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Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament


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No word is so largely used to express duration as Olam (עולם ). It has twice been rendered long, namely, in Ecclesiastes 12:5, where we read of a man going 'to his long home' (εἰς οἰ̂κον αἰω̂νος αὐτου̂); and Isaiah 42:14, 'Shall I long be silent?' (ἀεί). Five times it is rendered 'always,' namely, Genesis 6:3, 'My spirit shall not always (εἰς τὸν αἰω̂να) strive with man;' 1 Chronicles 16:15, 'Let us always remember his covenant;' Job 7:16, 'I shall not live always' (i.e in this world); Psalms 119:112, 'I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always;' also in Jeremiah 20:17.

It is translated 'perpetual' with reference to the covenant made with Noah (Genesis 9:12), to the priesthood of the house of Levi (Exodus 29:9), to the Sabbat has a sign of God's covenant (Exodus 31:16), and to various other religious rites. It is used with a negative in several passages, e.g in 2 Samuel 12:10, of the sword never departing from David's house; in Psalms 15:5, of the godly man never falling. See also Psalms 55:22; Isaiah 14:20; Isaiah 25:2; Joel 2:26.

In Olam is rendered eternal, 'I will make of thee an eternal joy.' It is rendered for ever in a large number of passages, e.g. Genesis 13:15, of the l and being given to Abraham; Exodus 21:6, of the slave serving his master for ever (εἰς τὸν αἰω̂να). See also Psalms 12:7; Psalms 29:10; Psalms 61:4; Psalms 73:26; Psalms 81:15; Psalms 112:6; Psalms 125:2; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 51:6; Daniel 7:18; Daniel 12:3.

Some passages where Olam is rendered αἰώνιος, and used with reference to the wicked, may here be cited: - Psalms 78:66, 'He hath given them perpetual reproach;' Jeremiah 18:16, 'He hath made their l and desolate and a perpetual hissing;' 23:40, 'Perpetual dishonour;' 51:39, 57, 'I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep;' Ezekiel 35:5; Ezekiel 35:9, 'Because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, . I will make thee a perpetual desolation;' compare Zephaniah 2:9 in Daniel 12:2, the word is applied not only to everlasting life, but also to everlasting contempt, which shall be the lot of some after the resurrection.

In the passages quoted, which are a considerable proportion and a fair specimen of the whole, the LXX rendering is usually αἰώνιος or εἰς τὸν αἰω̂να; these Greek phrases, therefore, when they reappear in the N.T., must be interpreted in accordance with the usage of the word Olam. They give a conception which, though negative, is sufficiently clear. Eternity is endlessness; and this idea is only qualified by the nature of the object to which it is applied, or by the direct word of God. When applied to things physical, it is used in accordance with the revealed truth that the heaven and earth shall pass away, and it is limited by this truth. When applied to God, it is used in harmony with the truth that He is essentially and absolutely existent, and that as He is the causa causarum and without beginning, so in the very nature of things it must be held that no cause can ever put an end to his existence. When the word is applied to man's future destiny after the resurrection, we naturally give it the sense of endlessness without any limitation, except suc has the post-resurrection state shall involve; and this is not revealed.

Use of the Word Eternal in the New Testament

The use of the words αἰών and αἰώνιος in the N.T. deserves careful attention in a number of passages our Lord speaks of 'This age' (αἰών), of its cares (Matthew 13:22), of its end (13:39, 40, 49, 24:3, 28:20), of its children (Luke 20:34). So St. Paul speaks of conformity to this age (Romans 12:2), of the seeker of this age (1 Corinthians 1:20), of its vaunted wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 3:18), of its rulers (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8), of its god (2 Corinthians 4:4), of its being a present evil age (Galatians 1:4), of the age of the world (Ephesians 2:2), and of those who love it (2 Timothy 4:10).

In John 9:32 it is said, 'Since the world began,' &c. We here find ἐκ του̂ αἰω̂νος, which points backwards, as εἰς τὸν αἰω̂να does forwards. We find ἀπ̓ αἰω̂νος in the same sense in Acts 3:21; Acts 15:18, Ephesians 3:9, and Colossians 1:26; also πρὸ τω̂ν αἰώνων in 1 Corinthians 2:7.

There are a few passages which speak in a very special way of .an αἰών or age to come, e.g. Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30; Luke 20:35; and of its powers, Hebrews 6:5. Some interpreters connect these passages with the Millennium in Ephesians 2:7 the Apostle speaks in the plural number of the ages to come.

In other passages we have the expressions εἰς τὸν αἰω̂να, εἰς τοὺς αἰώνας, ἕως αἰω̂νος, εἰς τοὺς αἰώνας τω̂ν αἰώνων; see, e.g., Luke 1:33; Luke 1:55; John 12:34; John 13:8; Romans 9:5; Galatians 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:17. Some translators have rendered these passages literally, and without respect to their usage in the LXX; (e.g. 'unto the age,' 'unto the ages,' &c.) in 1 Timothy 1:17, God is called 'the King of ages' (A. V. King Eternal); whilst in Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 11:3, He is said to have made 'the ages' (A. V. the worlds). The rendering of the A. V. is no doubt right in the first case, and probably in the second also. Ages and worlds bear the same relation to one another as time and space do, and the process of creating worlds was the means of bringing ages into being. [Olam has been occasionally rendered world in the A. V., as in Ecclesiastes 3:11, where, however, some would render the words, 'He hath put (a conception of) eternity in their hearts.' It is curious that several translators have rendered the last verse of the 139th Psalm, 'Lead me in the way of the world.' in later Hebrew Olam was constantly used in this sense.]

In 1 Corinthians 10:11 we read that even up on those who lived in apostolic days the ends of the ages had come (A. V. ends of the world); and in Hebrews 9:26 we are told that Christ has come once in the completion of the ages (A. V. end of the world) to put away sin. The word ages is here thought to answer rather to the sense in which the word dispensation is now used; and a more literal rendering would have been preferable.

In 2 Peter 3:18 we meet with the expression εἰς ἡμέραν αἰω̂νος, to the Day of the Age (A. V. for ever), by which we understand the dawn of eternity.

The adjective αἰώνιος is used more than forty times in the N.T. with respect to eternal life, which is regarded partly as a present gift, partly as a promise for the future. It is also applied to God's endless existence in Romans 16:26; to the endless efficacy of Christ's atonement in Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 13:20; and to past ages in Romans 16:25, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2.

This word is used with reference to eternal fire, Matthew 18:8; Matthew 25:41, Judges 1:7; eternal punishment, Matthew 25:46; eternal judgment or condemnation, Mark 3:29, Hebrews 6:2; eternal destruction, 2 Thessalonians 1:9. the word in these passages implies finality, and apparently signifies that when these judgments shall be inflicted, the time of probation, change, or the chance of retrieving one's fortune, will have gone by absolutely and for ever. We understand very little about the future, about the relation of human life to the rest of existence, and about the moral weight of unbelief, as viewed in the light of eternity. If, on the one hand, it is wrong to add to God's word, on the other we must not take away from it; and if we stagger under the doctrine of eternal punishment as it is set forth in Scripture, we must be content to wait, cleaving to the Gospel of God's love in Christ, while acknowledging that there is a dark background which we are unable to comprehend.

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Bibliography Information
Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Olam'. Synonyms of the Old Testament.

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Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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