The Sacred Scriptures never speak of eternity. They describe nothing as eternal. They contain no term which in itself bears our time sense of everlasting. As eternity is not a subject of revelation, our present object is to discover how and when this unscriptural term gained entrance into theology, with most disastrous results. As this is really a historical investigation, it will be necessary to allude to a considerable number of historical events, and to quote from a number of bygone translators and their versions. It is hoped that such a study, along with an examination of various primitive words connected with time, will dispel any doubts in the minds of those who do not feel thoroughly assured regarding the use of the word eonian in place of eternal. It may be stated, without fear of contradiction, that the more one explores into the early centuries of Christendom, the clearer does it become that a corrupt theology was alone responsible for displacing the primitive truth regarding the eons by a dogma respecting "eternity."
The result was that Wiclif became the medium through whom certain inaccurate or false terms passed into English theology and into our modem Bibles, where they have become stereotyped. The consequences have been very far reaching, long lasting, and most deplorable. The Authorized Version of 1611 reads "there should be time no longer." The Greek says "Chronos not longer will be." This is understood as meaning, "there will be no longer delay." This is not strictly accurate, but may be the nearest we can come in English. Chronos is related to chOra, SPACE, and its primitive force seems to be continuance. Continuance implies delay sometimes. But Chronos is never used in the Scriptures in opposition or contrast to unlimited time. We speak of the Lord "tarrying" (Heb. 10:37) or "delaying," but strictly He will not be continuing, or spending time (where He is).
The erroneous rendering of Wiclif has persisted for over five hundred years, and is quite out of harmony with the context. Anyone can see that after the events detailed in the tenth of Revelation there is an entire millennial period to follow, during which "time" continues. The RV. margin reads, "there shall be delay no longer."
Let it not be imagined that we seek to blame Wiclif. He used the best and only tools that were in existence in his day. He was not only the "Morning Star of the Reformation," but as Col. C. R Conder says, "Wyclif founded the Reformation at Oxford in 1360." Princess Anne of Bohemia, wife of King Richard II. of England, was greatly interested in his works, most of which were in Latin, which she encouraged in her own country. Jerome of Prague, friend and disciple of John Hus, was converted at Oxford to Wiclif's doctrines, but was burnt at the stake in 1416. The Hussites became strong and numerous in Bohemia, and in course of time their reforming doctrines spread into nearby South Germany, and influenced Martin Luther. As we shall shew later, Wiclif came very close to the truth of the eons or ages.
The false notion that Time must some day end and Eternity commence, still clings to theology, and many fine souls are unable to rid themselves of it. All that the Scriptures reveal is that the eons will terminate (Heb. 9:26), but it seems clear that time must always continue.
When it is revealed that certain things are to continue after the eons have ended, or when anything is described as being interminable, a distinct negative particle is used in the Greek to denote this, as in the following examples :
Luke 1:33 of His kingdom there will be no consummation (ouk estai telos, not will be finish).
1. Cor. 15:42 it is being roused in incorruption (aphtharsia).
1. Cor. 15:53 this mortal must put on immortality (athanasia, deathlessness).
1. Peter 1:4 an inheritance incorruptible and undefilable and unfadeable.
Heb. 7:16 the power of an indissoluble life.
1. Tim. 1:4 interminable genealogies.
As the eons are to terminate, it follows that all that is eonian must finish, or be swallowed up in that which follows. Even dooms, which are described as eonian, such as the fire of Matt. 18:8, the extermination from the face of the Lord, of 2 Thess. 1:9, and the eonian judgment of Heb. 6:2, shall terminate in due season. In vivid contrast to such merely eonian doom stands the awful doom of the city of Babylon, as portrayed in Rev. 18:21-23, where within the compass of three verses there occurs no fewer than six times the solemn negative expression nevermore (ou me eti, not no still):
"Thus with impetus will Babylon the great city be flung, and nevermore may she be found therein! (i.e., in the sea). And voice of lyre-singers and entertainers and flutists and trumpeters may be heard in thee nevermore! And every artisan of every trade may be heard in thee nevermore! And sound of millstone may be heard in thee nevermore! And light of lamp may appear in thee nevermore! And voice of bridegroom and of bride may be heard in thee nevermore!"
Even to God the Scriptures nowhere ascribe eternity. What need is there to describe Him as eternal? Would it not be almost an affront to use such an epithet of One who must, in order to be God, be eternal? We speak not of "wet" rain falling from the clouds. Were it not wet, it would not be rain. In the beginning of Genesis, the fact of God, and the existence of God, are taken for granted. No attempt is made to explain Who God is or whence He came, or to account for His existence. Nature demands His existence, and faith assumes Him as the Ever-Living One. That He is in addition the "eonian God" (Rom. 16:26) is a distinct and added revelation. Just as evil is a special feature of some of the eons, so God is seen as the "eonian God" while they continue. While it is not possible for God to be more than eternal, He is much more than eonian. Upon a lead tablet found in the necropolis at Adrumetum, in the Roman province of Africa, near Carthage, the following inscription, belonging to the early third century, is scratched in Greek, "I am adjuring Thee, the great God, the eonian and more than eonian (epaiOnion) and almighty, the One up-above the up-above gods," Deissmann was obliged to render this as follows: "the eternal and more than eternal and almighty, who is exalted above the exalted Gods."
The Hebrew Scriptures are written almost entirely in pure Hebrew, with very few words which are not Hebrew. So with the Greek Scriptures. They contain few words which are not pure Greek. But our English Bible is very different. Had it been rendered in simple, homely, native English words alone, it would have read very differently. Numerically, the great bulk of the words employed are pure English, but many of the important doctrinal terms are words adopted either from Latin or Greek.
What is the most important feature in the Scriptures for the sinner? Many would answer, Salvation. Yet this important term only came into use in the English language about the twelfth century, say eight hundred years ago. It is a purely Latin word. At that time it bore the meanings both of safety or salvation, and of health. The believer's salvation was his "health," Salvation occurs not once in the Anglo-Saxon Scriptures (680-900 A.D.), or in Wiclif's version (1380 A.D.). Wiclif always uses the word "health," although he uses the terms "make safe" and "safe," The old word for the Saviour was Haeland, or "Healer." Not only does He make one safe, but there is great healing in the salvation. Tyndale in the year 1526 was the first one to use the word salvation in the English Scriptures, and he used it once only, in John 4:22 ("for salvacion commeth of the Jewes." Wiclif had, "for heelthe is of Jewis"). Thereafter the fine old English" health" dropped out, and was completely displaced by the imported but now most important Latin word salvation.
Eternal is one of the many hundreds of words which gained entrance into English during the Renaissance. Previous to that time, it was completely unknown. No such word appears in any old English Scriptures. Instead of it, there is found a simple little word with the meaning of eonian, spelt ece ("ek-eh"). In fact, it may be laid down as a rule that no language had, for some time after the first century A.D., any term to denote eternity.
Some of the following facts may at first sight seem rather startling, because they are not widely known. Had our old English Bibles been translated direct out of the Greek, instead of from the Latin Vulgate Version of Jerome (380 A.D.), it is very probable that the word eternal would never have been found in our modern Bibles and in theological terminology at all. But for the Norman invasion of England in 1066 A.D." which brought many French words into the English language (and French is largely decayed and corrupt Latin), and drove out many native English words, we should most probably now be using not eternal, but ece, the old equivalent of eonian. On the other hand, had the sack of Constantinople by hordes of Turks from Asia taken place prior to the Norman invasion, instead of in 1453, the likelihood is that we should have had the Greek term eonian incorporated into English, instead of the Latin eternal. The capture of Constantinople by the Turks was of enormous importance to Europe. It was then the great centre of learning, especially Greek learning. When it was sacked, hosts of learned doctors were scattered abroad all over Europe, carrying with them the knowledge of the Greek tongue and the treasures of Greek literature. It is hard to believe that for over a thousand years, up till the year 1453, Greek was almost unknown or forgotten in most of Europe. Even in Italy, which formerly had been dominated by Greek, it became almost unknown. Very few quotations from Greek poets are to be found in Italian writers from the sixth to the fourteenth century. No Greek was taught publicly in England until about 1484, when it began to be taught at Oxford University. Erasmus, the great Dutch scholar, learnt Greek at Oxford and subsequently was Professor of Greek at Cambridge from 1509 till 1514, during which time Tyndale studied there. Erasmus issued his first Greek New Testament in 1516. It was the first one to be printed for sale. The first Greek grammar for well over a thousand years was published at Milan in 1476, and the first lexicon four years later. As an English scholar expressed it, "Greece had arisen from the grave with the New Testament in her hand." About this time German scholars even changed their names to Greek ones, so fashionable had the study of Greek become. Schwartzerd (black earth) became Melanchthon; Hausschein (house-shine) was discarded for the imposing Oecolampadius; Gerhard (spear-bold) the Dutchman, thinking his name signified amiable, attained fame as Erasmus; Horn took on more dignity as Ceratinus.
One effect of the rapid conquests of Alexander the Great (B.C. 334-323) was that Greek became the language of government and literature throughout most of the then civilized world. It became the lingua franca of countries such as Palestine and Egypt. About the year B.C. 280 Rome was mistress of all Italy except some of the Greek cities in the south. These succumbed by B.C. 276. Sixty years later Rome was interfering in the affairs of Greece itself, and by B.C. 189 Rome was mistress of Greece.
Nevertheless, Greek continued to be the fashionable speech in Italy for a long time. In the time of Dionysius Thrax (about B.C. 80), the children of gentlemen in Rome learnt Greek before they learnt Latin. Dionysius was the author of the first Greek school grammar ever compiled in Europe, published in Rome in the time of Pompey (about B.C. 50), which became the basis of all subsequent Greek grammars, and was the book used in schools for centuries. This small and elementary work of only a few pages is still in existence. The first history of Rome was written in Rome in Greek by Fabius Pictor about B.C. 200.
In the first two centuries A.D., Greek was very generally used in Rome. In addition to Latin, numerous other dialects might be heard in the streets of Rome and throughout Italy, and the Greek language served as a common medium whereby all might communicate with each other. It was for this reason that there was no need for Paul to write his epistle to the Roman Church in Latin. As he was much too sensitive to write to them in a tongue they would not understand, it is clear that the Roman Church must have been quite at home with the Greek tongue. In addition, we ought to keep in mind that the Greek language was much more suitable for the Divine revelation than the Latin tongue. Nor was there any need for a Latin version of the Scriptures in Italy for about a hundred years after Paul's time. It is of profound significance to note that when the first Latin version was made, it had its origin, not in Italy, but in North Africa. Of the manuscripts extant belonging to the Old Latin version that in use before Jerome's time—the majority belong to the "African" type.
The Roman province of "Africa" was in early times the Canaanite colony of Carthage, near Tunis, founded by the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Carthage ruled over the large islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and part of Sicily. Warfare with the rising military power of Rome was inevitable. After three long struggles, known as the Punic Wars, Carthage was subjugated by Rome in B.C. 146, and became a Roman province.
Henceforth the speech of this province became Latin, but it was the Latin dialect of about the middle of the second century B.C. This is of some importance, because the Latin of this time was very different from what it became a hundred years later. Horace, who died about the time Christ was born, confessed he could not understand the old Latin Salian poems, and infers that Latin had changed so greatly within a few hundred years that no one else could understand them.
The Latin of Carthage was somewhat different from the Latin of Rome. It was free from the influence of Greek. Just as the Scandinavian spoken in Norway and Sweden has diverged much from the ancient Scandinavian of a thousand years ago still spoken in Iceland; as the "taal" of the Boers in South Africa has diverged much from the Dutch of Holland; as the English carried to America three hundred years ago has preserved certain words and meanings and lost others, so the Latin transported to Carthage came to diverge from the Latin of Rome and Italy. As happens invariably in such cases, certain old expressions and nuances were preserved which died out elsewhere, while fresh nuances came into use.
Seculum is sometimes derived from the Latin root which gives "sequel," meaning time as "following." In ancient times time was viewed as flowing onwards, generation after generation, into the dim future.
Long ago in Rome, periodic games were held, called "secular" games. Herodian, the historian, writing in Greek about the end of the second century, calls these "eonian" games. In no sense were these games eternal. Eonian did not mean eternal any more than a seculum meant eternity.
Among the many inscriptions in the Catacombs of Rome is Dne to the memory of a girl of fifteen years who had died. It is inscribed to "Aurelia, our sweetest daughter, who departed from the seculum" (or world, quae de saeculo recessit). Some of the old Roman writers use the word in the sense of the utmost lifetime of man, a century. It may be said that every hundred years the race of man is completely changed. Some people change little within a generation, but after a hundred years, the entire physical appearance of the individuals of the race has altered.
The famous Council of Trent, in Italy, sitting from 1545 to 1563, decreed that "This same ancient and Vulgate edition, which by the long use of so many centuries has been approved in the Church itself, is to be held authentic in public readings, disputations, sermons and expositions; and no one is to dare or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever." The word used for "centuries" is saeculorum, seculums.
Trajan, Emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 A.D., wrote Pliny regarding the conviction of Christians, who were not to be hunted out, but if convicted, must bear the punishment. He adds that accusations which were not signed must not be accepted at all, as this was the "very worst example that could be shewn, and pertains not to our seculum." In one of his many writings, Tertullian referred to "a mighty shock impending over the entire world, and the conclusion of the seculum, itself."
Lactantius, born about 260 A.D., speaks of the "learned ones of this seculum." Writing about "Our Lord's Miracles," Eusebius, historian of the early Church, born about 265. A.D., alludes to "magicians who have ever existed throughout the seculums." This is a reference to past ages.
Seculum, therefore, was used very much like the Greek aiOn. No case can be cited in which it refers to endless time.
We shall now consider its usage by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate. Those who maintain that Greek aiOn means eternity or "for ever" would do well to consider very carefully Jerome's renderings from Greek into Latin. Out of about 130 occurrences of eon in the Greek New Testament; Jerome renders by seculum 101 times, while he uses aeternum 27 times. If by the latter word he meant eternity, he is very inconsistent. It is to the Latin versions that we must look for the origin of the pernicious system, or lack of system, of giving to the Greek eon two diverse meanings; In every occurrence in the Revelation of the expression "for the eons of the eons" (for ever and ever) Jerome has, "for the seculums of the seculums." Wiclif, with studied carefulness and caution, follows this by putting "in to worldis of worldis," just as five hundred years before Wiclit's time the Old English glosses of Latin MSS. gave "world" for seculum.
Jerome uses the following expressions: "from the seculum," "from the seculums," "for the seculum," "for the seculums," "before the seculums," "this seculum," "that seculum," "the consummation of the seculum," "the consummation of the seculums," "the ends of the seculums," "in the seculum of the seculum," "the future seculum," "the coming seculum," "the impending seculums," "the seculum of this world." In Jude 25 he Tenders, "before the entire seculum, and now, and for all the seculums of the seculums." Wiclif here has, "bifor alle worldis and now and in to alle worldis of worldis." Tyndale, coming one hundred and fifty years after Wiclif, has the utterly bald and inadequate and totally erroneous "now and for ever." Evidently he abandoned the Greek text which puzzled him. The Rheims version (1582), however, reads, "befoer al worldes, and now and for al worldes evermore," which is a compromise.
In Eph. 2:2 Jerome has "the seculum of this world" (saeculum mundi hiuus) which Wiclif could not understand, so he originated the guess, "the course of this world," which has been slavishly copied by those who followed him. This should be, "the eon of this world."
Turning to the Greek adjective eonian, occurring seventy times in the New Testament, we do not find Jerome translating about three-quarters of these by the word secular, and one quarter by eternal, but no less than sixty-five times does he use aeternum, while secular he uses only twice (2. Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2), "before times secular" (ante temp ora saecularia). As forty-three of the seventy occurrences refer to life, he was unable to say, "secular life," and therefore invariably he put "eternal life."
Thus Jerome's renderings of the Greek aiOn completely shake our confidence in him here. By his inconsistency he really contradicts himself. Had he been as consistent in Tendering the Greek into Latin as Wiclif was in rendering Jerome into English, we should never have had our Authorized version of 1611 in its present form. In every case where Jerome uses seculum to represent aiOn, Wiclif uses "world," while in place of Jerome's eternum for this word, Wiclif always has "without end." For the adjective eonian, Wic1if well nigh invariably for Jerome's eternum puts "everlasting."
An examination of Jerome's (Gallican) version of the Psalms from the Greek Septuagint reveals further strange inconsistencies. Generally speaking, he renders the Greek "for the eon" (eis ton aiOna) by "into eternity" (in aeternum), while the compound occurrences of eon, such as "for the eon of the eon" he renders by "for the seculum of the seculum." It was not expedient for him to put, "into the eternity of the eternity," or "into eternity of eternity," or "into the eternities." He was obliged to render "for the eons" (eis tous aiOnas) by "for the seculums," as in Psalm 61:4; 72:17. In the same way, in Psalm 145:13 he renders by "a kingdom of all seculums" (not "all eternities"), which corresponds with the Hebrew and the Greek an,d the A.V. margin. In keeping with these apparent rules, he renders the compound Greek expression, "for the eon and for the eon of the eon" by the Latin, "into eternity and into the seculum of the seculum" (in aeternum et in saeculum saeculi), as in Psalm 9:5; 10:16; 45:17; 48:14; 52:8, and 148:6. Yet in Psalm 72:19 he renders the Greek "for the eon and for the eon of the eon." simply by "into eternity." While in Psalm 119:44; 145:1,2,21, the same expression is rendered as "into the seculum, and into the seculum of the seculum." At Psalm 73:12 Jerome found he could not bring himself to believe that the ungodly or wrongdoers prospered "for eternity," so he put in seculum, "for the eon."
Psalm 90:2 tells us that "from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God." The Greek version. says, "from the eon and till the eon. Thou art God." Jerome rendered this as "from seculum and till seculum." Yet at Psalm. 103:17 he rendered the very same Greek expression as "from eternity and till eternity" (ab aeterno et usque in aeternum). Probably he was only translating after the system of the Old Latin. version, which had existed for two hundred years before his time. If so, he must have had serious misgivings, if in aeternum meant "for eternity." Whereas at Micah 5:2 the Old Latin read "from the days of seculum," Jerome altered: this to "from the days of eternity."
It will be interesting to see how the Vulgate translated those verses which speak of "the eon and beyond." Dean Farrar states that this, expression was decisive to Origen, and so it ought to, be to all, who wish to believe God. In Isa. 45:17, the A.V, reads, "ye shall not be ashamed, nor confounded world without end." The Hebrew reads, "for the eons of the future," while (he Greek has, "till the eon further." The Vulgate, has, "until the seculum of the seculum."
At Exodus 15:18 the A.V. reads "The Lord shall reign for ever and ever." The Hebrew is much more careful, "to the eon and further." The Greek expands to "for the eon, and still more an eon, and further." But Jerome surprises us vastly with the extraordinary reading, "into eternity AND BEYOND" (in aetemum et ultra). The same Latin reading is found at Micah 4: 5, "We will walk in the name of the Lord our God for eternity AND BEYOND." So far we have encountered no one who believes in eternity who took the trouble to explain this statement. Nor have we seen these facts stated anywhere. This is one of the finest arguments you can put to your friends who say that "eternity" is endless.
This statement resembles one made by Phavorinus in the sixteenth century in his famous "Etymologicum Magnum," a large tome giving the derivations of all Greek words, as handed down from a very much earlier time. The word aiOn is defined, among other things, as "the life of mankind," and there is cited "the seven eons from the creation of the heaven and earth until the general resnrrection of humanity." Phavorinus, the editor, adds, "aiOn is the unperceived (aidios) and the unendable (ateleutEtos), as it seems to the theologian"! What he meant was that originally the word never meant unending, but this meaning had been injected by theology. Indeed, he spoke truth, as it is theology, and theology alone, which in any language has imported into timewords the thought of endlessness.
Before turning to the Latin, we shall cite one more similar yet most instructive case. The Emperor Justinian was the greatest of the Eastem (Byzantine) Emperors. He reigned from 527 to 565 in Constantinople. In the year 534 he published in fifty volumes the world famous "Justinian Code" of Laws, which was a digest of the Greek and Roman constitutions, ordinances, and legal decisions, culled from two thousand manuscript volumes, forming the basis of most medieval and modem codes of law. In the year 540, Justinian arranged for the calling together of the famous local council of four years later. He was determined that certain doctrines must be suppressed. In setting forth the position when writing to the Patriarch Mennas of Constantinople, he discussed the doctrines with great ability. In particular, he wished to make it very plain that the life of the saints was to be everlasting, and that the doom of the lost was to be likewise. Yet he did not argue that the word eonian meant everlasting. Nor did he claim that the word had hitherto been misunderstood. In setting forth the orthodox position of the Church of that time, he did not say, "We believe in eonian punishment," as this was exactly what Origen, three hundred years before, had maintained and believed. In fact, Origen, who exulted in the truth of the reconciliation of the universe, definitely used the word eonian with reference to fire and doom as meaning a limited time. But writing in the very expressive Greek language, Justinian says, "The holy church of Christ teaches an unendable eonian (ateleutEtos aiOnios) life for the righteous, and unendable (ateleutEtos) punishment for the wicked." Justinian knew quite well that eonian by itself did not signify endless, and therefore he added a word the meaning of which is quite unequivocal, a term not found in the Scriptures. This letter of Justinian, still in existence, ought to convince anyone who is in doubt, regarding the true scriptural meaning of the word eonian. It may be added that the Council, though expressly convened in order to stigmatize the teachings of Origen, one of which was that punishment was only temporary, condemned his views generally, but did not anathematize his teaching regarding the reconciliation of all. It was not until the year 696, at Constantinople, that a Council publicly condemned this doctrine of Origen for the first time, the glorious teaching being called "drunken ravings as to the future life of the dead."
Another stone bears the inscription, "eternal home" (domus eternalis). This is on the tomb of a believer, which could not have been his everlasting resting-place. Another stone states that Aurelius Felix, who died in January at the age of fifty-five, was "snatched home eternally" (raptus eterne domus). The author of a book on the Catacombs is obliged to explain that such inscriptions "do not imply any want of belief in the resurrection on the part of those who erected them," because a word apparently meaning "eternal" is found on them. He did not see that this word only meant "eonian," although he refers to a similar expression in Eccles. 12:5, "Man goeth to his long home" (Hebrew: to his eonian house).
The old Latin writers used aeternum in the same sense as Greek writers used aiOnion, as meaning eonian. Thus Cicero, who died B.c. 43, says of the future, "Springtime will be aeternum," that is, enduring, eonian. He was referring to a spring which will endure. He also refers to God by the same term, as the Enduring One. Ovid, who flourished about 9 A.D., speaks of warfare in the same sense.
As the word eon is really a transliteration of the Greek aiOn, its nearest English equivalent may be found in the word "age." The origin of this word is very interesting. The Latin word aevum produced aevitas, which became shortened to aetas. From this was formed another form, aetaticum, a Low Latin term. In France this was slurred into edage, then into aage, which arrived in England as age.
The elements of the Greek word aiOn have been stated as UN-IF-BEING, but this seems altogether too fanciful and sophisticated. All over Britain is to be found an ancient river name, Avon, which was also known in France and Spain. The meaning of this word is very simple, as all ancient geographical names were. It means the "flower," the flowing water, the "continuer," which keeps moving on. We suggest the Greek word aiOn and the Latin aevum probably mean the same, and that is the explanation usually given by authorities.
How then, did the Latin aeternum and the Greek aiOnion come to signify eternal in its modern sense? There is no doubt that these words have been "made to express" what is eternal, by ancient theologians.
Among all the sects there have always been some who held harsh views regarding the doom of the shiner. The Pharisees and Essenes are said to have believed in conscious future punishment. The Essenes believed in "deathless" and unintermittable (adialeiPton) punishment. It is natural for those ill, whose hearts the love of God has not been dynamically shed abroad to look on death as the end of all for mankind. The truth of the eons was lost very soon after the time of Paul, and even now has only been partly recovered. Even Origen believed that this present wodd or eon was the conclusion of many eons. He inferred that there are still many eons to come. On the other hand, there arose Gnostic sects, one of which was that of the Valentinians,named after Valentine, a native of Egypt. They flourished in the second century. According to them, the original source of all existence was the abyss, out of which, when life was developed, sprang the eons, male and female, through whom God revealed Himself. These eons, along with God Himself, made up the fulness or plErOma. Matter they looked on as evil, and the harmony of the plErOma had been upset by God's having come into contact with matter. In order to restore harmony, there was a new emanation of two eons, Christ and the Holy Spirit. At the end of the world, Christ would introduce His Bride along with all the spiritual ones into the Fullness, and all matter, by which is evidently meant all evil, would return to its original nothingness. Another sect taught that seven eons proceeded forth out from God. Eusebius says that Tatian also invented "some invisible eons like the Valentinians," but Tatian may have preserved some relics of primitive truth. Even in this darkness one can perceive glimmerings of the truth. God made the eons through His Son (Heb. 1:2). God planned out the eons, and is now using them as His scaffolding.
The collapse of the truth concerning the eons left the way open for pagan error to re-assert itself and foist itself upon Scripture teaching. So long as the Greek language was well understood in Italy, so long would aiOnion retain its meaning of "eonian," and not only so, but it would tend to keep its Latin equivalent aeternum tied down to the same signification, in Italy. But an influence was arising in the second century in North Africa which was to change everything, and compel these terms to bear, in theology, a meaning they never had originally. It is more than probable that the Latin aeternum bore in North Africa a sense slightly divergent from what it bore in Rome. It may have signified not only "eonian," but something in addition, or something more vague. It seems by that time to have been coming to signify what it later signified everywhere, not only that which has no seen or revealed limit, but also that which is actually without a limit. With us, that which is "endless" may be either that which for the present is without an end, or of which the end is not observed, or it may signify that which never can or will have an end. The following illustration will make this clear. Leading into the city of Chester in England is an old Roman highway, which, for about three miles, is quite straight, as Roman roads very often were, besides being very flat and monotonous. At the conclusion of a thirty mile walk one day, I found this part of the road, to the eye and to the feelings, seemingly endless. One could look along the road for about a mile and observe traffic and pedestrians, but no end to the road could be seen. In one sense the road was endless, yet all the time the city to which it led could be discerned in the distance. The Roman roadmakers were intensely practical. As often as possible, their roads did not deviate by a foot, even though they had to traverse hills, and their roads all led to a definite destination. In the same way, the Latin-speaking theologians of the early centuries abhorred what was indefinite, or liable to be misunderstood. Speculation they shunned and banned. The statements of the Creeds which issued forth from the early Roman Church are noted for their extreme brevity. The requisite facts were stated in black and white so that there might be no dubiety as to what people must believe. Roman law, and the Roman military power, functioned like machines—authority must be obeyed. So in the Roman Church individualism of thought was not encouraged. As there was much speculation concerning the eons and the future, the position must needs be stated categorically and dogmatically. Theology had lost the punctuation marks of the future time, and something must be put in their place. Moreover, it was humbling to the Latin Fathers not to be able to delineate the future with definite clarity. If no one was able to chart the ocean of time, why not simply declare that it was boundless? Would not the Church wield far more power if it proclaimed in authoritative terms that eternal destiny was fixed here on earth? Was it not more flattering to man to think that the life he obtained upon believing was eternal life, while that which his faith had saved him from was an eternal doom? Who could believe in a special life for the eons, when all the facts concerning these eons had become obscure and blurred? As the truth regarding the eons was completely lost, we ought to be very suspicious regarding the dogma which became "orthodox" and catholic in a steadily apostatizing Church.
Tertullian was the first writer to set out to expound the difficult doctrine of the "trinity," and to use this term, which nowhere appears in Scripture, although he did not use this as a name for God. Dr. Glover says, "He was the first man of genius of the Latin race to follow Jesus Christ, and to reset his ideas in the language native to that race." Archbishop Benson says, "When Tertullian began to write, theological Latin had to be formed." Harnack says, "What influenced the history of dogma was not his Christianity, but his masterly power of framing formulas." Up till his time Roman Christianity had been essentially Greek in form, but when he embraced it, Latin terms and thoughts were introduced, which gradually but steadily altered the whole character of its teaching, and paved the way for the Roman Catholic system of dogma. Dr. Swete says, "The Church in North Africa was the first Christian community so far as we know which offered the Eucharist for the benefit of the departed." One of the terms introduced by Tertullian was "satisfaction." Harnack says, "He was the first to regard definitely such ascetic performances as 'satisfaction' as propitiatory offerings by which the sinner could make amends to God." According to Tertullian, a comparatively brief ascetic punishment inflicted by the believer on himself took the place of what the damned were awarded—eternal punishment. It should prove instructive to glance at some of his other views.
Like many to-day, he could never come to grasp the important yet elementary fact that God is spirit. Nor could he ever see that God was acting towards the world in goodwill or grace. Being well trained in Roman law he looked upon God much more as the Judge who gives the law and must be obeyed, than as the Father of all. All relations between God and man. with him partake of the nature of legal transactions, and thus a good act by man brings satisfaction to God and merit to man. But the fundamental relationship is that of fear on man's part. The great difference between the Greek-Church and the Latin Church consisted in this, that the Greek Church looked upon revelation as expressing God in His relation to mankind, while the Latin Church began with man, and saw primarily man as in relation to God. On the one hand, God's measureless love and grace were viewed as at the disposal of man; on the other hand, man was viewed as the fallen and guilty rebel measured up before the Judge. The one commenced with God and His Love, operating all His works in accord with the plan of His will from past ages for the ultimate benefit of the race, ever seeking to draw man to Himself and instruct him with a view to his well-being and growth in grace. The other saw man as On probation, and God as the magistrate. Instead of men being gradually instructed in the ways and mind of God, ever advancing in the knowledge of the truth, they must subscribe without question or discussion to the Creed, the rigid and crystallized expression of the Latin Church's views. As Farrar says, the centre of Origen's system was God and hope, while that of Augustine's was punishment and sin; whereas Origen yearns for a final unity, Augustine almost exultingly acquiesces in a frightful and abiding dualism.
It was reserved for three great Carthaginians, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, so to influence the Latin Church, that it deflected and declined into a system of dogmatic hierarchy and spiritual despotism. But Tertullian was the individual who set this current in motion. Through his powerful instrumentality Christendom, at the critical juncture, took the wrong turn, and his misleading influence still prevails. Neander says of him, that his mind was often at a loss for suitable forms of phraseology, as he had more within him than he could express, and for this purpose he was obliged to create a language for the new spiritual matter, out of the rude Punic Latin. It has been said that Tertullian often makes use of words not found in general use outside of the very early writers, and that he often imparts to words a new or unusual force.
This then, is the man in the hollow of whose hands lay the clay which was to be moulded into concrete Latin dogma. This is the man in whose hands reclined the fate of the word eternal. What meaning did he give to it? Its old meaning, akin to the Greek eonian, or something beyond that? Being quite devoid of any understanding of the eons of Scripture, destitute of a real perception of the fact that God is love, unable to view God but as a stern Judge, who must somehow or other be "satisfied" or placated, how was it possible for him to look on the mass of mankind otherwise than as damned? Augustine, who later outdid Tertullian, and his doctrines, maintained that the whole human race was "one damned batch and mass of perdition" (conspersis damnata massa perditionis) out of which a few are elected to salvation, while all the remainder are lost for ever. He beheld evil as a force integral in a universe apart from God, while Origen believed that all is out of God, even evil, which God must undo and banish. One who has no place for ages to come must needs look on the future as a shoreless eternity. Having failed to grasp what God had revealed concerning the eons, Tertullian had no alternative but to impart to the Latin word eternal that sense which it now bears. Not only so, but this special meaning of the Latin word, taking advantage of the steady decline of Greek as the language of theology, and the rise and ascendency of Latin, reacted upon, and was imposed upon, its Greek equivalent eonian, which henceforth in theology was "made to express" the meaning of everlasting.
It will now be of interest to set forth the evidence of the ancient versions made from the Greek, to see whether they corroborate the conclusions to which we have come.
To prove that olm did not and could not stand for eternity, it may be stated that the Greek word kosmos (world, human society) is generally rendered in the Syriac version by olm, as in John 1:10 (thrice), John 17:24 (before olam to be). The Syriac version knew nothing about any eternity.
The Gothic Version: This version is of peculiar interest to the English-speaking and German-speaking peoples. In it are preserved the sole relics of a Germanic tongue as spoken around 350 A.D., which was very closely akin to the old German and old English of that time. It was translated by Wulfila direct from the Greek, although only fragments have survived, mostly of the New Testament. It is a very faithful and literal rendering, and at times its spelling even reproduces the pronunciation of Greek words, such as Teimauthaius (Timothy), Zaibaidaius (Zebedee). Needless to say, as it is entirely free from the influence of Jerome's Latin version, it does not contain Latin terms such as perish, damnation, torment, eternal, etc. It uses what were then native Germanic or perhaps Swedish words, all very elementary and simple terms. The Gothic was the first rendering of the Scriptures into any Teutonic or Nordic tongue. The so-called Goths were a very virile people from the North of Europe, who dominated much of Europe about the time this version was made. Spreading southwards they overran Greece and Italy, and captured Rome in 410 A.D. Later they gradually died out of the Mediterranean countries, and as a distinct people, became lost to history. The Swedes are their nearest representatives to-day.
Ancient Gothic comes very close often to modern English. The following words are either spelt or sounded exactly the same in each: all, arm, bide, blind, brother, blithe, corn, daughter, door, dumb, finger, full, grass, hand, heart, hard, lamb, land, light, little, lust, while, white, year, young.
Very often the Gothic version preserves the truth where modern English and German versions have become corrupt. Thus where the Angle version and the Authorized Version often put life instead of soul, the Gothic has soul (saiwal), as Wiclif generally has also. At Luke 6:1, where the A.V. has, "on the second sabbath after the first" (Greek, on the second first sabbath), Wiclif has, "in the secunde firste saboth," the Angle has, "on the after rest-day first." But the Gothic, one thousand years before Wiclif's time, has, "in sabbath second first" (in sabbato antharamma frumin). The Vulgate is here also correct. Similarly in Mark 16:9, the Vulgate and the Gothic follow the Greek (in the morning, in the first sabbath), but Wiclif departs from the Vulgate by putting, "erly in the first day of the wouk "(week). Tyndale is also wrong, "the morowe after the sabboth daye."
How then does the Gothic render the Greek eon and eonian? For the adjective it has in everyone of twenty-four occurrences extant, aiweinos, very similar to Greek aiOnios (formerly aiwOnios). For the noun aiOn it shews aiws (or aivs) twenty out of twenty-five times, once it has life, and elsewhere two other expressions. Aiws is the "exact equivalent of the Latin aevum and the Greek aiOn. The "following expressions are met with :—du aiwa (to or for the eon); in aiwins (in the eon); und aiw (until the eon); fram aiwa (from the eon); this aiwis (this eon); yainis aiwis (that eon, yon eon); in the eon to come; from the beginning of the eon. At 2. Tim. 1:9 the Gothic reads, faur mela aiweina, before times eonian. At 2. Cor. 4:4, it has, guth this aiwis, the god of this eon.
Unfortunately, little of Paul's epistles or Revelation has been preserved.
Our English word ever is akin to the Gothic word aiws, eon.
The Armenian Version: This is ascribed to Mesrop (354-441 A.D.) and others. Conybeare says it "fits the Greek of the Septuagint as a glove the hand that wears it; keeping so close to the Greek that it has almost the same value for us as the Greek text itself." For the Greek aiOn it generally uses yavidyan, a word meaning eon. Sometimes ashkharh, meaning "world," is used. At Eph. 2:2 the two words are used together, yavidyeni ashkharhis, "eon of this world." All the special eon expressions of the Greek are found reproduced in the Armenian. The root of the word yavidyan is yaved, shewn in Armenian dictionaries as meaning, "more, at most, a great deal." There is a verb, yavyeloum, meaning to "add, increase, augment, grow." Yavidyan is defined as "age, life, world."
The Coptic Version: This was made probably about the end of the second century, for use in Egypt, where it is still in use. It appears to render the Hebrew olm and Greek aiOn by eneh, defined in Coptic dictionaries as meaning nothing more than "time."
The Ethiopic Version, in the semitic language formerly spoken in Abyssinia, is thought to have been made in the fourth or fifth century, from the Greek. It reproduces the usual Greek expressions containing eon. The word used is olm, exactly the same as in Hebrew and Syriac. In Jude 25 it reads, "and for all the eons" (u-l-kul olmth) shewing the plural form. In Heb. 9:26 it reads, "for conclusion of eon" (l-chlqth-olm). In Eph. 3:21 it reads, "in every generation and for eon of eon" (b-kl-thuld u-l-olm-olm): In Psalms it has a few times, as in 45:17; 48:14; and 52:8, "for eon and for eon of eon" (l-olm, u-l-olm olm). That this word olm assuredly could not signify "eternity" is placed beyond all doubt by its use to represent Greek kosmos (world) generally, as throughout John 17. It also stands for the Greek word for era or season (kairos) as at Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30, and even for generation (genea) as at Luke 16:8.
The reason why the simple word ece was forced out of English was probably that it became too equivocal. Theology was seeking to make it stand for "everlasting," whereas it only meant "lasting." In the metrical version of Bible history, Cursor Mundi (The Course of the World), written about 1320, there is the line, "Through Jesus come to life lasting" (Thoru Jhesu com to liif last and). Soon after this time the word everlasting took the place of ece and lasting, a transition which made a very great deal of difference.
In present day English, we may use the word "world" in two senses. When we speak of the world before the Flood we mean the face of mankind that existed then, or we might mean the physical eartb as it then, was. The latter sense was quite unknown in Old English, and only began to creep in about the year 1200, when it was so, used in the long poem, The Ormulum. Prior to that time, world meant the lifetime of man, the living generation of men, society as a whole at any time. It answered well to the Latin seculum, and was used from about the year 700 to translate it. Later it came to mean the physical earth on which the generatians of men lived, and in much more recent times it came to be used of ather planets also.
Between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries an extraordinary change was taking place in English speech. Up till the year 950 there was very little admixture of Latin or Danish words. The result of the Danish invasian meant that thousands of fine Old poetic words became lost. The mast disastraus of all periods was between 1200 and 1280. A great many prose words disappeared, and the upper classes discarded English for French. Far about eighty years after 1280 there was a vast inroad of French words to take the place of English words driven out of circulatian, or forced to became merely dialectal. Fram about 1360 a new standard of English was spoken at Court, and French ceased to be fashionable. It was what has been described as this "wild anarchy of speech" that raged in England from 1300 to 1500 that caused many words to take on new meanings or lose their old meanings. Scotland escaped this storm, and still preserves many old and archaic terms. These facts are noted briefly merely because of their connection with John Wiclif, whose usage of the word "world" is very instructive and important.
In his days the Greek originals of the New Testament were almost forgotten in Europe. The Latin Vulgate version daminated Europe far the thousand years between Jerome and Wiclif. The Cathalic Church used Latin in its services and Latin had displaced Greek completely as the universal language of courts and clergy and scholars.
It will therefore be of great interest to observe how Wiclif rendered the Latin of the Vulgate, and note his views concerning the future. His language differs considerably from that used in the various translations made from the time of Tyndale, one hundred and fifty years after Wiclif, including Coverdale's (1535), Cranmer's (1539), the Genevan (1557), and the Rheims (1582), down to the King James VI. or Authorized of 1611. Never once does Wiclif use the expression "for ever," or "for ever and ever." Though he uses "everlasting," he never uses "eternal." Had the Authorized been the next Version made after Wiclit's, it would never have found acceptance. As it was, it enjoyed the benefit of following closely On the lines of a number of fairly similar versions, which had paved the way for it. Though some of the expressions used by Wiclif are far from perfect, great is the decline manifested in the next English version to be published, Tyndale's. Tyndale introduced "for ever," "for ever and ever," "for evermore," where Wiclif expressed no such thought. Instead of the Reformation and the revival of learning bringing in added light regarding the times to come, they brought about gross darkness and confusion.
Instead of the modern "for ever," and "for ever and ever," Wiclif reads twenty-nine times "in to worldis," or "in to worldis of worldis." At Luke 1:70 he has "from the world," where the A.V. has "since the beginning of the world." (Greek "from eon"). At Eph. 3:9 he has, "fro worldis," where the A.V. has "from the beginning of the world." (Greek, "from the eons"). At Rev. 15:3 he has "king of worldis," where the A.V. has "king of saints" (margin "nations," or "ages ").
At Heb. 1:8 he has, "in to the world of world," for the Latin "into the seculum of the seculum," where the A.V. has "for ever and ever." (Greek, "for the eon of the eon"). The following renderings from Eph. 3:21 may be Contrasted :—
Wiclif: in to alle the generaciouns of the worldis.
Tyndale: thorowout all generacions from tyme to tyme.
Geneva: throughout all generations for ever.
Rheims: unto all generations world without end.
Coverdale: at all times for ever and ever.
A.V.: throughout all ages, world without end.
Greek: unto all the generations of the eon of the eone.
At Heb. 9:26 Wiclif renders by "in the endyng of worldis," and the Rheims has "in the consummation of the worldes." Tyndale, Coverdale, Cranmer and the Genevan all corrupt this into "in the ende of the worlde," which was followed by the A.V. (Greek: upon (basis of) a conclusion of the eons). Similarly, Wiclif and the Rheims preserve the plural "worlds," corresponding to the Vulgate seculums (Greek: the eons) at Heb. 11:3. At Heb. 13:8 Wiclif alone preserves some semblance of the truth, reading "in to worldis," where the later English versions have "continueth for ever" (A.V., for ever; Greek, for the eons).
At 1. Peter 4:11 Wiclif has, "in to the worldis of world is." Tyndale wished to bring in eternity, and at the same time retain "world." He therefore rendered by "for ever and whyll the worlde standeth." The other versions of about his time relapse into "for ever and ever."
Wiclit's faithfulness may be observed at Psalm 90:2, "from the world and into the world thou art God." Coverdale guessed the sense ought to be "thou art God from everlastinge and worlde with out ende." The A.V. corrupted this still further into "from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God." Wiclif and his assistants must have been bewildered by the Latin Vulgate rendering at Exodus 15:18, "into eternity and further." Instead of compromising as their successors did, by rendering "for ever and ever," they remained faithful to the light given them. What we to-day understand by "eon," they understood as "world," and it is greatly to their credit that five hundred and seventy years ago they should have translated by "The Lord schal regne in to the world, and ferth'e" (further).
Typical of Wiclit's renderings is John 11:26, "Eche that lyveth and bileveth in me schal not die withouten ende," in place of the A.V. "shall never die." Only three times does Wiclif use the word never. None of these has any reference to life or salvation. At Mark 11:14 his reading is, "Now never ete any man fruyt of thee more" (Greek: No longer for thee on out of thee anyone fruit may be eating). At John 13:8 his reading is, "Thou schalt never waische my feet", (Greek: Not at all shouldest Thou be washing my feet for the eon).
In the revision of Wiclit's Bible by Purvey (1388) the former verse is altered to "now no more with outen ende," while the latter verse is changed to "Thou schalt not waische to me the feet in to with outen ende." Frequently Purvey altered Wiclif's "withouten ende" into "in to with outen ende." It would therefore appear that both Wiclif and Purvey did not feel satisfied regarding the expression "without end," which was later misunderstood. They must have had more than a suspicion that this expression was not an adverbial phrase, equivalent to "endlessly," but really a noun, as in Latin and Greek, meaning a period of time whereof the end was not disclosed. Just as the periods or olams in Hebrew are "obscure" in duration and character, so Wiclif looked on the coming eons as periods whose ends were not defined. What we call the eon he called the "withouten ende."
In fact, Wiclif came wonderfully close to restoring a great truth to its proper place. If only he could have had before him the Greek text, there is little doubt he would have accomplished this. As it was, the inconsistency of the Latin Vulgate obliged him also to be somewhat inconsistent, and this may be the reason why versions which came after his time most unfortunately used "world" in a sense different from his usage. By Tyndale's time, world had come to be used as meaning a state or place, rather than a limited period of time.
In his "Synonym's of the New Testament," Trench draws a contrast between kosmos (world) and aiOn (eon), both of which are rendered in the A.V. by "world." In the case of aiOn he thinks more use might have been made of "age." He regrets that the translators did not somehow mark the difference between kosmos (mundus), the world contemplated under aspects of space, and aiOn (seculuin), the same contemplated under aspects of time, as Latin, like Greek, has two distinct words, where we have, or have acted as though we had, but one. He shews that the word "world," etymologically regarded, more nearly represents aiOn than kosmos. Our old word weorulde is composed of two distinct parts, and where the primitive pronunciation is preserved, as in Scotland, two very distinct syllables are still heard. The former part of this word consists of wer (a man; like Latin vir, as in virile, or the -er in words like speak-er, and the wer- in wenvolf, the man-wolf). The latter part of the word is ald or elde, meaning age or generation. "World" is therefore defined as "the generation of men." That there is a close connection between the old word world and "eon" was beautifully shewn by the discovery that the ancient Gothic version (about 350 A.D.) at 2. Tim. 4: 10,for "this present world" (Greek: the current eon), reads tho nu ald, "this now age."
Quite apart from the manner in which Wiclif translated the Scriptures, however, we are not left in any doubt as to his views regarding future time. Among his voluminous works in Latin, there is one called Trialogus, or a discussion between three parties, Truth, Liar, and Prudence. This contains a dissertation on the distinction between eternity, eons, and time, extending to over a thousand words. He says, "It is one matter for a thing to exist always, and another for a thing to be eternal. The world exists always, because at every time, and yet it is not eternal, because it is created, for the moment of creation must have a beginning, as the world had." Between God and the world he draws a sharp distinction as regards their mode of existence. God alone can be eternal, without change or mutation, without fore and after. The world, on the other hand, had a mutable existence, including a fore and an after. The world experiences the continual succession of time. Yet for the saints, and spiritual beings, such as angels, he perceived a third form of existence, the aevum life, which we should term eonian life. He supposed that in that life there would be no succession of time. Neither would it be the brief fleeting life of this world, nor would it be eternal. It would be something in between these. Doubtless Wiclif did not possess full light regarding the ages to come, yet it is extraordinary that he saw as much as he did, when we consider that he had to depend altogether on the blurred light and inconsistent evidence of the Vulgate. Unfortunate it was that Luther could not have carried Wiclif's discoveries a stage further. Many there are today, who, with all the clear evidence of the Greek Scriptures, deliberately reject the terms which God has seen fit to use, and fall back On expressions certainly not found in revelation. They imagine that the teaching regarding the eons or ages is a modern invention. One such, an educated man, who passes for a scholar, and has written a book dealing with the Greek language, made the charge that the word eonian "looks as if it had been coined for the purpose" of overthrowing the "orthodox" belief. Had he only known about Nathaniel Scarlett's translation of the New Testament, made in 1798 (London), he would have seen that all the seventy occurrences of the Greek aiOnios are by him rendered eonian.
It may be that the doctrine of the Ages has never been entirely lost since the days of Paul. Scriptural truths can survive for a long time in obscure denominations, although they may be totally unknown in the State Churches. All Christian sects preserve some truth, but none possesses all the truth. We must not reckon the rediscovery of facts regarding the eons as a twentieth century achievement. The following are quotations from a quaint old book published in London in 1761, entitled "Universal Restitution." "Christ is the very God of the aeons, and maybe called the aeonian God and King, not on account of his eternal nature, but because he shall reign aeonianly, as universal king." "But when all things shall be subordinated unto him, and shall with one breath say unto him 'my LORD, my GOD, my ALL,' then will Christ's mediatorial office cease, as having attained its purpose; and so ceasing, that great comprehensive aeon of his mediatorial kingdom will be accomplished, and will be succeeded by a purely divine economy, wherein Christ will no longer reign as mediator, but as GOD, and one with his father." Many of the eon expressions are properly explained and rendered, as Psalm 45:6, "Thy throne, 0 God, is aeonian and beyond." The writer shews that "The English words eternal, everlasting, for ever, etc., are unscriptural," and have obliterated divine truth. "The one immortal God must be eternal King, without the lame help of tOn aiOnOn (of the eons) to declare it." "All the Lord's enemies shall be subordinated unto him before death shall be invalidated or disannulled" (1. Cor. 15:26). Here the writer shews the real meaning of the Greek word katargeO. Every important text referring to the Ages or the Reconciliation of all is carefully and lucidly explained.
Some readers may be quite willing to accept all the foregoing evidence that the whole Bible never mentions eternity, yet it may be a formidable stumbling-block for them to read about "utter destruction." One friend states that so long as even one man is "destroyed," he is unable to believe in universal reconciliation.
We do not believe that the word "destruction" is ever found once in the Scriptures in its modern theological sense: As for the word "utter," it is not translation but interpretation. Let us study the Scriptures through Greek spectacles, not Latin. Tradition's travesties of teleological and thanatological truth have so tinctured and tainted the thoughts of thinkers and teachers that they oft times fail effectively to fling off the formidable fetters fashioned by false and faulty formulas. One of these formulas is "utter destruction." At Num.21:2 we read in the A.V. "then I will utterly destroy their cities." All the Hebrew says is "and I cause to doom (or devote) their cities" (hacharamthi). But at Deut. 7:2 the Hebrew word is duplicated (hacharem thacharim; devoting thou shalt devote), the A.V. reading, "thou shalt utterly destroy them." This construction is like that in Gen. 2: 17, "thou shalt surely die," where the margin reads more correctly, "dying thou shalt die" (muth thamuth). It is quite wrong to add either "utterly" or "surely" in such cases. Is death something less than "utter death," or destruction something less than "utter destruction"?
The word charam or cherem occurs in all about 90 times in the Hebrew. As a verb it is rendered over 40 times by "utterly destroy," but occasionally by "devote," its proper meaning. Nine times the noun is rendered by "net," in which fish are doomed. These words in themselves never denote destruction, any more than a harem (same word) is a place of destruction. The inmates of a harem are for the time being secluded, doomed or devoted to their owner. That is their fate or destiny.
Young's Concordance furnishes all the cases in which the word "utterly" or "surely" is wrongly inserted.
2. Peter 2:12 states in the A.V. that some "shall utterly perish in their own corruption." What the Greek tells us is, "in their corruption they shall also be corrupted."
"Destruction" in the Bible is never something beyond the power of God to undo. The theological nuance which has been imported into the word is entirely foreign to revelation. Bible terms do not have primary and secondary meanings. They have all one primary meaning, and any other translations must be inexact. The real meaning of the Hebrew abad and the Greek apollumi has to do with LOSTNESS, being LOST. The root of this Greek term is lu, which is equivalent to our words lose, loose, lost. The Latin term destroy, however, means to "pull down," "unbuild." These two terms, abad and apollumi, are rendered by lose, perish, destroy, and other words. In the case of human beings, perish and destroy have acquired, through their Latin connection, a meaning which is in a special way theological. We speak rightly of souls who are lost, but if we say they are on the road to destruction, we are obliged to think of their doom, destiny and punishment. But is this the sense in which the "righteous perisheth" (Isa. 57:1)? Is it not said of ourselves that if there is no resurrection for us, we have as good as perished (1. Cor. 15:18)? God can and shall terminate that state of lostness. In fact, it would be most irreverent to affirm that anything could remain eternally lost to God, for that would mean that He was not almighty, but defective.
In John 17:12 we find Judas called "the son of perdition." This was copied from Wiclif. But Tyndale in 1526 tells the simple truth, by reading "that lost chylde." That is the whole truth. We ought not to colour the facts by using words which infer future doom and misery, such as "not one of them was destroyed except the Son of destruction," as the Concordant Version has it. All the Greek states is "not one out of them got lost except the son of lostness."
Destruction in the Scriptures never denotes a doom enduring longer, or more dire and dreadful, than death. Just as a man's character may be reasonably summed up by the kind of company he keeps, so God's terms can be more clearly understood by keeping an eye upon the company they keep, their allies and synonyms. We hope to enlarge upon these ere long. Concordances are wonderful lie-detectors. They expose the truth where nothing else will help.
Nor is destruction ever presented as persisting beyond the span of the ages, with the exception of the case of Babylon (Rev. 18) which we have already dealt with. All that is destroyed can be found again. In his very useful Lexicon of the New Testament, Hermann Cremer says "Hardly any even of the commonest N.T. conceptions has received any adequate investigation, biblical or theological, at the hands of commentators." That was in 1872. Cremer was orthodox as regards destruction, which he took to be eternal. He says in most places apollumi (destroy, perisb, lose) is "simply a strong synonym for apokteinein (to kill off) or apothnEskein (to die off)." Then he sums up in the following extraordinary utterance, which is one of those bewildhing and incomprehensible paradoxes which one repeatedly meets in lexicons: "The most probable conclusion is that the N.T. use specially of the intransitive apollutsthai (to get lost) denotes utter and final ruin and perdition. Nevertheless we must always keep in mind the expression 'lost sheep,'—this illustration warrants us in regarding the apollusthai as a state which may be reversed." Cremer was obviously in two minds, but came out on the side of honesty.
The 15th chapter of Luke ought to be studied in connection with things which have been "destroyed" or rather lost. It is a splendid and complete answer to those who insist on the eternity of destruction in Scripture. "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and losing (not destroying) one of them, is not quite forsaking the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and proceeding on (the track of) the lost, until he should find it?" In verse 7 the finding of the lost is likened to the repentance of one sinner. Thus, "lost" sinners can become "found," which means, speaking logically, that "destroyed" sinners can repent, that is, change their opinion for the better. Then again, the" destroyed" drachma was only "lost." The light of a lamp discovered it, Done the worse. In the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Jealous Brother the son "comes to himself." He is in want, and cries out in despair, "I am being destroyed by hunger," or more correctly, "Through hunger I am becoming lost." In plain words, he was simply on the way to death, nothing more. When this "perishing" son returns to his father, the father makes the startling statement. "This my son was dead, and comes to life again; he was destroyed, and is found." But was he so "destroyed"? In no sense; he was utterly lost rather. This "destroyed" wanderer was capable of returning and of repenting.
This chapter is a divine commentary on the Greek term we are discussing. Let us accept God's own definitions. Luke does not tell us that in some cases the Lord was using the word apollumi in its "primary" sense, in others in a "secondary" sense. All of God's terms have but one basic sense or meaning, for if He wanted to express two different thoughts, was He unable to find two different terms for this purpose?
Someone has reminded me of Obadiah yerse 16, "they shall be as though they had not been." This looks dreadful; it seems to be quite final. But I am not afraid of Obadiah verse 16. All we need do is to scrape off the paint laid on in the Dark Ages and by the Reformation. "For just as you drink upon My holy mountain, all the nations will drink continually; yea, they drink and they swallow, and they come to be as they did not come to be." The last few words are v-hayu k-lo hayu, "and they-become as not they-become." Just as any drunk man would become what he was not a few minutes before. Obadiah is not concerned with fate or destiny. The nations will drink and become what they were not before.
The Scriptures never mention eternity, but do tell of certain things which will not end. Do they ever state that Time will end? So far as we can see, Time will continue. Just as we cannot take in the fact of God's eternal existence in the past, so the human mind cannot comprehend the thought of eternity in the future. We ought not, therefore, to use this term at all, as it is quite unscriptural, and cannot be understood.
The terms used in revelation to not refer to time in the abstract. In Hebrew, the word eth is used of a season, a time, from time to time, any special time for something happening (see Eccl. 3:1-8 for a very good example), the time of the end, the time of day or year. Olam was used with reference to longer periods of time, whose nature or duration was obscure or hidden,—ages or eons.
The eons are related to time (Rom. 16:25; 2. Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; "times eonian"), yet we do not read of "eonian time" as contrasted with endless time or eternity.
Do the Scriptures state definitely that the eons ever terminate? Here we must be extremely cautious. In 1. Cor. 10:11 Paul's argument is that the saints ought to benefit from the lessons taught by past ages. Here we have the plural form of the word telos, which signifies the result; the finish, the outcome, not the termination or cessation. The ends or consummations of future ages had certainly not attained to the Corinthians. The only other verse which seems to mention a termination of the Ages is Heb. 9:26, which has always been very difficult of explanation. But the word sunteleia cannot mean cessation of the Ages. It refers to the outcome or results. Might we not read as follows: "yet now, once, (with a view to complete fruitage of the eons), unto repudiation of sin, through His sacrifice, has He been manifested." That at least is the order in the Greek, which we should not need to twist or mutilate.
After all, are we so certain that the Ages of Scripture have in every case a definite beginning and end? We speak of the; Dark Ages, the age of Shakespeare, of Charlemagne, the Byzantine age. Why must the Ages of Scripture be cut and dried and labeled? Some of them no doubt have overlapped and will overlap. We cannot tell by the calendar or the clock just when the Dark Ages began or ended. Probably the Ages to come will consist rather of features and phases than strict time periods. We have noted that those who are so clear that there are only five eons in Scripture, including two to come, always steer clear of the final verse in the epistle of Jude, who ascribes glory to God "before the entire eon, and now, and for all the eons." The last four words might take in all indefinite future time, what we vaguely term "eternity."