The Evangelical Universalist Forum

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


I don’t think they were secret Universalists either. And you’re right “postmortem salvation” isn’t an airtight argument.

When David Konstan gets back from his holiday, he said he would send me a good summary of the best evidence, which will hopefully move this conversation forward, as I for one, don’t have a degree in linguistics or history :slight_smile:


But then it becomes David Konstan versus BDAG and most modern translators.

Just as in the climate change debate you have most scientists going one way and a couple of disenting scientists going the opposite direction. Although the climate is a complex beast, a good scientist should be able to present the evidence clearly enough for a lay person to evaluate it for themselves. It should be the same with this debate.


It seems important to see if there are any examples of translations that have been shown to be inaccurate throughout church history. Can anyone think of such? I can imagine that sola scriptura has brough about a new situation in the church, where long standing doctrines and translations are finally brought under scrutiny whereas before the Reformation you pretty much had to go with the Roman or Eastern churches interpretations.


It is very convenient.

False assumption on your part, in calling my premise an unfounded generalisation.

If you break the laws of grammar, then yes.

Show me any adjective that exceeds the bounds of its noun, and I’ll show you either a hyperbole, or a liar.

The key words are “Life” and “Chastisement”, Aionios is an adjective.


From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

AIONIOS “describes duration, either undefined but not endless, as in Rom. 16:25; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit. 1:2; or undefined because endless as in Rom 16:26, and the other sixty-six places in the N.T.” (emphasis mine)

You ask for an example where it means anything other than endless and here it is. Vine’s clearly states that it does mean eternal when talking about hell, but it does give authority to the fact that it can mean something other than endless, which at least opens up the possibility that you can take another look at these texts and see if they have been translated incorrectly.

I don’t think an exhaustive study has ever been done on the words for eternal before David Konstan’s book, has it? Wouldn’t an exhaustive study on a word carry weight with you, Luke, if there was good evidence supporting his conclusions?


In scripture, aionios’ use to modify both judgment and the fire that destroyed Sodom was enough to indicate to me that aionios does not always, if ever, mean “endless”. I trust that Judgment does not go on and on and on, but that it is a “day” or set period of time of judgment, not something that goes on forever. And the fire that destroyed Sodom was certainly not something that lasted forever, was endless. As others have noted, it’s a word that connotes quality, not necessarily quantity. So the aionian judgment that scripture speaks of is not “endless” or “everlasting” judgment, but it is judgment that is from God. And the fire that destroyed Sodom was not endless or everlasting fire, but it was fire that came from God that was related to the judgment of God.

And then there is the fact that in the LXX it was used to translate the concept of Olam Haba, the age to come, even the Messianic age to come. Olam haba is a pictoral word which speaks of that which is over the horizon, vague, distant, not distiquishable, and somewhat just out of site. It also speaks metaphorically of that which is beyond our understanding, something we cannot fully grasp.

But if a person’s belief in ECT rests on aionios ONLY meaning “endless” or “everlasting” then no evidence to the contrary will persuade them otherwise. Hell, ECT is a foundational element of the traditional bad-news, and if that is shaken it shakes with a level 9.0 earthquake the world-view based on the assumption of the damnation of others!

To me aionios is really a minor issue because the fact that Hell is not named or warned of clearly in the Law and the prophets was huge. Something so important as Hell would be all over scripture, like it is in the mistranslated KJV. Of course, any student of Hebrew and Greek can quickly affirm that neither Sheol, Hades, or Gehenna mean Hell/ECT. The wages of sin is “death”, not ECT.

And btw, it never ceases to amaze me that people have such faith in Jesus for the damnation of others, faith that Jesus fails to save untold millions of people - “others” of course. It’s much more difficult to have faith in Christ for personal salvation if salvation is limited to only a select few or only the qualified few. If however Christ saves everyone, then I trust He can even save me, the chiefest of sinners.

When did “eternal” change from “ethereal” to “endless”? I don’t know that it has wholly changed. In some literary contexts “eternal” is still meant to convey the meaning of “ethereal” or that which is beyond the constraints of time as opposed to that which is “endless”. Eternal - that which is “out there”, beyond what we can see/understand completely.


And of course, just because Vine reads “endless” into the other passages, does not mean that aionios was meant to convey endless in those passages any more than in the passages where he admits that it clearly was not meant to convey endless. If a word has multiple meanings, then we, whether right or wrong, interpret that word based upon not only the literary context, but also upon our presuppositions and assumptions. Those who “assume” ECT will read “endless” into aionios, where those who do not believe Jesus fails to save anyone will not read “endless” into aionios. Even aionios life is not meant, imo, to convey the concept of “endless” as it is meant to convey the quality of life one experiences when rightly connected to the source of all life and existance!


It would appear from its usage and context that aionios is referring to the quality and/or “pertaining to” aspect of the aion(s) in question. Besides which, there are other words and phrases that refer more specifically to duration (such as immortal, incorruptible), so I think that any quantitative component that aionios may possibly have has been overstated, particularly since our modern notion of “eternity” is referring to a state in which time is nonexistent.
I don’t think that it was the NIV per se that mistranslated it (originally, at least), although it seems to have carried on the tradition. A lot of the mistranslations that have occurred and have carried through are partially the result of the language difficulties that arose when the texts in the original languages were translated into Latin.

Whether there is evidence that the majority of the church always thought this way or not is a moot point as far as I’m concerned; the “majority of the church” has been wrong about a number of things for most of its history. Majority opinion does not decide the truth.


There was in fact a change in the understanding of the Greek word “ἀιονιος”. It was essentially Jerome and Augustine who propogated the notion that the word meant “everlasting”, and brought it into translations. These two were a strong influence on the development of the whole church,not only concerning this matter, but many others as well. In order to retain both the historic Christian teaching that Gehenna (“hell”) was remedial and also their view of everlasting conscious punishment, the concept of purgatory was invented to take care of those who were not good enough for heaven or bad enough for everlasting punishment.

Although I don’t consider Jerome and Augustine’s actions as a “conspiracy”, there are some who do — for example Michael Wood, author of The Jerome Conspiracy.


Theodoret (A. D. 300-400) “Aiõn is not any existing thing, but an interval denoting time, sometimes infinite when spoken of God, sometimes proportioned to the duration of the creation, and sometimes to the life of man.” (5)

Now, that’s a very interesting quote. It reminds me of Thomas deQuincey’s view, it seems to reflect Philo as well…
very mysterious word (what a conundrum!)


I think we’ll argue about aeon forever. :sunglasses:


That was going to be my next point : :mrgreen:

How much time did BDAG spend on aionios? Years like David??




Yes. Rebellion against God is the worst thing, not because God is so terribly offended, but because our rebellion hurts us so badly. And God loves us.

Why is the father of an drug addict so angry? Is it because his personal glory has been diminished? Or because his child no longer treats him with the respect and dignity befitting his paternal office? Or because the child he loves is being destroyed?

Come on Luke. God is not some proud, narcissistic, preening Monarch who is only happy when his subjects grovel, fawn, flatter and simper. Our God has very thick skin. He is quite willing to get his hands dirty. Here is the splendor of Almighty God: he kneels to wash our feet. Yes. God will defend his glory to the death. And we are his glory.

Why was Jesus so angry at the money changers? Because he was personally offended, or because they were preventing the multitudes from coming to God?

Does the odious doctrine of ECT prevent multitudes from coming to God and loving him with a full and glad heart? You bet it does. Is God offended by this? I reckon he is. Christ died to save these people. He died to reveal the depth, breadth and power of his love. ECT hides this light under a bushel. Barely a glimmer escapes.


I am grateful, Allan, that you have gotten down to the root of Reality, and have expressed it so effectively!


The fullness of The Father is expressed in The Son. The Son’s vocation was a carpenter, a wood worker, a man whose hands would have known some roughness from the work. The Son was a man who touched lepers, the unclean, ate with the sinners, and his very own hands were pierced by roman spikes after his face was beaten beyond recognition, and his back and body stripped of its hide, his beard ripped out of his face, a circlet of thorns bashed onto his head.

Indeed he does have thick skin to have suffered all of his for his enemies, those who were about to kill him, those who tortured him - and so he said; “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” - Us, all of us, while we were yet enemies. From the most religious Jewish elite to the lowliest Gentile soldier, to those who shouted “Crucify!” in the court yard. Even Barnabas, the one whom the life of the Prince of God was traded for, even Judas who betrayed him, even his disciples who denied him and fled, even Pilate who judged him.

“It is finished.” “It is paid for.”

He bought his enemies with the price of his blood, his enemies are slaves - prisoners of war. Does a slave get to choose its owner? Does a child get to choose his father? We are all bought, God is the father of all - there is One God, one Father of all, have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?


Maybe the change was from the non-eternal meaning to the eternal meaning. In fact, it seems that the believers that speak of it as non eternal (Theodoret, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen) predate those that explain it as eternal. Am I off here?


I remember reading some things a few years back regarding how the understood meaning has changed. But I think you’re right, roofus, because I remember that the church fathers who did not understand the term to mean endless were the ones who were closest in time to the writing of the scriptures and understood the native language of the scriptures best. A native speaker of Greek language from a time period closest to its writing is going to understand the meaning much more clearly than someone like Augustine, who came into the picture later and who admitted he knew very little Greek (and disliked it, as well). :open_mouth:

We also have the added difficulty that word meanings, even within the same language tend to change over time.

However, the best evidence I’ve found in reading through those who have researched it is: 1) It is clear from its multiple usages in scripture that at the very least, it does not always mean endless (some would suggest never, I would be a bit more cautious and say rarely, if ever). 2) Aion and its derivatives seem to have a clear time component in many instances, but to speak of “endless time” in relation to an eternal state which is outside of time (or in which times does not exist) is logical nonsense. I remember one example in my reading that was given, was the places where our translations translate the words as “forever and ever”, which would in our modern understanding indicate time beyond eternity, which is nonsense. There is no “ever” beyond “forever”, or forever loses its meaning. The proper translation is “to the age(s) of the ages”, which does make logical sense, in contrast. If they were going to translate the grammar correctly, it would have to be “forever(s) and evers” (plural), which makes no sense, either. Just how many “forevers” are there? :laughing:


On a more “philosophical” note, I would add that it’s also simply out of God’s character to punish someone endlessly. This is a God who could easily simply squash us like a bug, but showed his love instead by the sacrifice of his only son, reconciling us, not holding our sin against us, and giving us the ministry of reconciliation. God could easily beat his enemies into submission, but instead chooses the far more glorious route of defeating his enemies by making them his friends.

He is in the business of destroying the works of the devil, not preserving them endlessly by allowing us to remain in the bondage of sin forever. We will witness the end of sin and death, not their endless preservation. His goal is nothing short of “God, all in all”.


Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” We understand from scripture that to look at Jesus was to look at the character of the Father. The son’s actions were the Father’s actions for the son “only did what he saw his Father doing”. My point is that we always say that God cannot look upon sin (I forget that scripture that is always quoted), but Jesus looked upon us all the time, even when we were at our worst. He looked upon those who murdered Him and asked that they be forgiven. Now whatever the scripture means about God and sin we know one thing for certain, He looked upon us all the time as sinners, and loved us. The apostle John would recline on Jesus when they ate and hung out. John was a sinner. Jesus loved these men and women with more love than we could ever fathom, and that was before they were “covered with the blood of Christ”, before they were redeemed. I’m not saying our sins are no big deal, I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying that He loves us an he can look upon us because He did. Sorry for getting off track.


I have two lexicons on my shelf:
The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, by Mounce, says: “indeterminate as to duration, eternal, everlasting”.
Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, by Abbot-Smith, says: “age-long, eternal”.

A brief search online turned up the following:


It’s also revealing to examine how the word is used in the LXX. If you click that link, then scroll down to where it says “Occurrences in the LXX”, you can click the button “Select All” and then “Fetch LXX Verses” to read all the verses where aionios is used in the Septuagint.

I don’t think there has been a deliberate “conspiracy” among men to mistranslate or obscure what is meant by this word, but I do think the meaning of the word has been corrupted by both pagan and Christian religious tradtions and teachings of men. Men have simply assumed that the teachings passed down to them were correct, without thinking to question or examine them to see if they were truth – or perhaps with too much humility to find it conceivable that some of the most exalted elders of the church could have been mistaken.

I hope these resources will be helpful to people trying to understand this “slippery” word. When I was first looking into UR, I spent a lot of time on aionios, trying to answer the question: Does the word have to mean “endless” in all instances? And it seems clear to me that it does not.

Another question to ask is: Is something which is described as “αἰώνιος” or “eternal” necessarily and immutably fixed in that state? To that I would also answer “No.” One quick illustration of this is the “everlasting priesthood” of Aaron and his descendants and the everlasting statues and covenant, which were superceded by the priesthood of Christ and the new covenant. Those “everlasting” things are described in the book of Hebrews as old and obsolete and in the process of disappearing.