RE:EIS TON AIWNA in class. Gk.?

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sun Sep 28 1997 - 04:29:51 EDT

Rod Decker Wrote:

EIS TON AIWNA (or the plural, EIS TOUS AIWNAS) is a common NT idiom; I had
assumed that this reflected the Jewish concept of the age to come, but was
somewhat surprised to note that BAGD lists a number of classical references
to the same phrase (p. 27).

Any observations as to how extensive this phrase is in classical literature
and or the relationship of the classical use to the Jewish and/or biblical

(Neither TDNT nor NIDNTT have much to say about AIWN in classical--less
than they usually provide--and neither one comments on the idioms EIS TON
AIWNA, etc.)

Dear Rod,

>From the posts of Michael, Carl and Will it appears that Classical Greek
contributes little to the use of AIWN in the NT. I would like to give some
comments from the OT.

The Hebrew verb Ťalam has the basic meaning "to concel, to hide". Thus the
noun Ťolam came to mean "a time span with no fixed endpoint", in some cases
it was used absolutely with the meaning "eternity", but in most cases it
was used of a shorter and at the point of writing, indefinite time period.
In Aramaic the noun Ťalam was used with the same meaning as in Hebrew but
in time it was also used for "the environment in which people live" (world)
or for "people".

In the NT the two words KOSMOS and AIWN have some similarity. There is no
Hebrew/Aramaic word corresponding to KOSMOS, but it seems that different
sides of the Aramaic Ťalam were cultivated in the words KOSMOS and AIWN.

(1) KOSMOS and AIWN are clearly different. In Matt 13:38,39 KOSMOS is "the
world" (of mankind) but AIWN is the "world-age" (I like Carl`s "world-age"
because "age" is too weak). When KJV has "end of the world" in v 39, the
only possible conclusion is that the harvest is the end of the field, which
is not what the writer intended to convey. According to John 17:15 Jesus
did not request his father to take his followers EK TOU KOSMOU (which would
mean a translation to heaven), but it sees that according to Gal 1:4 the
followers of Jesus already had experienced a deliverance EK TOU AIWNOS TOU
ENESTWTOS just as people were admonished to get saved from THS GENEAS THS

(2) To use the English word "world" to signal the concept behind Greek
KOSMOS is excellent (Even TEV uses "world" in 96% of the instances). I find
the following principal sides of the concept KOSMOS illuminated: (a) "the
human family" (John 3:16), (b) "the human family separated from the Church"
(John 17:14), (a) "the environment in which the human family lives" (John
16:21) (d) "the universe" (Acts 17:24) This is the only place where I find
this classical meaning, and (e) "adornment" (1 Pet 3:3). Nowehere in the NT
is it said that a new "KOSMOS" will come; the human family is in all
generations the same. If these points be correct, the Greek KOSMOS has
aquired and cultivated the "world/people"-side of the Aramaic Ťolam.

(3) While KOSMOS is stable and "local", AIWN is changing, the word being
applied to different ages characterized by different circumstances and
things. In many instances in the NT, AIWN has the normal Hebrew and Aramaic
meaning "eternality" (1 Tim 1:17; 1 Pet 5:10) without any extra stress. In
other instances, the element of "a shorter indefinite time" is stressed,
and in these cases, not only is time as an abstract element focussed upon,
but rather a period of time which has a particular stamp, which is
characterized by something. The term "age" just covers "time" and is too
weak. Christians are hardly taken out of "an age" (Gal 1:4) but may be
taken out of a "wicked age-system" or a "wicked world-age". And similarly,
Christians will not in the future experience a "new age" (Luke 20:35) but a
new period characterized by completely different things. So the time
element is evident in this use of AIWN but the QUALITY of life experienced
in the particular AIWN is more important. This use of AIWN seems to be
somewhat different from the biblical use of `olam/Ťalam (Hebrew/Aramaic),
and more in line with the later rabbinical use of the word.

The conclusion therefore seems to be that the NT use of AIWN is not rooted
in the Classical use of the word but rather in the Hebrew/Aramaic use.
While KOSMOS is more "local", related to the human family, AIWN is more
transitory, being applied to shorter or longer periods of time with
particular qualities and characteristics. A translation should always use
different English words to represent KOSMOS and AIWN.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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