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Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament


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kosmos (Strong's #2889) World

aion (Strong's #165) Age

The Authorized Version translates kosmos as "world" everywhere except in1Peter3:3. And this is also the Authorized Version's usual translation of aion. The Authorized Version translates kosmos as "age" only in Ephesians 2:7 and in Colossians 1:26. Although "age" may sound inadequate now, had it been used more frequently, it might have expanded gradually so that it adapted itself to the larger meaning of kosmos. It is unfortunate that the translators of the Authorized Version did not devise some means to distinguish between kosmos and aion. Indeed the Latin, no less than the Greek, has two words where we have used only one. This deficiency is evident in all of those passages that refer to the end or consummation of the aion, as well as in those that speak of "the wisdom of this world" ( 1 Corinthians 2:6), "the god of this world" ( 2 Corinthians 4:4), and "the children of this world" ( Luke 16:8). The New King James Version improved many of these passages by translating aion as "age."

Kosmos has an interesting history for several reasons. Suidas traced its development through four successive meanings: "Ho kosmos signifies in Scripture four things: goodly appearance, the whole, orderliness, magnitude." Originally kosmos meant "ornament," which is its primary meaning in the Old Testament and a meaning it has once in the New Testament ( 1 Peter 3:3). Next kosmos came to mean "order" or "arrangement" and then "beauty"as springing out of these"goodly appearance," and "orderliness" (according to Suidas) or (according to Hesychius) kallopismos, kataskeue, taxis (Strong's #5010), katastasis, and kallos. Pythagoras was the first to use kosmos to refer to the sum total of the material universe, and according to Plutarch, he did this to express his sense of the universe's beauty and order. According to others, Pythagoras only used kosmos to refer to heaven because of its well-ordered arrangement, not to the whole material universe. This is often the way kosmos is used in Xenophon, Isocrates, Plato, and Aristotle.Augustine described the Latin mundus (world) as "the arrangement and regulation of each single thing formed and distinguished," which is nearly the same as the Greek kosmos. This similarity gave rise to Augustine's profound play on words: "O munde immunde"(O filthy clean). Thus Pliny stated: "What the Greeks with a name of embellishment have called kosmon, we have termed mundum from its perfect and absolute elegance." And Cicero said: "The Greeks well name it kosmon as noted for its variety, we refer to it as a shining mundum."

From its use as referring to the material universe, kosmos came to refer to the external framework of things where man lives and moves and is himself the moral center. In that sense, kosmos is nearly equivalent to oikoumene, and then to the people themselves, to the sum total of persons living in the world. From that meaning an ethical use of kosmos developed that referred to all who were not of the ekklesia (Strong's #1577) and who therefore were alienated from the life of God and were his enemies because of their wicked deeds. It is hardly necessary to remind the reader of the immense role that this sense of kosmos plays in John's theology, both in his record of Jesus' sayings and in his own writings. This last sense of kosmos was utterly unknown to the entire heathen world, which had no sense of the opposition between God and man, the holy and unholy, though this sense was latent but not distinct in the Old Testament.

Aristotle's etymology of aion "receiving its name from aei einai [always being]" must be rejected as incorrect. It is more likely that aion derives from ao and aemi (to breathe). Like kosmos, aion has a primary and physical meaning and an additional secondary and ethical meaning. Aion's primary meaning refers to timeshort or longin its unbroken duration. In classical Greek, aion often refers to the duration of a human life. But the essential meaning of aion is time as the condition for all created things and as the measure of their existence. Thus Theodoret wrote:

Ho aion is not any substance, but it is an irresistible thing, accompanying those who have a mortal nature; for the interval from the constituting of the world [kosmou] to its consummation is called aionaion then is the interval yoked to created nature.

Aion came to mean all that exists in the world under conditions of time: "The totality of what is discernible in the passage of time, the world inasmuch as it is active in time." Ethically speaking, aion refers to the course and current of this world's affairs. But since the world's course of affairs is sinful, it is not surprising that "this age"as contrasted with "that age" ( Luke 20:35) and "the coming age" ( Mark 10:30) and "the age about to come" ( Matthew 12:32) like kosmos soon acquired an unfavorable meaning. The "kingdoms of the world [kosmou]"in Matthew 4:8 are the "kingdoms of this age [aionos]" in Ignatius. God delivered us by his Son "from the present evil age [aionos]"( Galatians 1:4); Satan is "god of this age [aionos]" ( 2 Corinthians 4:4); and sinners walk kata ton aiona tou kosmou toutou ( Ephesians 2:2). This last phrase is translated too weakly in our Authorized Version as "according to the course of this world." Ephesians 2:2 is particularly instructive since kosmos and aion are both used. Bengel's excellent remarks are worth noting:

Aion and kosmos are different. The former controls and as it were shapes the later; kosmos is more outward and aion is more subtle. Aion is a term used not only physically, but also morally, denoting a quality of people living in it; and thus aion refers to a long succession of times when an evil age succeeds an evil age.

Compare Windischmann's remarks:

Aion dare never be taken to denote only time, but rather as embracing everything caught up in time, the world and its glory, people and their natural unredeemed doings and strivings, in contrast to yonder eternal kingdom of the Messiah, which only begins in the here and now and yearns to be perfected.

We attach an ethical meaning to "the times," as well as to "the age," "the spirit or genius of the age," and der Zeitgeist (the spirit of the time). Aion includes all the thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, impulses, and aspirations present in the world at any given time, which may be impossible to accurately define but which still constitute a real and effective powerthe moral or immoral atmosphere we breathe. Bengel called it the subtle shaping spirit of the kosmos, or world of people, who are living alienated and apart from God. Saeculum (age/spirit of the age) in Latin acquired the same sense, as in the familiar epigram of Tacitus: "Saeculum [age] is said to corrupt and to be corrupted."

The use of aiones in Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 11:3, however, does not follow the preceding distinction between aion and kosmos. In both of these passages aiones refers to the worlds as seen in other than temporal terms. Some expositorsespecially modern Socinian oneshave attempted to explain aiones in Hebrews 1:2 as the successive dispensations, the chronoi kai kairoi of the divine management. However plausible this explanation might be if we take the verse in isolation, the use of aiones in Hebrews 11:3 is decisive. In both passages aiones can only mean "the world," not "the ages." I have called the Hebrews passages the only exceptions, for I do not believe that1Timothy1:17 is a third. In that passage aiones does not refer to "the worlds" in the usual concrete meaning of the term but to the "the ages," the temporal periods whose sum and aggregate foreshadow the conception of eternity. This usage agrees with the more common temporal meaning of aion in the New Testament. The "King of ton aionon" thus refers to the sovereign dispenser and disposer of the ages, where the mystery of God's purpose with man unfolds.Etymologically our English world more nearly represents aion than does the Greek kosmos. The old Weralt (in modern German Welt) is composed of two words, Wer (man) and Alt (age or generation). Thus the basic meaning of Weralt is "generation of men." The notion of space unfolds from this expression of time, as aion passed into the meaning of kosmos. In the earliest German records, however, Weralt is used first as an expression of time and only derivatively as one of space. Grimm, however, thought that world is equivalent to whirled. For the Hebrew equivalents of the words for time and eternity, see Conrad von Orelli. For their Greek and Latin equivalentssuch as there aresee Pott.

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Bibliography Information
Trench, Richard C. Entry for 'World'. Synonyms of the New Testament. 1854.

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