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Chapter 1 - Eternity

We are experienced with life that begins at birth and ends at death. Outside of this familiar territory even our ability to consider concepts is difficult. For example, one might ask if eternity is the end of time or of time unending. This begins to help us recognize some of the limits of our understanding.

This is made even more difficult in that the bible was not originally written in English. As a result, there is often difficulty using concepts that come across differently in English than they were used in the original languages. For example, the Greek word 'aionios' is translated into English as 'eternal'or sometimes 'world'. The Greek word is more accurately used (as it is in Young’s literal translation) as 'age'. Like the English word 'tall' (a man can be tall as can a mountain), the word can have different measures of time depending on the context.

"The adjective aionios, in like manner, carries the idea of 'time.' Neither the noun nor the adjective, in themselves, carry the sense of endless or everlasting, though they may acquire that sense by their connotation. Aionios means 'enduring through or pertaining to a period of time.' Both the noun and the adjective are applied to limited periods." - Vincent

We can see the use of aionios with an eternal context when it is used to describe God.

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Timothy 1:17

We have a variable usage of aion and aionios together where one is used to describe the age to come and the other is used to describe eternity.

Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. - Luke 18:30

The decision to call the life in the age to come 'eternal" from the word 'aionios" (translated here as 'everlasting") cannot be derived from this context alone. However, there are other verses where this life is described in ways that lend support for a true eternal life.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. - John 5:24

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? - John 11:25-26

In a similar way there are verses that lend support for those who do not have faith in Jesus, perishing, rather than living forever.

The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. - Ezekiel 18:20

For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? - 2 Corinthians 2:15-16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. - John 3:16

It is difficult to even use conjecture regarding the breadth of all existence. We think in terms of time and sequence. We know from the bible that there was a time before the creation of the world. We also know that there is a time to come. We can even see that there will be multiple periods in the future (age of ages, aion aion).

To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Peter 5:11

Some theologians see in the Greek word aion some of the speculations of Plato who attempted to use the word to describe an ephemeral timelessness beyond creation. However, most Greeks used the word in a more concrete way (usually as short as a week or as long as a lifetime). However, some theologians and neo-platonists, like Augustine, would use their familiarity with the philosophy of Plato to bring the idea of infinite eternality into their writings about scripture. Centuries later those selecting an English word to translate aionios (pertaining to the age) would be inclined to select 'eternal'.

We might not be able to learn much about existence before creation or after this age. Even our understanding of the future is somewhat limited to knowing that there are ages and ages. The 'eternal' life that Christians are assured of is not solely dependent on the English word eternal for the Greek word 'age'. To understand what happens after death, we simply need to be able to see that there is a world after this one. We can see this much of 'eternity'.


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