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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Age (2)

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AGE.—The word ‘age’ is a vague term, as may be seen by its doing duty as a possible translation for αἱών (Lat. aevum, an unmeasured period of existence), for γενεά (Lat. generatio), and even for the more precise and exact terms χρόνος (Lat. tempus), and καιρός (Lat. occasio). Its strictest Greek equivalent, however, is ἡλικία (Lat. aetas). An examination into the significance of the term shows a remarkable parallel between its employment in classical literature and in the Greek of the New Testament. Ἠλικία marks a normal development of life; such development may be registered in the individual by years, or by physique. In classical Greek, the former is the usual reference of the term, and hence the most ordinary meaning of the word is, like the poetical ἥβη, the flower or prime of life. The significance, however, of ἠλικία as stature or height, that feature of physical development which mostly attracts the eye, is quite classical; and this sense occurs in Herodotus (iii. 16),* [Note: ἕχων τὴν αὑτὴγ ἡλικίην Ἀμάσι .] Plato, and Demosthenes. Turning to the New Testament, we find the same oscillation of meaning in ἡλικία. In the Fourth Gospel the parents of the blind man for fear of excommunication evade the question of the Jews, and shift the responsibility of answering upon their son: ‘Therefore said his parents, He is of age, [Note: ἡλικὶαν ἕχει (John 9:21; John 9:23).] ask him.’ In the Sermon on the Mount ‘age’ [Note: Matthew 6:27, Luke 12:25.] appears to be the true rendering of ἡλικία. A cubit would be a prodigious addition to a man’s height, while a span was already a proverbial expression§ [Note: Psalms 39:5.] to signify the brevity of life. ‘Stature’ is, of course, the only possible rendering in the interesting note about Zacchaeus;|| [Note: | Luke 19:3, cf. Ephesians 4:13.] and this is the only place in the Gospel where, as will be seen, ἡλικία bears this meaning with an absolute certainty.

The idea of periodicity, which is largely foreign to the meaning of ἡλικία in classical Greek, appears only once, and that doubtfully, in the New Testament. [Note: Hebrews 11:11.] The different ‘ages of man’** [Note: * Mark 5:42, Luke 8:42.] and so of our Lord,† [Note: † Luke 3:23.] are indicated by the classical formula of time, ‘years’ being in the genitive case. Hence the word yields no suggestion as to those characteristic periods, or epochs in the earthly life of our Lord—the infancy, childhood, manhood of Christ. Nor would the word deserve a place in this Dictionary were it not for two passages in which it occurs or is referred to when its interest is a real one, as is evident by the attention paid to them by all commentators on St. Luke’s Gospel.‡ [Note: ‡ Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52.] Both passage: appear as a postscript to the narrative of the Holy Child with the doctors in the temple. It is an incident in the regular equable development of His life upon earth. This development is shown in two aspects. The Evangelist declares that Jesus increased (or advanced) in wisdom am stature, and in favour (or grace) with God am man. St. Luke’s phraseology was no doubt influenced by his recollection of a similar encomium passed upon the youthful Samuel,§§ [Note: § 1 Samuel 2:26.] and already he had found it not unsuitable to be quoted in reference to the Baptist.|| || [Note: | || Luke 1:80.]

The key to the meaning of ἡλικία in Luke 2:52 may be discovered by a comparison of these four passages—

1 Samuel 2:26 Καὶ τὸ παιδάριον Σαμουὴλ ἐπορεύτο [+ μεγαλυνόμενον], καὶ ἀγαθὸν καὶ μετὰ Κυρίου καὶ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων (LXX Septuagint, B, said of Samuel).

Luke 1:80 τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὕξανε καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι (said of the Baptist).

Luke 2:40 τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πληρούμενον σοφίᾳ, καἰ χάρις θεοῦ ἦν ἐπʼ αὐτό (said of Christ).

Luke 2:52 καὶ Ἰησοῦς προέκοπτεν ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ καὶ ἠλικίᾳ καὶ χάριτι παρὰ θεῷ καὶ ἀνθρώποις (said of Christ).

A careful comparison of these passages appears determinative of the sense of ἡλικία in the last as ‘stature,’ not ‘age.’ What was noticeable in a measure in Samuel and in the Baptist, was supremely characteristic of the Holy Child, namely, an equal development both on the physical and spiritual side. Translate it as (Revised Version margin), and it is little more than a truism. ‘Stature’ is not only not superfluous, but an interesting and unexpected contribution to that group of references which lay stress on our Lord’s humanity. It helps to explain His ‘favour with men’ with which it stands in parallel. It suggests that our Lord’s personality, even His appearance, may have had a fascination about it. Even more, it may make the student of Messianic prophecy cautions in attaching a too physical meaning to the description of the countenance of Jehovah’s Servant (Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2).

B. Whitefoord.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Age (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/age-2.html. 1906-1918.

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