The Greek aion [aijwvn] in the Septuagint and New Testament corresponds to the Hebrew olam ['l/ of the Old Testament. Both words usually depend on a preposition (for example, ad olam and eis ton aionon are rendered "forever"). In some contexts olam ['l/ and aion [aijwvn] are translated "age" ("world" in the av); the Greek chronoi [crovno"] may also mean "ages."
Ages as Epochs of Time Both Testaments speak of "ages" as undefined periods of history over which God rules ( Psalm 90:2 ; 1 Tim 1:17 ; Jude 25 ). As with much intertestamental literature, the Apocalypse of Weeks goes farther, in this case dividing history into ten epochs of varying lengths (1 Enoch 91:12-17; 93:1-10). But the canonical writers do not try to calculate when successive ages will begin or end.
The Bible may refer to past ages in order to exalt God's knowledge as Creator in comparison with human ignorance ( Isa 64:4 ; cf. Deut 4:32 ). In the New Testament the hidden wisdom of God is repeatedly connected with the gospel, a mystery that he has chosen to reveal after long ages (aion [aijwvn] in 1 Col 2:7 ; Eph 3:9 ; Col 1:26 ; chronoi [crovno"] in Rom 16:25 ; 2 Tim 1:9 ; Titus 1:2 ).
According to 1 Corinthians 10:11, Hebrews 9:26, and 1pe 1:20, the present era is the end of the ages. Even while the church anticipates the future consummation, it lives already in the time in which God's plan of redemption is being fulfilled (cf. 2 Col 1:20 ).
The boundless future may also be regarded as a series of ages. Normally the "ages to come" are invoked by the prophets to underscore God's unending blessings for his people ( Isa 45:17 ; Dan 7:18 ). This theme is later taken up by Paul in Ephesians 2:7: "that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus."
This Age and the Age to Come The Old Testament predicts the future coming of God or the Messiah; most forms of postbiblical Judaism (see esp. 2 Esdras) go further and differentiate this age from the age to come, which is also known as the kingdom of God. This two-age schema is echoed in Matthew 12:32 and Ephesians 1:21, but the New Testament transforms the traditional pattern: with the coming of Christ, the blessings of the future are manifested among God's people in the present age (cf. Heb 6:5 ).
In terms of this age as a time of sin and darkness, aion [aijwvn] is sometimes synonymous with kosmos or "the world" (cf. Mark 4:19 ; Rom 12:2 ; 1 Col 1:20 ). During this time, Satan appears as the "god" of this age ( 2 Col 4:4 ) and sin prevails ( Gal 1:4 ; 2 Tim 4:10 ; Titus 2:12 ). The citizens of this age are living in darkness and must rely on the devices of their own human wisdom ( Luke 16:8 ; 1 Col 1:20 ; 1 Corinthians 2:6 1 Corinthians 2:8 ; 3:18 ). But so long as Christians remain in the world, they are cheered by the spiritual presence of Jesus until the close of this age ( Matt 28:20 ).
Cataclysmic signs will signal the close of the present era (synteleia [tou]aion os, Matt 24:3 ). According to the New Testament, the end of the age will bring the return of Christ and the judgment of the wicked ( Matthew 13:39-40 Matthew 13:49 ).
When the age to come arrives, the dead will rise to inherit eternal life ( Luke 20:34-35 ). Jewish and later Christian apocalypticists loved to speculate about the blessings of this future age, but the simple message of the Bible is that the coming age will bring a good inheritance ( Mark 10:30 ; Luke 18:30 ). Paul's advice to Christians is to invest for the age to come by practicing generosity and good deeds in this present age ( 1 Ti 6:17-19 ).
Gary Steven Shogren
Bibliography. J. Barr, Biblical Words for Time; O. Cullmann, Christ and Time; J. Guhrt, NIDNTT, 3:826-33; A. A. MacRae, TWOT, 2:672-73; D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic; H. Sasse, TDNT, 1:197-209.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Age, Ages'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".