The Letter To The Hebrews And The English Bible (Eg. NKJV) Words For ‘World(s)’.
When it comes to the topic of what our English bibles translate as ‘world’, one of the key places to go to is the Letter To The Hebrews. This letter is the most polished Greek in the N.T. There are three words which the writer uses for our word ‘world’. Immediately at the start of the letter we find this odd translation of ‘worlds’ (1:2), which is repeated again at 11:3, and these are the only two such occurrences of ‘worlds’. This writer can only surmise that the reason for this is that the usual translation of the Greek behind this word was not something that came readily to their minds. The word in both instances is ‘aion’. Everywhere else that this occurs it is translated as ‘age’ or ‘ages’. It makes sense to say ‘ages’, but it makes no sense to say ‘worlds’ in the sense of kosmos, which is what they are trying to do with the word ‘worlds’.
Their difficulty seems to be that in 1:2 it would have to mean that the Son created the ages, but this is in fact what the author conveys. The Son created the ages in which the fathers merely spoke. The Son created history, which is what we learn in Genesis. This universal understanding of the word ‘aion’ is again born out by the context at the other occurrence, because at 11:3 he amplifies on and describes the ages in which these heroes of faith lived. In this case, he is drawing our attention to the reality that the Son made the ages, and in particular what we might call “salvation” or “redemptive history.” This is in fact how the word is translated (in the NKJV and others) in the two other occurrences of it at 6:5 and 9:26, the former in the singular and the latter in the plural as in 1:2 and 11:3.
9:26 is particularly interesting, because it also uses that other more common word for ‘world’, that being ‘kosmos’. Speaking of Jesus, and these words, he wrote that, “He (Christ) would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the kosmos; but now, once at the end of the ages (not worlds), He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” His argument is that He only had to offer Himself up once for all, but is clear that these two words can not possibly be translated with the same English word. The kosmos is the whole of the created order, but ‘aiov’ is an ‘age’ or ‘ages’ in the flow of history. However, the writer to the Hebrews has a third word which only occurs in his letter and once in Matthew’s gospel, and it has a clear distinction from that of the other two.
This third word is ‘oikoumenen’, which occurs at Hebrews 1:6, 2:5, and Matthew 24:14. This word means the whole inhabited earth. It is an expansion, as it were, of ‘oikos’, which refers to a dwelling, house, home, family, or temple. So in chapter one, after introducing the son as the creator of the ages in which the fathers spoke, and they spoke of Him, he then says that this same Son was brought into this inhabited earth. Furthermore it is this same inhabited earth that he is speaking about in the next chapter as well. “For He has not put the world (the inhabited earth-oikoumenen) to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels” (2:5). Instead, the new inhabited earth will be in subjection to human beings, made as His image bearers. The context of Matthew 24:14 also bears out the understanding of this word.