4. The one who wrote about God’s “eternal purpose” associated it with what long-promised one?
4 This same writer of our first century C.E. was inspired to write concerning God’s “eternal purpose” and to associate it with the long-looked-for Messiah, the “Anointed One” or “Consecrated One,” whom the prophet Moses himself foretold. Back there those speaking Syriac in the Middle East called him “M’shiʹhha”; but the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria, Egypt, when making their translation of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, which has come to be called the Greek Septuagint, used the Greek word Khristós, which, basically, means “Anointed One.”—See Daniel 9:25, LXX.
5, 6. How have modern translators created a problem as to what it is that God formed in connection with the Messiah?
5 However, the modern-day translators of the writings of that first-century writer have created a problem for us. From the sixteenth century onward English Bible translations have spoken of it as the “eternal purpose” of God.a But more recently a number of Bible translators interpret the Greek phrase as “a plan of the ages.” Thus God is said to have a “plan” in connection with the Messiah.
6 For example, the 1897 (C.E.) translation of the letter to the Ephesians, chapter three, verses nine through eleven, by J. B. Rotherham, reads: “And to bring to light what is the administration of the sacred secret which had been hidden away from the ages in God, who did all things create: in order that now unto the principalities and the authorities in the heavenlies might be made known, through means of the assembly, the manifold wisdom of God,—according to a plan of the ages which he made in the anointed.” Even as far back as 1865 C.E. The Emphatic Diaglott, published by the newspaper editor Benjamin Wilson, contained the reading: “according to a plan of the ages, which he formed.” A number of other recent Bible translations could be cited that choose to render the Greek text in this way.b
7, 8. What illustration did C. T. Russell publish, and what did his first book say about its title?
7 Based on this different translation of the Greek text in Ephesians 3:11, there was published in the September, 1881, issue of Zion’s Watch Tower in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., by the editor and publisher Charles Taze Russell, the article entitled “The Plan of the Ages.” This gave the explanation of a full-page diagram called “Chart of the Ages.” We are pleased to reproduce herewith this chart for examination by all interested persons. A similar “Chart of the Ages Illustrating the Plan of God” was embodied in the book entitled “The Divine Plan of the Ages,” published by C. T. Russell in 1886.
8 Despite the inaccuracies that are discernible in it today, this “Chart of the Ages” served to show the line of sincere reasoning that was based upon the thought that the All-Wise, Almighty God has a “plan.” Said the opening words of Chapter I of this book:
The title of this series of Studies—“The Divine Plan of the Ages,” suggests a progression in the Divine arrangement, foreknown to our God and orderly. We believe the teachings of Divine revelation can be seen to be both beautiful and harmonious from this standpoint and from no other.
9. (a) At least what point did this widely circulated book emphasize? (b) Yet what question did it raise about a plan and God?
9 This book attained a circulation of more than six million copies, in a number of languages. Its circulation ceased in the year 1929 C.E. For one thing, it focused the attention of its readers on the Bible and showed that the Living God is progressive. He is getting somewhere with respect to what he has in mind for suffering humankind. We know that a man often forms a plan of action, but that behind such plan of action there is a purpose to be achieved. But the point in question is, Did the All-Wise, All-Powerful God have to frame a plan of action, a cut-and-dried course, at the time that he made his decision to accomplish something, thus obliging himself as the unchangeable God to stick to this planned course without deviation? Or, was he able to meet all emergencies and contingencies due to free will and choice on the part of his creatures, instantly and without forethought, and still reach his goal? Did he need a plan? Of course, after he has attained his goal, we can check the record of his movements and plot or map out the course that he has pursued. But was it planned just that way?c
A GOD OF PURPOSE
10. What did the Greek word proʹthe·sis literally mean, and how did the Jews use it in the Greek Septuagint?
10 Did the original Greek writer of the words in Ephesians 3:11 desire to bring out that God the Creator has a plan in connection with His Messiah? What did he mean when, in his letter written in first-century Greek, he used the word proʹthe·sis? It literally means a “setting forth or before,” thus a putting of something in view. That is why the Alexandrian Jews, when translating the inspired Hebrew Scriptures in Greek, used this Greek word in connection with the holy bread that was placed upon the golden table in the Holy compartment of the sacred tent of worship erected by the prophet Moses. This bread is ordinarily called the shewbread, but the Greek Septuagint Version speaks of it as the “loaves or cakes of presentation” (prothesis). So these loaves, by being set forth upon the golden table, were put on display, a fresh supply thereof on each weekly sabbath day.—2 Chronicles 4:19.
11. What, then, is the “proʹthe·sis” of God?
11 The word proʹthe·sis was also used to mean a “statement,” or an “advance payment,” and, in grammar, it would mean a “preposition.” It was also used to mean a “prefixing,” or a “placing first.” Because the word was also used to mean an end or objective proposed, or a setting before oneself of something to be accomplished or to be achieved, it was used to mean “purpose.” (On this, see A Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott, Volume II, pages 1480-1481, reprint of 1948, under proʹthe·sis.) This latter meaning is recognized by the majority of the modern-language Bible translators. So the “proʹthe·sis” of God is his resolve, his primal decision, his purpose.d
12. How do modern translators render the Greek expression proʹthe·sis followed by tōn ai·oʹnōn (“of the ages”)?
12 In Ephesians 3:11 the word is followed by the expression tōn ai·oʹnōn, literally meaning “of the ages.” So this combination of words is translated by some as “the purpose of the ages”e or “a purpose of the ages”f or “age-long purpose”g or “age-old purpose”h and by others as “eternal purpose.”i
13, 14. Why can it be said that God’s “purpose of the ages” is his “eternal purpose”?
13 God’s “purpose of the ages” is His “eternal purpose.” How is that? Well, here, an age would mean an indefinite but relatively long period of time in human affairs, with more emphasis on the time-length of the age than upon its phenomena or characteristics.
14 Thus God’s “purpose of the ages” would not mean a “purpose” that has to do with certain designated periods such as a “patriarchal age,” a “Jewish age,” a “Gospel age,” and a “Millennial age.” Rather, the emphasis is upon time, on periods of a long time. For age to follow upon age, each individual age must have a beginning and an end. Yet a succession of ages would stretch out the time. And, since in the expression “purpose of the ages” the number of ages is not specified, the number of ages could be endless. So the expression “purpose of the ages” leaves the total amount of time involved indefinite, and it is a “purpose” to time indefinite, with no limit actually marked. In this way the “purpose” becomes a matter of eternity, and it becomes an “eternal purpose.” God’s purpose in connection with his Messiah or Anointed One had a beginning, but ages of time are allowed to pass before that purpose is realized.j For the “King of eternity” the matter of time is here no problem.
a See William Tyndale’s translation (1525 and 1535 C.E.); the Geneva Bible (1560 and 1562 C.E.); the Bishop’s Bible (1568 and 1602).
b See Hugh J. Schonfield’s Authentic New Testament (1955 C.E.), which uses “the plan of the ages.” The Jerusalem Bible (1966 C.E.) reads: “the plan which he had had from all eternity.” The translation by George N. LeFevre (1928 C.E.) reads: “the plan of the ages which he purposed through the Anointed.” The word “plan” does not occur in the King James Authorized Version and the American Standard Version of the Bible. In the Roman Catholic Douay Version the word “plan” occurs only in Ezekiel 4:1; 43:11 and 2 Maccabees 2:29.
c For the later and present-day position taken on the subject, see paragraphs 14-19 of the leading article entitled “The Son of Man” (Psalm 8:4) and published in the issue of April 1, 1930, of The Watch Tower (pages 101, 102). Note especially paragraph 16.
d See Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume VIII, edited by Gerhard Friedrich (English translation), pages 165, 166, under “The New Testament.”
e The Book of Books, by the Lutterworth Press (1938).
f Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible.
g The New English Bible (1970).
h The New American Bible (1970).
i An American Translation; A New Translation of the Bible, by James Moffatt (1922); The Westminster Version of the Sacred Scriptures (1948); The Bible in Living English (1972); Elberfelder Bibel (German); The New Testament in Modern Speech, by R. F. Weymouth (Eleventh Impression); The New Testament - A New Translation, by Ronald Knox (1945); Revised Standard Version (1952); American Standard Version (1901); English Revised Version (1881); King James Authorized Version (1611); New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1971).
j On “katà proʹthe·sin ton ai·oʹnon” in Ephesians 3:11, we read: “In accordance with the purpose of the world-periods, i.e., in conformity with the purpose which God had during the world-periods (from the commencement of the ages up to the execution of the purpose); for already [before founding of a world] it was formed, i. 3, but from the beginning of the world-ages it was hidden in God, ver. 9. . . . Others, incorrectly, take it as: the purpose concerning the different periods of the world, according to which, namely, God at first chose no people, then chose the Jews, and lastly called Jews and Gentiles to the Messianic kingdom; for it is only the one purpose, accomplished in [Messiah], that is spoken of.”—Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistle to the Galatians—Ephesians, by H. A. W. Meyer, Th.D., English translation, 1884, page 416, paragraph 1.