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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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The conception of the world in the apostolic writings is one of much complexity. Its content is derived partly from the OT, partly from later Judaism; but it has also assimilated an important element from Greek thought, and the peculiar experience of early Christianity has added to it a sinister significance of its own. Thus the various synonyms by which it is expressed reveal so many narrowly differentiated senses in each, and also shade off into each other in such a way, that a delicate problem for exact exegesis is often created. The three terms chiefly to be considered are ἡ οἰκουμένη, ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος, and ὁ κόσμος, which in their proper significance denote the world respectively as a place, a period, and a system.

1. The spatial conception of the world.-The spatial conception of the world as the orbis terrarum, the comprehensive abode of man and scene of human life, is rendered in the OT by àÈøÈö and its more poetical synonym úÌÅáÇi, which in the lxx are translated, the former by γῆ, the latter by οἰκουμένη (vice versa in a few passages in Isaiah). In the apostolic writings γῆ is retained in this sense in quotations from the lxx (e.g. Acts 2:19, Romans 9:17, Hebrews 1:10), also in Acts 17:26, James 5:5, and frequently in the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 3:10, etc.). The more distinctive term is ἡ οἰκουμένη (sc. γῆ). Originally it was used, with racial self-consciousness, to signify the territorial extent of Greek life and civilization (Herod. iv. 110); but after the conquests of Alexander, and in consequence of the same unifying influences as those by which the Greek dialects were merged in the κοινή, it came to express a view and feeling of the inhabited world as overpassing all national distinctions and boundaries. Later, when the rule of the Caesars seemed to be practically co-extensive with the habitable earth, it acquired a more special sense-the Empire as a territorial unity (e.g. Luke 2:1); but in the apostolic writings it has the larger significance, the world-wide abode of man (Acts 11:28; Acts 17:6; Acts 19:27 by passionate exaggeration, Acts 24:5, Romans 10:18, Revelation 3:10; Revelation 16:14), or, by a natural transition, mankind (Acts 17:31, Revelation 12:9). As an example of the elasticity which characterizes the use of these terms, it may be noted that to express the same thought of the world-wide field for the dissemination of the gospel St. Paul prefers κόσμος (Romans 1:8, Colossians 1:6); and that, on the contrary, the writer of Hebrews gives to οἰκουμένη the proper significance both of κόσμος, the ‘terrestrial order’ (Hebrews 1:6), and of αἰών (cf. the unique τὴν μέλλουσαν οἰκουμένην of Hebrews 2:5 and μέλλοντος αἰῶνος, Hebrews 6:5).

2. The temporal conception of the world.-The temporal conception of the world as a saeculum, a cycle of history, complete within itself yet related to a before and an after, is distinctively expressed by αἰών, or in contrast with the ‘world to come,’ as actually it always is, by ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος (1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8; 1 Corinthians 3:18, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 1:21; variants, ὁ ἐνεστὼς αἰών, Galatians 1:4; ὁ αἰὼν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, Ephesians 2:2; ὁ νῦν αἰών, 1 Timothy 6:17, 2 Timothy 4:10, Titus 2:12; ὁ νῦν καιρός, Romans 3:26; Romans 8:18).

The use of in this sense, as denoting the present order of existence, does not occur in the OT (Ecclesiastes 3:11?), but is characteristic of later Hebraism, the contrast between the two ‘aeons’ being an essential feature in the Apocalyptic view of history. Dalman remarks upon the absence of evidence for this form of expression in any extant pre-Christian writing (Words of Jesus, p. 148); it occurs chiefly in the later parts of the Baruch Apocalypse, in 4 Ezra (e.g. 6:9, 7:12, 13, 8:1, 52) and the Slavonic Enoch. In Rabbinism (Dalman, p. 150) the earliest witnesses for the expression are Hillel and Jochanan ben Zakkai (fl. c. a.d. 80). The idea, however, is vouched for by earlier documents, Enoch, Jubilees, Assumption of Moses (see on the whole subject Bousset’s Religion des Judentums2, p. 278 ff.), and the frequency of its occurrence in the NT, with the assumption of its familiarity, seems to imply its popular currency (contrariwise, Dalman-‘the expressions characterised the language of the learned rather than that of the people’ [p. 151]).

But while αἰὼν οὗτος in primarily a time-concept, this world-age in contrast with the future age of the ‘regeneration,’ the temporal element tends to become secondary. The notion of a period of time (emphatic in 1 Corinthians 7:31) is always implied; but the ruling idea approximates to that which properly belongs to the κὀσμος, the organic system of terrestrial existence (e.g. in 1 Corinthians 1:20 ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος and ὁ κόσμος are parallel and synonymous). The opposition between the two ‘aeons’ is qualitative even more than temporal: the one is ‘evil’ (Galatians 1:4), and under the dominion of the Devil (2 Corinthians 4:4) and kindred spirits (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8), a world of sin and death in contrast with that other eternal world of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13) and life. The two, indeed, are thought of as in a sense contemporaneous; the ‘world to come’ projects itself into the present; its ‘powers’ are already experienced by all in whom the Spirit of God dwells and the work of spiritual quickening and transformation is begun (Hebrews 6:5).

3. The world as an organic system.-The world as an organic system, a universe, is distinctively ὁ κόσμος.

The idea which underlies all the various uses of κόσμος is that of order or arrangement (as in the common Homeric phrases, κατὰ κόσμον = ‘in an orderly manner’; κατὰ κόσμον καθίζειν = ‘to sit in order’), and since the strongest impression of unvarying and reliable order in nature is given by the movement of the heavenly bodies, it was probably to this that the term was first applied in a more special sense. In classical Greek, while it is sometime used with reference to the firmament above, and its sense is not anywhere restricted to the earth, so also in the lxx it translates öÈáÈà, the ‘host’ of heaven (in Enoch also, κόσμος τῶν φωστήρων, xx. 4), and elsewhere appears only in the sense at ‘ornament.’ Pythagoras is credited with having been the first to employ the word to express the philosophical conception of an ordered universe of being (plutarch, de Plac. Phil. 886 B); and from the Pythagoraeans it passed into the common vocabulary of philosophic poetry and speculation. Plato (Gorgias, 508 A) defines κόσμος in its widest extent, οὐρανὸν καὶ γῆν καὶ θεοὺς καὶ ἀνθρώπους τὴν κοινωνίαν συνέχειν καὶ φιλίαν καὶ κοσμιότητα καὶ σωφροσύνην καὶ δικαιότητα, καὶ τὸ ὅλον τοῦτο διὰ ταῦτα κόσμον καλοῦσινοὐκ ἀκοσμίαν, οὐδὲ ἀκολασίαν. In Stoicism the idea was further developed in a mystical and pantheistic fashion. The universe, the macrocosm, was conceived after the analogy or the microcosm, man. It was a ζῷον ἔμψυχον καὶ λογικόν; and as the human organism consists of a body and an animating soul, so God was the eternal world-soul animating and ruling the imperishable world-body. Through the influence especially of Posidonius, this conception of the Cosmos became widely influential in the Graeco-Roman world (see P. Wendland, Die hellenistischrömische Kultur, Tübingen, 1907, p. 84ff.). In the OT there is neither term nor conception corresponding to the Hellenic κόσμος (yet cf. Jeremiah 10:16, Ecclesiastes 11:5); it is in Hellenistic compositions such as 2 Maccabees and the Book of Wisdom that they first appear in Judaism. In the latter the idea of the Cosmos is specially prominent. ἡ σύστασις κόσμου is formed by the word of God out of formless matter (Wisdom of Solomon 1:14; Wisdom of Solomon 7:17; Wisdom of Solomon 11:7) and the ever-living Spirit of God is active in all things (Wisdom of Solomon 12:1); Divine wisdom and beauty pervade the world in all its diverse parts, establishing all things by number, measure, and weight (Wisdom of Solomon 7:24, Wisdom of Solomon 8:1, Wisdom of Solomon 11:20), at the same time giving to human intelligence its power to apprehend the Divine ordering of all things (Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-23, Wisdom of Solomon 8:8), a striking anticipation of Romans 1:20. In the same book there is another anticipation of NT usage, the employment, unknown to classical Greek, of κόσμος for the world of mankind, the human race as a unity. Thus Adam is described as πρωτόπλαστος πατὴρ κόσμου Wisdom of Solomon 10:1); a multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world (Wisdom of Solomon 6:24), as the family of Noah was its hope (Wisdom of Solomon 14:6).

Such indications of the penetration of Hellenic influences into Jewish thought explain, from a historical point of view, the use of κόσμος, both as term and as concept, in the apostolic writings, (a) Primarily the Cosmos is the rerum natura, the sum of terrestrial things, without moral reference. Occasionally the conception is simply this (1 Corinthians 8:4, there is no such thing as an idol, ἐν κόσμῳ; 1 Corinthians 14:10, there are various kinds of sounds in it); but normally the thought of God as Creator of the Cosmos is expressed or implied (e.g. Acts 17:24, Romans 1:20, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 4:3).

The simple pictorial phrase, ‘the heaven and the earth,’ by which the OT expresses the idea of the visible creation as contrasted with the Creator, is still retained in the liturgical and rhetorical style (Acts 4:24; Acts 14:15; Acts 17:24), and for the sake of special emphasis (Ephesians 1:10, Philippians 2:10, Colossians 1:16; Colossians 1:20, Revelation 20:11; Revelation 21:1). To the same effect Paul uses ἡ κτίσις (Romans 8:19-22, Colossians 1:15; 2 Peter 3:4, Revelation 3:14), but more frequently τὰ πάντα (Romans 9:5; Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:28, etc.; cf. Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 2:8; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 3:4, Revelation 4:11).

And when the Cosmos is defined as the ‘terrestrial order’ it is to be remembered that in the apostolic cosmology this includes the heavens with their inhabitants as well as the earth and mankind. The world created in the πρωτότοκος includes ‘all things in the heavens and upon the earth, visible and invisible’ (Colossians 1:16). ‘Heaven,’ in the popular sense of the word, the sphere of God’s immediate self-manifestation, the place of His Throne and Majesty on high (Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3), the sphere from which Christ comes (1 Corinthians 15:47) and to which He returns (1 Corinthians 3:1), the kingdom of eternal light in which believers already have an inheritance (2 Corinthians 5:1, Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:12), is ‘above all heavens’ (Ephesians 4:10). It does not belong to ‘this world’ or to ‘this age’. All else does. The heavens and the spiritual beings that dwell therein belong naturally and morally to the same cosmic system as the earth and its inhabitants (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 1 Corinthians 11:10, Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 1:16; Colossians 1:20; Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20).

(b) Yet the immediate interest in the Cosmos lies in its relation to man as the physical environment of his life, and thus it naturally acquires the more limited significance of the terrestrial order in association with mankind-the world of human existence, into which sin comes (Romans 5:12-13), into which Christ comes (1 Timothy 1:15, Hebrews 10:5, 1 John 4:9), where He is believed on (1 Timothy 3:16). (For Jewish parallels see Dalman, p. 173.) Hence also it easily comes to mean (as already in Enoch [see above]) mankind in general (1 Corinthians 4:13, Hebrews 11:33); and, by further natural transitions, worldly possessions (1 John 3:17), and the whole complex of man’s secular activities and relationships (1 Corinthians 7:29-33).

More characteristically the word is used with moral implications more or less strong. In the majority of its occurrences the idea is coloured by the dark significance of the αἰὼν οὗτος. It is the present material order together with its inhabitants, both demonic and human, as lying under the power of evil, destitute of God’s Spirit and insensible to Divine influence-not merely profane and unchristian humanity, but the whole organism of existence which is alienated from God by sin. It has a spirit of its own (1 Corinthians 2:12) which is antagonistic to the Spirit of God; a wisdom of its own (1 Corinthians 1:20-21) which is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 3:19); a sorrow of its own (2 Corinthians 7:10) which is opposite in character and effect to godly sorrow; its moral life is governed by the ‘prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4); physically it lies directly under the dominion of elemental powers (στοιχεῖα) hostile to man (Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20, Galatians 4:3); the Christian is redeemed from it and inwardly no longer belongs to it (Galatians 6:14, Colossians 2:20); its kingdoms finally become the Kingdom of God and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28, Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20) in the new Cosmos which arises in its place (Revelation 21:1).

But here, again, since the primary interest is in man and his salvation, the Cosmos naturally comes to mean the human race as under sin, and as the object of Christ’s redeeming and reconciling work (Romans 3:10-19, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:14). In the later apostolic writings, especially the Johannine, it takes on a still darker hue. It is not only the world of fallen sinful humanity; it is that portion of society, Jewish or Gentile, with its opinions, sentiments, and influences, which is definitely antagonistic to the Church and the Christian cause. It hates the people of Christ as Cain hated Abel (1 John 3:12-13); its character and conduct are dominated by the ‘lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life’ (1 John 2:16), and are morally polluted (James 1:27; 2 Peter 2:20); it offers a fruitful field to anti-Christian teaching (1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:7, 2 John 1:7); its friendship is incompatible with loyalty to God (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15).

For the sake of clearness the various uses of κόσμος may be thus tabulated, with the proviso that at certain points classification cannot be more than tentative.

(a) κόσμος = adornment (1 Peter 3:3).

(b) = (metaphorically) a universe (James 3:6).

(c) = οἰκουμένη, the world-wide abode of mankind (Romans 1:8, Colossians 1:6; 1 Peter 5:9).

(d) = the Gentile world in contrast with the elect people (Romans 4:13; Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15).

(e) = the terrestrial order, without moral implication: simply as such (1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 14:10, Ephesians 2:12 [?]), as related to the Creator (Acts 17:24, Romans 1:20, 1 Corinthians 3:22, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Peter 2:5; 2 Peter 3:6, Revelation 13:6; Revelation 17:8).

(f) = the terrestrial order without moral reference, but as especially associated with humankind (Romans 5:12-13, 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Timothy 6:7, Hebrews 10:5, 1 John 4:9), as associated with men and angels (1 Corinthians 4:9), with the secular activities and relationships of men (1 Corinthians 7:31-34, 2 Corinthians 1:12 [?]).

(g) = mankind in general (1 Corinthians 4:13, Hebrews 11:38).

(h) = material possessions (1 John 3:17).

(i) = the terrestrial order, together with its inhabitants as lying under the power of evil (1 Corinthians 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:27-28; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 11:32, 2 Corinthians 7:10, Galatians 4:3; Galatians 6:14, Ephesians 2:2, Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20, James 2:5, 1 John 4:17, Revelation 11:5).

(j) = the human race as sinful and needing redemption (Romans 3:6; Romans 3:19, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:14).

(k) = the human society as definitely hostile to christ, the gospel, and the Church (Hebrews 11:7, James 1:27; James 4:4; 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 2:20, 1 John 2:15-17; 1 John 3:1; 1 John 3:13; 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:3-5; 1 John 4:17; 1 John 5:4-5; 1 John 5:19, 2 John 1:7).

To sum up, the world is an organic whole of being, a system (συνέστηκεν, Colossians 1:17) in which there is a complete interrelation of parts; having a transitory existence, beginning in time and in time coming to an end, an ‘aeon’ within an encircling eternity; not self-originating but created; in the most ultimate sense God’s world, because not only created but continually upheld and animated by him (Acts 17:28); and not only God’s world but Christ’s, who mediatorially is the source of its existence and the active principle of its unity (q.v. ). But while necessarily retaining its creaturely dependence on God and its natural unity, it has fallen as a whole under the dominion of moral and consequently of physical evil. Sin and death entered into the human Cosmos through the disobedience of our first father (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22), but anterior to this, and in some causal relation to it, sin was existent in the angelic Cosmos (2 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Timothy 2:14; 2 Peter 2:4, 1 John 3:8), and from this source human sin is still inspired (2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, etc.). Into the speculative question of the origin of evil apostolic thought does not enter. It is enough that sin is not inherent in the Cosmos, but entered into it, and that therefore its presence there may come to an end. Christ has come into the Cosmos, directly into the world of mankind, and God is in Him reconciling it unto Himself. But the scope of Christ’s redeeming work is destined to include the whole Cosmos in both its physical and its spiritual elements (Romans 8:21, Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Yet this ultimate consummation will not be attained within the present aeon. That must pass away through the fires of Divine judgment, before Christ is universally triumphant, and God is all in all.

This scheme of the world and its history inevitably leaves vast questions shrouded in mystery, and in its conception of the intermediate process by which nature is operated and governed it moves in regions of ideas which are remote from those of the modern mind. Yet essentially all that it endeavours to express in the terms of contemporary thought-that man is God’s creature and child; that, therefore, the existing condition of human life is radically abnormal and sinfully wrong, yet is salvable by the sacrificial love of God in Christ; that the world is God’s world, and that, therefore, its existing condition also is abnormal and cannot be otherwise regarded than as the correlate of sin; that it is a fruitful source of temptation to the evil tendencies in man but also a school of salutary discipline and a field of moral victory for those who seek the things that are above; and that, finally, a new and perfect environment is destined for the regenerate and perfected life-all this belongs to what is central and abiding in the Christian faith. See, further, art. Worldliness.

Literature.-V. H. Stanton, art. ‘World’ in HDB; A. Ritschl and J. Weiss, art. ‘Welt’ in PRE 3; H. Cremer, Lexicon of NT Greek3, Edinburgh, 1880; commentaries, esp. J. Weiss, Der erste Korintherbrief9, Tübingen, 1910 (particularly the note on 1:19, 20), and B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John , 2 vols., London, 1908, i. 64ff.; W. Beyschlag, NT Theology, Eng. tr. , 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1895. ii. 100-109; G. Dalman, The Words of Jesus, Eng. tr. , do., 1902, pp. 147-179; W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums2, Berlin, 1906, pp. 278-286; M. Dibelius, Die Geisterwelt im Glauben des Paulus, Göttingen, 1909.

Robert Law.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'World'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​w/world.html. 1906-1918.
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