Aion and Aionios Continued
This topic involving olam, aion and aionios, could be a series unto itself. In essence, I am not even covering the tip of the iceberg in these short segments. Nor am I suggesting that I have all the answers. I am simply doing my best to show you that the translators really had a problem trying to translate olam and aion/aionios.
The rabbis say that one of the best ways to teach is to create questions in the mind of the student. If this series succeeds in creating some questions in your minds when it comes to the translation of olam, aion and aionios in our Bibles, then it has done its job to a great degree.
I realize that some of you will be somewhat resistant to questions when it comes to your faith/spirituality. You don’t want the boat rocked too much. Moving from the Baptists to the Pentecostals or from a Charismatic church to a seeker sensitive church is traumatic enough but to actually question some “core essential” doctrines, well that is stepping over the line way too much especially if you start looking at ideas and beliefs that the current orthodox Christian community might label “heretical” despite the fact that these beliefs may have been part of the Christian community since the time of Jesus.
Let’s be blunt, some of you hesitate to even think for a moment that what you have been taught in your church and what you have come to believe to be true, may not be. That can be unsettling to say the least. Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote in his book, The Biology of Transcendence, that one of the questions we humans can ask ourselves and others that sets us apart from all animals is “WHAT IF...?” Often the possibilities that we come up with to that “What if” question are unsettling, uncomfortable and leave us feeling very uneasy. That question is very good at creating worry.
When I got involved in the fundamental Christian world, I was taught a pre-tribulation, pre-millennial rapture for the church. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold millions and millions of books in their Left Behind series promoting that doctrine. I admit to being somewhat ignorant at the time but since this was the only doctrine I had been taught in church, I thought that 99% of all Christians believed the same thing. I knew that there were other views out there but I figured that so few Christians believed in those other views that they were really inconsequential.
Imagine my surprise and shock to find out that overall, as many Christians and perhaps a lot more didn’t believe what I believed and I was even more surprised and shocked to find out that my “doctrine” was relatively new (perhaps 150-200 years old) and that most of the early church didn’t believe in what I believed when it came to a so-called rapture. Whether it was said directly or indirectly, I was given the impression by those teaching the pre-trib, pre-millennial doctrine that this was the doctrine taught by virtually all Christians over the past 2000 years. Bluntly, it isn’t! That doesn’t make it right or wrong but it definitely was an eye-opener. Suddenly I was confronted with the fact that reputable biblical scholars disagreed with the pre-trib, pre-millennial doctrine and as I looked at their reasons, holes in the pre-trib, pre-millennial doctrine that I had never considered began to appear. I realized that verses were being lifted out of context and many passages were being ignored that didn’t line up with what I was being taught. We will save the reasons for another series, but being rather blunt, I have come to the conclusion that LeHaye and Jenkins have sold millions of copies of their books and probably made millions of dollars based on an extraordinarily flawed doctrine. Note that I am not questioning their sincerity, just their theology.
I have stated on numerous occasions that no one should be afraid of a different biblical or spiritual viewpoint. In fact, we should be able to explore a viewpoint different from our’s and end up being able to show why our viewpoint is more accurate when it comes to the Bible etc. If in our study and research we discover that our view has more flaws etc. than we realized, perhaps it is time to re-think our view and as difficult as it may be, consider the possibility that we could be wrong when it comes to some of our beliefs.
I didn’t plan on getting into all of that but I felt that maybe it needed to be said. Let’s get back to olam, aion and aionios now.
Let me give you another example going back to olam in the Hebrew that shows how the English words, for ever, simply don’t work in a lot of verses.
Jeremiah 17 begins with God chastising the house of Judah. In 17:4 God tells Judah she is going to lose her heritage, i.e. the Promised Land, and she will be exiled into slavery in other lands. Then we read this statement, “for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.”
In the worlds that I have come out of, the evangelical, fundamental Christian world and the Messianic Jewish world, where in both worlds most people believe in an eternal hell, I haven’t met anyone that believes that God is going to be angry at the house of Judah for ever and yet Jeremiah 17:4 says that the fire of God’s anger is going to burn against Judah for ever. I won’t take the time but the Bible is filled with verses showing that God’s anger against the house of Judah was of limited duration.
Olam clearly doesn’t mean for ever in this verse, nor does it mean for ever in the verses that we have already looked. It doesn’t mean for ever in any number of other verses we could check out. Jeff Benner has pointed out that olam meant something very different to the ancient Hebrews, that being, beyond the horizon, out of sight, indescribable or indefinable. Therefore, based upon aion/aionios meaning the same as olam, couldn’t punishment which supposedly will last for ever as described in the New Testament, be of a limited duration instead just as God’s anger in Jeremiah 17:4 is said to be for ever when in fact, it is of limited duration.
The following quote concerning aion is found on the Associates for Scriptural Knowledge website. Vincent’s Word Studies is a reputable resource that can be found on the bookshelves of many Christian pastors and biblical scholars.
“As explained in Marvin R. Vincent’s, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, ), pp. 58-59 (underline emphasis mine DWS):
“Aιών, transliterated aeon, is a period of time of longer or shorter duration, having a beginning and an end, and complete in itself. Aristotle (περι οuρανοu, 1:9, 15) says: ‘The period which includes the whole time of each one’s life is called the aeon of each one.’ Hence it often means the life of a man, as in Homer, where one’s life (αιών) is said to leave him or to consume away (Il. v. 685; Od. v. 160). It is not, however, limited to human life; it signifies any period in the course of events, as the period or age before Christ; the period of the millennium; the mythological period before the beginnings of history. The word has not ‘a stationary and mechanical value’(De Quincey). It does not mean a period of a fixed length for all cases. There are as many aeons as entities, the respective durations of which are fixed by the normal conditions of the several entities. There is one aeon of a human life, another of the life of a nation, another of a crow’s life, another of an oak’s life. The length of the aeon depends on the subject to which it is attached. ... 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.”
Here we find in Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament further confirmation that aion/aionios and by extension, olam, do NOT mean endless and everlasting.
Most, if not all of you, have probably never heard of Dr. Heleen M. Keizer. In 1999, Dr. Keizer published her Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Life, Time, Entirety: A Study of Aion in Greek Literature and Philosophy and Philo (Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1999).” Apparently, in doing her research for her dissertation, Dr. Keizer explored every instance of the Greek terms aion, and aionios in extant Greek writings using a collection called Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. It would appear that no one has done as thorough a job researching aion and aionios as Dr. Keizer.
Outside the Bible, Dr. Keizer delineates three meanings for aion. They are 1) life 2) time and 3) entirety or wholeness or completeness or a totality relating to a function of time. She states that the biblical aion is a creation of God (which by something created would eliminate it being eternal, i.e. without beginning or end) and she further noted that neither Philo or later Church Fathers use aion to refer to the eternity of God. On the Associates for Scriptural Knowledge website we find the following quote from Dr. Keizer regarding the use and meaning of aion in the New Testament.
“Of decisive importance is the new usage of aion found in the New Testament, where we hear Christ speaking of “this (present) aion,” “the end of this aion,” and “˜the coming (future) aion”... To speak of ‘this aion,' its ‘end' and ‘the aion to come' clearly lends to aion the meaning of a limited time. But at this point our findings with regard to the Old Testament meaning of `olam/aion can be supportive and supported. The New Testament indicates that ‘this' and the ‘coming' aion are not simply successive ‘ages' or ‘periods': the coming aion, as a restored, reborn world, will in the future completely replace the present one, while as a new ‘horizon' of life it is also present already now.”
Keizer, Life, Time, Entirety, pp. 251-252, emphasis mine
She notes further that:
“The biblical usage of aion led me to the conclusion that the word refers to a ‘whole’ or ‘entirety’ of time (also the ‘whole/entirety’ of time), the beginning and end of which we cannot ‘see’ or ‘define,’ although we know that there is a beginning and also an end. I believe that the comparison with a ‘horizon’ is helpful. Maybe the most important conclusion is that aion designates an aspect of creation (not a property of God as He is in Himself), viz. the temporal aspect. And it is the Creator who has decided and decides beginning, end, and without end of his creation.”
Keizer, personal correspondence, December 17, 2004
If aion meant eternity as in “without beginning or end,” Jesus’ words make no sense. In regard to eternity, “this present eternity, the end of this eternity and the coming eternity” are oxymoronic. If an aion has an end and if there are aions to come in the future, they can hardly be labelled eternal. Dr. Keizer does point out something very interesting regarding a coming aion. She notes that there is an “aion” coming that will completely replace the present aion and though it is beyond the horizon it is also now present.
Dr. Keizer also confirms what Jeff Benner stated in that she points out that aion isn’t something that can be defined or described which takes us right back to the original meaning of olam.
As we close this segment, I hope that those of you who think we may have gone off the deep end regarding some of our beliefs are beginning to see that, whether you agree or disagree, we have some very reputable sources backing up our conclusions and have given this a great deal of thought and done a lot of research into this subject.
\Blessings, shalom, namaste