THE inspired 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 by-gone
translators and their versions. It is hoped that such a study, along with an examination
of various primitive words dealing 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 teaching regarding the eons by a dogma respecting
One statement in English Bibles which perhaps more than any other has
led men's minds astray is found in Rev.10:6. Wiclif (1380) rendered this, "Tyme schal
no more be," having been partly misled by the Latin Vulgate of Jerome (A.D. 380),
which he used as his basis. Could he have had the Greek text as a basis, the likelihood is
that he would not have used the word "time." Jerome rendered it, "Time will
not be further" tempus non erit amplius. While his translation is on the whole a most
faithful and excellent one, in some cases the words he utilizes do not quite match the
Greek he translates.The result was that Wiclif became the medium through whom inaccurate
or false terms passed into English theology and into our modern Bibles, where they have
become stereotyped. The consequences have been very far reaching and most deplorable.
Further examples will be cited anon. The Authorized Version reads, "there should be
time no longer." The CONCORDANT VERSION reads, "there will be no
longer delay." This makes clear and simple sense, and presents no difficulty. But the
erroneous rendering which has persisted for over five hundred years since the time of
Wiclif is quite out of harmony with the context. Anyone can see that after the events
detailed in the tenth chapter of the Unveiling, there is an entire millennial period to
follow, during which "time" continues. The Revised Version has a reading similar
to the A.V., but corrects this in the margin to "there shall be delay no
Nevertheless, the false notion that Time must some day end and Eternity
commence, still clings to theology. All that the Scriptures reveal is that the eons will
terminate (1 Cor.10:11; Heb.9:26), but it seems clear that time of some kind or other must
When it is revealed that certain things are to continue after the eons
have terminated, 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:
|| of His kingdom there shall be no consummation
(ouk estai telos, NOT WILL-BE FINISH).
|| it is roused in incorruption
|| this mortal must put on immortality
(athanasia, UN-DEATH, death-less-ness).
|| an allotment incorruptible and undefiled and unfading
|| the power of an indissoluble life
|| interminable genealogies
(aperanton, UN-OTHER- SIDE).
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 occurs the solemn
negative expression nevermore (ou mee eti, NOT NO STILL), no fewer than six
"Thus, Babylon, the great city, will be hurled down, and she may
be found in her nevermore. And the sound of the lyre singers and entertainers,
and flutists and trumpeters shall be heard in you nevermore; and every artisan of
every trade may be found in you nevermore; and the sound of a millstone shall be
heard in you nevermore; and the light of a lamp may be appearing in you nevermore;
and the voice of the bridegroom and bride shall be heard in you nevermore."
Even to God the Scriptures do not 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 and whence He came, or to account for His existence. Nature demands His
existence, and faith assumes Him. That He is the "eonian God" (Rom.16:26) is a
distinct and added revelation. Just as evil is a special feature of the eons, so God is
seen as the "eonian God" during the same time. While it is not possible for God
to be more than eternal, He is more than eonian. Upon a lead tablet found in the
necropolis at Adrumetum, in the Roman province of Africa, near Carthage, belonging to the
early third century, the following inscription is scratched in Greek, "I am adjuring
Thee, the great God, the eonian and more than eonian (epaiõnion) and almighty,
the One up-above the up-above gods." Deissmann requires to render this as follows:
"the eternal and more than eternal and almighty, who is exalted above the exalted
The Hebrew Scriptures are written almost entirely in pure Hebrew. There
are very few words which are not Hebrew. So with the Greek Scriptures. They contain few
words which are not of 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. It is true that 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. The German Bible is very much more pure German than the English Bible is pure
English. What is the most important thing in the Scriptures for the sinner? Many will
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 used for the Saviour was Haelend, or "Healer." Not only does He
make one safe, but He heals. Tyndale, in the year 1526 A.D., was the first one to use the
word salvation in the Scriptures, and he used it once only, in John 4:22 ("for
salvation commeth of the Jewes." Wiclif had, "for heelthe is of Jewis").
Thereafter the fine old English word "health" dropped out, and was completely
displaced by the imported but now most important Latin word "salvation."
While it is true that the revival of learning and letters in the
fifteenth century greatly enriched the English language, it drove out thousands of very
fine English words. Previous to that time, it had sometimes been necessary to use a double
word to give the necessary meaning in the Scriptures. Thus, in the Anglo-Saxon Gospels of
about the time of King Alfred, about a thousand years ago, the following expressions are
met with: leorning-cnicht (learning-knight) for disciple (a Latin word); hundredes ealdor-
man (alderman of a hundred) for centurion (also a Latin word); bocere (book-wer, bookman)
for scribe (another Latin word); big- spel (near-story, example, like German Bei-spiel)
for the Greek parable.
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, or something like that, spelt ece, of which more will be
said later. 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 somewhat startling,
yet that is because they are not widely known. Had the 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 theological terminology at all. But for the Norman Conquest 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
Conquest, 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
center 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 centuries. 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. This was the first Greek New Testament 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 great 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
Oecolampadius; Gerhard attained fame as Erasmus; Horn took on more dignity as Ceratinus.
HOW THE LATIN LANGUAGE AFFECTED THEOLOGY
In order to understand aright the word "eternal," it is
necessary to make a review of linguistic conditions in Greece and Italy before and after
the days of Paul.
The classical Latin tongue was one out of many that were spoken by the
early inhabitants of Italy. At first it was only the dialect of a small area around Rome.
Other dialects which in the course of time mingled with it were of a very different type,
such as the Etruscan. Many colonies of Greeks existed in early times in the south of
Italy, so that this part was known as "Great Greece." From the dawn of authentic
history the Greek language may be seen exerting a strong influence over Italy. When in
B.C. 454 the Romans desired to establish a code of laws, they dispatched commissioners to
Greece to study and report upon the laws of Solon at Athens. What in later times became
the polished dialect of the district of Latium was not the language of the common people,
just as the classical Greek of the poets and dramatists was not the common speech of the
people. The everyday language of Greeks was much the same as is found in the Greek
Scriptures, known as the koinee, or "common," or vulgar tongue. Latin was the
speech of the patricians, of the literary world, of the politicians, of a comparatively
small section of the people. It came to occupy the position of a partly artificial dialect
amid many other widely differing dialects.
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 at Rome in Greek by Fabius Pictor about
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. For this reason, there was no need for Paul to write his
epistle to Rome 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. For a similar reason, there was no 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 is to say, the version in use before the time of Jerome (380 A.D.), the
majority may be recognized as being of the "African" type.
It is here necessary to explain that what became the Roman province of
"Africa" was in early times the Canaanite colony of Carthage, in North Africa,
near Tunis. This colony was founded by the cities of Tyre and Sidon, and some have sought
to identify Carthage with Tarshish (as the Greek version of Isa.23:1). Carthage ruled over
the large islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and over part of Sicily also. Warfare with the
rising military power of Rome was inevitable. Three long struggles, known as the Punic (or
Phoenician) Wars, took place between B.C. 264 and 146, culminating in the complete
subjugation of Carthage, which now became a province of Rome.
Henceforth the speech of this Roman colony was Latin, but it was the
Latin dialect of about the middle of the second century B.C. This is important. The Latin
dialect of this time was very different from what it became a hundred years later.
Polybius, the Greek historian, states, about B.C. 150, that the best informed Romans of
that time could not understand without difficulty the language of the former treaties
entered into between Rome and Carthage, less than a hundred years before. Horace, who died
about the time Christ was born, confessed that he could not understand the old Latin
Salian poems, and he infers that Latin had so greatly changed within a few hundred years
that no one else could understand them. Quintilian (born 40 A.D.) states that even the
Salian priests could scarcely follow their sacred hymns. The purest era of Latin in Rome
was during the hundred years before Christ came. It was then that the language became
fixed and polished.
Carthage, however, being a colony, at a considerable distance from
Rome, spoke a somewhat different Latin than did Rome. It was free from the influence of
Greek. Just as the Scandinavian spoken in Norway and Sweden has diverged much from the old
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 in course of time to diverge, in
certain respects, from the Latin spoken in Italy and Rome. As invariably happens in such
cases, certain old expressions and nuances were preserved which died out elsewhere, while
in other cases fresh nuances came into use.
It is to Tertullian, a Latin of Carthage, who lived from about 160 to
220 A.D., that we are indebted for our first knowledge of the existence of the Old Latin
version of the Scriptures. He was the earliest of the Latin Fathers. The manuscripts of
this version in existence show that the Latin employed was very different from classical
Latin, being more vigorous, yet marked by solecisms (or improprieties in the language
usedwhat would appear to others as errors in grammar and violations of syntax and
idiom). It may have been originally a translation from the Greek made by comparatively
illiterate people, or the language may be due simply to the differences in dialect between
the Latin of Rome and the Latin of Carthage. So long as the Old Latin scriptures remained
in North Africa, they continued with little or no change, but immediately they arrived on
the soil of Italy, a great disturbance took place. Old words in use in Carthage were found
to be unintelligible to the Romans, while new words coined there were not understood.
Words in both countries had, in the course of two or three centuries, taken on distinctive
and divergent nuances of their own. The provincial solecisms and roughnesses of the
African version were patched up and corrected by means of the Greek version current in
Italy, and in course of time the result came to be indescribable confusion. There were
said to be as many versions as manuscripts, though this is no doubt somewhat of an
exaggeration. Upon Jerome fell the arduous task of attempting to bring about harmony out
of this confusion, and the outcome was his version of the Latin scriptures which in after
times, from the thirteenth century onwards, was known as the "Vulgate."
Hitherto, for about six hundred years, the Greek Septuagint version had held the field,
and there was intense and prolonged opposition to Jerome's version. This was the Bible
which was to dominate most of Christendom for a thousand years, right up to the
Reformation. Jerome, however, in his revision, while correcting obvious errors and setting
right what seemed to be bad Latin, was very conservative otherwise. Many expressions he
left as he found them. Whatever may have been his own views regarding the future, he does
not appear to have revised two Latin words, fraught with profound significance, which he
found in the old version. These are both words used to render the Greek word eon, as
Latin, like Gothic and Armenian and English, found two words necessary, seculum,
from which we have our word "secular," and aeternus, from which have
descended the fateful words "eternal" and "eternity." Sometimes, as we
shall see, the Greek aiõn (eon) was rendered by one of these two Latin words,
and sometimes by the other. Not only so, but when the Greek shows the word eon twice or
thrice in one clause (as in "for the eon, and for the eon of the eon"), the
Latin frequently shows both aeternus and seculum. This alone ought to be
sufficient to prove that the two Latin words could have the same meaning, more or less,
and it will be our present purpose to demonstrate that originally the two words differed
little in meaning, but that theology, chiefly through the dominating influence of one man,
imparted to aeternus a nuance alien to its derivation and original usage.
We shall now examine the derivation of these two Latin words, one of
which was destined to exercise such a profound influence over the minds of men for so
long, an influence not in accord with truth, and by no means for the glory of God.
ETERNAL AND SECULAR
Seculum is defined in Latin dictionaries as meaning a
generation, an age, the world, the times, the spirit of the times, and a period of a
hundred years. That which is secular pertains to the present world, especially to the
world as not spiritual. In French the word has come to mean a century, besides meaning
age, time, period, and world (siecle). The future siecle is the
"life to come." In the French Bible, "for the eons of the eons" is
rendered by "to the siecles of the siecles," following the
Latin Vulgate. The other Romance languages follow the same construction, Italian using secoli,
and Spanish siglos. Irish and Gaelic use saoghal, Roumanian uses seculi,
and even Basque has secula. That is to say, Bibles in these languages render the
corrupt "for ever and ever" correctly, or nearly so.
Seculum is sometimes derived from the same root that gives
"sequel," meaning time as "following." Before the rise of words to
express eternity, time was viewed as flowing onwards, generation following generation into
the dim future. Others derive seculum from the root that gives section, as
meaning time cut off, divided, or decided.
Long ago in Rome, periodic games were held, which were called
"secular" games. Herodian, the historian, writing in Greek about the end of the
second or beginning of the third century, calls these "eonian" games. In no
sense were the games eternal. Eonian did not mean eternal any more than a seculum
Among the many inscriptions in the Catacombs of Rome is one 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 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,
Trajan, who was emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 A.D., wrote to Pliny
regarding the conviction of those who professed the Christian faith. Such were not to be
specially sought out or hunted, yet if accused and convicted must bear the punishment. He
adds that accusations against them which were not signed were not to be accepted on any
account, as this was the "very worst example that could be shown, and pertains not to
Tertullian, born about 160 A.D., in one of his many writings, referred
to "a mighty shock impending over the entire world, and the conclusion of the seculum
Lactantius, born about 260 A. D., speaks of the "learned ones of
this seculum." Eusebius, the historian of the early Church, born about 265
A.D., gives an account of the trial of certain martyrs from Africa in the year 180. The
martyrs showed a most indomitable spirit when interrogated by the proconsul. Speratus,
their leader, replied, "The empire of this seculum (world) I do not recognize."
The proconsul pressed them to take thirty days to reconsider. Speratus replied, "In a
matter so straightforward there is no reconsideration." Eusebius goes on to relate
that the martyrs would reign with God through "all the seculums of the seculums."
Writing about "Our Lord's Miracles," Eusebius alludes to
"magicians who have ever existed throughout the seculums." This is a
reference to past ages.
These examples are sufficient to show that seculum was used
very much as the Greek aiõn. No case can be cited in which it, refers to endless
We shall now consider its usage by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate Version.
Those who maintain that the Greek aiõn signifies 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 rather lack of system, of giving to the Greek eon two
diverse meanings. In every occurrence in the Unveiling, of the expression "for the
eons of the eons," Jerome has, "for the seculums of the seculums," which
Wiclif, with studied carefulness, rendered by "in to worldis of worldis," just
as five hundred years before Wiclif's time the Old English glosses of Latin manuscripts
gave "world" for seculum. The following are some of the expressions
used by Jerome: "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 renders by, "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 inadequate and bald and totally erroneous "now and for
ever," although the Rheims version (1582 A.D.) has, "befoer al worldes, and now
and for al worldes evermore."
In Eph.2:2, Jerome has "the seculum of this world" (C.V.
"the eon of this world"). Wiclif did not understand this, and originated the
guess, "the course of this world," which was slavishly copied by those who came
Turning to the Greek word eonian, which occurs seventy times in the New
Testament, Jerome does not render about three quarters of them by the word secular, and
one quarter by eternal, but no less than sixty-five times does he use the latter (aeternum),
while secular he uses only twice (2 Tim.1:9 and Titus 1:2), "before times
secular" (ante tempora saecularia). As forty-three of the seventy
occurrences refer to life, he was unable to say, "secular life," and therefore
invariably puts "eternal life."
We thus see that Jerome's renderings of the Greek aiõn
completely shake our confidence in him here. By his inconsistency he really contradicts
himself. Had Jerome been as consistent in rendering the Greek into Latin as Wiclif was in
rendering Jerome into English, we should never have had our Authorized Version in its
present form. In every case where Jerome uses seculum to represent the Greek aiõn,
Wiclif uses "world," while in place of Jerome's eternum for this word,
Wiclif always has "without end." For this adjective, eonian, Wiclif 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 aiõna) 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 say, "into the eternity of the eternity," or "into the
eternities." The expression "for the eons" (eis tous aiõnas) he
was obliged to render "for the seculums" (in saecula), as in Psalm
61:4; 72:17. In the same way, in Psalm 145:13 he renders by "a kingdom of all
seculums," which corresponds to the Hebrew and the Greek and 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 Psa.9:5; 10: 16; 45:17; 48:14; 52:8; and 148:6. Yet the same Greek expression,
"for the eon, and for the eon of the eon," he renders simply by "into
eternity" in 72:19, while it is rendered in 119:44; 145:1,2, 21, by "into the
seculum, and into the seculum of the seculum." Exceptions to the seeming rule are
found in 44:8, 52:9, and 75:9, where the Greek "for the eon" is rendered
"into seculum" (in saeculum), while in 73:12 it is rendered "in
seculum" (in saeculo). In the last mentioned verse, even Jerome could not
bring himself to believe that the ungodly prospered "for eternity." In Psa.90:2
he renders the Greek "from the eon till the eon" (A.V. "from everlasting to
everlasting Thou art God") by "from seculum and till seculum." Yet the very
same Greek expression he renders in 103:17 by "from eternity and till eternity"
(ab aeterno et usque in aeternum). Probably Jerome was only translating after the
system of the Old Latin version, which had existed for two hundred years before his time.
If that is so, he must have had serious misgivings, if in aeternum meant "for
eternity" or "into eternity." In Micah 5:2, where the Old Latin had
"from the days of seculum," Jerome altered to "from the days of
eternity" (a diebus aeternitatis).
We shall now bring forward verses in which the two Latin words we are
studying seem to be equated. In 1 Chron.29:10 the A.V. reads, "Blessed be Thou, Lord
God of Israel our father, for ever and ever." The Hebrew and the Greek both read,
"from the eon and until the eon." In Neh.9:5 the Hebrew and the Greek have the
same reading as in 1 Chron.29:10 (A.V. "Bless the Lord your God for ever and
ever."). In both of these verses the Vulgate has, "from eternity until
eternity." Yet in Jer.7:7 and 25:5, where the A.V. speaks of dwelling in "the
land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever," and the Hebrew and the Greek
both have "from the eon and until the eon," the Vulgate has, "from seculum
and into seculum."
How did the Vulgate translate those verses which speak of "the eon
and beyond?" This expression, Dean Farrar tells us, 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." The Greek has, "till the eon further."
The Vulgate has, "until the seculum of the seculum."
An extraordinary surprise awaits us when we consider two verses wherein
the Vulgate is, to say the least, bewildering. We have been reckoning the Latin in
aeternum of Jerome's day as meaning "for eternity" or "into
eternity," whatever it may have meant two or three hundred years before his time. It
stands beyond all doubt that by seculum Jerome meant a limited period of time, an
eon, but by aeternum he seems to have meant something different. Did he mean
"eternity?" Or was this Latin word still used in the loose way it had been used
long before his time, as meaning indefinite future time? Farrar says that even the Latin
Fathers who had a competent knowledge of Greek knew that aeternum was used in the
same loose way, for an indefinite period, in Latin writers, as (aiõnion) was
used in Greek. Exodus 15:18 reads in the A.V.: "The Lord shall reign for ever and
ever." The Hebrew carefully limits this reign to "the eon and
further." The Septuagint expands this into "the eon, and still more an eon, and
further." Jerome astounds by actually rendering by "into eternity and beyond"
(in aeternum et ultra). The same Latin reading is also found in Micah 4:5 (A.V.
"We will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.")
where the Hebrew reads, "for the eon and further," and the Greek reads,
"for the eon and beyond,"
It is now necessary to examine the origin of the word
"eternal." Whatever the Latin word meant in the time of Jerome, it certainly did
not signify endless three hundred years earlier. Professor Max Muller said of the root of
this word, that it originally signified life or time, but had given rise to a number of
words expressing eternity, the very opposite of life and time. He says the Latin aevum
(which corresponds almost letter for letter with the Greek aiõn, eon, thought to
have been originally aivon), became the name of time, age, and its derivative aeviternus,
or aeternus, "was made to express eternity." These are the
words of an authority who was quite unbiased in this matter.
This statement resembles one made by Phavorinus in the sixteenth
century in the famous "Etymologicum Magnum," a large tome giving the derivations
of all Greek words, as handed down from a very much earlier time. The word aiõn
(eon) 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
resurrection of humanity." Phavorinus, the editor, adds "aiõn is the
imperceptible (aidios) and the unending (ateleuteetos), 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 time-words the
thought of endlessness.
Before returning to the Latin, we shall cite one more similar yet very
instructive case. The Emperor Justinian was the greatest of the Eastern (Byzantine)
Emperors. He reigned from 527 to 565 at Constantinople. In the year 534 he published in
fifty volumes the world famous "Justinian Code" of Laws. This was a digest of
the Greek and Roman constitutions, ordinances, and legal decisions, culled from two
thousand manuscript volumes, and it forms the basis of most medieval and modern codes of
law. In the year 540, Justinian made arrangements 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 it
made 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 eonian 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 endless eonian (ateleuteetos
aiõnios) life for the just, and endless (ateleuteetos) punishment
for the wicked." Justinian knew quite well that by itself eonian did not signify
endless, and he therefore added a word the meaning of which is quite unequivocal, a word
not found in the Scriptures. This letter of Justinian, which is 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."
We must now return to the Latin word aevum. This is defined in
dictionaries as meaning, lifetime, life, age, mankind living at a particular time. From
this word, through the form aeviternus, comes the adjective aeternus, which is
our "eternal." Aevum is never found in Latin standing for endless time.
In the Roman Catacombs is the tomb of Albana, who died at the age of forty- five. Her
sorrowing husband, Placus, marked her resting place with the following words, "This
grief will always semper be mine, during lifetime (in aevo)." Further on is
inscribed, "Lie in peacein sleepyou will arise." Neither of these
two words, therefore, semper, from which comes sempiternal, and aevum,
from which comes eternal, here meant endless.
Another stone bears the inscription, "eternal home" (domus
eternalis). This is on the tomb of a believer, so that this could not be 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 Ecc.12:5, "man goeth to his long home" (C.V. "to his eonian
The old Latin writers used aeternum in the same sense as Greek
writers used aiõnion, as meaning eonian. Thus Cicero, who died B.C. 43, says of
the future, "Springtime will be aeternum," that is, enduring, eonian.
At present springtime is brief, fleeting, seasonal. 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 aiõn,
its nearest English equivalent may be found in the word "age." The origin of
this word is very interesting. It traces its descent back to the Latin aevum, which is the
equivalent of the Greek aiõn. 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.
How then, did the Latin aeternum and the Greek aiõnion,
which both originally referred to that which is eonian, come to signify
"eternal" in our modern sense? There is no doubt that these words have been
"made to express" what is eternal, the instrument in every case being theology.
The process seems to have been somewhat as follows.
There have always been some among the sects who have held harsh views
regarding the doom of the sinner. The Pharisees and the Essenes are said to have believed
in conscious future punishment. The Essenes believed in unintermittent (adialeipton)
and "deathless" punishment. It is natural for those in whose hearts the love of
God has not been dynamically shed abroad to look upon death as the end of all for mankind.
The truth of the eons became lost very quickly after the time of the apostle Paul. No one
after him appears to say a word about it. Even Origen believed that this present world or
eon was the conclusion of many eons. He inferred that there are still many eons to come,
not only two. On the other hand, there arose the 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, together made up the fullness or plêrõma.
Matter they looked upon as evil, and the harmony of the plêrõma 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 conclusion 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 utilizing them as His scaffolding. The eons seem to
synchronize with the presence of evil, when it requires to be coped with.
The collapse of the truth of 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 aiõnion retain its force as meaning
"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 or for the time being 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, this part of the road was, to the eye, and to
the feelings of the traveler, endless. It was possible to look along the road for over a
mile, and observe traffic and pedestrians, but no end to it 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 machinesauthority 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 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. 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 much 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.
At this point we must turn to Carthage in North Africa, and in
particular to Tertullian, and take careful note of their profound and lasting influence
over Christendom. Tertullian lived from about 160 to 220 A.D. Born at Carthage, he became
a well-read scholar, an attractive orator and writer, a keen controversialist, and a
clever lawyer. What Origen was, about the same period, to Greek or Eastern Christianity,
Tertullian was to Latin or Western Christianity. He was the first one to set about
systematically to explain the Scriptures in the Latin tongue of North Africa, and the
first theologian to establish a technical Latin terminology for Christianity. It is no
exaggeration to say that the choice of terms of this Latin scholar has profoundly affected
all succeeding theological thought. It is to Tertullian that we owe such terms as trinity,
substance, person, redemption, justification, sanctification, sacrament, and many more,
including probably such as perdition, perish, destroy, punish, torment, damnation,
dispensation, predestination, revelation, priest, mediator, minister, congregation,
propitiation,all terms from the Latin, although it is possible some of these may be
due to Jerome. These terms are all different from the Greek words used, although some of
the meanings correspond fairly well. Tertullian was the first writer to set out to expound
the difficult doctrine of the "trinity," and to use this term, which, however,
he does not use 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 formulae." 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 awardedeternal punishment. It should prove instructive to
glance at some of his other views.
Like many today, he could never come to grasp the important yet
elementary fact that God is spirit. That God was conciliated was quite unknown to him and
to those who followed in his steps. Being well trained in Roman law he looked on 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 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 man, while the Latin Church began with man, and saw primarily man
as in relation to God. God's measureless love and grace were viewed as at the disposal
of man, or man was viewed as the fallen and guilty rebel measured up before the Judge. The
one commenced with God and His love, operating all things in accord with the counsel of
His will from past ages for the ultimate good 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, 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 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 from God, even evil, which God must undo
and banish. One who has no place for eons 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
ascendancy of Latin, reacted upon, and was imposed upon, its Greek equivalent eonian,
which henceforth in theology was "made to express" the meaning of everlasting.
At this point it will be interesting to bring forward the evidence of
the ancient versions made from the Greek, and see whether they corroborate the conclusions
to which we have come.
HOW THE OLD VERSIONS RENDERED AION
The Old Syriac version is thought to have been made from the Greek
about the end of the first century or some time during the second century. The language is
closely akin to Hebrew, and was very like the Aramaic which was spoken in Palestine side
by side with Greek in the first century. To translate the Greek eon and eonian it uses olm,
which is exactly the word used in the Hebrew Scriptures, meaning "obscure," or
"obscurity," that is, eonian and eon. The same constructions as occur in the
Greek are shown, such as, from the eon mn olm, for the eon l-olm, this eon,
that eon, for the eons to come, for the eon of the eons l-olm olmin, the conclusion
of the eons.
To prove that olm did not and could not stand for eternity, it
may be stated that the Greek word kosmos (world) is generally rendered in the
Syriac version by olm, as in John 1:10 (thrice), John 17:24, where the Syriac has,
"preceding the disruption of the eon." The Syriac Version knew nothing about an
eternity, and nothing in it is called eternal.
The ancient Gothic version is of peculiar interest to the
English-speaking and German-speaking peoples. In it are preserved the sole relies of a
Germanic tongue spoken round 350 A.D., which was very closely akin to the old German and
old English spoken about that time. It was translated 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 even reproduces the pronunciation of Greek words, where these are
transliterated. Needless to say, being entirely free from the influence of Jerome's Latin
version, it does not contain Latin terms such as perish, damnation, perdition, torment,
eternal, punishment. It uses exclusively what were then native German words, very simple
and elementary. The Gothic is the first rendering of the Scriptures into any Teutonic
tongue. The Goths were a very virile people from the North of Europe, who dominated most
of Europe about the time this version was produced by Wulfila. Spreading southwards, they
overran Greece and Italy, and captured Rome in 410 A.D. Eventually they seem to have died
out of the Mediterranean countries, and as a distinct people they became lost to history.
To show how close Gothic comes to modern English, it may be pointed out
that the following words are either spelt or sounded exactly the same in each: all, arm,
blind, brother, corn, daughter, door, dumb, finger, full, grass, hand, heart, hard, lamb,
land, light, little, lust, while, white, year, young.
Very often the Gothic preserves the truth where modern English and
German versions have become corrupt. Thus where the Anglo-Saxon version and the Authorized
Version often put life instead of soul, the Gothic has soul (saiwal), as Wiclif
generally has also. In Luke 6:1, where the A.V. has, "on the second sabbath after the
first" (C.V. "on the second first sabbath"), Wiclif has "in the
secunde first saboth," the Anglo has "on the after rest- day first," while
the Gothic, one thousand years before Wiclif's time, has, "in sabbath second
first" (in sabbato antharamma frumin). The Vulgate is also here correct.
Similarly, in Mark 16:9, the Vulgate and the Gothic support the C.V. ("in the
morning, in the first sabbath"), the Gothic reading "in morning, in first
sabbath" (in maurgin frumin sabbato). Wiclif here departs from the Vulgate by
putting, "erly in the first day of the wouk," while Tyndale is also wrong, with
"the morowe after the sabboth daye."
How then does the Gothic render the Greek eon and eonian? For the
adjective it has in every one out of twenty-four occurrences aiweinos, not very
dissimilar from the Greek aiõnios. For the noun aiõn it shows aiws
(or aivs) twenty out of twenty-five times, once it has life libains, 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 (yon eon, that eon), in
the eon to come, from the beginning of the eon. In 2 Tim.1:9 the Gothic reads, faur
mela aiweina (before eonian times), and in 2 Cor. 4:4, guth this aiwis (the god
of this eon).
Unfortunately, we are not able to tell how the Gothic read in most of
Paul's epistles and the Unveiling, as little has come down to us except parts of the four
The Coptic version, made probably about the end of the second century,
for use in Egypt, and still used there, appears to render the Hebrew olm and the
Greek aiõn by eneh, a word which is defined in Coptic dictionaries as
meaning nothing more than "time."
The Armenian version 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, from which the translator worked, would possess."
For the Greek aion it generally uses yavidyan, a word
meaning eon. Sometimes ashkharh, meaning "world," is used instead. In
Eph.2:2 (C.V. "the eon of this world") the two words are used together, yavidyeni
ashkharhis, meaning the same as does the C.V. All the special expressions in the Greek
containing aion (which are unknown to classical Greek) are found reproduced in the
Armenian. In the Psalms, the same expressions which are found in the Septuagint occur in
the Armenian, such as "for the eon and for the eon of the eon."
The root of the word yavidyan is yaved, which is shown in
Armenian dictionaries as meaning "more, at most, a great deal." There is a verb,
yavyeloum, which means to "add, increase, augment, grow." Yavidyan
is defined as "age, life, world," but when used in a theological sense, it is
obliged to take on the opposite meaning, of "eternity, perpetuity."
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, showing the plural form. In Heb.9:26 it reads, "at
the conclusion of the eon" (l-chlqth olm). In Eph.3:21 it reads, "in every
generation and for the eon of the eon" b-kl-thuld u-l-olm olm). In the Psalms
it has a few times, as in 45:17, 48:14, and 52:8, "for the eon and for the eon of the
eon" l-olm, u-l-olm olm. That this word olm assuredly could not signify
"eternity" is placed beyond all doubt by the fact that it is also used to
represent the Greek word for world (kosmos) generally, as throughout John 17. It also
stands for the Greek word for era kairos, as in Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30, and even
for generation genea as in Luke 16:8.
Old English versions were made not from the Greek, but from the Latin
Vulgate, between the years 680 and 995. The four Gospels were done, and probably other
parts. The Latin adjective aeternum (which Jerome used for eonian) is always
rendered by the little word ece. Where Jerome for the noun has seculum, the
Old English uses worulde (world) in all sixteen cases. Where Jerome has in
aeternum, the Old English eight times has ecnysse, five times never
(with a negative in the Latin), and once ever. The two words, ece and world,
will amply repay a little investigation.
The once very common English word ece, which can be traced down
till about 1260 (although it disappeared as an adjective soon after that), is stated to
come from the Old English verb ecan, meaning to "prolong, augment,
increase." The word survives as a verb, to eke, meaning to add, lengthen, and as an
adverb, meaning, also, in addition. A nickname was originally "an eke name,"
that is, an added name. In Scottish Law, an eik is an addition to a legal document.
The reason why the simple word ece was forced out of English
probably was that it was too equivocal. Theology was trying to make it stand for
"everlasting," whereas it only meant "lasting." These latter terms
were to take its place, as in Cursor Mundi (The Course of the World, a metrical version of
Bible history, written about 1320), which has the line, "Through Jesus come to life
lasting" (Thoru Jhesu com to liif lastand). 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. We may speak of the world before the Flood as meaning the race of mankind that
lived then, or society as it then existed, or we may speak of it as meaning the physical
earth 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 only 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. Then it came to mean the physical earth on which the
generations of men lived, and in much more recent times it came to be used of others
It might here be remarked that an extraordinary change was going on in
English speech between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries. Up till the year 950
there was very little admixture of Latin or Danish words. The result of the Danish
invasion meant that thousands of fine old poetic words became lost. From 1200 to 1280 was
the most disastrous of all periods. A great many prose words disappeared, and the upper
classes discarded English for French. For about eighty years after 1280 there was a vast
inroad of French words to take the place of English words driven out of circulation, or
forced to become merely dialectal. From 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 was raging in England from 1300 to 1500 that
caused many words to take on new meanings or lose their old meanings. These facts have
been noted briefly merely because of their connection with John Wiclif, and so that we may
understand more clearly his usage of the word world."
WICLIF AND HIS VERSION
John Wiclif was probably the first person to translate the whole Bible
into the English tongue. He was born about 1320, at the time when the language of England
was in the melting-pot. He commenced by translating the Unveiling in 1356, and, with the
help of collaborators, finished the entire Bible by 1382. Two years later he died. Well
did he live up to one of his sayings, that "Christian men ought to travail night and
day about text of holy writ." He is noteworthy as having been described as the one
Englishman who during the past eleven hundred years was able to mold Christian thought on
the continent of Europe. Not only was his private life irreproachable, but in his
opposition to the claims of the Roman Church he was without fear of any man. In addition,
he was a true scholar, and wrote a great many books, mostly in Latin. These became very
popular in Bohemia (now part of the modern Czecho-Slovakia), as King Richard II of England
had married the devout Princess Anne of Bohemia, a lover of the Scriptures. While at
Prague university, John Huss came under the influence of Wiclif's writings, and in 1415 he
was burnt at the stake for his faith. The followers of Huss became very numerous, and
long-continued wars against them failed to extirpate them. Their powerful influence spread
to the neighboring parts of Germany, including Saxony, where Martin Luther was born, who
became a fearless champion of the Scriptures.
The Latin Vulgate version dominated Europe for the thousand years which
lay between Jerome and Wiclif, and longer. No one seems to have thought in those times of
a Greek original, and in any case, the Greek language was all but forgotten in Europe. The
Catholic 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 to note his views
concerning the future. We shall find that his language differs markedly from that used by
the various translations which were 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 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 Version
been the next English version to be made after Wiclif'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 thus paved the way for it. Though 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 brought in "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.
As has been stated, Wiclif used "world" to represent the
Latin seculum, which Jerome used for the Greek aion. Instead of the modern
"for ever" and "for ever and ever," twenty-nine times he has "in
to worldis" or "in to worldis of worldis." In Luke 1:70 he has "from
the world," where the A.V. has "since the beginning of the world" (C.V.
"from the eon"). In Eph.3:9 he has "fro worldis," where the A.V. has
"from the beginning of the world" (C.V. "from the eons"). In Rev.15:3
he has "king of worldis," where the A.V. has "king of saints" (marg.
nations, or ages. C.V. "king of the eons"). In 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" (C.V. "for the eon of the eon"). The
following renderings from Eph.3:21 may be contrasted:
|| "in to alle the
generaciouns of the worldis."
|| "thorowout all generacions
from tyme to tyme."
|| "throughout all generations
|| "unto al generations
world without end."
|| "at all times for
ever and ever."
|| "throughout all ages,
world without end."
|| "for all the generations
of the eon of the eons."
In Heb.9:26 Wiclif has "in the endyng of
worldis," where the Rheims version also retains the plural, "in the consummation
of the worldes." Tyndale, Coverdale, Cranmer and the Genevan all corrupt this into
"in the ende of the worlde," which is followed by the A.V. (C.V "at the
conclusion of the eons"). Similarly, in Heb.11:3, Wiclif and the Rheims preserve the
plural "worlds," corresponding to the Vulgate seculums (C.V. "the
eons"). In 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;" C V. "for the eons").
In 1 Peter 4:11, Wiclif has "in to the worldis of worldis."
Tyndale wished to bring in eternity, and at the same time retain "world." He
therefore rendered by "for ever and whyll the worlde stondeth." The other
versions of about his time relapse into "for ever and ever."
In Psalm 90:2 anyone can see how much more faithful Wiclif is to the
Hebrew, which reads, "from olam until olam Thou art Deity."
|| "from everlasting to everlasting, thou art
|| "thou art God from everlastinge and worlde
with out ende."
|| "from the world and into the world thou
We have seen that the Latin Vulgate had an extraordinary
reading in Exodus 15:18, "into eternity and further." This must have seemed very
strange to Wiclif and his assistants. They might have compromised by putting what the
later versions put, "for ever and ever." But they wished to be as faithful as
their light allowed them. Considering that they understood by "world" what we
now understand by eon, it is greatly to their credit that we should find them rendering
this, five hundred and fifty years ago by, "The Lord schal regne in to the world, and
A rendering of Wiclif which it is stated "many will find
preferable to the Authorized Version" is found in John 11:26, "Eehe that lyveth
and bileveth in me schal not die withouten ende" for "shall never die."
Only three times does Wiclif use the word never. None of these has any reference to life
or salvation. In Mark 11:14 and John 13:8 he had:
|| "Now never ete ony man fruyt of thee
|| "No longer may anyone be eating fruit of
you for the eon."
|| "Thou schalt never waische my feet."
|| "Under no circumstances should you be
washing my feet for the eon."
But in the revision of Wiclif's Bible by Purvey (1388)
this is altered to "now no more with outen ende" in the former case, while the
latter reads, "Thou schalt not waische to me the feet in to with outen ende." In
fact, Purvey altered about half or more of the occurrences of "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
might be, and certainly later was, misunderstood. They must have had more than a suspicion
that "without end" 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, so Wiclif looked on the coming eons as periods whose ends
were not defined. What we call the eon he called the "with outen ende."
What did Wiclif understand by this word? We have seen that about his
time the word was coming to take on a new meaning which it never had before, that of the
physical world, whereas formerly it had only referred to the transient world of humanity
as seen in connection with the passing course of time. Wiclif used it in the old primitive
sense, as equivalent to eon. This was the sense in which the word was used in the Old
English versions, for seven hundred years before Wiclif. To express the physical world or
earth, Old English, and also Old German, used another term, middan-geard (middle-yard or
ward), which was the middle region between heaven above and the region below. A sermon on
Matt.24:43 once much preached by Dan Michel of Northgate (1340), but very popular long
before his time, contains the words, "Those that dwell in Thine house for worlds of
worlds" (tho thet wonyeth ine thyne house in wordles of wordles). No one could have
understood "worlds of worlds" as meaning a succession of new earths or of
planets. The words meant ages, or eons.
Wiclif, it would seem, came near to restoring a great truth to its
proper place. Had be had the Greek text before him, there is little doubt that 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 "Synonyms of the New Testament," Archbishop Trench
draws a contrast between kosmos (world) and aion (eon), both of which are
rendered in the Authorized Version 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 (seculum), 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. In a note he shows 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, two
very distinct syllables are still heard. The former part of the word consists of wer, a
man (like the Latin vir, as in virile, and the -er in words like speaker,
also the wer- in werwolf, 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 shown by the old Gothic version, which, in 2 Tim.4: 10 has, for "this
present world" (C.V. "the current eon"), the reading, tho nu ald,
meaning, "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, whom he calls 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, has 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 this 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 have full light regarding
the eons to come, yet it seems extraordinary that he could have seen so much as he did,
when we consider that he had to depend altogether on the blurred light and inconsistent
evidence of the Latin Vulgate. Many there are today, who, with all the clear evidence of
the Greek Scriptures set out before them, deliberately reject the terms which God has seen
fit to use, and fall back on expressions which are certainly not found in the
Scriptures. They imagine that the teaching regarding the eons is a modern invention. One
such, an educated man, who passes for a scholar, and has written a book dealing with the
Greek language, recently made the charge regarding the term eonian in the CONCORDANT
VERSION that it is a word "which looks as if it had been coined for the
purpose!" It required to be pointed out to him that this was exactly the expression
used by God frequently in the Scriptures, and that the terms he preferred, such as
"eternal" and "everlasting," had really no authority in revelation.
One fine old book, published in 1761 and entitled "Universal
Restitution," consists of well over four hundred pages showing forth proofs that
"eonian" is the proper scriptural term to use. We shall close our review by
giving a few extracts. "Christ is the very God of the aeons, and may be called the
aeonian God and King, not on account of his eternal nature, but because he shall reign
aeonianly, as universal king; and because he is most strictly speaking the God of the
aeonian life....and also because the ages or aeons are all under his government and
direction" "In this view of things death, and hell, and pain, and sorrow, appear
to be (not as usually looked upon, accidental creatures that stole into existence by a
sort of chance, or some kind of inadvertency in God, but) the provisionary creatures of
God's wisdom, and goodness; preordained, by reason of a fitness in their nature, to
produce, in the contingent casualties fore-seen, the great events of his benevolence, and
communicative inclinations; which, when they shall have fully served (being creatures of a
temporary, and aeonian consistence) they must vanish and be no more."
Thus briefly would we summarize the conclusions we have arrived at. The
facts of revelation regarding the eons having been early obscured and lost, and the Greek
Church having declined, the Latin Church, with its own version, rose into prominence. The
Latin version was only a translation, and was therefore not inspired. It changed the
import of certain very important inspired time-words as found in the Greek, and gave them
a different shade of meaning. The effect was sufficient to produce an utterly distorted
outlook on the entire future, and to make God appear to be at one and the same time both a
loving Father and a cruel and capricious monsterin fact, no God at all. The
Reformation, which was a reformation along certain lines only, instead of undoing and
reversing this grievous error of the Latin Church, actually confirmed it and established
it. On the other hand, every ancient version of the Scriptures, and every modern or
medieval translation, either by its consistency where it is consistent, or by its
inconsistency, proves the CONCORDANT VERSION to be correct in its
renderings of the words under examination. Every translation which does not consistently
use the words "eon" and "eonian," or "age" and
"age-abiding," or some such terms, is obliged to make use of at least two
mutually contradictory expressions.
Verily indeed, it is a strong claim which we make on behalf of the
CONCORDANT VERSION, but we make it without fear of its being refuted, and without fear of
any opposition, that it is the only version, which, by its system, adequately
recognizes the Scriptures as God-breathed.
This article was originally serialized in Unsearchable
Riches magazine (Vol. 26, Nos. 5 & 6, Sept. and Nov. 1935). They were later reprinted
in booklet form, with some alterations from this text, under the title "Whence