The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What do you make of /u/koine_lingua's arguments? [Part 5]

[Admin edited to add [url=]a link to part 4 here.]

I’ve skipped over a few pages of Ramelli and Konstan’s Septuagint analysis, where for example they look at terms like מעולם, understood as “from ancient times,” which is uncontroversial. There are a few instances throughout this, however, where they make careless errors that could have been avoided with a greater familiarity with the languages and context of the verses here. On p. 40, they write

Yet the motif of the עוֹלָם אֹרַח/שְׁבִיל/נָתִיב is attested elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (Jeremiah 6.16; 18.15), and clearly means “ancient” path. (And cf. NETS’ translation of LXX Job 22.15, “…the ageless way that unjust men trod”)

They claim οἱ αἰώνιοι in Job 3.18 refers to “men of the world”; yet it is in fact impossible to determinate what the translator meant here, as this is obviously a scribal corruption, with MT reading אסירים. (Walters (1973:316) proposes that ΔΕ ΟΙ ΑΙΩΝΙΟΙ is a corruption of the original translation of יַחַד אֲסִירִים as ΔΕΣΜΙΟΙ ΑΝΕΙΜΕΝΟΙ; the translator “obviously reduced to guess-work.”)

On p. 44, Ramelli and Konstan write

Yet why on earth could this not indicate an absolute eternity? In the idealistic mindset of the author of Micah here, was there really any reason that Israel, in its idealistic future, would not “walk in the name of the God” genuinely forever? Ramelli/Konstan’s translation of the Greek as “from generation to generation” is not impossible; but I think it’s too weak, and a more compelling (literal) translation would actually be very close to a Buzz Lightyear-esque “to infinity and beyond”—especially considering the very next verse (Micah 4.7)’s מֵעַתָּה וְעַד־עֹולָֽם / ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν καὶ ἕως εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. (A more modest translation, though, would just be a simple “forever.”)

On p. 46, LXX Jeremiah 20.17’s “pregnancy of ʻôlām” is called “paradoxical, a pregnancy that lasts an entire life.” Yet in context this seems to be a sort of figurative way of someone wishing to have never been born. Likewise, for LXX Jeremiah 28.39 (MT 51.29), Ramelli/Konstan point to the “sleep of ʻôlām” which “lasts a lifetime or forever.” Surely Ramelli/Konstan could not have failed to miss that this simply refers to death, right? (See my comments on Tobit 3.6; Qohelet 12.5, etc., in Part 3.) Yet, unless I’m mistaken, the context in which these are cited seems to be instances in which αἰώνιος and עוֹלָם cannot signify true eternity; thus the LXX Jeremiah verses appear to have been enlisted as support for this.

Most egregious of all, however, is the claim on pp. 47-48:

Above all, this begs the question of “genuine eternity” only being denoted for, say, aspects of the nature of God. Yet Ramelli and Konstan are obviously aware of negative uses here:

…and can we really say that none of these intended to denote genuine eternity (even if only in the sense of irreversibility—and and also note that even a rhetorical/exaggerated “eternal” is still an eternal)?

Noting that ἀίδιος, aidios, is largely absent from the New Testament, they begin their analysis of aiōnios in the NT by discussing several essays that appear in the volume Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, edited by Robin Parry and Christopher Partridge. The first of these is “A Wideness in God’s Mercy: Universalism in the Bible” by Thomas Johnson, who

and that, with the uses of aiōnios in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in “nearly every case, they refer, not to unending time, but to the quality of eternity, the kind of life that characterizes the age to come” (57). Further, Thomas Talbott’s “A Pauline Interpretation of Divine Judgement” is quoted, where aiōnios “came to function as a kind of eschatological term, a handy reference to the age to come” (emphasis mine).

Ramelli and Konstan themselves tip their hand as to their agreement here, noting (p. 60) that “[the] use of αἰώνιος in reference to the life beyond is frequent, especially in the formula ζωὴ αἰώνιος, to indicate life in the αἰών, in the world to come.”

Yet, at this juncture, these claims are simply asserted, not proven. Can this interpretation indeed be supported?

Hebrews will be used as a test case, on the basis of both Johnson’s and Ramelli and Konstan’s analyses/claims here. (Bear in mind, though, that there are actually only six occurrences of the term aiōnios in Hebrews [with three of these occurring in the span of four verses]: 5.9; 6.2; 9.12, 14, 15; 13.20.)

At the outset, I should also note that it’s hard to know exactly what Johnson intends with the first part of his description of the qualitative dimensions of aiōnios, “belonging to eternity or the age to come.” Does he intend to say that the two can be differentiated in some way? And, if so, what might “belonging to eternity” signify that a “quantitative” aiōnios does not? Johnson’s claim that aiōnios in Hebrews mostly refers to “the kind of life that characterizes the age to come” does not help much here, nor his comment on κρίματος αἰωνίου in Hebrews 6.2, that this “is not a judgment that lasts forever but one that takes place in eternity.” (Why say “in eternity,” and not just that it takes place at/during the eschaton, if the latter is what he intended?)

But perhaps this is reading too much into it.

In any case, re: Hebrews, Ramelli and Konstan write (p. 66) that

A footnote here reads

Again, this is all simply asserted, not supported. Due to their lack of argumentation here, it’s hard to determine why exactly they assert this so equivocally.

The first verse (of Hebrews) referred to by Ramelli and Konstan was 6.2:

Again, Ramelli and Konstan argue that that aiōnios here refers to “the world to come” and not “eternal.”

We have other parallels to the phrase κρίματος αἰωνίου, e.g. in 1 Enoch. The first of these is found in 1 En. 10.12: καὶ ὅταν κατασφαγῶσιν οἱ υἱοὶ αὐτῶν καὶ ἴδωσιν τὴν ἀπώλειαν τῶν ἀγαπητῶν, καὶ δῆσον αὐτοὺς ἑβδομήκοντα γενεὰς εἰς τὰς νάπας τῆς γῆς μέχρι ἡμέρας κρίσεως αὐτῶν καὶ συντελεσμοῦ, ἕως τελεσθῇ τὸ κρίμα τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων. Nickelsburg translates this “And when their sons perish and they see the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, until the day of their judgment and consummation, until the everlasting judgment is consummated.” For clarity, we might translate ἕως τελεσθῇ τὸ κρίμα τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων here more along the lines of “until the eternal [lit. “(of) ages of ages”; viz. “forever and ever”] judgment is given/executed.” (There’s no extant Aramaic fragment for these verses; though the duplication “forever and ever” is attested in the Hebrew Bible, as we’ve already seen: e.g. לעולם ועד and לנצח נצחים.)

The phrase דין עלמא is found in 4QEnᵍ—a fragment from 1 Enoch 91.15. 1 En 91.15-16 as a whole reads

Stuckenbruck comments here that ‘The judgement is “eternal” because it marks the complete, unrepeatable defeat of evil’ (148), which seems to be on point.

Finally, mention should be made of 1 En. 104.5. This is a somewhat enigmatic text, both in the Greek and Ge’ez:


The differences between the Ge’ez and Greek text of the latter verse are great; but what seems clear is that ኵነኔ እንተ ለዓለም here refers to a decisive eschatological judgment, which will forever affect those after it (whether positively or negatively)—Eth. (ለ)ኵሉ ትውልደ ዓለም (cf. כל דרי עלמין from 4QEnᵍ) (“the rest of your days” might be a comparable idiom).

To conclude, all of these verses seem to hint towards the idea of eternal judgment/punishment not as truly infinite in duration, but rather consequence (as will be discussed further below). This is confirmed when we look at a final verse from 1 Enoch, 1 En. 91.9, where eschatological annihilation appears to be clearly in view:

Unfortunately there’s another lacuna in my original writing here. I had some incomplete thought about people making 'too much of a dichotomy between “judgment” and “punishment”, sometimes ascribed to the difference between κρίσις and κρίμα; and I apparently ended writing that we should understand the aiōniosin κρίματος αἰωνίου in the sense of “ultimate in significance and everlasting in effect” (quoting Christopher D. Marshall)—that is, (almost certainly) suggesting annihilationism.

Skipping down to pp. 94-85 (on a related theme), Ramelli and Konstan discuss the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra:

Yet the Apocalypse of Ezra clearly does conceive of eternal judgment/punishment. For example, 1.24 reads

…and 5.20f:

(The idea of “storehouses” of punishment is employed in several places, figuratively and perhaps literally: cf. Romans 2.5; LXX Prov 16:27; Philo, Leg. 3.105-06; 2 Baruch 59.5f.)

[Admin edited to add [url=]a link to the finale, part 6, here.]

Because καὶ ἐπέκεινα translates as “and beyond”, thereby limiting (εἰς) τὸν αἰῶνα in Micah 4:5 to a finite duration:

5 because all the people will walk every one in his own way, let us therefore walk in the name of the Lord our God until that age and beyond it. (CTT LXX translation)
5 for all the peoples shall go, each man in the name of his elohim, yet we will go in the name of Yahweh our Elohim, for the eon and further. (CLV)
5 For, all the peoples, walk, every man in the name of his god,—we, therefore, will walk in the name of Yahweh our God, to times age-abiding and beyond. (RO)
5 For all the peoples do walk, Each in the name of its god—and we, We do walk in the name of Jehovah our God, To the age and for ever. (YLT)
5…into the eon and beyond (ABP LXX translation)

Also, as Ramelli went on to imply in the next sentence after that you quoted, Origen understood the phrase as a finite duration due to the words “and beyond” which follow it.

Likewise, Helena Keizer renders the relevant portion of Micah 4:5 as “for the aion and beyond”. She adds that "Even more than in Exod. 15:18, the aion phrase in this text seems to suggest that aion by itself is of limited scope. Eis ton aiona kai epekeina may be interpreted as “for the aion and what follows it”. She also notes that “The phrase καὶ ἐπέκεινα is consistently used in the LXX to translate Hebrew wahal ah, “and further”, that is, further both in space and in time” ("Time, Life, Entirety, p.165).

Is there any reason to think that wasn’t the meaning of the full expression “into the eon and beyond”, rather than merely “into the eon”? Ramelli’s point was that “into the eon”, not the entire phrase of “into the eon and beyond”, is not an absolute eternity.

The next verse after verse 5 is verse 6. Verse 7 has your phrase which is translated as:

from the present and unto the eon (ABP LXX translation).
henceforth and unto the eon. (CLV)
from henceforth, even unto times age-abiding. (RO)
From henceforth, and unto the age. (YLT)

Literal? Certainly self contradictory nonsense.

I am reminded of this quote:

“I note that as with most heterodox groups whenever scripture as written contradicts one’s doctrine then explain it away by making it figurative; imagery, metaphor. Anyone can make the Bible say almost anything they want it to, doing that”.

The ironic thing is that is like what the self proclaimed “orthodox” of the Inquisitions do in regards to words like aion and with their misleading translation “for ever and ever”, etc.

Surprise, well-known idiomatic language doesn’t adhere to rigid logic, mathematical or otherwise.

Anyone who’s taken even an introductory course in any sort of branch of linguistics would probably learn this. I’m guessing it might genuinely be a surprise to those esteemed YouTube researchers, though.

In any case, certainly “from generation to generation” is even more distant from being a “literal” translation of εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ἐπέκεινα than something that tries to capture its sense a la “forever and beyond.” “To infinity and beyond” just so happens to be a phrase that a general Anglophone audience may well have heard before, as opposed to “forever and beyond.” (Though again, “forever and ever” is still the same idea, and surely that would be the most familiar phrase.)

In this case A.E. Knoch calls it idio[ma]tic:

“Idiomatic or Idiotic?
[The Bible is the]…book of books…book and book
[The Lord’s Coming is the]…day of days…day and day
shir eshirim…song of songs…song and song
qdsh equdshim…holy of holies…holy and holy
kurios kuridn…Lord of lords…Lord and lord
oasileus basileon…King of kings…King and king
aionos tdn aidnon… eon of eons…ever and ever (R.V.) throughout all ages, world without end. (A.V.)”

As it is said:

There is an old maxim for Bible translation, “If the plain senses makes good sense, then it is nonsense to look for any other sense.”

True, it might be someone’s attempt at a paraphrase or an interpretation.

So as you may have already surmised, doubling in Biblical Hebrew (and other languages) expresses intensification in any number of senses. There’s the well-known use of the intensifying infinitive absolute, for example, such as in Genesis 2:17’s מֹ֥ות תָּמֽוּת, “you will certainly die.” This exact same phenomenon is actually seen in Ugaritic, too — a language very closely related to Hebrew; and the end of that section in the book I just linked cites Akkadian examples as well. (For an even more detailed look at this, see the various studies cited in Scott Callaham’s monograph on the infinitive absolute in Hebrew.)

When it comes to doubled noun formations, in the examples you just cited, we see the doubling in the construct state (genitive); and here this usually functions as a superlative: the most holy; the greatest king, etc.

Understanding that doubling expresses intensification or the superlative in any number of different senses/facets should already clear up the confusion in the source you cited:

The translations forever, everlasting, eternal, for ever and ever, are contrary to the idiomatic usage of the Hebrew and Greek. There the holy of holies, is the holiest of all, not a holy place of infinite extent. It is sheer interpretation, and it ignores the idiom of the original. If the holy of holies does not include all space neither does the eon of the eons include all time.

(Who on earth would think that the doubling in “holy of holies” suggests “a holy place of infinite extent” or “all space”?)

When we’re talking about doubling involving Hebrew ‘olam… well, first off, as far as I’m aware we don’t find anything like לעולמי עולמים in the canonical Hebrew Bible at all. We do, however, find this doubling of the Aramaic cognate of ‘olam, in Daniel 7: עַד עָלַם עָלְמַיָּֽא. More importantly, we find similar constructions in the Hebrew of the OT involving other temporal terms. For example, we find phrases like לְדֹר דֹּֽר and לְדֹור דֹּורִֽים pretty frequently; and we also see things like לְנֵצַח נְצָחִים (Isaiah 34:10). These examples illustrate an identical pattern: they’re all adverbial clauses that begin with a preposition, followed by a temporal term + doubled construct. And interestingly, we find the exact same thing in Akkadian, too — another Semitic language that’s even older than Hebrew: for example (ana) dūr dār: (Apparently it’s found in Ugaritic, too:

In addition to what I’ve already mentioned in Daniel, constructions with this doubled/construct (Aramaic) ʻalam or (Hebrew) ‘olam are found frequently throughout the Dead Sea Scrolls and other non-canonical Jewish literature. And obviously all of this translates over to the identical Greek εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (τοῦ) αἰῶνος and εἰς αἰῶνας (τῶν) αἰώνων, too.

Bringing this all together, when we’re talking about intensifying doubling applied to the temporal dimension, with all the examples I’ve mentioned, what this is expresses is a superlative in terms of the greatest or longest amount of time possible. Again, this is almost always colloquially translated as “forever and ever”; though of course we also have to bear in mind that “greatest or longest amount of time possible” can be conditioned by the thing or phenomenon we’re talking about. This is why permanence can be a very useful concept/term to talk about here, too: we all know that talk of things like “permanent IDs” is meant to cover the longest amount of time that could possibly transpire here — even though in that example we’re obviously talking about the human dimension, conditioned by mortality.

Thanks for sharing insights from your research into ancient languages , KL.

For now i’ll just copy my same reply to your same remarks on reddit here:

Namely, the following:

AE Knoch discusses the topic on pages 20-24 of the booklet:

And here is internal & extra-biblical evidence that the phrases in question - e.g. literally eons of the eons - (mistranslated with the self contradictory nonsense “for ever and ever”, etc) can refer to finite time periods:

Even this relatively new Eastern Orthodox version renders the Greek phrases literally into English as referring to “ages” instead of forever + ever.

If Jesus wished to express endless punishment, then He would have used expressions such as “endless”, “no end” & “never be saved” as per:

Jesus didn’t use the best words & expressions to describe endlessness in regards to punishment, because He didn’t believe in endless punishment.

ENDLESSNESS not applied to eschatological PUNISHMENT in Scripture:

KL replied:

So an academic isn’t interested in the internal evidence of the book of Revelation where the “ages” phrases occur to help decide the meaning of those phrases by comparing apples with apples? Instead he’d prefer to compare apples with banana peels?

As for what i guess is your conclusion, that those Revelation phrases "express a superlative in terms of the greatest or longest amount of time possible", what is there about Daniel 7 - or anything else you referred to - that leads you to that conclusion? Why not instead conclude that they express a superlative in terms of quality? Compare the chart from A.E. Knoch you posted in the OP, where all the similar phrase expressions listed express quality, not quantity.

The “King of kings” doesn’t refer to the “largest amount of kings possible” but to the subset of one King who is superior in quality to the others in the set. The “holy of holies” does not refer to the “largest amount of holies possible” but to the one holy that is above the others. “The eon(s) of the eons” does not refer to “the longest amount of eons possible”, but to a subset of eon(s) that are greater in quality within a particular set of eons.

Why should Genesis 2:17 be taken as an "intensification? Did Adam die on the same day he sinned? He began dying:

Young’s Literal Translation
and of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it – dying thou dost die.’ (YLT)

“…for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die; or “in dying, die” (z);…”

Adam did not surely die on the day he ate the fruit. But he did begin dieing towards a sure outcome of death:

“…for in the day you eat from it, to die shall you be dying.” (CLV)

"There is an old maxim for Bible translation, “If the plain senses makes good sense, then it is nonsense to look for any other sense.” "

BTW, the LXX translation of the Hebrew uses two different words for death:

I don’t see how that supports your conclusion. Alam is equivalent to olam & aion which speaks of duration, usually in regards to an eon or age.

Dan.7:18 Yet the saints of the supremacies shall receive the kingdom and they will safeguard the kingdom unto the eon, even unto the eon of the eons. (CLV)

Young’s Literal Translation
and receive the kingdom do the saints of the Most High, and they strengthen the kingdom unto the age, even unto the age of the ages.

The NIV - and likewise a number of other versions - have the incredibly absurd:

Dan.7:18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever–yes, for ever and ever.’

The NIV speaks of people obtaining a kingdom for 3 forevers. How will they accomplish that? By living in 2 other alternate universes? By living simultaneously in two other existing universes? If so, which of them will be the “universe of universes”, which should not be confused with endless universes. And which of the 3 forevers will be the “forever of forevers”, not to be confused with an infinite number of forevers.

" “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.— The Golden Rule of Interpretation , D.L. Cooper”[1]"

Isa.34:10 and shall be consumed by night and by day, and it will not be quenched for the eon; its smoke shall ascend from generation to generation, and it shall be deserted permanently, for permanence, and no one shall pass in it. (CLV)

A literal English translation of the LXX translation of the Hebrew has:

…unto her generations she shall be made desolate; and for [time a long] she shall be made desolate. (Isa.34:10, Apostolic Bible Polygot English):

Which both reject a rendering of “forever and ever” (e.g. KJV).

As does Helena Keizer who renders it “endurance of endurances” ("Life, Time, Entirety, p.142) . Similarly a literal Hebrew-English interlinear has:

“…for permanence-of permanences”:

Which might be interpreted or paraphrased to mean “forever” based on the theory that the ultimate permanence never ceases. (Or, conceivably, it might be interpreted as being deserted a long time (compare LXX above) until, for example, a new heavens & new earth renew it & the area is no longer “deserted” but has visitors). But that does not warrant a - translation - as “forever and ever”. Nor does it support your conclusion.

This is like a PhD in physics debating the universe with a monkey. There’s genuinely no intellectual depths too low for a religiously motivated zealot.

While you’re here, can you say what you think John 1:14-18 says?