The Evangelical Universalist Forum

"into" the ages of ages

If the Greek behind “into” really can mean “into” then there is absolutely no problem with “into the ages of ages.” It simply means that they will enter “into” the ages of ages being tormented day and night, with an outcome which is contiguous with that torment in such a way as “day and night” to be a perfectly appropriate synecdoche. This would be the case either with or without conditional futurism, since the intensity of the “into” could in some way be coupled with limited free will. In this case, they could then be in state of humble repentance “throughout” the ages of ages, and at some point “in” the ages of ages they could even be restored from their state of joy-filled, expectant humiliation and have their fortunes restored together with the elect. So, what I do not understand is why non-universalists do not make it clear that “into” would in fact be a weak translation, and that what the Greek really means is “absolutely throughout.” So are the non-universalists missing a great opportunity to prove themselves right which they just havent bothered to think about, or am I right that the weak sense is an entirely natural / fitting reading of the Greek?

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OK, maybe I didnt word it well.

If I drive “eis” Oxford, I might in fact drive to the park and ride, and then catch a bus. In the same way, is is possible to enter “eis” the ages upon ages tormented day and night, but by the time I meet the middle of the ages and ages I am actually in a state of peace-filled humble repentance, humbly waiting on God for my restoration (a train to London)? Or if I say I drive “eis” Oxford does it necessarily mean that I drive into it, all the way through it and then out the other side? Because this is what people claim, that “eis tous aoinas ton aionem” means “tormented day and night into, throughout and right up to the end of” the ages of ages.

And simply changing “into” with “unto” makes no difference to the argument.

Dear qaz: evidently you must pursue more reading! Aionios does not mean forever, nor eternal. In fact, St. John defines aionios clearly for us>>>

“This is zoe aionios that we may know You, and Jesus Christ whom You did send.”

It actually means “age,” and my question is about the Greek which transliterates to “into the ages of ages.” Specially it is about whether “into” means “into,” as I should imagine it does, or whether it actually means “absolutely throughout,” as the non-universalists emphatically claim.

Good point, Chris!

I hate to be picky, but I think you mean “translates” rather than “transliterates.” The latter word refers to taking the letters of one language and substituting those of another language. For example, the Greek word “θεος” transliterates to English is “theos” but translates to English as “God.”

Thanks Paidon. I was responding whilst trying to watch a film with my wife. I wanted a more specific word than “translates,” to capture “translates word for word,” which might not be the same thing as “translates,” but I didn’t know what that word might be so I chose a completely incorrect word instead…Sorry…

Paidon - what do you think? We know that the very nature of language itself is metonymical (unless you are Martin Luther, and you insist that when Jesus said “this is my body,” he was actually talking about a metaphysical equivalence of some strange kind.) So, I boil a kettle. What I mean is that I boil the water in the kettle. Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world…

They will be “severely tested,” “day and night,” “into,” “the ages of the ages.” Now, as an evangelical universalist, I think I can say that, metonymically, what John means is that their ultimate repentance will be thoroughly transformative, AND that this transformation very definitely begins with “severe testing,” AND that it lasts as long as it takes, AND without any pauses (day and night), pauses in which they might otherwise interrupt the peace and security of John’s target audience (Christians being emboldened to face persecution.)

So I believe the passage to be metonymical, because I am not a literalistic fundamentalist…because the only way to be a literalistic fundamentalist is to make Scripture one’s footstool, pronouncing judgment on it eisegetically, rather than sitting underneath it and being judged (transformed) by it.

The question is simply how far beneath the surface of the text do you need to go to reach its ultimate meaning? If “Eis tous” simply means “into,” then the answer is not very far at all: it’s pretty much there at the surface…If “Eis tous” means “absolutely throughout” then the answer is a little bit deeper, unless the so-called “conditional futurism” can be employed. (Of course, “conditional futurism” and a metonymical reading of prophecy are mutually compatible anyway.)

A word of testimony. In my own life, I was once released from my job due to making a bad judgment call with very bad consequences. 6 months later, I read in Ezekiel about the concept of having one’s fortunes restored in order that one may feel ashamed. My fortunes were restored, and I was given a much better job, much more suited to my skills, and right now I feel joyfully, gratefully…ashamed. With a little bit of a stretch I could even say that my pride is thoroughly and severely subdued - perhaps, as Jude would say, “chained,” beneath a severe testing, aidios in its effects.

It seems the only way to determine whether “eis tous” means “into” or “absolutely throughout” is to find an example of exactly the same idiom in classical literature. As far as I am aware, there are not very many people who have the authority to do this.

I don’t have much time right now, Chris. But I will say that the expression is

εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων (eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn)

This expression occurs 21 times in the New Testament.

The second and fourth words are simply the Greek article for “the”.
So the expression translates literally as "into the ages of the ages.
The reason that the first article differs from the second is that it, like “ages” which it modifies, is in the accusative case, being that the first “ages” is in the accusative case (in English the objective case).
The second article is in the genitive case as is the second “ages.” Both “ages” is plural.
“eis tous” doesn’t exist in isolation. If it did, it would mean “into the.”

My understanding is that it refers simply to entering the “ages of the ages” and does not mean “absolutely throughout.”

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That’s very helpful. Thank you very much.

I’m not sure if ages of ages has a literal meaning and isn’t rather an idiom, in Hebrew there is generations of generations, in the Septuagint it is translated “into generations of generations” as well.

Sven, would you please provide the OT reference for that?

These are some interesting verses, also how it is translated to the Greek:

Exodus 3:15

Deuteronomy 32:7

Psalms 61:6, 72:5, 77:8, 102:24

Isaiah 34:17, 51:8, 58:12

Joel 2:2, 3:20

There is also frequently the phrase in the LXX “into their generations” eis tas genas auton, e.g. Leviticus 7:36

Often “generations of generations” is paralled with “into eon” but also associated with years; the phrase is also found in Luke 1:50.

I suggest these tools:

Hi Sven… these are indeed Hebraic idioms. Whenever a word in the Hebrew is repeated it is understood as an intensification of the same. Where Jesus prefaces a statement with… “amen amen” he means… truly without question!! Or where God pronounces… “you will SURELY die!!” the Hebrew simply reads as… “die die” i.e., it’s an intensified statement, leaving NO doubts.

Thanks Sven. I began looking for the phrase “into generations of generations” in the Septuagint in the verses you provided-, but did not find it until I came to Isaiah 51:8. However, there it was!
That one example is enough to convince me. Thanks again!

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Has it helped your understanding, what’s your conclusion?

Some verses differ in number in the Septuagint and most translations are imprecise, I suggest the Interlinear.

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So we have 3 options: (i) actual specific beings aren’t even being referenced, (ii) the phrase is metonymical at some level (as is all language), (iii) it’s an idiom. Of course, these options are all mutually inclusive too. So, the requirement which I continue to place on all of my theology is that there is no realistic worst case scenario which could undermine that theology. Due diligence pursued through death and resurrection, you might say. And so evangelical universalism continues to stand firm even when faced with a text whose face value has been conditioned by 1500 years of ECT.

Actually, 6.5 options. The 5th option is prophetic conditionalism (as per Jonah.) I am not convinced about this, because of difficulties surrounding Jesus’ own insistence that “Scripture must be fulfilled,” although this difficulty can itself be further unpacked (not on this thread though.) The 6th option is “for a very, very, very long time.” The final half an option is a modification of the 6th option: “a very, very long time, from whose perspective?” From the perspective of the righteous, whose names have already come to be written in the book of life - to whom Revelation was actually written? Because even in this aion, the “speed of time” depends entirely on one’s reference frame…So 6.5 possible interpretations of the verse which most evangelicals try not to read too often. So I praise God for making it absolutely and perfectly clear that evil, sin, lies, death will finally be destroyed.

I think there was a 4th option in there, but I forgot about it due to being too excited about the final half an option.

This discussion is quite interesting:

I came to the conclusion however, that we need a Jewish or Semitic perspective on the term, even back at the day Augustine did not understand the meaning of that phrase, what do Jews or Semitic scholars understand by that phrase, are there similar phrases in Arab, maybe in the Quran?