An Analytical Study of Words
Examples in Greek Literature
"If by 'eonian,' endless time were meant, then what could be more than endless time?"
"All the way through it is never feasible
to understand 'aionios' as everlasting."
-Dr. Nigel Turner
"In Hebrew and Greek, the words rendered
'everlasting' have not this sense. They signify a long duration of time,
a period; whence the phrase, during these eternities and beyond."
Ancient writings, other than the Scriptures, show how aion and aionios were used in the ordinary affairs of that time period. Long ago in Rome, periodic games were held. These were referred to as "secular" games. Herodian, who wrote in Greek about the end of the second century A.D., called these aionios, "eonian," games. In no sense could those games have been eternal.
Adolph Deissman gives this account: "Upon a lead tablet found in the Necropolis at Adrumetum in the Roman province of Africa, near Carthage, the following inscription, belonging to the early third century, is scratched in Greek: 'I am adjuring Thee, the great God, the eonian, and more than eonian (epaionion) and almighty...' If by eonian, endless time were meant, then what could be more than endless time?"
In the Apostolical Constitutions, a work of the fourth century A.D., it is said, kai touto humin esto nomimon aionion hos tes suntleias to aionos, "And let this be to you an eonian ordinance until the consummation of the eon." Obviously there was no thought in the author's mind of endless time.
Dr. Agar Beet, in his article "On the Future Punishment of Sin," published in The Expositor, carefully examined the meaning of the word aionios, and the only passage in which Dr. Beet could adduce the word could possibly mean endless was from Plato's Laws (p. 904 A). But there is a question there as to whether Plato was referring to endless time.
The noun and adjective we are studying were used repeatedly in the Septuagint in relation to ordinances and laws which were limited as to time. A check of these usages as given in a concordance to the Septuagint will show there is no instance in which these words can refer to endlessness.
There are those who insist that the "punishments" of God are "forever and ever." The Greek word for punish and punishment appears just three times in the N.T. Each time, the punishing comes at the hands of humans, not from God. There is no word meaning "punish" or "punishment" in the Hebrew. However, our common version translates two Greek words, timoreo, "punish," and kalazo, "chastise," with the same English word, "punish." Chastising carries the idea of correcting with a view to amendment of one's mistakes, while punishment is penal action. These two words were defined by Aristotle in his Rhet. 1, 10, 17, as, "kolasis is corrective, timoria alone is the satisfaction of the inflictor." Archbishop Trench states in his synonyms of the N.T. (p. 23-24): "timorio indicates the vindictive character of punishment; kolasis indicates punishment as it has reference to correcting and bettering the offender." Kolasin is the word our Lord used as recorded at Matt. 25:46 which the King James tradition mistranslates "everlasting punishment". Timoreo is used at Acts 22:5; 26:11; and timoria at Heb. 10:29.
In Ex. 15:18, where the KJV says: "The Lord shall reign forever and ever," the Septuagint shows, kurios basileuon ton aiona kai ap aiona kai eti, "The Lord is reigning the eon, and upon eon, and longer," and the Latin Vulgate, in aeternum et ultra, "into eternity and beyond." The Hebrew says, "Jehovah shall reign to the eon and beyond." Our conception of the English "forever and ever" allows for no time to be "beyond."
Some insist that while the noun in the singular does mean "age," in the plural it means "forever," or "eternal." But notice how both the singular and the plural are used in the Septuagint. At Micah 4:5 (singular), eis ton aiona kai epekeina, "for the eon and beyond," and at Dan. 12:3 (plural), eis tous aionas kai eti, "for the eons and longer." If the plural means forever, eternity, endless time etc., there can be no time longer than that. In the Book of Enoch there is, heos suntelesthê krima tou aionos ton aionon, "until the judgment of the eon of the eons may be accomplished." The Greek word suntelesthê is a compound word (sun + telesthê). Without the sun, telestha appears at Luke 12:50; Rev. 10:7; 17:17; 20:3,5, and 7 where it should be translated: "should be accomplished" (or "finished" or "consummated"). The heos of the above is a conjunction of time, which limits the judgment to a period called "the eon of the eons." Paul uses both the singular and the plural form in one sentence (Eph. 3:21), "to Him be glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the eon of the eons" (CV). Understand that as long as there are "generations," we are not at the end of all things and therefore "eon of the eons" cannot refer to eternity, everlasting, forever and ever, etc.
At Isa. 60:15, the adjective is used: "I will make you an eonian (aionion) excellency." This is followed by, "a joy of many generations." Eonian cannot mean endlessness here, for when the eons close, generations cease for there will be no more procreation.
Dr. Mangey, a translator of the writings of Philo, says Philo did not use aionios to express endless duration.
Josephus shows that aionios did not mean endlessness, for he uses it of the period between the giving of the law to Moses and that of his own writing; to the period of the imprisonment of the tyrant John by the Romans; and to the period during which Herod's temple stood. The temple had already been destroyed by the time Josephus was writing.
St. Gregory of Nyssa speaks of aionios diastêma, "an eonian interval." It would be absurd to call an interval "endless."
St. Chrysostum, in his homily on Eph. 2:1-3, says that "Satan's kingdom is æonian; that is, it will cease with the present world."
St. Justin Martyr repeatedly used the word aionios as in the Apol. (p. 57), aionion kolasin ...all ouchi chiliontaetê periodon, "eonian chastening ...but a period, not a thousand years." Or, as some translate the last clause: "but a period of a thousand years only." He limits the eonian chastening to a period of a thousand years, rather than to endlessness.
In 1 Enoch 10:10 there is an interesting statement
using the Greek words: zoên aionion, "life eonian,"
or, as in the KJV, "everlasting life" (at John 3:16 and elswhere).
The whole sentence in Enoch is, hoti elpizousi zêsai zoên
aionion, kai hoti zêsetai hekastos auton etê pentakosia,
"For they hope to live an eonian life, and that each one of them will
live five hundred years." Here, eonian life is limited to five hundred
years! In the N.T. eonian life is limited to life during the eons, after
which death will be destroyed by making ALL alive IN CHRIST, incorruptible