DEFINITION OF BIBLE TERMS.
WORLD, ÆON, KOSMOS.*
We wish to present one or two more thoughts on æon, age, to complete the article in No. 2, and then to consider the word Kosmos.
The view of the meaning of æon already presented explains why God is called "the King of the ages." (Rev. 15:3, N.V.**, and the "æonial God," Rom. 16:26. Some have argued that because this adjective, æonial (derived from æon), is applied to God, therefore it must mean endless; but such reasoning only manifests the ignorance of the reasoner. Such an expression as the endless God, is absurd and utterly incongruous, and entirely foreign to the idea the apostle intended to convey. God is said to be "the King of the Ages" because it is through these "age-times" that he is working out his gracious "purpose;" and the epithet æonial is applied to him for the same reason. The ages are God's "days" of creation; they are the different departments through which God's work (Eph. 2:10) must pass, stage after stage, "from faith to faith," (Rom. 1:17) "from glory to glory," (2 Cor. 3:18) until it reaches perfection.
I have no doubt, moreover, but that these "age-times" are foreshadowed in the law by the equally peculiar Sabbatic and Jubilee times; see Lev. 23. and 25, and other passages in the law. The "seven days," "seven weeks," "seven months," "seven years" or the Sabbatic cycle, and the "seven times seven years" or Jubilee cycle,-all these are, I doubt not, types and shadows of the "ages," "age of ages," and "ages of ages" of the New Testament. The purpose of these Sabbatic and Jubilee times is also typical of the "purpose of the ages." In and through the former were wrought out certain cleansing, releases, redemptions, and restorations on the natural plane, under the law. So in and through the age-times are wrought out the same things, on the spiritual plane, for beggared, enslaved, and lost man, under God's grace. I cannot now go into this subject fully; but I think that the mere suggestion of it will carry conviction to all the "spiritually minded." "The law has a shadow of good things to come." (Heb. 10:1.) The "good things to come" are in the "ages to come," when "God will show the exceeding riches of his grace," and the law above referred to contains the "shadow" of these "ages" and of the "good things."
There can be no doubt in any thoughtful, unprejudiced mind that this word age, is an important word in the Bible; and that it is used by the Saviour and the apostles in a definite, specific sense. I have already indicated this sense, but I shall be able more thoroughly to explain it after considering the related word, Kosmos.
The definition given of the word kosmos is as follows: "order, a set form, the mode or fashion of a thing, the world or universe arrangement, mankind." Every one can see at once from this definition that kosmos is an altogether different word from æon; the latter is a period of time, the former is as above; and yet we find this broad distinction practically obliterated in the common version by the fact that both words are rendered by the one English word, world. The two principal meanings of Kosmos as used in the New Testament, will appear from the consideration of certain passages of scripture.
1. We find that it means Mankind, the inhabitants of the earth; as, for example, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." Here the word Kosmos plainly means mankind; so in the following: "The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world;" "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;" "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world;" and many other passages of like import. It is plain that in these passages Kosmos means the human race, mankind.
2. The other meaning of Kosmos is the order, or arrangement of things; a mode, fashion, form or system of things; as illustrating this use, see John 6:23; Christ says to the Jews, "ye are of this world; I am not of this world;" that is to say, "ye are of this order or arrangement of things, wrong, iniquitous, and corrupt; I am of another order or system; so of his disciples he says, "ye are not of the world even as I am not of the world." This the apostle explains in Rom. 13:11-14 and 1 Thess. 5:4-8. Now a dark and wicked order of things obtains, as the apostle says, it is "night," but "ye brethren, are not of the night nor of the darkness; ye are all the children of light and the children of the day;" i.e. the coming "perfect day," when Christ shall be the prince of the world, a new world, a new order of things, "wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Pet. 3:13. So again in the following passages; "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out;" the present order or system of things is, on the whole, unrighteous and wicked, hence Satan is styled the prince of this world or system; and hence Christ says, "My kingdom is not of this world," not of this order of things; So Paul tells us that "the fashion of this "world passeth away;" he also speaks of the "course of this world," the "elements" and "rudiments" of the world, etc., in all of which he is doubtless referring to the order of things, the iniquitous and unrighteous system, with its "beggarly elements"-that now obtains, in contradistinction to the just and equitable arrangement that will prevail when "the kingdom (dominion) of this world (kosmos) shall become the kingdom of our Lord, and God's anointed" (Rev. 11:15, N.V.), and "all shall know Him from the least to the greatest."
Many more passages might be cited to the same effect, but these are sufficient to show this important meaning of kosmos. Now look at 2 Pet. 3. Three worlds are spoken of in this chapter, each world composed of a distinct heavens and earth. The heavens and earth which were "of old, standing out of the water and in the water," constituting "the world (kosmos) that then was, being overflowed with water, perished;" that order of things passed away, and a new order was established, "the heavens and the earth which are now," constituting "this world," that Christ and the apostles speak of, as we have noticed above. "This world,"-this present iniquitous system of things-will be destroyed by fire (compare Zeph. 3:8, 9), at the "day of judgment" and will thus "pass away," and be succeeded by "a new heavens and new earth," constituting a new world, or order of things, "wherein dwelleth righteousness." These are the three worlds of Scripture; the three worlds of the orthodox catechism are heaven, earth and hell; but none of these are ever called a world in the Bible. The above are the only worlds spoken of, and these come in the order named, no two of them exist simultaneously, and each of them, as we have seen, is made up of a distinct "heavens and earth." In the next number of the paper I intend to consider the significance of these last two terms,-heaven and earth-an understanding of which is necessary in order to thoroughly comprehend the meaning of æon and kosmos. I will only add now that from the foregoing can be seen the relation between the worlds and the ages. The worlds are the different orders or arrangements of heavenly and earthly things that obtain for long periods of time and then "pass away," to be succeeded by other worlds, orders or systems. As we have seen there are three such worlds.
The first one extended from the creation to the flood, a period of 1656 years. The second one extends from the flood to the "day of judgment," or the second coming of Christ, since he comes to inaugurate the judgment day. "He will judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;" (2 Tim. 4:1). This world has already covered a period of more than four thousand years; but we have good reason to believe that it is very near its end and that the "new heaven and new earth" are close at hand. The third world extends on from the second coming of Christ to "the dispensation of the fulness of times, when all things in heaven and earth shall be gathered together in Christ;" "for he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet, all rule and all authority and power," and destroyed the last enemy, death, and then God shall be all in all; "Then cometh the end," the end of the "times of the restitution of all things," because then "all things" will be restored. We know not how long a time this third world will cover; it is not revealed; but enough is revealed to make us sure that it will continue for an immense period, even "the ages of ages;" as the second world is very much longer than the first, so doubtless the third will be far beyond the second in duration, But, thanks be to God; although we do not know the length of that mighty cycle-we know the glorious outcome, even "all things made new," and "God all in all;" for, "as truly as Jehovah lives, to Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall give praise to God." (Isa. 45:22,23; Phil. 2:10,11; compare Rom. 14:11, N.V. margin).
Now we will notice the relation of the ages to the worlds. We have seen that there have been three worlds; but these worlds embrace several ages. Of the first world we know but little; the whole account of it we have is contained in a few verses in the sixth chapter of Genesis; we know not what sub-divisions that world may have been divided into. Of the second world we have a full record, and it plainly appears that it has been divided into three ages. 1. The Patriarchal age, from the flood to the death of Jacob in Egypt. 2. The Jewish age, from the death of Jacob to the first advent. 3. The Christian, or Gospel age, from the first to the second advent, which event we have already seen closes this world, as well as the gospel age. In the third world we know there will be many ages, even "ages of ages," as we have already noticed, but of their number and duration we are not informed; the first age in that world, it appears, is what we call the Millennium, and beyond that there are other ages, "the times of the Restitution of all things," until the "dispensation of the fullness of times." The great difference between an æon and a kosmos, is that the former is a period during which God is dealing, according to a certain method with his people; the latter is the period of the duration of a certain order of things as it relates to the whole world; a change from one æon to another involves a change in the mode of God's dealings with his special people, but does not affect the world as a whole; a change from one kosmos to another involves a change affecting all mankind; as we further examine the worlds and ages we shall see this distinction illustrated.
The first illustration is in the change from the world before the flood to the present world; the transition period was marked by the flood, which affected every member of the race. In the Patriarchal age God's people were represented by one man at a time. Noah, and the patriarchs following him down to Abraham; then successively by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, one at a time, until we come down to the death of Jacob. when for the first time "the twelve tribes of Israel" (Gen. 49:48) are recognized as God's people and the Jewish age begins; this continues until the first advent when the Christian era is introduced, which has continued down to the present time. Let the reader notice that these ages are not characterized in themselves, nor distinguished one from another, by anything affecting the world as a whole. God's people alone have been affected by these changes, the world has gone on through these ages, and from one to another without being affected thereby. The great epochs and transition periods in the history of the world by no means correspond with the changes in these ages.
For instance the kingdom of Judah continued down to 606, B.C., when a great change took place, the crown was taken from the last Judaean king, (Ezek. 21:25-27) and universal dominion given to the Gentiles; but there was no change in the dispensation, i.e. in God's method with his people, they still continued under the same law down to the time of Christ. On the other hand at the first advent there was a great change in the dispensation, from Judaism to Christianity, from law to grace, from works to faith, but there was no change in the world of mankind, they continued right on under the Roman yoke for centuries afterward. Thus the distinction between these two significant words plainly appears. A Kosmos is an order, arrangement or system of things, ordained of God for a long period of time, related to, and effecting the entire race. An æon is a shorter period of time, included in the Kosmos, during which rules and methods obtain for the special guidance and training of God's people without any immediate reference to the world at large. During the Jewish age, for instance, God dealt with a certain class of people, a single nation, and on one line or principle, namely that of the law. The world of mankind was left to themselves; God's rule is, "every man in his own order;" (band or class) most who have lived in past ages have had no spiritual (i.e. perfecting, finishing) training as yet; their probation or trial will be in the next kosmos, and in future ages. As it was in the Jewish age so has it been in the Gospel age, i.e. God has not been dealing with the world in this age, but with a class; a people taken out from among the Gentiles for his name. (Acts 15:14). And this class will constitute the promised "Seed," (Gal. 3:16,29) "the Sons of God," (Rom. 8:19) in whom in future ages other bands and classes will be blessed and saved, by being "turned away from their iniquities," and "brought to a knowledge of the truth," until the whole creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption. We will now notice a few passages that still further show the relation between these two words.
See Matt. 13:36-43; Jesus here explains the parable of the tares and the wheat; he says, "the field is the world, the harvest is the end of the world." reading this from the common version anyone would suppose that the word world was used in the same sense in both places, but is not so; the first word rendered world is kosmos, the second is æon. (See New Version). How misleading to render these very different Greek words by the same English word! "The field is the world," kosmos, the world of mankind, where the good seed, "the children of the kingdom," or "the word," (Mark 4:14) was sown, "the harvest is the end of the æon, age," or "consummation of the age;" (see N.V.) not the end of the race of mankind, or the end of this planet on which we live, or the end of time,-but the end of the age, the Gospel age, when there will be a harvest, as there was at the end of the Jewish age (Luke 10:2) preparatory to the introduction of a new age and a new order of things.
Again, see Heb. 9:26. The apostle says that Christ did not need to offer himself often, as did the Jewish high priest every year, "for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Here again the two different words, kosmos and æon, are translated by the same word world, thus misleading the English reader. The sense of the passage is as follows: "for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world," i.e. kosmos, this present order or system of things-"but now once in the end of the age," etc., at the end of the Jewish age, Jesus "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
Now see Heb. 1:2. "By whom also he made the worlds." Most readers of this passage would get the idea that by the worlds here is meant the material worlds, i.e. the planets, the heavenly bodies of the Solar system, and they would understand that Jesus made, created, the material universe. But this idea is overthrown at once when we learn that the word here, properly rendered is ages, and not worlds. (See N.V.). "By whom also he made the ages;" this certainly does not mean the material worlds, the planets: what does it mean? Jesus Christ is the one central figure of all the ages. Before he came he was pointed to in a hundred ways in types, allegories, shadows and prophecies; when he came he began to fulfill all these; and in all future time he will still be "Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, to-day, and for the ages." (Heb. 13:8; N.V. margin) until "every knee shall bow and every tongue shall give praise to Him."
An ever increasing, broadening and deepening revelation of God in Christ has characterized all the ages past. From the first promise in Eden, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, Jesus was more and more revealed, age after age,-and God in him-until he himself came that we might behold "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus is the great revelation of God to man, hence God made the ages by (through, or with reference to) him; that is, each succeeding age has taken its distinctive character from that measure of light, progressively revealed, in regard to this Image of God, the Divine Word, Jesus Christ. How simple, and yet how grand and true is the declaration,-"By whom also he made the ages." Take out Christ from the ages and what would be left? An empty shell, a husk, a shadow without a substance, nothing. Jesus makes them what they are, and without him they would not be. This progressive revelation of God to man through Jesus Christ, which has given character to all the ages, is far more glorious and important than the creation of the material universe, the planetary system; but this important truth is entirely obscured by the misleading translation of the common version.
There is another passage, similar to the one just examined, in Heb. 11:3; "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." This passage is supposed by most Christians to teach the creation of the material universe out of nothing, but it teaches nothing of the kind; the word rendered worlds is ages, again, and this fact of itself ought to satisfy us at once that the apostle is not talking about material worlds, but of the ages, which are not material things, but periods of time. I will give one or two different translations of the passage, and then, what I understand to be the true meaning. Young renders it, "By faith we understand the ages to have been prepared by a saying of God, in regard to the things seen not having come out of things appearing." Rotherham renders it, "By faith we understand the ages to have been adjusted by declaration of God, to the end that not out of appearances, should that which is seen come into existence;" these translations are confirmed by the New Version, q. v. Now, if I err not, the meaning is as follows: if it were not for faith, appearances would deceive us; according to appearances, we might say that everything in this world had thus far been allowed to take its own course, and come out as it chanced; and that it had chanced to come out very bad so far, and was seemingly growing worse and worse; this is the appearance of things from the standpoint of the natural man; but now faith, founded on knowledge, comes in to modify and correct these appearances. We learn of God's all-pervading, all-controlling providence; we learn of his supremacy, his Fatherhood and his wisdom; such knowledge gives rise to faith, confidence, trust in Him; and from such faith, founded upon such knowledge, we come to understand that it is not safe to trust to appearances, but that we must look at things from the standpoint of God's plan, his ultimate purpose, if we would rightly comprehend his ways. Paul says that the mystery of God's purposes of grace are hid for ages and generations, but at last revealed to God's saints. Thus we may know that unseen causes are at work bringing about results unlooked for and least expected. These results are according to a pre-arranged plan, a perfect adjustment of the ages to the end that the finally seen things, i.e. the results. shall not be according to previous appearances, but according to God's design when the ages were adjusted. Thus faith is that which gives substance (see N. V., margin), to things hoped for, the proving of things "not seen as yet;" (N.V., and compare verse 7) this definition of faith, and declaration of God's perfect adjustment of the ages to the end of carrying out his own plan, is fully amplified and illustrated as the chapter proceeds.
God be praised that "things are not what they seem;" no matter how they appear, we shall yet see the final result, not according to present appearances, but according to God's pre-adjustment; like a wonderful and complicated machine which, notwithstanding the apparent confusion of levers, pulleys, belts, cranks and wheels, and the distracting sound of its ponderous working, is yet perfectly adjusted to the accomplishment of a given result, upon which we gaze with wonder and admiration,-so the intricate mechanism of God's marvelous "plan of the ages." though the various parts appear inharmonious and self-conflicting,-wheels within wheels, with rings high and dreadful and full of eyes round about, (Ezek. 1:16-18)-though there seems to be nothing but the harsh din of discord and strife ever sounding in our ears from the "conflict of the ages,"-just as Ezekiel saw his "visions of God" in the midst of whirlwinds, clouds and fire (1:1,4)-yet is the mighty fabric perfectly adjusted, and absolutely controlled by the omnipotent Master, so that steadily and continually the work goes on, drawing nearer and nearer to completion,-just as in Ezekiel's visions. Again, the "living creatures" always "went every one straight forward, and turned out when they went," (1:9,12,17; 10:11, etc.)-until at last the blessed end shall be seen (Jas. 5:11), the fair, spotless, finished product of God's great loom,-a race of beings in his own image and likeness; from the spirit of life (Jesus, John 6:33) is in the wheels," (ages) (Ezek.1:20, mar.)-"By whom also he made the ages." O what wonderful "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hid in the written word, as in the Word incarnate! truly, "it is the glory of God to conceal a thing." (Prov. 25:2). But how blessedly does he reveal his secrets unto them that fear (reverence) him! (Psa. 25:14).
In the next number, in the consideration of the terms heaven and earth, the subject will be still further explained.
*I spell the word, Kosmos, after the analogy of the Greek original, instead of according to the anglicized orthography, Cosmos.
**i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)