I have a doubt about the Greek word “aionos”. If “anionos zoe” means everlasting life, why “eternal punishment” or “eternal fire” are not really eternal, but temporary?
To find out what a Greek word means, one should look up the word in many writings. Lexicons can be deceiving. Besides with a dozen of more “definitions” how can you know the primary meaning of the word? I find that the dozens of meanings which lexiconophers (newly coined word) produce are usually possible words that may be placed in translations to make sense. It doesn’t really help much to understand the word. I go also by the etymology of the word. I have studied Greek for several years, and my faith in lexicons has been steadily decreasing. I look up the words as they are normally used in the Septuagint (including the apocrypha), and in extra-biblical Greek writings.
The words which have been translated as “eternal punishment” are the Greek words “αἰωνιος κολασις” (aiōnios kolasis). Let’s consider “κολασις” first. This word was originally used for “prune” as in pruning plants. Plants are pruned by cutting off certain parts so as to correct the growth of the plant. “κολασις” was used in classical Greek in reference to a means to correct an offender. Look at any Greek lexicon, and you will find “correct” is given as one of its meanings.
First, let’s consider the word κολασις (kolasis). It is the word used in Matthew 25:46. I suppose it is legitimate to translate it as “punishment” if it is understood to mean corrective punishment, as a parent would punish his children, not merely to inflict a penalty, but in order that they may learn to behave. Here is what Aristotle wrote concerning this word:
There is no fear in love, but complete love casts out fear. Fear has κολασις. The one who is afraid is not completed in love.(I John 4:18 )
What could the statement “Fear has punishment” possibly mean? I could understand “Punishment has fear”, but not “Fear has punishment”. Do you know of anyone who has been punished because he is afraid?
However, I CAN understand “Fear has correction”. The context of this statement indicates what the correction is. A state of fear in a person can be corrected when that person is completed in love.
Let’s consider Matthew 25:46 where the goats are to be sent into “αἰωνιος κολασις”. If we agree that “κολασις” means “correction”, then what would “eternal correction” mean? If a person were corrected eternally, the correction would never be completed, and thus the person would not be corrected at all!
Fortunately “αἰωνιος” DOES NOT mean “eternal”. Indeed, it never means “eternal”. It is the adjectival form of the noun “αἰων”, which means “age”. So, I suppose we could translate “αἰωνιος” as “agey”, but as far as I know, the latter is not an English word.
The word “αἰωνιος” was used in koine Greek (the Greek spoken from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D.) to refer to anything which is enduring. The word was used by Diodorus Siculus to describe the stone used to build a wall. The word seems to have been used as meaning “lasting” or “durable”.
Josephus in “The Wars of the Jews” book 6, states that Jonathan was condemned to “αἰωνιος” imprisonment. Yet that prison sentence lasted only three years.
But the clincher comes from the Homily of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, written by Chrysostom. He wrote that the kingdom of Satan “is αἰωνιος (agey), in other words it will cease with the present αἰων (age).” So Chrysostum apparently believed that “αἰωνιος” meant exactly the opposite to “eternal”! ---- that is “ lasting” but in this case also “temporary.”
As I see it, the following would be a correct translation of Matthew 25:46
And they [the goats] will go away into lasting correction, but the righteous into lasting life.
Lasting correction is correction which endures. At some point it comes to an end. Lasting life is life which endures. But it just so happens that the lasting life we receive from Christ endures forever. But the idea of “forever” is not inherent in the word “αἰωνιος”.
The true Greek word for “eternal” is “αἰδιος”. That word is found in the following verse:
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:20)
Paidion could you translate this passage, you would do me a great favor:
εἰς οὓς ἐμβάλλονται αἱ ψυχαὶ κατὰ τὰς διαφορὰς τῶν ἁμαρτάδων, αἱ μὲν ἀιδίως κολασθησόμεναι διὰ τὸ ἀνίατα ἡμαρτηκέναι ἐν τῷ Ταρτάρῳ. πλὴν εἰ καὶ λέγω ἀιδίως, μὴ δὴ νομίσῃς, ὅτι εἰς ἀπείρους αἰῶνας κολάζεται ἡ ψυχὴ ἐν τῷ Ταρτάρῳ (εὖ γε οὐ διὰ μῆνιν τοῦ θείου κολάζεται ἡ ψυχή, ἀλλ’ ἰατρείας χάριν), ἀλλ’ αἰωνίως φαμὲν κολάζεσθαι τὴν ψυχὴν αἰῶνα καλοῦντες τὸν αὐτῆς βίον καὶ τὴν μερικὴν αὐτῆς περίοδον.
I came across it here:
That’s the relevant post:
Sadly the link is broken, it’s related to this quote:
Also see here, Note 4:
This is only a concern if aionos was meant to convey the concept of “quantity” as oppossed to “quality”, “source”, or “relationship”. For me, its use in scripture to describe both the fire that destroyed Sodom (aionos fire) and the judgment of God that we shall all face (aionos judgment) indicates that aionos is not always, if ever, meant to convey the concept of “quantity of time”. Rather it is meant to speak of source, quality, and relationship to God, relationship to the spiritual realm that that transcends time, relationship to the messianic age to come. The fire that destroyed Sodom only lasted a matter of days, but it was from God. And I trust that judgment is not something that will be endless, but has to do with the spiritual realm that transcends time, is from God and has to do with the messianic age to come. In fact, it seems to me that aionios is a means of referencing in shorthand that which has to do with God. So… Life from/with/in God, chastisement from/with/in God, fire from/with/in God, etc.
In short, I don’t think “aionios zoe” means “everlasting life”, but it means “life from/with/in God, life that transcends our understanding, life that transcends time, etc.” In like manner aionios kolasis means “chastisement from/with/in God, chastizement that transcends time, chastizement that is spiritual and beyond our understanding.”
I think that especially in the context of the Mt. 25 metaphor of the separation of the kids from the flock, aionios means “chastisement from God that is spiritual and beyond our understanding and transcends time affecting the now and not yet.” And in like manner, participation in the kingdom of God gives us “life that is spiritual and beyond our understanding and transcends time affecting the now and not yet.” aionios is a powerful word.
Most of my Greek study was that of the New Testament, although I did do translations from excerpts from other Hellenistic Greek texts. I was unfamiliar with some of the words in the Greek text you offered, and also with some of the forms. Notwithstanding, by searching the Septuagint, and the lexicon of my Hellenistic Greek texts, I came up with the following translation. It may be faulty, and so you might want to consult some Greek expert about the Greek text. I probably have it somewhat mistranslated as it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense if some places:
Thanks for your excellent, expert analysis of Matthew 25:46. I’ve been asked to preach in my little church in a couple of weeks time, and have been thinking hard about a subject for my sermon. Now I have it! And with a strongly Universalist flavour!
Thanks Paidion, it seems to be the phrase that has been rendered thus:
“Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless ages in Tartarus. Very properly the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aeonian period, calling its life, and its allotted period of punishment, its aeon.”
The later part would have been of more interest, where he seems to distinguish between aidios and aionios and defines the later as timeless whereas he understands aidios as lasting throughout all time (as long as time exists) but understands both terms not as literally endless, according to the post in that other forum, I would have registered myself there if the discussion would have been more recent.
I found no Greek text of Olympiodorus online, but he was too late to be a considerable witness anyway, Diodorus Siculus might be of more interest here, I have read that a Greek writer named Callimachus was the first known author after Plato who used aionios or the first non philosophian writer, he seems to have written about “eonian” virginity and rivers that carry little water “eonianly”, but without the context it is difficult to judge what he meant.
BTW I found both instances, not sure, if they contribute something to the discussion:
Look at # 125
The Greek text you quoted earlier in this thread from another forum’s discussion can be found at the following link. Here is the quote you provided earlier & then the same quote in a larger context:
εἰς οὓς ἐμβάλλονται αἱ ψυχαὶ κατὰ τὰς διαφορὰς τῶν ἁμαρτάδων, αἱ μὲν ἀιδίως κολασθησόμεναι διὰ τὸ ἀνίατα ἡμαρτηκέναι ἐν τῷ Ταρτάρῳ. πλὴν εἰ καὶ λέγω ἀιδίως, μὴ δὴ νομίσῃς, ὅτι εἰς ἀπείρους αἰῶνας κολάζεται ἡ ψυχὴ ἐν τῷ Ταρτάρῳ εὖ γε οὐ διὰ μῆνιν τοῦ θείου κολάζεται ἡ ψυχή, ἀλλ’ ἰατρείας χάριν), ἀλλ’ αἰωνίως φαμὲν κολάζεσθαι τὴν ψυχὴν αἰῶνα καλοῦντες τὸν αὐτῆς βίον καὶ τὴν μερικὴν αὐτῆς περίοδον.
Ἀπὸ γὰρ τοῦ Ταρτάρου, φησί, καὶ τὰ ῥέοντα ὕδατα, τουτέστιν αἱ πηγαὶ καὶ οἱ ποταμοί, καὶ μὴ ῥέοντα, τουτέστιν ἡ θάλασσα, ἀναδίδονται καὶ πάλιν εἰς αὐτὸ χωροῦσιν ὥσπερ εἰς ὁλότητα. ἡμεῖς δὲ τοῦτο καὶ ἠθικῶς καὶ φυσικῶς ἀνεπτύξαμεν. ἠθικῶς μέν, ὅτι ὁ Τάρταρος τόπος ἐστὶ δικαστικός, ἐξ οὗ εἰσιν ἅπαντες οἱ δικαστικοὶ τόποι, Κωκυτός, Ἀχέρων, Πυρτφλεγέθων, εἰς οὓς ἐμβάλλονται αἱ ψυχαὶ κατὰ τὰς διαφορὰς τῶν ἁμαρτάδων, αἱ μὲν ἀιδίως κολασθησόμεναι διὰ τὸ ἀνίατα ἡμαρτηκέναι ἐν τῷ Ταρτάρῳ. πλὴν εἰ καὶ λέγω ἀιδίως, μὴ δὴ νομίσῃς, ὅτι εἰς ἀπείρους αἰῶνας κολάζεται ἡ ψυχὴ ἐν τῷ Ταρτάρῳ εὖ γε οὐ διὰ μῆνιν τοῦ θείου κολάζεται ἡ ψυχή, ἀλλ’ ἰατρείας χάριν), ἀλλ’ αἰωνίως φαμὲν κολάζεσθαι τὴν ψυχὴν αἰῶνα καλοῦντες τὸν αὐτῆς βίον καὶ τὴν μερικὴν αὐτῆς περίοδον. τῷ γὰρ ὄντι τὰ μέγιστα πλημμελήσασαι ψυχαὶ οὐκ ἀρκοῦνται μιᾷ περιόδῳ καθαρθῆναι, ἀλλ’ εἰσὶν ἐν τῷ βίῳ διηνεκῶς ὥσπερ ἐν τῷ Ταρτάρῳ, ἣν περίοδον αἰῶνα ἐκάλεσεν ὁ Πλατῶν. χρὴ δὲ καὶ τοῦτο μὴ ἀγνοεῖν, ὅτι ἕτερόν ἐστιν αἰώνιον καὶ ἕτερον τὸ ἀίδιον. τὸ γὰρ αἰώντόν ἐστι τὸ ὅλον, ὡς ὅλον νῦν τὸ ἐστερημένον παρεληλυθότος χρόνου καὶ μέλλοντος, ὅλον δ’ ἐν τῷ καθεστῶτι νῦν ὑπάρχον· ἀίδιον δ’ ἐστίν, ὃ καὶ αὐτὸ μὲν ἀεὶ ὑπάρχει, ἐν δὲ τοῖς τρισὶ χρόνοις θεωρούμενον. ὅθεν αἰώνιον μὲν λέγομεν τὸν θεὸν | διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐν χρόνῳ τὸ εἶναι ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ [*] πάντα χρόνον καὶ ἐνεστῶτα καὶ παρωχηκότα καὶ μέλλοντα ὡς νῦν ἔχειν αὐτόν αὕτη γὰρ ἡ φύσις τοῦ αἰωνίου)· ἀίδιον δ’ οὐ λέγομεν, ἐπειδὴ οὔτ’ ἐν χρόνῳ ἔχει τὸ εἶναι. ἀλλ’ εἰ ἄρα, τὴν ὕλην ἀίδιον ῥητέον ὡς ἐν χρόνῳ εἰδοποιουμένην καὶ πάλιν ἄλλα εἴδη προσλαμβάνουσαν τῶν πρώτων φθαρέντων. ὅθεν οὐ μόνον ἠθικῶς τὸν Τάρταρον ἐξηγησάμεθα, ἀλλὰ καὶ φυσικῶς φήσαντες, ὅτι Τάρταρός ἐστιν ὕλη διὰ τὴν ἐνοῦσαν αὐτῷ ταραχὴν καὶ στάσιν τῶν ἐναντίων.
From p. 356a at:
Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart comments on the same passage re Olympiodorus in his extensive notes (Concluding Scientific Postscript) re aionios following his translation of the New Testament:
“…John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Ephesians, even used the word aionios of the kingdom of the devil specifically to indicate that it is temporary (for it will last only until the end of the present age, he explains). In the early centuries of the church, especially in the Greek and Syrian East, the lexical plasticity of the noun and the adjective was fully appreciated - and often exploited - by a number of Christian theologians and exegetes (especially such explicit universalists as the great Alexandrians Clement and Origen, the “pillar of orthodoxy” Gregory of Nyssa and his equally redoubtable sister Makrina, the great Syrian fathers Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Isaac of Ninevah, and so on, as well as many other more rhetorically reserved universalists, such as Gregory of Nazianzus).”
“Late in the fourth century, for instance, Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, reported that the vast majority of his fellow Christians (at least, in the Greek-speaking East with which he was familiar) assumed that “hell” is not an eternal condition, and that the “aionios punishment” of the age to come would end when the soul had been purified of its sins and thus prepared for union with God. Well into the sixth century, the great Platonist philosopher Olympiodorus the Younger could state as rather obvious that the suffering of wicked souls in Tartarus is certainly not endless, atelevtos, but is merely aionios; and the squalidly brutal and witless Christian emperor Justinian, as part of his campaign to extinguish the universalism of the “Origenists”, found it necessary to substitute the word atelevtetos for aionios when describing the punishments of hell, since the latter word was not decisive…”
“As late as the thirteenth century, the East Syrian bishop Solomon of Bostra, in his authoritative compilation of the teachings of the “holy fathers” of Syrian Christian tradition, simply stated as a matter of fact that in the New Testament le-alam (the Syriac rendering of aionios) does not mean eternal, and that of course hell is not endless. And the fourteenth-century East Syrian Patriarch Timotheus II thought it uncontroversial to assert that the aionios pains of hell will come to an end when the souls cleansed by them, through the prayers of the saints, enter paradise” (The New Testament: A Translation, by David Bentley Hart, 2017, p.539-540).
BTW, in the book “Terms for Eternity…”, Ramelli & Konstan elaborate at length on the Basil remark (p.194-199). Here’s a summary of the entire book: