Unto the ages of ages
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The phrase "unto the ages of ages" expresses the idea of eternity. The phrase is a translation of the original Koine Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" (eis toùs aionas ton aiṓnōn), which occurs in the original Greek texts of the Christian New Testament (e.g. in Phillippians 4:20). In the Latin Vulgate, the same phrase is translated as in saecula saeculorum. The phrase expresses the eternal duration of God's attributes. Other variations of the phrase are found at e.g. Eph 3:21, as εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν, here referring to the glory of God the Father; this may be translated as "from all generations for ever and ever, amen".
The translation of aiōnes can be temporal, in which case it would correspond to the English "ages". Then again, it can be spatial, and then one would need to translate in spatial terms, describing the cosmos so as to include both the heavenly and earthly world.
In the New Testament, the phrase occurs twelve times in the Book of Revelation alone, and another seven times in epistles, but not in the gospels:
- Galatians 1:5: "... δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- Philippians 4:20: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- 1 Timothy 1:17: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- 2 Timothy 4:18: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- Hebrews 13:21: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας [τῶν αἰώνων], ἀμήν."
- 1 Peter 4:11: "...δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- Revelation 1:6: "...δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας [τῶν αἰώνων] · ἀμήν."
- 5:13: "...δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων."
- 7:12, 10:6, 11:5, 15:7, 19:3, 20:10, 22:5: "... εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων"
In the Greek LXX translation of the Old Testament, the phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων appears in Psalm 83:5. The Hebrew text here (Psalm 84:5; different counting!) reads עֹ֝֗וד, which simply means "forever" or "continuously". Other Hebrew verses are more similar to the "ages of ages" formula: For example verses such as "וּֽמֵעֹולָ֥ם עַד־עֹ֝ולָ֗ם" (Psalm 90:2), or "לְמִן־עֹולָ֖ם וְעַד־עֹולָֽם" (Jeremiah 25:5), or "מִן־הָעֹולָ֖ם עַד־הָעֹולָ֑ם" (Nehemiah 9:5). All these slightly different variations mean more or less the same: "(and) from (the) eternity to (the) eternity". The Hebrew לְעֹולָ֥ם וָעֶֽד ("in eternity and forever" or "in eternity and beyond"), which appears in verses such as Micah 4:5, was rendered in Greek LXX as εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ἐπέκεινα, in Latin as in aeternum et ultra "for eternity and beyond", and in English Bible translations usually as "for ever and ever". In Aramaic the same phrase was rendered as לְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּ (lalmey almaya, literally "from the eternity of eternities" or "from the world of worlds"), for instance in the Kaddish, an important prayer in the Jewish liturgy.
The formula has a prominent place in Christian liturgy both of the Latin and the Byzantine tradition, in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist: Trinitarian doxologies ending with the formula conclude the Psalms (Gloria Patri), many prayers spoken by the priest, and hymns such as the Tantum Ergo by Thomas Aquinas or the Veni Creator Spiritus. When it is followed by an Amen, the last two words (saeculorum, Amen) may be abbreviated Euouae in medieval musical notation. Vernacular liturgical traditions often don't translate the Greek and Latin formula literally: The English translations of Christian prayers issued in 1541 by King Henry VIII 1541 and the later Book of Common Prayer replace it by "world without end"; the German Lutheran tradition reads "von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit", "from eternity to eternity", which is probably based on Old Testament formulas such as Psalm 90:2, Jeremiah 25:5, and Nehemiah 9:5, quoted in Hebrew above.
- "Jewishvirtuallibrary.org". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2015-10-08.
- Strong's Greek Concordance (s.v. "αἰών)
- German Bible Society Greek New Testament (GNT5) https://www.academic-bible.com/en/online-bibles/greek-new-testament-ubs5/read-the-bible-text/
- Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/liturgy_hchc) Uses the English phrase "to the ages of ages" to translate the Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" throughout this next Reference:
- Η ΘΕΙΑ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΧΡΥΣΟΣΤΟΜΟΥ (http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/liturgy_hchc-el?set_language=el) Contains the Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" 22 times.