Canon F.W. Farrar: “Aeonian”
“Of all the arguments on this question, the one which appears to me the most absolutely and hopelessly futile, is the one in which so many seem to rest with entire content; viz. that “eternal or aeonian life” must mean endless life, and therefore that “aeonian chastisement” must mean “endless chastisement.”
This battered and aged argument, . . . if it had possessed a particle of cogency, would not have been set aside as entirely valueless by such minds as those of Origen and the two Gregories in ancient days, nor by multitudes in the days of St. Augustine and St. Jerome, nor by the most brilliant thinker among the schoolmen, nor by many of our greatest living divines . . . .
No proposition is capable of more simple proof than that aeonian is not a synonym of endless. It only means, or can mean, in its primary sense, pertaining to an aeon, and therefore “indefinite,” since an aeon may be either long or short; and in its secondary sense “spiritual,” “pertaining to the unseen world,” “an attribute of that which is above and beyond time,” an attribute expressive not of duration but of quality.
Can such an explanation of the word be denied by any competent or thoughtful reader of John 5:39; 6:54; 17:3; 1 John 5:13,20? Would not the introduction of the word “endless” into those Divine utterances be an unspeakable degradation of their meaning?
And as for the argument that the redeemed would thus lose their promised bliss, it is at once so unscriptural and so selfish that, after what Mr. Cox and others have said of it, one may hope that no one will ever be able to use it again without a blush.
I cannot here diverge into a discussion with Bishop Wordsworth and Canon Ryle, whose sermons need some adversaria rather longer than I can here devote to them; but as they both dwell on the fact that people who spoke Greek interpreted aionios to mean endless, I reply that some of the greatest masters of Greek, both in classical times and among the Fathers, saw quite clearly that, though the word might connote endlessness by being attributively added to endless things, it had in itself no such meaning.
I cannot conceive how any candid mind can deny the force of these considerations. If even Origenists would freely speak of future punishment as aionios but never as ateleutetos [without end] –– if, as even these papers have shown, Plato uses the word as the antithesis of endlessness –– if St. Gregory of Nyssa uses it as the epithet of “an interval” –– if, as though to leave this Augustinian argument without the faintest shadow of a foundation, there are absolutely two passages of Scripture (Hab.3:6 and Rom.16:25,26) where the very word occurs in two consecutive clauses, and is, in the second of the two clauses, applied to God, and yet is, in the first of the two clauses, applied to things which are temporary or terminated –– what shall be said of disputants who still enlist the controversial services of a phantom which has been so often laid in the tomb from which it ought never again to emerge? How is it that not one out of the scores of writers who have animadverted on my book have so much as noticed the very remarkable fact to which I have called attention, that those who followed Origen in holding out a possible hope beyond the grave founded their argument for the terminability of torments on the acknowledged sense of this very word, and on the fact that other words and phrases which do unmistakably mean endless are used of the duration of good, but are never used of the duration of evil?”