The oldest lexicographer, Hesychius, (A. D. 400-600,) definesaion thus: "The life of man, the time of life." At this early date no theologian had yet imported into the word the meaning of endless duration. It retained only the sense it had in the classics, and in the Bible.
Theodoret(9) (A. D. 300-400) "Aion is not any existing thing, but an interval denoting time, sometimes infinite when spoken of God, sometimes proportioned to the duration of the creation, and sometimes to the life of man."
John of Damascus (A. D. 750,) says, "1, The life of every man is called aion. . . . 3, The whole duration or life of this world is called aion. 4, The life after the resurrection is called 'the aion to come.' "
But in the sixteenth century Phavorinus was compelled to notice an addition, which subsequently to the time of the famous Council of 544 had been grafted on the word. He says: "Aion, time, also life, also habit, or way of life. Aion is also the eternal and endlessAS IT SEEMS TO THE
THEOLOGIAN." Theologians had succeeded in using the word in the sense of endless, and Phavorinus was forced to recognize their usage of it and his phraseology shows conclusively enough that he attributed to theologians the authorship of that use of the word. Alluding to this definition, Rev. Ezra S. Goodwin, one of the ripest scholars and profoundest critics, says,(10) "Here I strongly suspect is the true secret brought to light of the origin of the sense of eternity in aion. The theologian first thought he perceived it, or else he placed it there. The theologian keeps it there, now. And the theologian will probably retain it there longer than any one else. Hence it is that those lexicographers who assign eternity as one of the meanings of aion uniformly appeal for proofs to either theological, Hebrew, or Rabbinical Greek, or some species of Greek subsequent to the age of the Seventy, if not subsequent to the age of the Apostles, so far a I can ascertain."
The second definition by Phavorinus is extracted literally from the "Etymologicon Magnum" of the ninth or tenth century. This gives us the usage from the fourth to the sixteenth century, and shows us that, if the word meant endless at the time of Christ, it must have changed from limited duration in the classics, to unlimited duration, and then back again, at the dates above specified!
From the sixteenth century onward, the word has been defined as used to denote all lengths of duration from brief to endless. We record here such definitions as we have found.
Rost: (German definitions) " Aion, duration, epoch, long time, eternity, memory of man, life-time, life, age of man. Aionios, continual, always enduring, long continued, eternal."
Hedericus: "An age, eternity, an age a if always being; time of man's life in the memory of men, (wicked men, New Testament,) the spinal marrow. Aionios, eternal, everlasting, continual."
Schleusner: "Any space of time whether longer or shorter, past, present or future, to be determined by the persons or things spoken of, and the scope of the subjects; the life or age of man. Aionios, a definite and long period of time, that is, a long enduring, but still definite period of time."
Passow: " Aionios, long continued, eternal, everlasting, in the classics.
Grove: "Eternity; and age, life, duration, continuance of time; a revolution of ages, a dispensation of Providence, this world or life; the world or life to come. Aionios, eternal, immortal, perpetual, former, past, ancient."
Donnegan: "Time; space of time; life time and life; the ordinary period of man's life; the age of man; man's estate; a long period of time; eternity; the spinal marrow. Aionios, of long duration, lasting, eternal, permanent."
Ewing: "Duration, finite or infinite; a period of duration, past or future; an age; duration of the world; ages of the world; human life in this world, or the next; our manner of life in the world; and age of divine dispensation, the ages, generally reckoned three, that before law, that under the law, and that under the Messiah. Aionios, (from preceding,) ages of the world, periods of the dispensatins since the world began."
Schrevelius: "An age, a long period of time; indefinite duration, time, whether longer or shorter, past, present or future; also, in the New Testament, the wicked men of the age, life, the life of man. Aionios, of long duration, lasting, sometimes everlasting, sometimes lasting through life as sturnus in Latin."
Dr. Taylor, who wrote the Hebrew Bible three times with his own hand, says of Olam, (Greek Aion) it signifies a duration which is concealed, as being of an unknown or great length. "It signifies eternity, not from the proper force of the word, but when the sense of the place or the nature of the subject require it, as God and his attributes."
Pickering: Almost identical with Schrevelius in his definitions.
Hinks: "A period of time; and age, an after time, eternity. Aionios, lasting, eternal, of old, since the beginning."
Lutz: "An age, time, eternity. Aionios, durable, eternal."
Macknight: (Scotch Presbyterian.) "These words being ambiguous, are always to be understood according to the nature and circumstances to which they are applied." He thinks the words sustain endless punishment, but adds: "At the same time I must be so candid as to acknowledge that the use of these terms, forever, eternal and everlasting, in other passages of Scripture, shows that they who understand these words in a limited sense, when applied to punishment, put no forced interpretation upon them.
Wright: "Time, age, life-time, period, revolution of ages, dispensation of Providence, present world, or life, world to come, eternity. Aionios, eternal, ancient."
Robinson: "Life, also an age, that is an indefinite long period of time, perpetuity, ever, forever, eternity, forever, without end, to the remotest time, forever and ever, of old, from everlasting, the world, present or future, this world and the next, present world, men of this world, world itself, advent of Messiah. Aionios, perpetual, everlasting, eternal, chiefly spoken of future time, ancient."
Jones: "An everlasting age, eternal, forever, a period of time, age, life, the present world, or life; the Jewish dispensation; a good demon, angel as supposed to exist forever . . . Aionios, everlasting, ancient."
Schweighauser and Valpyv substantially agree.
Maclaine, in his Mosheim: Aion or son among the ancients, was used to signify the age of man, or the duration of human life."
Cruden: "The words eternal, everlasting, forever, are sometimes taken for a long time, and are not always to be understood strictly, for example, 'Thou shalt be our guide form this time forth, even forever,' that is, during our whole life."
Alex. Campbell: "ITS RADICAL IDEA IS INDEFINITE DURATION."
Whitby: "Nothing is more common and familiar in Scripture than to render a thorough and irreparable vastation, whose effects and signs should be still remaining, by the word aionios, which we render eternal." Hammond, Benson, and Gilpin, in notes on Jude 7, say the same. Liddell and Scott also give to aion, in the poets the sense of life and lifetime, as also an age or generation.
Pearce (in Matt. 7:33) says: "The Greek word aion, seems to signify age here, as it often does in the New Testament, and according to its most proper signification." Clarke, Wakefield, Boothroyd, Simpson, Lindsey, Mardon, Acton, agree. So do Locke, Hammond, Le Clerc, Beausobre, Lenfant, Dodridge, Paulus, Kenrick and Olshausen.
T. Southwood Smith: "Sometimes it signifies the term of human life; at other times an age, or dispensation of Providence. Its most common signification is that of age or dispensation."
Scarlett: "That aionion, does not mean endless or eternal, may appear from considering that no adjective can have a greater force than the noun from which it is derived. If aion means age (which none either will or can deny) then aionion must mean age-lasting, or duration through the age or ages to which the thing spoken or relates."
Even Professor Stuart is obliged to say: "The most common and appropriate meaning of aion in the New Testament, and the one which corresponds with the Hebrew word olam, and which therefore deserves the first rank in regard to order, I put down first: an indefinite period of time; time without limitation; ever, forever, time without end, eternity, all in relation to future time. The different shades by which the word is rendered, depend on the object with which aionios is associated, or to which it has relation, rather than to any difference in the real meaning of the word."
J. W. Haley *says: "The Hebrew word 'olam' rendered 'forever,' does not imply the metaphysical idea of absolute endlessness, but a period of indefinite length, as Rambach says, a very long time, the end of which is hidden from us." Olam or olim is the Hebrew equivalent of aion.
Dr. Edward Beecher(11) remarks, "It commonly means merely continuity of action . . . all attempts to set forth eternity as the original and primary sense of aion are at war with the facts of the Greek language for five centuries, in which it denoted life and its derivative senses, and the sense eternity was unknown." And he also says what is the undoubted fact, "that the original sense of aion is not eternity. . . . It is conceded on all hands that this (life) was originally the general use of the word. In the Paris edition of Henry Stephens' Lexicon it is affirmed emphatically "that life, or the space of life, is the primitive sense of the word, and that it is always so used by Homer, Hesiod, and the old poets; also by Pindar and the tragic writers, as well as by Herodotus and Xenophon."
"Pertaining to the world to come," is the sense given to "These shall go away into everlasting punishment," by Prof. Tayler Lewis, who adds (12) "The preacher in contending with the Universalist and the Restorationist, would commit an error, and it may be suffer a failure in his argument, should he lay the whole stress of it on the etymological of historical significance of the words aion, aionios, and attempt to prove that of themselves they necessarily carry the meaning of endless duration. 'These shall go away into the restraint, imprisonment of the world to come,' is all we can etymologically or exegetically make of the word in this passage."
* "An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible," p.216.
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