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I can tell that from the Hebrew various English translations understand something different has been put into the heart of man. What I am interested in then is does the LXX support one of the English translations? I looked up a Greek-English LXX interlinear but it was still not exactly clear to me what the meaning in Greek is.

Here is the Greek:

11 σὺν τὰ πάντα ἐποίησεν καλὰ ἐν καιρῷ αὐτοῦ καί γε σὺν τὸν αἰῶνα ἔδωκεν ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν, ὅπως μὴ εὕρῃ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τὸ ποίημα, ὃ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός, ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς καὶ μέχρι τέλους. (The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear Septuagint)

Here are a few divergent English translations:

Ecclesiastes 3:11

ESV

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

NET Bible

God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives

KJV

He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Does the LXX support 'eternity', 'world' or 'ignorance'? I understand the Greek word employed is 'age' so I sort of guess that somehow this indicates 'eternity' but really have no clue.

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    +1, but c’mon, you don’t want to ask what’s going on in the Hebrew? ;-) FYI, NETS Ecclesiast.
    – Susan
    Jun 25, 2015 at 10:43
  • Maybe instead of asking if the LXX supports an English translation, ask if it agrees with one of the different understandings of the Hebrew text which you refer to. Then the answer could be applied to any language's translation? If there's reason to focus only on the LXX then I suppose that's your prerogative.
    – Joshua
    Jun 25, 2015 at 16:52
  • ya this question arose because i have a few Hebrew explanation sources and even reliable sources went for different translation which made me curious about the LXX as an older translation which my Hebrew sources did not refer to.
    – Mike
    Jun 25, 2015 at 23:53
  • The question about the Hebrew of this verse now exists: What did God put into the human heart according to the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes 3:11?
    – Susan
    Jun 26, 2015 at 13:43

2 Answers 2

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The LXX could be construed to support either 'eternity' or 'the world' but not 'ignorance'. The relevant bit:

καί γε σὺν τὸν αἰῶνα ἔδωκεν ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν (LXX, Rahlfs)
indeed, he granted eternity in their heart (NETS)
he has also set the whole world in their heart (Brenton)

Both make sense as renditions of:

גַּ֤ם אֶת־הָעֹלָם֙ נָתַ֣ן בְּלִבָּ֔ם

if the translator understood עֹלָם (ʿōlām) to be a defectively written form of עוֹלָם (ʿôlām). The difference between the two is that the normal mater lectionis ḥōlem-waw vowel is written as just ḥōlem, a common spelling variation in many words, although not elsewhere in ʿôlām as far as I’m aware. It’s an easy transition to make all the same,1 and ʿôlām is “stereotypically”2 translated at αἰών, as here.

As you pointed out, one meaning of αἰών is “age”.3 An excerpt from BDAG4 is instructive (bold original):

  1. a long period of time, without ref. to beginning or end
    a. of time gone by, the past, earliest times
    b. of time to come which, if it has no end, is also known as eternity
  2. a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age
    [...]
  3. the world as a spatial concept, the world
    [...]

The first definition supports the ESV (and NETS) translation while the third supports the KJV (and Brenton). In support of 'eternity', the remainder of that verse, sticking with the Greek text:

ὅπως μὴ εὕρῃ ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὃ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός, ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς καὶ μέχρι τέλους. (LXX, Rahlfs)
so that they should not find the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end.(NETS)

Making sense of the whole verse is another matter, but one can see how the Greek translator might have understood this last part as a restatement of ὁ αἰών with the sense of 'eternity'.


1. Especially given that the full spelling of the same word is used in v. 14, 'whatever God does endures forever [ləʿôlām]'.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, Second edition (Deutsche Biblgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 2003).

3. ʿôlām can also carry this sense. See BDB, עוֹלָם2.k. describing the usage in Ecc 3:11: “age (duration) of the world”.

4. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

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Its context is the key. The book of Ecclesiastes makes it clear that a distracted man would not understand even the eternal history of Ages written in his heart: “I saw with you the distraction that God gave to the sons of man to be distracted in him. He wrote everything well in his time, and he gave it to his heart for eternity [olam, “Ages, Eternity”], so that [distracted] man does not find the poem that God wrote from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:10, 11, Septuagint)

This is better understood from the context. Ecclesiastes 1:4 says “earth has been forever” and Ecclesiastes 1:9, 10 says history is an eternal cycle of Old Age [olam, “Ages, Eternity”] being renewed into New Age [olam, “Ages, Eternity”]. This knowledge is available in the memory of all souls, but distracted souls would not be able to discern it, says Ecclesiastes 3:10–11.

According to Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, when Old Age reaches its peak of decay [through pollution and world wars—Revelation 11:18; 16:14–16], it is renewed by God into New Age (Revelation 21:5). Though it may look as New Age upon renewal, it is not New in the larger picture—because series of New Ages are happening without a break like day and night which cannot be called new or old as one gives way to the other: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)—cycle of Old Age being made into New Age has been going infinitely into the past and will be going on infinitely into the future, because of the following factors:

  1. God remains forever (olam) (Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 32:40)
  2. “Earth earth has been for ever.” (olam) (Ecclesiastes 1:4, Septuagint)
  3. The godly ones remain forever (olam) (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

These three concepts are beautifully summarized in another pivotal verse which is the shortest summary of both world history and the Bible: “The world [κόσμος (kosmos)] and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (olam).” (1 John 2:17) The godly people are eternally present on this earth. [Details under footnote]**

So the Wheat-like godly people are sent to the New Age, and the Weed-like ungodly people are sent to the Old Age. New Age is also called heaven on earth which is the first half of each cycle of Age. Old Age is also called hell on earth which is the second half of each cycle of Age. The difference is that the Wheat-like godly people are eternally present in both the New Age and Old Age (1 John 2:17), whereas the weed-like ungodly people are present in the Old Age only. When it is New Age on earth, the ungodly cannot be present because “works of flesh” are not permitted in New Age, the ungodly would naturally refuse to join the New Age—hence they are to remain in a place of God’s choice till New Age becomes Old Age again. This is figuratively described as saying the ungodly “shall be driven away” or taken away, temporarily from Earth. (Proverbs 2:22, Septuagint)

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