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Old 03-05-2010, 12:05 PM
Location: Germany
1,647 posts, read 1,712,214 times
Reputation: 845


Eternity, in the sense of the antithesis of time, infinity without beginning and end, an ever changeless sphere outside of time and the material world, is a solely philosophical concept without biblical reference; there are different opinions what eternity actually is, which further supports my point of view. It is a solely philosophical term and therefore ambiguous. To build a doctrine as eternal punishment on such an ambiguous term, demands an authoritative definition what eternity is and what eternal precisely means; the bible does not provide such definition, but warns of the vain philosophy of men:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2:8, KJV)

The biblical terms in question are the Hebrew noun olam which has no adjectiveand the Greeknoun aiõn and its adjective aiõnios, I will render both olam and aiõn in the anglicized version æon;and aiõnios as æonian.

The first occurrences of olam in the bible:

Genesis 3:22, KJV

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever (lit. for æon).

Genesis 6:3.4, KJV

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always (lit. for æon) strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old (lit. from æon), men of renown.

Genesis 9:12, KJV

And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual (lit. of æon) generations.

Genesis 9:16, KJV

And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting (lit. of æon) covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.

Genesis 13:15, KJV

For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever (lit. for æon).

Genesis 17:7.8, KJV

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting (lit. of æon) covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting (lit. of æon) possession; and I will be their God.

Genesis 21:33, KJV

And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting (lit. of æon) God.

Genesis 49:26, KJV

The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting (lit. of æon) hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.

From the use of olam in Gen. 21:33 is argued it means eternal because it is applied to God, but this arguments holds no water; in Gen. 6:4 it is applied to a past perpetuity that can be no longer then from the time of Noah back to the creation of the world, which was surely no eternity. In Gen. 9:12 it is properly rendered perpetual, for everlasting generations would demand everlasting procreation which is not scriptural. The everlasting covenant (17:7) belongs to their generations, so we have no reason to understand this covenant to be eternal. The land of Canaan (17:8) will no longer exist after the dissolution of the present world (2Peter 3:10), it therefore cannot be actually everlasting in the sense of endless; neither the everlasting hills (49:26).

We have seen that the word olam cannot intrinsically denote eternity, the KJV translates it as for ever, always, of old, perpetual, everlasting in the shown occurrences. Though the things to which this term is applied are neither everlasting nor eternal. Both God and the hills are denoted with the very same word, but while the God of æon has neither beginning nor end, the hills of æon have both beginning and end.

Aiõn, the Greek equivalent of olam

The Hebrew bible has been translated into Greek about 250 years before Christ, this translation is called Septuagint; the word that was chosen to render olam was aiõn.

In Genesis 3:22 and 6:3 we find the rendering eis ton aiõna (lit. into the æon), in Gen. 6:4 ap aiõnos (lit. from æon), to understand this as from eternity would be ridiculous. In Gen. 13:15 it is rendered eõs tou aiõnos (lit. unto the æon) which implies a finite period; in 9:12; 9:16; 17:7.8, 21:33; 49:26 the adjective aiõnios (æonian) is used,

Adherents of eternal punishment agree that aiõn can mean a finite period of time, in these cases the KJV commonly translates world in the New Testament; but insist that it can and must also mean eternity, especially in the form eis ton aiõna, which I will investigate later.

The adjective aiõnios allegedly has only but one meaning – eternal

In the examined verses we find:

· æonian generations (geneas aiõnious) in Gen. 9:12
· æonian covenant in Gen. 9:16 and 17:7
· æonian possession in Gen. 17:8
· æonian God in Gen. 21:33
· æonian hills (thinõn aiõniõn) in Gen. 49:26

If we judge only from this occurrences aiõnios may have these meanings:

· without beginning and end, i.e. eternal, this applies only to God
· with beginning but without end, i.e. everlasting, this might apply to God’s covenant
· With beginning and end, merely age lasting, or perpetual, continuous, enduring, this applies to the generations, the hills and the possession of Canaan. I should add in this context that the translators of the Septuagint knew according to Psalm 102:25.26 that these hills and the possession of Canaan can’t be everlasting when they chose the term aiõnios to render olam

The last supposed meaning already challenges the traditionalists’ position. It is now necessary to consider the claims from the traditionalist theologians what aiõnios is supposed to mean and the authorities they claim (i.e. Plato) to judge in this matter.

Strong gives 3 definitions (Strong number 166):
  • without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be
  • without beginning
  • without end, never to cease, everlasting
In fact he gives only two definitions, a philosophical eternity without beginning and end, changeless and ever the same; and that which has a beginning in time but endures endlessly.
I wonder how that applies to the hills of Genesis 49:26; but I will proof this definition wrong from the inspired writings.

Romans 16:25.26, Green’s Literal Translation

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel, and the proclaiming of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery having been kept unvoiced during eternal times (Gr. chronois aiõniois), but now has been made plain, and by prophetic Scriptures, according to the commandment of the everlasting God (Gr. aiõniou theou), made known for obedience of faith to all the nations.

It seems J.P. Green was an honest translator, but eternal times is a contradiction in terms as hot ice would be, but more of importance, these eternal times had an end. Again the finite times are likewise called eternal as God, while I do not question God’s eternity I question if that is expressed by the term aiõnios and if it even need to be expressed at all; and if not the apostle Paul wanted to tell us something different, when He called the infinite God aiõnios, just as he called the finite times also aiõnios.

Titus 1:2, Green’s Literal Translation

…on hope of eternal life (Gr. zõês aiõniou) which the God who does not lie promised before the eternal times (Gr. pro chronõn aiõniõn) …

Before eternal times (also 2 Timothy 1:9), I see no need to say anything further to show that Strong’s definition is false, I think it is fair to say that Strong has his definition of aiõnios not from the bible but rather from Plato and other heathen philosophers.

However to defend the doctrine of everlasting torment, traditionalist scholars allude to the heathen philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle, and Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher contemporary with Christ.

I have thought that, as one of the forms in which infidelity circulates at present is Universalism, or the Restitution of all things, it might be well to put out clearly and simply some facts (for that is what they are), which may deprive its advocates of one main ground of their reasonings, and that without any reasoning on the general subject of a doctrine, which, when examined, sets aside the truth of Christianity. I refer to the meaning of aion, and also of aionios. We are told by Dr. Farrar, with much pretension to competency in affirming it, that "everlasting" or "eternal" ought not to be found in the Bible; by Mr. Cox, that it means properly an "age" and "age-long," and that it cannot be right to translate them eternal or everlasting. Mr. Jukes, with a wild imagination, takes the same ground. They simply echo one another. Now all I purpose to do here is to state some passages from other authors, which prove that (while used in other senses, some of which are not found at all in Scripture), it does mean "eternity" and "eternal." I will afterwards examine some of the passages in Scripture in which it is found.

Aion in Greek properly means "eternity." I do not dispute here, whether we are to believe with Aristotle, that it is derived from aei einai; or with other modern writers from aio, I breathe, whence it had the meaning in Homer, Euripides, and other authors, of life and breath; or possibly these may be two different words, one from aei on, the other from ao spiro, whence the two very different meanings. This is certain, that the word is distinctly used by Plato, Aristotle, and Philo (and, according to the dictionaries, by Lycurgus, whom I have not the means of consulting) as "eternal," in contrast with what is of time having beginning or ending, as its definite and proper meaning.
John Nelson Darby

Darby refers first to Platos Timaeus:

And when the Father that engendered it perceived it in motion and alive, a thing of joy to the eternal gods (aidiõn theõn), He too rejoiced; and being well-pleased He designed to make it resemble its Model still more closely. Accordingly, seeing that that Model is an eternal Living Creature (zõon aidion on), He set about making this Universe, so far as He could, of a like kind. But inasmuch as the nature of the Living Creature was æonian, this quality it was impossible to attach in its entirety to what is generated; wherefore He planned to make a movable image of Eternity (aiõnos), and, as He set in order the Heaven, of that Eternity (aiõnos) which abides in unity He made an æonian image, moving according to number, even that which we have named Time (chronos). (Plato, Timaeus 37c,d)

Time, then, came into existence along with the Heaven, to the end that having been generated together they might also be dissolved together, if ever a dissolution of them should take place; and it was made after the pattern of the Eternal (diaiõnias) Nature, to the end that it might be as like thereto as possible; for whereas the pattern is existent through all eternity (panta aiõna), the copy, on the other hand, is through all time, continually having existed, existing, and being about to exist. (Timaeus 38)

Plato may have coined the term aiõnios, and this passage is commonly used as a prove that aiõnios means eternal, however Plato says that time is the aiõnios image of time, of time he says it came into existence with the heaven, time therefore had an beginning despite it is called aiõnios, Plato further says that if the heaven might be dissolved, time shall be dissolved with it. This would mean, time being an aiõnios image of "eternity" came into existence with the heaven and might vanish together with the heaven as I understand it , Plato could therefore not have understood aiõnios as denoting literal and unconditional endlessness, but maybe conditional duration or perpetuity as I understand it.

Darby continues:

It is impossible to conceive any more positive statement that aion is distinct, and to be contrasted with what has a beginning and belongs to the flux of time. Aion is what is properly eternal, in contrast with a divine imitation of it in ages of time, the result of the creative action of God which imitated the uncreate as nearly as He could in created ages. It is a careful opposition between eternity and ages; and aion and also aionios mean the former in contrast with ages.

I now give Aristotle peri ouranou, 1, 9 (ed. Bekker, 1, 279): "Time," he says, "is the number of movement, but there is no movement without a physical body. But outside heaven it has been shewn that there is not, nor possibly can come into existence, any body. It is evident then that there is neither place, nor void, nor time outside. Wherefore neither in place are things there formed by nature; nor does time cause them to grow old: neither is there any change of anything of those things which are arranged beyond the outermost orbit; but unchangeable, and subject to no influence, having the best and most independent life, they continue for all eternity (aiona). For this expression (name) has been divinely uttered by the ancients; for the completeness which embraces the time of the life of each, outside which there is nothing, according to nature, is called the aion of each. According to the same word (logon) the completeness of the whole heaven, and the completeness which embraces all time and infinitude is aion, having received this name from existing for ever (apo tou aei einai), immortal (athanatos, undying), and divine." In 10 he goes on to shew that that beginning to be (genesthai) involves the not existing always, which I refer to as shewing what he means by aion. He is proving the unchangeable eternity of the visible universe. That is no business of mine; but it shews what he means by eternity (aion). It cannot be aidion and genesthai at the same time, when, as in Plato, aidios is used as equivalent to aionios. Aristotle has not the abstract thoughts of Plato as to ideas, and the paradeigma of what is visible, the latter being a produced image of the eternal paradeigma. He rests more in what is known by the senses; and makes this the eternal thing in itself. But the force of aion for both is a settled point; and Aristotle's explanation of aion as used for finite things, I have long held to be the true one; that is, the completeness of a thing's existence, so that according to its natural existence there is nothing outside or beyond it. It periechei the whole being of the thing.
the translation of DE CAELO I, 9 I found is different from the one Darby quoted, aion is translated "duration"

Hence whatever is there, is of such a nature as not to occupy any place, nor does time age it; nor is there any change in any of the things which lie beyond the outermost motion; they continue through their entire duration [aiõn] unalterable and unmodified, living the best and most selfsufficient of lives. As a matter of fact, this word ‘duration’ [aiõn] possessed a divine significance for the ancients, for the fulfilment which includes the period of life of any creature, outside of which no natural development can fall, has been called its duration [aiõn]. On the same principle the fulfilment of the whole heaven, the fulfillment which includes all time and infinity, is ‘duration’ [aiõn] - a name based upon the fact that it is always-duration [aei einai] immortal and divine. From it derive the being and life which other things, some more or less articulately but others feebly, enjoy. So, too, in its discussions concerning the divine, popular philosophy often propounds the view that whatever is divine, whatever is primary and supreme, is necessarily unchangeable.

Aristotle, On the heavens, Book 1, Chapter 9

I was not able to find a Greek source of this text and I am not sure what Aristotle is saying, aion might here denote a "cosmic life", by assumption endless, but not according to the inherent meaning of aion, as he calls the life of any creature its aion, one might possibly translate its "everlastingness", for it last as ever it lasts, though this needn't mean endless, but simply enduring perpetuity.

Darby now alludes to Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish Philosopher, Philo wrote:

But God is the creator of time also; for he is the father of its father, and the father of time is the world, which made its own mother the creation of time, so that time stands towards God in the relation of a grandson; for this world is a younger son of God, inasmuch as it is perceptible by the outward sense; for the only son he speaks of as older than the world, is idea, and this is not perceptible by the intellect; but having thought the other worthy of the rights of primogeniture, he has decided that it shall remain with him; therefore, this younger son, perceptible by the external senses being set in motion, has caused the nature of time to shine forth, and to become conspicuous, so that there is nothing future to God, who has the very boundaries of time subject to him; for their life is not time, but the beautiful model of time, eternity (æon); and in eternity (æon) nothing is past and nothing is future, but everything is present only

On the unchangeableness of God

However Philo used the same words as Christ did, kolasis aionios, translated everlasting punishment in Matthew 25:46, in a context that implies he understood thereby merely a punishment about several years or decades – where it is translated "long-enduring" punishment, it is found in Philo, Fragments, About promises. I was not able to find a Greek text of this fragment to confirm it, but was able to find an instance where Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, also contemporary with Christ used aionios in a similarly limited sense.

you'll find this instances here (huge pdf. file)

http://thejeromeconspiracy.com/pdf/The_Jerome_Conspiracy.pdf (broken link)

Josephus' and Diodorus Siculus' use of aionios can be confirmed here:

Flavius Josephus, De bello Judaico libri vii, *flaui/ou *)iwsh/pou i(stori/a *)ioudai+kou= pole/mou pro\s *(rwmai/ous bibli/on [stigma]., section 434

Diodorus Siculus, Library, Book XVII, chapter 71, section 5

Eternity is a solely philosophical term, this article is further interesting:


John of Damascus, a church writer of the 6th or 7th century defines aion thus (DE FIDE ORTHODOXA, Book II, Chapter 1):

It must then be understood that the word æon has various meanings, for it denotes many things. The life of each man is called an æon. Again, a period of a thousand years is called an æon. Again, the whole course of the present life is called an æon: also the future life, the immortal life after the resurrection, is spoken of as an æon. Again, the word æon is used to denote, not time nor yet a part of time as measured by the movement and course of the sun, that is to say, composed of days and nights, but the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with the eternals (aidioV). For æon is to things eternal (aidioV) just what time is to things temporal.

the later is again the philosophical notion of eternity/aion of which there is not the slightest support in the biblical writings.

Again, whosoever speaks about eternity in the context ob the bible should be aware that he is speaking about a concept of heathen philosophy.

I think it is fair to say that aion in its philosophical sense is the life and the sphere of the immortals or the gods in a heathen sense, or of the only God in a monotheistic Jewish or Christian sense – opposed to the sphere of the mortals, i.e. chronos, time; this is at least my understanding. This sense of eternity as in Philo, has however nothing to do with duration at all, but expresses a sphere of existence outside time and the realm of the physical universe, "eternal punishment" in this sense needn't mean endless punishment; for things that belong to time are temporal, however they do not last throughout all time but merely pertain to time; in like manner can eternal mean merely pertaining to eternity - the divine realm, but not necessarily lasting throughout all eternity, i.e. without beginning and end.

PS: I would be very thankfull if anybody has a Greek source of Philo's fragments and Aristotle's DE CAELO / Peri Ouranou

Last edited by svenM; 03-05-2010 at 12:26 PM..
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Old 03-15-2010, 01:43 PM
Location: Germany
1,647 posts, read 1,712,214 times
Reputation: 845
I still would be very thankfull if anybody has a Greek source of Philo's Fragments and Aristotle's DE CAELO / Peri Ouranou

I'm still working on this kind of summary and want to write an essay of great extent, as it might contribute to our current discussions, the one or another may be interested to read this, it contains several further passages that support the universalists position:

you'll find it as a pdf file here:

File-Upload.net - eternal-punishment-refuted.pdf
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Old 03-15-2010, 04:00 PM
Location: Seattle, Washington
8,435 posts, read 8,402,797 times
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Originally Posted by svenM View Post
I still would be very thankfull if anybody has a Greek source of Philo's Fragments and Aristotle's DE CAELO / Peri Ouranou

I'm still working on this kind of summary and want to write an essay of great extent, as it might contribute to our current discussions, the one or another may be interested to read this, it contains several further passages that support the universalists position:

you'll find it as a pdf file here:

File-Upload.net - eternal-punishment-refuted.pdf
I don't have anything to add as a source but I did find something interesting in the Jewish Encyclopedia:

There is this: "Sar ha-'Olam" (Prince of the World), so in this usage "olam" is world. I think this confirms what you are saying about the original meaning of these words that are haphazardly translated as eternity.

Another random source that I found interesting is Olam: definitions and examples of Olam | Wordnik

Apparently Olam can be literally translated as world or figuratively as knowledge...

This make sense when compared to Jesus' definition of "eternal" life which is life with the knowledge of God.
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Old 03-12-2013, 05:34 AM
Location: Germany
1,647 posts, read 1,712,214 times
Reputation: 845
I want to continue this thread as I stumpled across some interesting literature and as the topic of Plato came up in other threads, I will link my post of that other thread and hope to continue the discussion here:


Whoever is interested in the topic, I would recommend this book:

Life Time Entirety. A Study of AION in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the ... - Helena Maria Keizer - Google Books
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