The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Aionios Time or Quality?

I would appreciate any comments regarding this article by Dr. O.B.Jenkins.

T wo readers wrote with similar questions about the Greek word aionios as it appears in the Bible. They questioned the translation or definition of the Greek word with the English word “eternal” or “everlasting.”

I understand the meaning of the word aionios (often appearing in genitive plural aionion ) in Greek to carry the connotation of ‘pertaining to the age’ or ‘age enduring.’ The word is a form of the word we have borrowed into English from the Latin transliteration of the Greek as aeon or eon . The problems in interpreting it as the English “eternal” or “everlasting” are several.

Let’s get in focus some working principles of languages, meaning and translation. First of all, a word in one language and the culture it represents does not “mean” a word or the cultural concept it carries in another language.

Keep in mind that a “definition” is only a summary of how a word has been used. Meanings are all determined by usage. This what makes human speech so creative, dynamic, expressive and flexible. Inadequate assumptions about words, language and meaning can mislead us from the beginning.

So we first need to take a step back to look at the cultural or worldview concept. What we do is look at how we find a word being used. We honor the language and its cultural integrity. We do not assume in language that there is some objective authoritative “meaning” or “definition” that prescribes what a word can or must mean. That is not how language works.

We consider what underlying ideas are carried in words in a particular language. No language is independent of a historical, cultural context and the worldview of the culture using that language.

Thus in the strictest term, a word in Greek does not “mean” in English. Greek words “mean” what the Greek speaker was thinking in the Greek-speaking environment of that era and location. Similarly, today a Greek speaker is not referencing anything in English when he thinks and speaks fluently in his native tongue, or reads his Bible in his native tongue! Greek “means” in “Greek.”

The English speaker/reader must get into that world to determine meaning, then search for the most adequate word or phrase to express that in the English language and cultural-social context.


Time or Character, The Ages or A Time Sequence in <em>aionios</em>: How Words “Mean” in Greek and English

Dear Qaz: I know of only two references of Canon that possesses the concept of eternal. Both references are in relation to the Aidios God.

You mentioned context. According to the context of St. Matthew 25, what is the defining basis for “everlasting life” & everlasting punishment"?

Further, according to the context, why are pure virgins, five wise & five foolish, & unwise investors included in this parable of two clean animals, sheep and goats?

I hope this is actually your opinion on the matter, not one that you adopted, from say, a certain scholar. That scholar, while highly intelligent has several more atheistic voices in his camp who won’t even dare to come to that conclusion and decide to leave it in the “I don’t know category”… Bart Ehrman (I am a member of his blog) recently said he doesn’t take a stand on it, not in the way that our previous independent scholar did here. I usually don’t appeal to authority on this, but I am willing to do so because so many gifted authorities cannot seem to agree on this highly ambiguous word. Therefore, I think the only safe thing to do is leave it as it is. Besides, as I mentioned before, I have zero reason to to push in either direction, because even if it did mean what you suggest it means, there are still two very easy outs for any Christian Universalist:

  1. The cannon isn’t necessarily perfect.
  2. Usage in 90% of the cases doesn’t dictate what it means in any specific case. It is just rolling the dice in probability, which you can’t really do with any certainty.

Dear Qaz: Can you present what “non-biblical ancient Greek literature” demonstrates in the use of aionios? Is it age related as it is in Canon, or if not, why has aionios changed in Biblical terms & why?

The following comments are from:


[QUOTE=“Der Alter, post: 73415914, member: 11484”]Here is how legitimate scholars demonstrate the correct translation of Greek words.
…Note this definition cites 69 contemporary sources which support the translator’s translation. The contemporary sources are highlighted in blue.

αἰώνιος (ία ③ pert. to a period of unending duration, without end (Diod S 1, 1, 5; 5, 73, 1; 15, 66, 1 δόξα αἰ. everlasting fame; in Diod S 1, 93, 1 the Egyptian dead are said to have passed to their αἰ. οἴκησις; Arrian, Peripl. 1, 4 ἐς μνήμην αἰ.; Jos.,Bell. 4, 461αἰ. χάρις=a benefaction for all future time; OGI 383, 10 [I b.c.] εἰς χρόνον αἰ.; EOwen, οἶκος αἰ.: JTS 38, ’37, 248–50; EStommel, Domus Aeterna: RAC IV 109–28) of the next life σκηναὶ αἰ. Lk 16:9 (cp. En 39:5). οἰκία, contrasted w. the οἰκία ἐπίγειος, of the glorified body 2 Cor 5:1. διαθήκη (Gen 9:16; 17:7; Lev 24:8; 2 Km 23:5 al.; PsSol 10:4 al.) Hb 13:20. εὐαγγέλιον Rv 14:6; κράτος in a doxolog. formula (=εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας) 1 Ti 6:16. παράκλησις 2 Th 2:16. λύτρωσις Hb 9:12. κληρονομία (Esth 4:17m) vs. 15; AcPl Ha 8, 21. αἰ. ἀπέχειν τινά (opp. πρὸς ὥραν) keep someone forever Phlm 15 (cp. Job 40:28). Very often of God’s judgment (Diod S 4, 63, 4 διὰ τὴν ἀσέβειαν ἐν ᾅδου διατελεῖν τιμωρίας αἰωνίου τυγχάνοντα; similarly 4, 69, 5; Jer 23:40; Da 12:2; Ps 76:6; 4 Macc 9:9; 13:15) κόλασις αἰ. (TestReub 5:5) Mt 25:46; 2 Cl 6:7; κρίμα αἰ. Hb 6:2 (cp. κρίσις αἰ. En 104:5). θάνατος B 20:1. ὄλεθρον (4 Macc 10:15) 2 Th 1:9. πῦρ (4 Macc 12:12; GrBar 4:16.—SibOr 8, 401 φῶς αἰ.) Mt 18:8; 25:41; Jd 7; Dg 10:7 (cp. 1QS 2:8). ἁμάρτημα Mk 3:29 (v.l. κρίσεως, κολάσεω, and ἁμαρτίας). On the other hand, of eternal life (Maximus Tyr. 6, 1d θεοῦ ζωὴ αἰ.; Diod S 8, 15, 3 life μετὰ τὸν θάνατον lasts εἰς ἅπαντα αἰῶνα; Da 12:2; 4 Macc 15:3;PsSol PsSol 3:12; OdeSol 11:16c; JosAs 8:11 cod. A [p. 50, 2 Bat.]; Philo, Fuga 78; Jos., Bell. 1, 650; SibOr 2, 336) in the Reign of God: ζωὴ αἰ. (Orig., C. Cels. 2, 77, 3) Mt 19:16, 29; 25:46; Mk 10:17, 30; Lk 10:25; 18:18, 30; J 3:15f, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2f; Ac 13:46, 48; Ro 2:7; 5:21; 6:22f; Gal 6:8; 1 Ti 1:16; 6:12; Tit 1:2; 3:7; 1J 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20; Jd 21; D 10:3; 2 Cl 5:5; 8:4, 6; IEph 18:1; Hv 2, 3, 2; 3, 8, 4 al. Also βασιλεία αἰ. 2 Pt 1:11 (ApcPt Rainer 9; cp. Da 4:3; 7:27; Philo, Somn. 2, 285; Mel., P. 68, 493; OGI 569, 24 ὑπὲρ τῆς αἰωνίου καὶ ἀφθάρτου βασιλείας ὑμῶν; Dssm. B 279f, BS 363). Of the glory in the next life δόξα αἰ. 2 Ti 2:10; 1 Pt 5:10 (cp. Wsd 10:14; Jos., Ant. 15, 376.—SibOr 8, 410 φῶς αἰῶνιον). αἰώνιον βάρος δόξης 2 Cor 4:17; σωτηρία αἰ. (Is 45:17; Ps.-Clem., Hom. 1, 19) Hb 5:9; short ending of Mk. Of unseen glory in contrast to the transitory world of the senses τὰ μὴ βλεπόμενα αἰώνια 2 Cor 4:18.—χαρά IPhld ins; δοξάζεσθαι αἰωνίῳ ἔργῳ be glorified by an everlasting deed IPol 8:1. DHill, Gk. Words and Hebr. Mngs. ’67, 186–201; JvanderWatt, NovT 31, ’89, 217–28 (J).—DELG s.v. αἰών. M-M. TW. Sv. [1]
[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., pp. 33–34). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The author of BDAG provides no argument, proof or explanation why he classified aionios in Matthew 25:46 under “a period of unending duration, without end”. His first definition of aionios is “pert. to a long period of time”. Why didn’t he classify aionios in Matthew 25:46 under that definition? He doesn’t say.

If early church universalists agreed with BDAG re Matthew 25:46 would they have been universalists? Evidently they do not agree with BDAG re aionios in Matthew 25:46. Unlike the author of BDAG, many of them were native born Koine Greek speakers in a Koine Greek speaking society. Some were also Koine Greek scholars. Yet BDAG’s author thinks he knows better than them who were within a few hundreds years of Christ’s death?

Furthermore, why does BDAG ignore their writings as well as all of the following examples of how aionios was used in ancient Koine Greek:


What were the theological biases of the author of BDAG? Did his biases influence him to leave out all of those uses of aionios? Or was he ignorant of them? Was he influenced to follow blindly the conclusions of his predecessors? Or to follow the opinions that would lead to selling more copies of his book? What - spirit - was controlling this man?

Why did the author of BDAG also reject the conclusions of many other modern scholars such as Moulton & Milligan who state: “In general, the word depicts that of which the horizon is not in view, whether the horizon be at an infinite distance…or whether it lies no farther than the span of a Cæsar’s life.”

Matthew 25:46 paralllel argument with Rom 5 19:

This post IMO is quite relevant to this topic:

.BDAG on aionios

Also this thread:

I thinks it is a logical fallacy to look too much on how Greeks understood the word, we should rather focus on what Jews hat in mind when they used the word.

English is not my mother tongue (I’m German), I would choose perpetual as proper translation in all instances, I do not understand perpetual as to mean everlasting, though it does not exclude this idea, am I right? You see, for me as a non native speaker, perpetual might have a different (very neutral/equivocal) meaning as for native English speakers that might use perpetual synonymous with everlasting.

Do you get my point, whatever the Greeks meant with aionios, the Jews might have used it in a much looser sense, the use in the Septuagint implies this. As a noun eis ton aiona, does not mean for an age, it seems more or less to mean perpetual too in the sense I understand perpetual.

Have a look here:

Dear Origen: Perhaps you did not grasp what I asked qaz. Leontius of Byzantium writes "the word aeon in reality used of a definite period, both by heathen and sacred writers

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. .

Hebrew Olam=

Dear Origen: I like the concluding definition for aionios found in The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (edited by James Hope Moulton and George Milligan): “In general, the word depicts that of which the horizon is not in view, whether the horizon be at an infinite distance, or whether it lies no farther than the span of a Caesar’s life.” That is, the word stands for a “hidden” and indefinite duration of time, whether past or future. This seems to be the meaning of olam in the Hebrew Bible, and since aion and aionion seem to have been employed by the inspired writers of the NT as the Greek equivalents of this single Hebrew word, this definition would be most consistent. And as it seems likely that Jesus would’ve spoken Hebrew or Aramaic (at least, when he was speaking to his disciples, like in Matt 25:46), the word he would have used would have either been olam or alam .

That is not what qaz believes according to his post above.

" IMO context makes it clear that the word means eternal in at least 90% of cases."

1 Like

Dear qaz.; I do appreciate you pointing to a book for my learning experience. If, however, the book has led you to believe 90% of the context of aionios is eternal, perhaps you can tell me what before aionios entails.

“Aionios Time or Quality?”

IMO it refers to “time” or duration. Though the time period referred to may have a distinctive quality.

Besides meaning “everlasting”, eternal, unending the word “perpetual” can mean:

  1. “holding something (such as an office) for life”

  2. “indefinitely long-continued”

  3. " continuously throughout the season"


Compare eonian, aeonian:

“lasting for an immeasurably or indefinitely long period of time”

"aeonian, from Greek aiṓnios “lasting an age, perpetual” (derivative of aiṓn EON) + -ANentry 2; aeonic from EON + -IC entry 1

Au contraire qaz; not an exception in the least. It encompasses eons and ages. Is the world aionios?

Bingo! This is zoe aionios, that we may know You…

Dear qaz: this is your mission should you be willing to accept it: please present the 10% of the Canon (aionios references) that are NOT eternal. Your first verse is?

Are you refering to the NT or classical Greek writings? Most instances of aionios in the NT refer to ‘eternal’ life, we can debate weather ‘eternal’ life is merely the life in the future age, since it seems that also unbelievers can acquire (and loose) ‘eternal’ life. There are plenty instances in the Septuagint where aionios is used in a clearly limited sense.

Dear Sven:St. John expresses what IS aionios life. " This IS life aionios that we might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You did send." According to this one who leaned on the bosom of the Master, aionios zoe is defined.

Dr. Marvin Vincent

"God’s eternity does not stand merely or chiefly for a scale of length. It is not primarily a mathematical but a moral fact.

The relations of God to time include and imply far more than the bare fact of endless continuance. They carry with them the fact that God transcends time; works on different principles and on a vaster scale than the wisdom of time provides; oversteps the conditions and the motives of time; marshals the successive aeons from a point outside of time, on lines which run out into his own measureless cycles, and for sublime moral ends which the creature of threescore and ten years cannot grasp and does not even suspect."

I am one of those who believe nothing is lost, changed & transformed but not lost. The One who came to seek & to save that which is lost has a firm grip, very firm indeed!

“From Him the all comes, through Him the all exists, and in Him the all ends…”

the all= ta panta.

Not “panta” standing alone: 'ta" preceeding it.

He is the Source, the Guide & the Goal of the all!

Dear qaz: due to the crushings of the Father I am slowly learning patience. When are you going to provide your first passage of Canon where aionios is NOT eternal?

Dear qaz; my friend I have over 20 Bibles that have been central in my life for over 60 years now. An honest reading of them and the overshadowing Presence of the focus of my life does not lead me to your conclusions. May the outer perimeters of His love & grace be yours in He who saves to the uttermost.