The Evangelical Universalist Forum

When did "eternal" change from "ethereal" to "endless"?

Here’s the link to that topic: Philo on aion

I don’t think it’s a conspiracy to smuggle in a different meaning. The reason I asked the question was that it seems that at least some of the early Church Father saw “aionios” as definitely not “everlasting”, and yet in 2011 the majority see “aionios” as “everlasting”. I wonder if it was a gradual change of the meaning of the word or if it was a particular person who initiated the change. This is why I bring up the issue of postmortem salvation, because those who allowed it, obviously didn’t see all those consigned to ECT as being there endlessly, i.e. they must’ve seen “aionios” as not implying endless. The reason I brought up Calvin, was he’s the first person I know of, who ruled out postmortem salvation. i.e. implying ECT really was endless for all those in it.

Now it was interesting that according to the “Online Etymology Dictionary” sees “eternal” originating in late 14c. France, which seems not far from Calvin both in time & in location. i.e. that might explain why he misunderstood “aionios”.

So I guess the question is, has it always been that:
90% thought “aionios” was “endless” and 10% thought “aionios” was something else e.g.“ethereal” or “lasting” or “age beyond sight of unknown duration”

OR did it start the other way around?

Hey Alex,

What did you think of my climate change analogy? Last I checked you thought that human induced climate change was plausible because of the evidence, majority of scientists etc.

Sorry, yes, I did think it was interesting, and yes I still suspect humans are changing the climate, although I realise it has turned out to be more complex than originally presented by “The Inconvenient Truth”.

I think language is less precise than climate science, however, I understand your point.

I totally agree! There always needs to be room for questions, rather than making it “heresy”/taboo to talk about.

This is certainly the case right now, although I think it’s changing…

This is what I honestly unsure about, has it always been the minority position or did it go from “ethereal” to “endless”, and is now swinging back to “ethereal” :confused:


Then you’re in a bind of your own making Alex, because can you point to the period of history where this suposed (and radical) change took place?

(BTW taboo and heresy mean two different things. I believe Universalism is heresy but shouldn’t be taboo.)
(Also are you a yes on human induced climate change because of the majority of scientists and/or the evidence?)

Why not read the article before a judgement is made? Then you will see the evidence if it exists. If it doesn’t, you will have more ammo fior your side. But read it for heaven’s sake.

You really think that it is heresy to believe in evangelical universalism? You think your cousin is a heretic? Will he be punished in hell for his heresy or can he still be a christian and believe that all will eventually be saved through the blood of Christ?

Heretics “are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity…” They are “bold and arrogant”. They “blaspheme in matters they do not understand.” They are “like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.” 2 Peter

Doesn’t look good for Alex. :open_mouth:

(What a poisonous little passage that is. Most scholars agree it wasn’t Peter who penned it, but whoever did was clearly having a bad day. I wonder how much blood has been spilled in obedience to the base sentiments expressed here? I also wonder which part obeys Christ’s command to love our enemies, pray for them, and to overcome evil with good.)


Steady on. I don’t think that portion of Scripture is poisonous, but if the worst thing in the cosmos is rebellion against God and the second most worst thing is the Son having to die, and the third worst thing is people’s ongoing rebellion, then wouldn’t the horror of punishment pale in comparison to those three greater horrors? (This assumes of course the existence of a God-centric moral standard because if we’re the source of the moral measurement that begs the questions of where we get it from and why it’s superior.)


Did I say Alex was a hertic? Universalism is wrong but I’m not God and neither thank God are any of us.


I overlooked the link thinking it was like the first two online dictionaries, it’s the first lexicon I’ve seen that doesn’t define “aionios” as “endless.” I think the climate change analogy is still effective, for whatever reason the majority of scholars favour BDAG over the Perseus website, but maybe the skeptics, as in the debate over human induced climate change have a case.


Or not as the case may be: BDAG ( But you have to go to your nearest theoligical Library for that one.

The way Josephsus and Chrysostum have used “aionios” is interesting, It’d be interesting to see the scholarly arguments on those ones, why they didn’t sway the translators. But they definitely by themselves don’t make the case.

I didn’t say exclusively, but I noticed you make no mention of Matt 19:16, Mk 10:17, Luke 10:25, Acts 13:46, Romans 2:7, Gal 6:8, 1 Tim 1:16 etc etc where the word of choice to describe an endless life with God is indeed “aionios.”

And this is where your argument founders. You’re claiming “aionios” means “lasting” and not “endless”, is there a nuance I’m missing, the duration seems the same? But you ignore/overlook the fact “aionios” is applied to both life with God and punishment away from God. Why would the biblical authors be ambiguous about life with God?

I’ve always found it helpful to understand the distinction with aionios as a quality vs. a quantity. In other words, aionios life is that quality of life, and aionios punishment also has to do with the quality of that. I think this is supported by the scripture’s own definition of what aionios life is: To know the Father and the Son. To know someone is a qualitative statement vs. a quantitative one.

We use the word “forever” this way in English. When we say, “boy, it took forever to get through that line (or queue)”, we of course don’t mean literally forever, or we’d still be there. We are talking about the quality of the experience rather than the literal quantity.

Did I say Alex was a hertic?

You said universalism is heresy, and Alex is a universalist. So I was asking if you thought he was a heretic, that’s all.

And this is where your argument founders. You’re claiming “aionios” means “lasting” and not “endless”, is there a nuance I’m missing, the duration seems the same? But you ignore/overlook the fact “aionios” is applied to both life with God and punishment away from God. Why would the biblical authors be ambiguous about life with God?***

I don’t think it founders at all. Part of the problem is the way we read the bible, as if it is supposed to be a very specific, clear-cut, precise, concise (and any other “cise” word you can think of) exposition of theological truth. I would be willing to bet that the early church didn’t parse the Greek verbs of Paul’s letters, spending weeks on the meanings of specific words. I’d further bet that if the biblical authors listened to some of our bible studies where we teach what we think they meant, that they would find it to be a bit funny that we think they said so much! If you take all of the passages about afterlife, Jesus and the other authors don’t really tell us very much at all and clarity doesn’t seem to be the strong suit of biblical authors on many particulars of the afterlife (some are parable, some are hyperbole, etc). Therefore, I think it is an odd question to ask “why would the biblical authors be ambiguous about [after]life with God?” because the biblical authors are consistently ambiguous about life with God! If you add up all the specifics we know about heaven it adds up to very little. Heaven remains quite the mystery, leaving much to the imagination.

The reason for this thread was to see if we could establish if aionios=endless has alway been the majority. It would be disappointing if it has been, but as you said, not necessarily proof that the majority had it right.

I still think the argument about postmortem salvation is valid. i.e. if people absolutely thought ECT was endless, then no one would ever have allowed postmortem salvation (but they did, until Calvin…).

I realise they aren’t the same, I was actually thinking about the way some people treat Climate Science as unquestionable truth/religion, which is why I put heresy in inverted commas :slight_smile:

I still suspect that the climate change is human induced, however, I realise it’s a lot more complex than “The Inconvenient Truth” made it out to be. Mind you, not being a scientist nor having recently looked at the raw data & other evidence for & against it, I wouldn’t bet my life on it either way… unlike Evangelical Universalism :mrgreen:

One explanation (true?-I don’t know) is that the translators were not familiar with the languages of scripture and imported other meanings.
The link that mentioned was not one for a lexicon. It is a link about Philo and his view of aion. You can find it by searching philo aion. Philo on aion
He is apparently similar in view to Gregory of Nyssa:
"Aion designates temporality, that which occurs within time.” (G. Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century [vol. 7 in Collected Works, Belmont, MA: Nordland Pub. Co., c1972–1987], pp. 209–210.)


Are you saying “aionios” always meant the quality of life with God and not it’s duration, always, that is until the NIV mistranslated it? Is there evidence that the majority of the church always thought this way?


You didn’t address those problems I mentioned earlier about using post-mortum salvation as a support.

You’re also dodging the climate change bullet, many people believe the global is warming up and that people caused it because the majority of scientist believe it. (But don’t worry if you concede this point, it’s got a sting in the tail for me as well.)


That argument doesn’t work because it means all the translators for nearly every single translation have got it wrong, that they were translators but didn’t know their Greek very well!

That’s an interesting argument but notice in your original link to the book about Jewish studies the author concedes that although in the very dim past (Homer) “aionios” may of had a limited duration but evolved into meaning eternal reflecting to quote that author the Hebrew word “owlam” which means “all time”, which in my mind seems alot like eternity so I’m not sure how that book or that thread supports either Alex’s opening thesis that eternal meant ethereal or the idea that eternal as used in the New Testmaent means a limited duration.


I’ve already given my understanding of it in another thread. But to put it simply, the facts are very clear on the word itself.

Here is my offered break down of it all;

Aion - An eon, an age; an existential state of being within a specific setting of which time is a key factor (ex. this present wicked aion/age/world).

Aionios - The adjective form of Aion.

Literally, Aionios = Instilling the qualified noun with the descriptive quality of being one that “pertains to a set of time, that is to say “an age”; an existential state of being within a ‘specific setting relevant to noun being qualified’.”

There is also an understanding implied of “ambiguous lastingness”. That is, there is no specific frame of time offered as in the case of words like “yearly” or “monthly” - and Biblical evidence (in The Septuagint) shows (as with the case of Jonah’s three days) that Aionios does not necessitate, nor imply a specific frame of time. It has more to do with a setting (literature term) than it does with our modern concept of time. Time is involved, as time is involved in “settings”. Time in the Greek, and especially the Hebrew mindset was a thing measured by the signs of the Heavens, and by the movements of the things thereof. That is, time dealt with the natural order of things, the movement of nature, the sun, moon, constellations, etc. Time was thought of through the lens of the world around it. Seasons, and the way plants would blossom and fade. The moon and how it would wax and wane. Constellations, and how their stars would roll across the night sky. The sun and how it would rise and set. Time and the place in which a person stood and existed, and interacted with existential experience in the Ancient world were inexorably inter-weaved.

Aion, as it pertains to time, pertains more fully with a concept of “setting”, in which time is a major emphasis. But time is not the full brunt of the word.

Applicably, lets look at the most famous example, the one upon which so much interpretation and controversy regarding the definition hinges;

Zoe aionion, and kolasin aionion.

In long hand would be;

*Life as pertaining to an age: a setting; an existential state of being within the specific setting relevant to Life. A lasting life, that lasts as long as the Life lasts.

Pruning or chastisement as pertaining to an age: a setting; an existential state of being within a specific setting relevant to pruning, or chastisement. A lasting chastisement, that lasts as long as the Chastisement lasts.* [size=70]a[/size]

a;[size=85]Until the pruning is finished, and the chastisement has reached its satisfaction; the redemption and correction of that which is being chastened. Until the silver has been cleaned of its dross, and is pulled out of the refiner’s consuming fire.[/size]

Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. -KJV

Under my presented premise, I’d like to offer a few possible translations;

And these shall depart into [a world of] chastisement yet the righteous into [a world of] life.
(you may substitute “a” for “the” as well)

And these shall depart into [a chastening world] yet the righteous into [a world of life].
(you may substitute “a” for “the” as well)

And these shall depart into [a setting of chastisement] yet the righteous into [a setting of life].

These are more literal, given that the Greek does not use the words “the” or “a” in the sentences, as I’ve added above for better reading.

And these shall depart into chastisement [chastisement lasting] yet the righteous into life [life lasting].

And these shall depart into [lasting] chastisement yet the righteous into [lasting] life.

And these shall depart into chastisement [of the age of chastisement] yet the righteous into life [of the age of life].

These are a few, but they are some of my educated speculations I suppose.

Is this the majority view Lefin, could you direct me to the relevant lexicon, the long tradition of translation and the variety of modern translations employing this meaning? Or is it, as I imagine, your hopeful reading of the word with the support of a minority of scholars and few historical translators?

You also, like many on this thread, have avoided the issue of ambiguity being applied to both life with God and punishment away from God. Why is life with God just as vague and ambiguous, will it also come to an end? I’m surprised no one’s tackled this, it seems like weak point in the Universalist translation of aionios.


Why do I need to cite what is common knowledge to anyone who knows about the methods of measuring time in Ancient Cultures? Common knowledge in grammar? At any rate, I’ll leave the citing and offering to others who have the resources and time.

Ancient Cultures’ concept of time revolved, and was linked to the natural world around them. I need not cite the various lunar calendars like the Hebrew Lunar calendar, the use of constellation signs for agricultural seasons, the measurement of years by the movement of the sun, etc. The festivals that revolve around the equinoxes…etc.

Hence; Time, as it were, to the Greek mind and the Hebrew mind would have been linked, and viewed from the lens of their “setting”. And there is always the Bible’s own example of Time/Setting coorelation, from the very mouth and purpose of God Himself.

(Gen 1:14-16) And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

At the very least…from a Biblical perspective, from God’s perspective; from Jesus’ perspective - Time and Setting are linked, and were created to be that way from Genesis onward.

As for the grammar. Aion means “age” - that is a brute fact. The adjective of a noun cannot go beyond the constraints of the noun it describes. The Titanic can be a “long” ship, but it cannot be the length of the distance between the Earth and Polaris. Aionion, being the adjective form of Aion, therefore pertains to the nature of Ageness, Lastingness, that which Age in the Greek/Hebrew mind meant, or perhaps even especially what Age means to God’s mind (Jesus’ mind) in using the word to begin with when he said “kolasin aionion”; wherein time deals with setting. As seen in Genesis 1:14 where the very Creator (Jesus) made stars, suns, moons, etc; things of Setting, as measuring devices for time.

As for avoiding the subject and not tackling it; I’m sure they have, but if they haven’t then here it is at its simplest;

Life, that is; Zoe Aionion - is Life that is God’s Life. Hence it is endless by default by nature of the life being God’s life. The life we’ve been given in Christ is a life that is as God’s life is. I don’t see where any issue regarding “Alas! Is the life not endless?” sort of question should ever arise, if one has an understanding of what that life is; His Life.

For chastisement…it is chastisement. God’s chastisement is not Biblically “endless”, certainly not in the Old Testament at any rate. Israel is always going back home it seems, and is always restored after its chastisement.

On the idea of it being a hopeful reading. Yes it is hopeful, but it is also faithful and assured. My belief that God is the saviour of all mankind is not based on the hinge of “all” or “aionios”. They are supporting buttresses on a building built on the very nature of God, by which I interpret the Bible.

I’d also add that the life with God is without decay, sin & death, which clearly implies no end.

Sorry Luke, I’ve just read back through the thread and can’t see you mentioning “postmortem” anywhere :confused:

I’m honestly not trying to dodge the bullet on climate change, it’s simply that I haven’t seen any good evidence against it, so I assume the majority are right (however, I’m still very open to looking at evidence against it).

Just to clarify, I’m not saying the alternative to “endless” is definitely “ethereal”, I just chose “ethereal” as it’s qualitative not quantitate, and it seems related. “age beyond sight”, “undefined/unknown age”, “lasting”, “an age of” are also possibilities.


That’s convenient. You’d think if the evidence was so clear most of the translations and lexicons would have picked this up.

Unfounded generalizations.

A noun and an adjective which are related can have different meanings, that’s often the way language works.

So you’re arguing that the same work used in exact parallel actually means different things? (Matt 25:46 springs to mind.) I guess if you believe something then you’ll make the translation do what you want. Although you could say the same about the majority of English translations, they’ve all translated aionios the wrong way. I thought it’d be more then just choose your own adventure. :neutral_face:


That’s OK all the thread blur together after awhile. The problems with the quotes about postmortem salvation that you’ve quoted is that we’d have to look at them individually to see if the author meant to contradict their belief in eternal punishment and also what they meant by death/salvation/punishment. I don’t think the quotes prove the authors were secret Universalists, they have been inconsistent or meant something else or were just wrong about that particular thing.

Just to summarise the thread from my perspective Alex,

So far the only evidence for “aionios” meaning anything but “endless”, has been an online lexicon and the argument that context changes the meaning of the word. No other lexicons or translations have been suggested to support the alternative view and explanation why the majority of scholars (conservative and moderate) would have mistranslated the word for so long and so often. There’s also been no historical evidence presented to verify a change in translation or meaning.