By Charles H. Welch
This word is the translation of several different Hebrew and Greek words, but not only must these necessary distinctions be observed, but we shall find that there are different meanings attached to identical words and that the recognition of these differences makes for a clear apprehension of Dispensational Truth. In the first case we will tabulate the different words used in the Old and New Testaments.
Hebrew or Aramaic words employed.
Greek words employed:
Some of these words, though listed, will not detain us, for they are not used in any way that impinges upon Dispensational Truth. For example the word used by the Chaldeans in Daniel 2:10 means ‘the dry’ as distinct from the sea (Psa. 95:5). Ara and arqa are Chaldean variants of the Hebrew erets. The peculiar thing to note concerning Jeremiah 10:11 which uses both ara and arqa, is that this one verse in Jeremiah is written in Chaldee instead of Hebrew, as though this verse were intended as a very definite witness that Israel should make during their captivity. Cheres refers to earthenware, and aphar means ‘dust’ (Gen. 18:27). The word adamah is rendered by the Septuagint ge, even as is the Hebrew word erets, but adamah applies more particularly to the substance of the earth, the soil, the mould, although, by a well-used figure, extending the meaning of the word to include a region, land or tract of country. So we read: ‘There was not a man to till the ground’ (Gen. 2:5). It was the ‘ground’ that was cursed, and when Cain bemoaned that he was cursed from ‘the earth’ it is the ground still that is in mind.
Erets. This is the word that is mostly translated ‘earth’. Usage employs this word in a variety of ways:
Coming to the New Testament the only words that we need to consider are the Greek words ge and oikoumene. Let us consider oikoumene first. This word is derived from the Greek oikeo ‘to inhabit’ and looks upon the earth as a place prepared and fitted for inhabitants. It is used to indicate the Roman Empire, not only in the New Testament, Luke 2:1, Acts 11:28, but in secular writers, for example, Polybius, born 203 B.C., wrote a ‘Universal History’ in forty books, in which he says, ‘the Romans in a short time subdued the whole inhabited world (pasan ten oikoumene). In like manner the LXX uses the term for the Babylonish Empire (Isa. 13:11; 14:17) and Alexander’s empire is so called by the historian Aelian, (V.H. iii: 29); and the Greek dominion is thus denominated by Demosthenes. Rome, it will be seen, is put into its true place in the image of Daniel 2 by the use of this term. Strictly speaking apart from one reference, there is no necessity to consider this word oikoumene here, for it is only translated ‘earth’ once in the A.V. of the New Testament namely in Luke 21:26 and as Luke has used the word most definitely of the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28; 19:27; 24:5), this passage should be translated ‘world’ accordingly, which indeed is what we find in the R.V. There is, therefore, but one word, the word ge that is translated rightly earth in the New Testament. The student will recognize the word in such English terms as geography, geometry and geology. This word, like the Hebrew erets is used in several senses:
There was created in the beginning, the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1), and there shall be a new creation when the purpose of the ages is attained.
The interval is occupied by the present earth, and it is of supreme importance to remember that at the forefront of the scriptural revelation, the reader is warned that the word ‘earth’ is going to be employed in a limited sense. ‘And God called the dry land "earth"‘ (Gen. 1:10), which is comparable to the earlier passage ‘and God called the firmament "heaven"‘ (Gen. 1:8). This temporary heaven and earth is the stage upon which is enacted the great story of the ages, and is to pass away. This aspect of truth will be more fully discussed in the article entitled THREE SPHERES, but it must be remembered by every reader, that to ignore the definition given in Genesis 1:10 will be to ruin the import of many a subsequent reference.
The term ‘earth’ must often be used with limitation when interpreting the Scriptures, and much misunderstanding will arise if this limitation be forgotten or ignored. The emphasis that a spiritualizing system of interpretation laid upon ‘heaven’ has robbed the believer of the joy of remembering that this earth itself will not be abandoned by the Lord, but will be a sphere of blessing in the days to come. This spiritualizing of terms has found a place even in a Greek lexicon which is open before us at the moment. It reads against the Greek ge, ‘The land of Canaan, but figuratively and spiritually denoting heaven, Matthew 5:5’. According to this method of interpretation the words of the Lord, ‘the meek shall inherit the EARTH’ mean, that they will inherit HEAVEN! This of course we only quote to repudiate as both absurd and harmful. There is practically nothing said in the gospel according to Matthew of any believer ‘going to heaven’, the prayer of that period includes the petition, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven’.
The heavenly and the super-heavenly callings are the subject of further revelation, made known in the epistles and in the book of the Revelation, and it is the essence of true interpretation to keep these callings distinct. Those who read these words to-day have no connection with the earth as a sphere of future blessing, and the consideration of this subject is only of service as a part of the greater study of the different spheres and callings of which the earth is but one, and apart from its relationship with the heavenly spheres and callings, it need not have been included in this analysis, as the earthly sphere and calling of the Scriptures is practically unknown in the Scriptures that relate to the present dispensation. Before leaving this word ‘earth’ we will use its varied meanings to illustrate the parallel variety of uses that we find of the word ‘heaven’, on the principle that we should proceed from the known to the unknown.
The reader should know, but he may need reminding, that a concordance is a human invention, and should therefore be treated as such. A concordance deals simply with the occurrences of words, and it is entirely outside its scope to deal with the meaning of words. Further, while it is a good servant, it is a bad master. Let us show what we mean. We turn to any concordance and open at the word ge. We note that the occurrences occupy several columns of print. We are assured that we have before us every occurrence of the word ge. So far, so good. But what do we know about this word? We notice that the first occurrence in the New Testament reads ‘the ge of Judah’ (Matt. 2:6), and we might (if we did not already know better) think that ge was something particularly connected with the Jews.
The next reference is more extended but not fundamentally different. ‘The ge of Israel’ (Matt. 2:20). We cannot here go through the 251 occurrences, so we omit a few lines and at Matthew 5:5 read, ‘they shall inherit the ge’ while at Matthew 13:5 we read, of seed, that it ‘had no deepness of ge’. We pass over the gospels and our eye lights on 1 Corinthians 15:47, ‘the first man is of the ge’. We glance at Hebrews, where we find that ‘In the beginning the Lord laid the foundations of the ge’ (Heb. 1:10), and that this ‘ge’ ‘drinketh in the rain’ (Heb. 6:7), that if the Lord ‘were on ge He would not be a Priest’ (Heb. 8:4), and that Israel were led ‘out of the ge of Egypt’ (Heb. 8:9).
The reader, however, is not misled by this assortment. He knows that the one word ge denotes the earth as distinct from heaven, the ground into which the seed may be sown, or any particular land, whether of Judah, Egypt or elsewhere. But the reader should remember that he does not get this from the concordance. A spirit being, wishing to convince other spirit beings, who had no personal acquaintance with the earth, that these various meanings of the one word were fantastic and untrue, might impress some of his hearers by a formidable concordance of passages. To us it would prove nothing, but to them it might prove an end of all argument.
Now let us reverse the point of view and ask, what do we know of ‘heaven’ by acquaintance with it? Is it all one undivided space? Is there a top and bottom to it? Can it be measured by miles? Is it three-dimensional space? Is there anything outside or over heaven? If so, can anything that is over the heavens also be spoken of as in heaven? How can we answer? If at this point another, equally ignorant by acquaintance with the heavens, should produce a concordance of occurrences of the word ‘heaven’, the long list of words might impress the fearful, but it would no more ‘prove’ anything about ‘heaven’ than the list of occurrences of the word ge proved that ‘land’ and ‘ground’ and ‘earth’ were all one and the same in meaning and intention.
Let us now come from the known to the less known, and the unknown. Let us turn from ge ‘earth’ to ouranos‘heaven’. The concordance presents us with a list of 283 occurrences. Let us proceed as we did with ge.
Here we find that ‘stars’ and ‘fowls’ and ‘rain’ and the ‘New Jerusalem’ all belong to ouranos, in the singular, but that the kingdom which the Lord came to establish upon earth was the kingdom of ouranos in the plural. We read in Ephesians 4:10 that the Lord ascended ‘far above all ouranos’ (plural), and that we have a Master in ouranos (plural) (Eph. 6:9). It is easy to pour ridicule upon the attempt to distinguish things that differ, and, as we know less of the heavens than we do of the earth, the attempt is sometimes sadly successful. But ‘Bereans’ are not daunted by columns of words, they ‘search and see’ whether the things taught about these words ‘are so’. They use the concordance as a servant, but do not let it become their master. Furthermore, what arguments could be invented as to the basic distinction that must be observed between the heavens (plural) or heaven (singular)! Yet Matthew 3:16 says ‘heavens’ (plural) and John 1:32 says ‘heaven’ (singular). John 3:13 says, concerning the Ascension, ‘Son of man which is in heaven’ (singular), whereas Hebrews 8:1 says He is in the heavens (plural) and Ephesians 4:10 that He ascended far above all heavens (plural).
Now, just as, from one point of view, a Jew living at Jerusalem could be described as living in (en) the ge (in the land), he could also be described as living upon (epi) the ge (on the surface on the earth) without involving a contradiction. So also, and in a greater number of ways, can the heaven be spoken of without confusion and contradiction.