The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Talbott on Matthew 25:41, 46?

Hi Tom,

I appreciate your work on 2 Thessalonians 1:9. May I ask you how you handle Matthew 25:41, 46?

Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; (Matthew 25:41 NASB)

These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46 NASB)

Thank You.

Hi Jim,

Let’s begin with Matthew 25:46 because so many have appealed to this text in support of the following egregiously fallacious argument: If, according to Jesus, eternal life is literally unending life, then eternal punishment must also be unending torment (or at least unending separation from God). We can illustrate the fallacy in such reasoning, moreover, without entering into any controversy concerning the correct translation of the Greek “aionios” (whether, for example, it should be translated as “eternal,” “everlasting,” or simply “age enduring”). So let us simply grant, at least for the sake of argument, whichever of these translations a given person might prefer.

Whatever its correct translation, “aionios” is clearly an adjective and must therefore function like an adjective, and it is the very nature of an adjective for its meaning to vary, sometimes greatly, depending upon which noun it qualifies. For more often than not, the noun helps to determine the precise force of the adjective. As an illustration, set aside the Greek word “aionios” for a moment and consider the English word “everlasting.” I think it safe to say that the basic meaning of this English word is indeed everlasting. So now consider how the precise force of “everlasting” varies depending upon which noun it qualifies. An everlasting struggle would no doubt be a struggle without end, an unending temporal process that never comes to a point of resolution and never gets completed. But an everlasting change, or an everlasting correction, or an everlasting transformation would hardly be an unending temporal process that never gets completed; instead, it would be a temporal process of limited duration, or perhaps simply an instantaneous event, that terminates in an irreversible state. So however popular it might be, the argument that “aionios” must have exactly the same force regardless of which noun it qualifies in Matthew 25:46 is clearly fallacious.

Accordingly, even if we should translate “aionios” with the English word “everlasting,” a lot would still depend upon how we understand the relevant nouns in our text: the nouns “life” (zoe) and “punishment” (kolasis). Now the kind of life in question, being rightly related to God, is clearly an end in itself, even as the kind of punishment in question seems just as clearly to be a means to an end. For as one New Testament scholar, William Barclay, has pointed out, “kolasis” “was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better.” Barclay also claimed that “in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment”–which is probably a bit of a stretch, since the language of correction and the language of retribution often get mixed together in ordinary language. But in any event, if “kolasis” does signify punishment of a remedial or a corrective kind, as I think it does in Matthew 25:46, then we can reasonably think of such punishment as everlasting in the sense that its corrective effects literally endure forever. Or, to put it another way: An everlasting correction, whenever successfully completed, would be a temporal process of limited duration that terminates in the irreversible state of being rightly related to God. Certainly nothing in the context of Matthew 25 excludes such an interpretation.

This would not be my preferred interpretation, however, because the English word “everlasting” does not accurately capture the special religious meaning that “aionios” typically has in the New Testament. Here is how I expressed my own understanding of this matter in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, p. 46:

So, even as the fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah was eternal in the sense that it expressed God’s eternal character and purpose in a special way, the same is true of the fire to which Matthew 25:41 alludes. That fire is eternal in the sense that, despite the harsh sounding language, it expresses God’s eternal love for us in a special, albeit especially severe, way. For as we read in Hebrews 12:29, the eternal God is also a consuming fire, one that will eventually consume all that is false within us. In no other way could God perfect all of us and express his eternal love for all of us. And similarly for eternal punishment: Like any of God’s eternal actions in time, it should be interpreted theologically as a process or event that has its causal source in the eternal God himself. Or, as William Barclay put it, “Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give” (A Spiritual Biography, p. 66).

A lot more could be said about the way in which Jesus typically expressed himself. But perhaps we can take up some of that in subsequent discussion.

Thanks, Jim, for raising an important issue.



Such as, to give one semi-random example, the term “re-tribution” itself (which literally means to bring a rebel back into giving tribute again, i.e. back to being a loyal subject.)

I love making that example. :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

And I came to pretty much the same conclusion regarding the meaning of {aio_nios} myself several years ago: it means that the object of the adjective comes from God’s own essential and unique reality as the One Who is Everlasting. The life is from God, the fire is from God, the whole-ruination is from God, the brisk cleaning is from God, and at least once God is from God. :smiley: (Hardly a problem for an orthodox trinitarian or at least an orthodox binitarian. Also the concept fits very well into the OT notion of the Visible YHWH Who tends to show up frequently in famous, and some not-so-famous, OT stories.)

So did an Anglican Theologian by the name of Frederick Dennison Maurice. … &ct=result

To him, “eternal punishment” meant “Providential punishment,” and to “perish everlastingly” ment to feel the absence of real life.

This may even be relevant to a discusion I started here (as he used this understanding of aionian/aeternum to explain his interpretation of the damnatory clauses in the Athanasian Creed), but he seems to have gone too far.

He seems to have taken timelesness/Divinity to be the essential meaning of “aion.”

And this would seem to make gibberish of the expression translated “forever and ever” in our English Bible (“aion tou aionios,” if my memory serves me correctly.)

Wouldn’t such an expression have to mean something like “unto the age of ages,” or “for ages and ages”?

Not my strong point but isn’t ‘The age of ages’ (meaning the greatest of ages) similar to ‘The King of kings and Lord of lords’?

I believe the two expresions do have similar meanings, which is why I can’t entirely agree with Maurice:

[The Word “Eternal” and the Punishment of the Wicked] I am sorry you spent so much time in seeking for this test, I would have told you at once, if you had asked me, that the word Eternal seemed to me a better equivalent for the word aiwnioV than Everlasting. Since aetas is the obvious translation for aiwn, the cognate Latin adjective seems peculiarly suitable to express the cognate Greek adjective. Since there is nothing that apparently corresponds to the Greek substantive in the Saxon adjective, it must, I should conceive, offer a less adequate substitute. The passages which you have collected to show how closely the use of aiwn is connected in the New Testament with the use of aiwnioV greatly favour this conclusion. I was so convinced on this ground of the superiority of the Latin derivative, that I ventured to complain of our translators for joining with it the word Everlasting in Matthew xxv. 46. My main objection, indeed, was to the ambiguity which arises from the use of two words for one; still I had no doubt which ought to have been chosen, which thrown aside. Two of the apologies which you offer for the translators I am sure they would indignantly have repudiated. They never would have dared to think about the “rhythm” of a passage in which our Lord declares what He will do when He shall sit upon the throne of His glory and before Him are gathered all nations. They could never have taken a word merely because an old translator from the Vulgate, in the infancy of our language, had found no better. Your other reason that they sought to connect the Saxon word with the Latin, offers a more valid–not, I think, a quite satisfactory–excuse for them. I conceive that they felt the value of the word Eternal; they shewed that they did by using it so frequently in spite of their fondness for Saxon. They were too well acquainted with the controversies of the fourth century, and with the history of theology, not to know how important it is that there should be a word expressing a permanent fixed state, not a succession of moments. The word aiwn, or aetas, served this purpose. Like our own word “Period,” it does not convey so much the impression of a line as of a circle. It does not suggest perpetual progress, but fixedness and completeness. The word "aiwnioV, or Æternus, derived from these, seemed to have been divinely contrived to raise us out of our Time notions,–to suggest the thought of One who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; to express those spiritual or heavenly things which are subject to no change or succession. The King James translators, therefore, hailed the word with which Tyndale or some one else had provided them, as a precious addition to the resources and powers of the language.

I confess I’m somewhat baffled by the statement:

“Like our own word ‘Period,’ it does not convey so much the impression of a line as of a circle. It does not suggest perpetual progress, but fixedness and completeness.”

I assume he’s referring to the word “Period” as it’s used in “the Classical Period,” but this doesn’t convey “the impression of a circle” to my mind.

I would very much like to agree with Maurice (as it would eliminate any problem I might have with the Athanasian Creed), so if anyone understands what he’s saying here, please point it out to me.

What would “unto the period of periods” mean, would such an expression make any sense (and if it did, wouldn’t it mean more or less the same as “unto the age of ages”)?

I agree, that would be going too far. But that doesn’t seem to be the ground of his paragraph that you presented afterward. While his explication of {aio_n} is far off base (the word as it stands in the Greek NT at any rate simply means a particular span of time, of indeterminate length in the sense that it doesn’t automatically mean 1000 years or any specific number–the eon might never end, or it might pass away and transition to a new eon), I do think he is correct about the adjective {aio_nion} (with proper grammatic suffix changes of course, where applicable) pointing to that which is above natural time: i.e. to God. I’m told that this is how the term was used in the metaphysics of some Greek philosophers of the period as well.

It should be noted that this application to Matt 25:41,46 doesn’t immediately land in favor of universalism: no non-universalist would disagree that the hopeless punishment comes from God. (Or, rather, quite a few of them do disagree with that and try to disassociate God from such a result!–denying such basic tenets as God’s omnipresence, for example, in order to keep the doctrine of hopelessness.) The question has to move to what the noun means at verse 46. But that noun is particularly not associated with hopeless punishment; quite the reverse! It’s associated with hopeful cleaning instead. (Which is why it is borrowed for remedial punishment analogies elsewhere.)

I have been building a comment for this thread (or more likely for its own thread) giving examples of the various ways “eon” is used in the NT; but I’m snowed in away from my office today, so it’ll have to be next week.

Meanwhile, my opinion, which may have been stated already in your AthCreed thread, is that you’ve got a lot more to worry about concerning the condemnatory wrappings of the AthCreed than the condemnation language: I would have to reject those wrapper statements as technically heretical even if they didn’t say a single thing about condemnation; because they teach salvation by doctrinal knowledge, which is gnosticism.

The salient question to my mind is not what the gnostic wrapping statement means, but what the judgment statements of the Big Three Creeds mean (if there are any in the AthCreed aside from the wrapper statements–away from my ref materials, remember. :wink: )

And frankly, I’m more interested in trying to figure out what the NT authors (and most importantly Jesus, by their report) meant by judgment and punishment statements, than in how subsequent centuries tended to understand them as meaning. The relevant question (which the authors of the Creeds would certainly have agreed with), is whether the Creeds accurately synopsize information from the scriptures. (To which I would add, are the ideas presented by the creeds logically coherent? But that’s a metaphysics question, not a scriptural exegesis question.)

Of course–but I agree with all that you, Gregory MacDonald, Prof. Talbott, and others have said on that here.

The issue for me was in whether or not I had found a Church home that could provide the pastoral needs of myself and my aged parents (and whether or not I could subscribe to a particular denominational affirmation.)

Apparently, the only thing that made this a big issue was my unwillingness to bring up my reservations about the damnatory clauses.

I did today.

The priest I spoke to regards these “wrapper statements” as anathemas that can be viewed separately from the Trinitarian doctrine contained in the Creed, and said that we (Anglicans) leave punishment to God.

He said that the important thing is that the (Trinitarian) doctrine of the Creed is sound, and that’s what we fully accept.

That effectively removed any stumbling bloc I had had.

I thank you (and others) for your comments here.

God Bless.

P.S. John Wesley had this to say regarding the Gnosticism of those wrap around statements (and I would have added these comments to the previous post, if I had not found myself unable to edit it for some reason):

“I am far from saying, he who does not assent to this shall without doubt perish everlastingly.” For the sake of that and another clause, I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered (1.) That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary, unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: (2.) that they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it."

As a universalist, I would have reservations about the duration of punishment that Wesley aparently didn’t have (if I accepted the English translation at face value, and were unable to separate the Trinitarian doctrine of the Creed from the damnatory clauses), but I do think that faith in Christ involves some knowledge of who and what He is (after all, Moslems believe He’s a Prophet.)

Further, it can become confusing when we (Universalists, who believe all will be saved in the end) speak of anything being required for salvation, unless we clarify the kind of Salvation we’re speaking of.

Paul said that God is “especially” the Savior of those who believe, and (in that sense–of a special salvation for those who believe now) I don’t think it’s necessarily Gnostic to say that one must believe certain things to be saved.

I agree with this, as a factor of human psychology: the rebel on the cross had to have been believing something about Jesus when he asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus inherited His kingdom. But we have very very little textual evidence about what he believed (and no evidence that he was even accepting Jesus as “Lord” per se.) Whereas, it’s debatable whether the sheep in the sheep-and-goats judgment even were expecting Jesus to have any kind of authority in the first place! Still, they believed something–they had to have believed it was right to help the oppressed, for example.

Aion may very well derive from aio, which I understand means, “I breathe.” Just as breathing is cyclical, so the ancient Greeks thought of time as cyclical (indeed, this is a very natural way of thinking of time).

Perhaps I’ll start a thread on aion/aionios? :smiling_imp:

Let me say from the outset that I side with Maurice in thinking that *aion/aionios *often functions as an epithet of divinity in the NT. That noted, I am inclined to see an important connection between the phrases, “king of kings” “holy of holies” and “aion of aions”, and I don’t see how Maurice’s understanding of aion would render “aion of aions” gibberish.
Remember, idioms need not make literal sense.

I think it “often” serves some such function myself.

I find it difficult to agree with Maurice precisely because I don’t see him using the kind of qualifier you did (not even when he was discussing the meaning of the verb.)

He seemed to take aion/aetas in a sense it cannot always bear (and to insist on consistently taking it in that sense), and I believe that’s wrong.

Would “unto (or ‘for’) the divinity of divinities” mean something less than endless duration (in your opinion)?

P.S. Let me rephrase that last question.

Idiomatically speaking, what do you take “aion of aions” to mean?

(Would it mean “forever,” “indefinitely,” “for ages,” “unto the age of ages,” or something else entirely?)

The short answer is, no; because the phrases translated “forever and ever” don’t include the adjective {aio_nion} (or eonian). The suffixing of the adjective changes sometimes, of course, which can make for confusion.

Some example of related terms and phrases:

1.) The adjective “eonian”, or {aio_nion}, used in Matt 25:41, 46 (as a topically handy example :mrgreen: ) to describe what kind of “fire” and “chastening” and what kind of life is being given; {to pur to aio_nion} {kolasin aio_nion} and {zo_e_n aio_nion}, each introduced with the preposition {eis} or “into”.

(The reference to the fire in verse 41 is extremely interesting: the grammatic construction shows that “eonian” is being thought of as a noun reference in parallel identification with the fire. Literally it would be “into the Fire, the Everlasting”. Soooo… how many “Everlastings” are there supposed to exist in all reality?! One One that I am aware of, and acknowledge and profess!! :smiley: :laughing: :sunglasses: )

Another highly interesting use of the adjective is at 2 Tim 1:9, where the calling and salvation of God are given to us, not according to our works, but given to us in Christ Jesus according to God’s own purpose and grace {pro chrono_n aio_nio_n}. At the very least this has to mean “before eternal times”, which again at the least is a reference going back to the heart of God Himself (as the whole context emphasizes anyway). But if we’re thinking about the adjective {aio_nion} (here suffixed with an omega, not an omicron, in order to match the suffix of {chron-} in its prepositional phrase link with {pro}) being itself a source-reference to God the Everlasting One, then it makes even more sense: the gift of grace occurs in some way superior to the times-from-God. This has the advantage of not requiring us to treat the times themselves as “eternal”, which would be instantly contradictory to the sense of the passage. (Note the relationship of this sentence, as a whole, to a similar statement near the end of Romans, discussed by me elsewhere in its uses of “eonian” as a description of a secret and as a description of God.)

The adjective “eonian” occurs more often than any other form or phrase of the word, but all the other forms or phrases together occur more often (in total) than “eonian”.

The form of the word here, {aio_nio_n}, should not be confused with “eons” in genitive form as an object of the preposition “of”, {aio_no_n}. This has the same basic meaning of ‘a particular segment of natural history’ as “eons” in accusative form as the object of some other prepositions, {aio_nas}.

A good example of both of these put together would be:

2.) “into the eons of the eons” {eis tous aio_nas to_n aio_no_n}. Such as in the doxology of Rev 1:7, “To Him is the glory and the might into the eons of the eons”.

This phrase occurs quite frequently in the NT, especially as a doxology: Rom 16:26, Gal 1:5, Ph 4:20, 1Tim 1:17, Heb 13:21, 1Pet 4:11, 5:11, Rev 1:7 (as noted). There are probably a dozen other uses as well, including Christ (Rev 1:18) and God (Rev 4:9-10, 10:6, 15:7) living “into the eons of the eons”.

Of interest to our present topic, Satan is tormented into the eons of the eons (Rev 20:1); the smoke of the Great Harlot Babylon goes up into the eons of the eons (Rev 19:3); and those who worship the Beast and his Image, receiving the mark on hand or forehead, shall drink the cup of the wrath of God unmixed in the presence of the angels of God and of the Lamb, with the smoke of their torment ascending into ages of ages. (This last has a minor variant where the direct article for {aio_no_n} is omitted.)

Some rare variant phrasings in the NT include:

3.) “the eon of the eons”, {tou aio_nos to_n aio_no_n}, Eph 20:21, “the glory of Him in the congregation and in Christ Jesus into all the generations of the eon of the eons.” (This version has the genitive in both prepositional phrases.)

4.) “the eon of the eon”, {eis ton aio_na tou aio_nos}, Heb 1:8, “The throne of yours, O God, is into the eon of the eon.”

5.) “into all the eon”, {eis pantas tous aio_nas}, Jude 25, “to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord: glory, greatness, might and authority, before all the eon {pro pantos tou aio_nos} and into all the eon, Amen!”

6.) “before the eons”, {pro to_n aio_non}, 1 Cor 2:7, “But we speak of God a wisdom in mystery: that which has been hidden, which God designated beforehand, before the eons, into our glory!”

7.) “from the eons”, {apo to_n io_no_n}, Eph 3:9, “the fellowship of the mystery: that which has been hidden from the eons in God Himself, all the things having been created through Jesus Christ.”

8.) “from an/the eon”, {ap-aio_nos}, Acts 15:18, “known (to the Lord in His work) from an eon”. (A few other NT occurrences, too.)

9.) “into an/the eon”, {eis aio_na}, Jude 13, “wandering stars (asteres plane_tai), for whom the blackness of darkness into an eon has been kept.” (Trivia note: “has been kept”, or {tete_re_tai}, sounds rather like a pun for Tartarus, where God thrusts sinning angel/messengers in 2 Pet 2:4.)

More frequent are the phrases:

10.) “into the eon”, {eis ton aio_na}, many examples, Matt 21:19/Mark 11:14; Mark 3:29; John 4:14, 6:51, 58, 8:35, 51-52, 10:28, 11:26, 12:34, 13:8, 14:16; 1 Cor 8:13; 2 Cor 9:9; Heb 5:6, 6:20, 7:17, 21, 24, 28; 1 John 2:17; 2 John 2.

11.) “into the eons”, Luke 1:33, 55; Heb 13:8; 1Pet 1:25; and obviously also all those doxology places listed back under set (2). :mrgreen:

While there are several other occurrences of the term “eon” in the NT, these are the ones which tend to be translated “eternal”, “forever”, “everlasting”, etc.

The point (recusing back to Michael’s question) is that the phrasing might be “ageish” (as an adjective–or as a vocative noun, even, per my Matt 25 example!), or it might be “age of the ages”. But it’s never “age of the ageish”.

But the difference between spelling {aio_nion} and {aio_non} (depending on the suffix of the latter, which is usually an omega instead of an omicron, though: {aio_no_n}) is pretty small.

And now, having presented these for consideration and discussion, I am off to eat lunch at last!

I rather like that as a suggestion. (Although I’ve also seen it explained “un-if-being”, which would still fit into the ancient Greek concept of natural time being the ontological Final Fact: That Which Intrinsically Is.) For one thing, it fits rather suggestively into how I’ve been translating {aio_nion}, because there is also a theory (which by the way I use in my novels) that reason YHWH is unpronounceable is because it is “pronounced” by breath exhaling and then inhaling. (But proper humility among us derivative creatures would require us to not-pronounce it by inhaling and then exhaling. :slight_smile: )

And while that wasn’t where I originally developed my understanding of positive aseity (God being self-begetting and self-begotten), the cyclical ‘nature’ of that (in a way, though not as a discreetly repeating process) fits into that theory of YHWH’s pronunciation, too.

Be that as it may. Something to tickle around in the back of our minds, I guess. :slight_smile:

Incidentally, I do kind-of like the idea of “age of ages” to mean something like “king of kings” (i.e. the greatest of ages). But as it happens, “age of ages” is super-rare as a phrase in NT Greek. (Only once that I can find, Eph 3:21.) Almost always it’s “the ages of the ages”.

Be that as it may. I think the plural of the phrase indicates an indeterminate but vastly long stretch of natural time. The singular of the phrase (“into the eon”, “for the eon”) may mean the same thing, keeping in mind that sometimes the reference seems to be for this eon (which we know is going to end) and sometimes for the Day of the Lord to come (which isn’t going to end).

I will point out that even when the reference is to this current eon, the event being described may not end when this eon ends. Similarly, the event being described might or might not end in the eon to come (even if that eon itself never ends). It’s also notable that the Day of the Lord to come, even though it counts as an eon, may itself contain sub-eons, themselves dividable into eons (“into the ages of the ages”).

So it isn’t altogether simple. :slight_smile:

However, I will say that if I was a non-universalist, it wouldn’t be based on whether an eon didn’t end; similarly, my universalism doesn’t depend on whether an eon does end. But I will also say that from a rhetorical usage standpoint, if I didn’t have many other reasons to think otherwise and only focused on the rhetorical usage of “eon” in regard to punishment, I might very easily think this was a witness to the hopeless permanence of the punishment.

As it is, the stress on duration reminds me that even if the punishment is hopeful (and regardless of severity or lack thereof), it’s still going to continue until the soul repents and agrees to cooperate with God in sending away its sins. If I insist on my sinning, it isn’t as though I can expect to be freed of God’s wrath simply because some period of time has passed.

(Although, not-incidentally, that does seem to be how the prophecies of the OT in regard to the sins of Israel were popularly interpreted during Jesus’ day: we’ve done our time and now we can come out, right? Well, yes, the time of “God’s Salvation”, YSHuA, is coming and is even already here–but that doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically be set free of the results of punishment. The far more important thing is to be freed from your sinning, and if you refuse to be free of that… well, “until the last farthing” is rendered up, you won’t be coming out!)

Thank you Jason,

Much of what you wrote was very interesting, but your “short answer” wasn’t addressed to my question (what Maurice wrote, or the problem I had with the quote I provided.)

In discussing the meaning of the adjective (eonian) , Maurice (unlike Prof. Talbott) seems to insist that the noun itself (eon) has no time connotations.

Is that not going a bridge too far?

How can you agree with Maurice, and take the expression translated “forever and ever” in Rev. 20:10 to mean “into the eons of eons”?

How can you get “ages” or “sub-ages” from a word “expressing a permanent fixed state, and not a succession of moments”?

(And remember, Maurice said the noun “aion” served that purpose in Greek–how can you agree with that?)

I still don’t see how this could fail to make gibberish of the phrases we’ve been discussing.

What would “into the permanent fixed state of permanent fixed states” mean?

Even idiomatically, what would such an expression mean??

I had already answered that, several comments previously, when you asked it: “yes, too far.” (


Since I don’t agree with Maurice that the base meaning of {aion}, as applied in the NT, has to do with divinity (despite my appreciation with some suggestions along that line in other more recent comments), I consequently don’t have a conflict in translating “into the eons of the eons” as “into the eons of the eons” in Rev 20:10. :slight_smile:

Translating “into the eons of the eons” as “into the eons of the eons” isn’t the difficult thing; that’s the easy thing. The far more difficult thing is figuring out how the NT authors are using the adjective “eonian”; which I do find has thematic connection to the Deity.

I don’t consider “eon” to have a primary meaning of expressing a permanent fixed state in NT usage. Even if I did, though, there might be something equivalent to ‘a larger permanent fixed state encompassing a smaller permanent fixed state’.

So, for example: the Lordship of God is a permanent reality in regard to all of natural time as a whole. (Otherwise we’re talking about a very different theology than any supernaturalistic theism.) Natural time as a whole could be said to exist in a permanent fixed state within and subordinate to the Lordship of God. (I’m a bit agnostic about this, but I’ll grant it hypothetically for purposes of argument.) From our perspective on the timeline, humanity’s history before the giving of the Torah on Sinai could be reckoned as an age; and even though this period of time can be reckoned as a succession of moments (as could all of natural time for that matter), that age also from our perspective has certain permanently fixed characteristics as “past history”. The whole of history would be one eon; but that whole total eon would be reckonable in terms of sub-eons, each of which has (under God) some set of permanently fixed characteristics: this period happens before the giving of the Law, this period happens between the giving of the Law and the Incarnation, this period happens between the Incarnation and the Second Coming, this period happens after the Second Coming, etc.

I reiterate, though, that I find the NT usage of {aio_n} per se to typically involve reference to what you’re calling a succession of moments of indeterminate (but long) length. The aions are not regarded as permanently fixed in the sense that Greek Stoics and similar philosophies regarded them; there isn’t, for example, an endlessly repeating cycle of ages of approximately (or even identically) the same events, inescapable and binding upon all reality, even upon the gods (if they exist), eternal in its supreme ontological status. (And even then, each one of the cycle of ages can hardly be said to be essentially a permanently fixed state, since they transition successively into one another.)

Good question, but not my problem. An even better question, since the phrase occurs very much more often in the NT, would be, “what does into the permanent fixed states of permanent fixed states” mean?

Going back to my “short answer”, meanwhile: the first and chief reason that Maurice’s proposed underlying meaning for {aio_n} wouldn’t make gibberish of expressions like “aion tou aionios” in the scriptures, is because that type of phrase never shows up once in the scriptures. Not in the NT, and (as far as I know or even could imagine) not in the OT Greek LXX either. “Age of ages” yes, once. “Ages of ages”, yes, many times. “Age of Agey” (or whatever the adjective {aio_nio_n/ios} would be super-literally translated as, with appropriate direct article), never. (But the plural of eon, when used in a particular prepositional form, looks at first glance very much like the adjective {aio_nio_n}.)

The technical rebuttal doesn’t detract from the strength of your complaint, however. :slight_smile:

Thank you Jason,

But would Maurice’s proposed underlying meaning for aio_n make gibberish of phrases like “aio_n tou (or ton) aio_nio_n/ios”?

(And btw, not having Greek font, and having to spell phonetically using the keys on available on this keyboard, does make this level of technical discussion rather difficult.)

I agree.

I’d hate to think of what being “tormented into a larger permanent fixed state encompassing a smaller permanent fixed state” might mean.

If not gibberish, I suspect it would mean something like “forever and ever,” no?

Then we appear to be in total agreement (aside from the technicalities.)

BTW: Let me reiterate that I agree with those (like Dean Farrar and Prof. Talbott) who say that aio_nio_n often has “has thematic connection to the Deity.”