The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Talbott on Matthew 25:41, 46?


Hey Luke,

First, I agreed that aionion in Matthew 25:31-46 implies “everlasting”. However, Matthew 25:31-46 is a parabolic prophecy, so the imagery of everlasting fire and everlasting punishment might be nonliteral. And given the wider NT eschatological context, I conclude that the imagery of everlasting punishment is nonliteral. You might find me expressing different views on aionion in the past, but reading Bauckham and Hart, Hope Against Hope (1999) convinced me of their view.

Second, many ideas in biblical studies and church history clinch my views of universalism. My following two articles summarize my reasons for universalism:

I’ll also develop a lot of these ideas in my book with Wipf & Stock:


Is “pertaining to a long period of time” considered an older tradition that “endless”?


I’m not coversant enough with the etymological history to answer that! I do have the impression that before the NT, Septuagint OT translators chose “aioniois” to describe OT episodes that plainly were not “endless.” So it seems to me, despite our dominant tradition’s theological incentive to maintain a translation like “everlasting,” that the burden of proof falls on those who want to show that this was plainly the original connotation in the early uses of a term whose literal meaning does not appear to imply such a meaning.


An exhausting study needs to be done, or so it seems to me. I wonder why such zeal seems so rare?


Here’s a study of aion/aionios from 1875:

I haven’t read all of this yet myself–just bits here and there. I have it saved in my To Read folder.



Yeah, that’s one of the first pieces of universalistic literature I discovered. It was just after I prayed that I’d find something, too.

This is what I’ve tried to get across on a few different occasions:


To me, the debate over the meaning of aionios in Mt.25.46 is a side issue, a rabbit trail. A key point in understanding this verse is the meaning of *kolasis *- remedial punishment. It simply does not make sense to say “endless remedial punishment”, for “remedial punishment” speaks of punishment meant to effect a positive change. When the positive change is made there is no further need for the punishement.

Also, the judgment spoken of is based on works, how one treats others; it is not based on faith. And yet, traditionalists who point to “aionios kolasis” as affirmation of there being a Hell, routinely dismiss that judgment in this passage is based on works and instead they affirm that salvation is based on faith.

The Believer’s Bible Commentary notes:
25:46 Thus the goats go away into everlasting punishment, but the sheep into eternal life. But this raises two problems. First, the passage seems to teach that nations are saved or lost en masse. Second, the narrative creates **the impression **that the sheep are saved by good works, and the goats are condemned through failure to do good. …
As to the second problem, the passage cannot be used to teach salvation by works. The uniform testimony of the Bible is that salvation is by faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8, 9). But the Bible is just as emphatic in teaching that true faith produces good works. If there are no good works, it is an indication that the person was never saved. So we must understand that the Gentiles are not saved by befriending the Jewish remnant, but that this kindness reflects their love for the Lord.

The reason this passage is problematic for this author is because he assumes that the passage is warning of Hell, endless torture. If we recognize though that it is warning of remedial punishment (in this life and possibly the life to come), then the above “two problems” are no longer problems. God deals with individuals and nations, bringing about punishment that is needed to effect a positive change.

Word Biblical Commentary :
Although sometimes understood as confirming a salvation by works, this passage need not be understood as incompatible with the gospel of the kingdom as a divine gift. The apostle Paul, the champion of grace, can also stress the significance of good works (see esp. Gal 6:7–10; 2 Cor 5:10). Matthew does stress the importance of righteousness as good deeds, but as a part of a larger context in which God acts graciously for the salvation of his people (see Hagner, Matthew 1–13, lxi–lxiii and Comment on 5:20). The deeds of mercy in the present passage are symbolic of a deeper reality, and as Gray notes, “the main point of the parable is the acceptance or the rejection of the Christian faith” (353; cf. 359). For a balanced and helpful discussion of this problem, see esp. C. L. Mitton.

The “main point” of the passage is NOT “acceptance or the rejection of the Christian faith”! The “main point” of the passage is how we actually treat others; acceptance or rejection of the Christian faith is not even mentioned! By reading into this passage Hell and endless torture, one looses the whole point of the passage.

This passage is speaking of social maturity, looking out for others who are less fortunate. Those who are selfless, socially mature naturally looking out for the needs of others will be rewarded by God with a blessed life. Those who are selfish, all-about-me, socially immature, who do not even see the needs of others around them, they can expect chastizement from the Lord, punishment meant to help them grow up and become socially mature!

By interpreting aionios kolasis as Hell or endless punishment one is completely misinterpreting this passage, nullifying it’s power to call everyone to righteousness! Believers say, “Well this passage doesn’t apply to me because I have faith in Christ.” And unbelievers don’t care what this passage says anyhow. In fact, if the unbeliever is a selfless, socially mature person, and the Christian who is mis-using this passage to warn them to “turn or burn”; the unbeliever simply need point out the hypocricy of the Christian who disregards that this passage actually speaks of how we take care of the less fortunate.

The traditional interpretation of this passage is a case of not being able to see the forest because of being consumed with trying to use one small limb to beat others over their heads - to try and prove that others are surely going to hell.

Every day I grow increasingly sick of the traditional doctrine of Hell – “I’m saved by grace, but others are damned inspite of grace!” And “Jesus either fails to save (Arminianism) or chooses not to save (Calvinism) most of humanity!” Of course, traditionalists would not actually say this, but these statement do sum up the traditional doctrine!

Judgment is an eternal reality. When we encounter the Lord in judgment, it burns the hell out of us! As mentioned in other threads, I’ve encountered God’s judgment of me and particular sinful patterns of life that I had. It was terrible, but very good for me, working in me awesome changes in my character and in my life-style. God judges us to change us if we’re acting badly, and to encourage us if we’re acting rightly!


Thanks, Sonia. Yea, that was the first book on universalism I ever looked at. It’s OK, kinda disappointing from what I remember…


Yes, I’ve seen that. Interesting, but there isn’t much to demonstrate it offered by Hanson, I don’t think…



“The problems is…scholars don’t all agree”… about anything it seems.

As I noted, to me the passage is speaking of the punishment that comes from God upon those who are immature, selfish, so wrapped up in themselves that they do not even see the needs of others around them much less seek to meet those needs. Of course, such immaturity is not only seen in unbelievers, but also in believers. To take this passage and interpret it to speak of Hell and salvation one must then make salvation and not going to Hell based on works regardless of faith. The focus of the passage is God’s judgment of how we live, the good works we do or lack thereof, and does not mention salvation, grace, or faith.

If we are selfless, mature, and naturally take care of the needs of others then God will bless us. If we are selfish, immature, and rarely even note the needs of others, God will punish, chastize us, seeking to bring correction in us. If one reads heaven and hell into this passage it would then only affirm that salvation is by works and has nothing to do with grace. In this parable the people “earn” their reward, positive and negative. Don’t be fooled, what a man sows, so shall he reap.


But isn’t faith manifested by our works? Yes it is!


That’s a brilliant interpretation. It seems to have similarities to how annihilationists understand Matthew 25:46 & some other passages. If i understand your viewpoint, the verse could be understood as “everlasting corrective punishment” in the sense that its corrective effects are “everlasting”. My question is, if we also translate aionios as “everlasting” in other passages, will this type of perspective hold up as well as it does in Mt.25:46. For example Mark 3:29, which says in various translations:

New International Version
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin."

Darby Bible Translation
but whosoever shall speak injuriously against the Holy Spirit, to eternity has no forgiveness; but lies under the guilt of an everlasting sin;

Young’s Literal Translation
but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness – to the age, but is in danger of age-during judgment;’

My question here is similar to that above. How, in this view, are other passages with aionios to be understood, especially those referring to punishment, e.g. Mark 3:29? If “Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give”, what is an “eternal sin” (Mk.3:29)?

Likewise, if in Mt.25:46 & 41 aionios is to be rendered “eternal”, then how is the parallel passage of Rev.20:10 to be translated & understood. For example, the usual translation speaks of torments “for ever and ever”.

Don Preston on 2 Thes 1:9

Tom Talbott posted (on 22 February 2015) at the url below: