Aionios: a scriptural study
In the Eternal Torment: Godly Love?
paper on this website, we discussed the fact that the word eternal (everlasting)
in the Bible is derived from the Greek word "aionios" which itself is the
adjective form of "aion." We discussed the true meaning of the word aion
as "age" and aionios as that which is "pertaining to aions (or ages)." We
also discussed how the orthodox Christian concept of infinite torment is
therefore invalid given - not only the weight of scripture against it - but also
the mistranslation of "everlasting."
We discussed the difference between immortality and the "life of the ages," both of which are promised to believers. This distinction is largely unknown to the orthodox Christian church. Therefore, the paper above is highly recommended reading, as this shorter piece is a companion to it.
This page is specifically focused on debunking the major argument some Christians operate under when attempting to prove that the Greek word aionios means eternal/infinite. This argument is embodied in the Vine's dictionary definition which references the word "aionios" within the context of certain Scripture's to prove that it means eternal/infinite.
The Hasty Assumption
The hasty assumption that Christians fall under when discovering the word aionios in the Scripture follows in this way: if the word does not mean "eternal," then it MUST mean "temporary"....right? According to them, this would mean that "aionios life" would be temporary, and the "aionios God" would be temporary, since the word is applied to God, the life promised to believers, and judgment for unbelievers.
Here is the truth: aionios does not mean "eternal" AND it also does not mean "temporary." Both are wrong!
Rather than using such subjective, impulsive reasoning, let's look objectively at the word:
Aionios is "aion" + "ios." Aion means age. The suffix -ios means pertaining to or relating to. So, aion-ios properly means "pertaining to aion" or more simply "relating to an age."
Example: In ancient Greek texts - and evident in Homer - a man's hometown would be part of his name. The suffix
-ios would signify which town by modifying it into an adjective. Thus, "Ajax son of Telamon" translates to "Aias Telamwvios." The English works similarly with the suffix -ian: If a man is from Italy, he is an Italian.
So, for aionios to mean eternity, in its own construct, aion must mean eternity so that aion-ios can mean "pertaining to eternity" or "of eternity." However, since we know that aion means "age," we then know that aionios actually means "pertaining to ages" or "of ages."
Consider this: Does an apple tree pertain to an apple? Yes. Does an apple tree share ALL characteristics of the apple? No. Likewise, does God pertain to the ages? Of course! Does He therefore end with the ages? Of course not! He simply pertains to the ages, without sharing their temporary nature, just like an apple tree pertains to an apple without BEING an apple. Therefore, that God is aionios does not limit Him to a temporary status. It just speaks to His presence within time, even has he is transcendent above it.
This is why aionios does not mean "eternal" or "temporary." Rather, it speaks to things which pertain to the ages of time, whether or not they are infinite or passing.
Aionios God: God created the ages, and He pertains to what He creates.
Aionios Life: Life is the Holy Spirit within the saints, so they receive "the Life of the ages" now, and will receive immortality later.
Aionios Judgment: God has appointed an age for judgment, so judgment pertains that appointed age.
From this point on we will refer to the basis of the aionios-means-eternal argument as the "hasty assumption." Please observe how the Vine's Dictionary falls prey to the same hasty assumption in its dictionary definition.
The Vine's Dictionary Argument
Each of these arguments in favor of "aionios" being "eternal/infinite" will be addressed in detail one by one below. The Vine's Dictionary and Matt Slick argue that aionios must mean eternal because it is used in these ways:
- 2 Cor 4:18, where it is set in contrast with proskairos, lit. ‘for a season,' and in
- Philm 15, where only in the NT it is used without a noun.
- Moreover it is used of persons and things which are in their nature endless, as, e.g., of God, Rom 16:26;
- of His power, 1 Tim 6:16,
- and of His glory, 1 Pet 5:10;
- of the Holy Spirit, Heb 9:14;
- of the redemption effected by Christ, Heb 9:12,
- and of the consequent salvation of men, 5:9,
- as well as of His future rule, 2 Pet 1:11, which is elsewhere declared to be without end, Luke 1:33;
- of the life received by those who believe in Christ, John 3:16, concerninng whom He said, ‘they shall never perish,' 10:28,
- and of the resurrection body, 2 Cor 5:1,
- elsewhere said to be ‘immortal,' 1 Cor 15:53, in which that life will be finally realized, Matt 25:46; Titus 1:2.
- Aionios is also used of the sin that ‘hath never forgiveness,' Mark 3:29,
- and of the judgment of God, from which there is no appeal, Heb 6:2,
- and. of the fire, which is one of its instruments, Matt 18:8; 25:41; Jude 7, and which is elsewhere said to be ‘unquenchable,' Mark 9:43."
These are the common arguments which we address below in light of aionios' literal meaning of "relating to aion/age":
Rebuttal to the Vine's Dictionary Argument
The predominant meaning of aionios may be seen in 2 Cor. 4:18, where it is set in contrast with proskairos, lit., 'for a season,':
First, here is the scripture in question:
2 Cor 4:18Look closely at this verse. Is Paul really stating a blanket criteria that that nothing eternal can be seen? If "the things which are not seen are eternal," what does that make air? The wind is "not seen" but isn't it also passing with the physical world? And, isn't Jesus Christ the VISIBLE image of the invisible God? Jesus has been "seen," yet he is not passing. At first glance the verse appears to be a contrast between "eternal" and "temporal." That is the mistake the Vine's Dictionary makes. But, as we will see, the contrast Paul is making is between what is "seen" and that which is pertaining to coming ages which are unseen now.
Within the entire chapter of 2 Corinthians 4, we see that Paul is speaking to the afflicted early Christian church who endures much pain for the gospel. Earlier, in verse 8 of this chapter, he assures them: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair." To reassure them, he says in verse 17: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal (aionios) weight (baros) of glory (doxa);
The Greek phrase "aionios baros doxa" actually means "pertaining to the age, the abundance of glory." Paul notes that coming time in Romans 8:18: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
The "abundance of glory pertaining to the age" is the "abundance of glory revealed in us." With that in mind let us now come to verse 18 which is the verse in question.
2 Cor 4:18First, note that the entire phrase "the-things-which-are-seen" is translated from one Greek word: blepo ("seen"). This is paired with proskairos which means "passing." Literally translated, the phrase reads: "Seen is passing."
Second, note that the the phrase "the-things-which-are-not-seen" is translated from two Greek words blepo me ("not seen"), and it is paired with aionios ("pertaining to the age").
Together the verse reads: "Seen is passing. Not seen, pertaining to the age (aionios)."
Not seen pertaining to what age? Look again at the preceding verse 17: "pertaining to the age, the abundance of glory" (aionios baros doxa). What is not seen, pertains to THAT age. To the church, in Paul's time, what was seen - what was immediate - was persecution. What was seen was great affliction upon them.
Paul reassures them, however, that not only is the affliction they see only passing, but that we must set our eyes on the abundance of glory coming in an age which is not seen: "The glory which shall be revealed in us." This is the "aionios baros doxa" pertaining to that unseen coming age, the abundance of glory to come. The things which are not seen are relating to that future age. To learn more about that coming age of glory, read Few Chosen, a Kingdom Come on this site.
and in Philem. 1:15, where only in the NT it is used without a noun.
" For perhaps he (Onisimus - Philemon's servant) therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him forever (aionios);"
The reason the Vine's dictionary notes the absence of a noun in the above verse is because aionios is commonly an adjective. Therefore, they suggest that freed from a noun, the word would mean forever.
The absence of a noun is immaterial. When an adjective, like aionios, describes a verb, as in Philemon "receiving" Onisimus, it is known as an adverb. Adjectives describe nouns. Adverbs describe verbs. The ACTION of Philemon"receiving" his servant is what is described as "aionios" in the verse. The converse would be "the aionios receiving of Onisimus."
The contrast here is between Philemon losing his servant for a short absence (in Greek it is translated "an hour") and gaining him for the remaining ages to come. The verse is saying: "For perhaps therefore is he separated for an hour, that you may be receiving him regarding the aion/aions." In everyday English it is like saying: "the birds have flown south for a short time, but we will see them again in relation to the coming year.
Moreover it is used of persons and things which are in their nature endless, as, e.g., of God, Rom. 16:26;
Here we see the "hasty assumption" fallacy at work. The assumption is that since God is aionios, it must mean eternal since God is also immortal. If you have read to this point, you can see the miscalculation. Again, aionios means neither eternal nor temporary.
In short, He is the aionios God. He is the God relating to the aions he has created, the Rock of Ages. This does not mean that he is only lasting for aions. When Christians sing the hymn "The Rock of Ages" do they mean to say that because he is "of the ages" that God is also ending with them? How absurd. That God is aionios simply means that He relates to the ages he has created. It is a logical blunder to insist that because God is relating to the ages, that this automatically limits Him to their passing nature. In fact, if God was not relating to the ages, there would be no Holy Spirit within us. God would be removed from us in the age of our lives, watching us from the outside, rather than living here within us now by His Spirit. This is addressed in great detail in this paper: Eternal Torment: Godly Love?.
of His power, 1Tim. 6:16,
See above. The "hasty assumption" strikes again. 1Tim.6:16 says ". . . to Whom be honor and might aionios." That God's power and might is shown to be pertaining to the ages, does not mean his glory is temporary, but that it is revealed to man right now in the current and future ages through the Spirit of Jesus Christ. One thing can pertain to another without sharing limitations.
and of His glory, 1Pet. 5:10;
1Pet.5:10 says " . . . Who calls you into His aionios glory in Christ." The glory we will have in Christ is a glory relating to the aions, which ages are now and to come. In this verse the aion-ios glory we are called into, IS that Spirit. Being called into God's glory is obtainable now and to come.
of the Holy Spirit, Heb. 9:14;
Do you see how one logical flaw can propagate itself across interpretations of various scriptures? Here is Heb.9:14: "Who, through the aionios Spirit offers Himself flawless to God." As discussed above and above, and above, the fact that the Spirit is pertaining to the ages, does not mean that it is subject to the limiting nature of time. Does an apple pertain to a tree? Yes. Of course. But that fact does not confine the tree to the characteristics of the apple.
of the redemption effected by Christ, 9:12, and of the consequent salvation of men, 5:9,";
Heb. 9:12, this deals with of the redemption effected by Christ. This is "entered once for all time into the holy place, finding aionios redemption."
The "aionios redemption," as with "aionios life" is the redemption of the aions/ages and the life of the aions/ages. This does not mean that it is temporary, but that it pertains to this present wicked age, and in this wicked age, we are delivered from sin. "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward (wicked) generation." (Act 2:39)
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present AION;" (Titus 2:11-12)
That this redemption is "aionios" speaks to the immediacy of its availability, that we may be taught by the Spirit to be delivered from sin right now. The same is true of "Aionios Life." The Life is the Spirit, which is available now.
For more about this process in greater detail: Just What Happened On That Cross? (The Judgment of the World)
2Pet. 1:11 dealing with his future rule which is elsewhere declared to be without end, Luke 1:33
The Vine's dictionary says: "which is elsewhere declared to be without end." That God's reign is stated to be without end in other places of Scripture has no bearing whatsoever on the meaning of aionios in THIS scripture, just as it would have no bearing as to any other adjectives applied to God, like "good" or "victorious." God is "victorious," He is "good," He is "aionios (pertaining to the ages)" ......AND His reign is without end.
"For thus will be richly supplied to you the entrance into the aionios kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." This aionios kingdom is the kingdom which pertains to the aions, in that this kingdom is like a field which is being grown and harvested right now, in this time today and on this earth. Again, because something is said to pertain to an age, does not limit that something to end with the ages.
John 3:16, of the life received by those who believe in Christ,
More of the "hasty assumption" fallacy. Aionios life is NOT immortality, and attempting to establish torment as infinite based on aionios life is a tragically flawed argument. Jesus Christ is "The way, the truth, and THE LIFE" (John 14:6) . As addressed in the paper linked below, Aionios Life is in the Spirit today, and is something that immortality is added to after death. That Life is made available by God to man in THESE present ages and to come, which is what makes it "aionios life." That is what makes it the "Life of the ages" and that is what distinguishes it from immortality.
Here are the facts:
1) Paul distinguishes between life and immortality: 2 Timothy 1:8-11
2) There is a difference between being physically alive and spiritually dead: 1 Timothy 5:6
3) Aionios life is within: 1 John 3:14-17, 1 John 5:20
4) Aionios life is now: 1 Timothy 4:8
5) The Biblical definition of life is to know God: John 17:3
6) Jesus Christ is the life: John 14:6
Read, Eternal Torment: Godly Love? for more in depth examination.
John 10:28, concerning whom He said, 'they shall never perish,'
"And I give unto them aionios life; and they shall never perish (apollumi), neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. " Since the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is "aionios life" in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). This "aionios life" is freedom from sin, because sin works death. The word "perish" is the same word used to describe the Prodigal Son:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost (apollumi), and is found. And they began to be merry.
When Jesus gives "aionios life," they are no longer lost as was the Prodigal son, we are no longer dead as was the Prodigal son, we are no longer perishing, but we are living in the Life that is in the Spirit, the life of the ages, which are now and to come.
2 Cor. 5:1, and of the resurrection body,
Paul is not saying that the resurrection body that the saints receive is not immortal simply because he also states that it is aionios. It is the purpose of the age that God's glory be revealed through the overcomer. That the resurrection body is aionios is significant - in that the saints will judge the world when they are raised in strength in the glory of the ages to come. Their bodies serve the plan of God who framed the ages for that purpose. Again, read Few Chosen, a Kingdom Come to learn more about this aionios plan. Continued:
elsewhere said to be 'immortal,' 1 Cor. 15:53, in which that life will be finally realized, Matt. 25:46; Titus 1:2.
It is flawed logic and poor scholarship to insist that if someone lives for the aions AND, has immortality that "aion" means "eternal" for that reason. That someone is both kind and intelligent does not mean that "kind" and "intelligent" have the same meaning.
Likewise, because the resurrection body is ELSEWHERE said to be immortal has no bearing on the meaning of aionios in THIS verse. That simply shows that the resurrection body will be glorified pertaining to the age to come .... AND is also immortal. For the difference between aionios life and immortality read Eternal Torment: Godly Love? .
Mark 3:29, "Aionios is also used of the sin that 'hath never forgiveness,' (blasphemy of the Holy Spirit)
Most Christians are aware of an "unforgivable sin," which is the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. You may be interested to know that "unforgivable sin" is not a scriptural term. You will not find that term in the Bible at all. Regarding the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, let us look closer at Mark:39. The literal translation from the Greek text reads: "Whoever should be blaspheming against the holy spirit is having no pardon for the aion, but is liable to the aionios penalty for the sin" (Mk.3:29).
In the above verse, the translators omitted"aion" in this phrase "echo ou aphesis eis aion." It actually means "Has not forgiveness for the age." Instead they translated the phrase: "hath never forgiveness." Convenient, huh? It seems this did not fit into an already established doctrine of "eternal damnation," so rather than giving us a straightforward rendition - including a correctly translated "aion" - we got a doctrinally slanted version which ignores the word "aion" entirely. They just stripped it clean out. Seems like the translators were thinking for us, rather than simply translating.
Interestingly enough, this demonstrates that the sin of blaspheming the Spirit is not infinitely unforgiven. God says that "Love does not keep a record of having been wronged" (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) The time limit on it being unforgiven is for an aion, and the danger is of aion-ios penalty. Therefore, the blasphemers are in danger of the penalty pertaining to that age. See below.
Heb. 6:2, and of the judgment of God, from which there is no appeal,
We already know that God's judgments are without appeal. But, as scripture reveals below, they end when God's purpose is accomplished. God's judgments are without appeal not because they last forever, but because they must last until God has finished, according to his wisdom, and not man's wisdom: "The fierce anger of the LORD will not diminish until it has finished all his plans. In the days to come, you will understand all this.."(Jer 30:24 ).
The judgments of God are aionios. They occur until God is done and His will is accomplished, because God has appointed an aion for aionios judgment and the purpose FOR that judgment is the finishing of God's plans. Proponents of Eternal Torment insist that God's plans will never be finished since his final judgment will last forever. "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no desire for the death of the wicked." ( Ezekiel 33:11 )
and of the fire, which is one of its instruments, Matt. 18:8; Matt. 25:41; Jude 1:7, and which is elsewhere said to be 'unquenchable,'
See above. Mark 9:43: "into Gehenna, into the unextinguished fire." First, the word "unquenchable" in the Bible is translated from the Greek word asbestos which simply means "not quenched." In itself, that is not the same as "not ABLE to be quenched" or "unquenchable." It is similar to God's judgments being without appeal "until they have finished all his plans."
Secondly, remember the "elsewhere" fallacy: because the fire is ELSEWHERE said to be not be quenched has no bearing on the meaning of aionios. That is slippery reasoning. Even orthodox Christians would admit that God's judgments PERTAIN to the day he has appointed for judgment. The fire is not quenched because it fulfills God's plan of the ages, which have not yet passed.