Aei

The word aei from which aion is claimed to grow, is found eight times, (perhaps more, though I have not found it oftener) in the New Testament, and in no one instance does it mean endless. Mark 15:8; Acts 7:51; 2Cor. 4:11; 6:10, Titus, 1:12; Heb. 3:10; 1 Pet. 3:15; 2Pet. 1:12. I give two instances. The multitude desired Pilate to release a prisoner, Mark 15:8: "as he had ever done with them." Heb. 3:10: "They do always err in their heart." An endless duration growing out of a word used thus, would be a curiosity. It is alway, or always, or ever, in each text. Liddell and Scott give more than fifty compounds of aei.

Concerning Aristotle's use of the word in his famous sentence, "Life, an aion continuous and eternal," it is enough to say that if aion intrinsically meant endless, Aristotle never would have sought to strengthen the meaning by adding "continuous" and "eternal," any more than one would say, God has an eternity, continuous and endless. He has a life, an existence, an aion endless, just as man's aion on earth is limited; just as Idumea's smoke in the Old Testament is aionios. Nor, had Aristotle considered aion to mean eternity, would he have said in this very passage: "the time of the life of each individual has been called his aion."

Cremer, Liddel and Scott, Donnegan, and Henry Stephens adopt the Aristotleian origin of the word. Grimm rejects it, and Robinson in his latest editions gives both etymologies without deciding between them. Stephens says: "Aristotle, and after him many other philosophers, as Plotinus and Proclus, introduced the etymology of aion from aei, and thus added the idea of eternity to the word."

But we have shown that the famous passage in Aristotle refers to God, (apo tou aei einai) and not to abstract duration. We have shown that aei is used eight times in the New Testament, and not in the sense of endless, once. We shall prove that Aristotle himself uniformly used the word in the sense of limited duration, and under the head of Classic Usage will hereafter prove that at the time the Old Testament was rendered into Greek, this was the only meaning the word had with any Greek writer. If aeion, is its origin, which is more than doubtful, it cannot mean more than continuous existence, the precise length to be determined by accompanying words. Adopt either derivation, and indefinite duration is the easy and natural meaning of the word, if we suffer ourselves to be guided by its etymology. Eternity can only be expressed by it when it is accompanied by other words, denoting endless duration, or by the name of Deity.

All will agree that words may change their meaning, and therefore that etymology is an uncertain guide. If etymology point in one direction, and usage in another, the former must yield; but if both utter one fact, each reinforces and strengthens the other. This we have illustrated by the etymology of 'prevent.' Hundreds of words teach the same truth. Words start out with a certain meaning, and change it in process of time. If aion really meant eternity when it was first pronounced, it would not follow that it has this meaning now. That it had not that meaning at first would not hinder it from being thus used subsequently. Etymology proves nothing one way or the other, its evidence is but prima facie; usage is the only decisive authority. But etymology gives no warrant for applying the idea of eternity to the word.

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