There are three Greek words which appear in the New Testament and which are commonly translated as world in English. They are αἰών (aeon), κόσμος (cosmos), and οἰκουμένη (oikoumene, oy-koo-men-ay). It has become very important to the doctrines of mainstream so-called "Christian" churches that whenever these words appear and are translated as world, that they are understood to mean the entire planet and everything or everyone on it. However that was certainly not the case to the ancient Greeks, and it is the meaning of these words to Greek readers in the first century which should govern how Christians understand them, for the modern conception of the word is surely alien to any ideas which the Greeks themselves had when the New Testament was written. Here each of those three words shall be discussed.
The first word, αἰών (165) is “a period of existence...one’s lifetime, life...an age, generation...a long space of time, an age, a definite space of time, an era, epoch, age, period...hence its usage in plural, εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας for ever...” (Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon [L&S]). The related word αἰώνιος (166) is “lasting for an age...everlasting, eternal...” (L&S). According to Strong’s Concordance, these words were rendered world(s) a total of 42 times in the King James Version (the A.V.) of the Bible. While the word world has meanings which transcend its ordinary spatial sense, and, as we shall see below, the original meaning of the term was, indeed, temporal and not spatial, the general perception of the word's meaning today is certainly spatial, and not temporal. Rendering αἰών and αἰώνιος, which always have a temporal sense in Greek, as world, which today is most often perceived with a spatial sense in English, can create serious misconceptions in the interpretation of scripture.
κόσμος (2889) appears approximately 182 times in the New Testament, with 85 percent of those occurrences being in John and in Paul (Moulton-Geden, Concordance to the Greek Testament). The related verb, κοσμέω (2885), is “to order, arrange...to deck, adorn, equip, furnish, dress....” Liddell & Scott define κόσμος as “order... good order, good behaviour, decency...the form, fashion of a thing...of states, order, government... II. an ornament, decoration, embellishment, dress... III. a regulator...IV. the world or universe, from its perfect order...mankind, as we use ‘the world’, N.T.” This last definition, where L&S show how the various New Testament translators and commentators perceive the term’s usage there, deserves further scrutiny.
First, of the other words translated world in the A.V., αἰών and αἰώνιος, discussed above, are literally age and lasting for an age, temporal and not spatial terms, and that in itself may give further insight into the flexibility of the definition of world in the A.V. translators’ minds, especially once the original meaning of the word itself is examined. Second, there is another word translated world that does indeed explicitly refer to a geographic area, and that is οἰκουμένη. Once we understand what οἰκουμένη means, then perhaps we can perceive κόσμος as the Greeks did.
Liddell & Scott define οἰκουμένη, which appears in the New Testament approximately 15 times, as “the inhabited world, a term used to designate the Greek world, as opposed to barbarian lands...so in Roman times, the Roman world....” Strabo, the geographer, who died about 25 A.D. and therefore had written not long before Paul, described the οἰκουμένη in his 17-book Geography. It included practically all of the lands inhabited by the White races - and not only the Romans, but the Parthians, Scythians and others of Asia, and all of northern Africa. Diodorus Siculus, writing about 40 B.C., referred to the lands about India as the “limits of the inhabited world” (τῆς οἰκουμένης) in his Library of History, at 1.19.7. This was the οἰκουμένη - the physical world which the race of Adam inhabited (Deut. 32:8; Acts 17:26) - the physical world in spite of the fact that Strabo, Diodorus and others knew very well of lands - inhabited by alien tribes – both in Africa to the south and to the east of India - which were not considered a part of the οἰκουμένη, nor could they be included in the κόσμος.
It should be quite evident that if the οἰκουμένη was the portion of the physical world inhabited by Adamic man (and note the use of the word at Luke 2:1, where it clearly denotes only the Roman portion of that), the κόσμος describes the order, decorum, and arrangement of the οἰκουμένη. While the οἰκουμένη was the physical world, the κόσμος was its society and its embellishment. Of course, the heavenly bodies were considered by the Greeks and Romans to be only another part of that embellishment, and much more a part of their world than we perceive them to be of ours today. Support for this idea that κόσμος is society is found in the May-June 2004 issue of Archaeology Odyssey, on p. 26 in an article entitled “Is Homer Historical?” by one Gregory Nagy, and while I can’t agree with all of the author’s opinions concerning Homer and his writings, the definition of κόσμος found in the article on p. 31 is a good one, where he explains that to the Spartans, the κόσμος was the sum total of their government and their social order – their society.
This is certainly a far departure from the universalist theologian’s view of the world as the planet and everyone in it, which is surely not an accurate view when compared with the ancient texts. Yet by necessity, in the Biblical context I must understand the word to refer to the society in the sense of Adamic society. Anything more or less is intellectually dishonest. Interpreting scripture, like interpreting any other archaic writing, one cannot honestly change the meaning of a word as it was used by its original authors and presume to understand the original message.
Now to take all of this a step further, it may very well be that the way in which the A.V. translators understood the word world is itself quite different than how we understand it today. If we investigate the word world in the American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, we find that it derives from an Old and Middle English word, weorold, and we are referred to an entry for a supposed proto-Indo-European word (wi-ro) in their appendix of “Indo-European Roots”. When we check this entry, we find that the word world comes from the Germanic word wer, akin to the Latin vir, for man, and the Germanic ald, which is a life or an age (from which we get our word old), and that put together the word world means only age of man. Therefore, originally, world is a temporal and not a spatial term! It means to refer to our Adamic age, and it does not mean everyone and everything on the planet, or the planet itself! Our confusion over the meaning of this word has led us into total confusion when attempting to understand our own literature, especially our Bibles! Why do we let satan publish dictionaries? The world is the age of Adamic man, and it should be nothing else, because it is only the (White) Adamic nations which Yahweh our God concerned Himself with throughout our Bibles, as evidenced in Genesis Chapter 10, Deuteronomy 32:8, Luke 2:1 and Acts 17:26!
The world is not the planet and all that it contains – not even in English, and certainly not in our Bibles!