1. Original Words:
In the King James Version this word represents several originals, as follows:
'erets "earth"; chedhel, "the underworld"; cheledh, "lifetime," "age"; `olam, "indefinite time," "age"; tebhel, "fertile earth"; ge, "earth"; aion, "age," "indefinite time," with frequent connotation of the contents of time, its influences and powers; oikoumene, "inhabited earth," the world of man considered in its area and distribution; last, and most frequently, kosmos, properly "order," with the suggestion of beauty; thence the material uerse, as the great example of such order; then the moral uerse, the total system of intelligent creatures, perhaps sometimes including angels (1 Corinthians 4:9), but as a rule human beings only; then, in view of the fact of uersal human failure, humanity in its sinful aspect, the spirit and forces of fallen humanity regarded as antagonistic to God and to good, "all around us which does not love God."
Of the above terms, some need not detain us; 'erets, as the original to "world," occurs only thrice, chedhel, once, cheledh, twice, `olam, twice (including Ecclesiastes 3:11), ge, once. The most important of the series, looking at frequency of occurrence, are tebhel, aion, oikoumene, kosmos. On these we briefly comment in order.
Tebhel, as the original to "world," occurs in 35 places, of which 15 are found in Psalms and 9 in the first half of Isaiah. By derivation it has to do with produce, fertility, but this cannot be said to come out in usage. The word actually plays nearly the same part as "globe" with us, denoting man's material dwelling-place, as simply as possible, without moral suggestions.
We have indicated above the speciality of aion. It is a time, with the suggestion always of extension rather than limit (so that it lends itself to phrases denoting vast if not endless extension, such as "to the aions of aions," rendered "forever and ever," or "world without end"). In Hebrews 1:2; 11:13, it denotes the "aeons" of the creative process. In numerous places, notably in Matthew, it refers to the "dispensations" of redemption, the present "age"of grace and, in distinction, the "age" which is to succeed it--"that world, and the resurrection" (Luke 20:35). Then, in view of the moral contents of the present state of things, it freely passes into the thought of forces and influences tending against faith and holiness, e.g., "Be not fashioned according to this world" (Romans 12:2). In this connection the Evil Power is said to be "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The word oikoumene occasionally means the Roman empire, regarded as pre-eminently the region of settled human life. So Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28, and perhaps Revelation 3:10, and other apocalyptic passages. In Hebrews it is used mystically of the Empire of the Messiah (1:6; 2:5).
We have remarked above on kosmos, with its curious and suggestive history of meanings. It may be enough here to add that that history prepares us to find its reference varying by subtle transitions, even in the same passage. See e.g. John 1:10, where "the world" appears first to denote earth and man simply as the creation of "the Word," and then mankind as sinfully alienated from their Creator. We are not surprised accordingly to read on the one hand that "God .... loved the world" (John 3:16), and on the other that the Christian must "not love the world" (1John 2:15). The reader will find the context a sure clue in all cases, and the study will be pregnant of instruction.
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