How far can we trust our translations?

LNE ends his many questions by asking:

Are some things in Scripture inverted simply to make them theologically correct? Are there places in Scripture which should, simply based on the Greek language and not on theology or Church history, be changed?

That is a legitimate question from a “humble layman”. When Greek scholars and theologians disagree among themselves, who can we trust? There is no simple answer, but I do not recommend trying to find a solution in individual words in Greek. That is a dangerous path for the layman, when even scholars stumble. It is much better to read the Bible in several translations, for instance a very literal one like the ESV, a modified literal one like the NIV and an idiomatic one like the NLT. The better we know the Bible the better prepared we are to evaluate questionable theology. As a rule of thumb, if there is a majority opinion among translations, that majority is almost always correct. As another guide, look to the context rather than individual words out of context. You can get the context well enough from a translation without having to dig into Greek yourself.

Are some things inverted to make them theologically correct? A few things, maybe, especially where the original is not very clear. I think the ISV claims about a few passages where they disagree with the majority, is a good example of that. The problem is that when you have two theological camps with opposite interpretations of the same text, both will accuse the other of having changed the meaning of the text to fit their own theology. Both will claim that the other group has misunderstood the text and we know better.

Let me comment on the following from LNE:

Romans 2:3 – It’s made into a question in most Bibles it seems, but I see no indicators for such. If it is a declarative statement, then the “n” in Romans 2:4 negates the idea that the people will not come under judgement.

Romans 11:2 – Starts with “ouk” like many interrogative sentences from Paul, but it’s translated as a statement instead of a question here… and I don’t know why. If it was a question (the first half of the verse before the “n”), then the “n” would be negating “Has not God thrust away His own People who He foreknew?”

There is no doubt that Rom 2:3 is meant to be a question. There is a strong focus on “you”: “Do you really think, you (Jewish) fellow who condemn those who do such things (as described in chapter 1) and (at the same time) are doing them that you will escape the judgment of God?” It is clear judgment of the hypocrite.

The Greek word ἤ (H) which introduces verse 4 simply means “or”. It does not negate anything, but it indicates another step in the argumentation, another rhetorical question.

In Romans 11:2 we read “God has not pushed away his people whom he has known (and been with) from ancient time.” This is a restatement of what we read in verse 1: “Surely, God has not pushed aside his own people, has he?” A rhetorical question which demands the answer “No, of course he hasn’t!” The ἤ in the next sentence again does not negate anything, but simply introduces another step in the argumentation, this time with a rhetorical question: “Don’t you know what God said to Elijah in the following Scripture passage…?” What God said comes in verse 4, so we really must read the whole context and preferably the whole chapter if we want to understand individual words and sentences as they were intended.

76 thoughts on “How far can we trust our translations?

  1. CD-Host says:

    I have to disagree strongly. I think quite often the original is clear and the meaning is changed to make them “theologically correct”. But much more often the original assumes a conceptual frame that doesn’t exist in 21st century American English culture and this is not highlighted. The biggest cause of theological blurring is trying to make the bible not seem like an alien book written by an alien culture.

    The ESV, NLT and NIV are very close to one another theologically and in terms of translation culture. While they are likely to correct one another a bit, they won’t do very much. A reader is interested in what the bible says rather than how to apply the bible to Protestantism is going to need to go further afield. In other words read a bible whose author disagrees with them theologically or one not designed for theology. An atheist treatment like Price, Andy Gaus who focused on flow and naturalness, the NEB, Anchor bible translation…

  2. Mike Tisdell says:


    I haven’t looked much at the ISV and so I am not sure what my thoughts are about that version yet. However, I do agree with most everything you have said hear about the passage in question. And while I strongly support your call to use multiple bible translations, I am not sure I would choose the ESV as a “literal” translation. While I think the ESV is a reasonable translation, one of my biggest concerns about the ESV has been its misrepresentation as a “literal” translation. In some passages it is very literal, and in others it is very dynamic. While it is reasonably accurate when using both of these translation paradigms (much like the NIV), its inconsistent use of a formal equivalent methodology makes it a poor choice to use as “literal” translation. Often the ESV is just as “dynamic” as the NIV and sometimes it is even more “dynamic.”

    I cannot agree with you more about the dangers of “translating” by looking up the meaning of Greek/Hebrew words. Some of the worst theology I have ever seen originated because someone offered a “correct” translation created by using a Strong’s concordance to look up the meaning of the individual words in the text (picking the meanings they liked best regardless of whether these meanings were grammatically or contextually possible).

  3. Mike Tisdell says:


    It is true that often the meaning of the original text is clear and when it is clear all good translations will agree. However, there are also often grammatical questions, questions about textual variants, questions about the meanings of words, etc… that make translating some passages very difficult. Being 2000 (or more) years removed from the cultures and languages in which these writings were first composed means that many questions about how these texts were originally understood are often difficult (and sometimes impossible) to answer with any kind of certainty.

  4. Joel H. says:

    Are some things inverted to make them theologically correct? A few things, maybe, especially where the original is not very clear.

    My experience has been that even very clear passages are frequently mistranslated, for two reasons:

    1. The field of Bible translation hasn’t caught up with translation more generally; and

    2. Publishers are frequently pushing a religious agenda.

    The clearest example of the second sort that comes to mind is the Ten Commandments, in which the NAB translates “you shall not kill,” even though it’s widely known that “kill” is too broad. The Catholic Church uses this (mis)translation to further a pacifist agenda.


  5. Iver Larsen says:

    Mike T.

    Thank you for your comments about ESV. I hardly ever look at it, so am I not qualified to evaluate it. It was my impression that it is very literal and is preferred by many who think the NIV is not literal enough. Maybe it is worth looking at examples where it is not literal and why? Can you list some that you have found?

    It is very difficult to be completely consistent. One of the great challenges of any translation is the huge cultural gap between the original culture and modern culture. How much and in what way one can bridge that gap is a minefield with strongly opposing views in Christian circles. Even when we translate a modern novel or a film script to another language, there are cultural gaps. Professional translators have to do quite a bit of ingenious substitution and creative rewriting in order to communicate across that gap. That is expected and allowed in non-Biblical translation, but many people frown on it when it comes to the Bible.


  6. CD-Host says:

    Mike —

    It is true that often the meaning of the original text is clear and when it is clear all good translations will agree.

    Mike what I’m saying is more in line with Joel H. There are quite a few places where the meaning is clear and most translations don’t agree. I had a blog post on this:

    I agree there are huge problems, and the honest way to handle those is to pick a meaningful choice and then footnote the issue and the alternatives. If the only issues we were dealing with were complexity and not agenda that would be fine. But the reason people are looking more and more at original language sources is because translations fail to fully inform their readers of the complexity of the underlying source material.

  7. Mike Tisdell says:


    Off the top of my memory, two places I can think of our 1 Cor. 13 i.e. Love is patient…. The ESV treats the “comma” differently than most other versions and then follows with some very dynamic interpretations of the text in the following verse; the translation isn’t “bad” but it is definitely not nearly as literal as the NIV in this passage. The other one I can think of is Ex. 1:5 which reads “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons” and while this captures the meaning of the text, this translation (Like most others) misses the unusual poetic imagery that is unique to this verse. In Hebrew the idea of “generations” can be conveyed in several ways i.e. “toldot” as in genealogies like Ge. 5. or “dor” as in Duet. 7:9. In Ex. 1:5 we have an unusual phrase that “means” generations but is very flowery i.e. “it was all the souls going out of the loins of Jacab, seventy souls.” Most translations completely hide the unusual aspect of this verse. The NASB does a reasonably “literal” translation of this verse i.e. “All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number (Exo 1:5 NASB)”; The KJV is even more “literal” i.e. “And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls (Exo 1:5 KJV)” There have been quite a number of verses like the examples I have given you that I have run across as I have studied, but I would have to look back through notes to find them. I do remember that I ran across a number in Song of Songs.

    To be clear, my criticism of the ESV translation is not about its accuracy, it is about its claim to be a “literal” translation when the translators have not completely embraced a formal equivalent translation paradigm. So much of the ESV marketing emphasizes its literalness, so it bothers me when I realize that it is often not very “literal.” Very few read the original languages and therefore simply accept the claims of the ESV on face value. I can bet that some will be convinced that the ESV text of a particular verse was a much more literal translation than the NIV in passages where the opposite is true based on the marketing claims made by the ESV translators. Note: most other translations make the same kind of dynamic translation choices; my criticism isn’t about the choice, it is about the misrepresentation of that choice.

  8. Mike Tisdell says:


    I really don’t agree with the idea that a clear passage is translated incorrectly in a number of well respected translations. Most good bible translation committees are composed of scholars from very divergent theological backgrounds to ensure that the sectarian biases, that you suggest are present, are avoided.

    Can you please give an example of a verse that you believe is absolutely clear i.e. a text for which there are no significant questions about textual variants or questions about grammar or phrasing, and a passage that uses words that are frequently used and well understood in which well qualified scholars offer significantly different translations.

  9. James Rinkevich says:

    If you really want to stop trusting your bible translators, look at the following participle: Ἐγερθεὶς which occurs in Mt 2:13, it should be translated as “[after] having arisen”, instead, every bible translation I’ve looked at has the imperative “Arise”. They are taking their cue from the Vulgate (whether Jerome did that or just left it in from an earlier version, I’m not sure), but it has made its way into practically every translation and it is wrong. The angel didn’t tell him to wake up, instead it told him to take and flee after being woken.

  10. CD-Host says:

    Mike —

    I gave you a list. Lets take Gal 5:6 and the NIV (one of Kirk’s favorites):

    In Christ Jesus, neither does circumcision avail nor uncircumcision but faith [ἐνεργουμένη ] through love

    ἐνεργουμένη is working. But we all know that saved by works so…

    So for the NIV and the NLT ἐνεργουμένη suddenly becomes “expressing itself” which has 0 support.


    Another example from the list is Romans 12:2: ” Do not conform to the pattern of this world

    Paul is using the same word aion being translated as world here. “Do not conform to the world” is a Christian idiom so they want to retain it. The problem is though it isn’t accurate since this follows immediate after the doxology in chapter 11: while romans 11:36 To him be the glory forever! “Forever” is the same word. The term he is using intermixes time and space and he is using the same term and connecting the two ideas. Chapter boundary wasn’t in the original and that’s no excuse to break the thought.

    Really best would be to leave aion untranslated and link off to an essay. Almost anytime Paul uses astrological terms it gets dropped because we don’t believe in astrology anymore. There is no word in 21st century English with this range of meaning. I should mention a few bibles especially the literal bibles do better with age for example

    Young: and be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing
    The NEB’s “Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world” is better.

  11. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Other examples are for the ESV not being so literal,

    – the use of “at the Father’s side” in John 1:18, but there is a note for that.

    – the use of “book” instead of “scroll.” For example, in Rev. 22, we read,

    “18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

    This is often used to warn people against removing words from the whole Bible.

    – adding words every here and there to clarify things, Phil. 2:29, adding the word “men” when there is no underlying Greek for it, and in Romans 12:19 the word “God” is inserted.

    One can argue that there is some reason for these additions, that they are “implied information,” but one can’t possibly claim that the ESV is a literal or word to word translation.

    However, I have to take up the comment by James. I know that it appears that there is a mistranslation in Matt. 2:13, but in fact it is not. In Greek, it is common to link a series of commands by placing early commands in the participle. Nonetheless, the verbs take on the mood of the following imperative. Here is an example,

    Matt. 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

    ἵνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὅτι ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας— τότε λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ· [a]Ἐγερθεὶς ἆρόν σου τὴν κλίνην καὶ ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου.

    Mark 2:9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?

    τί ἐστιν εὐκοπώτερον, εἰπεῖν τῷ παραλυτικῷ· [a]Ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι, ἢ εἰπεῖν· [b]Ἔγειρε καὶ ἆρον [c]τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει;

    The fact is that you cannot simply take a word, and look up the tense and cross over from one language to another. You have to actually know the language and how it works in a general way. In this case, Ἐγερθεὶς and Ἔγειρε differ in formal tense, but are synonymous in sense. Even a literal translation should not use an English past participle for Ἐγερθεὶς since it would destroy the meaning of the original.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    The second citation in the Greek is from Matt. 9:6

    Ἐγερθεὶς ἆρόν σου τὴν κλίνην καὶ ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου. Matt. 9:6

    Ἔγειρε καὶ ἆρον [c]τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει; Mark 2:9

    Both of these are accurately translated as “Get up, take up your bed and …. ”

    So, going back to Matt. 2:13, Ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ φεῦγε εἰς Αἴγυπτον,

    “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee … “

  13. Iver Larsen says:


    Thank you for responding to James. You are quite right. A Greek aorist participle followed by an imperative means that the hearer is to do two things, first what is expressed by the participle, second what is expressed by the imperative. The construction is normal Greek, but a word for word translation like “Having arisen, take the child…” is not normal English and would therefore not be a faithful translation. It sounds as if the angel does not know how to speak proper English. When you say in English: Get up and take the child…” it is clear that one has to get up before taking the child, and that is obvious anyway. I suppose one could say: “After you have gotten up, you must take the child…” but that is unnecessarily cumbersome, more so than the original.

    Of course, the angel did not speak English to Joseph, nor did he speak in Greek, so we are already in Matthew dealing with a translation from the language which the angel spoke. That would have been Hebrew or possibly Aramaic. In those languages, the angel would have used two imperatives just like English, so in one sense the English can be said to be a more “accurate” representation of the originally spoken words than the Greek. English grammar is in this instance closer to Semitic than to Greek. The difference between Greek grammar and Semitic grammar was nicely demonstrated by Suzanne by comparing Matt 9:6 (Greek grammar – having gotten up take) with Mark 2:9 (Semitic grammar in Greek clothing – get up and take.)

  14. Iver Larsen says:


    Is your problem with the English word “wake up”? A better translation of this Greek word in English is “get up”. It is used even when the person is not sleeping, so “wake up” would not be accurate. You used “wake up”, but I do not see that word in any translation. The old KJV English “arise” corresponds to modern English “get up”. I don’t think any English parent would tell their children to arise from bed in the morning, would they? “Peter, arise, it is time for school!”

  15. Iver Larsen says:

    A word for word translation represents the grammer and structure of the original language with words from the new language, so it is a hybrid between the two languages. In the case of Bible translations, it would be neither proper Greek nor English nor Hebrew, but a mixture of all. So, ESV is not a word for word translation, nor is the KJV.

    I would still say that ESV is generally speaking a literal translation. By this I mean that it is squarely in the literal camp of translations. We can talk about relative literalness. It is my impression that ESV is very close to the literal RSV. There may be places where it is more or less literal than the RSV, but it is definitely more literal than the NIV. How to characterize NIV is a bit more controversial. I hear many people say that it is idiomatic rather than literal. I say that it is literal rather than idiomatic, but not as literal as RSV. That is why we Bible translators sometimes call it a modified literal version. Modified towards the idiomatic side without becoming truly idiomatic. It still has a lot of Greek and Hebrew grammar clothed in English words.

  16. CD-Host says:

    Hi Suzanne good to see you. I had thought about quoting a few of your things in my response to Mike. But went with Kirk’s easy example and one of my regular hobby horses (αἰών). But if you are here in person then I’ll defer to someone with more experience on the bias issues and far better language skills. 🙂


    Iver —

    There is a cultural distinction made between “literal” translations and formal.

    The first was in Spanish (from Mark Strauss)
    Original: ¿Cómo se llama?
    Literal Translation: “How yourself call?”
    Formal Translation: “How do you call yourself?”
    Dynamic Translation: “What is your name?”

    Then one in French (from Mark Taylor)
    Original: mon petit chou
    Literal: “my little cabbage”
    Dynamic: “my dear”

    Finally one in English to English which shows the problem of literal vs. dynamic (Mark Strauss)
    Original: “By the way, I’m hitting the road at the crack of dawn.”
    Literal: “Along the path, I’m punching the street at the fissure of sunrise.”
    Dynamic: “I wanted to let you know, I’m departing very early in the morning.”

  17. Mike Tisdell says:


    While I would agree with your general assessment of the ESV, I think you have missed the point entirely. The verse in 1 Cor. 13 that I pointed out is one of many verses where the NIV is clearly more “literal” than the ESV. While on the whole the ESV is a more literal translation than the NIV, it is frequently more dynamic than the NIV. THIS WOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM IN MY MIND EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT THE ESV MARKETS ITSELF AS A “LITERAL” TRANSLATION. When the set the expectation that their translation is “literal” and then make translation choices that are more dynamic in some passages, then they have misrepresented their translation.

    BTW – As someone who reads biblical Hebrew fluently, and struggles through the Greek, I know there is no such thing as a “word for word” translation. I quoted the term “literal” because I do not believe such a translation exists; however, this is how the ESV marketing has presented this translation. I personally prefer the term “formal equivalent.” My point was that often the ESV presents a translation that would be considered a functional equivalent while claiming to present a formal equivalent translation. People who believe these claims will conclude that the underlying Greek and Hebrew is always closer in structure to the ESV when the truth is that their are many passages where the underlying Greek and Hebrew is closer to the NIV.

  18. Mike Tisdell says:

    James Rinkevich (and CD-Host),

    You said,”If you really want to stop trusting your bible translators, look at the following participle: Ἐγερθεὶς which occurs in Mt 2:13, it should be translated as “[after] having arisen”, instead, every bible translation I’ve looked at has the imperative “Arise”. They are taking their cue from the Vulgate (whether Jerome did that or just left it in from an earlier version, I’m not sure), but it has made its way into practically every translation and it is wrong. The angel didn’t tell him to wake up, instead it told him to take and flee after being woken.”

    While I understand how you arrived at the conclusions you did, your conclusions represent a very incomplete understanding of the passive aorist participle. In most languages, including Koine Greek, first year students are taught grammatical “rules” that represent a basic understanding of the grammar but are not all encompassing. As a student advances, they are taught the subtle differences between the basic “rules” and real life usages. Fluency in a langauge requires one to understand these subtle differences in usage (at least intuitively). It is important to remember that bible translators who have spent a lifetime studying the biblical languages and read (and sometimes speak) them fluently are far more qualified at recognizing these subtle differences. Here is an example in English, if I say “If one is fluent in English, they will be able to read the local newspaper without difficulty.” According to first year English grammars, this sentence is grammatically incorrect and a first year English student might be inclined, based on the grammar rules they were taught, to translate this sentence into their langauge in a way that suggests that the “one [who] is fluent in English” was different from the group “who is able to read the local newspaper” but a fluent English speaker will understand the speaker is using the plural pronoun only to avoid using the non-inclusive singular pronoun “he” and the singular and plural references both refer to a common singular subject.

    BTW – There are many verses in the NT with a construction similar to the one found in Mt. 2:13 that are translated similarly to the way it was translated in Mt. 2:13.

  19. James Rinkevich says:

    Suzanne is wrong: Greek has imperatives of the same tense. The imperatives are shorter than the participles in every IE language including English, Latin, Lithuanian, so the translator easily remembers it and uses it instead. If the original writer had meant an imperative he would have used it it was easier and shorter to write. If you don’t want to believe this look at Mt 28:19 in Latin (or the DRB) and English. The Latin (DRB) translator used a participle not an imperative but the English translators did otherwise. Basically it boils down to this: if the Greek writer had meant to issue an order, he would have used the cut verb form that is the imperative, the participle is a more complex verb form that requires forming the participle root and declining it to the nominative with the correct voice, number and gender case. The imperative only has to be conjugated fo number (since it is almost always 2nd person and not 3rd or even 1st), worse participles also require using the definitive article (Or in Lithuanian the pronominal form, and Latin a pronoun).
    the problem with Get up si that is an imperative in English and the angel actually said “having arisen”. The same in Matthew 9:6, the patient doesn’t just get up immediately, he has to reorient himself first, check out that his legs are working, that he doesn’t have vertigo from getting up too quick, obviously you’ve never seen patient who has been sick, get up for the first time… Jesus knew they would have to adjust to their newly healed body, which is why He didn’t order an immediate rising, if he does that the man will fall down. The Greek scholars have really proved how little they knew of the real world.

    No other IE language is translated like that. Lithuanian has active verbs that have future, present and past active and passive participles (the past passive is statal, more so than the Greek perfect), It has a reflexive particle (usually a prefix), it have perfective aspect prefixes and a continuous aspect prefix (imperfective), it also has special participles (dalyvis) known as the padalyvis (an adverbial dative participle, in all tenses and numbers) and the pusdalyvis (an adverbial nominative form in all numbers and genders for the same time as the main verb). Lithuanian verbs also have moods imperative(1st and 2nd person)/optative(3rd person), conditional (called subjunctive). In no case does a participle, pick up the mood of the main clause. When you a participle in Greek used with an imperative it tells the person when they are to carry out the commanded action. Essentially it tells them they can take a bit of time getting to the participle state and then they must carry out the action. The perfective aspect on the aorist tells you that the subject have a bit of participle action done first.
    Further I’ve checked with Sanskrit, Armenian, Old Church Slavonic, Hittite, Tocharian, in none of these do participles get translated with the modd of the main verb. They all agree with the LIthuanian. Even the discusion in Smyth’s grammar on the participle it doesn’t say Greek does this.

  20. Mike Tisdell says:


    I don’t see that Suzanne has anywhere suggested that Greek doesn’t have imparatives, she has simply communicated that the imparative sense in the translated text is correct. Most languages can express the imperative without explicitly using an imperative verb form; some languages don’t even have an explicit imperative form. For example, הבה נגילה ונשמחה is always translated (correctly) as an imperative even though the verb form is imperfect and not imperative.

  21. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Google μολὼν λαβέ (molṑn labé) for fun. Or read some of these links,

    It’s the reply that King Leonidas of Sparta sent back to the Persian Emperor Xerxes before the Battle of Thermopylae, when the latter demanded that the Spartans surrender their weapons. The result of the battle was the world-renowned last stand of the Spartans at the crossing of Thermopylae, where allegedly 300 Spartans held their own against an exceedingly larger Persian force, until they were betrayed by one of their own, Ephialtis.

    μολὼν λαβέ is usually translated into English as “Come and get them.” refering to their weapons. Try translating that into English with a participle.

    Click to access greek_commands.pdf

  22. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Good to see you too. I was more or less off the internet last year – things happen, so I haven’t been around much.

    I find your examples quite interesting – they were new to me when I first read them on your blog.

  23. Dannii says:

    James Rinkevich wrote:

    If the original writer had meant an imperative he would have used it it was easier and shorter to write.

    Basically it boils down to this: if the Greek writer had meant to issue an order, he would have used the cut verb form that is the imperative,

    This is quite untrue.

    Firstly, we almost never choose words based on how easy and short they are! (Except perhaps for an SMS.) While common words are often shortened over time, and long words shortened in casual speech, and while poets choose words for a variety of reasons, this just isn’t how normal speech and normal writing works.

    Now you’re right that if the original writer had meant an imperative he would have used one. But meaning to issue an order or instruction is a different matter from meaning to use an imperative. Imperatives are one construct which are used to communicate orders, but there are others, and we choose which construct based on linguistic and social circumstances.

    In English it is rude to use an imperative to order someone to pass the salt to you; you must ask them to instead. But we all understand that it is an order all the same.

    In English I can tell you to “try to juggle these eggs”. There are two verbs, to communicate one instruction. One verb is an imperative, one is an infinitive. As I understand it, the situation is very similar in Matt 2:13 – one participle, one imperative to communicate one multi-part instruction. Step one is understanding the source text, step two is conveying that into the target language. It is perfectly legitimate to translate it with two English imperatives.

  24. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I think the matter is best explained by the preference in written Greek for having one main verb and subordinating others to it. Whereas Hebrew and English favour coordinating constructions.

    I would also argue that it is more than legitimate to translate it with two English imperatives, in fact, it is necessary.

    The Spartans can hardly have said “after you have come, take our weapons” when they meant “[we challenge you to] come and take them.”

  25. Mike Tisdell says:


    While I agree with you about the Greek, I don’t agree with your conclusions about Hebrew or English. The example I provided earlier is one of many examples in Hebrew were imperative forms are not used to convey the idea of an imperative. Ex. 20, the Ten commandments(imperatives), is another good example where imperatives are conveyed almost entirely with imperfects; there are only two imperative forms used in the entire 10 commandments i.e. “Remember the day of the Sabbath” and “Honor your Father and your Mother”

    In English, if I tell my child “You need to clean your room before you can play with your friends” I have communicated an imperative without using an imperative construction. English in many ways is even more unpredictable because we don’t have “conjugated verbs” an everything is done with grammatical constructions sometimes including “helper” verbs like “to have” or “to be” to form the tense.

  26. Mike Tisdell says:


    I looked up both Ga. 5:6 and Ro. 12:2 and I don’t believe either supports the claims you have made.

    In Galatians 5:6, the problem is that the subject of the verb is not a person so regardless of whether you translate this as “working” or “expressing” neither translation supports a “works” theology. Second, if you follow Iver’s suggestion, you will find that most good English translations actually use the word “working.” All of these versions, including the NIV convey the same meaning.

    In Ro. 12:2, the reason that ‘aion’ is translated differently in these verses is because it is used in significantly different grammatical constructions. In the other two verses it is used with the preposition ‘eis’ but in 12:2 it is used with the demonstrative pronoun ‘touto’ and, like the Hebrew ‘olam’, ‘aion’ has a very broad semantic range of meaning and the translator needs to pay close attention to both the context and the grammar of the passage before deciding it meaning in translation.

    Neither of these examples shake my trust in translations like the ESV, NIV, NLT, NASB, KJV, etc… Yes, no translation is perfect but many can be trusted to be reasonably good representations of the original languages. And as Iver suggested, if there are any questions simply read a few different versions.

  27. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    You are hardly disagreeing with me, as I expressed no view with regard to what you are saying about imperfects or imperatives. Let me use different language to explain what I meant.

    1) Greek is a language which favours hypotaxis, this is the use of subordinate clauses, or participles, along with one main verb. Either “participle, participle, main verb”, or “participle, main verb kai main verb.” This is a typical pattern for literary Greek. We often need to translate this into English using several main verbs linked with coordinating conjunctions.

    Ἐγερθεὶς ἆρόν σου τὴν κλίνην καὶ ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου. Matt. 9:6

    2) In Hebrew, however, the typical pattern is parataxis – main verbs joined by a coordinating conjunction. This is usually done with a vav. ו

    This is seen in the Greek NT as “main verb kai main verb kai main verb”. This is usually understood as reflecting a Semitic construction underlying the Greek. This is seen in here.

    Ἔγειρε καὶ ἆρον [c]τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει; Mark 2:9

    3) In English, we use both parataxis, and hypotaxis, according to the rules of English. We can’t use hypotaxis in all the ways that Greek does, but we can use it sometimes.

    This is described on page 210 of Toward a Science of Translating by Eugene Nida, 1964.

    “The Hebrew language is a highly paratactic language, Greek is extremely hypotactic, and American English is somewhere in between. And this means that not only the words, but also the sentence structure must be translated if one wants to create a natural English translation.”

    Perhaps the confusion is this. When I said “main verb”, I meant the verb that is part of a “main clause,” that is, a clause that can stand alone. A main clause contrasts with a subordinate clause.

  28. theologyarchaeology says:

    When scholars fight over translations I always look to their spirituality to see if their beliefs and lives are in line with God’s ways and if they have followed the Holy Spirit in their quest to translate His words.

    So far, I have not been successful in finding one. Every scholar who deals with translations has yet to have the proper attitude and spiritual humbleness needed to work on The Bible. They are all pushing their own ideas and not one has given any indication that they are following the Holy Spirit to the truth in their work

    There may be some but I have not come across them yet. God has promised to preserve His word but that would also include preserving it in many other languages as well as English. The majority of biblical readers do not have the time nor ability to learn the ancient languages thus they have to rely, by faith, that God will lead them to the correct version of His word that is really His word written in their own tongue.

    For English, The 1984 NIT, the KJV and the NASB are the three versions one can trust to find God’s word. All the rest don’t cut it. Translation is not a subjective field where people get to put their own opinions into God’s word. If they have mastered the biblical languages then they need to be humbled that God would use them to preserve what He wrote thousands of years ago.

    That humbleness would then influence their attitude towards their work, helping them to strive to be honest and looking for the truth not their ideas of what a passage may say. The severe responsibility that comes with this task should also influence the translator’s work, making them wary of the bad influences that affect their thinking on scriptural matters.

  29. CD-Host says:

    Mike —

    In Galatians 5:6, the problem is that the subject of the verb is not a person so regardless of whether you translate this as “working” or “expressing” neither translation supports a “works” theology

    Which is irrelevant. The point is there is no textual support for translating this as “expressing”. You were asking originally for examples of places where mainstream translations allowed their theological biases to override the text, that’s an example. Whether you agree with their theological bias doesn’t matter, it is not the translator’s job to write their own bible which agrees with the theology of the greek scriptures.

    in significantly different grammatical constructions.’, ‘aion’ has a very broad semantic range of meaning

    What are you talking about? This is response is grammatical gibberish. Aion is being used as in exactly the same way in exactly the same usage as a noun describing a period of time in the phases of the earth. There is nothing grammatically complex about Paul’s usage, nor about the word. No more than translating polis as city. The semantic complexity that exists, exists because the translators don’t want to translate an astrological term to English astrology, “precessional age” means exactly what aion meant. This has nothing to do with verbs.

  30. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    “Expressing itself” seems to have originated in J.B. Phillips in 1958, and was copied into the NEB, REB, NIV, and NLT. It does not seem to me to be theologically motivated.

    However, the translation of aion is quite different. There is a translation which uses concordance here and I think it is quite effective.

    This is from Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible, Romans 11:36 – 12:2

    “Because, of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things: – unto him, be the glory, unto the ages. Amen! I beseech you therefore, brethren, through the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living, holy sacrifice, unto God acceptable, – your rational divine service; And be not configuring yourselves unto this age, but be transforming yourselves by the renewing of your mind, to the end ye may be proving what is the thing willed by God – the good and acceptable and perfect.”

    I love this translation!

  31. Iver Larsen says:


    It looks like you are an expert in astrology and maybe also about the New Age movement?

    This background obviously influences how you look at the world and translation. The Jewish background is the distinction between the “present age” and “the age to come”. It is clearly seen in Matt 12:32 and other places. For the Jews, the age to come would be inaugurated with the coming of the Kingdom of God in full power and was connected to the resurrection of the dead at the end of the world/age. This concept is foreign to an ordinary Western reader. A literal translation is sometimes called a “foreignizing” translation. This means that it emphasizes the foreignness of the text so that the reader has to study further to get the meaning. This seems to be the kind you prefer, and it has advantages as a study bible as long as there are lots of notes.

    I had never heard of “precessional age”, so I had to look it up, and only afterwards could I decide that this is different from the Jewish/Biblical aiwn.

    Whether to use “age” or “world” is a translation issue. In Mat 12:32 I see the following:
    KJV: neither in this world, neither in the [world] to come
    RSV/NIV: either in this age or in the age to come

    The semantic range of aiwn in Greek does not correspond to the semantic range of age in English. A completely concordant translation which translates aiwn with age every time it occurs will in many places be misleading and inaccurate, unless the reader takes the time to study the range of meanings in the original. I don’t have time and space to list all the places and different senses of age. The word also occurs in Mat 13:22:
    KJV the care of this world
    RSV the cares of the world
    NIV: the worries of this life

    The L&N lexicon gives three senses: era: aiwn#67.143, universe: aiwn#1.2, world system: aiwn#41.38.

    The expression “into the ages” occurs 4 times in Romans, including 11:36 and it refers to the present age and any other age to come in the future, in short: now and forevermore. It is normally translated “forever” or “evermore”. In Rom 12:2 we have a different construction and meaning: in this age/world. To argue that the meaning is the same because the noun is the same indicates a misunderstanding of semantics and how languages work. Paul is referring to the present unredeemed age and world. A Christian has in a sense entered into the new age, the new world system found in the Kingdom of God. In many languages we use the expression “this world” to refer to this present worldly system as separate from the Kingdom of God. It is therefore not a matter of theological bias that the KJV and almost every other translation use “world” here. It is simply a matter of trying to communicate as accurately as possible the meaning of the original Greek text to English readers in an ordinary translation as opposed to a study bible translation.

    For Gal 5:6 I would say that you are also mistaken. It has nothing to do with textual support. Which Greek word are you looking for behind “express itself”? What does “express itself in love” mean to you? I looked up in Webster’s and found: “to give or convey a true impression of: show, reflect”. What Paul is saying is that faith needs to be shown and reflected in your actions motivated by love. It is not shown by being circumcised or not. You could say the same thing by “working through/by love.” Some prefer the working option, while others get the meaning more clearly by the “expressing” option. It is an unsupported accusation to claim that one or the other is motivated by theological bias.

  32. CD-Host says:

    Suzanne —

    I’m less upset with a dynamic translation doing this than mediating or formal, an emotion doesn’t “work” in English normally. My feeling is that “but faith working through love” while a bit odd is perfectly understandable to an English language reader, there isn’t any good reason not to just translate that in the most obvious way. Interestingly though the NEB and the REB didn’t agree. I wish we had more detailed notes as to why the REB went with the NIV’s treatment here.

    NEB = “faith active in love”
    REB = “faith expressing itself through love”

    Looking at other dynamic translation pairs the GNT started out fine and then in the CEV went entirely off the reservation:
    GNT “faith that works through love”
    CEV “faith that makes you love others”

    Clear Word (Adventist dynamic) handles this issue of an emotion working interestingly:
    “demonstrate our faith in Him by works of love”

    Your least favorite though does a nice job with this, going with “is” but footnoting to “but”:
    NET = “is faith working through love.”
    NET footnoted = “but faith working through love.”

    BTW very interestingly… Gal 5:6 in Marion’s Galatians is “but faith by love is perfected” (αλλα πιστις δι αγαπης επιτελειθαι). This textual variant isn’t in the NA27 but I think Protestants would love this variant and have their faith in Luther perfected. 🙂


    On Romans I agree with you on Rotherham’s treatment that is quite good! The ERB is a concordant bible so it is going to kick it on that verse pair. (BTW Iver, ERB is a good example of the distinction between a literal and a formal translation). Then you compound that with him being a Christian Restorationist and thus not interested in blindly following church tradition and you get a good quality treatment. I agree that the ERB is a good choice for a secondary translation to support someone using a dynamic translation as a primary. I personally use Comfort for exactly that role.

    But if we are talking best treatments rather than worst I nominate Pagels who just defines aion and then

    Romans 11:36 “glory among the aions”
    Romans 12:2 “do not be conformed to this aion”

    while handling the Romans 11 passage as praising the Bythos, Sophia and Gnosis of God. She also captures an important textual variant of Romans 12:1 which the NA27 missed, Herecleon’s quote of a possibly earlier version. I think it is great when a bible translator mentions important variants which are non-standard.

  33. CD-Host says:

    Iver —

    Good comment. Absolutely I plead guilty in believing almost every Christian reader should be using a study bible and mediating or formal translations should be designed around a study bible. Dynamic translations I’m much more OK with not worrying about the foreignness, that is not holding up at the verse level. Though even for dynamic I almost always recommend the REB because it manages to be readable and holds up well at the verse level. So for example, The Voice translation was designed to be read outloud at the chapter level, and I gave it a fairly positive review. I’m fine with them butchering the text to make the English understandable when it is coming at the hearer that quick (i.e. a direct read).

    But I think that’s an exception. If you look at bible sales, exclude pew bibles and free bibles that are given away virtually every bible sold is a study bible. So yes, guilty as charged. Translations should be built around study bibles. The assumption should be either a pastor will be doing an exposition in church or they will be getting additional information.


    Now onto the aion debate.

    As for “world” being the meaning. aion is a unit of time not a place. Units of time in context are used for place / times. For example in the post right above this one, in my response to Suzanne I used “19th century” to mean ambiguously “America in the 19th century” and “Western World in the 19th century”. But I was using a unit of time and the emphasis was on when leaving where ambiguous. If I had used “America” then where would be definite but when would be ambiguous. So I totally disagree with you here. You aren’t conveying the meaning of aion by translating it as world. You are failing to convey the meaning. That’s what I’m objecting to.

    I agree that concordant translation doesn’t work to well generally. But for this particular case it seems to work well enough. If there is a place that “age” doesn’t work well then use the English direct equivalent “precessional age”.

    To pick your example, Matt 13:22:

    NRSV (orig): As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

    NRSV (sub) As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of this age and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

    It seems to work fine. I don’t see how this is a counter example.

    Now in terms of treating aion as meaning this age of Rome as opposed to the age of Heaven. I can’t think of any example of aion being used this way. Matthew uses basileia (Kingdom) twn (of) ouranwn (heaven) when he wants to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven and Paul in Romans itself uses Kingdom of God (theos). I just don’t see how you can justify pushing the messianic context that far, I’d be hesitant. Don’t get me wrong it at least it is treating a unit of time as a unit of time so in that sense it would be an improvement. But if the translators wanted to do that you would have to do something like:

    11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory of the Kingdom of Heaven! Amen.

    12:2 Do not be conformed to the Roman world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.

    Because aion is a unit of time, it cannot be vague there. In general though I don’t think you can talk about a “Jewish background” nearly so casually here. Remember Romans is in Greek not Aramaic. Rome is not Jerusalem. This is an audience of Hellenistic Jews and God fearers, not Aramaic Jews. Their view of the ages is very different than the messianic context in Palestine, more in keeping with Enoch, Wisdom, Philo.

  34. Iver Larsen says:


    I am wondering why you have added “of Rome”. I do not see that aiwn refers to the Roman world. Where did you get that from? I am convinced that the majority in the church in Rome consisted of former Jews or proselytes who were familiar with Jewish terminology.

    In Rom 11:36 we clearly have a time reference. It is εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας EIS TOUS AIWNAS. We have the prepostion into and the plural of aiwn. There is no way this could be translated as “of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    In Romans 12:2 how can one be conformed to a time reference? It must refer to the characteristics of people of “this time”. I am not denying a time reference, but I am not limiting it to time either, nor do I think that you are. But I try not to compare pears with apples. The phrase “this aiwn” is commonly used by Paul, and it is worthwhile to study the other places where it occurs. Tnis is where a study bible note would be handy, because it could then refer to those places:
    Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6a,b; 2:8; 3:18; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 1:21

    Paul normally uses KOSMOS in an all encompassing sense of the whole world, whether good or bad. But occassionally, he uses KOSMOS and AIWN as synonyms as in 1 Cor 1:20-21 and 2:12 in a context where this world is contrasted to God’s world.

    I am not sure which is best in English, age or world. I do know that the Danish word for age would not work and it has never been used even in the most literal versions. It is too limited and focused on time. It is similar to how the Greek genea has been misunderstood and mistranslated as “generation”, but that is another story.

  35. CD-Host says:

    Iver —

    I am wondering why you have added “of Rome”. I do not see that aiwn refers to the Roman world.

    Because if you want to make it messianic in the Jerusalem Jewish sense that’s how you would have to translate it in the cultural context of: “when the Kingdom of Rome has ripened enough to be destroyed, the Kingdom of God will appear.” (Cant. R. ii. 12). As for thinking that’s accurate… yeah that was my point I don’t think that was an accurate translation. I was rejecting your argument that the verse should be seen as messianic, and I was demonstrating it by translating it like you would if it were unambiguously messianic. To the best of my knowledge aion is never used in a messianic sense, you had suggested that usage, I didn’t.

    As for Jewish terminology first off there isn’t that much Jewish terminology in Romans and it isn’t written the way something would be who had extensive familiarity. Jewish books that are heavy in terminology make reference to doctrines by name. They assume the scriptural context is known by the reader, moreover they assume the areas where scriptures is unclear is known by the reader. So for example a few days ago I was looking something up in the Mishnah and it jumped immediately into a discussion of the proper divorce payment for a man who married a widow vs. a virgin. Whether she went out with a himuma, a veil worn by virgins and what sort of grains were distributed by the children at her wedding. All this within 3 sentences. Jewish books assume that a person has read every verse in the torah about 100x already and knows how to apply each verse to each other verse. I don’t see anything remotely like that level of scriptural knowledge in the NT. The NT is not the sort of book that is designed for people immersed in 1st century Jewish culture, and reading the ones that were make the difference instantly obvious.

    Now if we are talking Hellenistic Jews who by the 1st century were immersed in Roman culture but maintained some cultural / religious ties to Judaism. Yes Romans seems like something they might read. Clearly Paul can use “Abraham” or “Moses” and assume his listeners who they are, there is some obvious familiarity and affinity there. Which is why I’m saying Hellenistic Jews and God fearers.

    Second, my main point was there are multiple Jewish terminologies, there were multiple Jewish sects. Talking about Jewish terminology in the 1st century is similar to talking about Christian terminology in the 21st. Kingdom of Heaven terminology is in the 1st century a quite material promise that they by and large don’t believe in. But the messianic promise they deny is very much connected with the material world and a human king, which they wouldn’t use aion to describe.

    In Romans 12:2 how can one be conformed to a time reference?

    Why not? “Do not confirm to modern culture”. “She acts so 50s”. “Those clothes are right out of the 80s”. Particularly remember aion is:

    a) A very long time period (2200 years)
    b) Is associated with an entire culture

    Certainly I can say something like “Mass translation of religious texts has always been a focus of the west” (a place) or “”Mass translation of religious texts has always been a focus of the protestant world” (a place time) or “”Mass translation of religious texts has always been a focus of the last 500 years” (a purely temporal reference).

    So lets take your list. The NRSV uses age in all these locations already:

    1Cor 1:20 — Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world (kosmos)?

    BTW note that when Paul actual wants “world” he uses kosmos not aion.

    1Cor 2:6 — Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.

    1Cor 2:8 — None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    Eph 1:21 — far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

    And BTW they also do the same thing for Romans 12:2, they stick with the “conform to the world” from the KJV because it is famous but then footnote the substitution explicitly that it should be age according to the Greek. The NRSV is an excellent formal translation.

    So no I don’t agree he ever uses them aion and world as synonyms. They aren’t synonyms any more than “50 mile radius” can be used as a synonym for “35 years”.

  36. Mike Tisdell says:


    I think my misunderstanding was based the claim that English and Hebrew favor coordinating constructions; I generally agree with most everything you have posted. However, I am in far more agreement with Iver’s understanding of aion.

  37. Mike Tisdell says:


    I am not sure how anyone could conclude that Romans wasn’t influenced by Jewish thought. It was written by a Jewish Pharisee, it uses extensive quotes and imagery from the OT in support of the arguments made (clearly Paul expected his audience to have a familiarity with the OT), and it contains Semiticisms in the Greek that indicate a Semitic author.

    As far as ‘aion’ is concerned, Iver is correct. First century Jewish apocalyptic literature used this term with an understanding of “this age” i.e. as both a temporal and spacial place with its social order. If we fail to recognize how this term was used within first century Judaism, we will fail to understand its usage here. And when ‘aion’ is used with the demonstrative pronoun (like I indicated earlier) this understanding is clear. It is synonymous with the Hebrew העולם הזה. Similarly, Jewish apoplectic literature clearly indicates that God rules both in this age and in the age to come so titles like מלך העולם clearly demonstrate a first century spacial understanding because a temporal understanding would make absolutely no sense. Again, עולם is almost always translated by aion and so a hypothesis about the meaning of aion in first century Jewish literature that doesn’t take into account the first century understanding of עולם is going to miss the mark.

  38. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I think Iver and I disagree more on the range of the English word “age.” Since I am a native English speaker and he isn’t, you should provide some background for your preference for his interpretation.

    In fact, by citing Rotherham’s Bible, I am simply providing evidence for your claim, and CD host would also agree, i think, that the ESV is not truly literal. I am, in essence, agreeing with you.

  39. CD-Host says:

    Mike —

    I am not sure how anyone could conclude that Romans wasn’t influenced by Jewish thought.

    I’m not sure how either. And I had said the opposite

    Now if we are talking Hellenistic Jews who by the 1st century were immersed in Roman culture but maintained some cultural / religious ties to Judaism. Yes Romans seems like something they might read. Clearly Paul can use “Abraham” or “Moses” and assume his listeners who they are, there is some obvious familiarity and affinity there. Which is why I’m saying Hellenistic Jews and God fearers.

    Let me give an analogy. 21st century US Christian writing is influenced, and heavily influenced by 16th Protestants. However, culturally 21st century US Christian writing has more in common with a 21st century book on automobile shopping than it does with 16th Century German writing. This isn’t black and white. I’m rejecting the idea that something is either “16th century German” or “no influence”.

    Iver is correct. First century Jewish apocalyptic literature used this term with an understanding of “this age” i.e. as both a temporal and spacial place with its social order.

    Actually if that is your position then Iver is incorrect. I was the one arguing for this age across the board since this thread started. Iver was arguing for a translation to a geographical entity with no concept of temporal attributes “world”. In particular he was arguing for this being binary in the way modern Christians think of “this world” and “world to come”.

    To put the debate really simply:
    a) would Paul would have seen Abraham as living in the same aion he was living in?
    b) would Paul have seen you and me as living in the aion he was living in?

    If we have a binary “kingdom of man” / “kingdom of God” as per modern Christianity then the answer to (a) and (b) is “yes”. If we have aion as per 1st century Hellenistic Judaism then the answer is “no”. I have no idea about Hebrew usage during the 1st century which I assume would be primarily referring back to earlier works. Certainly the blessing “from world to world” is very similar to the Christian notion.

    It is synonymous with the Hebrew העולם הזה.

    I don’t know Hebrew but I doubt it. Try and fit 1Peter 4:11 repetition aion, into this sort of usage. I think it has to be all the ages i.e. forever which the Hebrew wouldn’t support.

    So no I don’t think they are identical. העולם הזה is clearly Pharisaic and contrasts this world with the world to come. It used in blessings. aion pulls in all sorts of aspects of middle platonism and Hellenistic astrology. Aion is going to be influenced by Egyptian culture in a way that the Hebrew is not. Influence yes, identical, no.

    Again, עולם is almost always translated by aion

    Again you are losing the thread of the argument. `owlam is unquestionably a unit of time not a place. The world is a place in English.

  40. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    And yes, I know it isn’t hazel, but hazeh. I have just now turned off the auto correct feature on mt ipad.

  41. CD-Host says:

    So let me just add a bit. By point out a verse which I think disproves aion=world pretty effectively.

    2Tim 1:9 1:9 He is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not based on our works but on his own purpose and grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus before the world’s ages (chronos aiōnios/ αἰώνιος).

    Clearly there would be no need if aion meant world to add chronos.


    The next question is whether this is binary. The idea that like in today’s Judaism and today’s Christianity there are only two ages. I’d say this is contradicted all over the bible by the use of plural of aion:aiōnios/ αἰώνιος to mean eternal. If there has only been one age so far why would something that is eternal need to have happened in more than one?

    Romans 16:26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the ages of God [aionios theos], to bring about the obedience of faith.

    If there had only been one age in the past then how did God give commands that are now disclosed in more than one age?

    This also works in the other direction where aion is used in a way that does not imply since the beginning of time:

    Acts 3:21 who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago (aion) through his holy prophets.

    If we are still in the same age as the prophets how does this make sense?

    Finally there are things that happen in the second age under the binary theory that are plural. For example

    2Th 1:9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal [aionios] destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

    If the guilty are only going to be punished in the next age why is aion plural here?

    2Cr 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, for the ages [aionios] in the heavens.

    If we are only going to be in heaven for one age, the next age then why does our house need to be around for multiple ages?

    How much less textual difficulties if for Paul we have something like:

    Age 5 = what we are at the tail end of now, the age of Jesus which he expected to be after Jesus’ return
    Age 4 = what he was at the tail end of and started with Moses, the age of the Mosaic covenant.
    Age 3 = The age of Abraham. Its unclear where he would have broken this but likely something like anything after Noah to before Moses.
    Age 2 = Age of Adam
    Age 1 = Age before creation.

  42. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι ἐὰν ἡ ἐπίγειος ἡμῶν οἰκία τοῦ σκήνους καταλυθῇ, οἰκοδομὴν ἐκ θεοῦ ἔχομεν οἰκίαν ἀχειροποίητον αἰώνιον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

    Not at all sure why you say aiwnion is plural in 2 Thess or 2 Cor.

  43. CD-Host says:

    Suzanne —

    I don’t get the question.

    2Th 1:9 ___ of destruction. I’m putting “ages” in the blank.
    2Cor 5:1 ____ in these heavens. I’m putting “ages” in the blank.

    We need it to be an adjective. I think everyone agrees that once we make it an adjective it is going to be eternal.
    2Th 1:9 eternal destruction
    2Cor 5:1 eternal heavens

    the question is why? Why should that word work that way?

    Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; and Philemon 15,

    BTW this is what the NRSV does in several places as well:

    Romans 16:25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages

    2Tim 1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

    Titus 1:2 in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began—

  44. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    You ask,

    “We need it to be an adjective. I think everyone agrees that once we make it an adjective it is going to be eternal.

    2Th 1:9 eternal destruction

    [ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον – eternal destruction]

    2Cor 5:1 eternal heavens

    [οἰκίαν ἀχειροποίητον αἰώνιον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς [house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens]

    the question is why? Why should that word work that way?”

    It is an adjective in the singular. Why would you translate a singular adjective as “ages?”


    αἰώνιος , ον, also α, ον Pl. Ti.37d, Ep.Heb.9.12:—
    A. lasting for an age (“αἰών” 11), perpetual, eternal (but dist. fr. ἀΐδιος, Plot.3.7.3), “μέθη” Pl.R. 363d; “ἀνώλεθρον . . ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ αἰώνιον” Id.Lg.904a, cf. Epicur. Sent.28; “αἰ. κατὰ ψυχὴν ὄχλησις” Id.Nat.131 G.; κακά, δεινά, Phld.Herc. 1251.18, D.1.13; αἰ. ἀμοιβαῖς βασανισθησόμενοι ib.19; “τοῦ αἰ. θεοῦ” Ep.Rom. 16.26, Ti.Locr.96c; “οὐ χρονίη μοῦνον . . ἀλλ᾽ αἰωνίη” Aret.CA1.5; αἰ. διαθήκη, νόμιμον, πρόσταγμα, LXX Ge.9.16, Ex.27.21, To.1.6; “ζωή” Ev.Matt.25.46, Porph.Abst.4.20; κόλασις Ev.Matt. l.c., Olymp. in Grg.p.278J.; “πρὸ χρόνων αἰ.” 2 Ep.Tim. 1.9: opp. πρόσκαιρος, 2 Ep.Cor. 4.18.
    2. holding an office or title for life, perpetual, “γυμνασίαρχος” CPHerm.62.
    3. = Lat. saecularis, Phleg.Macr.4.
    4. Adv. -ίως eternally, “νοῦς ἀκίνητος αἰ. πάντα ὤν” Procl.Inst.172, cf. Simp. in Epict.p.77D.; perpetually, μισεῖν Sch.E.Alc.338.
    5. αἰώνιον, τό, = ἀείζωον τὸ μέγα, Ps.-Dsc.4.88.

    Romans 16:25 χρόνοις αἰωνίοις – for long ages

    2 Tim. 1:9 πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων – before long ages

    Titus 1:2 πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων – before long ages

    I am not sure what you are saying about the passages 2 Thess. 1:9 and 2 Cor 5:1 where there is a singular adjective, and the others where there is a plural noun. I wouldn’t compare them myself.

  45. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I made an error on the last three citations. There it also an adjective but in the plural. So, in fact, there aiwnios is translated “long” and chronos is translated ages.

  46. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Okay, let’s use a more literal translation. I really have no idea where you want to go with this, so it is getting very muddled for me.

    ὄλεθρον αἰώνιον
    destruction eternal

    οἰκίαν ἀχειροποίητον αἰώνιον
    house made without hands eternal

    πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων
    before ages eternal

    χρόνοις αἰωνίοις
    for ages eternal

  47. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Romans 16:26
    τοῦ αἰωνίου θεοῦ
    eternal God

    Acts 3:21
    ἀπ’ αἰῶνος
    from eternity (long ago)

    Philemon 15
    ἵνα αἰώνιον αὐτὸν ἀπέχῃς
    in order eternal him have back

  48. Iver Larsen says:


    Let me try to see if I can follow you. It is helpful when you state what you think I said so that I can see that this is different from what I think I said, or at least what I meant. This bits-and-pieces communication mode is far from ideal.

    At some point you said that an age is 2200 years. At another point you list various ages which correspond more or less to what I would call dispensations, which are not 2200 years each.

    Suzanne quoted LSJ for the adjective αἰώνιος (aiwnios – eternal) which you introduced.

    It appears to me that you expect a translator to use the same word in English all the time to translate the same word in the Greek, but I think you also said that a concordant translation does not work too well generally – however, it can be helpful for bible study. I think Bible study ought to be done on the text in the original languages rather than a translation.

    It might be helpful to list the senses of aiwn as they appear in BDAG, which is a Greek authority above both you and me. I have cut off most of the stuff in the entries to shorten it. Basically, the dictionary says that the word sometimes has the temporal concept in focus, sometimes the spatial. And sometimes there is no clear borderline between the two senses. A Greek speaker might not even consciously think about such distinctions. They come to the surface when different words have to be used in another language to cover different senses. Translation depends on context. NT usage is also slightly different from secular Greek, especially concerning the age to come.

    αἰών, ῶνος, ὁ (Hom.+; gener. ‘an extended period of time’, in var. senses)

    ① a long period of time, without ref. to beginning or end,

    ⓐ of time gone by, the past, earliest times, readily suggesting a venerable or awesome eld[..?] οἱ ἅγιοι ἀπʼ αἰῶνος προφῆται the holy prophets fr. time immemorial … Lk 1:70; Ac 3:21; make known from of old Ac 15:18; πρὸ παντὸς τ. αἰ. before time began ..τὸν πάντα αἰῶνα=through all eternity); pl. πρὸ τῶν αἰ. 1 Cor 2:7 ἐξ αἰ. since the beginning .. Math. 9, 62.. W. neg. foll. ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος οὐκ ἠκούσθη never has it been heard J 9:32.

    ⓑ of time to come which, if it has no end, is also known as eternity (so commonly in Gk. lit. Pla. et al.); εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα .. to eternity, eternally, in perpetuity: live J 6:51, 58; B 6:3; remain J 8:35ab; 12:34; 2 Cor 9:9 (Ps 111:9); 1 Pt 1:23 v.l., 25 (Is 40:8); 1J 2:17; 2J 2; be with someone J 14:16. Be priest Hb 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21, 24, 28 (each Ps 109:4). Darkness reserved Jd 13. W. neg.=never, not at all, never again (Ps 124:1; Ezk 27:36 al.) Mt 21:19; Mk 3:29; 11:14; 1 Cor 8:13. .. In Johannine usage the term is used formulaically without emphasis on eternity: never again thirst J 4:14; never see death 8:51f; cp. 11:26; never be lost 10:28; never (= by no means) 13:8. εἰς τὸν αἰ. τοῦ αἰῶνος (Ps 44:18; 82:18 al.) Hb 1:8 (Ps 44:7). ἕως αἰῶνος (LXX; PsSol 18:11) Lk 1:55 v.l. (for εἰς τὸν αἰ.); εἰς ἡμέραν αἰῶνος 2 Pt 3:18.—The pl. is also used, esp. in doxologies: εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας (Ps 60:5; 76:8) Mt 6:13 v.l.; Lk 1:33 (cp. Wsd 3:8); Hb 13:8. εἰς πάντας τοὺς αἰ. (Tob 13:4; Da 3:52b; En 9:4; SibOr 3, 50) Jd 25b. εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας to all eternity (cp. Ps 88:53) Ro 1:25; 9:5; 2 Cor 11:31. αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰ. Ro 11:36; ᾧ κτλ. 16:27 (v.l. αὐτῷ). τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰ. 1 Pt 5:11; more fully εἰς τοὺς αἰ. τῶν αἰώνων .. for evermore in doxologies Ro 16:27 v.l.; Gal 1:5; Phil 4:20; 1 Ti 1:17; 2 Ti 4:18; Hb 13:21; 1 Pt 4:11; 5:11 v.l.; Rv 1:6, 18; 5:13; 7:12; 11:15 al. 1 Cl 20:12; 32:4; 38:4; 43:6; εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰ. Eph 3:21. Of God ὁ ζῶν εἰς τοὺς αἰ. Rv 4:9f; 10:6; 15:7; formulaically=eternal 14:11; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5.—κατὰ πρόθεσιν τῶν αἰώνων according to the eternal purpose Eph 3:11. All-inclusive ἀπὸ αἰώνων καὶ εἰς τ. αἰῶνας from (past) eternity to (future) eternity .. ἐξ αἰῶνος ἀτέρμονος εἰς ἕτερον αἰῶνα; .. of God μόνος εἰς αἰῶνα κ. ἐξ αἰῶνος).

    ② a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age

    ⓐ ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος (הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה) the present age (nearing its end) .. contrasted w. the age to come (Philo and Joseph. do not have the two aeons) Mt 12:32. … οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰ. τούτου the children of this age, the people of the world (opp. children of light, enlightened ones) Lk 16:8; 20:34.—The earthly kingdoms βασιλεῖαι τοῦ αἰ. τούτου IRo 6:1. συσχηματίζεσθαι τῷ αἰ. τούτῳ be conformed to this world Ro 12:2. As well as everything non-Christian, it includes the striving after worldly wisdom: συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰ. τούτου searcher after the wisdom of this world 1 Cor 1:20. σοφία τοῦ αἰ. τούτου 2:6. ἐν τῷ αἰ. τούτῳ 3:18 prob. belongs to what precedes=those who consider themselves wise in this age must become fools (in the estimation of this age). The ruler of this age is the devil: ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰ. τούτου 2 Cor 4:4. ἄρχων τοῦ αἰ. τούτου … his subordinate spirits are the ἄρχοντες τοῦ αἰ. τούτου 1 Cor 2:6, 8 (ἄρχων 1c).—Also ὁ νῦν αἰών: πλούσιοι ἐν τῷ νῦν αἰ. 1 Ti 6:17; ἀγαπᾶν τὸν νῦν αἰ. 2 Ti 4:10. Cp. Tit 2:12. Or ὁ αἰ. ὁ ἐνεστώς the present age Gal 1:4. The end of this period .. συντέλεια (τοῦ) αἰ. Mt 13:39f, 49; 24:3; 28:20. συντέλεια τῶν αἰ. Hb 9:26.

    ⓑ ὁ αἰὼν μέλλων (הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא) the age to come, the Messianic period… opposed to the αἰὼν οὗτος both in time and quality, cp. Mt 12:32; Eph 1:21; δυνάμεις μέλλοντος αἰ. Hb 6:5. Also αἰ. ἐκεῖνος: τοῦ αἰ. ἐκείνου τυχεῖν take part in the age to come Lk 20:35. ὁ αἰ. ὁ ἐρχόμενος Mk 10:30; Lk 18:30; Hs 4:2, 8. ὁ αἰ. ὁ ἐπερχόμενος Hv 4, 3, 5: pl. ἐν τοῖς αἰῶσιν τοῖς ἐπερχομένοις in the ages to come Eph 2:7. As a holy age ὁ ἅγιος αἰ. (opp. οὗτος ὁ κόσμος; .. and as a time of perfection αἰ. ἀλύπητος an age free from sorrow 2 Cl 19:4, while the present αἰών is an ‘aeon of pain’.—The plurals 1 Cor 10:11 have been explained by some as referring to both ages, i.e. the end-point of the first and beginning of the second; this view urges that the earliest Christians believed that the two ages came together during their own lifetimes: we, upon whom the ends of the ages have come … and, on the other hand, the pl. αἰῶνες is often purely formal (s. above 1a and b, 2a at end) τὰ τέλη τῶν αἰ. can perh. be regarded as equal to τέλος αἰώνων=the end of the age(s).—For the essential equivalence of sing. and pl. cp. Maximus Tyr. 14, 8b τὰ τῆς κολακείας τέλη beside τέλος τῆς σπουδῆς. Cp. also τέλος 5.

    ③ the world as a spatial concept, the world (αἰ. in sg. and pl. [B-D-F §141, 1]: .. God rules ἅπαντα τὸν αἰῶνα; … Created by God through the Son Hb 1:2; through God’s word 11:3. Hence God is βασιλεὺς τῶν αἰ. 1 Ti 1:17; Rv 15:3 (v.l. for ἐθνῶν)…

    ④ the Aeon as a person, the Aeon

  49. CD-Host says:

    Suzanne —

    We are losing each other. I’m not sure if you aren’t clear what you disagreeing with and I’m not clear what you were disagreeing with….

    Here are the point regarding the adjective form it is derived from the noun form. The same way a blue the adjective in english is derived from blue the noun in english.

    My claim is that the adjective for aion is a unit of time “eternal” in the plural, “2200 years long” in the singular. It is not a place.

  50. CD-Host says:

    Hi Iver —

    Good post. Let me handle the astrology issue first.

    At some point you said that an age is 2200 years. At another point you list various ages which correspond more or less to what I would call dispensations, which are not 2200 years each.

    Yes both. They are roughly 2200 years each. There is a period of several hundred years when you move from one constellation to another. So there isn’t universal agreement on dates.

    When Paul was alive we were leaving the constellation of Aries and entering the constellation of Pieces, the fish, which is why the Christian symbol of the fish represented hope in the world soon to come. Today after 2000 years we have made progress through the constellation of Pisces, but Pisces is really long so we a while to go. Similarly in the time of Moses they were crossing over from the time of Taurus, the bull, the Golden calf to the age of Aries. Similarly it is not uncommon in Judaism to see Noah as the bridge between Taurus and Gemini.

    There can be disagreement as to exact dates but something like:

    6450 BCE to 4525 BCE = Age of Gemini (The twins cf Acts 28:11) = Age of Adam (Antediluvian age)
    4525 BCE to 1875 BCE = Age of Taurus (The bull) = Age of Abraham (after flood before Moses)
    1875 BCE to 100 CE = Age of Aries (The ram) = Age of Moses
    100 CE to 2680 CE = Age of Pisces (The fish) = Age of Jesus

    is what I think Paul had in mind. Whether he believes in the ages before that or he has a more Greek / Roman view that this cycle continues back beyond eternally is unclear.

  51. CD-Host says:

    Iver —

    In terms of BDAG, BDAG doesn’t support your contention. Originally you were arguing that the translation of Romans 12:2 to “world” was acceptable. Note that BDAG puts Ro 12:2 explicitly in category 2a which is exactly where I was putting it as a reference to a temporal not a spatial entity. BDAG is agreeing with me on this verse. So I’m not sure how you can use BDAG to hold up your case on the original argument, it is not evidence for your case but counter evidence.


    Now I think the reason you want BDAG is that it does list 2 verses where it considers aion to refer to the world: 1 Ti 1:17; Rv 15:3 (that is sense 3 in BDAG)

    On 1 Ti 1:17 their interpretation is in the huge minority: NET, NIV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, NLT… all seem to agree with this being temporal not spatial. So here I’m just going to say along with the overwhelming majority of translators I think they are wrong.

    On Rv 15:3 we have a problem textually, not really a translation issue. Most texts list “nations” (ἐθνῶν, eqnwn). Certain mss (Ì47 א*,2 C 1006 1611 1841 pc) read “ages” (αἰώνων, aiwnwn). Certainly King of the Ages works fine, see 1Ti 1:17. So I’m not sure how Rv 15:3 supports the case of aion ever being spacial.

    And that’s it for BDAG’s 2 examples of case 3. Other than that they are agreeing with me that it is always a unit of time that is always temporal.


    Once we get out of the way that “world” is ever correct, and thus Romans 12:2 translated as “world” we are through the original argument.

    The next problem with BDAG is their contention that while aion is always a unit of time, they aren’t agreeing with me on the length of the unit of time. And here I see your appeal to BDAG as question begging regarding the binary view. BDAG is a Christian Lexicon written by people who take the same theological positions as the people who do translation that is that there is the current world and the world to come. My contention was originally that this was an example of theological bias. If such theological bias were present we would expect it to be present in BDAG as well.

    You would want to use a purely Greek lexicon. And such a lexicon would have to mention books like
    Hipparchus, On the Displacement of the Solsticial and Equinoctial Points; an entire book written about a century and a half before Paul where aion is used exactly in the way I’m asserting it is used. And of course soon after Paul’s life we have Ptolomy who goes on about it great length in ways that unavoidably tie aion to precession. If BDAG’s theory were correct about the meaning of the Greek then Hipparchus’ book should not exist. And while I can imagine someone missing Hipparchus, not dealing with Ptolomy is inexcusable.

    But lets ignore missing Ptolomy. I’ve in this thread given examples already where you have many things happening before the aion. Where you have plural aions in the past. Where all eternity in the future requires multiple future aions. I think that’s a pretty strong counter case to the binary view that over the entire history of the universe there are only going to be 2 aions we are int eh first and will after the return of Jesus be in the second.


    It appears to me that you expect a translator to use the same word in English all the time to translate the same word in the Greek,

    No I expect a translator to use a word a word in English that means something remotely like the word in Greek. I don’t expect them to translate νίπτω as horse or ἀλήθεια as blue. And in particular not to translate units of time into units of space.

    I’m OK with the a non-literal translation handling Matthew 21:9 (the cursing of the fig tree) with a device to handle the complex use of aion:
    No more figs from this tree forever
    Never again will their be figs
    No longer


    with no mention of the “ages” from the underlying text. What i wouldn’t be OK with is decided they don’t like the idea of time and replacing it with color or shape or weight and having Jesus say something to the fig tree like:

    You will produce 0 pounds of fruit
    All your fruit shall be invisible
    Your fruit shall be too small to be seen

    This is not an issue of concordant translation vs. non concordant translation. This is an issue of taking a unit of time and converting a unit of space. I was supporting not objecting to non-concordant translation like replacing “all the ages” with “eternity” since eternity captures the meaning of “all the ages”. I was objecting to replacing ages with world the same way I would object to replacing ages with sheep.

  52. CD-Host says:

    Iver —

    but I think you also said that a concordant translation does not work too well generally – however, it can be helpful for bible study. I think Bible study ought to be done on the text in the original languages rather than a translation.

    I wanted to break this off from the discussion of Romans 12:2 since I think it is a sidetrack. The issue of usefulness of original language bible study tools we can argue about. I happen to think they are phenomenally useful for people who don’t know and have no intention of learning the original language. Given the amount of importance that people treat the bible with, yet given the fact that Christians do not universally teach Greek to their children, I think a range of tools is needed. I would argue the desire to educate the laity in “why” and not “what” is one of the best things about Protestantism. People who would never be willing to put in the time effort to learn biblical languages because of the range of tools have access to the theological conversation.

    These tools make available the real promise of priesthood of the believer. Without them individuals would have no recourse but to more or less randomly accept one particular group of expert’s opinions and accede to them. Which goes against the entire spirit of Protestantism. If people are going to do that, what was the point of the Reformation?

    “All translation is treason”. Everyone knows that ultimately diverse literature doesn’t cross linguistic or cultural barriers. And so most religions treat translations with far less respect than Christianity. But what they end up with is their base holy texts being ignored and other books taking on greater meaning. Judaism with its insistence that if one doesn’t complete many years of complex study, their opinion on any theological matter is worthless is I think a great “road not taken” for Protestantism. Jews by and large have a rich religion of English language books on Jewish topic where the laity minister to one another, and a rich language of rabbinic literature which has occasional input on the conversation of the laity. That’s totally different than what happens in Christianity where the people participate fully in the conversation.

    If we accept that maximal participation is the goal and that Judaism’s situation is undesirable since it creates parallel religions then we need tools to create maximal participation. English language they attempt to do far too many things. You open any mainstream translation and it attempts to be:

    — accurate to the text
    — consistent with its faction’s theology
    — useful for casual reading
    — useful for verse by verse study
    — capable of being read out-loud
    — elegant enough for liturgical use
    — be able support a study bible

    etc… Given these inherently conflicting goals it is no wonder that most translations do all of the poorly. A series of levels going from more literal to less literal:

    1. Hebrew/Greek, Diglot or Hebrew/Greek Reader (NA27, MT/BT, TR, MT-Heb)
    2. Interlinear translation (Brown & Comfort, Marshall, McReynolds, Concordant interlinear)
    3. Highly literal (AMP, NASB, YLT, Mounce, Concordant)
    4. Formal (NRSV, ESV, KJV, ASV, NKJV)
    5. Balanced (TNIV, NET, NIV, HCSB)
    6. Tight Dynamic (REB, NAB)
    7. Dynamic (NEB, NJB, CEV, NLTse)
    8. Loose dynamic (NLT1ed, GNB)
    9. Paraphase (MSG, TLB, TAB, JBP)

    help the situation tremendously. They complement the mainstream translations by dropping some of those objectives and focusing on others. And I think that’s a very good thing. Level (2) was what you were objecting to.

    One of the big differences between level (2) and level (1) is that level (2) has a very low bar while level (1) has a very high bar. I’m not that interested in biblical Hebrew. There is 0 chance I will ever learn much of anything about the language. I am interested though in Babylonian and Sumerian myth. I am interested in the NT. Level (2) tools allow me to be as effective as possible in extracting what I want from the OT which is:

    a) Hebrew words (primarily nouns) derived from Babylonian words
    b) Some vague idea of the grammatical structure
    c) Same vague idea of the literary structure

    And since I’m contrasting with other sources in few dozen languages I can’t spend the time to acqure the knowledge to make use of level (1) tools. Level (2) works perfectly for that. Level (3) is terrible for that because the words are not presented in parallel.

  53. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    “My claim is that the adjective for aion is a unit of time “eternal” in the plural, “2200 years long” in the singular. It is not a place.”

    I just don’t know why you keep calling the adjective “plural”. When it says “the eternal God” you say that this says “the ages of God.” That, I don’t see.

  54. Iver Larsen says:


    My reason for quoting BDAG was not for the sake of argument, but to show that the word has different senses, not limited to strictly temporal. I do not treat BDAG as an answer book for translation, but as a description of the semantic range of Greek words as used in the NT and related literature.

    We will not (never?) agree on the theory and practice of translation, so I won’t comment further on that.

  55. Mike Tisdell says:

    CD Host,

    I don’t know how you can look at the BDAG entry and say that it supports the conclusions you have made. The translation of Ro. 12:2 it offers is “συσχηματίζεσθαι τῷ αἰ. τούτῳ be conformed to this world Ro 12:2.” i.e. BDAG chose the exact words you claim are wrong!

    I think your misunderstanding is based on following things:

    1) You have failed to understand the entire semantic range of the Greek ‘aion’ (even when references have been provided that demonstrate that semantic range of meaning).

    2) You have failed to understand the entire semantic range of the English word ‘world.’ When we speak of a “man of the world” in English, we use the word almost identically to the way Paul used it in Greek i.e. a reference to a spacial place and its social order.

    3) You have ignored evidence of first century Jewish thought and its clear influences on the text.

    4) You are trying to read astrology into a text where there is absolutely no evidence of its existence. The fish wasn’t chosen as a sign for Christianity because it was an astrological sign, it was chosen because it is an acronym. And Paul didn’t use ‘aion’ in the text to refer to astrological ages.

  56. Mike Tisdell says:


    Getting back to the main point, you have not shown any text that is absolutely clear in the Greek is mistranslated in any good English translation. Nor have you demonstrated that a “theological bias” was the bases for the translation choices made in the translations you do not like.

    Iver’s point was that we can trust our English translations and when we have questions we can simply check a few different good English translations to see how the passage we are studying is handled in each of them. Those who cannot read Greek or Hebrew will gain a much better understanding of the text by looking at several different English versions than they will by trying to look up the Hebrew and Greek words found in the text; the latter almost always leads to disastrous misunderstandings of the text.

    This entire discussion has only strengthened Iver’s argument about why we should look at good respected translations when a evaluating new and unique interpretations of the Hebrew or Greek texts. When those new and unique interpretations have been rejected in all major English translations then we should require a very high burden of proof from the person advancing those new interpretations i.e. he/she should be able to clearly demonstrate the reason why all previous scholarship has misrepresented the true meaning of the text. Your suggestion that Paul was speaking of “Astrological ages” fails to meet that burden of proof.

  57. CD-Host says:

    Hi Suzanne

    I just don’t know why you keep calling the adjective “plural”. When it says “the eternal God” you say that this says “the ages of God.” That, I don’t see.

    Oh I see. Why would aionios mean “eternal”? Why would it mean that vs. any other adjective. Like if aion were a place, then why not southernly. Basically it is an adjective for “many ages” i.e. plural.

    Consider year as an adjective:
    This is a annual event = it happens once per year.
    This is a biannual event = it happens every 2 years.
    This is millennial event = it happens once every thousand years.

    Remember this whole debate is about a theory that there aion is either the current world or the world to come. If there are 3 aions the theory is disproven. aionios wouldn’t mean eternal it would just be after a specific point in time of there were two of them.

    That’s it. I wasn’t making some grand point, just showing examples that the binary aion falls apart in a few verses. I didn’t think the switch from noun form to adjective form would be a problem.

  58. CD-Host says:

    Iver —

    My reason for quoting BDAG was not for the sake of argument, but to show that the word has different senses, not limited to strictly temporal

    Don’t quote the BDAG. Give me one sentence in all greek literature where it used spatially.

    A Greek sentence something motion through space rather than time as a way of traversing aions:
    “If you head 30 miles south you’ll cross over from this aion to the next”
    “I’ve heard that Italy is currently in a different aion”

    Ohio is a place. If I pull up 50 random sentences involving Ohio I get tons of spatial words associated with Ohio.

    There should be one sentence in all of Greek literature that uses spatial terms if aion ever means “world”.

    BTW I just used the same database with world and the 6th sentence has stuff about Randolph Hearst traveling the world to buy art.

    I’ve given you an example where the semantic range for aion in terms of astrology is unquestionable from two separate authors centuries apart. I can name from the Ptolemaic era where Pharaohs are tied to transitions between aions. BDAG is making a very questionable claim, because nowhere in their examples or the NT to book is there one spatial property.

  59. CD-Host says:

    MIke —

    I understand your basic idea that if you stuff rude and loud that’s somehow convincing. It isn’t. You presented a specific theory that aion meant העולם הזה, which is both a time and place and that agreed with Iver. All of which is false.

    I presented authors that were using the word unquestionably as a unit of finite time.
    Let write this out:

    claim A: aion always means X
    Fact B: aion is used to mean something other than X
    conclusion C: A is false, aion doesn’t always mean X.

    Now the burden switches and you need to show an example of a sentence which uses aion in the singular and could not possibly mean anything other than one of two possible worlds.

    You can be as rude, and loud and assertive as you want. But Hipparchus’ book exists. The whole reason Αιων is the eternal God is because he is the God over the zodiac. And before you claim this isn’t judaism, the magical Papyrii make frequent use of Ios (Jewish God).

    To claim you have refuted any of the evidence is just total nonsense. You haven’t refuted any of it. All you’ve done is make assertions.

    Well the same people who theologically biased write theologically biased lexicons, which says they aren’t being biased. Hey I got a solution to the murder problem, we’ll ask everyone if they did and when they say “no” we’ll know there is no murder.

    The fact you would call an interpretation which makes use Ptolomy “new and unique” I think more or less proves the point about you just making stuff up.

    If your definition of bias is do translate in ways they disagree with, then no there is no theological bias in the entire history of translation. The Clear Word translation isn’t biased even slightly in the direction of Ellen White’s theology. The Watchtower tower tract society in translating the entire bible into fully Arian language is absolutely unbiased because after all they don’t think they are biased.

    So Mike live in your little world where no good translators ever mistranslate anything. In the real world:

    Evangelical translations exist to support evangelical theology
    Complementarian translations like the ESV exist to support complementarianism
    Catholic translations exist to support Catholicism,
    Jewish translations exist to support Judaism

    and the only way to possible avoid bias is to use tools translational traditions with entirely different focus.

  60. CD-Host says:

    Mike —

    Now there was one comment you made that was worth a real response and dismissal.

    You have failed to understand the entire semantic range of the English word ‘world.’ When we speak of a “man of the world” in English, we use the word almost identically to the way Paul used it in Greek i.e. a reference to a spacial place and its social order.

    The problem with “world” as a definition for aion is that far too many times the text doesn’t support any notion of space like Matthew 21:19. “henceforth” is a relative position in a temporal sense not a spacial sense. Put “world” in that verse and it doesn’t make sense.

    The KJV tried to use “world” for aion whenever possible and they were only able to do it 38 times. One verse that really tripped them up, and should trip you up is Ephesians 2:7 because there the Aions to come are plural and the whole thing is in the future tense so ain’t future worlds.

    I understand very well the English use of the “world”. A “man of the world” could not be applied to someone from another country with a vastly different culture. It has spacial implications, not temporal ones.

  61. CD-Host says:

    I think this deserves a summary in case anyone after the fact tries to read this thread since it all over the place.

    1) Aion is the god of the Zodiac. He replaced Chronus as Greek notions of time took on Egyptian characteristics, in particular sophisticated astrological / astronomical measurement.

    2) An aion (αἰών) is the unit of time of time it takes to move from one sign of zodiac to the next, this is called a “precessional age” in English. It is approximately 2150 years but varies a bit. There are twelve precessional ages in a great year.

    3) The aions (ex Eph 2.7) in an indefinite sense are used to mean eternity, i.e. all the precessional ages. The adjective form of aion is plural, i.e. it means eternal not one aion.

    4) Paul was living during a time when the processional age was that had existed since the time of Moses was coming to an end. Around 100 CE we moved from Aries to Pisces. This uncomplicates a whole lot of of Paul’s meaning he believes the next (precessional) age will be an age of Jesus.

    5) Mainstream translations avoid using terms from astrology. As a result biblical translation has traditionally had a tough time with this word and they translate it about a 1/2 dozen different ways: forever, world, never (in the negative), age, eternal… The reason they need this wide “semantic range” is that none of the alternatives quite work. Conversely every single biblical verse holds up well if you use processional age.

    In short, translate ancient Greek books including the NT like you would normally translate Greek books and everything works fine. Try and pretend that 1st century people share 21st century attitudes and things fall apart fast.

  62. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    CD host,

    I do think a switch from noun to adjective is a problem because an adjective usually picks up on only one meaning of the noun to the exclusion of other meanings.

    For example, aner means “man” but andreios, the adjective, means “brave” and applies equally to both men and women. The wife of Proverbs 31 was called andreia, and you cannot argue that she was in any way masculine. You cannot argue the meaning of an adjective from the noun. So, for me, that part of the argument does not work.

    Second, it is very common for Greek words to have both a spatial and temporal meanng. For example anothen means both “from above” and “again.” So Nicodemus was “born again” but by extension, “born from above.”

    Now please do not suppose that I either disagree with you or agree with you. I am still attempting to analyse your suggestion and see if it has merit. I need to see clear examples from the Greek.

  63. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Okay coming from another angle, I wonder how aiwn translated as “world” here and “eternity” there.

    In Latin it was usually speculum, which means “age of a human life” and eventually “century.” But we also get the adjective secular from this word. Luther translated the Greek word aiwn as both Ewigkeit, and Welt, roughly “eternity” and “world” and Tyndale seems to have copied this from Luther.

    But here is the meaning of Welt,

    Welt (German) World
    Welt is a contraction of the Old High German words, “Wer” and “alt,” where “Wer” meant “Man” (From the Latin “Vir” for “Man”–think “virile”) and “Alt,” which in Old High German, meant “time” but now means “old.” So, Welt is Wer + alt, which is “the time of man.”

    So Welt at one time meant “age of a man” just like speculum, and this got translated into English by Tyndale as “world.”

    So, perhaps this is just one more oddity of the English Bible which can be traced back to Tyndale’s dependence on the Luther.

  64. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    speculum ?? saeculum – ack, I switched computers, and have not yet turned off spell check on this one.

  65. CD-Host says:

    Suzanne —

    That Luther discovery is awesome! That really does help answer the how this mess started. Because obviously the KJV was willing to use age, and “age” fits every verse, while world didn’t. The KJV translators knew their Greek gods so they would of known who Aion was and known he was associated with time.

    Thank you! Excellent discovery.


    I do think a switch from noun to adjective is a problem because an adjective usually picks up on only one meaning of the noun to the exclusion of other meanings.

    I see so you think I’m begging the question here by using the adjective? If so, point taken.

    Second, it is very common for Greek words to have both a spatial and temporal meanng. For example anothen means both “from above” and “again.”

    I agree the situation is analogous, but actually I see it is analogous in the opposite way. For a formal translation I think it should always be “born from above”. I think born again came from harmonizing with 1Peter 1:3 (Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again (anagennhsav) to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,)

    John uses the term 5 times. And in all of them you can use “born from above”. For example the NET does that:,7;3:31;19:11,23

    It is another place where the English translation tradition of harmonizing, “born again” distorts what John is saying. I’m a little more comfortable though here with using “born again” for “born from above” since I think the Christian “born again” captures the Greek “born from above”; where in the case of aion I think the Christian “world” completely distorts the Greek “precessional age”. That being said the antithesis are key to understand John: temple / body, water / spirit, freedom / slavery and importantly above / below. I think they are losing too much in terms of the broader work even though at the verse level they aren’t losing as much. I definitely think this needs to be footnoted regardless of which translation gets used. “Born from above” footnoted to “often translated as born again” or “born again” footnoted to “lit. born from above”.

    But getting back to point, I fully agree with your analogy while disagreeing with the conclusion. I don’t think Nicodemus was born again in Greek. I don’t think the “semantic range” of the Greek allows for “born again”. Rather I think English language translational tradition has left us with a translational mess where the term “born again” has all semiotic content that should have accrued to “born from above” and now every generation of translators has to decide how to handle the mess.

    On trying to find you an example. I’m trying to find a Greek document using precession explicitly that doesn’t come out as a 300 page PDF when I do I’ll post a link.

  66. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    As it happens, Erasmus, whose Greek I respect, agrees with you – Nicodemus was not “born again”, but “born from above”. Erasmus Latin translation has e supernis – from above.

    However, Tyndale translated “boren a anew.” He got this from Luther, who wrote von neuem, but Luther got this from Jerome who wrote “denuo.”

    And everybody ignored Erasmus on this one. However, Pagninus wrote e supne, which I suspect means “from above.”

  67. CD-Host says:

    Suzanne —

    OK so the Latin is the same way Plato used it, as an interval of time in a set. A period of time. Something like this usage from Gorgias which associates it with ages of man:

    ὦ Χαιρεφῶν, πολλαὶ τέχναι ἐν ἀνθρώποις εἰσὶν ἐκ τῶν ἐμπειριῶν ἐμπείρως ηὑρημέναι: ἐμπειρία μὲν γὰρ ποιεῖ τὸν αἰῶνα ἡμῶν πορεύεσθαι κατὰ τέχνην, ἀπειρία δὲ κατὰ τύχην. ἑκάστων δὲ τούτων μεταλαμβάνουσιν ἄλλοι ἄλλων ἄλλως, τῶν δὲ ἀρίστων οἱ ἄριστοι: ὧν καὶ Γοργίας ἐστὶν ὅδε, καὶ μετέχει τῆς καλλίστης τῶν τεχνῶν.

    a did find a few references in astronomy where it applies to a repeated astronomical cycle like the planets.


    BTW that source does a nice job in defining aion:

    αἰών poet.: apocop. acc. αἰῶ properly αἰϝών, aevum, v. αἰεί)

    a period of existence:
    1. one’s life-time, life, Hom. and attic Poets.
    2. an age, generation, Aesch.; ὁ μέλλων αἰών posterity, Dem.
    3. a long space of time, an age, ἀπ᾽ αἰῶνος of old, for ages, Hes., NTest.; τὸν δι᾽ αἰῶνος χρόνον for ever, Aesch.; ἅπαντα τὸν αἰ. Lycurg.
    4. a definite space of time, an era, epoch, age, period, ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος this present world, opp. to ὁ μέλλων, NTest.:—hence its usage in pl., εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας for ever, id=NTest.

  68. CD-Host says:

    Hit the jackpot. Plural ages, both before and after the rein of Christ. This is an orthodox Christian of the most respected stature (Maximus the Confessor):

    ἐμέρισε σοφῶς τοὺς αἰώνας

    Ὁ πάσης κτίσεως͵ ὁρατῆς τε καὶ ἀοράτου͵ κατὰ μόνην τοῦ θελήματος τὴν ῥοπὴν ὑποστήσας τὴν γένεσιν πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων καὶ αὐτῆς τῆς τῶν γεγονότων γενέσεως τὴν ἐπ΄ αὐτοῖς ἀφράστως ὑπεράγαθον εἶχε βουλήν· ἡ δὲ ἦν αὐτὸν μὲν ἀτρέπτως ἐγκραθῆναι τῇ φύσει τῶν ἀνθρώπων διὰ τῆς καθ΄ ὑπόστασιν ἀληθοῦς ἑνώσεως͵ ἑαυτῷ δὲ τὴν φύσιν ἀναλλοιώτως ἑνῶσαι τὴν ἀνθρωπίνην͵ ἵν΄ αὐτὸς μὲν ἄνθρωπος γένηται͵ καθὼς οἶδεν αὐτός͵ Θεὸν δὲ ποιήσειε τῇ πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ἑνώσει τὸν ἄνθρωπον͵ μερίσας δηλονότι σοφῶς τοὺς αἰῶνας καὶ διορίσας͵ τοὺς μὲν ἐπ΄ ἐνεργείᾳ τοῦ αὐτὸν γενέσθαι ἄνθρωπον͵ τοὺς δὲ ἐπ΄ ἐνεργείᾳ τοῦ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ποιῆσαι Θεόν.


    HE WHO brought the whole world into existence, visible and invisible, according to the sole urge of His will, beyond all the ages and the very creation of the created, He had ineffably the supreme goodness of the will towards His creatures. And this will was for Him to be united without change with the nature of men, through the true union of existence, and to unite with himself the human nature without change, so that himself would become a man, accordingly as He knows, and by the union with Him, He would make man God. Namely, He divided wisely the ages and He appointed a part of them to the work of Him becoming a man, and the other part to the work of making man God. (from Questions – To Thalassius, * Q. 22. )

  69. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Here is the beginning and end of the Nicene creed,

    Πιστεύω εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.
    Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων·
    φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.
    Εἰς μίαν, Ἁγίαν, Καθολικὴν καὶ Ἀποστολικὴν Ἐκκλησίαν.
    Ὁμολογῶ ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
    Προσδοκῶ ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν.
    Καὶ ζωὴν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος.

    Credo in unum Deum,
    Patrem omnipoténtem,
    Factórem cæli et terræ,
    Visibílium ómnium et invisibílium.
    Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum,
    Fílium Dei Unigénitum,
    Et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula.
    Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
    Génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri:
    Per quem ómnia facta sunt.
    Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam.
    Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatorum.
    Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
    Et vitam ventúri sæculi. Amen.

  70. CD-Host says:

    Suzanne —

    γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων (begotten before all ages)… μέλλοντος αἰῶνος (age to come) so at least 3 of them. Nice catch. Hard to get more authoritative than that.

  71. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I am not at all sure what this means, except that the claim that any English Bible is a literal translation is rather distant from the truth.

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