What the Bible says about Aion
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Much of the controversy involved in this letter has to do with Gnostic Judaism, which was not the system that God gave to Moses. Judaism was the national religion of the Jews during Christ's and Paul's time, but it had only a very loose basis on the law of the Old Covenant.
Paul refers to the sacrifice of Christ here as a reminder that He fulfilled the sacrificial law—in living a sinless life and then willingly laying it down, He fulfilled the requirements of every sacrificial ordinance, such that the "blood of bulls and goats" was no longer required in a physical sense. Fulfillment does not equal absolution, however; James 2:8 shows that when we "fulfill" the royal law according to Scripture, we are doing what is right, and there is no way to stretch this into saying that we each individually do away with the law. In Matthew 5:17, Christ shows that fulfilling is the opposite of destroying. Christ's fulfilling of the Law and the Prophets is to be an example for us to follow (Galatians 6:2; Colossians 1:25; II Thessalonians 1:11; James 2:8).
The "world" being referred to here is the Greek aion and means "age"—a time period. The "present evil world" or "present evil age" which we need to be delivered from by God could be a reference to the strong influence the Jews had on the Galatians, as well as the Jews' wish to bind them (the Galatians) to the traditions and ordinances they had added to God's instruction, which He calls "burdens" elsewhere (Matthew 23:4; Acts 15:10).
David C. GrabbeRelated Topics: Aion | Christ's Example | Christ's Magnification of the Law | Fulfilling the Law, Christ's | Gnostic Judaism | Gnosticism | Law "Done Away" | Magnification of Law | Magnification of the Law | Traditions of Men | World's Dangers | World's Evil Characteristics | World's Systems | Worldliness
In Ephesians 2:2, Paul writes of "the course of this world." The Greek word kosmos, translated into the English word "world," essentially means an "orderly system." To human eyes beholding all the activity throughout the earth, the world looks anything but orderly. It looks confusing, to say the least. However, that conclusion depends on one's perspective.
What is going on to discerning eyes, the eyes of one to whom God has revealed Himself, is an orderly system of deception cloaked by restless activity among humans involved in constant wars, thousands of religions, evil conduct, corrupting entertainments, and other distracting, time-wasting business and social vanities. All of this restless activity is in reality nothing but a smokescreen hiding a sinister influence from discovery.
Notice something to which we generally do not pay much attention. The word "world" appears as the object of the preposition "of." This prepositional phrase modifies "course," showing us that Paul is speaking of a specific "course" available to us to choose from among others. The Greek word translated "course," aion, is especially interesting. At first, it indicates "an age," "an indefinite period of time," and by extension, "perpetuity."
However, Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words provides an interesting alternative, saying that it also means, "Time viewed in relation to what takes place during that period" (emphasis added). Aion, then, does not have to mean simply "time" in some form: Vine shows that it is correctly translated "place" in Hebrews 5:6. Other commentators go into greater detail, but we will quote only two highly respected ones that other commentators frequently cite as authorities.
First, Richard C. Trench is a resource virtually every commentator eventually quotes on the definitions of biblical words. He defines aion as:
. . . all that floating mass of thought, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims and aspirations at any time current in the world, which is impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power, being our moral or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably exhale.
Aion, translated as "course" in Ephesians 2:2, is the vague, ever-present immaterial realm that we are surrounded by and live in. It is interesting that Trench ties his definition to air, in that, even as we unconsciously breathe air in and out to sustain life, the course of the world is every bit as necessary to carnal life and is affecting us invisibly and constantly.
Second, Johann A. Bengel adds that aion is ". . . the subtle informing spirit of the Kosmos, or world of men who are living alienated and apart from God." This is what Germans termed zeitgeist, the spirit of the age—the "informing spirit"! The term "spirit" is used to indicate the invisible, immaterial influence whose characteristics are absorbed and then manifested in the attitudes and conduct of the general population of a given people.
An American commentator, Kenneth Wuest, is very helpful at this juncture:
To distinguish between aion and kosmos, kosmos gives the over-all picture of mankind alienated from God during all of history, and aion represents any distinct age or period of human history as marked out from another by particular characteristics.
Course in Roget's International Thesaurus, under the heading "tendency," has such synonyms as "thoughts," "zeitgeist," "spirit," "disposition," "character," "nature," "makeup," "bent," "slant," "frame of mind," "attitude," "inclination," "mind-set," "drift," "perspective," and many more. It may be easier to understand "course of this world" by rephrasing it into statements such as, "according to the disposition of this world"; "according to the character of this world"; "according to the nature of this world"; "according to the makeup of this world"; "according to the mindset, drift, or perspective of this world."
This is the spirit from which we must be converted. It is the unseen foundation and fountain of our pre-conversion conduct, and it is the same spirit still motivating us when we act carnally or in the flesh. Despite conversion, it remains within us, compressed like a spring that is ready to jump into action and influence our conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)
The term "world without end" in this verse is mistranslated from the Greek phrase toú aiônos tôn aiônôn. The word aion can be translated as "ever," "world," "evermore," "age," "eternal," "always," "forever," "an unbroken age," "perpetuity of time," "eternity," "the worlds," "universe," or "period of time."The doubling of the word in the phrase suggests perpetuity. The New King James Version corrects the King James Version's error quite nicely: "To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen".
We have generally understood this verse to mean that the material creation, which we can clearly see, was produced from invisible spirit. It is certainly a possible meaning, but it is probably not its primary one. In his book, Great Cloud of Witnesses (pp. 12-14), E. W. Bullinger provides an alternative that appears more accurate and fitting within the context of Hebrews 11.
The word "worlds" is translated from the Greek aion, meaning "age," in the sense of a period of time or a dispensation. It derives from a root that means "continued," and it is used as "world" only when "world" gives a better sense of a period of time, not the physical creation. It could be used if one said "the world that then was" or "the world to come."
"Framed" also appears in Hebrews 10:5, where it is more clearly and accurately translated "prepared." It means "to complete thoroughly," "to rule" (even "overrule"), or "to order" (by God in this case). "Word" is not logos but rhema, meaning "revealed words." Finally, "made" is ginomai, which means "to generate," "to cause to be," "to happen," or "to come to pass." It is not the word normally used to indicate God is creating.
Using these definitions, we could translate the verse as, "By faith we perceive by the revealed words of God that the ages were prepared, so that the things we see come to pass not from things that appear." Those of us who walk by faith know that a great Unseen Hand guides, indeed overrules, events on this earth. This verse means that the historical events we read of in God's Word were not chance occurrences, but God was working behind the scenes to bring His purpose to the conclusion He has foreordained. In short, it says, "God controls the march of history." The great men and women listed in Hebrews 11 lived their lives firmly knowing this truth. That is why they could live in faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!
This verse is poorly translated in many versions of the Bible. "Worlds" (KJV, NKJV) or "universe" (NIV) is from the Greek word aion, which means "ages." We are living at the end of an age. The Bible speaks of an age that runs from the creation of Adam to the Flood. This present evil world is another age, and the world to come is another age. Other periods of time can be divided into periods of time in which God is shepherding events in a certain direction.
What the author means is, "By faith we understand that the ages were framed, or prepared, by the Word of God." God is guiding and directing affairs on earth. An invisible hand is manipulating events so that the person of faith can understand that history is not an endless cycle of repetition, even though the history of men is full of humanity's repeated mistakes. History is not circular but linear; it is headed somewhere. God is drawing matters to a conclusion; His purpose is building to a climax, though not the ultimate climax yet. That ultimate climax will not come until New Jerusalem is on earth and we are in that Last Great Day, as that is as far as the Bible takes the age of mankind.
Nevertheless, we are coming to the end of an age, and God is framing things. Time and history are moving linearly to the goal that God is bringing about. He is manipulating the course of events, preparing for its consummation. When that conclusion is reached, if by faith we are yielding to God, we will be prepared as He wants us to be because Hebrews 11:3 is part of our operating agenda. We see the hand of God working, not only in the big events of this world, but also in our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Two)
This concept reveals the solid base of faith toward God: that He is Creator and Ruler. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" God Himself demanded of Job. The answer to this question is why we can understand the existence of things by faith.
E.W. Bullinger has an additional thought on this verse that is worth considering. He takes this beyond creation, as the word translated "worlds" is literally aiones or "ages." Thus, the verse is literally stating that God framed or put into order the ages. Zodhiates agrees that aiones indicates ages or times, in contrast with kosmos, often translated as "world," which indicates people as a society. Bullinger shows that God, unseen and sovereign, is not only Creator, but also actively shapes events within the expanses of time. As Jesus says in John 5:17, God is always working, directing the movement of history to bring about His desired ends. Bullinger's approach is to be preferred as more appropriate to the entire epistle.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
Before the explosion of modern translations, the final sentence of Revelation 20:10 roused no one's skepticism. However, the newer versions bring out the fact that the verb here (basanisthēsontai) is plural and is correctly rendered “they will be tormented.” Who are “they”? Does this include the Beast and False Prophet? Does God torment wicked human beings eternally? There are two ways to explain these questions:
1) The Bible denies any idea of men having innate immortality (I Corinthians 15:53; Romans 2:7; I Timothy 6:15-16). These wicked leaders of men in the last days will die and burn to ashes soon after being thrust into the Lake of Fire, their souls and bodies destroyed by Him who can do this in Gehenna fire (Matthew 10:28). This fact would preclude any human from being described as “tormented day and night forever and ever.”
The only group left is the fallen angels—Satan and his demons. But, one may counter, “the devil” in Revelation 20:10 is singular, and “they will be tormented” is plural. How can we reconcile this plural pronoun referring to a singular antecedent?
In this case, “the devil” is used in a figure of speech called metonymy. Technically, it is “the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated.” More simply, one part of a thing represents the whole. Thus, “the devil” represents in himself all of the group we call demons, devils, fallen angels, or angels who sinned.
A parallel verse, Matthew 25:41, says that sinners will be cast into “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Jesus intimates that the Lake of Fire's primary purpose is for the punishment of demons, but it will also be used as the means of execution for the wicked among humans, those people who unrepentantly live as demons do.
2) If we understand “they will be tormented” to include the Beast and the False Prophet, we must explain the phrase “forever and ever” (eis tous aiônas tôn aiônôn). Literally, this means “to the ages of the ages” and would seem to imply perpetuity. However, we must be careful with the word aiôn and its various forms. Its range of meaning runs from “a space or period of time” to “a lifetime” to “an age” to “eternity.” As in all such cases, the context must give the sense.
Having rejected the immortality of the soul, we have no recourse but to understand aiôn here in the sense of “as long as conditions exist” or “as long as they live.” Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words concurs:
AION . . . signifies a period of indefinite duration, or time viewed in relation to what takes place in the period. . . . The phrases containing this word should not be rendered literally, but consistently with its sense of indefinite duration. (p. 43)
Moreover, aiôn can also be rendered as “unto the ages of ages,” “until the eternal age,” or even “up to the vanishing point”! As should be plain, a precise definition of this Greek word proves extremely difficult. Dogmatism on it is not advisable.
Thus, the Beast and False Prophet will be tormented “day and night”—unceasingly—for an indeterminate period until they die, probably within a few minutes or a few hours, which is about as long as a human being can live in a fire. As long as they remain breathing, they will suffer excruciating pain as their just reward, and in an indefinite time, they will pay for their sins with death.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Can demons die? The evidence of Scripture does not disallow it. Indeed, Ezekiel 28:11-19—a well-known passage describing Satan's origins, character, rebellion, and fate—prophesies in verses 18-19:
Therefore [because of your iniquities] I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever. (Emphasis ours.)
Many people believe this applies to a physical “king of Tyre” referenced in verse 11, but the context describing the one who became Satan—“the anointed cherub who covers” (verse 14), who was “the seal of perfection” (verse 12) and “in Eden, the garden of God” (verse 13)—continues without interruption through verse 19. Taken at face value, this passage tells us that God, who created the angels who chose to sin, can extinguish their lives through an annihilating fire. Trying to explain verses 18-19 as a metaphor for Satan and his demons being imprisoned in darkness forever makes a mockery of their plain sense. In fact, the words of Ezekiel 28 sound amazingly like death in the Lake of Fire.
Thus, if those suffering torment in Revelation 20:10 are Satan and the demons, they, too, will experience the torture and excruciating pain of the fervent heat of the Lake of Fire. Perhaps with them, being composed of spirit, it will last for a longer, though still indeterminate, time before they expire. The Bible's use of aiôn makes the length of their torment vague. Perhaps they will suffer some form of torment while imprisoned in the abyss (see Isaiah 24:21-23). In any case, we can understand their torment “day and night forever and ever” to indicate unstinting thoroughness—that God will not shirk in giving them the most painful and complete punishment, as they rightfully deserve.
Our Savior is the great Judge of all (II Timothy 4:1). His judgments are flawless; He demonstrates perfect justice and mercy at all times. Though the punishments that the wicked and the demons will receive may seem ghastly, they fit their crimes. There is no unrighteousness with God (Romans 9:14).
As Christ's disciples, resurrected to eternal life in God's Kingdom, we will be able to look forward to an eternity of peace and security, of never-ending joy and growth, because He will have removed all evil from the universe. Peter tells us that once God purifies all things, only righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and new earth (II Peter 3:13). There will be no taint of sin anywhere in creation, which can be true only if God has completely erased the existence of all sin and all sinners, including the Adversary and his demons.
As Peter writes in the same passage, we must soberly consider God's perfect judgment for sin and His wrath against it. We are living through our time of judgment right now, and falling away and falling under God's wrath are still possibilities if we fail “to make [our] call and election sure” (II Peter 1:10). Knowing God's perfect judgment should spur us to live holy and godly lives, “hastening the coming of the day of God” (II Peter 3:11-12, 14).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh