Gospel Guidebook: Getting and Keeping It Right  

Aionios: Eternal or Age-Lasting?

I am a Christian Universalist. I have written about Universalism in my statement of belief, the Gospel Guidebook, and my article Is Universalism Compatible with "Eternal Punishment" in Matthew 25:46?. Like nearly all Universalists, I believed that the Greek noun aion did not mean "eternity" and that the Greek adjective aionios did not mean "eternal." Again, like nearly all Universalists, I interpreted these words as meaning "age"/"eon" and "age-lasting"/"eonian," respectively. In fact, I wrote about this topic under the heading Doesn't Matthew 25:46 teach that there is everlasting punishment? in the Gospel Guidebook. However, if you click that link, you will now find a disclaimer in red letters saying, "This section is still useful but requires revision. It is currently incomplete and partially inaccurate." The reason for this is because I have changed my opinion on these two words. I now believe that aion has a broad range of meanings and can mean "eternity" in certain contexts, such as when used in prepositional phrases like eis ton aiona, commonly translated as "forever." Likewise, I now believe that aionios can mean "eternal" or "to the maximum amount of time something can last," while being flexible enough to allow for idiosyncratic uses, such as those in Habakkuk 3:6, Romans 16:25, 2 Timothy 1:9, and Titus 1:2. I have been meaning to update the Gospel Guidebook to reflect my new understanding. If you happen to visit that page and the disclaimer is no longer there, then you can assume that I already updated it.

I would now like to provide some examples from Scripture for why I have changed my opinion.

Daniel 7:14

In Daniel 7:14, we read the following: "And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." In the Septuagint, the Greek word translated "everlasting" here is aionios. In this verse, "age-during" (see Young's Literal Translation) just doesn't work, for the meaning of "everlasting" is immediately explained as being something that "shall not pass away." In other words, the Son of Man's dominion is literally everlasting. It won't end. The translation "Age-during" (capital "A") is only acceptable when it is understood that this "age" is the "Age of Christ," literally having no end.

Luke 1:33

In Luke 1:33, we read the following: "And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." Here we have the prepositional phrase eis tous aionas being translated as "for ever." Like Daniel 7:14, we have the explanatory information that "for ever" signifies having no end. "Reign" and "kingdom" are cognates, the former being a verb and the latter a noun. Universalists usually translate this as "for the ages" or "to the ages." The noun "aion" here is plural, and perhaps this can be understood as the "ages" that exist within the "Age of Christ." Notice that in Ephesians 3:21, we have "generations" existing within the "age of the ages," so it is plausible that the endless Age of Christ will in fact contain a subset of ages. At any rate, the translation "for ever" is correct.

In relation to Luke 1:33, I used to believe that 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 taught that Christ's reign had an end, whereas the kingdom itself continued under the rule of the Father. In particular, verse 25 says that "he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet." The key word here being "till." I used these verses to interpret Luke 1:33 in such a manner that "he reigns over the house of Jacob for the ages" until the ages end. At this point, His kingdom still continues endlessly because He subjects Himself to the Father and the Father continues to rule. However, I realized that this interpretation was badly mistaken. 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 is referring only the conquering aspect of Christ's reign. Conquering comes to an end after He subjects all of His enemies under His feet. The Son's subjection to the Father is no different than any prince subjecting himself to the king. It doesn't mean the prince becomes a common person. It simply means that the prince recognizes the rightful authority of his father. Likewise, the Son will continue to reign under the Father.

John 6:50-51

In John 6:50-51, we read the following: "50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." In verse 50, we have Jesus saying that anyone who eats the heavenly bread will not die. In verse 51, he says anyone who eats the heavenly bread will live forever (Gr. eis ton aiona). It follows logically that living forever means not dying. This is significant because when Jesus speaks of eternal life in the immediate context (see verses 47 and 54), he is not simply talking about life for an age or ages, but everlasting life, i.e., a life that is no longer susceptible to death. In these verses "eternal life" and "live for ever" are correct. Again, "age-during" and "live for the age" would only make sense if we are talking about the endless Age of Christ. In such a case, we could have "Age-during" and "live for the Age," meaning essentially the same thing as "eternal" and "live for ever."

2 Corinthians 4:18

In 2 Corinthians 4:18, we read the following: "for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." This verse really doesn't make sense unless aionios is translated as "eternal." If aionios only meant "age-during," then it would still be temporal, regardless of how long it lasted. When I believed that aionios meant "age-during," I used to rationalize this verse by telling myself that the Bible essentially only provides information on the ages, not on what happens after the ages. Therefore, the Apostle Paul in this verse was staying within the context of the ages. When the ages ended, eternity would begin. Since I assumed the transition between the ages and eternity would be seamless, I reckoned that Paul was still able to contrast "temporal things" with "age-during" things. However, I was simply conflating "age-during" and "eternal," and turning the meaning of "age-during" into "eternal" without knowing it. The Apostle Paul was talking about things that already started. From this perspective, "eternity" had already started. To reason that "eternity" began after the ages was illogical.

Hebrews 7:16-17

In Hebrews 7:16-17, we read the following: 16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. 17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Similar to the verses in Daniel and Luke, we have the Greek prepositional phrase eis ton aiona in verse 17 being explained by verse 16. In this instance, eis ton aiona refers back to an "endless life." As a result, it is only reasonable that it be translated as "for ever." The translation "for the age" just doesn't work here.

In addition to the above, I believe a similar deduction can be made by carefully examining Hebrews 7:23-24, Romans 5:21, 1 Peter 1:24-25, and 1 John 2:17.

Are the translations "eternity," "for ever," "forever and ever," and "eternal" compatible with Universalism?

Yes, I believe they are. I have written about this briefly in my article Is Universalism Compatible with "Eternal Punishment" in Matthew 25:46?. Please see the last section of that article for more information. I am a Universalist because of the many plain and positive statements in the Bible that teach Universalism. I like to interpret verses on eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2), eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), eternal fire (Matthew 25:41), and eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9) through the lens of these plain and positive statements. I provide a list of some of these plain and positive statements in my statement of belief.