The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What do you make of /u/koine_lingua's arguments? (Part 2)

[Admin edited to add [url=]a link to part 1 here.]

I spoke, in my previous post, of the vagueness of the translation of aiōnios as “pertaining to an age.” However, what some universalists really mean with this translation is actually rather specific: “pertaining to a set period of time; sometimes finite, though long-lasting.” Yet many other universalists commit an even more egregious error. Gregory MacDonald, in his book The Evangelical Universalist, writes that

Further, Christopher D. Marshall—although ultimately taking more an annihilationist perspective on punishment aiōnios—writes that the use of aiōnios in places like Matthew 25.46 “may simply designate that the realities in question pertain to the future age” (2001:186 n. 123).

The most sustained modern academic study that argues this is Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan’s Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdiosin Classical and Christian Texts. Here, Ramelli and Konstan

Since the bulk of my posts will focus on Ramelli and Konstan’s monograph, it’s worth saying something about the occasion of the book itself; its reception and influence, etc.

First off, from just a casual look, it seems to have been received well among non-academic purgatorial universalists (though no surprise there), and in many senses now represents the main academic face for purgatorialism. (Beyond this, many of its conclusions have been employed by Ramelli in publications that are a bit more prestigious than Gorgias Press: in addition to various top journals, they were heavily employed in Ramelli’s recent The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis, published by Brill.)

In terms of reviews in top journals,

Bryn Mawr’s review was short and merely descriptive, refraining from any value judgments.

The review for RBL had some critical things to say; but the main criticism was its failing to live up to its scope, as the title (and various stated purposes within) might suggest, and other oversights:

and is

The review in The Classical Review is mostly descriptive, though concludes that it is a “first-rate reference work.”

By contrast, however, I would like to dispute that this is a “first-rate reference work.” It is shockingly poor, and in my view represents the worst of unwarranted and unprofessional research masquerading as legitimate academic work. I’m not out for Ramelli and Konstan personally, and will try to remain polite, but… if such a thing were done, a formal retraction of this monograph would be well warranted. (Though it’s been years since its original publication, and I doubt anyone would care; although, again, I note that this monograph is somewhat of the “academic face” of purgatorialism, at least in one of their main arguments.)

If I had to make a rough guess, after having examined something like 200 of its citations, a good 190 of them are egregiously and impossibly mistranslated and misconstrued.

Now, if the (new/revisionistic) translations/interpretations within the monograph were all simply premised on a misunderstanding of a certain aspect of Greek grammar—which they are—this would of course be incredibly unfortunate, though perhaps ultimately (somewhat) benign. Yet it is not simply this syntactical misunderstanding that prohibited acceptable translations/interpretation here, but a blatant disregard of many other elements of syntax and context which also had to have been ignored.

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).

In my above section, I made vague reference to perhaps their central flaw is (though I don’t mean to minimize the efforts they go to to “disguise” this), but to be more clear: Ramelli and Konstan wholeheartedly embrace Gregory MacDonald (et al.)'s suggestion that aiōnios

…and take it to its most (il)logical extreme.

Of course, the main and fatal flaw that Ramelli and Konstan commit is understanding aiōnios as overwhelmingly having the force of an “adjectival” genitive, as if it were (τοῦ) αἰῶνος, “of an/the age”… but when it’s used non-genitively! Ramelli and Konstan do this even in the case where we have a non-genitive modifying adjectival αἰώνιος in a series where the other clauses do indeed have actual genitive modifiers (and thus τοῦ αἰῶνος would have fit like a glove), but it was in fact not used. I cite Clement of Alexandria’s What Rich Man Will Be Saved? 42.17 as an example of this: …εἰς τοὺς κόλπους τοῦ πατρός, εἰς τὴν αἰώνιον ζωήν, εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν…

Ironically enough, though, in one of the few instances in the NT where we have a singular anarthrous adjectival genitive here – 2 Pet 3.18, εἰς ἡμέραν αἰῶνος – αἰῶνος appears to mean “eternal”! (This is clearly a Semitism/Septuagintalism, though: cf. ימי עולם.)

Of course, though, even if did grant that aiōnios in its non-genitive form could function like a genitive that signified “of an/the age/world” (which we absolutely shouldn’t), it would by no means be obvious that this was signifying the eschatological age. (Ramelli and Konstan regularly gloss aiōnios as “of the age/world to come,” though.)

The major problem here, as I noted in my original post, is that it doesn’t really appear that the eschaton is ever referred to by simply using a free-standing aiōn itself. (And there’s no eschatological implication with the phrase εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, “into the age,” which is simply a common figurative way of saying “forever.” Perhaps compare the idiom “[driving off] into the sunset” as meaning going away with no intention to return.) Rather, in the NT there’s always a modifying word which clues us in to when the eschatological age is being referred to: ὁ αἰών ὁ ἐρχόμενος, “the age to come” (Luke 18.30, Mark 10.30); συντέλεια αἰῶνός, “the end/consummation of the age” (Matthew 13.39); αἰών μέλλων, “the future age” (Col 2.17), etc. (Though something like ἡ ἡμέρα is “a recognized eschatological term where the context allowed it to be so understood” [France 2002:542]; cf. 1 Cor 3.13.)

But most importantly: in the same way that the referent of ὁ αἰών ἐκεῖνος, “that age,” in Luke 20.35 has already been made clear—pointing back to the eschatological age of resurrection (ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει…, v. 33)—similarly, the chronological (and eschatological) framework of Mt 25.46 is set earlier, in 25.31: ὅταν . . . ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (“When . . . the Son of Man comes…”). In other words, it is not—cannot be—simply inferred from aiōnios itself, as universalists might have it.

Funny enough, though, in their monograph Ramelli and Konstan seem to note the same thing (apparently without realizing how damaging it is for their thesis): “αἰών is never used absolutely, but always have a modifier: this αἰών, the current αἰών, and the like” (66).

[Admin edited to add [url=]a link to part 3 here.]

2 Peter 3:18 in literal versions refers to the/a “day of the eon” (i.e. age):

18 Yet be growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory now, as well as for the day of the eon. Amen!" (CLV)

18 and increase ye in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; to him is the glory both now, and to the day of the age! Amen. (YLT)

18 grow you but in favor and knowledge of the Lord of us and Savior Jesus Anointed. To him the glory both now and to a day of an age; so be it. (Diaglott)

In the context of the same chapter at verse 8, a “day” is of a limited duration, as with the typical use & meaning of the word “day”:

8 Now of this one thing you are not to be oblivious, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.

It seems to me quite reasonable, in light of the Scriptural evidence, to take the vast majority of New Testament (NT) occurrences of aionion as referring to a future eon or eons. Most of them refer to life in the phrase “life eonian”(aionion). In “Life, Time, Entirety”, p.161, Helena Keizer notes that the only reference in the LXX to “life eonian” is Daniel 12:2. This verse indicates “life eonian” will be received after the resurrection of the dead. IOW “life eonian” is eschatological & that is the OT reference those who heard Jesus speak repeatedly of “life eonian” would have had on their minds.

In the NT “life eonian” is contrasted with various terms re eonian punishment, so these also are logically to be taken eschatologically. Likewise with references to such things as God’s eonian kingdom, the saints eonian inheritance & salvation, etc. Overall the vast majority of NT eonian, i.e. aionion, references probably refer exclusively to a future eon or eons. In fact all of them may have reference to such a future time, even if in a few cases they also refer to the present. For a list of NT references to the word by individual subjects:

BTW re aion Strong’s Concordance states:

“… specially (Jewish) a Messianic period (present or future)…”

IMO εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, “into the age,” literally refers to an age (i.e. eon) & shouldn’t be interpreted for the reader of English Bible versions by the theology of pro endless hell advocates as “forever”. That is misleading, deceptive & dishonest.

Exodus 21:6, LXX has your phrase, εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, but who would consider the meaning there as being literally “forever”?

6 then shall his lord bring him near unto God, and shall bring him near unto the door, or unto the door-post,—and his lord shall pierce his ear with an awl, so shall he serve him all his life. (Ro)

6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life. (NIV)

6 then his lord will bring him close to the elohim, and bring him close to the door or to the jamb, and his lord will bore his ear with an awl; and he will serve him for the eon. (CLV)

6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever. (KJV)