DEFINITION OF BIBLE TERMS.
In a preceding number of the paper I have explained the word Age, the original of which is æon. In this article I will try to explain the word rendered Eternal or Everlasting, the original of which, derived from æon, is æonios. It is very important to understand the meaning of this word, for, as it is commonly understood, it is the main pillar of the orthodox doctrine of endless torment; that tremendous dogma stands or falls according to the meaning put upon this word. In my little pamphlet, "Endless torments not scriptural," I have quite thoroughly considered this word, and for testimony additional to what is presented in this article I refer readers to that. For the present, I want to consider a few points not noticed in the pamphlet.
Some people are very suspicious if you present anything as scripture that they cannot find in the common English version. The original, and other translations and versions they do not know anything about, and they are very unwilling to accept them as authority; an advent brother of considerable prominence in his church wrote to me once that he would not accept anything as Scripture that was not contained in the so called King James version, or common English Bible. Of course such a declaration only manifests the ignorance and bigotry of the person making it, and yet there are many who feel in the same way. In these days we have many helps to Bible study, and any Christian who does not, so far as is possible, avail himself of these helps to understand the "Wonderful Words of Life," is "willingly ignorant." (2 Pet. 3:5). Many of these helpful books on the Bible are so arranged that they can be used to great advantage by any intelligent person though they may have no knowledge whatever of the original language.* To refuse such helps is to turn your back on the light, and such a one deserves to be in darkness.
We will endeavor to determine the meaning of this word, æonios, according to its origin, and also according to the sense of the passages where it occurs.
The word as I have already intimated is an adjective derived from the noun, æon, age; just as we form the adjective hourly from the noun hour; or yearly from year; or eternal from eternity. I have already explained æon in a former issue, whence the meaning of this derivative may be gathered; a derivative word cannot properly mean any more than the word from which it is derived; if æon means eternity, then æonios might mean eternal and not otherwise; but we have seen (in 1-2-44) that æon as used in the Bible does not, and cannot mean eternity; the strongest upholders of the doctrine of endless woe make no claim that æon means eternity, hence æonios does not mean eternal. There are several passages wherein everyone can see that æonios does not mean eternal; in Phil. 15; the word rendered "forever " is from æonios; and it is very plain, from the context that it does not mean endless; so apparent is this, that in the New Version, although everywhere else this word is rendered eternal, yet in this passage, as a single exception, they were compelled to render it forever, as in the Old Version. This passage shows conclusively that æonios does not of itself mean endless. Another passage is in Heb. 6:2, where we have the phrase "eternal judgment." No one could think that the word means endless in this connection unless they believed the judgment is to be endless. It is clear then from these passages that the word does not of itself mean endless; if it is ever to be taken in that sense, it must be because of the connection; and this is really the argument of those who defend the orthodox position; it is not claimed that æonios of itself means absolutely endless; but it is claimed that the connection in which the word occurs indicates endlessness; for instance the word is used of God whom we know is eternal; hence it is argued that the word must mean eternal when so applied; again in Matt. 25:46, the phrase "æonial** punishment," is set over against that of "æonial life;" the latter is supposed of course to mean endless life; hence the former must mean endless punishment.
In a former issue of the paper I have noticed briefly the true meaning of the word when applied to God (See 1-4-88). I will now add in the same line that an understanding of God's "plan of the ages" will make the meaning of the phrase, æonial God, clear to us. As I have shown in previous papers, the ages are periods of time during which God is working out his great plan of creating man in His won image; the ages are God's "times" (Acts 3:21; 1 Tim. 6:15; Eph. 1:10), during which he does his "work" (See John 5:17; Eph. 2:10; Psa. 74:12), hence God is called the God of the ages, the "King of the ages" or the "æonial God" (1 Tim. 1:17, N.V., margin; Rev. 15:3, N.V.***); the adjective æonial has no more reference to duration, either long or short, than it has to color; it denotes a quality, a characteristic, not a quantify; it is not a time-word like eternal, annual, daily, etc., but is a descriptive word, like autumnal, vernal, or dispensational. God is absolutely eternal; "From everlasting to everlasting he is God;" but this is not: the meaning of the word æonial; this is not a word expressing God's duration, but simply expressing a characteristic of him, as I have explained above. That this is the true explanation of the meaning of this word, will still further appear, as we consider the next point.
Matt. 25:46 reads, "These shall go away into æonial punishment but the righteous into life æonial." It is argued that æonial life is endless life, hence æonial punishment is endless punishment; and it is further urged that if the punishment is limited, the life must be limited, the duration of each being expressed by the same word, and thus a disbelief in an endless hell, destroys the doctrine of an endless heaven, the two stand or fall together; all this seems very conclusive to the majority of Christians; in fact it seems to them absolutely unanswerable, and hence they feel compelled to believe in an endless hell in order to preserve their belief in an endless heaven; and yet this whole argument is flimsy, shallow, in conclusive, unscriptural and false. I will attempt to shed the light of God's truth upon it, so that some may see that it is not born of the light but of darkness, and that the pillars of heaven do not rest upon the pavements of hell.
In the first place the conclusion is not correct even if the premises were true; it can be clearly shown from Scripture that though it were true that æonial life meant endless life, it would not necessarily follow that æonial in the other phrase meant endless. We have another passage in the New Testament where the word æonial occurs twice, and where, from the orthodox standpoint, it would certainly mean endless in one case, and from a common sense standpoint just as certainly not mean endless in the other. ' The passage is Rom. 16:25,26; in the Old Version the words "since the world began," and in the New Version, "times eternal," are translated from original words that literally mean simply æonial times, or the times of the ages. Thus it is rendered in the "Emphatic Diaglot," "Young's Bible Translation," and Rotherham's translation. The rendering of the New Version noticed above also indicates the same meaning. In the same passage we read also of "the æonial God." Now from the orthodox standpoint this latter phrase must mean the eternal God, the God without beginning or end. I have already shown that æonial in this connection does not have the meaning of endless, but supposing it had, it could not mean endless in the former phrase, for everyone must see that to talk about endless times is as flat a contradiction of terms as it would be to talk about a full vacuum, or a something nothing. I do not hesitate to say that the rendering in the New Version is utterly meaningless; the definition of time is duration having beginning and end, i.e. limited duration; the definition of eternal is, without end, never ending, i.e. unlimited duration. Now let the reader tell me what is the meaning of "eternal times;" an unending end! an unlimited limit! an infinite finite! nonsense! Common sense is better than learning or man-made theology, and more likely to lead us to the truth than the ipse dixit of creed-bound "Divines." We have however a still more senseless rendering in the New Version in 2 Tim. 1:9 and Tit. 1:2. If the phrase, "times eternal" is meaningless what does "before times eternal" mean? Before a limited period of eternity! It is marvelous how blind and stupid, bigotry and prejudice will make the wisest and most learned men! Here are passages surely where it is certain that æonial does not mean endless. If you insist that "the æonial God" means the Being who is without be ginning or end, then to be consistent you ought to hold that "æonial times" is time without beginning or end! but that is too foolish for anyone but an idiot to urge, hence you are compelled to admit that the same word used twice in this passage has two different meanings; hence it may have a different meaning in any other passage where it occurs twice; thus the argument drawn from Matt. 25:46, in favor of endless torment is shown to be faulty, even from the orthodox standpoint. But the orthodox standpoint is not the true one; hence the view from that standpoint is not true, this view is shallow, let us look deeper for the truth.
There is no doubt in my mind that the word æonial wherever it is used in the New Testament has a uniform meaning; it does not mean endless in some connection and something else in others; God's Word is not thus self contradictory and confusing. The word has one, general meaning; what is it? I have already answered this question. I have explained what I understand to be the meaning of the word when applied to God. He is "the æonial God," or "the King of the ages," i.e. the Being who through "the æonial times" is working out his wonderful plan. The word æonial has the force of belonging to, or in connection with the ages; anything that is peculiar to these age times, and stands in connection with them, is said to be æonial; as for example, "æonial salvation," "æonial redemption," "æonial inheritance," "æonial fire," etc., (see Heb. 5:9; 9:12,15;Jude 7).
In regard to the last verse of Matt. 25, I would say that I have given a full explanation of that passage in the pamphlet already referred to. I will only add, now, that the whole difficulty with this passage lies in the fact that Christians are ignorant of what æonial life is. It is not mere endless existence; the adjective æonial has no such meaning as endless, it never has that meaning in any scripture; it describes the kind of life, not its duration. Jesus gives us a definition of æonial life; John 17.3; "This is life æonial to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Does not this satisfy you? Christ's own words? As plain and direct as can be? Knowledge of God and Christ is life æonial; that is to say the life of the ages, God's work-days; in its final result will be a universal knowledge of God; "all shall know him from the least to the greatest." It has not been so in past ages to be sure, but it will be so as the ages roll on. The "age times" have scarcely begun; there are yet "ages of ages" in the future; and as their cycles roll, God will come to be known more and more until "The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea." This is the life that shall yet characterize God's "age times," this is "life æonial." I have no doubt but that life thus attained to in "the ages to come" by a re-created race will continue on and on forever; for we are to be like God, deathless, immortal, "neither can they die any more;" but this fact of the endlessness of that life is not implied in the word æonial, but is plainly taught in other scripture; æonial describes the kind of life as explained above. Even those who hold the orthodox view must admit that æonial life is something more than mere endless existence; they believe that the damned in hell have that; æonial life, they must think, is an endless life of a certain kind,-of bliss, and enjoyment, and perfect happiness; and this is true; but they fail to understand wherein that happiness and enjoyment consists; viz. in perfect knowledge of God. The highest enjoyment of which we are capable comes from knowing God; nothing else will give us true happiness; nothing else will give us peace; this,-this if life; all else is death; this, and this alone is man's perfect heaven.
Having thus determined the nature of "æonial life," it is comparatively easy to understand what "æonial punishment" is. Not endless punishment; such an idea is senseless as well as unscriptural. The purpose of punishment is not only the protection of society, and the restraint of the offender, but also his reformation; this latter should be the main purpose of punishment; any punishment that is not conducive to this end is wholly unjustifiable, it is simply an attempt to overcome one evil with a greater evil; now to talk about endless punishment, is nonsense, as much as it would be to talk of endless correction, or endless reforming. You might speak of endless torture, or endless suffering; but endless punishment is not a proper collection of terms at all. I will add that the original word here rendered "punishment" signifies a punishment for the correction and bettering of the individual, hence it could not be endless. We have seen the true meaning of æonial; apply that meaning here and we have the correct idea of the phrase. Æonial life we have seen is that kind of life peculiar to God's age-times; so æonial punishment or correction (which would be a perfectly correct translation) is that kind of punishment that God will make use of in future ages to correct mankind; as of æonial life, so of æonial punishment, it is not a punishment of a given duration, but of a certain kind,-of such a kind as will in the end work the reformation of the offender. According to this explanation, everyone can see that there is not the slightest ground in this passage for the false doctrine of endless woe; and the strong point in this explanation is that it rests on the express statement of the Lord Jesus Christ; had Jesus given us no definition of æonial life, we could have plainly inferred its meaning from other scripture; but such references would have been open to strong objection on account of their being inferences, and not the direct teaching of the Word. But when Christ gives us a formal, precise definition of the phrase,-when he tells us just exactly what æonial life is,-of course no Christian can object, and the question is settled. The whole force of the orthodox argument depends upon the meaning of the word æonial; if it means endless then the argument is sustained and the orthodox view is established; if it does not mean endless, the argument falls to the ground. The whole question then is, does æonial mean endless or not? To this question there can be but one answer in view of the scriptural testimony that I have presented above; as we have seen there are three passages in the New Testament where æonial is connected with the word time, and in such a combination the adjective could not possibly mean endless, unless there could be such a thing as an unlimited fragment. Then we have the Savior's definition of æonial life which settles and fixes the meaning of the phrase by all the power of the divinity of the incarnate Word. If in the face of this evidence anyone can still say that æonial means endless, then he is either mentally deficient, or else by bigotry, prejudice, ignorance, or something else of that nature, he is beyond the reach of reason and must abide in his dearly beloved falsehood until God shakes him out of it. As I have already said, æonial life when fully reached will be an endless life, but the endlessness of that life is not indicated by the epithet æonial, but is plainly taught in other scripture; no one need fear that by denying an endless hell they weaken the evidence for an endless heaven; the latter is fully assured by many passages of the plainest scripture, but we have no such evidence in favor of the former.
The meaning of æoniaI then is belonging to, peculiar to, or characteristic of, the ages; it has no relation to duration but to kind; it is that the word does not mean endless or eternal, as I have shown above; it does not even mean age lasting, although it is sometimes so rendered for the want of a better English word whereby to express it; strictly speaking, however, the word does not mean lasting throughout the age, any more than it means lasting throughout eternity; As Canon Farrar has said, "Even if æon always meant eternity, which is not the case either in classic or Helenistic Greek-æonial could still only mean belonging to eternity, not lasting through it. The word by itself, whether adjective or substantive, never means endless." As we have no single word in English that properly expresses its meaning, it seems to me best to incorporate the word right into the language, just as we have baptism, hades, etc. The form then, Æonial I think is best, used in the sense explained in the foregoing.
* Notably among the helpful books is the so called "Emphatic Diaglott," which I consider to be the most valuable acquisition to the Bible student unacquainted with the original, extant.
** I will use the anglicized form of the original word, since we have no single word in English that exactly expresses its meaning.
***i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)