Word Studies - Short Articles
MEANING OF ETERNAL
HOW THE WORD ETERNAL CREPT INTO YOUR BIBLE
First Some Background
Around 200 BC a remarkable event illustrated how God prepared the world for the coming of the Messiah. That event was the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) into the Greek language. Although the exact details are unknown, the king of Egypt desired a copy of every known literary work for inclusion in the famed Library of Alexandria. To secure a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures, he invited 72 scribes from Israel to undertake the work of translation. Tradition states that each of the scribes was housed in a separate house to complete the task. Tradition also states each scribe completed his work in seventy days, and all the copies were exactly the same!
We should not overlook the fact that for the first time the Word of God had been translated into another language. This translation was called the Septuagint, a word that means 70 in the Greek language.
It was between 45 and 100 AD that the 27 books of the Greek New Testament were written. Scholars believe that the books of the New Testament were completed by the Apostle John before the year AD 100.
Origen in 240 AD compiles the Hexapla, a six-columned parallel of Greek and Hebrew texts.
Copies of the Greek translation of Scripture soon made their way into all areas of the Roman Empire because most of the inhabitants spoke the Greek language. Soon the Scriptures, were translated into the vernacular languages of the day in other regions. Within a short time, people whose spoken language was Syriac, Latin, Coptic, or another language had copies of the Scriptures in their own native tongue.
The Word Eternal Appears
Today the word eternal appears in many modern translations of the bible. However, this word is not found in the original inspired scriptures. But it is found in the Vulgate version. And it is from the Vulgate version that many translators used to craft their versions. Eternal is the adjective form of the noun eternity.
Forty-seven verses in the King James Version contain the word eternal. The word eternal is derived from the Latin word aeternus. Latin in not the language of inspired scripture. Inspired scripture was written in Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament).
Eternal is one of the many hundreds of words which gained entrance into English during the Renaissance. Previous to that time, it was completely unknown. The Latin language began to affect theology. It is to Tertullian, a Latin of Carthage, who lived from about 160 to 220 A.D., that we are introduced to the existence of the Old Latin version of the Scriptures. He was the earliest of the Latin Fathers. Many versions were subsequentially created, resulting in much confusion. Then along comes Jerome.
The Latin Vulgate Arrives on the Scene
Jerome of Stridon, Slovenia was a biblical translator and monastic leader. He became a priest and served as secretary to Pope Damasus I. He was traditionally regarded as the most learned of the Latin Fathers. At the request of Pope Damasus I, from 382 to 405 he compiled and retranslated existing Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and Greek manuscripts to create a Latin Bible. He was the first to translate and compile everything into a single volume. His version is known as the Vulgate. His numerous biblical, ascetical, monastic, and theological works profoundly influenced thinking of the early Middle Ages, the renaissance period and on including many of our bibles today.
The Hebrew Scriptures are written almost entirely in pure Hebrew. There are very few words which are not Hebrew. So, with the Greek Scriptures. They contain few words which are not of pure Greek. But our English Bible is very different. If it had been rendered in simple, plain English words alone, it would have read very differently. It is true that numerically the great bulk of the words employed are pure English, but many of the important doctrinal terms are words adopted either from Latin or Greek.
Aeonian (age-lasting) Instead of Eternal
The Greek word "αιωνιον" is the word that was incorrectly translated “eternal” in many of our bibles. The correct translation into English should be “eonian” or “age-lasting”. Eonian is the adjective form of eon. Eon is a common word but eonian is way less common and seldom used. Visit www.bibleanalytics.ca/progress for more information.
A couple of examples:
Matthew 19:16 (KJV) And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal (eonian) life?
Matthew 19:16 (Concordant Literal Version) And lo! one coming to Him said, "Teacher, what good shall I be doing that I should be having life eonian?
1John 2:25 (KJV) And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal (eonian) life.
I John 2:25 (Concordant Literal Version) And this is the promise which He promises us: the life eonian.
Does It Matter?
As explained above, the word eternal is not found in the original inspired scriptures. However, it is found in many of our current popular versions. No one would deny that God has always existed and will continue to exist. Only atheists deny God’s existence but do so out of obliviousness (Romans 1:20). It is not necessary to describe Him as eternal. In the beginning of Genesis, the fact of God, and the existence of God, are taken for granted. No attempt is made to explain from whence He came, or to account for His existence. All of creation proves His existence. So, is God eternal? Yes. But there is no need to describe Him that way for the simple fact that the literal original text of scripture never uses that word. Therefore, just rely on the original words and refrain from inserting mans word into the inspired text. Using literal translations of Holy Scripture is the best way to stay with the original inspired holy writ. See the article on Which Bible on this web site.
A very in-depth article by Alexander Thomson on the topic of Eternity is available at http://radical-reaction.com/shepherdsvoice/How%20Eternity%20Slipped%20In.htm