To find out what a Greek word means, one should look up the word in many writings. Lexicons can be deceiving. Besides with a dozen of more “definitions” how can you know the primary meaning of the word? I find that the dozens of meanings which lexiconophers (newly coined word) produce are usually possible words that may be placed in translations to make sense. It doesn’t really help much to understand the word. I go also by the etymology of the word. I have studied Greek for several years, and my faith in lexicons has been steadily decreasing. I look up the words as they are normally used in the Septuagint (including the apocrypha), and in extra-biblical Greek writings.
The words which have been translated as “eternal punishment” are the Greek words “αἰωνιος κολασις” Let’s consider “κολασις” first. This word was originally used for “prune” as in pruning plants. Plants are pruned by cutting off certain parts so as to correct the growth of the plant. “κολασις” was used in classical Greek in reference to a means to correct an offender. Look at any Greek lexicon, and you will find “correction” is given as one of its meanings.
The word is found only twice in the entire New Testament — Matthew 25:46 in regards to the goats in Jesus’ parable, and I John 4:18 :
There is no fear in love, but complete love casts out fear. Fear has κολασις. The one who is afraid is not completed in love.
What could the statement “Fear has punishment” possibly mean? I could understand “Punishment has fear”, but not “Fear has punishment”. Do you know of anyone who has been punished because he is afraid?
However, I CAN understand “Fear has correction”. The context of this statement indicates what the correction is. A state of fear in a person can be corrected when that person is completed in love.
Now consider Matthew 25:46 where the goats are to be sent into “αἰωνιος κολασις”. If we agree that “κολασις” means “correction”, then what would “eternal correction” mean? If a person were corrected eternally, the correction would never be completed, and thus the person would not be corrected at all!
Fortunately “αἰωνιος” DOES NOT mean “eternal”. Indeed, it never means “eternal”. It is the adjectival form of the noun “αἰων”, which means “age”. So, I suppose we could translate “αἰωνιος” as “agey”, but as far as I know, the latter is not an English word.
The word was used in koine Greek (the Greek spoken from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D.) to refer to anything which is enduring. The word was used by Diodorus Siculus to describe the stone used to build a wall. The word seems to have been used as meaning “lasting” or “durable”.
Josephus in “The Wars of the Jews” book 6, states that Jonathan was condemned to “αἰωνιος” imprisonment. Yet that prison sentence lasted only three years.
But the clincher comes from the Homily of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, written by Chrysostom. He wrote that the kingdom of Satan “is αἰωνιος (agey), in other words it will cease with the present αἰων (age).” So Chrysostum apparently believed that “αἰωνιος” meant exactly the opposite to “eternal”! ---- that is “ lasting” but in this case also “temporary.”
As I see it, the following would be a correct translation of Matthew 25:46
And they [the goats] will go away into lasting correction, but the righteous into lasting life.
Lasting correction is correction which endures. At some point it comes to an end. Lasting life is life which endures. But it just so happens that the lasting life we receive from Christ endures forever. But the idea of “forever” is not inherent in the word “αἰωνιος”.
The true Greek word for “eternal” is “αἰδιος”. That word is found in the following verse:
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. Romans 1:20