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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

lix. κόσμος, αἰών.

Κόσμος our Translators have rendered ‘world’ in every instance but one (1 Pet. 3:3); αἰών often, though by no means invariably so; for (not to speak of εἰς αἰῶνα) see Ephes. 2:2, 7; Col. 1:26. It may be a question whether we might not have made more use of ‘age’ in our Version: we have employed it but rarely,—only, indeed, in the two places which I have cited last. ‘Age’ may sound to us inadequate now; but it is quite possible that, so used, it would little by little have expanded and adapted itself to the larger meaning of the Greek word for which it stood. One must regret that, by this or some other like device, our Translators did not mark the difference between κόσμος (== mundus), the world contemplated under aspects of space, and αἰών (== seculum), the same contemplated under aspects of time; for the Latin, no less than the Greek, has two words, where we have, or have acted as though we had, but one. In all those passages (such as Matt. 13:39; 1 Cor. 10:11) which speak of the end or consummation of the αἰών (there are none which speak of the end of the κόσμος), as in others which speak of “the wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 2:6), “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), “the children of this world” (Luke 16:8), it must be admitted that we are losers by the course which we have adopted.

Κόσμος, connected with κόμειν, ‘comere,’ ‘comptus,’Etym. Note. 28 has a history of much interest in more respects than one. Suidas traces four successive significations through which it passed: σημαίνει δὲ ὁ κοσμος τέσσαρα, εὐπρέπειαν, τόδε τὸ πᾶν, τὴν τάξιν, τὸ πλῆθος παρὰ τῇ Γραφῇ. Originally signifying ‘ornament,’ and obtaining this meaning once in the N. T. (1 Pet. 3:3), where we render it ‘adorning,’ and hardly obtaining any other in the Old (thus the stars are ὁ κόσμος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, Deut. 17:3; Isai. 24:21; cf. 41:18; Jer. 4:30; Ezek. 7:20; Ecclus. 43:9); from this it passed to that of order, or arrangement (‘lucidus ordo’), or beauty as springing out of these; εὐπρέπεια and τάξις, as Suidas gives it above, or καλλωπισμός, κατασκευή, τάξις, κατάστασις, κάλλος, as Hesychius. Pythagoras is recorded as the first who transferred κόσμος to the sum total of the material universe (for a history of this transfer see a note in Humboldt’s Cosmos, 1846, Engl. edit. p. 371), desiring thereby to express his sense of the beauty and order which are everywhere to be traced therein: so Plutarch (De Plac. Phil. i. 5) tells us; while others report that he called by this name not the whole material universe, but only the heaven; claiming for it this name on the same ground, namely, on that of the well-ordered arrangement which was visible therein ( Diogenes Laertius, viii. 48); and we often find the word so used; as by Xenophon, Mem. i. 1. 11; by Isocrates, i. 179; by Plato (Tim. 28 b), who yet employs it also in the larger and what we might call more ideal sense, as embracing and including within itself, and in the bonds of one communion and fellowship heaven and earth and gods and men (Georg. 508 a); by Aristotle (De Mund. 2; and see Bentley, Works, vol. i. p. 391; vol. ii. p. 117). ‘Mundus’ in Latin,—‘digestio et ordinatio singularum quarumque rerum formatarum et distinctarum,’ as Augustine (De Gen. ad Lit. c. 3) calls it,—followed in nearly the same track as the Greek κόσμος; giving occasion to profound plays of words, such as ‘O munde immunde,’ in which the same illustrious Church-teacher delights. Thus Pliny (H. N. ii. 3): ‘Quem κόσμον Graeci nomine ornamenti appellaverunt, eum nos a perfectâ absolutâque elegantiâ mundum;’ cf. Cicero (De Universo, 10): ‘Hunc hâc varietate distinctum bene Graeci κόσμον, nos lucentem mundum nominamus;’ cf. De Nat. Deor. ii. 22; but on the inferiority as a philosophical expression of ‘mundus’ to κόσμος, see Sayce, Principles of Comparative Philology, p. 98.

From this signification of κόσμος as the material universe, which is frequent in Scripture (Matt. 13:35; John 18:5; 21:25; Acts 17:4; Rom. 1:20), followed that of κόσμος as that external framework of things in which man lives and moves, which exists for him and of which he constitutes the moral centre (John 16:21; 1 Cor. 14:10; 1 John 3:17); here very nearly equivalent to οἰκουμένη (Matt. 24:14; Acts 19:27); and then the men themselves, the sum total of persons living in the world (John 1:29; 4:42; 2 Cor. 5:19); and then upon this, and ethically, all not of the ἐκκλησία,1 alienated from the life of God and by wicked works enemies to Him (1 Cor. 1:20, 21; 2 Cor. 7:10; Jam. 4:4). I need hardly call attention here to the immense part which κόσμος thus understood plays in the theology of St. John; both in his record of his Master’s sayings, and in his own writings (John 1:10; 7:7; 12:31; 1 John 2:16; 5:4); occurring in his Gospel and Epistles more than a hundred times, most often in this sense. On this last use of κόσμος, and on the fact that it should have been utterly strange to the entire heathen world, which had no sense of this opposition between God and man, the holy and unholy, and that the same should have been latent and not distinctly called out even in the O. T., on all this there are some admirable remarks by Zezschwitz, Profangräcität und Bibl. Sprachgeist, pp. 21–24: while on these various meanings of κόσμος, and on the serious confusions which, if not carefully watched against, may arise therefrom, Augustine (Con. Jul. Pelag. vi. 3, 4) may be consulted with advantage.

We must reject the etymology of αἰών which Aristotle (De Coel. i. 9) propounds: ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀεὶ εἶναι εἰληφὼς τὴν ἐπωνυμίαν.Etym. Note. 29 It is more probably connected with ἄω, ἄημι to breathe. Like κόσμος it has a primary and physical, and then, superinduced on this, a secondary and ethical, sense. In its primary, it signifies time, short or long, in its unbroken duration; oftentimes in classical Greek the duration of a human life (== βίος, for which it is exchanged, Xenophon, Cyrop. iii. 3. 24; cf. Plato, Legg. iii. 701 c; Sophocles, Trachin. 2; Elect. 1085: πάγκλαυτον αἰῶνα εἵλου: Pindar, Olymp. ii. 120: ἄδακρυν νέμονται αἰῶνα); but essentially time as the condition under which all created things exist, and the measure of their existence; thus Theodoret: ὁ αἰὼν οὐκ οὐσία τις ἐστίν, ἀλλ᾽ ανυπόστατον χρῆμα, συμπαρομαρτοῦν τοῖς γεννητὴν ἔχουσι φύσιν· καλεῖται γὰρ αἰὼν καὶ τὸ ἀπὸ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου συστάσεως μέχρι τῆς συντελείας διάστημααἰὼν τοίνυν ἐστὶ τὸ τῇ κτιστῇ φύσει παρεζευγμένον διάστημα. Thus signifying time, it comes presently to signify all which exists in the world under conditions of time; ‘die Totalität desjenigen was sich in der Dauer der Zeit äusserlich darstellt, die Welt, sofern sie sich in der Zeit bewegt’ (C. L. W. Grimm; thus see Wisd. 13:8; 14:6; 18:4; Eccles. 3:11); and then, more ethically, the course and current of this world’s affairs. But this course and current being full of sin, it is nothing wonderful that αἰὼν οὗτος, set over against ὁ αἰὼν ἐκεὶνος (Luke 20:35), ὁ αἰὼν ἐρχομένος (Mark 10:30), ὁ αἰὼν μέλλων (Matt. 12:32), acquires presently, like κόσμος, an unfavorable meaning. The βασιλεῖαι τοῦ κόσμου of Matt. 4:8 are βασιλεῖαι τοῦ αἰῶνος τοὺτου (Ignatius, Ep ad Rom. 6); God has delivered us by his Son ἐξ ἐνεστῶτος αἰῶνος πονηροῦ (Gal. 1:4); Satan is θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου (2 Cor. 4:4; cf. Ignatius, Ep. ad Magn. 1: ὁ ἀρχὼν τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου); sinners walk κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνος τοῦ κόσμου τούτου (Ephes. 2:2), too weakly translated in our Version, as in those preceding, “according to the course of this world.” This last is a particularly instructive passage, for in it both words occur together; Bengel excellently remarking: ‘αἰών et κόσμος differunt. Ille hunc regit et quasi informat: κόσμος est quiddam exterius, αἰών subtilius. Tempus [== αἰών] dicitur non solum physice, sed etiam moraliter, connotatâ qualitate hominum in eo viventium; et sic αἰών dicit longam temporum seriem, ubi aetas mala malam aetatem excipit.’ Compare Windischmann (on Gal. 1:4): ‘αἰών darf aber durchaus nicht bloss als Zeit gefasst werden, sondern begreift alles in der Zeit befangene; die Welt und ihre Herrlichkeit, die Menschen und ihr natürliches unerlöstes Thun und Treiben in sich, im Contraste zu dem hier nur beginnenden, seiner Sehnsucht und Vollendung nach aber jenseitigen und ewigen, Reiche des Messias.’ We speak of ‘the times,’ attaching to the word an ethical signification; or, still more to the point, ‘the age,’ ‘the spirit or genius of the age,’ ‘der Zeitgeist.’ All that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitute a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral, atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale,—all this is included in the αἰών, which is, as Bengel has expressed it, the subtle informing spirit of the κόσμος, or world of men who are living alienated and apart from God. ‘Seculum,’ in Latin, has acquired the same sense, as in the familiar epigram of Tacitus (Germ. 19), ‘Corrumpere et corrumpi seculum vocatur.’

It must be freely admitted that two passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews will not range themselves according to the distinction here drawn between αἰών and κόσμος, namely i. 2 and xi. 3. In both of these αἰῶνες are the worlds contemplated, if not entirely, yet beyond question mainly, under other aspects than those of time. Some indeed, especially modern Socinian expositors, though not without forerunners who had no such motives as theirs, have attempted to explain αἰῶνες at Heb. 1:3, as the successive dispensations, the χρόνοι καὶ καιροί of the divine economy. But however plausible this explanation might have been if this verse had stood alone, 11:3 is decisive that the αἰῶνες in both passages can only be, as we have rendered it, ‘the worlds,’ and not ‘the ages.’ I have called these the only exceptions, for I cannot accept 1 Tim. 1:17 as a third; where αἰῶνες must denote, not ‘the worlds’ in the usual concrete meaning of the term, but, according to the more usual temporal meaning of αἰών in the N. T., ‘the ages,’ the temporal periods whose sum and aggregate adumbrate the conception of eternity. The βασιλεὺς τῶν αἰώνων (cf. Clement of Rome, 1 Ep. § 13: ὁ δημιουργὸς καὶ πατὴρ τῶν αἰώνων) will thus be the sovereign dispenser and disposer of the ages during which the mystery of God’s purpose with man is unfolding (see Ellicott, in loco).2 For the Hebrew equivalents of the words expressing time and eternity, see Conrad yon Orelli, Die Hebräischen Synonyma der Zeit und Ewigkeit, Leipzig, 1871; and for the Greek and Latin, so far as these seek to express them at all, see Pott, Etym. Forsch. ii. 2. 444.


1 Origen indeed (in Joan. 38) mentions some one in his day who interpreted κόσμος as the Church, being as it is the ornament of the world (κόσμος οὖσα τοῦ κόσμου).

2 Our English ‘world,’ etymologically regarded, more nearly represents αἰών than κόσμος. The old ‘weralt’ (in modern German ‘welt’) is composed of two words, ‘wer,’ man, and ‘alt,’ age or generation. The ground-meaning, therefore, of ‘weralt’ is generation of men (Pott, Etym. Forsch. vol. ii. pt. i. p. 125). Out of this expression of time unfolds itself that of space, as αἰών passed into the meaning of κόσμος (Grimm, Deutsche Myth. p. 752); but in the earliest German records ‘weralt’ is used, first as an expression of time, and only derivatively as one of space (Rudolf yon Raumer, Die Einwirkung des Christenthums auf die Alt-hochdeutsche Sprache, 1845, p. 375). See however another derivation altogether which Grimm seems disposed to favour (Klein. Schrift. vol. i. p. 305), and which comes very much to this, that ‘world’ == whirled.Etym. Note. 30

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G165,G2889.]

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