Jul 11, 2011
By the responses to my previous blog on the Ages, it appears that I must explain again one point of contention that is being misunderstood. It is the objection that says olam and aionian must express eternity because God is eternal and not limited. These words are sometimes used in conjunction with God Himself, as in 1 Tim. 1:17, which reads, "Now to the King of the Ages (Basilei ton aionian), the incorruptible, the invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for the ages of the ages."
The above is Wilson's translation, known as The Emphatic Diaglott.
In Young's Literal Translation of 1 Tim. 1:17, we read,
(17) And to the King of the Ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only wise God, is honour and glory--to the ages of the ages! Amen.
My blog comment was this:
This translation is quite different from the KJV, which reads "Now to the King eternal." We do not dispute the "eternal-ness" of God, but Paul was telling us that He is "the King of the Ages."
The above expression makes God the Lord of Time. He created Time (the ages) by which He intends to work out His purposes. If the Greek text had told us specifically that God Himself was aionian, we might question the meaning of this, but it does not do that. The word ton makes a big difference. It turns the expression from an aionian God to a God OF THE ages.
To translate this as "eternal God" fully ignores one of the Greek words in the text itself.
The same is true when we take the expression, aionas ton aionon, "ages of the ages" and turn it into "for ever AND ever," as the KJV does with 1 Tim. 1:17 (above). There is no "and" in the text. Besides this, "forever and ever" makes no sense. Is "forever and ever" longer than a mere "forever"?? Why is there a need for extra "evers" to make it infinite?
Another objection was based upon Genesis 9:16 in regard to God's covenant with Noah, promising NEVER send a flood again. Also with the Abrahamic covenant in Gen. 17:13, 19. These are both said to be "everlasting" covenants. The Hebrew word is olam, of course. So does this really mean that the covenants are everlasting?
These are good questions, of course. And YES, those are indeed everlasting covenants insofar as they play out. But it is NOT because olam means everlasting. Olam means literally, "to an obscurity." As Gesenius Lexicon tells us, it means, "what is hidden; specially hidden time, long; the beginning or end of which is either uncertain or else not defined."
Look it up for yourself. Click on the link below and scroll down about six inches to "Gesenius Lexicon (Help)" and see if I have misquoted it.
I quoted this earlier in my blog for July 8 on the Septuagint. It is possible that those who have misunderstood me had missed reading that blog and only read the one for July 9.
Anyway, the answer to the objection above is that the unconditional covenants of God, such as the ones with Noah and with Abraham, depend upon the character of God and His ability to keep His Word. That is what makes these covenants unending.
This differs from the Phinehas covenant in Numbers 25:13. Though he too was given "an everlasting (olam) covenant," this was conditional upon his ability (and his descendants) to obey God. For this reason, his family was disqualified when Eli refused to correct his sons (1 Sam.2:30). The reason the Phinehas priesthood covenant lasted for only 300 years is that it depended on the obedience of his descendants. The reason Abraham's covenant is unending is because it depended only upon God's ability to fulfill His vow.
We all know that man fails, whereas God never fails. That is the fact that makes olam truly "everlasting." But when things depend upon man, then olam normally turns out to be temporal.
The word itself is indefinite and can only be defined more precisely by its context. We only run into problems when we try to force the word to mean only one or the other--either infinite or limited time. The word claims ignorance. As Gesenius says, it is "either uncertain or else not defined."
So when the word is used to describe the judgments of God, one cannot say for certain that those judgments are everlasting. Olam and aionian only tell us that the time of judgment is uncertain or undefined by these words. The duration of judgment is undefined partly because the judgment of the law will always fit the crime (sin). Each person is judged according to his works. One person might be sentenced to a year of slavery to pay the debt for sin, while another may have to work for 43 years to pay off a larger debt.
When the law was applied in Israel, each person was to be judged as individuals, strictly in accordance with the gravity of their sin. When the sin was paid, they came under grace, for the law had no further jurisdiction over them--unless they sinned again.
But in the context of the "lake of fire," the situation changes, because God then deals with sin on a deeper level. In that sense, where "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), even the smallest sin falls short of the glory of God, and no amount of work is sufficient to restore a person to his former condition. Hence, those who fall into the judgment of the "lake of fire" must labor continually as debtors until the Jubilee sets them free. (All sin is reckoned as a debt.)
There is no doubt that each person will be treated uniquely, according to their works. Yet none of them will be fully restored to the condition for which they were created except by lawful means. Fortunately, the law of Jubilee establishes a limit on debt. The Jubilee limits judgment for felonies; the 40 stripes (Deut. 25:1-3) limits judgment on misdemeanors. Never in the law of God does judgment continue forever without end.
Even the death penalty is only an appeal to the Supreme Court of God. The death penalty is imposed in cases where restitution is not possible (or if a sinner refuses to pay). Murder, rape of a married woman, kidnapping, etc. call for the death penalty unless the sinner is somehow able to restore the lawful order and give the victim justice. The problem is that the earthly court is unable to bring justice either, so the case is referred to a higher court. The death penalty puts the sinner to sleep until the Great White Throne judgment, when his death ends in resurrection, and his case is heard. Then he is judged by a more capable Judge.
The law of Jubilee proves that the time of judgment is ultimately limited. This is also proven when Paul says, "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive, but each in his own order" (1 Cor. 15:22). It is proven by Colossians 1:16-20, where all that God has created shall be reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ. It is proven by Heb. 2:8, Eph. 1:22, and 1 Cor. 15:27, when "the all" (ta panta) is put in subjection under the feet of Christ.
None of this would be possible apart from the limitation of judgment demanded by the law of Jubilee.
On the other hand, unending judgment requires olam and aionian to mean an infinite period of time. The entire argument is based on a supposition that is simply not true.
Dr. Stephen Jones