The Evangelical Universalist Forum

BDAG on aionios

Classic. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Let’s ask Alex, he opened the discussion. Is this about how BDAG is completely wrong in this entry or is this about a few particular references? If it’s the former it seems to be a case of disregarding evidence that doesn’t suit your premise, if it’s the latter then I probably agree, it’s a human tool.

Did anybody claim that BDAG was completely wrong?
By the way, Luke, I am not a universalist, just a seeker on this issue. I am willing to hear out any critiques of any position…

:neutral_face: Well I’m no expert on the matter, however, I think BDAG is probably a helpful resource to have (which is why I posted it).

For this particular word, I think it’s first definition is usually ok (“an extended period of time” or “a long period of time”), but even going on to say “without reference to beginning or end” isn’t very helpful e.g. we know the beginning of at least one aionios i.e. just after Judgement Day.

Defining it as “beyond sight” is very attractive, as it fits well with “olam”, which is probably the Hebrew word Jesus used, and that then got written down as “aionios”. Where I think many people, including BDAG, add extra meaning to the text (that isn’t always true or helpful), is when they say, “Oh, everything beyond sight must be infinite!”.

What I caught before my attention span ran out:

…or rather, dictionaries simply recorded the common usages of words that had already been employed up until that point. Did the first users of human language base their speaking on dictionaries that they had first labored to write down, or did they write dictionaries after they had been using language for some time? This is no complex chicken-and-egg scenario. The point is, language is highly contextual. It ebbs and flows and evolves with time. It is no coincidence that context is the key to unlocking ancient languages.

Not necessarily. We could go back to the texts and argue from context ourselves as well.


Anyone know exactly when the modern geometrical notion of a line beginning at some point and extending into infinity came into view? I’m sure there’s gotta be a geometry buff in here somewhere. Point is, it sure wasn’t an ancient concept. I personally think that they were too smart to come up with it - after all, look at Hilbert’s Hotel.

Windows On The World Of Jesus is a great layman’s book for understanding the ancient Mediterranean-Judean views of time, especially as highlighting Jesus’ apocryphal statements and parables. They spoke only of the present and sometimes of the forseeable future. They weren’t privvy to this modern myth of universally encompassing knowledge and objective insight that we lofty intellectuals are. :unamused:

That’s illogical, if all lexical information is suspect how would you explain the meaning of ευῥισκω.

I’m unsure of what you’re trying to say here. Is there some reason we should question BDAG’s definition of ευῥισκω? If I had no lexicon, I would simply look at how the word is used and derive it’s meaning in that way–just as a little child learns his language. ευῥισκω seems very concrete and straightforward–looking at the passages where it’s used, I easily derive “find” or “discover”, whereas abstracts such as αἰώνιος are more difficult.


No it’s not Sonia, people have done exactly the same thing with αἰώνιος and found that in it’s context eternal seems to work best most of the time. A lexicon like BDAG is simply that done by lots of people on a large scale over a long period of time. It’s flawed and biased, just as I am and you are.

There is no such thing as a pure translation or an unbiased way of giving the meaning for words. This is how language around the world works, you learn a word look at native speakers around you, does this word really mean banana? Yes, OK, next word, no it doesn’t OK what about this. A dictionary is simply a fancy way of recording what thousands of people across time have understood a word to mean. It’s simply ludicrous to say BDAG is wrong or biased and yet I have a truer less biased translation.

I don’t mean to be rude in these comments to you Sonia and write them for everyone, seriously there are much more powerful arguments for universalism then reverting to a form of arbitrary subjectivity.

Well, I guess we’ll have to disagree on that point! As I see it, the concept of eternal is extremely abstract and it’s meaning has been discussed and debated endlessly. (pun intended :stuck_out_tongue:)

Well I do agree with that…so you’re saying you don’t consider it reliable after all?

And I agree with this as well…thus I take it upon myself to “be fully convinced in my own mind” as to what I will believe or not. I certainly don’t expect you to accept my personal convictions just because I’m convinced of them. I’m happy to tell you what I think and why, but I don’t expect that you must accept my opinion as truth–and vice versa. You’re welcome to share with me your disagreement with UR, but I reserve the right to make my own judgment on the matter and I am not offended or disturbed in any way by the fact that our opinions differ. :sunglasses:

I don’t find your comments at all offensive, Luke.

I was not attempting to make an argument for universalism from the definition of aionios. I was merely discussing the meaning of the word as defined by BDAG.

The only reason this word is of such importance in the discussion of the ἀποκατάστασις is that If aionios must always mean “without end” it raises a hefty scriptural barrier against a universalist interpretation. But if it means “without end in view” or “for as long as the need remains” or “pertaining to the age to come” or “coming from God” or simply “age-lasting” or “lasting” as some say – that’s another matter.

It’s not an argument for UR, but only a removal of a possible barrier against the doctrine.

But I really am puzzled to ευῥισκω (εὗρον?) :stuck_out_tongue: what you’re trying to get at with this discussion. Maybe I should go back and read it from the beginning. So far it seems like we pretty much agree that lexicons are fallible…and doesn’t that mean we have to then go to the text to decide for ourselves what we think the word means? Or are you arguing that I should accept the lexicon’s definition because I’m flawed and biased, and should just play it safe and stick with the (also flawed and biased) majority/popular/traditional view? :wink:


Luke, we quite agree that no lexical aids are infallible. That’s why I’ve kept arguing that citing one as decisive can never substitute for debating and evaluating the linguistic evidence that lies behind various possible translations.

But I remain very puzzled about your repeated insistence that “It is ludicrous to say BDAG is wrong…” or that the translation I prefer is “truer.” This seems to require that we consider that viritually all serious scholars are “ludicrous,” since critical studies regularly argue that at some point the translation they are convinced of is more accurate than a common alternative. Isn’t this what you have often seen in reading journal articles or academic texts? I’m curious about how you derive the assumption that arguing for an interpretation that one thinks is stronger than another is necessarily ludircrous. My impression is that two people can be convinced of different translations, and neither one of them need be ludicrous.

Those are thoughts of yours that I can relate to Bob. I don’t know if the trad, ECT has the most evidence in favor of it or not. It may well have, I am all ears. I want to know why they interpreted the word aionios eternal sometimes but not others. By what criteria did they make such a choice? Is it a theologically influenced choice or is it proven that this is the words meaning regardless of what pre-understandings that are brought to the text?
Luke, I haven’t really heard any response from you as to Bob’s critique.

You ask the best questions, Roo!!! I often find myself unassuredly asking the same ones you pose! Which views are perceived to have the most or best evidence seems influenced by so many factors that influence each of us. On an overarching question like ECT, whether God will reconcile all things, or whether much of his creation ends tragically, it is especially complex. I believe the scale is probably tipped by what one sees as the most compelling themes in the overarching narrative of the Biblical account (I will post my paper on this this week). My growing sense has been that while many I respect see ‘final’ tragedy as the clearest bottom line (e.g. Joel Greene, despite endorsing Evangelical Universalist told me this is his obstacle), I increasing find the ultimate meaning of the ‘damnation’ texts is not nearly as clear as people like Packer assert that they are (e.g. see my attached paper on Gehenna in my corner). Thus it is easier for me to give more weight to the passages that sound like God’s ultimate and victorious reconciliation, and to see as most decisive the Bible’s combined emphasis on a God of love who will sovereignly and ultimately bring the ‘justice’ that sets everything right.

So specifically on aionios, I’ve argued, as Luke might agree, that all of our choices are influenced by theological assumptions or bias’. My impression is that many understand the options better than I. But as I’ve suggested before, it seems clear to me that: (1) the root meaning related to its’ noun has nothing in innate meaning that corresponds to “endless,” (2) it becomes used in differing ways in ancient literature, (3) and some of these uses cannot bear a meaning like endless. To repeat, when I press evangelical scholars on this, I find that they tell me it must mean ‘endless’ in some passages related to ‘hell,’ and then proceed to agree that points 1-3 are entirely correct: aionios does not intrinsically mean endless (but look at me in a way that I interpret as saying, ‘if I didn’t also tell you that I accept ECT, I could get fired’). So, I can acknowledge that aionios may come to be used as equivalent to endless in some passages, and even wonder if that was intended in some damnation passages. But points 1-3 at least assure me that linguistically it need not require that meaning in the ECT passages. And thus, for me (which may differ from the UR approach of others), the points above about the theological themes that are most clear and compelling to me, become decisive. Since reading the ECT passages with a translation that aionios’s etymology allows (‘pertaining to the -coming- age’) allows Scripture to be consistent with it’s over arching promise of victorious reconciliation, I pitch my tent and my hope there.

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Thanks for your reply and kindness. I do have a hunger to know that gets me in all kinds of trouble! It makes action difficult as there always seems to be another angle to consider. How tricky it is when you admit fallibility. To believe that my views are infallible would be so much easier. Not for me, though, since the evidence for fallibility is so clear!
Anyway, here is what I think is a huge challenge for the universalist: the Colossians passage about ultimate reconciliation of all things would necessarily include the evil one. That’s a tough one to develop confidence about for me. And I think that the universalist interpretation falls here if the evil one remains resistant. I seem to recall that Robin Parry met an obstacle here as well…


I’m not sure why that should be such an obstacle? I don’t find it such. Paul in Ephesians 3 seems to indicate that the salvation of the “principalities and powers” is part of the purpose of God’s mercy towards us.


I agree. Also if even Christ will make Himself subjected to the Father, the devil will be also. Like Christ, I think it will be a complete, willing and joyful subjection of the heart, mind and spirit, for people. Therefore, I also think it will be so for the devil. As James 2:13b says, “Mercy **triumphs **over judgment.”, albeit eventually :sunglasses:

I think that the Colossians passage rules out a universalism that says that all humans but not Satan will be reconciled.
“Gregory MacDonald” went as far as to consider the denial of an actual being named Satan. Sonia, maybe I felt similarly to him that it was a problem.

I agree with that, Roofus, but I was wondering if you could elaborate on why you find it a problem? I haven’t read all of The Evangelical Universalist and am not familiar with Robin’s difficulty on that issue.


Yes, If Colossians implies that evil will be overcome in that sense, I too don’t see why that is an insurmountable idea. My impression is that Parry and Talbott don’t either, and are open to it. I don’t comprehend the nature of evil, but if it is centered in persons, I actually think the vision of redeeming them seems grand. If God reconciles a sinner like me, why should I find it a deal breaker that he would reconcile others who also share in evil?

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The same author as BDAG, Danker, produced another lexicon in 2009.

The info BDAG contains is mostly just context-less citations or citations with a few out of context words.

BDAG generally provides no basis or reasons for their conclusions.

Many people just blindly believe whatever BDAG says like it’s an infallible pontiff for Protestants.

Moreover BDAG is selective in its inclusion of ancient references, often omitting many of them. For the aionion entry, for example, it left out dozens of usages of the word where it refers to a finite duration, which i give here:

If Jesus wished to express endless punishment, then He would have used expressions such as “endless”, “no end” & “never be saved” as per:

Jesus didn’t use the best words & expressions to describe endlessness in regards to punishment, because He didn’t believe in endless punishment.

ENDLESSNESS not applied to eschatological PUNISHMENT in Scripture:

12 points re forever and ever (literally to/into “the ages of the ages”) being finite:

Here is what BDAG says re Col.1:20:

“…found only in Christian writers…reconcile everything in his own person, i.e. the universe is to form a unity, which has its goal in Christ Col 1:20…” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament & Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), 3rd edition, 2000, p.112).

Co.1:16 For by Him ALL was created that are in HEAVEN and that are on EARTH, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All was created through Him and for Him.
20 and by Him to reconcile ALL to Himself, by Him, whether on EARTH or in HEAVEN, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

This states the purpose of Love Omnipotent’s - divine will - in sending His Son:

For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world would be saved through Him. (Jn.3:17)

The IVA (“that”) is used in Jn.3:17 above. BDAG says “In many cases purpose and result cannot be clearly differentiated, and hence ἵνα is used for the result that follows according to the purpose of the subj. or of God. As in Semitic and Gr-Rom. thought, purpose and result are identical in declarations of the divine will…”ἵνα/el/xx/

The IVA also occurs in Phil.2:9-11:

Phil.2:9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that IN the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NASB)

What is the “world” in Jn.1:29; 3:17, 4:42 according to BDAG? According to BDAG by “world” in such verses is meant “humanity in general”. Jesus Himself would be the only exception:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (Jn.1:29)

They said to the woman, "We now believe not only because of your words; we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man truly is the Savior of the world. (Jn.4:42)

For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world would be saved through Him. (Jn.3:17)

And BDAG again, re Rom.5:18, is quoted in this commentary:

“Paul declares, however, that the effects of Christ’s obedience are far greater for mankind than the effect of Adam’s fall. For the third (5:15) and fourth (5:17) times in this chapter he makes explicit use of the ‘qal wahomer’ (“from minor to major”) form of argument that is commonly used in rabbinic literature, expressed by “much more”…cf. earlier use at 5:9,10…And as in the case of the typology previously used (5:14), here, too, the form of the argument is antithetical. The grace of God extended to humanity in the event of Christ’s death has abounded “for the many” (5:15b), which corresponds to the “all” of 5:12,18. The free gift given by God in Christ more than matches the sin of Adam and its effects; it exceeds it…”

"Contrasts are also seen in the results of the work of each. Adam’s trespass or disobedience has brought condemnation (κατάκριμα, 5:18); through his act many were made sinners (5:19). Christ’s “act of righteousness” results in “justification of life” (δικαίωσιν ζωῆς) for all (5:18). The term δικαίωσιν can be translated as “justification” (NIV, NRSV; but RSV has “acquittal”) - the opposite of “condemnation”. The word ζωῆς (“of life”) is a genitive of result, providing the outcome of justification, so that the phrase may be rendered “justification resulting in life”. 108

  1. BDAG 250 (δικαίωσιν): “acquittal that brings life”. The construction is variously called a “genitive of apposition”, an “epexegetical genitive” or “genitive of purpose”. Cf. BDF 92 (S166). The meaning is the same in each case: justification which brings life."

“The universality of grace in Christ is shown to surpass the universality of sin. Christ’s “act of righteousness” is the opposite of Adam’s “tresspass” and equivalent to Christ’s “obedience”, which was fulfilled in his being obedient unto death (Phil 2:8). The results of Christ’s righteous action and obedience are “justification resulting in life for all persons”…5:18…and “righteousness” for “many” (5:19). The term “many” in 5:19 is equivalent to “all persons”, and that is so for four reasons: (1) the parallel in 5:18 speaks in its favor; (2) even as within 5:19 itself, “many were made sinners” applies to all mankind, so “many will be made righteous” applies to all; (3) the same parallelism appears in 5:15, at which “many” refers to “all”; and (4) the phrase “for many” is a Semitism which means “all”, as in Deutero-Isaiah 52:14; 53:11-12; Mark…10:45; 14:24; Heb.12:15. The background for Paul’s expression is set forth in Deutero-Isaiah, where it is said that “the righteous one”…the Lord’s servant, shall make “many” to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their sins …Isa.53:11…”

“It is significant, and even astounding, that justification is here said to be world-embracing. Nothing is said about faith as a prerequisite for justification to be effective, nor about faith’s accepting it.”

(Paul’s Letter To The Romans: A Commentary, Arland J. Hultgren, Eerdmans, 2011, 804 pg, p.227, 229)

The Kittel (TDNT, 1964) entry on aionion is full of opinions but almost entirely barren of examples of the usage of the word in ancient Greek. It provides 11 pages re aion, but a paltry page & a half on aionios (cf. Vol. 1, p.197-209).

The entry on aionion (p.208-209) is the work of one man, Sasse.

It states on p.208 “In later prose & poetry [aionion] is also used in the sense of “lifelong” or “enduring” in accordance with the basic meaning -> [aion].”

Sasse opines "In the LXX [olam] is often rendered adjectively by [aionion], the sense thus being affected, e.g. in [Psalm 24:7]…(“everlasting doors”) instead of “ancient doors”;

Yet Sasse provides no basis for that opinion, while the LXX consistently renders olam by aion & aionion… Many versions, BTW, have “ancient doors” (Psa.24:7; NIV, NASB, ESV, etc).

Sasse (TDNT) opines “In the LXX…[Psa. 77:5] “eternal years”…instead of “years long past”…”, yet almost every version does not say “eternal”:

Even translations of the LXX:

I considered the days of old, and remembered ancient years. (Psa.77:5, Brenton, LXX)
I considered the days of old: I recollected the years of ancient times; (CTT, LXX)
I considered the days of old, and remembered ancient years. (CAB, LXX)
I considered the days of old, and remembered ancient years. (LXX 2012) 77

Sasse opines that the “concept of eternity is weakened in…R.16:25; 2 Tim.1:9; Tt.1:2…The phrase in Phlm. 15…reminds us of the non-biblical usage (-> 208) and of…“slave for life” in Dt.15:17” (p.208-209, TDNT, Vol. 1, by Sasse).

“Josephus in “The Wars of the Jews” book 6, states that Jonathan was condemned to “αἰωνιος” imprisonment.”

According to TDNT, ed Kittel, author Sasse, Vol 1, p.168, Sasse remarks "Cf. for this expression Jos.Bell.,6,434…“of the lifelong imprisonment of John…”, with “lifelong” being the Greek word aionios.

TDNT says re the remedy for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit:

“It denotes the conscious and wicked rejection of the saving power and grace of God towards man. Only the man who sets himself against forgiveness is excluded from it. In such cases the only remedy is to deliver up to Satan that he may learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:20)” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, TDNT, ed. Kittel, Vol.1, p.624, by Beyer).

TDNT also says “ἀποκαταλλάσσω is found in the NT only in Col. and Eph., where καταλλάσσω does not occur. Since it is never found prior to Paul, it is perhaps coined by him…In men [it] is preceded by alienation and enmity (Col.1:22)…Col.1:20 speaks of the gracious purpose which God had demonstrated…to reconcile the whole world to Himself; it does not speak of a reconciliation of the world already concluded. ἀποκαταλλάξαι cannot refer merely to the removal of a relationship of guilt by God, since it is plainly expounded as a conclusion of peace in Col.1:20 and Eph.2:15. Hence it is not something one-sided. It embraces the total life situation of man. It does not refer merely to his guilt before God. In Eph.2:16 reconciliation to God also brings reconciliation to Jews and Gentiles, and in Col.1:20 the reconciliation of men to God also carries with it that of supraterrestrial beings” (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol.1, p.258-259, Friedrich Buschel, ed. Gerhard Kittel, 1st printing 1964, 2006).

The best way to understand the meaning(s) of a Greek word is to examine how the word is used in Greek texts. It has already been pointed out that “αιωνιος” was used by the Jewish historian Josephus in “The Wars of the Jews” to describe Jonathan’s imprisonment. Clearly that was not an eternal imprisonment!

Also, in the Septuagint, a translation of Hebrew texts into Greek around 300 B.C., Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish was described as “αιωνιος,” and that experience lasted only three days.

In my opinion the word “lasting” is the best translation of “αιωνιος,” and works well as a translation in virtually every context.