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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Age

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The general significance of ‘age’ is a period of time, or a measure of life. Specially, it expresses the idea of advancement in life, or of oldness. Several Greek words are employed in NT for ‘age.’ (1) αἰών (see aeon). (2) γενεά, ‘a generation,’ loosely measured as extending from 30 to 33 years. In Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 3:21 Revised Version rightly puts ‘generations’ for ‘ages.’ (3) τέλειος, ‘full-grown’ or ‘perfect.’ In Hebrews 5:14 for Authorized Version ‘to them that are of full age’ the Revised Version substitutes ‘fullgrown’ in the text, and ‘perfect’ in the margin (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6, where the Revised Version has ‘perfect’ in the text, and ‘full-grown’ in the margin). (4) ἡλικία is the most exact Greek term for ‘age,’ and especially for full age as applied to human life. It includes also the ideas of maturity or fitness, and of stature, as when a person has attained to full development of growth. In Ephesians 4:13 ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (English Version ) is somewhat difficult to interpret. The phrase is co-ordinate with the words ‘a perfect (or fullgrown, τέλειος) man,’ which precede it in the text. Both phrases describe the ultimate height of spiritual development which the Church as the body of Christ is to reach. The latter phrase explains what the former implies. The general line of interpretation is that the whole Church as the body of Christ is to grow into ‘a fullgrown or perfect man,’ and the standard or height of the perfect man is the stature of Christ in His fullness (see Comm. of Meyer, Eadie, Ellicott, in loc.; Field, Notes on the Tr. of the NT, 1899, p. 6; Expositor, 7th ser., ii. [1906] 441ff.). In Galatians 1:14, where the compound συνηλικιώτας is used, the word has its primary meaning of ‘age’ (= ‘equals in age’).

The question of age was of importance as regards fitness for holding office in the Church (see Novice). In later times the canonical age varied, but in general it was fixed at thirty (see Cathol. Encyc. article ‘Age’). It was also considered in relation to the dispensing of the charity of the Church, at least in the case of widows. In 1 Timothy 5:9 it is said: ‘Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old.’ The question naturally arises. Were only widows of advanced years eligible for assistance? It is possible that younger widows might be in greater need of help. Because of this it is supposed by some (Schleiermacher, etc.) that the reference is to an order of deaconesses-a supposition that becomes an argument for a late and un-Pauline date for the Epistle. Others think that the reference is to an order of widows who had duties which somewhat resembled those of the presbyters (Huther, Ellicott, Alford). De Wette believes that probably there were women who vowed themselves to perpetual widowhood, and performed certain functions in the Church; but evidences of such an order belong to a later dale in the Church’s history. On the whole, and especially if the Epistle belongs to an early date, it is best to regard the instruction as a direction about widows who were entirely dependent on the charity of the Church. Younger widows would receive help according to their need, but were not enrolled like the older widows as regular recipients of the Church’s charity. The age limit for an old age pension is not a new idea. It is impossible to determine if the widows who were enrolled were bound to give some service in return for the assistance which they received. The probability is that they were not, assuming, of course, the early date of the Epistle (see H. R. Reynolds, in Expos., 1st ser., iii. [1880] 382-390; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article ‘Widows’).

The dispensing of charity to widows was a great and grave problem in the early Church. The rule about enrolment only when the threescore years had been reached was evidently intended to restrict the number of those who were entitled to receive regular help. Nestle calls attention to ‘the punning observation in the Didascalia (= Const. Apost. iii. 6) about itinerant widows who were so ready to receive that they were not so much χῆραι as πῆραιʼ (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 109, note). The pun may be rendered in English as ‘not so much “widows” as “wallets.” ’

In 1 Timothy 5:1 and 1 Peter 5:5 ‘elders’ (πρεσβύτεροι) has the primitive signification of ‘men of advanced age.’ Cf. also the following article.

John Reid.


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

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