The noun is found 394 times, and the adjective 110 times in the Old Testament. We will give instances of its use, that the reader may see that limited duration is the sense it carries, and we print the words translated from aion aionion in italics.
Gen. 6:4, "Mighty men which were of old, men of renown." Gen. 9:12; God's covenant with Noah was "for perpetual generations." Gen. 9:16; The rainbow is the token of "the everlasting covenant" between God and "all flesh that is upon earth." Gen. 13:15; God gave the land to Abram and his seed 'forever'. Dr. T. Clowes says of this passage that it signifies the duration of human life, and he adds, "let no one be surprised that we use the word Olam (Aion) in this limited sense. This is one of the most usual significations of the Hebrew olam and the Greek aion." In Isa. 58:12, it is rendered "old" and "foundations." "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations." In Jer. 18:15-16, ancient and perpetual. "They have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; to make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing." Such instances may be cited to an indefinite extent. Ex. 15:18. "for ever and ever, and further." Ex. 12:17, "Ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance forever." Numb. 10:8, "For an ordinance forever, throughout your generations." "Your generations" is here idiomatically given as the precise equivalent of "forever." Canaan was given as an "everlasting possession;" (Gen. 17:8, 48:4; Lev. 24:8-9) the hills are everlasting (Hab.3:6) the priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 40: 15; Numb. 25:13; Lev. 16:34) was to exist forever, and continue through everlasting duration. Solomon's temple was to last forever, (1 Chron. 17:12) though it has long since ceased to be; slaves were to remain in bondage forever (Lev. 25:46) though every fiftieth year all Hebrew servants were to be set at liberty. (Lev. 25:10) Jonah suffered an imprisonment behind the everlasting bars of earth, (Jon. 2:6) the smoke of Idumea was to ascend forever, (Isa 34:10) though it no longer rises; to the Jews God says (Jer. 32:40) "and I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten;" and yet, after the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in, Israel will be retored. Rom. 11:25-26.
Not only in all these and multitudes of other cases does the word mean limited duration, but it is also used in the plural, thus debarring it from the sense of endless, as there can be but one eternity. In Dan. 12:3, the literal reading, if we allow the word to mean eternity, is, "to eternities and farther." Micah 4:5, "We will walk in the name of the Lord our God to eternity, and beyond," Ps. 119:44, "So shall I keep thy law continually, forever and ever." This is the strongest combination of the aionian phraseology: eis ton aiona kai eis ton aiona tou aionos, and yet it is David's promise of fidelity as long as he lives among them that "reproach" him, in "the house of his pilgrimage." Ps. 148:6, "The sun and moon, the stars of light, and even the water above the heavens are established forever," and yet the firmament is one day to become as a folded garment, and the orbs of heaven are to be no more. Endless duration is out of the question in these and many similar instances. This is the general usage: Eccl. 1:10, "Is there anything whereof it may be said, see, this is new! it hath been already of old time, which was before us." Ps. 25:6, "Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy loving kindnesses; for they have been even of old." Ps. 119:52, "I remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord; and have comforted myself." Isa. 46:9, "Remember the former things of old." Isa. 64:4, "since the beginning of the world." Jer. 28:8, "The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied both against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence." Jer. 2:20, "For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands." Prov. 8:23, "I (wisdom) was set up from everlasting from the beginning, or ever the earth was." Here aionos and "before the world was," are in opposition. Ps. 73:12, "Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world." Deut. 32:7, "Remember the days of old." Isa 1:9, "Generations of old." Micah 7:14, "Days of old."—Same in Malachi 2:4. Ps. 48:14, "For this God is our God, for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death." This plural form denotes "even unto death." Christ's kingdom is prophesied as destined to endure "forever," "without end," etc. Dan. 2:44; Isa. 59:21; Ps. 110:4; Isa. 9:7; Ps. 89:29. Now if anything is taught in the Bible, it is that Christ's kingdom shall end. In 1 Corin. 15, it is expressly and explicitly declared that Jesus shall surrender the kingdom to God the Father, that his reign shall entirely cease. Hence, when we read in such passages as Dan. 2:44, that Christ's kingdom shall stand forever, we must understand that the forever denotes the reign of Messiah, bounded by "the end," when God shall be "all in all."
Servants were declared to be bound forever, when all servants were emancipated every fifty years. Thus in Deut. 15:16-17, we read, "And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee, then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant forever."
No one can read the Old Testament carefully and fail to see that the word has a great range of meaning, bearing some such relation to duration as the word great does to size. We say God is infinite when we call him the great God—not because great means infinite, but because God is infinite. The aionion God is of eternal duration, but the aionion smoke of Idumea has expired, and the aionion hills will one day crumble, and all merely aionion things will cease to be.
Prof. Tayler Lewis says, "'One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.' This certainly indicates, not an endless eternity in the strictest sense of the word, but only a future of unlimited length. Ex. 31:16, 'Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.'" Where the context demands it, as "I live forever," spoken of God, he says it means endless duration, for "it is the subject to which it is applied that forces to this, and not any etymological necessity in the world itself."
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