The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Matthew 25:46

I am new to universal reconciliation.

Can someone please explain to me Matthew 25:46 …

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I am sure it has been asked before, but if eternal in punishment doesn’t mean forever, what does the eternal in life mean? Some say it means ages, but isn’t that the same thing? If punishment lasts for ages, and eternal life lasts for ages, doesn’t that imply the same duration?

Your answers would be much appreciated!


Welcome to the forum Brian!

That’s ok, we’ve all been new to it at some stage :slight_smile:

There’s more than one way to answer this question, for example:

  1. Someone will experience punishment eternally until God intervenes and gives them eternal life.

  2. “Eternal” is almost certainly a mistranslation of the NT Greek word aionios. It can be demonstrated that it’s a word with a wide range of meanings (e.g. ancient, lasting, pertaining to an age or ages, eonian, age-during, beyond the horizon, unseen). As you can see, these options are indefinite but usually with an impression of reasonable length of time (I say impression because Jonah’s time in the fish is described as aionios, and even though from his perspective, there was no end in sight, that only lasted 3 days!) .

Option 2, doesn’t rule out the eternal life because:
A) There are plenty of other passages that describe the aionios life as being in the direct sustaining/renewing presence of God, being without death, decay, rust, etc.

B) There’s almost certainly multiple ages, therefore the punishment could be for the first few & the life could be for all of them.

Also, there are at least two other places in scripture where the same Greek term refers to something truly eternal in contrast to something that eventually ends, despite both things being described as “eonian”. (There are several threads around on the topic for more detail; I’m at the house, so I’m pulling things off the top of my head. Eventually I’ll add it as an Exegetical Commentary entry.)

That means the context determines whether eonian should be regarded as really everlasting or not even when there are two parallel uses of the term in close proximity, and even when one of those two uses certainly means everlasting.

In this case, the determining contexts are all the little details of the parable added up together: the “goats” are “baby goats” and are part of the flock of the shepherd, and (putting it a little overbriefly) are about to be punished as the least of the flock, for the way they treated the least of the flock as though the other leasts were being hopelessly punished. Far from being a testimony to hopeless punishment, the whole parable turns out to be a warning to the disciples not to think highly of themselves (because the people who didn’t even realize Christ was going to judge them get in) and not to treat people punished by God hopelessly or they’ll share the same punishment!

So it’s a Synoptic unexpected riddle test, the final one in GosMatt: are readers/hearers going to interpret what happens to the baby goats the way the baby goats (the least of Christ’s flock) would expect the least of the flock to be punished? Or are we going to interpret the parable the way the mature flock and the Good Shepherd would, with salvation for the least of Christ’s flock? The wording of the final judgment, speaking of eonian kolasis, allows a hopeful interpretation or a hopeless one: but the context indicates the hopeless punishment interpretation is the wrong answer.

(The verse about the eonian fire prepared for the devil and his angels makes no difference, since it’s explicitly about the same punishment and the fire is what is described as eonian not the punishment: there is only one eonian fire ontologically, God the Holy Spirit, and we ought to all be going into that fire!–our attitude and impenitence determines whether God is punishing us thereby or not.)

Matthew 25:46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

In my opinion, Barclay is correct.

But How can correction be eternal? Would the correction never be accomplished? If so, it would not be correction. If it were accomplished, it would not be eternal. But does the word “aionios” really mean “eternal”? If so, then some verses would have strange meanings indeed!

Mark 3:29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"—

How can a sin be eternal?

Luke 16:9 "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

If this means eternal dwellings in heaven, then this verse implies that you can buy your way there.

Titus 1:2 in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised before eternal times.

How can there be a period of time before eternal times? “Before eternal times” is the literal translation if “aiōnios” means “eternal”.

Philemon 1:15 Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back eternally.

How could Philemon have his slave back eternally? Would the slave continue to serve him forever in the next life?

Jude 1:7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Did Sodom and Gomorrah undergo punishment in eternal fire? Didn’t that fire go out ages ago?

So the word “aionios” should not be translated as “eternal” but as “lasting”. The word “lasting” can be applied either to temporal things or to eternal things.

Matthew 25:46 ought to be translated

And they will go away into lasting correction, but the righteous into lasting life.

Those who do not minister “to the least of these” (Christ’s brethren) will require lasting correction. The correction of each person may be painful, and it will continue until it has completely corrected (changed) the character of the offender.
But those who do minister to these needy ones will go away into lasting life. Yes, it will be eternal, but that which is eternal is also lasting. So the word “lasting” may be applied to it.

Looking at “eternal” as a quantitative reality I see it meaning “age-lasting” – now an “age” can last a long, long time and yet not be endless, though it seem that way. Viewing “eternal” as a qualitative reality allows scope for the hyperbolic use of language often employed in the bible – as the psalmist says… “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” i.e., from antiquities into perpetuity He is the God of each and every age.

The Greek word translated as “eternal” in the NT is usually “αιωνιος”. I think I showed in my previous post why it can’t mean “eternal”. However, it can’t mean “age-lasting” either, if we consider Jonah’s words to the Lord while he was in the belly of the fisth (as given in the Greek Septuagint):

Water was poured around me to the soul: the lowest deep compassed me, my head went down to the clefts of the mountains; I went down into the earth, whose bars are the everlasting barriers: yet, O lord my God, let my ruined life be restored. (Jonah 2:5,6 A translation of the Septuagint)

Once again the word “αιωνιος” was translated as “everlasting”. But were those barriers everlasting or even age-lasting? If so, it was a pretty short age. Jonah was free from the fish’s belly in 3 days! I say the word simply means “lasting”.

Welcome to the EU forum BFJ. Please take time to introduce yourself in the introduction section. We’d like to know you.

Others have given solid replies to your question concerning “eternal”, aionios. I’ve found it to most often be a reference to the age-to-come. So it would be “age-to-come life” and “age-to-come chastisement”. The passage is about social maturity, living compassionately, not self-centeredly, seeing and meeting the needs of others around you. God will chastize the selfish, the self-asbsorbed and reward those who give their lives in service to others, if not in this life surely in the life to come! Also, note that Jesus is seperating members of his flock from one another, best translated the kids (baby goats, eriphos) from the flock (proboton), not the saved from the unsaved, but the socially mature from the immature (selfish).

Mistranslating this passage to warn of saved vs. unsaved does one of two things. It either 1) makes salvation based on works, how good one is to one’s fellow man. And if that’s the case, who of us will be saved! Or 2) it nullifies the power of this passage to call anyone to repentance. Believers say, “No worries. I’m good to go because Jesus died for me.” And unbelievers don’t care what it says because they don’t believe anyhow.

Taking the passages on judgment and punishment of sin to warn of punishiment for the unsaved nullifies their intended power and purpose. Most passages warning of judgment are meant to call the children of God to repentance, a holy life filled with love for God and people. “To whom much is given much is required.”

Hi Paidion…

I’d say… lasting or age-lasting or lasting an age i.e., an inordinate amount of time, or as Young’s Translation has it “age-during” or “to the age” are all in essence the same thing and would describe exactly Jonah’s predicament before being freed, even though as it subsequently transpired it was a mere three days – and I’m saying “mere” slightly tongue in cheek as 72 in deepest darkest captivity would have felt horrendously endless.

A number of OC institutions were said to be “eternal” and yet were in vogue ONLY “for an age” or **for as long as **God was dealing with a specific people in a specific way, i.e., “age-enduring” or age-lasting. “Circumcision” is a classic example, instituted by God as an “eternal covenant” with Israel [Gen 17:13], yet there was an end-age coming [1Cor 10:11] in Christ where that “eternal” OC rite would cease, finding fulfillment and new significance in Christ of which was always its point to be being but a shadow [2Cor 1:20; Col 2:17].


There’s a bit of a subtle distinction going on between people like myself who allow that eonian can mean eternal (but doesn’t always mean that), and Paidion who simplifies it down to a still-useful meaning of “lasting”.

I actually agree with Paidion, but I’m talking about the application of the term and thus its meaning in context, not its inherent meaning. It doesn’t inherently mean never-ending ever-lasting or eternal, but (because it inherently means “lasting”, or very literally “ageish”) it can be applied to mean that.

Similarly I find in the NT (not always in the OT, but the OT is largely pre-Plato) that the term can universally be interpreted to mean a quality from God, like “divine” or (even though it isn’t a prepositional phrase) “from God” in the sense of being uniquely something God does. God (as the verse from Habbukuk says when comparing God with the hills) is the only one Who is truly eonian, and His ways are the only truly eonian ways. The hills only seem eonian. The secret of Christ was held a very long time (as that verse near the end of Romans says), but was revealed at last by the eonian God: the time wasn’t everlasting but God is. (Yet the hills and the time come uniquely from God, as in fact God comes uniquely from God, being the one and only actively self-existent ground of all reality!)

In that sense, verse 46 would mean the life is God’s own life, uniquely from God, and the punishment (or {kolasis}) is God’s own judgment, uniquely from God. That’s still neutral as to whether it’s everlasting or not; the life is everlasting, the punishment isn’t, based on the choice and character of God.

This may be a matter of semantics. Jason says “aionios” sometimes MEANS “eternal” in particular contexts.
I say it never MEANS “eternal” but is sometimes used to describe that which is eternal.

It would be analagous to Jason saying that “tall” sometimes MEANS 50 ft. high (when applied to buildings 50 ft. high)
But I would say that the word “tall” never MEANS 50 ft. high, but is sometimes used to describe objects which are 50 ft. high.