The Greek Concept of the “Seven Stages of Life”and Its New Testament Significance -- By: R. Larry Overstreet

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 19:4 (NA 2009)
Article: The Greek Concept of the “Seven Stages of Life”and Its New Testament Significance
Author: R. Larry Overstreet


The Greek Concept of the “Seven Stages of Life”and Its New Testament Significance

R. Larry Overstreet

Northwest Baptist Seminary, Tacoma, Wa

Particular words used in Greek and Roman cultures before, during, and after NT times provide insight into how those peoples recognized seven identifiable stages of life a person experiences during the aging process, from birth through old age. This is referred to as the hebdomadal system. Because the terms are also found in the NT, identifying their parameters is beneficial for understanding the implications of the various ages of individuals mentioned. Interpreters of the NT will define with greater precision texts that mention age. To accomplish this purpose, this article first examines the concept of life’s stages in ancient literature and then considers the seven specific stages of life enumerated in that literature. The final section applies the understanding of the Greek terms for the stages of life to the NT.

Key Words: hebdomadal system, stages of life, Paul, Timothy, παιδίον, παῖς, μειράκιον, νεανίσκος, ἀνήρ, πρεσβύτης, γέρων

Introduction

We are born. We mature as we age. We reach adulthood and the prime of life. We grow old. We die. The cycle of life affects us all, and we have our own ideas and concepts of what the stages of life are. Because Americans reach the age of 18 and are eligible to vote, are they mature adults? Because a man can fly a multimillion dollar jet fighter when he is in his early 20s, is he in the prime of life? Because you can join AARP at the age of 50, are you old? How do we determine the stages of life? Though I am aware of the aging process in my body, must I regard myself as “old”? Do others regard me as “old”?

To what extent does our modern perception of age influence our understanding of references to age in the NT? For example, when Nicodemus asked Jesus “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4; all Scripture quotations are from the NASB), is his reference to old age the same as when Paul referred to himself as “the aged” (Phlm 9)? When Paul exhorted Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness” (1 Tim 4:12), exactly what was youthful? What objective evidence does the language of Scripture provide to interpret references to age?

This article proposes to examine the terminology of the NT related to age identification with the purpose of leading to a clearer understanding of age references in the Scriptures. This is accomplished by tracing the wo...

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