Heterodox Aftershocks 7: Aion / Aionios

I've noted before that the weak spot in the Christian Universalists armor is the fact that the entire matter is contingent on a translation matter. There are plenty of strong arguments that appeal to logic, emotion, philosophy, and the nature of God. But those arguments can all be undone with the definition of two words. (Assuming you take the Bible to be authoritative.)

That the Bible speaks of punishment for sin there can be no doubt. No one who takes the Bible and its message seriously can deny that God judges actions and attitudes and that those who fall short and are not justified are in for some horrific experience. Both in this life and the next. That I do not dispute. The contention lies in the rendering of two related Greek words: aion and aionios.

I've compiled the following quotes from a paper about these words below. As I've noted, I'm not a Greek speaker. I'm not a linguist. I can't even speak any language except English. The force of my own arguments on this issue are weak at best. And arguments between non-Greek-scholars about it is like blind men arguing over the color of the sea. This analogy is apt on two levels. First, in translation most words can have multiple meaning depending on their usage and context, just like the color of the ocean varies by climate, sky, depth, etc. And secondly, as blind men, we must take the words of others to build our case. The analogy breaks down here though. For few men place the weight of tradition and ideas about the destiny of humanity on the color of the sea. So it's unlikely that you will have partisans attempting to persuade you that the ocean is red because that fits their world-view. You won't find a person who is so set in their ways that, having heard of a red tide, they began to tell everyone with convincing passion that the ocean MUST BE red. Or a man who has only lived in the Caribbean and can't fathom the concept of a gray ocean trying to convince you that water is always blue-green.

But such is the case with the translation of aion / aionios in the Bible. The vast majority of people who purport to know what those words mean have little or no experience in the fields necessary to make an informed decision on the matter, and thus take the word of a trusted authority on the matter. That fact that their trusted authorities have predominantly been schooled to understand the matter a certain way makes no difference to them.

And as a blind man myself, I am forced to choose which argument best fits the facts. And I have my own biases to deal with. Since I don't currently have the faculties to determine the meaning of these words from an etymological or linguistic perspective, any arguments concerning the matter must appeal to other forms of understanding that I do possess. Of course the art and science of translation do not exist in a vacuum. Other disciplines are woven throughout. So one can hopefully expect that an argument based in these spheres will overlap with others and can be made sense out of by them. In other words: if a translation argument is illogical due to some bias or other problem, the faculties of logic still apply to the argument and can be used by a non-linguist to dismantle said argument. And conversely, a non-linguist can approach an appeal made on linguistic grounds with the tools available to him and find an argument strong. But because he lacks the 'tools of the trade', he should always be aware that there could be a vital understanding that would unlock some sophistry unknown to him.

Because I realize that in my own field of sculpting I would have the upper hand in a debate with a non-artist concerning sculpting. I could probably convince someone with no sculpting experience that an armature is not necessary when sculpting large figures. I could use all sorts of lingo and find obscure examples, and even walk them through a few steps of the process in demonstration. But then if they asked another artist about my teaching, that artist would scoff and could explain to them that the materials just don't work that way.

Should my non-artist friend push any of my deceptions, I think my ruse would collapse as quickly as my armature-less sculpture. If they researched the materials that I use, asked other artists about it, tried it themselves, etc, they would debunk me. And it could be done without much artistic expertise or skill.

And so it is with that level of scrutiny that I approach my study of this issue. I have several books on the subject from different points of view. I'm looking for scholars of all persuasions to ask. (Thanks for your help with that, dad!) And I'm most importantly of all, praying fervently about this process of inquiry. Because when it comes to epistemology, I am resolute in opinion that any truth in this life is only had by the Light that is Christ.

I've compiled the following quotes from a long, scholarly paper about these words below. This comprises the very best argument I've heard on this topic so far. I've emphasized the points that really stuck out to me.

Excerpts from AIÓN -- AIÓNIOS, TRANSLATED Everlasting – Eternal IN THE HOLY BIBLE, Shown to Denote Limited Duration. By Rev. John Wesley Hanson:

"The original Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, by seventy scholars, and hence called "The Septuagint," B.C. 200-300, and the Hebrew word Olam is, in almost all cases, translated Aión Aiónios etc., (Aíwv, Aíwvios,) so that the two words may be regarded as synonymous with each other. In the New Testament the same words Aión and its derivatives, are the original Greek of the English words, Eternal, Everlasting, Forever, etc.. So that when we ascertain the real meaning of Aión, we have settled the sense of those English words in which the doctrine of Endless Punishment is erroneously taught. It is not going to far to say that if the Greek Aión - Aiónios does not denote endless duration, then endless punishment is not taught in the Bible. We proceed to show that the sense of interminable duration does not reside in the word."

"We next appeal to Lexicography. Now lexicograph must always be consulted, especially on disputed words, cum grano salis. A theologian, in his definitions, is quite certain to shade technical words with his own belief, and lean one way or the other, according to his own predilections. Unconsciously and necessarily the lexicographer who has a bias in favor of any doctrine will tincture his definitions with his own idiosyncrasies. Very few have sat judicially, and given meanings to words with reference to their exact usage; so that one must examine dictionaries concerning any word whose meaning is disputed, with the same care that should be used in reference to any subject on which men differ."

"The oldest lexicographer, Hesychius, (A. D. 400-600,) definesaión thus: "The life of man, the time of life." At this early date no theologian had yet imported into the word the meaning of endless duration. It retained only the sense it had in the classics, and in the Bible."

" John of Damascus (A. D. 750,) says, "1, The life of every man is called aión. . . . 3, The whole duration or life of this world is called aión. 4, The life after the resurrection is called 'the aión to come.'"

" But in the sixteenth century Phavorinus was compelled to notice an addition, which subsequently to the time of the famous Council of 544 had been grafted on the word. He says: "Aión, time, also life, also habit, or way of life. Aión is also the eternal and endless AS IT SEEMS TO THE THEOLOGIAN." Theologians had succeeded in using the word in the sense of endless, and Phavorinus was forced to recognize their usage of it and his phraseology shows conclusively enough that he attributed to theologians the authorship of that use of the word."

" Alluding to this definition, Rev. Ezra S. Goodwin, one of the ripest scholars and profoundest critics, says, "Here I strongly suspect is the true secret brought to light of the origin of the sense of eternity in aión. The theologian first thought he perceived it, or else he placed it there. The theologian keeps it there, now."

"Even Professor Stuart is obliged to say: "The most common and appropriate meaning of aión in the New Testament, and the one which corresponds with the Hebrew word olam, and which therefore deserves the first rank in regard to order, I put down first: an indefinite period of time; time without limitation; ever, forever, time without end, eternity, all in relation to future time. The different shades by which the word is rendered, depend on the object with which aiónios is associated, or to which it has relation, rather than to any difference in the real meaning of the word."

"Undoubtedly the definition given by Schleusner is the accurate one, 'Duration determined by the subject to which it is applied.' Thus it only expresses the idea of endlessness when connected with what is endless, as God. The word great is an illustrative word. Great applied to a tree, or mountain, or man, denotes different degrees, all finite, but when referring to God, it has the sense of infinite. Infinity does not reside in the word great but it has that meaning when applied to God. It does not impart it to God, it derives it from him. So of aiónion; applied to Jonah's residence in the fish, it means seventy hours; to the priesthood of Aaron, it signifies several centuries; to the mountains, thousands of years; to the punishments of a merciful God, as long as is necessary to vindicate his law and reform his children; to God himself, eternity. What 'great' is to size, 'aiónios' is to duration."

"Human beings live from a few hours to a century; nations from a century to thousands of years; and worlds, for aught we know, from a few to many millions of years, and God is eternal. So that when we see the word applied to a human life it denotes somewhere from a few days to a hundred years; when it is applied to a nation, it denotes anywhere from a century to ten thousand years, more or less, and when to God it means endless. In other words it practically denotes indefinite duration, as we shall see when we meet the word in sacred and secular literature."

"The use of the word in the plural is decisive evidence that the sense of the word is not eternity, in the absolute sense, for there can be but one such eternity. But as time past and future can be divided by ages, so there may be many ages, and an age of ages."

"In tracing the usage of the word, our sources of information will be (1) The Greek Classics, (2) The Septuagint Old Testament, (3) Those Jewish Greeks nearly contemporary with Christ, (4) The New Testament, and (5) The Early Christian Church."

1. The Greek Classics:

"It is a vital question How was the word used in the Greek literature with which the Seventy were familiar, that is, the Greek Classics?"

"We have the whole evidence of seven Greek writers, extending through about six centuries, down to the age of Plato, who make use of Aión, in common with other words; and no one of them EVER employs it in the sense of eternity."

" When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek by the Seventy, the word aión had been in common use for many centuries. It is preposterous to say that the Seventy would render the Hebrew olam by the Greek aión and give to the latter (1) a different meaning from that of the former, or (2) a different meaning from aión in the current Greek literature. It is self-evident, then, that Aión in the Old Testament means exactly what Olam means, and also what Aión means in the Greek classics. Indefinite duration is the sense of olam, and it is equally clear that aión has a similar signification."

" Homer never uses it as signifying eternal duration. Priam to Hector says, "Thyself shall be deprived of pleasant aiónos" (life.) Andromache over dead Hector, "Husband thou hast perished from aiónos" (life or time.)"

" Sophocles [employs the word] nine times. "Endeavor to remain the same in mind as long as you live." Askei toiaute noun di aiónos menein. He also employs makraion five times, as long-enduring. The word long increases the force of aión, which would be impossible if it had the idea of eternity."

" Aiónios is found in none of the ancient classics above quoted. Finding it in Plato, Mr. Goodwin thinks that Plato coined it, and it had not come into general use, for even Socrates, the teacher of Plato, does not use it. Aidios is the classic word for endless duration.

Plato uses aión eight times, aiónios five, diaiónios once, and makraión twice. Of course if he regarded aión as meaning eternity he would not prefix the word meaning long, to add duration to it."

" When at length the idea of eternity was cognized by the human mind, probably first by the Greeks, what word did they employ to represent the idea? Did they regard aión-aiónion as adequate? Not at all, but Plato and Aristotle and others employ aidios, and distinctly use it in contrast with our mooted word. We have instanced Aristotle, "The entire heaven is one and eternal [aidios] having neither beginning nor end of a complete aión, [life, or duration.]" In the same chapter aidiotes is used to mean eternity."

" When, therefore, the Seventy translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek they must have used this word with the meaning it had whenever they had found it in the Greek classics. To accuse them of using it otherwise is to charge them with an intention to mislead and deceive.

Mr. Goodwin well observes: "Those lexicographers who assign eternity as one of the meanings of aión, uniformly appeal for proofs to either theological, Hebrew or Rabbinnical Greek, or some species of Greek subsequent to the age of the Seventy, if not subsequent to the age of the apostles, so far as I can ascertain. I do not know of an instance in which any lexicographer has produced the usage of ancient classical Greek, in evidence that aión means eternity. ANCIENT CLASSICAL GREEK REJECTS IT ALTOGETHER. . . . " By ancient he means the Greek existing in ages anterior to the days of the Seventy."

2. The Old Testament Usage

"We have concluded, a priori, that the Old Testament must employ the word Aión in the sense of indefinite duration, because that was the uniform meaning of the word in all antecedent and contemporaneous Greek literature. Otherwise the Old Testament would mislead its readers. We now proceed to show that such is the actual usage of the word in the Old Testament."

" Gen. vi:4, "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, (aiónos), men of renown." Gen. ix:12; God's covenant with Noah was "for perpetual (aiónious) generations." Gen. ix:16; The rainbow is the token of "the everlasting (aiónion) covenant" between God and "all flesh that is upon the earth." Gen. xiii:15; God gave the land to Abram and his seed "forever," (aiónos). Dr. T. Clowes says of this passage that it signifies the duration of human life, and he adds, "Let no one be surprised that we use the word Olam (Aión) in this limited sense. This is one of the most usual significations of the Hebrew Olam and the Greek Aión." In Isa. lviii:12; it is rendered "old" and "foundations," (aiónioi and aiónia). "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach." In Jer. xviii:15, 16, ancient and perpetual, (aiónious and aiónion). "Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; to make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head." Such instances may be cited to an indefinite extent. Ex. xv:18, "forever and ever and further," (ton aióna, kai ep aióna, kai eti.) Ex. xii:17, "And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt, therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance forever," (aiónion). Numb. x:8, "And the sons of Aaron the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for an ordinance forever (aiónion) THROUGHOUT YOUR GENERATIONS." "Your generations," is here idiomatically given as the precise equivalent of "forever." Canaan was given as an "everlasting (aiónion) possession;" (Gen. xvii:8, xlviii:4; Lev. xxiv:8,9;) the hills are everlasting (aiónioi;) (Hab. iii:6;) the priesthood of Aaron (Ex. xl:15; Numb. xxv:13; Lev. xvi:34;) was to exist forever, and continue through everlasting duration; Solomon's temple was to last forever, (1 Chron. xvii:12;) though it was long since ceased to be; slaves were to remain in bondage forever, (Lev. xxv:46;) though every fiftieth year all Hebrew servants were to be set at liberty, (Lev. xxv:10;) Jonah suffered an imprisonment behind the everlasting bars of earth, (Jon. ii:6;) the smoke of Idumea was to ascend forever, (Isa. xxxiv:10;) though it no longer rises, to the Jews God says (Jer. xxxii:40;) "and I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten," and yet, after the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in, Israel will be restored. Rom. xi:25-6."

" Not only in all these and multitudes of other cases does the word mean limited duration, but it is also used in the plural, thus debarring it from the sense of endless, as there can be but one eternity. In Dan. xii:3; the literal reading, if we allow the word to mean eternity, is "to eternities and farther," (eis tous aiónas kai eti.) Micah iv:5, "We will walk in the name of the Lord our God to eternity… and beyond," eis ton aióna kai epekeina." [Buzz Lightyear?]

" Forever and ever is applied to the hosts of heaven, or the sun, moon, and stars: to a writing contained in a book; to the smoke that went up from the burning land of Idumea; and to the time the Jews were to dwell in Judea. The word never is applied to the time the sword was to remain in the house of David, to the time the Jews should experience shame."

""Everlasting" is applied to God's covenant with the Jews; to the priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the Jewish temple. The word forever is applied to the duration of man's earthly existence; to the time a child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi's leprosy; to the duration of the life of David; to the duration of a king's life; to the duration of the earth; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the time they were to dwell in Jerusalem; to the time a servant was to abide with his master; to the time Jerusalem was to remain a city; to the duration of the Jewish temple; to the laws and ordinances of Moses; to the time David was to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set up at Jordan; to the time the righteous were to inhabit the earth; and to the time Jonah was in the fish's belly"

" No one can read the Old Testament carefully and unbiassed, and fail to see that the word has a great range of meaning, bearing some such relation to duration as the word great does to size. We say God is infinite when we call him the Great God, not because great means infinite, but because God is infinite. The aiónion God is of eternal duration, but the aiónion smoke of Idumea has expired, and the aiónion hills will one day crumble, and all merely aionian things will cease to be."

"While it is a rule of language that adjectives qualify and describe nouns, it is no less true that nouns modify adjectives. A tall flower, a tall dog, a tall man, and a tall tree are of different degrees of length, though the different nouns are described by the same adjective. The adjective is in each instance modified by its noun, just as the aionian bars that held Jonah three days, and the aionian priesthood of Aaron already ended, and the aionian hills yet to be destroyed, and aionian punishment, always proportioned to human guilt, are of different degrees of length. The adjective is modified and its length is determined by the noun with which it is connected."

"Out of more than five hundred occurrences of our disputed word in the Old Testament, more than four hundred denote limited duration, so that the great preponderance of Old Testament usage fully agrees with the Greek classics. The remaining instances follow the rule given by the best lexicographers, that it only means endless when it derives its meaning or endlessness from the nature of the subject with which it is connected."

" Dr. Beecher remarks that the sense of endless given to the aionian phraseology "fills the Old Testament with contradictions, for it would make it declare the absolute eternity of systems which it often and emphatically declares to be temporary. Nor can it be said that aiónios denotes lasting as long as the nature of things permits. The Mosaic ordinances might have lasted at least to the end of the world, but did not. Moreover, on this principle the exceptions to the true sense of the word exceed its proper use; for in the majority of cases in the Old Testament aiónios is applied to that which is limited and temporary."

3. Jewish Greek Usage:

"Josephus applies the word to the imprisonment to which John the tyrant was condemned by the Romans; to the reputation of Herod; to the everlasting memorial erected in re-building the temple, already destroyed, when he wrote; to the everlasting worship in the temple which, in the same sentence he says was destroyed; and he styles the time between the promulgation of the law and his writing a longaión. To accuse him of attaching any other meaning than that of indefinite duration to the word, is to accuse him of stultifying himself. But when he writes to describe endless duration he employs other, and less equivocal terms. Alluding to the Pharisees, he says:

"They believe that the wicked are detained in an everlasting prison [eirgmon aidion] subject to eternal punishment" [aidios timoria]; and the Essenes [another Jewish sect] "allotted to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing punishment [timoria adialeipton], where they suffer a deathless punishment, [athanaton timorian]."

" Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally used aidion to denote endless, and always used aiónion to describe temporary duration. Dr. Mangey, in his edition of Philo, says he never used aiónion to interminable duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matthew, xxv:46, precisely as Christ used it. "It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and everlasting punishment [kolasis aiónios] from such as are more powerful." Here we have the exact terms employed by out Lord, to show that aiónion did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ.

Philo always uses athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aiónion for temporary duration."

" Thus the Jews of our Savior's time avoided using the word aiónion to denote endless duration, for applied all through the Bible to temporary affairs, it would not teach it. If Jesus intended to teach the doctrine held by the Jews, would he not have used the terms they used? Assuredly; but he did not. He threatened age-lasting, or long-enduring discipline to the believers in endless punishment. Aiónion was his word while theirs was aidion, adialeipton, or athanaton, -- thus rejecting their doctrines by not only not employing their phraseology, but by using always and only those words connected with punishment, that denote limited suffering."

" We thus have an unbroken chain of Lexicography, and Classic, Old Testament, and Contemporaneous Usage, all allowing to the word the meaning we claim for it. Indefinite duration is the meaning generally given from the beginning down to the New Testament."

4. New Testament Usage

"Speaking to those who understood the Old Testament, Jesus and his Apostles employed such words as are used in that book, in the same sense in which they are there used. Not to do so would be to mislead their hearers unless they explained a change of meaning. There is certainly no proof that the word changed its meaning between the Old and New Testaments, accordingly we are under obligation to give it precisely the meaning in the New it had in the Old Testament. This we have seen to be indefinite duration. An examination of the New Testament will show that the meaning is the same, as it should be, in both Testaments."

"Ten times it [aion / aionian]is applied to the Kingdom of Christ. Luke i:33, "And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end….But the Kingdom of Christ is to end, and he is to surrender all dominion to the Father, therefore endless duration is not taught in these passages. See I Cor. xv."

"It is applied to the Jewish age more than thirty times: 1 Cor. x:11, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come…. But the Jewish age ended with the setting up of the Kingdom of Christ. Therefore the world does not denote endless duration here.

" It is used in the plural in Eph. iii:21; "the age of the ages." tou aionos ton aionon. Heb. i:2; xi:3, "By whom he made the worlds." "The worlds were framed by the word of God." There can be but one eternity. To say "By whom he made the eternities" would be to talk nonsense. Endless duration is not inculcated in these texts."

" It is applied to God, Christ, the Gospel, the good, the Resurrection world, etc., in which the sense of endless is allowable because imputed to the word by the subject treated…"

" Even if Matthew wrote in Hebrew or in Syro-Chaldaic, he gave a Greek version of his gospel, and in that rejected every word that carries the meaning of endlessness, and appropriated the one which taught nothing of the kind. If this were the blunder of an incompetent translator, or the imperfect record of a reckless scribe, we could understand it, but to say that the inspired pen of the evangelist has deliberately or carelessly jeopardized the immortal welfare of countless millions by employing a word to teach the doctrine of ceaseless woe that up to that very hour taught only limited duration, is to make a declaration that carries its own refutation."

"It is often remarked that as, according to Josephus, the Jews in our Savior's times believed in endless punishment, Jesus must have taught the same doctrine, as "he employed the terms the Jews used." But this is not true, as we have shown. Christ and his apostles did not employ the phraseology that the Jews used to describe this doctrine. As we have shown Philo used athanaton and ateleuteton meaning immortal, and interminable. He says, zoe apothneskonta aeikai tropon tina thanaton athanaton upomeinon kai ateleuteton, "to live always dying, and to undergo an immortal and interminable death." He also employs aidion, but not aiónion. Josephus says: "They, the Pharisees, believe 'the souls of the bad are allotted aidios eirgmos, to an eternal prison, and punished with adialeiptos timoria, eternal retribution." In describing the doctrine of the Essenes, Josephus says they believe "the souls of the bad are sent to a dark and tempestuous cavern, full of adialeiptos timoria, incessant punishment." But the phraseology of Jesus and the apostles olethros aiónios or aióniou kriseos "eternal chastisement," or "eternal condemnation." The Jews contemporary with Jesus call retribution aidios, or adialeiptos timoria, while the Savior calls it aiónios krisis, or kolasis aiónios, and the apostles olethros aiónios, "everlasting destruction"; and puros aiónios, "eternal fire". Had Jesus and his apostles used the terms employed by the Jews to whom they spake, we should be compelled to admit that they taught the popular doctrine. See this point further elucidated at the end of this volume on the word Aidios."

" it appears that the Seventy, by choosing aiónios to represent olam, testify that they did not understand the Hebrew word to signify eternal. Had they so understood it, they would certainly have translated it by some more decisive word; some term, which, like aidios is more commonly employed in Greek, to signify that which has neither beginning no end."

"It is a pity that the noun (aión) has not always been rendered by the English word eon, or æon, and the adjective by eonian or aionion; then all confusion would have been avoided. Webster's Unabridged, defines it as meaning a space or period of time, an era, epoch, dispensation, or cycle, etc. He also gives it the sense of eternity, but no one could have misunderstood, had it been thus rendered. Suppose our translation read "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the æon?" "The smoke of their torment shall ascend for æons of æons." "These shall go away into aionian chastisement, etc." The idea of eternity would not be found in the noun, nor of endless duration in the adjective, and the New Testament would be read as its authors intended."

5. The Early Christian Church

" Justin Martyr, A. D., 140, 162, taught 'everlasting' suffering, and annihilation afterwards. The wicked "are tormented as long as God wills that they should exist and be tormented. . . . . Souls both suffer punishment and die." He uses the expression aperanton aiona. "The wicked will be punished with 'everlasting' punishment, and not for a thousand years as Plato asserted." Here punishment is announced as limited. This is evident from the fact that Justin Martyr taught the annihilation of the wicked; they are to be "tormented world without end," and then annihilated."

"Irenæus says, "the unjust shall be sent into inextinguishable and 'eternal' fire," and yet he taught that the wicked are to be annihilated… and in other parts of his great work against the Gnostics, prove this beyond all possibility of refutation. The inference from this is plain. He did not understand aiónios in the sense of eternal; but in the sense claimed by Prof. Lewis, that is, pertaining to the world to come."

" Origen used the expressions "everlasting fire" and "everlasting punishment" to express his idea of the duration of punishment. Yet he believed that in all cases sin and suffering would cease and be followed by salvation.

… As an introduction to his system of theology, he states certain great facts as a creed believed by all the church. In these he states the doctrine of future retribution as aiónion life, and aiónion punishment, using the words of Christ. Now, if Origen understood aiónion as meaning strictly eternal, then to pursue such a course would involve him in gross and palpable self-contraction. But no one can hide the facts of the case. After setting forth the creed of the church as already stated, including aiónion punishment, he forthwith proceeds, with elaborate reasoning, again and again to prove the doctrine of universal restoration. The conclusion from these facts is obvious: Origen did not understand aiónios as meaning eternal, but rather as meaning pertaining to the world to come. . . . Two great facts stand out on the page of ecclesiastical history. One that the first system of Christian theology was composed and issued by Origen in the year 230 after Christ, of which a fundamental and essential element was the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union to God. The second is that after the lapse of a little more than three centuries, in the year 544, this doctrine was for the first time condemned and anathematized as heretical. This was done, not in the general council, but in a local council called by the Patriarch Mennos at Constantinople, by the order of Justinian. During all this long interval, the opinions of Origen and his various writings were an element of power in the whole Christian world. For a long time he stood high as the greatest luminary of the Christian world. He gave an impulse to the leading spirits of subsequent ages and was honored by them as their greatest benefactor. At last, after all his scholars were dead, in the remote age of Justinian, he was anathematized as a heretic of the worst kind. The same also was done with respect to Theodore of Mopsuestia, of the Antiochian school, who held the doctrine of universal restitution on a different basis. This, too, was done long after he was dead, in the year 553. From and after this point the doctrine of future eternal punishment reigned with undisputed sway during the middle ages that preceded the Reformation. What, then, was the state of facts as to the leading theological schools of the Christian world in the age of Origen and some centuries after? It was, in brief, this: There were at least six theological schools in the church at large. Of these six schools, one, and only one, was decidedly and earnestly in favor of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. One was in favor of the annihilation of the wicked. Two were in favor of the doctrine of universal restoration on the principles of Origen, and two in favor of universal restoration on the principles of Theodore of Mopsuestia."

" Augustine (A. D. 354-430) was the first known to argue that aiónios signified endless. He at first maintained that it always meant thus, but at length abandoned that ground, and only claimed that it had that meaning sometimes. He "was very imperfectly acquainted with the Greek language."

" In fact, every Universalist and every Annihilationist among the fathers of the early church is a standing witness testifying that the word was understood as we claim, in their day. Believers in the Bible, accepting its utterances implicitly as truth, how could they be Universalists or Annihilationists with the Greek Bible before them, and aiónion punishment taught there, unless they gave to the word thus used the meaning of limited duration? Accordingly, besides those alluded to above, we appeal to those ancient Universalists, the Basilidians (A. D. 130), the Carpocratians (A. D. 140), Clemens Alexandrinus (A. D. 190), Gregory Thaumaturgus (A. D. 220-50), Ambrose (A. D. 250), Titus of Bostra (A. D. 340-70), Didymus the Blind (A. D. 550-90), Diodore of Tarsus (A. D. 370-90), Isidore of Alexandria (A. D. 370-400), Jerome (A. D. 380-410), Palladius of Gallatia (A. D. 400), Theodore of Mopsuestia (A. D. 380-428), and others, not one of whom could have been a Universalist unless he ascribed to this word the sense of limited duration. To most of them Greek was as familiar as English is to us."

"The Emperor Justinian (A. D. 540), in calling the celebrated local council which assembled in 544, addressed his edict to Mennos, Patriarch of Constantinople, and elaborately argued against the doctrines he had determined should be condemned…

But, writing in Greek with all the words of that copious speech from which to choose, he says, "The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aiónios (ATELEUTETOS aiónios) life to the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked." Aiónios was not enough in his judgment to denote endless duration, and he employed ateleutetos. This demonstrates that even as late as A. D. 540 aiónios meant limited duration, and required an added word to impart to it the force of endless duration."

" Thus it has appeared as the result of this discussion that

1. There is nothing in the Etymology of the word warranting the erroneous view of it.

2. The definitions of Lexicographers uniformly given not only allow but compel the view we have advocated.

3. Greek writers before and at the time the Septuagint was made, always gave the word the sense of limited duration.

4. Such is the general usage in the Old Testament.

5. The Jewish Greek writers at the time of Christ ascribed to it limited duration.

6. The New Testament thus employs it.

7. The Christian Fathers for centuries after Christ thus understood it.

Hence it follows that the readers of the Bible are under the most imperative obligations to understand the word in all cases as denoting limited duration, unless the subject treated, or other qualifying words compel them to understand it differently. There is nothing in the Derivation, Lexicography or Usage of the word to warrant us in understanding it to convey the thought of endless duration.

If our positions are well taken the Bible does not teach the doctrine of endless torment, for it will be admitted that if this word does not teach it, it cannot be found in the Bible."


Anonymous said…
Reading this collection of heterodox doctrine has helped produce an intense desire to read my Bible more. As such I have in the last few weeks read more consistently than I ever have before having finished Romans, 1st Corinthians, Revelation and much of Acts along with various referals to OT and Gospel passages. I just can't put it down. How's that for fruit? Praise God = )
Luke Burcell
Anonymous said…
Hi Josh,

I think it necessary to point you in the way of another Bible passage that would support your theory of a short Hell but at the same time it points to the complete destruction of the soul in that case. Isaiah 66:24 "...for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." I would like to think that "for their worm shall not die," means that the destroyer of their souls will not stop until it has consumed their soul completely thus the person's sould does not exist anymore thus eternal torment is limited but the person's soul is utterly destroyed. This of course would not mean that the person is restored and therefore gets to go to Heaven afterwards but is no longer in torment because they have literally died spiritually which really is the second death. They exist no more to suffer.

Maybe eternal life is to have life in the eternal state of no time, eternal torment is to be punished in the state of no time, and eternal death or the second death is no die in the state of no time (eternity).
Finally those who were not saved are tormented for a time but in the end die in the eternal state (they know nothing and feel nothing and don't exist anymore.)

These are just some thoughts on eternity.

Manuel Jones

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