If we were to study the Greek words that have been translated into our words forever, eternal and everlasting I think we might be surprised to find that it would be impossible to render the Greek into these English words in every instance where they are found in our Greek Testament. In fact, there are places within the New Testament that greatly limit the length of time that these words could mean. Some places in our Greek Testament show the time is past. Now it would be ludicrous to say there were past eternities. Something is eternal or it is not. Other places show this present age (eternity) will end, and still other places in our Bible show there are several ages (same Greek word used to mean eternal) in the future. So, what’s the real story?
The Greek noun is aion (G165) and the adjective is aionios (G166), and they literally refer to an indefinite period of time which is defined by the context in which it is found. It can mean eternal for forever but the context itself is needed to define the timeframe, because the word itself has no such definite indication. For example, Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 2:6-7 ASV (6) We speak wisdom, however, among them that are fullgrown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought: (7) but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory:
In the American Standard Version the Greek word aion (G165) is translated into world or worlds in both of these verses. This same word is elsewhere translated into our words forever or eternal. Later translators corrected this particular rendering at this verse in the NASB or New American Standard Bible. Notice:
1 Corinthians 2:6-7 NASB (6) Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; (7) but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
Now, we must remember that this same Greek word is translated into eternal (punishment) in Matthew 25:46 in both of these translations. In fact, most translations do the same, but there are a few who stick to the more literal age lasting (punishment/correction), and of these we can include Young’s Literal Translation, Weymouth, Rotherham and the Diaglott. So, are we left to simply pick or favorite translation and hope it did a good job? No, I don’t think it comes to this. I believe we can understand perfectly well what the word means, if we follow how Paul uses the Greek in several of his letters. He shows that it is impossible to render the Greek words into our English to mean eternal. Something else in the text either in the context or in another Scripture which speaks of similar subject matter but having a more definitive understanding of the timeline should be used to help us define the word—if we are willing to let the Holy Spirit guide us, rather than the traditions of men.
Paul tells us in 1Timothy 1:9 that God proposed to call us and save us in Jesus before the commencement of the ages (plural), showing that there were many ages in which God has proposed to do his work of salvation. Similarly, Paul claims in Titus 1:2 that God promised us life throughout all ages to come before any of those ages began. In other words, God had a plan before time began and everything is going according to that plan. In fact, God created these ages in and through Jesus, his Son, (Hebrews 1:2; 9:3), just as he has everything else (Colossians 1:15-18)
These things, having to do with God’s plan extending throughout all ages, has been a mystery or secret unknown before the coming of Christ (Ephesians 3:9-11). In fact, it is the Church’s responsibility to proclaim that which was hidden throughout all ages (same Greek word translated eternal elsewhere and there can be but one eternity), namely that it is Christ in us, our hope of glory (Colossians 1:26-27).
Moreover, Paul writes of the Glory of God and of Jesus in his letter to the Ephesians, saying their glory is not merely for this age but also in the age to come (Ephesians 1:21), and not only in this age but throughout every generation of the age of ages (Ephesians 3:21). And not only so, but he even intends to show through us who are among the first to trust in Christ (Ephesians 1:12), the great kindness and goodness with which he has treated us—to his honor and glory (Ephesians 2:7); and to whom would he even need to show this, except to those who have not known it and need to know what a great and wonderful God he is? What goodness has he bestowed upon us that needs to be shown to all who ever lived? First of all that Jesus has appeared in the end of the ages (plural) to put away our sin once and for all time. Secondly, that all that occurred in the past, man’s rebellion against God and how God handled it all, was for our instruction, i.e. for us, upon whom the ends of the ages (plural) has come (1Corinthians 10:11)!
May God quicken his word in the hearts of all those who love to glorify him above all.