I wrote a longer “article” examining the meaning of the phrase eis ton aióna, maybe it helps anybody, though most of you know I suppose.
eis ton aióna – “in eternity” or “for the age” or something else?
My secular Ancient-Greek dictionary (Langenscheidt Taschenwörterbuch Altgriechisch – Deutsch) gives following definitions (translated into English):
αιων: life, lifetime, generation, time span, (period of) time, age, eternity
Now there are an amazing variety of meanings, the difference between a generation and eternity is immense. There are two extreme opinions, the one - Aión always means a (particular) age, e.g. the Millennium, the other more common view is, that it means in eternity, in English bibles often translated with forever or never, however forever or never can be understood in a limited sense, *forever until… or forever as long…, never until… or never as long…*at least I would say so.
I will examine several verses in the New Testament, where age (in the sense of a particular age) makes no sense (though this doesn’t mean it should be understood as eternally), other verses in the Septuagint where this phrase can impossible mean eternity on the other hand and especially the verses where it seems to contradict the teaching of universalism.
The well known John Nelson Darby for example defends the translation of aión with eternity arguing with Plato’s Timaios 37d (stempublishing.com/authors/darby … 1003E.html)
psychclassics.yorku.ca/Plato/Tim … maeus1.htm (Chapter 7 there)
It seems Plato called time (chronos) an eternal (aiónios) image of eternity (aión), I have no idea what Plato meant with that; and it doesn’t actually make sense for me. Plato also employs aidios (eternal) referring to the gods not aiónios though Mr. Darby claims Plato used both words synonymous, aidios unlike aiónios is the common ancient Greek word supposed to mean eternal, though I have read that even aidios could have been used in a limited sense.
Generally Plato seems to contrast time (chromos) with eternity (aión), keep this in mind.
Mr. Darby also quotes Aristotle to support his position; I do not really understand what Aristotle seems to say in the quotation Mr. Darby gives. However concerning Aristotle:
Mr. Darby gives as an argument for example:
Concerning John 13:8 as an example Mr. Darby is partly right in my opinion.
*Peter said to Him, You may in no way wash my feet to the age. Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me. *(Green’s Literal)
to the age or better into the age, as Mr. Darby correctly observes makes no proper sense in my view as well, even if literally correct translated.
Mr. Darby translates:
Peter says to him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, Unless I wash thee, thou hast not part with me.
However, according to his understanding of the phrase eis ton aióna he should have translated *“Peter says to him, you should not wash my feet in eternity.”*This would also sound a bit odd, most sense would make, “you should not wash my feet forever, as long as I live” – a limited “forever” or “aión” referring most probably to lifetime or indefinite time, not absolute unconditional endlessness.
The Tyndale New Testament from 1525 is interesting, having no reference to eternity.
Peter sayd vnto him: thou shalt not wesshe my fete whill ye worlde stondeth. Iesus answered him: yf I wasshe ye not thou shalt have no part with me.
This might be a proper definition:
eis ton aióna referring to men as Peter in John 13:8 meaning most probably lifetime, perpetual continuance but within limits.
The relevant verses concerning the salvation of all are only Mark 3:29 and Jude 13
ὃς δ᾽ ἂν βλασφημήσῃ εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, οὐκ ἔχει ἄφεσιν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ἀλλὰ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος.
Green’s Literal, no “universalist” translation as you might suppose
…but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no remission unto the age (eis ton aióna), but is liable to eternal judgment…
Same Verse in Mr. Darby’s translation
…but whosoever shall speak injuriously against the Holy Spirit, to eternity has no forgiveness; but lies under the guilt of an everlasting sin…
It should be either into the age or into eternity, so both translations do possibly not translate the article entirely correct, the Apostolic Bible interlinear translation has into the eon.
κύματα ἄγρια θαλάσσης ἐπαφρίζοντα τὰς ἑαυτῶν αἰσχύνας, ἀστέρες πλανῆται οἷς ὁ ζόφος τοῦ σκότους εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τετήρηται.
wild waves of the sea foaming up their shames, wandering stars for whom blackness of darkness has been kept to the age.
Mr. Darby’s translation
raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shames; wandering stars, to whom has been reserved the gloom of darkness for eternity.
the Apostolic Bible interlinear translation has into the eon.
Mr. Darby says:
I agree with Mr. Darby that into the age, as if a specific age would be meant, makes no sense for the phrase eis ton aióna in almost all occurrences, especially in the Septuagint which I will show later, though I do not agree that eis ton aióna means strict endlessness or even eternity, at least as long as not referring to God.
Mr. Darby does not deny, that aión also means age; in fact he translates aión several times with age, where the KJV translators utterly failed.
1 Corinthians 2:7
But we speak God’s wisdom in [a] mystery, that hidden [wisdom] which God had predetermined before the ages for our glory
before the ages,* pro tōn aiōnōn*, the KJV does render it improperly before the world
And the devil who deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where [are] both the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for the ages of ages.
ages of ages instead of for ever and ever though Mr. Darby was surely no universalist.
…and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages, (F17) and of his kingdom there shall not be an end.
Mr. Darby brings following footnote: F17 Or ‘for ever;’ but it is plural.
I regard Mr. Darby as an honest scholar, he seems to have thought eis ton aióna means in eternity, but he realized here it is plural (eis tous aiónas) and was honest enough to render it ages, at least here; in other occurrences he renders the plural with for ever though. Sometimes he translates with world or worlds as the KJV translators did.
I will now come to the Septuagint, quoting the Apostolic Bible interlinear translation and the translation from Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton.
κυριος βασιλευων τον αιωνα και επ’ αιωνα και ετι
Kyrios basileuōn ton aiōna kai ep aiōna kai eti
The Lord reigning into the eon, and unto eon, and still
Into to the eon and still (or furthermore – kai eti), showing that eon itself is not endless, the Hebrew has something like olam va ed, for “olam” and furthermore, showing that whatever olam means, it can hardly mean endlessness, cause nothing goes beyond an endlessness. The Latin bible (Vulgate) has aeternum et ultra – in eternity and beyond, showing that even Latin aeternum did not (necessarily) denote endlessness in Jerome’s days.
προσαξει αυτον ο κυριος αυτου προς το κριτηριον του θεου και τοτε προσαξει αυτον επι την θυραν επι τον σταθμον και τρυπησει αυτου ο κυριος το ους τω οπητιω και δουλευσει αυτω εις τον αιωνα
…his master shall bring him to the judgment-seat of God, and then shall he bring him to the door, —to the door-post, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever…
for ever or into the eon could at most mean for lifetime here, imagine how ridiculous it would be to translate or to understand, a slave shall serve his master in eternity. My Torah commentary (German version of the Plaut Chumash) says, that the Rabbis understood forever (Hebrew olam) as until the Jubilee year, so we might possibly understand eis ton aióna here as forever, until the Jubilee year; the Vulgate has in saeculum, meaning age.
και εσται ωστε ειναι αυτοις χρισμα ιερατειας εις τον αιωνα εις τας γενεας αυτων
And it will be so as to be them an anointing priesthood into the eon, unto their generations.
For me generations rather belong to time than to eternity, it is of course important what the Jewish translators had in mind here when they translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, but I can hardly imagine that they understood with eis ton aióna here something everlasting without any end, especially as Hebrew olam had not such a meaning.
και λημψη το οπητιον και τρυπησεις το ωτιον αυτου προς την θυραν και εσται σοι οικετης εις τον αιωνα και την παιδισκην σου ποιησεις ωσαυτως
then you shall take the shoemaker’s awl, and make a hole in his ear against the door, and he will be to you a servant into the eon.
This is a kind of parallel verse of Exodus 21:6 already mentioned, it’s interesting that the Vulgate has aeternum here while it has saeculum there, as if it were synonyms, as saeculum denotes limited duration, aeternum must do so as well to be a synonym, age and eternity would hardly be synonyms.
ου προσαγορευσεις ειρηνικα αυτοις και συμφεροντα αυτοις πασας τας ημερας σου εις τον αιωνα
You shall not address peaceable to them, nor be advantageous to them all your days into the eon.
All your days for eternity is hardly to imagine here – especially in a Platonic sense as days belong to time and not eternity, I guess a long continuance was in the mind of the writer.
1 Samuel 27:12
και επιστευθη δαυιδ εν τω αγχους σφοδρα λεγων ησχυνται αισχυνομενος εν τω λαω αυτου εν ισραηλ και εσται μοι δουλος εις τον αιωνα
So David had the full confidence of Anchus, who said, He is thoroughly disgraced among his people in Israel and he shall be my servant for ever.
For ever or into the eon (eis ton aióna) can at most refer to lifetime here, it is impossible to think of eternity here. The Latin has sempiternus, showing that to the ancients all these words had not such a strict meaning, as if they meant everlasting without any end but as it seems to me rather “everlastingness” as long as it lasts, but limited by the circumstances it refers to.
A Seventh Day Adventist who believes in the destruction of the unrighteous writes concerning the adjective aiónios (referring to Matthew 25:46):
Of course this man might not be the highest authority regarding questions on Greek language but for me it makes sense and seems to fit exactly to the meaning of the phrase eis ton aióna, possibly expressing perpetual continuance but within limits according to the things, actions, circumstances or persons applied to, I will came back to this point at my conclusion.
ιδου ουτοι αμαρτωλοι και ευθηνουνται εις τον αιωνα κατεσχον πλουτου
Behold, these are the sinners, and they prosper into the eon, holding wealth.
This is kind of my favorite verse, who would seriously claim that sinners prosper eternally?, this alone is striking proof that Hebrew olam does not mean everlasting, at least doubtlessly not in all occasions, eis ton aióna could hardly have been intended to mean in eternity here.
QUIA OMNES POPULI AMBULABUNT UNUSQUISQUE IN NOMINE DEI SUI NOS AUTEM AMBULABIMUS IN NOMINE DOMINI DEI NOSTRI IN AETERNUM ET ULTRA
οτι παντες οι λαοι πορευσονται εκαστος την οδον αυτου ημεις δε πορευσομεθα εν ονοματι κυριου θεου ημων εις τον αιωνα και επεκεινα
For all the peoples shall go each in his own way; but we shall call go in the name of the Lord our God into the eon (eis ton aióna) and beyond (kai epekeia).
This is also a most interesting verse, as Exodus 15:18, in eternity and beyond if this phrase would actually mean eternity, for me it seems impossible that the translators who made the Septuagint understood eis ton aióna to express eternity in any case, when they render eis ton aióna and beyond.
But there are also examples where eis ton aióna refers to God.
εις τον αιωνα κυριε ο λογος σου διαμενει εν τω ουρανω
Into the eon, o Lord, your word abides in the heaven.
Here we might understand eis ton aióna as in eternity, but not because the phrase carries this meaning in itself but because applied to God, if we compare eis ton aióna with the word lifelong we would have a similar effect, lifelong applied to men are only a few decades, but applied to God eternity.
I think I’m not the first one who came to this conclusion; for me eis ton aióna seems to express perpetual continuance but within limits according to the things, actions, circumstances or persons applied to, not strict infinity or unconditional endlessness but “everlastingness” as long as it lasts, limited by the circumstances it refers to, or meaning simply unknown continuance.
It’s also interesting that the Latin words aeternum (eternal) and sempiternum (everlasting) are also used in a sense of only lifelong, and aeternum obviously as synonym of saeculum (age) in some occasions; it seems that all these words might have had a similar meaning to the ancients and I think this was not infinity.
It’s a bit unlucky in my opinion that Mr. Darby used Plato as authority and did obviously not examine the use of this phrase in the Septuagint, as eis ton aióna is the equivalent of Hebrew olam and as this word does not mean eternity, which I think all authorities agree, so eis ton aióna does most probably express something similar as olam does.
There is one interesting verse, where Mr. Darby does translate exactly as the “universalist” translations, which supports my position concerning olam.
Young’s Literal (sometimes called a “universalist” translation)
Also of that which is high they are afraid, And of the low places in the way, And the almond-tree is despised, And the grasshopper is become a burden, And want is increased, For man is going unto his home age-during (olam), And the mourners have gone round through the street.
Mr. Darby’s translation
they are also afraid of what is high, and terrors are in the way, and the almond is despised, and the grasshopper is a burden, and the caper-berry is without effect; (for man goeth to his age-long home, and the mourners go about the streets;)
There is also another interesting expression in the Septuagint, remember Plato contrasted time (chronos) with eternity (aión).
…νυκτος και ημερας και ου σβεσθησεται εις τον αιωνα χρονον και αναβησεται ο καπνος αυτης ανω εις γενεας ερημωθησεται και εις χρονον πολυν
…nuktos kai êmeras kai ou sbesthêsetai eis ton aiōna chronon kai anabêsetai o kapnos
autês anō eis geneas erêmōthêsetai kai eis chronon polun
…night and day; and it shall not be extinguished into the eon of time. And shall ascend her smoke upward; unto her generations she shall be made desolate, and for a long time she shall be made desolate.
While Plato contrasted chronos with aión, here the aión belongs to time (chronos), an eon of time, for me it seems obvious that they didn’t understand the phrase eis ton aióna in a Platonic sense (whatever Plato meant with “time being an eternal/eonian image of eternity”).
According to Mr. Darby’s understanding one must translate, in eternity of time – but this would sound odd and contradict Plato’s definition of eternity I suppose, which Mr. Darby seems to see as kind of authoritative.
I will now come to my last points, Mr. Darby though he agrees that aión means occasionally age insists that aiónios means eternal.
Mr. Darby wrote:
Mr. Darby refers here to 2 Corinthians 4:18, however proskairos is not time (chronos) itself but seems rather to be a period, Plato did not contrast a period (proskairos) with eternity but time itself (chronos) with eternity (aión), so Mr. Darby is wrong here in my opinion.
The word proskairos also occurs in Matthew 13:21, Mark 4:17, Hebrews 11:25
In Mt. 13:21 the TNIV, NIV and NIRV bibles translate proskairos with short time, the KJV has a while, others a season, quite similar in Mk. 4:17.
Hebrews 11:25 (KJV)
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (proskairos);
Some other translations have short time here, or for a while.
The particular verse is:
- Corinthians 4:18
μὴ σκοπούντων ἡμῶν τὰ βλεπόμενα ἀλλὰ τὰ μὴ βλεπόμενα• τὰ γὰρ βλεπόμενα πρόσκαιρα, τὰ δὲ μὴ βλεπόμενα αἰώνια.
mê skopountōn êmōn ta blepomena alla ta mê blepomena ta gar blepomenaproskaira, ta de mê blepomena aiōnia.
For tho thingis that ben seyn, ben but durynge for a schort tyme; but tho thingis that ben not seyn, ben euerlastynge. (Wycliffe Bible)
As I said proskairos is not time itself, this would be chronos, but rather a (shorter) period as far as I know, you can contrast strict opposites or things that are related to each other, you can contrast a lake with a desert and you can contrast a lake with an ocean; one might suppose here is contrasted time with timeless eternity in a Platonic sense, but you can also contrast something which lasts only a short present period with something that is yet future and will last for ages. I think this verse proofs in no way that aiónios should be understood as endless, because this verse does not say so. It might be the perfect definition of Hebrew olam which means something like hidden time as far as I know:
Things that are seen last only for a (short present) period, but things yet future, not seen yet and with an unavowed end, are olam/eonian.
This might be a possible interpretation without any relation to a supposed endlessness or timeless eternity as Mr. Darby and others suppose.
Mr. Darby also said that Philo of Alexandria, who was contemporary with Christ, used aiónios in the meaning of everlasting, using him as authority to support his opinion, however:
1this was also quoted on other pages, in the context it seems to be about several years of imprisonment
The last point, three verses where Mr. Darby was kind of inconsequent
ἐπ᾽ ἐλπίδι ζωῆς αἰωνίου, ἣν ἐπηγγείλατο ὁ ἀψευδὴς θεὸς πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων
on hope of eternal life which the God who does not lie promised before eternal times
Mr. Darby’s translation
in [the] hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the ages of time,
2 Timothy 1:9
τοῦ σώσαντος ἡμᾶς καὶ καλέσαντος κλήσει ἁγίᾳ, οὐ κατὰ τὰ ἔργα ἡμῶν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ἰδίαν πρόθεσιν καὶ χάριν, τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων
the One having saved us and having called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace given to us in Christ Jesus before eternal times
Mr. Darby’s translation
who has saved us, and has called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to [his] own purpose and grace, which [was] given to us in Christ Jesus before [the] ages of time
In both verses pro chronōn aiōniōn, before eonian times, having a beginning they can hardly be eternal, Mr. Darby knew this quite well I suppose, therefore translating with ages, showing that at least here he understood aiónios as pertaining to ages. The Vulgate has ante tempora saecularia, something like before times age-abiding, as saeculum means age, saecularia must mean age-abiding, however in later times saecularia seems to have been understood as pertaining to the world (modern secular), probably therefore does for example the King James Version following the Vulgate, translate before the world began.
…κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν μυστηρίου χρόνοις αἰωνίοις σεσιγημένου, 26 φανερωθέντος δὲ νῦν διά τε γραφῶν προφητικῶν κατ᾽ ἐπιταγὴν τοῦ αἰωνίου θεοῦ …
…kata apokalypsin mysteriou chronois aiōniois sestigêmenou, 26 phanerōthentos de nun dia te graphōn prophêtikōn kai epitagên tou aiōniou Theou …
Green’s Literal translation
*Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel, and the proclaiming of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery having been kept unvoiced during eternal times, 26 but now has been made plain, and by prophetic Scriptures, according to the commandment of the eternal God, made known for obedience of faith to all the nations; *
Mr. Darby’s translation
Now to him that is able to establish you, according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to [the] revelation of [the] mystery, as to which silence has been kept in [the] times of the ages, but [which] has now been made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures, according to commandment of the eternal God, made known for obedience of faith to all the nations –
The eternal times (chronois aiōniois) had an end; Mr. Darby translates aiónios here with of the ages.
Beside the point that the phrase eternal times is a contradiction in itself, how would this fit to the Platonic view of time contrasted with eternity?, if Plato separates time from eternity (though I’m not 100% sure), but Paul calls times “eternal”, than I think Paul didn’t use aiónios in a Platonic sense, as did not the translators of the Septuagint as I’ve shown; but Paul mention eternal times 3x where they had either beginning or end and most probably both which also proves Strong’s definition of aiónios wrong (Strong number 166).
I will close now, as there have countless articles been written on this subject, but had I doubts especially concerning the phrase eis ton aióna what it does actually mean.
There is also an interesting opinion concerning aiónios, if it would actually mean eternal:
Wilhelm Barclay, I think a Greek scholar and bible translator wrote:
Though I do not share this view personally, it shows that the teaching of universalism does not stand or fall with the translation of the word aiónios, while the doctrine of endless torment can only be proven true if it can be shown, that aiónios means strict infinity or endlessness in all occasions or at least in Matthew 25:46 (and even then would annihilationism not have been refuted).
what do you think, as some of you know Greek (much better than I do) is it right, or did I make serious mistakes?
ps: I also created a pdf file, with nicer formatation, better to read, you’ll find it in the attachment
age or infinity.pdf (129 KB)