Lexicography

Indefinite duration is the real meaning of the word. The oldest lexicographer is Hesychius, (A. D. 400) and he defines it thus:"The life of man, the time of life." Theodoret, at the same time gives this definition; "Aion is not an 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 (S. 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.'" Phavorinus (sixteenth century) shows that theologians had corrupted the word. He says: "Aion, time, also life, also habit, or way of life. Aion is also the eternal and endless as 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. 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 a long period of time, that is, a long enduring, but still definite period of time." Grove: Aion "Eternity; an 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, eternity, immortal, perpetual, forever, past, ancient." Macknight: (Scotch Presbyterian) "These words being ambiguous, are always to be understood according to the nature and circumstances to which they are applied. They who understand these words in a limited sense, when applied to punishment, put no forced interpretation upon them." Alex. Campbell: "Its radical idea is indefinite duration." 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 of relates." 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; eternity; the spinal marrow. Aionios, of long duration, lasting, eternal, permanent." Dr. Taylor, who wrote the Hebrew Bible three times with his own hand, said 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 requires it, as God and his attributes."

The definitions of other lexicographers and critics are to the same purport. We name: Schrevelius, Schweighauser, Valpey, Haley, Lutz, Wright, Benson, Gilpin, Clarke, Wakefield, Boothroyd, Simpson, Lindsey, Mardon, Acton, Locke, Hammond, Rost, Pickering, Hincks, Ewing, Pearce, Whitby, Le Clerc, Beausobre, Doddridge, Paulus, Kenrick, Lenfant, Olshausen, etc.

Dr. Edward Beecher 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." "Pertaining to the world to come," is the sense given to "These shall go away into everlasting punishment," by Prof Tayler Lewis, who adds: "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 or historical significance of the words aion, aionios and attempt to prove that of themselves they necessarlly 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."— His. Fut. ret.

Undoubtedly the definition given by Schleusner is the accurate one: "Duration determined by the subject to which it is applied.' Thus it only expresses the idea of endlessness when connected with what is endless, i.e. God. The word great is an illustrative word. Great applied to a tree, or mountain, or man, denotes different degrees, all finite, but when referring to God, it has the sense of infinite. Infinity does not reside in the word great, but it has that meaning when applied to God. It does not impart it to God, it derives it from him. So of aionion; applied to Jonah's residence in the fish, it means seventy hours; to the punishments of a merciful God, as long as is necessary to vindicate his law and reform his children; to God hinmself, eternity. What great is to size, aionios is to duration. Human beings live from a few hours to a century; nations from a century to thousands of years; and worlds, for aught that we know, from a few to many millions of years, and God is eternal. So that when we see the word applied to a human life, it denotes somewhere from a few days to a hundred years; when it is applied to a nation, it denotes anywhere from a century to ten thousand years, more or less, and when to God it means endless. In other words it denotes indefinite duration.

Dr. Beecher well observes: "The word olam, as affirmed by Taylor and Fuerst in their Hebrew Concordance means an indefinite period, age past or future and not an absolute eternity. When applied to God, the idea of eternity is derived from him, and not from the word."

This is the deduction as we study the lexicography of the word. It expresses the indefinite duration according to the subject with which it is connected.*

*See "Aion-Aionios," by J. W. Hanson, D.D., for an exhaustive treatise on the lixicography, etymology, classic usage and of the usage of the Old and New Testaments, and of the Christian Fathers.

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