What do you make of /u/koine_lingua's arguments? (Part 1)


#1

Quite a while ago, I posted a “part five” of a series on Christian universalism that I had written, with that particular installment focusing on the use of the adjective αἰώνιος (aiōnios) in the New Testament. The interpretation of this adjective has become a particularly contentious issue in current discussion of early Christian eschatology, as it’s interpretation is one of the main determining factors for whether the early Christians believed that afterlife punishment would be truly unending (or otherwise permanent), or whether there was hope for an end to this punishment and/or reconciliation.

(For introductory background on this debate for those who are unfamiliar, look up the terms “purgatorial universalism,” “annilihationism,” and “eternal conscious torment,” which are the most commonly used rubrics for the different positions here.)

Since my original post, however, I’ve made some significant changes; but most important of all, I’ve now read the most extensive modern academic treatment on aiōnios that there is: Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan’s Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts, published by Gorgias Press.

At the continued reminding of /u/DadIamStrong (thanks!), I’m posting a revision of my original post, followed by an extremely comprehensive analysis of Ramelli and Konstan’s monograph… which will certainly take multiple posts.

Before I begin properly, let me say that I think that revisionist arguments for the early Jewish/Christian eschatological denotation of αἰώνιος are, in many ways, fundamentally anti-critical (or… anti-critically “fundamentalist”?).

That is to say: from an academic history of religions perspective, the eternity of afterlife torment can be found in various ancient Near Eastern and Indo-European traditions, as well as in Egyptian and both Hellenistic and non-Hellenistic Jewish traditions. Many people from these cultural/ethnic groups were demonstrably in contact with each other, lending each other details and schemata here (that is, specifically in terms of afterlife beliefs).

The extent to which early Christianity was particular influenced by Hellenistic and non-Hellenistic Jewish beliefs makes it highly likely that we should see early Christian beliefs—including those on the nature of afterlife punishments—in continuity with them, in various ways. While this doesn’t suggest that Christianity slavishly reproduced the beliefs it inherited, from a critical perspective it does increase the likelihood that they would be similar; and, indeed—along with doctrines of annihilationism (which sometimes co-existed alongside eternal torment)—I think there’s no question that we do see this.
Of course, there were a number of contemporary Greek and Jewish texts that hinted at the eternity/continuity of afterlife torment, with various vocabulary used. In addition to the word αἰώνιος, other words like ἄπαυστος, ἀθάνατος, ἀίδιος, συνεχής, ἀδιάλειπτος, ἀτελεύτητος, ἀπέραντος, and ἀκατάλυτος were used to denote this (as well as phrases like οὐκ ἐκλείψει ἔτι). On the Jewish side, there are things like Philo, De Cherubim 1.2:

and 4 Maccabees 12.12:

And (with Steve Mason commenting on Josephus),

(Cf. Philo, Spec. 3.84—τὸ τῆς τιμωρίας ἀθάνατον—and the use of ἀδιάλειπτος in BJ 2.155; as well as AJ 18.14, on the Pharisees’ belief “that souls have power to survive death and that there are rewards and punishments under the earth for those who have led lives of virtue or vice; eternal imprisonment εἱργμὸν ἀίδιον] is the lot of evil souls, while the good souls receive an easy passage to a new life.” Cf. also Justin, Apol. 20 here.)

Further, in the Tosefta Sanhedrin, for the totally unrighteous (רשעים גמורים), “Gehenna is closed up after them, and they are condemned in it forever לדראון עולם].” This may be similar to the final scheme outlined in 1 Enoch 22.

Yet various Christian universalists have argued that the Greek adjective αἰώνιος (hereafter transliterated as aiōnios), as it is used in the Septuagint, New Testament and elsewhere, does not necessarily mean “eternal” as is the traditional understanding, but can instead have several other quite different denotations. (They apply the same reasoning to Hebrew עוֹלָם, ʻolam, which is often claimed as the counterpart of αἰώνιος, though really it’s the counterpart of the noun αἰών.)

The context in which this argument is normally made is in objection to a particular eschatological doctrine called Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). The proponents of this view derive their support of this from various NT verses in which aiōnios is used—which ECTists use to claim that there will literally be no end to torment in “Hell” for unbelievers/the unrighteous.

I’ve stated various objections to universalists’ “revision” of the meaning of aiōnios before. Of course, these objections come from a secular viewpoint, and have been purely philological/historical in nature (though they also don’t necessarily suggest that these verses ambiguously point toward Eternal Conscious Torment, either).

Through toying around with these various objections, I believe that there’s one in particular that’s the most forceful. This revisionism of aiōnios often tries to break down this adjective into its constituent components, and then reconstructs a particular (literal) meaning here, retrojecting it back into the adjective itself as if this is its primary meaning. Of course, with just a little bit of reflection, it can be seen how dangerous this is: words don’t really gain their meaning from their etymology or their constituent components, but from how they’re used, in a particular era, etc. (I’m sure there’s a fancy term for this, like “functional semantics” or something).

Universalists often favor an overly literal translation of aiōnios. They derive at least anecdotal support for this in that there are two major modern Biblical versions where such a translation is adopted: Young’s Literal Translation, which translates it as “age-enduring,” and the New World Translation (published by the Watch Tower Society, viz. Jehovah’s Witnesses), favoring “time-indefinite.” Further, some individual universalists adopt the even more vague gloss “pertaining to an age.”

In light of this, perhaps a few things should be said about how we really are to determine what the semantic range of aiōnios is, as it’s used in Biblical literature.

When we start to look at the ways that the various ways that aiōnios is used in Koine Greek, it may indeed be tempting to broadly define its primary denotation as “spanning from a certain point in time onwards.” The question is whether “spanning for a certain point in time onwards, without end” is an integral part of this primary denotation.

It is a well-known principle of etymology and word formation that some denominal adjectives—while simply being a straightforward adjectival form of their noun—are meant to suggest a sort of elongation of size or length of the root noun. For example, Italian nasuto is the adjectival form of naso, “nose”; and although nasuto simply means something like “relating-to or having a nose,” it’s understood as “big-nosed” (=being overly defined by one’s nose?) We can in fact see all sorts of interesting shifts in meaning that occur in this process; cf. English bony, understood not just to mean “relating to or having bones” but rather “skinny”; or even more drastic semantic shifts, like Greek αἴτιος, “guilty, responsible,” the adjectival form of *αἶτος, “share, lot.”

While (the adjective) aiōnios’ underlying noun form, αἰών (aiōn), can itself denote “eternity” when used in certain ways (as will be discussed below), it should be beyond doubt that the use of aiōnios in Biblical Greek (and elsewhere) fits into the category describe above. The primary denotation of aiōn is “age” (or “time”), and analysis of the usage of aiōnios suggests a great elongation, to the extent that we must say that its primary denotation in the Koine Greek of Biblical times is characterizing a span of time that is so long as to be virtually incalculable, or indeed truly infinite. (It appears that the “spanning from a certain point in time onwards” element is, in fact, secondary.)

A few words should be said here about the possibility of certain exaggerated uses of aiōnios. To use English itself as example: imagine saying

“It’s going to take forever to fix this computer” (or “I’m going to be working on this forever”)

Or, if you’re telling someone why it took so long for you to meet up with them, you can say

“I was at the grocery store forever” (or, similarly, “I’ve been working on this forever,” or “it feels like I’ve been working on this since the beginning of time”)

In both cases here, you exaggerate for rhetorical effect: in the former, you’re referring to an unending future period of time (but, surely, it’s indeed going to be able to be completed within a finite amount of time); in the latter case, this period of time has already come to an end, but you exaggerate to emphasize how long it took (or if it’s still ongoing, you exaggerate how long it’s been—you haven’t really been working on it from the “beginning of time”).
If you wanted to express these modern phrases using idioms of Koine Greek (of the NT and elsewhere), you could do this several ways—i.e. using aiōnios itself, or using its root noun aiōn, in various clauses. (On the etymology of aiōn itself and its derivatives, see this). To express the time aspect of “(I’m going to be working on this) forever,” you might use εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας or εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων (and cf. Hebrew לעולם). For “I have been working on this forever,” you might use aiōnios in conjunction with χρόνος, chronos: so something like πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων or χρόνοις αἰωνίοις, probably both best understood as something like “from time immemorial” (cf. also ἀπ᾽ τοῦ] αἰῶνος, used in LXX to translate things like מעולם, suggesting the deep antiquity of something: literally “from eternity”). In fact, all of the aforementioned Greek clauses appear in various Greek texts and/or the NT. (Although in some places, they may be used to denote a literal eternity).

Yet, significantly, as far as I’m aware aiōnios is never used in the Septuagint or New Testament to describe/denote a period of time that was finite, having already come to an end. (While it’s true that, with references to a certain figure or event that happened in “ancient times”—using some of form of aiōn or aiōnios—this may be understood to have a pinpointable origin at a specific date or time, the primary meaning here still emphasizes the relative incalculability of the antiquity here… if only rhetorically.)

Some universalists point to verses like Jonah 2.6 to challenge this—“I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever לעולם/αἰώνιοι]—whereas Jonah was only in the depths for three days (Jonah 1.17). But the most accurate and powerful reading of this text actually strengthens the fact that עוֹלָם /aiōnios here may be taken to denote a true eternity: Jonah really was doomed to a death that was eternal, irreversible; but God intervened to save him from this eternal fate (cf. Job 7:9, “he who goes down to Sheol does not come up”).

Jonah 2.6 is indeed a point in the “genuinely-eternal” camp’s favor.

Again, I should emphasize that the most accurate definition of aiōnios is “characterizing a span of time that is so long as to be virtually incalculable, or indeed truly infinite.”

This definition is proposed from the collection of uses of aiōnios. A word’s usage determines its “meaning.”

We can be assured that some ancient authors used aiōnios in an exaggerated way, in the same way that we, today, use “forever” (as demonstrated above). But, again this all comports with the “base” meaning of “characterizing a span of time that is so long as to be virtually incalculable, or indeed truly infinite.”

The main matter of contention, then—perhaps the only one (though cf. the next parenthetical remark)—is when aiōnios is being employed in a particular instance in a literal sense, and when it’s employed in an exaggerated sense. (Also note that the suggestion that aiōnios can be used to suggest “irreversible,” and thus might occasionally support annihilationism. This too, however, is a secondary meaning that developed from the base meaning that I’ve isolated; but it’s also highly unclear when or if certain texts mean to suggest this.)

[Admin edited to add [url=http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=6329]a convenient link to part 2 here.]


Multi-part critique of Ramelli/Konstan
What Lexicons/Dictionaries/Concordances Out There
Aionios in the fathers
#2

I’m not going to be in a position to reply to much of this very interesting report for the next several days; but on the linguistic matters [tag]David Konstan[/tag] would be the best person to address it anyway (after all, it’s a reply to his book. Dr. Ramelli isn’t in a position to comment here unfortunately, but Dr. K can pass things along to and from her.)

What I can quickly comment on however (keeping in mind that I’ve often cautioned fellow Kaths not to lean too heavily on the importance of the grammatic argument, or too stringently on what a set of terms must and must not mean), is this:

I’ll want to see further comments along this line about why Rom 16 and that verse from Habbakuk don’t count – the times of those hills come to an end, though the ways of God do not; and the times of the secret are coming to an end, though the eonian God does not – and a fairly wide number of OT examples jump to mind. But the author himself mentions the Jonah example:

But even on that interpretation, aiōnios was definitely used in the LXX (and olam in the Hebrew) to describe/denote a period of time that was finite, having already come to an end. That’s literally the case, Jonah (in the story, aside from historical questions) is talking in prayer about a situation that has already ended. There are other examples where the scriptures indicate that a condition described by that adjective will eventually come to an end.

Even on “the most accurate and powerful reading of this text” provided by the author here, where Jonah really was doomed to a death that was eternal, irreversible, God intervened to reverse this supposedly irreversible fate. The bars had already closed upon him; so far as the imagery goes, the fate was already sealed. Except that it wasn’t.

Jonah 2:6 remains a point in the eternal-not-always-eternal camp’s favor: God can trump an eternal fate, even an eternal fate imposed by God. I really don’t see any way around the fact (as a story detail) that Jonah didn’t stay behind the bars of that land forever. This, not incidentally, also happens to be MUCH OF THE WHOLE POINT OF THE STORY: God has decreed a punitive fate for Ninevah, Jonah realizes that God intends to be merciful to them anyway, and doesn’t want that fate reversed for them (but does for himself), and then Jonah takes ludicrous steps to try to make sure Ninevah doesn’t escape the decreed fate.

(To this I might add that the contexts of Job don’t support the idea that those who go down to Sheol never in fact come up again. Job expects to come up again for example, despite his understandable occasional nihilism on the topic.)


#3

Hard to make an indisputable case for a meaning of eternal or everlasting when it lasted three days, even if God appointed and then abrogated the “eternal sentence”, was it then eternal? it’s very purpose would seem then to be, as you put it Jason, to show that God will trump the eternal sentence making it no longer eternal, after the period of acomplishment of His purpose is complete(an administration suitable to the fulness of times)- in this case, it took three days before Jonah bowed his knee to YHWH(every knee shall bow wether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth).


#4

I was a bit confused by this post… Who was saying what to who, when, etc… Turns out this Koine_Lingua guy is someone on Reddit who is apparently an expert (self proclaimed? Hard to tell when people use handles that are not their name) in linguistics. He is 28 and looking for a match online. Anyhow, he is an Atheist or possibly Agnostic. His argument from what I gathered is from the angle that the Bible has a bunch of random contradictions. I have read a number of threads participated in and what I have gleaned so far. He seems like a decent person.

Anyhow, the only reason I point this out, is because I think some people are going to be very confused. I am a techy and tech by trade, but it even took me a few searches to figure out who this guy was. It isn’t clear in the OP, in my opinion. Also, I am not sure if the OP is this person under a different handle? I doubt It, though.


#5

Well, back in November of last year, Zoe Aionia claimed to be a Full Preterist and a Purgatorial Universalist. But he or she (sorry I can’t remember which at the moment) hangs out with atheists and agnostics a lot (based on other posts), so that’s probably where ZA ran across this and wanted to share for commentary.

It could have been a little clearer that ZA was (apparently?) copy-pasting the whole article without any introduction though.

Thanks for the helpful research, too, Gabe! :slight_smile:


Rom 6:23 Revisited
#6

Oh yeah, well, I assumed that from the title, it would have been obvious that I was just copy-pasting these articles. Sorry if I wasn’t being clear enough!


#7

Btw, ZA, I spent 20 or 30 minutes adding some convenient links back and forth between the article portions, so readers can follow the whole series more easily (or find other portions if they arrive after Part 1 on a search). :slight_smile:


#8

Hey there – I’m the original author of this (and not the original poster here, Zoe Aionia). As was mentioned, I had originally posted this on Reddit… where it’s much easier to read, due to markup that didn’t get transferred over. (The original post can be found here: tinyurl.com/llufl3v)

I just want to take a second to respond to something brought up in this thread. JasonPratt quoted my comments on Jonah 2, and then wrote

…yet this (somewhat) confuses narrative intention with syntactic intention.

Basically, Jonah’s “retrospective” prayer in ch. 2 brings us into his mindset during his time in “Sheol.” Yet far from being just a rote autobiographical report, it’s still poetic. Again, if we’re using our normal day-to-day speech, and we say to someone “when I went to the grocery yesterday, I had to wait in line forever,” this is one thing… but this is decisively not the kind of speech that we find in Jonah 2.

For further clarity, imagine that the speech of Jonah in ch. 2 wasn’t actually phrased in the past tense, but was spoken in the present. Imagine that 2:6 read “I am in the land whose bars have closed upon me forever; yet (please) bring up my life from the Pit!”

This isn’t an incomparable example; rather this is precisely the type of language that we see in ancient Hebrew poetry. (And we can imagine Jonah saying “I am in the land whose bars have closed upon me forever” more-or-less immediately upon arriving there; there needn’t really have been any passage of time, whether three days or however long.)

To put it most simply: I think the ultimate confusion here may be between olam / aionios being used “to describe/denote a period of time that was finite, having already come to an end” (which in some cases could fit into my category of exaggerated uses “characterizing a span of time that was so long as to be virtually incalculable”… though, again, this is rarely attested) and being used “in a description of a period of time that was finite, having already come to an end.” Its use in Jonah 2:6 is clearly the latter: in his description of a period of time that was finite, Jonah uses olam / aionios to denote the situation he was in at the time.

It’s no different than me saying something like “while doing some solo cave exploration, I got stuck in a hole that I couldn’t escape from; but, miraculously, there happened to be another person who was in the cave, who went and got help.” Just because I was eventually saved doesn’t mean that I didn’t originally think that I couldn’t escape. (For an even closer parallel, try “while doing some solo cave exploration, I got stuck in a hole that I could never escape from [on my own].”)


#9

Very much welcome here, KA! :smiley:

Sorry your post got lost in a flood from another member pushing it down on the active topic list. (Also, for anti-spam purposes all new members are on manual moderation for the first two or three posts. After that the system learns you’re legit and will automatically let your posts through.)

I’m just about sure I don’t disagree with anything in your reply, other than that I am somehow confused between narrative and syntactic intention there. :wink:

I don’t deny the poetic usage of the language there at all. I quite affirm it. I also affirm its narrative meaning, and that was the gist of my critique of that (small) part of your analysis. That’s why I replied using your own description in denial that you weren’t aware of any example in the LXX where {aioniôs} was used “to describe/denote a period of time that was finite, having already come to an end”. Yes, Jonah which you shortly afterward cited, does use the term to describe with poetic emphasis a time that by narrative context (since he’s talking about it after the fact) had come to an end.

It would be like saying as far as you’re aware the term “forever” is never used in English to describe/denote a period of time that was finite, having already come to an end; and then saying that obvious examples of the term in English being used in a description of a period of time that was finite, having already come to an end, don’t count as usage to describe/denote that period of time. If it describes the time, it describes the time, either way.

i.e., any confusion was introduced when you specifically required that the denotation included description, since the context of the description affects the denoted meaning of the description.

The example of Jonah stands (not even counting other examples – up to and including contrasting usages of the same term in close contextual proximity, rare though those are): yes, the term can be and sometimes is used to describe periods of time which are not infinite after all. (So were cognates of aion’s Latin spelling/pronunciation aevum, up to the time of Virgil at least, whose work didn’t become less popular in the mid-to-late 1st century.) Context, whether immediate, local, and/or extended, provides the information for signaling whether the term is or isn’t being used that way.

Of course, so far as you’re just arguing against attempts to restrict the usage to ALWAYS mean a limited time, more power to you. :slight_smile:

I in fact explicitly agree (in parallel with what I went on to say in granting for purposes of argument that what you called “the most powerful reading of this text” is also “the most accurate”), that Jonah could talk about being presently in the land whose bars have closed upon him forever, yet also pray presently with some hope of being granted that God would bring him out from the Pit. (As at least one of the Psalms does put it, though I forget which one offhand.) There need not even be any passage of time yet, not even three days.

But if Jonah (or rather whoever tells the story in the form and language being passed down, even if the story is a fictional parable) can put things that way and not mean to be actually describing an infinite amount of time, so can other authors in the same ideo-cultural setting (to coin a phrase). In the OT / LXX this even happens with some regularity, one striking example being how whoever wrote 1 Sam 2:12-17ff (and whenever that happened, possibly and probably though not certainly including oral transmission before then if any) represents God calling explicit attention to how He said He was going to just let Levi’s descendants inherit the priesthood olam, but now because of how Eli and sons have abused the privilege He’s changing the rules. (Sort of; they still inherit it, but now they have to beg for it to be implemented, rather than expecting it to come into effect automatically thanks to the previous olam promise. The next few chapters down to chapter 4 talk about how the olam priesthood comes to a practical end with the birth of Ichabod and the death of Phineas.)


#10

(Haha, this is all getting pretty technical and confusing; so I apologize if I’m misunderstanding… and I also apologize if I was unclear about anything on my part.)

Just to be maximally clear here, to make sure we agree: my emphasis on it being poetic was not to argue that olam was here used non-literally, but only to emphasize that the fact that Jonah is “retrospectively” describing something is actually rather irrelevant.

That is, I kinda “bracketed” the saying in 2:6 (which is why, for example, I imagined it in present tense) to further hammer home the distinction between olam used as a descriptor vs. being used in a description.

Since, in Jonah 2:6, olam is used in a description – and since we know that what was said in 2:6 itself is indeed talking about a genuine eternity, because death was irreversible/infinite in ancient Near Eastern thought (again, cf. Job 7:9, as well as part 3 of my post series where I discuss the phrase “eternal home” as an idiom for death) – the fact that Jonah is narrating this hymn after-the-fact is irrelevant. The word is not to be taken as a descriptor of a period of time that he experienced.

The fact that you say

…makes me think that we are still not in agreement, though.

I hope my having further clarified the difference between olam used as a descriptor vs. being used in a description will clear that up; though perhaps we just have a legitimate exegetical difference of opinion re: Jonah 2:6.

I understood your interpretation; but I wonder if closer attention to the text itself might bring you closer to mine. It should be noted that הָאָרֶץ בְּרִחֶיהָ בַעֲדִי לְעֹולָם in Jonah 2:6 itself has ambiguous syntax, and admits of a different translation than what you might find in, say, NRSV (which up until now was the translation I had been using). The NET Bible – while not otherwise my preferred translation – actually does an excellent job with the Psalms and Job and other poetic material. Its actual printed translation of Jonah 2:6 here is “the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever,” taking בְּרִחֶיהָ etc. and translating it as a verb, for ease of reading, even though the clause is actually verbless in the original text. (Oh and it might also be useful to note here – quoting Taylor 2006 – that ‘Within embedded oral narrative discourse, verbless clauses provide “scene setting” information—the clause is meant to indicate the plight of Jonah.’)

But a footnote gives a more literal translation: “As for the earth, its bars [were] against me forever.” (This is actually too literal, though, because אֶרֶץ can definitely mean “underworld,” as it often does in closely cognate Semitic languages.) The first part of this literal translation, “As for…”, is also unwarranted. A true literal translation may look something like “(I went down to the bottoms of the mountains;) the underworld (with) its gates/bars behind/upon me forever.”

Jonah does not speak merely to his personal situation; rather, it is true of everyone that, once dead, the “gates” are shut and there is no return. Again, cf. Job 7:9; “eternal home”; and things like Job 10:21: “…before I depart to the land of darkness, not/never to return לֹא אָשׁוּב].”

In other words, even if one is compelled to translate a verb here (where there is none in the original text), it may not even be necessary to render it “its bars were against me forever.” Rather than the focus being on the qualitative dimension of Jonah’s personal experience (viz. the three days there), the focus would actually be more on the afterlife in and of itself (one that Jonah happened to partake of, albeit temporarily).

[Edit:] I’ve now made several major edits to this post, which I continue to do because I continue to link people to this post. At the present location in my original post, I had suggested a paraphrasing of Jonah 2:6 which would facilitate seeing it in a new light (or, rather, the light that I believe it was originally intended to be seen in): “I went down to the . . . underworld, (characterized by) having eternal gates/bars, (which were/are now) behind me (as they are for all humans who die, divine intervention notwithstanding).”

…but even though this was only supposed to be the loosest of paraphrases, I think it was a bit too complicated; and now looking back at it, I think that there’s a much simpler way to bring out (what is in my view) the original intention of the verse, simply by adding a parenthetical mark to my (literal) translation above. In this way, elsewhere we’re still close to the syntax of the Hebrew, especially as this doesn’t require the adjective “eternal” being grouped with “gates/bars,” and we can retain adverbial “forever” in its original location. (Though I should again emphasize that my original paraphrase was just that – a paraphrase – and above all was designed simply to be explanatory; there certainly is no warrant for translating an adjective “eternal” for the original.) Anyways, without further ado, only slightly modifying my literal translation, “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the underworld (with) its gates/bars behind/upon me forever (never to be opened again).”

Of course, I have added “never to be opened again” in parentheses because these words do not appear in the original text; but this addition can orient the reader to Jonah’s predicament: he is a describing a state of affairs that has just (now) come into being; and the eternality is in the shutting of the gates here, with Jonah (rightly) assuming that this meant forever. (Cf. similarly Gaines 2003, who writes, about 2:6, that Jonah “[f]ears that his disobedience will serve as prison irons, jail him, and continue to separate him from the land of the living.”)

The New Living Translation follows this lead:

Funny enough, though, even the translation of the Septuagint ended up looking somewhat similar to my explanatory paraphrase… except it actually decided to make the adjective “eternal” modify bars here: κατέβην εἰς γῆν ἧς οἱ μοχλοὶ αὐτῆς κάτοχοι αἰώνιοι, e.g. translated (accurately) in NETS as “I went down to the land, whose bars are everlasting barriers” (and skipping the first-person language altogether in the second clause). (See my discussion of the Thanksgiving Hymns below for something very similar.)

In any case, this whole line of thought is echoed in countless academic works. Walsh 1982 speaks of “sinking to the ultimate depths, to the eternal abode of death”; Smith and Page 1995 that “[Jonah] felt that he had passed into the underworld from which he would never escape.” Jenson (2009) comments on the poetic strength of interpreting “forever” not as Jonah’s exaggeration about his stay of three days, but rather that this was Jonah expressing his fear that he had come into a(n) (genuinely) “eternal” condition:

(Notice that he writes of the “finality” of Jonah’s assertion: something disputed by universalists, who see the referent here to the time that Jonah did spend, not the time that he would spend.)

Similarly, Stuart (1987: 477) writes

and Sasson (1990: 190),

Richard Bauckham (1998: 16-17):

Most important of all, Shalom M. Paul (in Lundberg et al. 2012: 132-33) writes

S. Paul says elsewhere (2005: 268), about 1 Samuel 28,

(“Ishtar descended to the netherworld and did not ascend” is line 84 in Foster’s edition; though he translates “Ishtar has gone down to the netherworld, she has not come up.”)

Further, it might be instructive to quote Foster’s translation of the first lines of the Akkadian version of Ishtar’s descent:

Finally, we shouldn’t forget some other close Biblical/Semitic resonances to this. At one point in Psalm 24, we read “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O eternal doors פִּתְחֵי עֹולָם]! that the King of glory may come in” (cf. the bars, בריחם, of Jonah 2:6); though it’s unclear here whether the “eternal doors” here are positive or negative (viz. those of Temple or of the underworld; cf. the “gates of death” in Job 38:17). Even more relevant, though, in the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QH) from Qumran, we have a passage (XI 18) that speaks of the “doors of the pit,” “around/behind” someone (דלתי שחת בעד) and the “eternal bars around/behind” them (בריחי עולם בעד), too, using the exact same word as in Jonah. Notably, though, in this passage from Qumran עולם is the adjectival nomen rectum. (Also, on an interesting note, death is referred to as the “eternal sleep” at several points in the Bible; and in the Targums to these verses, the מותא תנינא is mentioned: the annihilationist “second death,” made famous from Revelation. There’s a good case to be be made that both the phrase from Revelation and from the Targums derive from the Egyptian concept; cf. Ulmer’s Egyptian Cultural Icons in Midrash for a general study of Egyptian influence in rabbinic texts.)

Anyways, moving on…

…this only goes to confirm that I think you genuinely have misunderstood me. 1 Samuel 2:30 reverses what was (clearly) originally supposed to be an “eternal” office. How is this substantially different than the Jonah situation? If there was slight ambiguity re: the latter, how does the complete clarity of the current example (the Levite priesthood in 1 Samuel) not substantiate the point I’ve been making?

Of course, an argument could be made that it would be absurd to think that they really did expect that the Levites would be priests for an actual eternity – considering, among other things, that Israel was vulnerable to the type of sociopolitical events that might endanger the priesthood itself – and thus that this is an example of an exaggerated “eternal”… yet the idea of “eternal priesthood” itself comes from a standpoint of high idealism; and in this sense, I think one has to ask whether these idealists ever truly imagined the (Levite) priesthood coming to an end (or the covenant coming to an end, etc.). I mean, really, is this any different from Jesus being “a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” according to Hebrews? – and is there any reason to believe that the author of Hebrews thought that this isn’t genuinely eternal? (Similarly, is there any reason to believe that the eternal rule of the ideal Davidic/messianic king predicted in 2 Samuel 7 and elsewhere wasn’t actually expected to be eternal?)

…in all of this, I’d caution you against taking a fundamentalist view of the Bible where there are no differing theological viewpoints and no progression, etc.

As another analogy: if Barack Obama says “we are building a new national monument to be an eternal symbol of our patriotism, embodying the hope that our great nation will last forever,” but then a later President says “we are dismantling the monument by Barack Obama, which was just a symbol of unrealistic idealism,” does this mean that we have to go back and reinterpret Obama’s original words, redefining what he meant by “eternal”?


Addendum: Shalom M. Paul again:


#11

I wasn’t in the forum for a long time but sometimes still visit, I would like to bring this summary concerning aionios in remembrance:

PS: If somebody knows renown scholars in this matter personally, I would be grateful if somebody could share this summary with them and ask if my conclusions are valid.
eternity and the bible.pdf (248 KB)


#12

For me the core issue is the relationship between aion and olam , aionios being “of the aion”, the relationship between aionios and olam is still intensely relevant.

I think the argument for aionios as having a finite end is weak, always have. Olam is not a period of time with a finite end, it is an indefinite period of time determined by the subject it has in view.

"It shall come about if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; 17then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever/olam.

The finite end of olam here is unknown, hidden from view- could be 3 days could be 30 years. It is translated “servant for life” in most versions because it is the indeterminate period connected to a flexible subject, the remaining duration of a human life. This might seem like too much to take into consideration in acquiring the thought within the word each time it is used- but if it proves consistent- aionios, regardless of how Plato or Aristotle used it, should be viewed through OLAM.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old(olam), men of renown. Gen 6:4

In Gen 6;4 olam refers to a period of time, too far back to determine specifically. In Deut 15:17 a period of time to subject to circumstance to determine specifically.

In current usage among Jews “olam ha-ba” is the good world to come. “olam ha ze” is this present troubled world. This is why we see aionios translated also as “world” … but the identifying concept was never “finite” or having a finite end, in fact it is just the opposite. It is the indefintiness of olam that makes it fitting for a spectacle through which to view aionios. The indefinite period is relative to its purpose. Thus the ages. Thus terms of imprisonment relative to the crime. Thus hazy views of the far distant past. Thus hazy views into the far distant future.

The strenght of aionios in the UR paradigm is not that it has a finite end- because it doesnt always. It is not a completely reversible application. It takes a stretch of exegetical integrity to make it so. ET scholars see it and they use it to refute a UR interpretation. It looks like a fast shuffle when you are really in the know concering the language of scripture. This is because in terms of the life of God and of believers and of the age in which God will be all in all- it has no end, the unknowably distant olam IS everlasting. Therefore this “finite end” assertion about aionios isnt effective when used as a term limit for “hell” among knowledgable scholars.

The real strength(of course this is just my opinion) of aionios/olam in relation to the UR paradigm is its VERY FLEXIBILTY, and application as a sort of random quantifier of “unknowness” and “unknowableness”

In the next world, the world to come, some will endure an indefinite term of some kind of correction. It will be many stripes for some, with comparatively few stripes for others. It will be olam punishment. Some will live forever in God, a life that has no end, a life we cannot see- olam life.

Olam still persists when used to describe the life of God in terms of duration and “beyond knowingness” because God’s life is “beyond the horizon”- “hidden with mists” as olam asserts, as is the “world to come”.

The insistence upon “age-during” correction or punishment is not thorough scholarship or completely defensible reasoning, imo- nor is it an easily proveable offensive solution to the doctrine of eternal punishment, because for one thing it presumes to base its strength on the Greek thought as original in nature. But that would be inconsistent with this Hebrew of Hebrews- Paul, who if he wrote aionios, was surely thinking of it in terms of Olam. What everyone really ought to want to know is what the word expresses out of the mind of God. Olam is the truer and more effective representative of that thought, so aionios should be considered in that light- as far as a contextual affirmation of meaning, at the very least.


#13

Is the word in Jonah 2:6 aionios or αἰώνιοι?

According to two posters in the following thread the word in Jonah 2:6 is a plural form of the noun aion, not the adjective aionios:

“Please can I have a list of all LXX occurrences of aionios?”


#14

“What do you make of /u/koine_lingua’s arguments?”

To put it succinctly, i think they are full of it.

To his credit, he does give the appearance of scholarship or expertise in certain very limited aspects.

Does that make him or any of us a:

  1. scholar of philosophy reason & logic as per a Tom Talbott, for example? Who, i might add, has confounded & destroyed many such scholars as KL.

  2. scholar of the Scriptures? No. KL seems rather an amateur in that regard.

  3. scholar of the Holy Spirit’s teaching. No, apparently KL is not even a Christian.

  4. scholar of understanding UR? Again, KL looks like a novice.

  5. scholar who appears unbiased, objective, without an agenda? Yes/no? I’d say no.

  6. scholar who is not on someone’s payroll or doing work for his own advancement, selfishness, ego, etc, without regard for the truth?

  7. scholar of Satan (including those select scholars one references), who is the “god of this age” & world, as in the 1000+ years of ETC dominance,
    with inquisitions, crusades, burnings of “heretics” & their writings.

Some Scriptures to consider in this regard re his comments above are:

“Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.” (Titus 1:14)

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience.” (Eph.5:6)

"O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid irreverent chatter and the opposing arguments of so-called “knowledge,” (!Tim.6:10)

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor.11:3)

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph.4:14)

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Cor.11:14-15)

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse!”
(Gal.1:8)

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph.6:12)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2Tim.3:16)

“This is good, and is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1Tim.2:3-6)


#15

“Origen”, if you’re going to continue, please withhold from insulting our guest posters, especially about being a scholar of Satan. That runs directly against our forum rules of discourse.

I’ve seen the scriptures you quoted flicked up against Christian universalists, too.

As far as your question about αἰώνιοι, I think the plural form of the noun wouldn’t have the iota after the nu; and if it’s translating a cognate for olam, specifically la-olam (me-limit or me-horizon), then it’s in bounds for translating as a Greek adjective (setting aside a related discussion about whether Hebrew even has adjectives: Greek definitely does, and both the LXX and the canonical authors use them when translating Hebrew, in the case of canonical authors whether directly or by reference to the LXX or by an inspired paraphrase/midrash, or some combination.)

Anyway, {aio_nioi} (with the underscore there signifying an omega, since I don’t have or don’t know a good diacritic mark on this keyboard for signalling the long vowel) is a 2-1-2 form adjective as far as I’ve been able to tell looking up things. It’s a masculine nominative (or vocative) plural form, meant to describe {hoi mochloi} or the bars.

Davo isn’t correct about it being a plural form of aion (except in the sense of it being a plural form of the adjective for aion). Paidion and I both agree on it being a plural adjective form. I didn’t find another poster saying it was a plural form of the noun; and Davo himself might not have really meant that, since there is some common conflation or confusion over the use of nouns and adjectives. (Even Paidion, who knows better, didn’t exactly specify for correction that {aion} just means age – it doesn’t mean “lasting”, that’s the adjective form of eon.)

Paidion and I have an ultimately trivial disagreement about whether eonian can mean eternal or everlasting or not. We both agree it doesn’t have that intrinsic meaning; and we both agree its meaning can be used in reference to that which is eternal or everlasting etc. I conclude this means the adjective can mean (as a secondary application, by extension) eternal/everlasting/never-ending. It can also mean, by the same token, a qualitative reference to the divine, whether as a euphamism for God (the Eternal as we’d say in English), or that which comes uniquely from God – but this meaning seems more proper to the NT, not the LXX. (Although there at least a small exegetical basis for it in the OT, too, where God once tells Israel He is “your eonian”. But most OT refs only accidentally fit that concept, and the underlying two Hebrew terms OLM and AHD don’t have an intrinsic meaning along that line; they’re nouns of horizontal and vertical distance used for adjective purposes by a poetic comparison.)


#16

KL,

I’m pretty sure no fundamentalist would regard me as having a fundamentalistic view of the Bible. :wink: You did notice the part where I allowed that Jonah might be a fictional parable, right?

I think our differences are actually pretty minor, if there are any such at all. All I’m pointing out is that the terms (whether Greek or Hebrew, and there are two different Hebrew terms involved in translating to the Greek, the other term of which we haven’t been discussing in this thread) can and often (in the OT) do refer to things that in fact come to an end.

We may be disagreeing on whether the core meaning of the term (or term-group rather) refers in its normal OT usage (broadly considered across several centuries worth of texts at least) to that which never ends: I think it can mean that, not that it always means that; you seem to think it always means that, even when events turn out otherwise. If so, we’re only disagreeing though about a fluidity of meaning in the minds of the speakers/writers: Mom and I use “forever” in an exaggerated way on a regular basis, as many English speakers do. Do we actually mean at the moment of usage forever? The answer is both yes and no: yes, otherwise the rhetorical point wouldn’t make sense, but also no. If you pressed Obama on what he strictly meant in the (fictional?) example you gave, the answer would probably be the same: no, he doesn’t really think the monument and so the symbol will last forever/eternally; but yes, he was borrowing that meaning for the purpose of emphasis so he was positively using that meaning as eternal/forever.

When it comes to a theological argument, however, then your Obama parallel doesn’t really work: first, it would have to be Obama who is taking down something he previously described as olam, and second Obama would have to have God-level omniscience or some relevant level of intentionality with regard to the future. If God says He is giving X olam to Y, that raises questions of what God as God in the position of God meant by describing the gift that way when He turns around and repeals the gift later. No doubt there are several ways to look at answering those questions, some of which are not mutually exclusive to each other and/or to any given theology (although some answers may exclude one or more theology, too.)

Nevertheless, the example must stand that if God says (or is translated as saying, let us say :wink: ), that X is olam/eonian/AHD (or into the eon(s), to bring in the related prepositional phrase and its cognates, which probably translate the underlying Hebrew terms more literally anyway), that doesn’t necessarily mean God will choose to keep olam/AHD X going forever after all. He might or might not – the term(s) itself (or themselves) don’t make the decisive difference. Context, whether immediate, local, or extended, including conceptual as well as grammatic context, makes the decisive difference.

All of which is to say, more simply, that appealing to the term(s) per se doesn’t settle the question, even though they have an important role in setting expectations to work from.

Relatedly, as I said before, neither am I at all on the side of those who argue that the term(s) only pertain to an age – not least because the underlying Hebrew terms don’t have ages per se in mind at all in their intrinsic meanings. But also because while plural ages may eventually cease, although I doubt that’s what the {telos} refers to in that verse from EpistHeb people like to cite on the topic, I don’t see anything to argue that the ultimate Day/Age of YHWH ever comes to an end. That would be like saying the Lordship of YHWH ever comes to an end, or like saying a happy ending must itself necessarily come to an end even for God simply because it’s called an “ending” in English. (And as I have pointed out, if there can be “eons of eons”, then any eon can have eons, so there doesn’t have to be a hard-cut distinction between the Day of the Lord and continuing eons during that Age. Moreover, there can be overlaps between Ages, as demonstrated in various scriptural ways.)

So my objections have less than nothing to do with trying to promote that idea instead, in case you thought that’s what I was trying to do. :slight_smile:


#17

Fascinating post Jason. So if you had to define aionion in a sentence or two, how would you? I’ve never found “age lasting” a good definition, and that universalists frequently use it is a main reason that prior to me reading UR books and spending time on this forum, I didn’t think UR was anything but wishful thinking and mental gymnastics. “Age lasting” is so clunky. People simply don’t talk like that. Plus most of the time when “everlasting”/“eternal” is used in both the OT and NT, it’s clear the speakers didn’t have a period that definitely would end in their minds.


#18

Hi Jason… are you referring to HERE?

<αἰώνιος> ‎aiōnios is indeed the adjective derivative of the noun <αἰών> aiōn.

Adjective (2-1-2): αιώνιοι aiōnioi = nominative and vocative masculine plural form of <αιώνιος> ‎aiōnios = age-long / unending age-long, and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.


#19

Thank you for the warning, Jason. I made several minor changes to make the statements speak more generally to all of us, myself included, especially regarding points 6 & 7.

BTW i would note the following remark from KL in post two of this series:

“Again, this isn’t to try to assassinate the character of the authors of the monograph, but I’ve isolated more than one instance where it looks like the larger context (or the form of its citation)—which would suffice to show that their revisionist reinterpretations are impossible on other grounds, too—may have been purposely omitted so as to reinforce their conclusion, and preemptively deflect criticism. And this seems to have gone well beyond a sort of natural/inadvertent selective bias, and into the territory of deception (unless it is merely incompetence of the highest order; though I tend toward it being more deliberate in some instances).”


#20

koine_lingua:

This is interesting. Whether or not Gabe Grinstead’s report was accurate, that kl isn’t a Christian, I think kl’s argument against universalism only works if one presupposes that the Bible does not contain the truth. Because there are things described in the OT as “eternal” that in fact came to an end, a subscriber to kl’s thesis must, I think, commit to unbelief: “Olam statements directly attributed to or allegedly inspired by God are predictions of things that wouldn’t end. The Hebrew writers genuinely believed that what they were describing wouldn’t end, when they used olam. The fact that some of their olam things ended is proof that the Hebrew writers were fallible men, not conduits to the mind of an omniscient Being.” I think for hopeless punishment believers (whether ET or anni) to co-opt kl’s thesis, they’d be cutting off the nose to spite the face.