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A professor (of Mathematics) from Greece told me the word αἰών means "century."

Of course we know its derivatives (such as αἰώνιος) have a range of meaning in the New Testament and the Septuagint including "forever" as well as "age-long" and so forth.

My question: Does anyone know any instance of usage close to the beginning of Christianity -- to be more precise, let's just say from about 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. -- where the meaning of "century" is clearly indicated?

Expansion/possible example: At Revelation 20:10 we have εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων (into the ages of the ages, as many translations have it) but if the idea here is for centuries of centuries, then the tens of thousands of years in view would perhaps fit in nicely with the mention earlier in the verse of the beast and false prophet having been tossed in prior to the millenium. (Of course, all this is moot if aion was not used that way in 1st century Greek.)

  • αἰών means 'century' in Greek today. Greek has evolved over time, so its ancient definition won't correspond to modern Greek. – user2910 Jun 3 '15 at 16:05
  • One on the moderators can comment, but I'd guess your question is borderline as it is. Can we find a specific verse or passage that uses aion where the meaning would vary greatly with the possible century meaning? If you can frame your question around a biblical text it would certainly be valid. Otherwise this is purely a Greek language question. Perhaps 1 Cor 2:8? – Joshua Jun 3 '15 at 16:08
  • I think the word for century in modern Greek is actually αιώνας, not αἰών (closely related) – user33515 Jun 16 '17 at 21:25
  • @ user33515 This is helpful, thanks. – RedRover Jun 17 '17 at 22:42
  • This question could be answered most authoritatively by consulting an exhaustive Koine lexicon (ie: BDAG). I would move to close this question but it seems too late. I see a pattern here. Someone asks a question that can be answered authoritatively by a Lexicon and then people post multiple answers without consulting a Lexicon. This muddies the waters more than anything. – Ruminator Oct 31 '17 at 22:55
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The Liddell-Scott-Jones, the Middle-Liddell, Slater, and Authenrieth lexicons (all accessible here) provide several alternate definitions of αἰών with dozens of examples from Classical and Koine Greek. These include "span of life", "life", "age", "posterity", "generation", "eternity", "epoch", and also "marrow" (as in bone marrow). There doesn't seem to be any evidence of the word having ever been used to mean exactly 100 years during the time frame you indicate.

  • Ditto for BDAG. Nor does αἰώνιος have that usage in Koine. And +1 for referring to a Lexicon, the last place people tend to look, though the most logical. – Ruminator Oct 31 '17 at 22:52
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The meaning "unit of time" is clearly indicated, but the number of years is not. Here's how:

Biblical authors probably often did not treat Greek as a first language. So we ought to check the non-Greek sources. Reading back through the Septuagint, we see that αιωνα almost always corresponds to the Hebrew עולם (olam). (Gen. 3:22; 6:3; 6:4; 9:12 and several hundred more instances going all the way to Malachi 3:4).

Many of these instances seem to suggest units of time - i.e. that there can be several עולמים (olamim). In Psalm 77:7, Isaiah 51:9, 2 Chronicles 6:2 and several other places the correspondence between the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text is exact - the Hebrew plural is translated with a Greek plural. But again, there is no distinction about how many years this is - it's just a unit of time.

By the time we get to Mishnah and Talmud, there is lots of discussion about setting "this age" (עולם הזה) against "the age to come" (עולם הבא). I can't possibly cite every instance but Berakhot 48:10; Bava Batra 75:2; Berurah 1:13; Taanit 21:3 are good examples. All that to say that αιωνα is definitely a distinct unit of time - it's just hard to know how long it is based on biblical texts.

  • Welcome to BH.SE! We're glad you're here. This is a fine answer; the only improvement would be to expand abbreviated book names and link the references. Especially quoting the Talmudic uses would be fantastic! (All that to say I cannot see why you got a down vote.) – Frank Luke Nov 1 '17 at 13:55

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