering the word “eternal” or “endless” in the Bible.
G. Campbell Morgan is one of the most well-known and respected Bible teachers and preachers in history. In his book “God’s Methods With Men,” Morgan says:
“… we must be very careful how we use the word ‘eternity.’ We have fallen into great error in our constant use of that word. There is no word in the whole Book of God corresponding with our ‘eternal’ which as commonly used among us means absolutely without end. The strongest Scripture word used with reference to the existence of God is— ‘unto the ages of the ages,’ which does not literally mean eternally.”
While Mr. Morgan was a life-long student of the Bible, we should not take his opinion on this matter without further study. The most important thing we learn from him is that not all qualified Bible teachers are in agreement on the issue of “eternity.”
THERE ARE INCONSISTENCIES IN THE TRANSLATIONS
The Greek word in the Bible that is typically translated “eternal” or “endless” is aion (from which we get our English word eon). But Bible translators encounter many difficulties, because in a fair number of cases aion cannot possibly mean endless.
To give you a quick summary, the words aion and aionian occur 199 times in the New Testament. In the King James Version the word is translated “ages” 2 times, “course” one time, “world” 43 times, and “eternal” or some variation the remaining 153 times. So in 46 of of the 199 times where we find the word aion or aionian in the Bible (23% of the time) the King James Version recognizes that the word cannot be properly translated “eternal,” since it is clearly a limited duration being expressed.
How could God, who is wanting to reveal things to us through the Bible, confuse us by using a single word that sometimes means “eternity” while other times carries a very different meaning? I realize that when we translate from the Greek it is sometimes necessary to use English idiom or expression to relay the meaning ... but could a single Greek word carry such opposite meanings as “eternal” and “temporary?”
HOW MANY ETERNITIES ARE THERE?
If aion is eternity, what would aions (plural) mean? If aion is endless, how can there be more than that? But in some passages aion is singular, while in other passages we find the plural aions. (For example, Ephesians 2:7 and Colossian 1:26)
WHAT DOES “BEFORE ETERNITY” MEAN?
2 Timothy 1:9 “before times eonian”
Titus 1:2 “before times eonian”
1 Corinthians 2:7 “before the eons”
WHAT DOES THE “END OF ETERNITY” MEAN?
Could there be an end to eternity? This phrase alone should be enough to show us that aion cannot mean “forever.”
Matthew 13:39 “the conclusion of the eon”
Matthew 24:3 “the conclusion of the eon”
1 Corinthians 10:11 “the consummations of the eons”
Hebrews 9:26 “at the conclusion of the eons”
Look at 1 Corinthians 15, because that talks about what happens at the end of the eons or ages. All enemies are defeated. The final enemy (death) is abolished. Christ, who has been reigning, subjects Himself to the Father, and God becomes All in all. This is the climax of human history. [More on this passage in future blogs.]
The bottom line … aion should be consistently translated “eon” or “age” if we truly want to understand what God has intended to reveal.
MORE ABOUT EONS OR AGES IN THE BIBLE
In Galations 1:4 we read of “the present wicked eon.” What would “the present wicked eternity” mean?
In Ephesians 2:7 we read of “the oncoming eons.” If we live in the middle of eternity, what would “the eternity to come” mean?
2 Corinthians 4:4 speaks of the Adversary as “the god of this eon.” Would the Adversary (Satan) be referred to as “the god of eternity?”
CONSIDER THE MANY DIFFERENT VARIATIONS OF “EON”
Look closely at each word ...
Hebrews 1:8 “the eon of the eon”
Ephesians 3:21 “the eon of the eons”
Galations 1:5 “the eons of the eons”
If “eon” is eternity, what do these things mean? If “eon,” however, does not mean eternity, these variations make all the sense in the world.
“The eon of the eon” would refer to a single eon of time, as it relates to the previous eon (in other words, the eon that resulted from or that came out of the previous eon).
“The eon of the eons” would refer to a single eon (or age) out of a group of two or more eons.
“The eons of the eons” would refer to two or more eons in relation to the other eons. For example, there are times within Scripture when the final two eons are referred to as compared with all of the other eons. Christ will reign for these two eons.
From our school days we remember the word “eon” being used to describe a very long time. We will sometimes even use the expression, “it has been eons” to mean that it has been a very long time.
Because Bible translators and the churches of our day insist upon arguing for an “eternal” meaning for “aion,” much of the truth in God’s Word is now very hard to see unless you are willing to do some study beyond your popular English Bible translation.
A FEW OTHER NOTABLE OPINIONS CONCERNING “AIONIAN”
Marvin Vincent, author of “Word Studies in the New Testament” says of “aionian” (see his notes on 2 Thessalonians 1:9),
“(It is) a period of time of longer or shorter duration, having a beginning and an end, and complete in itself ... The word always carries the notion of time, and not of eternity. It always means a period of time. Otherwise it would be impossible to account for the plural, or for such qualifying expressions as this age, or the age to come. It does not mean something endless or everlasting ... The adjective ... in like manner carries the idea of time. Neither the noun nor the adjective, in themselves, carry the sense of endless or everlasting ... Words which are habitually applied to things temporal or material cannot carry in themselves the sense of endlessness.”
From “Salvator Mundi, or Is Christ the Saviour of All Men?” by Samuel Cox:
“No doubt it was right at one time to translate aeonial by eternal, and would be right again could we reinstate the original significance of the word: for, strangely enough, the word ‘eternal’ originally meant aeonial or age-long. It comes to us from the Latin aeternus, the older and longer form of which is aeviternus: and the word aevum, which is the root of it, is simply the Latin form of the Greek aion and the English aeon.” (page 119)
BUT HOW CAN WE RELY ON THE BIBLE IF THERE ARE ERRORS IN OUR TRANSLATIONS?
There are reliable translations and other Bible study materials (concordances) that will allow you to study the Scriptures if you are willing to dig deeper and invest more time. If you are willing to look beyond the common translations, you can find the truth.
TRUST IN GOD’S WORD; NOT IN THE TRANSLATION
I am convinced that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. I have considered the evidence and have settled this matter through my personal study. But I do not have faith in the popular English translations when it comes to a detailed study of God’s Word. If I want to understand the things that God has revealed, I must use a good concordance to examine the actual Hebrew or Greek words used. And I would recommend the “Concordant Version” as a study aid, as it is a very literal translation (making it hard to read at times) and includes a keyword concordance in the back that allows the reader to easily see the Greek or Hebrew that is behind the English translation.
STUDY AND THINK FOR YOURSELF!
DON’T BLINDLY FOLLOW THE “AUTHORITIES.”
The fact of the matter is that the popular English translators have mis-translated the words “aion” and “aionian.” They got it wrong, and there is now a great deal of “orthodox pressure” to keep things the way they are.
But as we have seen in this short review, “aion” and “aionian” do not mean “eternity.” As you read your Bible, keep this in mind!