An Analytical Study of Words
"Forever and Ever"--A Poor Translation
"If the Greek words eis tous aionas ton aionon mean endless time, as translated in the KJV, 'forever and ever,' we have a contradiction in Scripture."
-Dr. William Barclay
"This view (Restitution of All) is so
clearly Scriptural that the only surprise is that it has not been more definitely
and widely held."
-Dr. A.T. Pierson
There is no doubt that God has always existed, but the statement at Romans 16:26 speaks of Him as an eonian God. The Scriptures say He made the eons, so He existed before they were made, and He will exist after the eons have been concluded (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26). He is endless. To argue that "eonian God" makes the "eonian" unlimited time because God is unlimited is illogical. Isaiah 54:5, KJV, calls Him "the God of the whole earth." This does not preclude Him from also being the God of the entire universe. In the context of Romans 16:26, He is called the "eonian God," but He was God before the eons were made; He is God during all the eons, and in post-eonian times. In other words, just because the Scriptures refer to Him as the "God of the ages" does not preclude Him from being the God of eternity. The Scriptures declare Him the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and "the God of Israel." Does that mean He cannot therefore be the God of the gentiles, of the whole universe? Of course not!
As for the KJV translation, "forever and
ever," there are some students of the Greek who admit that this is
not a faithful translation of the Greek words found in the text. The Greek
uses three distinct phrases, all of which are translated the same
in the KJV.
- Hebrews 1:8: ho thronos sou ho theos eis ton aiona tou aionos, "Thy throne, O God, is for the eon of the eon." In both occurrences in this verse, the Greek word we translated "eon" appears in the singular.
- Ephesians 3:21: auto hê doxa en tê ekklêsia kai en Christo Iêsou eis pasas tas geneas tou aionos ton aionon, "To Him be the glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the eon of the eons. Amen." Here the Greek word for eon is used twice. The first time it is in the singular; the second time it is in the plural.
- Galatians 1:5: ho hê doxa eis tous aionas ton aionon, "To Whom be glory for the eons of the eons." Here the Greek word for eon appears twice in the plural.
Philippians 1:10 says (ASV margin), "so that ye may distinguish the things that differ." Since the words of God are inspired and are used precisely, to ignore the differences in these passages is to ignore what He is saying.
Hebrews 1:8 is a quotation from Psalm 45:6, LXX, where the Greek text says, eis ton aiona tou aionos, "into the eon of the eon,"-the singular form for eon in both occurrences. The preposition eis is translated "into" or "unto;" idiomatically, "for." Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon and Concordance defines it: "eis, into, to as far as, to the extent of."
Dr. E.W. Bullinger's Lexicon and Concordance says (p. 804), "eis, unto, when referring to time, denoting either the interval up to a certain point, during; or the point itself as the object or aim of some purpose, up to, for."
Dr. Nigel Turner, in his book, Grammatical Insights into the N.T., says (p. 91), "eis involves a movement for development toward a goal." If eis means as far as, to the extent of, or a movement or development toward a goal, then it cannot be used with words meaning endless or unlimited time.
Ephesians 3:21: eis pasas tas geneas tou aionos ton aionon, "for all the generations of the eon of the eons." KJV: "throughout all the ages, world without end." ASV margin: "unto all the generations of the age of the ages." Young's Literal Translation: "into the age of the ages." The "eon of the eons" refers to a crowning eon of another which precedes it.
So what is meant by this expression? Many KJV tradition scholars say that these three different Greek phrases are idiomatic expressions for "eternity." Idiotic, perhaps, but not idiomatic! Similar expressions used in the Scriptures are cited in order to illustrate the meaning: Song of Solomon 1:1, "song of songs;" Eccl. 12:8, "vanity of vanities;" Gen 9:25, "servant of servants;" Ex. 26:33, "holy of the holies;" Deut. 10:17, "God of gods and Lord of lords;" Dan. 8:25, "prince of princes;" Phil. 3:5, "Hebrew of Hebrews;" 1 Tim. 6:15, "King of kings and Lord of lords." Most students of the Scriptures understand what is meant by such expressions, so why is Eph. 3:21, "eon of the eons" an enigma? The eon of the eons refers to the final and greatest of all eons. That it cannot refer to "eternity" is shown by the statement that there will be "generations," which implies procreation, which will not happen in eternity since we will then be like the angels. This eon succeeds the millennial eon, and is previous to the final state.
There are others who teach the same. Dr. A.T. Pierson supports this view in his book, The Bible and Spiritual Life: "This view is so clearly scriptural that the only surprise is that it has not been more definitely and widely held. It adds immeasurably, both to the glory of Christ as the coming King, and the Father as the former and framer of the ages. It is the period typified by the eighth day of the Mosaic Code: the perfect glory of Christ, reserved for 'the morrow after.' The millennial 'Sabbath.' And while the millennial period is limited to a thousand years, there are no definite limits to this final age of glory."
Mr. George Saltau, in his book, Past, Present and Future, adopts the same view.
Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth, or God's Plan and Purpose in the Ages, shows (p. 3, chart "The Ages") an age succeeding the kingdom age, which he calls the "perfect age." This "perfect age" is also shown in other charts in Mr. Larkin's book.
The expression, "eon of the eons," is not limited to its use at Eph. 3:21. In the LXX at Dan. 7:18 we see, heos aionos ton aionon, "until eon of the eons." In the Song of the Three Children (LXX, Septuagint), at the end of verse 68, there is, kai eis ton aiona ton aionon, "and into the eon of the eons." In the book of Enoch there is a similar expression: "until the judgment of the eon of the eons be accomplished."
Windet, in De Vita Functor Statu, states, "However you understand the phrase, it could not be used unless it signified something less than endlessness; for 'completion' does not accord with true endlessness." Therefore, the expression "eon of the eons" and "eon of the eon" mean the last and crowning eon in which Christ will hand everything to His Father, entirely subjected (1 Cor. 15:22-28). We know that the millennial eon will not be one of such complete subjection, for Christ will rule with a rod of iron, and at its close, after the most wonderful and beneficial rule by His sceptre, at the instigation of Satan, loosed from the pit, large numbers of those who have been blessed under Christ's gracious reign will revolt against Him (Rev. 20:7-9). While there may be many different interpretations about this "thousand year period," clearly we have time, and things not yet subjected. This revolt shows that the subjection spoken of at 1 Cor. 15:22-28; Eph. 1:9-11; Phil. 2:10-11; and Col. 1:10-20 has not been completed. It will take yet another eon, following the millennial one, with Christ reigning to end all insubordination in all His realms, before He will finally surrender to His Father all completed, so that the Father can be "all in all." The final eon is that of new heavens and the new earth wherein reigns righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13). That is the one called the "eon of the eon" (Heb. 1:8). It is also called the "eon of the eons" at Eph 3:21, because it is paramount to all preceding eons, including the millennial eon in which Christ Jesus reigns as Messiah and King. Paul writes (Eph. 2:6,7) of the blessings of the coming eons. He says: "And He rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials in Christ Jesus, that in the oncoming eons, He may be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (see also Eph. 3:20-21).
Thus, in the coming eons, the millennial and the succeeding eon, Christ Jesus will be displaying His transcending riches to us. We must be careful when talking about what God will do in future generations and ages. For too often we project our own ideas onto the plan of God. I hope I have not crossed that line. Yet when it comes to the correct rendering of these words, I feel certain what you are reading sheds much light which many Bible translations have hidden from us.
Let us get back to "forever and ever." The Greek phrase eis tous aionas ton aionon, "for the eons of the eons," occurs about twenty times in the Greek New Testament in this combination. The ASV margin and some other versions, lexicons, dictionaries, and commentaries translate the phrase correctly.
Windet, in De Vita Functora Statu, of 1633 says (p. 170), "eis tous aionas ton aionon, of the New Testament meant a finite period."
At 1 Cor. 15:25, where the Greek text shows, dei gar auton basileuein achri hou thê pantas tous echthrous hupo tous podas autou, "For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet." This clearly states that Christ's reigning is limited. There is no Scripture to contradict the statement when aion and aionios are correctly translated.
Dr. William Barclay concurs in his commentary (p. 166-169) on The Letters to the Corinthians. If the Greek words eis tous aionas ton aionon mean endless time, as translated in the KJV, "forever and ever," we have a contradiction in Scripture, for Rev. 11:15 says, in the same version: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever." That contradicts 1 Cor. 15:25, which says: "He must be reigning till..." If Rev. 11:15 is translated "eons of the eons," or "ages of the ages," there is no contradiction. The ASV says (1 Cor. 15:24-25), "Then cometh the end, when He shall deliver up the kingdom to God., even the Father; When He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He hath put all His enemies under His feet;" consequently, the reigning of Christ Jesus and the saints (Rev. 22:5) will be "for the eons of the eons" or "for the ages of the ages" (see the ASV margin here).
Eis tous aionas is accusative plural, "for the eons," or "for the ages," and these words are not "forever and ever," which are in the singular. The word ton is the genitive plural article, and in our syntax should be translated "of the." In this Greek clause, there is no word that means "and," as the Greek conjunction kai; "and," is not in this clause. The word aionon is the genitive plural of the noun aion, and the genitive plural in this syntax should be translated "eons," or "ages;" hence ton aionon, "of the eons." Anyone can study these words and see that "forever and ever" is not a good translation of these Greek words. As eis is used in this clause and as eis involves a movement or development toward a goal, this clause cannot mean endlessness.
As mentioned previously, there are several analogous expressions in the Scriptures which should show the meaning of the words under discussion. In Ex. 26:33 (LXX), tou hagiou ton hagion, "in the holy of the holies." This is similar to the "eon of the eons" of Eph. 3:21. In II Kings 8:6 (LXX) we see, eis ta hagia ton hagion, "for the holies of the holies"-similar to "eons of the eons." The "holy of the holies" and "holies of the holies" refer to the tabernacle. Psalm 44:7 says, ho thronos sou ho theos, eis ton aiona tou aionos, "Thy throne, O God, is for the eon of eon"-similar to Heb. 1:8. Daniel 7:18: "until eon of the eons" and similar to that of Eph. 3:21, where a singular is followed by a plural, "eon of the eons." In these expressions we see the eons corresponding to the holies in the tabernacle. While there are many different teachings on the types in the Tabernacle of Moses, it should not be too difficult to see that there were at least five divisions: (1) without the camp; (2) in the camp; (3) in the court; (4) in the holy place; and (5) in the holy of holies. These may be likened to the five eons we find in the Scriptures (past eons, present eon, future eons). The last eon is called the "eon of the eons," because it, like the "holy of holies," is the climax of the others. In Hebrews chapter 9, the Greek text of Nestle reads (margin v. 25), eis ta hagia ton hagion, "into the holies of the holies," and (v. 3), hagia hagion, "holies of holies." Just as the two holy places in the tabernacle are called the holies of holies, so the last two eons are often called the eons of the eons. As the tabernacle illustrated man's approach to God, it corresponds closely with the eonian times, which also brings man to God. The "holy of holies" was a single holy place. The "eon of eons," a single eon. It was the pre-eminence of the "holy of holies," in relation to the other holy places, which caused it to be so designated. So the pre-eminence of the "eon of the eons" lies in its being the fruitage and harvest of previous eons. The same is true of the "holies of the holies" of Heb. 9:25. They may be likened to the "eons of the eons" of Rev. 11:15; 22:5. Luke 1:33 says of Christ's "kingdom there shall be no end." While the kingdom itself will not end, but the reign of Christ for the eons of the eons will end when He delivers up the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-26).
Mr. W. Kelly, in his book, Lectures on the Book of Revelation, commenting upon the saints' reign, states (p. 435-436), "Supposing that God's Word speaks of the earthly state of things and uses the expression 'reigning forever and ever,' as in Daniel 7 and Luke 1, it cannot be understood absolutely. The words must be limited by the subject-matter of which God is speaking-so in Daniel 7:27 the kingdom under the whole heaven, which is given to the people of the saints of high places, is said to be an everlasting kingdom. This, I apprehend, is the same period that is called here the thousand years."
The sentence in Rev. 22:5 saying: "They will be reigning for the eons of the eons" shows that the expression has no reference either to the present or to the preceding eons. The Greek verb basileusousin, "they will be reigning" is a third-person plural future active indicative form; so this reigning must be future. In this present eon, as in those preceding ones, the slaves, or servants, of God are not reigning. Similarly, that God and Christ are living for "the eons of the eons" (Rev. 1:18; 4:9; 10:6; 15:7) has reference to the eons of the future, not to the present eon. That is not to say that God and Christ Jesus are not living during the previous eons. God was the living pre-eonian God. He is the living eonian God, and He will be the living post-eonian God. Paul, when writing to Timothy, said (1 Tim. 4:10), "For this we are toiling and being reproached, for we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers."
Two scriptures state positively that the eons
will end: 1 Cor. 10:11, tauta de tupikos sunebainen ekeinois egraphê
de pros nouthesian hêmon eis hous ta telê ton aionon katêntêken,
"Now those things befalls them typically, yet it was written for our
admonition, to whom the consummations of the eons have attained." Paul
had said what those things are, which befalls them typically, in the preceding
verses. Yet "it was written" is in the singular, for "our"
(plural) admoniton- the "our" referring to the saints, who are
the present believers. "To whom," referring to the saints, "the
consummations of the eons have attained." The Corinthian saints had
attained the consummations of eons in spirit because they were a new creation
(2 Cor. 5:17). Some day all will be a new creation (Rev. 21:5). Now, only
the saints who are in Christ are of the new creation, but it is God's goal
for the eons to head up all in the Christ, as stated at
Eph. 1:9-11. Salvation for all is God's plan for the eons. Those saints believing now have attained that purpose, so have attained the consummation of the eons.
While some doubt such an exegesis of 1 Cor. 10:11, others, such as the writer of the New Dictionary of the N. T. Theology, concur (vol. 1, p. 324): "Paul also speaks of a movement from God to man. 1 Corinthians 10:11 speaks of us 'upon whom the end of the ages has come.' Hebrews 9:26 contains a similar expression, 'at the end of the ages' (time, art. aion). Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The movement directed by God towards its end; with us it has now attained its goal. The thought also contains the certainty that with Christ, Who inaugurates the end of the ages, a new world era and order of things has begun. Admittedly, this is apparent only to the believer."
Consequently, with the saints it is possible in spirit to taste the powers of the ages to come (Heb. 6:5). At Hebrews 9:26 the Greek says, epei edei auton pollakis pathein apo katabolês kosmou nuni de hapax epi sunteleia ton aionon eis athetêsin tês hamartias dia têsthusias autou pephanerotai, "Since then, He must often be suffering from the disruption of the world, yet now, once, at the conclusion of the eons, for the repudiation of sin through His sacrifice, He has been manifested." In the clause, "He has been manifested," the verb is a third-person singular perfect passive indicative. The Greek perfect tense denotes the present state, resultant upon a past action. There is no English tense which corresponds to that of the Greek perfect, so this form is a difficult one to convey into English. It may be translated: "through His sacrifice, He is manifested." But it is clear His sacrifice was not at the "end of the world," as the KJV says, since the world continues. But it is equally clear that His sacrifice was not at the "conclusion of the eons," since Paul wrote of "this present wicked eon" and the "on-coming eons" (Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:7). Sin still remains, and there is a world of sinners; but when the eons come to a conclusion, sin will be repudiated by virtue of His sacrifice.
In Romans 4:17 Paul says, "According as it is written that, a father of many nations I have appointed you, facing which, he believed it of the God Who is vivifying the dead and calling what is not as if it were." Here Paul is writing of Abraham, that Abraham believes God. The God Abraham believes is the God "who is vivifying the dead and calling what is not as if it were." God did not say, "I will appoint you a father of many nations," but "I have appointed you," using a Greek perfect verb, which indicates a completed action with a resultant state of being. As God stated it, it is already an accomplished fact, yet at the time, Abraham did not even have a son, and he was nearly one hundred years old. So God was there calling what was not as though it were. God speaks so of us, when He says: "Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also, now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also" (Rom. 8:29-30; see Eph. 1:3-8). Are we glorified now? Certainly not! But God is following the same pattern of dealing with us as with Abraham, in that He is calling what is not as if it were. God says that He "seats us together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6), yet we are still in this world, and a part of an ecclesia on the earth. He can make such a statement because He can, and will, do what He says.
Because we are a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), we have attained to the consummations of the eons (1 Cor. 10:11). At the conclusion of the eons, sin will be repudiated. At present God is "calling what is not as if it were." Only God is able to do that.
The Scriptures teach that during the eons mankind is experiencing evil, sin, sickness, death, judgments, generation, opposition from sovereignties, authorities and powers, all of which will be nullified or abolished, as stated in 1 Cor. 15:22-28.
Luke 1:50 says, kai to eleos autou eis geneas kai geneas tois phoboumenois auton, "and His mercy is for generations and generations, for those who are fearing Him." In the phrase, "for generations and generations," there is an example of two plural nouns being used with the conjunction kai, "and;" but in the expression aionas ton aionon, there is no conjunction. The word ton, "of the," is the genitive plural article, and should not be translated "and," as is done in the KJV's "forever and ever." The LXX, at Psa. 90:1, states, en genea kai genea, "in generation and generation." Another example of the use of the conjunction kai, "and," between the two words for "generation" in the singular. At Heb. 1:8 the noun aion, "eon," is used twice in the singular form, but with no "and" between. At Ex. 15:18, kurios basileuon ton aiona kai ep aiona kai eti, "the Lord is reigning the eon and upon eon and longer." Eon, as used here, cannot refer to time without end, for there could be nothing beyond, or longer than, endless time. Here the Latin Vulgate says, Dominus regnabit in aeturnum et ultra, "The Lord will reign unto [or into] eternity and beyond." The Latin word in, when used with an accusative aeturnum, has the meaning of placing His reign in eternity, but the ultra, "beyond," shows it did not stop when it was placed there, but continued beyond the time of the placing. The English words, "forever and ever," unfortunately, do not convey the same meaning.
The Hebrew text shows, "to the eon and further." Similar expressions appear frequently in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts (see Daniel 12:3, for example).
Wycliffe's version, the first translation into English, did not use the words "forever and ever." Several versions in modern English do not use those words either: The Emphasized Bible, by J.B. Rotherham; The N. T., A Translation, by E.L. Clementson; The Emphatic Diaglott, by Benjamin Wilson; Young's Literal Translation, by Professor Robert Young; and The Concordant Literal New Testament, by A.E. Knoch as well as others.