Can We Know What


…the Truth is regarding universalism, annihilationism and ECT if we don’t know for sure what the word aionios means?


It probably means slightly different things in each context.

But maybe that is part of God’s somewhat “devious” plan.

The ambiguity forcefully drives us to dig deeper in the Scriptures to determine its meaning based upon the context and what we know definitively about God’s character from other passages. In so doing we learn more about God, in a variety of ways, and get closer to Him.

So perhaps our theological position does not depend upon the word aionios, but the meaning of the word depends upon our theological position. Maybe we are being required to build our beliefs upon the whole counsel of God rather than a few specific texts. And quite possibly, that’s a good idea.


Roofus, this reaction to your intriguing question is from Bob Wilson:

How unique is this predicament? Would the prevalence of diverse views on countless lexical and exegetical questions then mean that we should confess that “we don’t know for sure” about the whole range of theological beliefs?

Or, for example, if one perceived that the meaning of the word pas (all) was much more clear in contexts concerning the ultimate extent of who God will justify and reconcile, than is the meaning of aionios in the context of ‘punishment,’ would you say that this would allow one to properly “know” that universalist belief was justified, or would it just be reasonable to hold that view, or less than that? It seems to me, that someone like Keith de Rose (or Bell’s doctoral exegesis) who argues that Romans 5 is a linguistically definitive assertion of universalism, could at least reasonably beieve that the burden of proof is on the non-universalist who may feel obligated to concede that aionios is capable of various definitions.


Thanks, Bob and “auggy”!
Who, may I ask, is the aforementioned “Bell”?


Sorry for the obscure allusion to R. Bell, a NT scholar who wrote an article much cited in serious discussions on the exegesis of universalism: “Romans 5:18-19 and Universal Salvation” in 2002’s journal, New Testament Studies, pages 417-32. By the way, the respected NT scholar at Luther Seminary, Roland Hultgren embraced a similar conclusion that Paul was asserting universalism in his 1985 book, “Paul’s Gospel and Mission; His Outlook in Romans,” esp. pp. 82-124.


Hi roofus:

To set things up so that the entire understanding/acceptance/rejection of UR, ECT, or annihilation rests on understanding one word seems a bit much to ask of any word.
Except, maybe, the word…


For in my estimation, those who accept either ECT or annihilation display a very questionable doctrine of love…
(I love you so… I’ll have to burn you forever, or, dispose of you somehow… annihilation. Simply doesn’t work for me.)

Or what about the word “freedom” – what sort of free (eg John 8:32) person choses ECT or annihilation?? Only the deluded make such self destructive choices.

Talbott has nicely shown that ample evidence exists for Calvinism, Arminianism, and Universalism. Yet one cannot be all three at once. Thus other themes and evidence must be recruited to make ones choice.
The very same dynamics are at play then when trying to discern this word; it must fit into a bigger picture. A picture formed and informed from every source possible…

Which is sorta like what I hear Bob Wilson saying…



Perhaps my understanding of the word is naive and overly simplistic, but the more I’ve studied the subject the more convinced I’ve become that aionios is employed by the NT authors as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew olam, and that the Hebrew Scriptures may be used as a dictionary of sorts for many of the words and expressions used in the NT whose meanings might otherwise be quite ambiguous and uncertain. Of course, the question then becomes “so what does olam mean?” And the beauty of allowing the Hebrew Scriptures to inform our understanding of aionios is that we can know with certainty what the word doesn’t necessarily mean: absolute unending duration (and although my position is certainly a minority one, I would go so far as to say that it never means this).


“To set things up so that the entire understanding/acceptance/rejection of UR, ECT, or annihilation rests on understanding of one word seems a bit much to ask of any word.”

It can call into question whether one’s previous interpretation is accurate if there are verses utilizing such a word that don’t seem to fit said interpretation. The explanatory power of an interpretation is only as good as its ability to explain all of scripture. That’s my take.