"Whosoever shall entertain high and vaporous imaginations instead of a laborious and sober inquiry of truth, shall beget hopes and beliefs of strange and impossible shapes."
HIGH UP IN THE NORTH, in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is 100 miles high and 100 miles wide. Once every 1000 years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has thus been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.
This apocryphal story, with variations, has no making rounds for years in philosophical and theological circles to illustrate how long eternity is. John Stuart Mill's observation is appropriate. "There is no subject on which men's practical belief is more incorrectly indicated by the words they use to express it, than religion." Even Darwin cautioned that a false hypothesis was not as dangerous as a false observation. A false hypothesis may at least enable us to advance the organization of material; but everything that is based on a false observation has to be completely undone before we can start again.
SUPPRESS THE TRUTH, SUGGEST THE FALSE
In jurisprudence suppressio veri is deemed an offense equal to suggestio falsi. Yet some theologians commit this very offense when they suppress the truth by suggesting the false regarding the doctrine of the eons: they convert an unpleasant fact into a pleasant nonfact. They suppress the truth about the eons (which they deem an unpleasant fact) by the suggestion of the false (the pleasant nonfact of eternity). Aristotle's aphorism is appropriate: The larger the island of knowledge, the greater the coastline of ignorance.
The story with which this article began does not uncover our subject, but rather covers it. The dense darkness which shrouds this subject can be banished only by "God Who says...out of darkness light shall be shining...He Who shines in our hearts, with a view to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
RELIGION'S INFUSIONS OF THE FALSE AND GOD'S
REVELATION OF THE TRUTH
The doctrine concerning the eons is crucial to an understanding of God's purpose and His dealings with Christ and the cosmos and His creatures. In the Scriptures God does not make sin endless, nor death eternal, nor estrangement everlasting, nor punishment forever, as these italicized words are commonly used in spoken and written dialogue, and thus falsely invested with duration by religion's theology.
Whether the ages (or eons) are eternal cannot be determined by the word itself. It must be decided by an appeal to that which alone can determine the meaning of a word--its usage. How is the word age (or eon) used in the Scriptures? In His Word, are age-times "eternal"? In His Word, is punishment "everlasting"? In His Word, is torment "endless"? There are other terms by which endlessness can be described, but God used none of them in connection with these subjects. We repeat: there are terms for endlessness in the Greek, but He used none of them in connection with sin, death, estrangement or punishment.
DISCORDANT ENGLISH WORDS
A key to a more thorough and happier understanding of the Scriptures is a comprehension of the truth concerning the ages or eons. Eon is simply the Greek word aion brought over into English without translation. No one should object to the word eon (instead of age), the more so as the Greek Original also uses the adjective aionios which should be rendered eonian, instead of age-abiding, age-during, age-lasting, or even everlasting. Eon occurs 128 times in the New Testament, eonian 71 times (KEYWORD CONCORDANCE, pages 90, 91). Thus, instead of having these two Greek words aion, aionios translated by various discordant English words, we can be sure we are not importing into the two our own ideas if we transliterate them uniformly, eon for the noun, eonian for the adjective.
"THE OLAM" DOES NOT MEAN "THE UNIVERSE"
The traditional Jewish morning blessing is: Adonai our God, King of the Universe, I call you blessed for giving strength to the weary. Here "Universe" is made to represent olam, which really means eon. Thus we see the pernicious practice of confusing the universe with the olam. Similarly, we find in Matthew 24:3 (AV): "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world?" Here the "world" is confused with the aion. (Concordantly rendered: "What is the sign of Thy presence and of the conclusion of the eon?")
AN ANALOGY OF WORLD-EON
We promised we would approach the study of the usage and meaning of world-eon in their tandem relationship.
A rough analogy sufficient to show that when God created the world He also made the eons may be seen by having the student make a Mobius band. Cut a long strip of paper. First stick the two ends together so as to form a kind of crown. Now we have a cylindrical surface with two distinct sides. Suppose you color the inside red and the outside blue. It is easy to see that there is no connection between the blue and the red sides.
Now re-cut the strip of paper and re-stick the two ends, but with the red face against the blue face: by so doing we have made the Mobius band or strip. Now, we have a surface state different from its normal state, for our Mobius band has only one side.
Let the red side be cosmos and the blue side be aion. Thus, in the cylindrical surface, we had two distinct ideas, world and age. If we replace this with the Mobius strip we have only one idea left, cosmos-aion, or world-eon. This linking has removed the gap between the two ideas. Thus world and eon are no longer separate, but present a view of reality as if it were one aspect. Here we have no longer space and time independence, but rather world-eon interdependence. We have no longer world and eon, but rather world-eon.
EONS: TIME ASPECT, WORLD: CONSTITUTIONAL ASPECT
Lest there be an inadvertent misunderstanding, let us be clear that cosmos or world and aion are not interchangeable terms. When God thus loves the world (John 3:16), we should not substitute eon. When the disciples ask Jesus about the conclusion of the eon (Matthew 24:3), we should not substitute world. What we must do is to relate these two words so that we see God's system in relation to some eon, or, as suggested, hold a mental picture of world-eon in a tandem relationship. The eons synchronize with the worlds: the eons dealing with the time aspect, and the worlds with the cosmic or constitutional aspect.
REFERENCE BOOK REFLECTS LACK OF UNDERSTANDING
In researching this subject a book was found hitherto unknown to this writer. It is A DICTIONARY OF SELECTED SYNONYMS IN THE PRINCIPALS INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES, A Contribution to the History of Ideas, by Carl Darling Buck, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Philology at the University of Chicago (Chicago; Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1949). Chapter 14 deals with "TIME" on sixty-three pages, in many languages and about many terms. Yet in all this material there is little help in really understanding the theme of time.
Another volume recently in hand is THE THEOLOGY OF THE RESURRECTION, by Walter Kunneth, an Erlangen scientific theologian. Chapter VIII deals with "The Aeon of Christ's Lord-ship." In dealing with the fundamental significance of the biblical doctrine of the aeons, we find the following expressions: the whole course of the ages; the succession of aeons; through a succession of world periods, of "ages," or "aeons"; the advancing universal divine plan of worlds and ages; the time-eternity metaphysic, and others.
The statement is made that "All 'ages' are exactly defined by God and fulfil their part in a strict sequence, one following after the other...There is thus an 'eternal' progression of aeons according to God's 'eternal' plan. Biblical eschatology, therefore, thinks essentially in terms of the course of the aeons, their emergence and their consummation."
FOOTNOTE FETTERS OLAM/EON TRUTH
On the same page 269 is a footnote stating that "The concept 'world-epoch' to render aion is an inappropriate term in so far as our present idea of time and chronology is valid only for a tiny sector within the vast periods of the aeons. The different meaning of the words used in the biblical concepts olam and aion as distinct from chronos, the word for earthly time, therefore must not be overlooked. 'Aeon' can accordingly be understood to mean eras and periods of time whose endless succession is used to describe the concept 'eternity.' Aeon can also mean infinite time, in the sense of the eternity of God -- which, however, means that the concept is then identical with something beyond time, since God always was and always will be. Again, aeon can mean a long, yet limited period of time, a world epoch, a world age, in contrast and distinction from the eternity' of God. Finally, it must not be overlooked that there is not one single world-epoch, but a countless series of successive world-periods, as it is typically expressed in the antithesis of 'this age' and `the age to come'."
SERIES OF STATEMENTS TO BE STUDIED
These two volumes may be evaluated by the student after he has studied "The Three Heavens and Earths" (UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, Vol. LIX, No. 3 [May, 1968], pages 133-141) and "Eons and Worlds, A Preliminary Overview " (UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, Vol. LIX, No. 5 [September, 1968], pages 217-227). In the latter article a series of statements were set out to pursue in a future study, which we begin in this article:
Eons, what was said to be before they began;
Eons, have a beginning;
Eons, have an end, individually and collectively;
Eons, have a purpose and a King;
Eons, how many there are revealed in His Word;
Eons, how they are associated with the cosmos or world.
EONS: WHAT WAS SAID TO BE BEFORE THEY BEGAN
We are told to take this time of decision in this life seriously since it is the time when we are on trial for eternity since when the time of decision is over, the all-seeing Judge will pass the final judgment; or words to that effect. This kind of option, however, presents us with a false decision about choices. We are told that we must decide between Heaven and Hell, when we ought to be asked to choose between Life and Death.
The true option is seen where the word before is used with times eonian at 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2, and with the eons at 1 Corinthians 2:7. We will take up these three sound words later, after having prepared a contrasting background by quoting four unsound sayings.
SOUND WORDS VS. UNSOUND SAYINGS
The glory of God demands, not simply discussion, but demonstration. In order to realize His purpose He needs heavens and earths, worlds and eons, humanity to whom and the Human through Whom He can demonstrate His wisdom, His grace and purpose, and His gift of life to counter the doom of death. This is of vast importance when seeking to grasp God's goal and goodness and glory. For this we need to have a pattern of wholesome or sound words (2 Timothy 1:13).
FIRST UNSOUND SAYING
Now this is an unsound saying: "Aion may be defined as a period of existence, or continuous being, whether a lifetime or an age. It is sometimes limited and sometimes denotes boundless periods and endless eternity."
If aion may be defined as "endless eternity," then there can be no end to an aion; but there is! And if aion can be defined as "endless eternity," then there can be no plural form of aion; but there is!
SECOND UNSOUND SAYING
Here is another unsound saying: "Aion and aionios, when used in connection with life (zoe) for the righteous, mean constant, abiding, eternal, measureless. It involves unbounded existence and duration in the world to come. But when used of continuance (or more accurately of the consuming) of the wicked, who are to be destroyed, it is transitory, and comes to an end. Everything consequently and consistently depends upon the nature and destiny of the substantive that it modifies. This is the golden rule of interpretation of these terms. It is perpetuity within limits--the duration being determined by the person, or thing, or condition to which it is attached."
Now while these sayings may be written in all good faith and with laudable motive they are, nevertheless, most monstrous in their distortion of the Scriptures. Is an evergreen tree an everlasting tree? No, is the answer, because the substantive is not eternal! Is the everlasting God eternal? Yes, is the answer, because the substantive is eternal, or from everlasting to everlasting!
THIRD UNSOUND SAYING
We will quote again without identifying the source for we do not desire the embarrassment of the person but the consideration of the statement. "The fact that the adjective aionios is applied to some things that are 'endless' does not for a moment prove that it always means endless, for such a rendering would, in many passages, be manifestly impossible and absurd. Further, the adjective `eternal' aionios and the adverbial phrases that express eternity (such as 'forever' and `forever and ever'), indicate an indeterminate duration, where-of the maximum depends upon the nature of the person or thing that it modifies.
"It is clearly infinite when predicated of God and eternal things, which are above and beyond time, or of beings who live by faith in communion and connection with Him. On the contrary, it is only relative for other beings, such as mortal man. Thus the sufferings of perishable creatures logically cannot be prolonged longer than is compatible with their perishable nature."
FOURTH UNSOUND SAYING
Another unsound saying from the same source is as follows: "When aion and aionios are applied to Divine Beings, or to the eternal home of the saints, or to the redeemed, immortalized saints, they then obviously denote eternal duration, or eternity of being. But as noted, when aion and aionios are applied to things that will have an end, they are correspondingly limited in meaning. Thus, when they are applied to the existence of the wicked -- who will finally cease to be as a result of the 'second death' -- they must be limited, according to their signification.
"We must consequently conclude that the modifiers aion and aionios, with reference to the two classes--'saints' and 'sinners'--mean, respectively, bliss throughout all eternity, on the one hand, for the eternally righteous, and on the other hand coming to an end forever, after a due and just period of suffering for the unrepentant and doomed sinner. The wicked are ultimately and utterly extinguished because they refused the eternal life so freely offered to them, which is nevertheless to continue throughout the ages without end for the righteous, who accepted its provisions."
INTERPRETATION'S GOLDEN RULE VIOLATED
The golden rule of interpretation for these terms is not in line with etymology or, what is more important, usage in the Scriptures. "The timeless eternities of past and future" is meaningless nonsense. How can eternities (plural!) be divided into past and future? When we are told that aion and aionios are either limited or infinite, depending on the context and the substantive with which they are associated, does this mean that some things are eternal in and of themselves? Then why the need of the adjective to tell us what the thing is in itself? Before God made the forevers, could He be called the eternal God? When the ages end, will He still be God, but not the eternal God?
God made the ages, hence His duration does not depend on an adjective, everlasting. He was God before He made the eons, and He will be God after they end. But we have moved ahead of our order of statements referred to on above.
FIRST SOUND WORD: GRACE GIVEN
2 Timothy 1:9 is a sound word: Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian (pro chronon aionion). The Revised Version translates: before times eternal, and the Authorized Version renders it: before the world began. The word translated "eternal" is not an adjective, but a noun in the plural from, and rendered "ages" at Ephesians 2:7 in the AV.
God has a purpose, not purposes. God purposed protithemi, means He placed the ultimate result before His mind, as in Romans 3:25. The purpose prothesis is literally applied to the cakes of bread in the holy place, and figuratively, it is "a goal kept before the mind" (KEYWORD CONCORDANCE, p. 236).
In Ephesians 3:11 (AV) we read: According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. The first purpose is prothesin, the second purpose is epoigsen, makes. An eternal purpose has no beginning and no end, whereas "in accord with the purpose of the eons" shows God as the Disposer making the heavens and the earths, the worlds and the eons, in order to effect His purpose and affect all who are included in this purpose.
What does Paul write to Timothy? That he is to suffer evil with the evangel in accord with the power of God, Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling...in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus. When does Paul say God's grace was given to us? Before times eonian (2 Timothy 1:9). How could His grace be given to a humanity which was not in existence? How could His grace be given if there were no heavens and earths, worlds and eons, and administrations in which to dispense His bounty and blessing? How could His grace be given if there were no purpose and no eonian times during which to dispense His manifold and multifarious largesse? To give us grace He made the heavens and earths, the worlds and eons, and man.
SECOND SOUND WORD: LIFE PROMISED
Titus 1:2 is a sound word: In expectation of life eonian, which God, Who does not lie, promises before times eonian (pro chrondn aionion). The Revised Version translates: before times eternal, and the Authorized Version renders it: before the world began.
What does Paul write to Titus? That the un-false One, He Who does not lie or prove to be false to His promises, has promised us life. When does Paul say He promised life? Before times eonian (Titus 1:2). How could life be given to a humanity not yet in existence? How could this gift of life be bestowed if there were no heavens and earths, worlds and eons, and administrations in which to dispense this life? How could this life eonian be given if there were no eonian times during which to lavish this life on those under the sentence of death (Romans 5:12)? Thus to give us life He made the heavens and earths, the worlds and eons, and man.
Note well: the life was there before eonian times began. They were made so that the eonian life promised before times eonian could be given as He had promised. Now we have GRACE given and LIFE promised before times eonian.
THIRD SOUND WORD: WISDOM CONCEALED
1 Corinthians 2:7 is a sound word: But we are speaking God's wisdom in a secret, which has been concealed, which God designates beforehand, before the eons (pro ton aionon). What does Paul write to the Corinthians? That in a secret the wisdom of God was concealed, which not one of the chief men of this eon knows, for if they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. When did Paul say that this wisdom kept secret was not known? Before the eons (1 Corinthians 2:7). How could wisdom be seen by a humanity not yet in existence? How could this wisdom in a secret be made known since the secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children (Deuteronomy 29:29)? How could this wisdom be made manifest if there were no heavens and earths, worlds and eons, or administrations in which to reveal His secret and unveil His person and display His wisdom? Thus to unveil His wisdom He made the heavens and earth, the worlds and eons, and man. Now we have GRACE given and LIFE promised before times eonian, and WISDOM Concealed before the eons.
Grace, life and wisdom are given and promised and concealed before the eons. If there are to be no eons, then there can be no proffered gift of grace, no kept promise of life, and no revealed secret of wisdom that can be appreciated and appropriated by His own. But since wisdom is "the faculty which makes the highest and best application of knowledge" (KEYWORD CONCORDANCE, pate 329), God is not forestalled before He begins or frustrated after He starts.
EONS HAVE A BEGINNING
The writer of Hebrews gives us our start: In many portions and many modes, of old, God, speaking to the fathers in the prophets, in the last of these days speaks to us in a Son, Whom He appoints enjoyer of the allotment of all, through Whom He also makes the eons (1:2).
The eons are plural which God makes through His Son. But the number of them is not stated. When reading 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2 and 1 Corinthians 2:7 we saw that these Scriptures pointed to a time when the ages or eons were not yet in existence. Now we are told that they have a beginning, for they were made.
EONS HAVE AN END
The same writer to the Hebrews states explicitly that there is an end to the ages or eons (9:26). As it stands in most of the current versions, this verse is puzzling and perplexing. To extricate ourselves from the quicksand into which some translators have floundered, we have only to take the same words and arrange them in the order in which they appear in the Original.
is He manifest
This verse is designed to amplify the grand object of His one appearing, that is, Christ appeared once to offer Himself as a sacrifice in order to put away sin at the end of the ages or eons. The fact that the verb manifest or APPEAR has been removed from the qualifying adverb ONCE is a striking way to impress upon the mind the fact that the portion of the sentence that intervenes between ONCE and APPEAR is a complement.
Repudiation [of sin] is defined as to have no place for [sin] (KEYWORD CONCORDANCE, p.246). When the last enemy, death, is put out of business, abolished, discarded, made unproductive (1 Corinthians 15:26), then sin will find no place anywhere in His world since sin reigns only in death (Romans 5:20). In other words, when God abolishes death, He also leaves no place for sin. This He will do at the end of the ages or eons. It is for this purpose that Christ has been manifested in His earthly career; and it is His sacrifice at Calvary's cross, His sacrifice for sin that makes sin's repudiation certain, since He is the Lamb of God Which is taking away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
DISCORDANT VERSIONS PROLIFERATE CONTRADICTIONS
The actual teaching of the passage can be verified as follows: Some current versions of this verse teach that Christ appeared at the end of the ages. Yet according to these same versions Paul, writing years after this appearing, speaks of ages to come (Ephesians 2:7). Thus two "authorized" versions make the apostle Paul flatly contradict what the writer of Hebrews said.
Again, the devotees of versions which are not concordant and consistent find themselves involved in another conflict that cannot be reconciled, since their versions teach that Christ "appeared at the end of the ages" while, at the same time, their theology teaches that the ages never end.
And again, some versions say that once in "the end of the world" hath He appeared, while Paul is made to write about world without end (Ephesians 3:21, AV).
The Scriptures distinctly and emphatically teach that the eons has a beginning and will also have a conclusion. The Scriptures point to a time when the eons were not yet in existence, and they point to a time when the eons shall pass away.
In our next study we will find out where the Scriptures give us clues as to the minimum number of eons we must accept in order to find a place for all the references to them in the singular and the plural.
FOR THE LAUD OF THE GLORY OF HIS GRACE
This subject (Eons and Worlds) is not an exercise in meaningless theological frivolity, an academic treatise of dubious value. Rather a grasp of its truth and an understanding of its importance will serve to extricate us from the quicksand of theology, so that we can revel in God's purpose and rejoice in His grace and wisdom, thus rejuvenating our minds and widening our hearts by means of submission to His sound words, so as to better appreciate His glory and His honor, His peace and His love.
 Mobius band: a one-sided surface formed by holding one end of a rectangle fixed, rotating the opposite end through 180 degrees, and then applying it to the first end (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, page 1450).
 Walter Kunneth, THE THEOLOGY OF THE RESURRECTION (St Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1965)