Classic Usage

Before the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek (200-300 B. C., according to Prideaux, or during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, 384-347 B. C., say other authorities) this word was in commoon use by the Greeks. Homer, Hesiod, AEschylus, Pindar, Sophocles, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Empedocles, Euripedes, Philoctetes, and Plato, all use the word, but never once does one of them give it the sense of eternity. Homer says"

(Priam to Hector) "Thyself shall be deprived of pleasant aionios," (life). Andromache over dead Hector, "Husband, thou hast perished from aionos," (life or time). Hesiod: "To him (the married man) during aionos (life) evil is constantly striving, etc." Aeschylus: "This life, (aion) seems long, etc."

"Jupiter, king of the never-ceasing world" (aionos apaustau). Pindar: "A long life produces the four virtues." (Ela de kai tessares aretas ho makros aion.) Sophocles: "Endeavor to remain the same in mind as long as you live." Aristotle: "The entire heaven is one and eternal (aidios) having neither beginning nor end of an entire aion." The adjective is never found until Plato. He uses aion eight times, aionios five, diaionios once, and makraion twice. Of course if he regarded aion as meaning eternity, he would not prefix the word meaning long to add duration to it.

Plato uses the adjective to denote indefinite duration. Referring to certain souls in Hades, he describes them as in aionion intoxication. But that he does not use the word in the sense of endless is evident form the Phaedon, where he says, it is a very ancient opinion that souls quitting this world, repair to the infernal relgions, and return after that, to live in this world. After the aionion intoxication is over, they return to earth, which demonstrates that the word was not used by him as meaning endless. Again, he speaks of that which is indestructible, (anolethron) and not aionion. He places the two words in contrast, whereas, had he intended to use aionion as meaning endless, he would have said indestructible and aionion.

Aristotle uses the word in the same sense. He says of the earth, "All these things seem to be done for her good, in order to maintain safety during her aionos," duration, or life. And still more to the purpose is this quotation concerning God's existence: "Life and 'an aion continuous and eternal, zoe kai aion sunekes kai aidios.'" Here the word aidios, (eternal) is employed to qualify aion and impart to it what it had not of itself, the sense of eternal. Aristotle could be guilty of no such language as "an eternal eternity." Had the word aion contained the idea of eternity in his time, or in his mind, he would not have added aidios.

Ezra S. Goodwin, in the Christian Examiner, sums up an exhaustive examnation of the word in the Greek classics, thus: "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 Geek subsequent to the age of the Seventy, if not subsequent to the age of the apostles, so far as I can ascertain. I do not know of an instance in which any lexicographer has produced the usage of ancient classical Greek, in evidence that aion means eternity. Ancient classical Greek rejects it altogether.

So when the seventy translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and rendered the Hebrew olam, (or gnolam) into aion and its reduplications, they must have understood that aion meant indefinite duration, for that was its uniform usage in the Greek at that time. When Jesus quoted from the Old Testament he quoted from the Septuagint, and when he used the word aionion, he used it with the exact meaning it had in Greek literature, to denote indefinite duration. This will appear as we examine:

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