PrefaceWhat follows is the unabridged twenty-fourth chapter, ‘Terms and Usages: “Aiōn” and “Aiōnios” ’, from LeRoy Edwin Froom’s The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages over the Nature and Destiny of Man, 2 vols (Wahington, DC: Review and Herald, 1959, 1965), 1.431–44. Unfortunately, this volume is currently out of print. I have attempted to remain faithful to the same basic structure and formatting as seen in the original. I have retained all the original emphases of the author. The heading titles are the author’s (i.e. Froom’s). The only significant alteration I have made is in converting the footnotes to endnotes (of which there are seven). Emendations to the text will be contained in square brackets followed by the initials ‘J. D.’ so as to prevent possible confusion. —J. D. Gallé
Terms and Usages: “Aiōn” and “Aiōnios”
I. Principles Governing the Meaning of Aiōn and Aiōnios
1. Definitions and Usages—According to Young, the noun aiōn (meaning “aeon” or “age”) occurs 128 times in the New Testament, in 102 passages—34 times in simple form, and 64 times in prepositional phrases and forms. The adjective aiōnios (belonging to an age) is used 67 times—42 times rendered “eternal” and 25 times as “everlasting.” Even if aiōn meant “eternity”—which it does not—aiōnios could only mean “belonging to eternity,” not necessarily lasting through it. And in not one of the passages does the word itself mean endless. There are classical Greek words that do stand for endless, but such words are not used in the New Testament. That too is significant.
Aiōn may be defined as a period of existence, or continuous being, whether a lifetime or an age. It is sometimes limited and sometimes denotes boundless periods and endless eternity. In 23 instances aiōn is doubled. The basic thought is always continuity, whether for a definite period, long or short, or for all time. It is often a “hidden” period—hidden as to precise length, sometimes terminable, sometimes interminable. So aiōn, like our term “age,” denotes a period of undefined length.
In order to determine its length in any given instance, even relatively, the context and other passages where used must be considered, and especially the substantive to which it is attached. Therefore aiōnios does not, and cannot, always have the same meaning, for it is modified or even altered by the substantive that it modifies.
2. Specific “Aiōnios” Usages Outlined.—According to the Englishman's Greek Concordance, in the 24 passages in the New Testament where aiōnios is rendered “everlasting” 14 are used with zōē-life—meaning life without an end. Of the remaining 10, two are used with “fire” (continuing unquenchable until that on which the fire feeds is consumed); once with “punishment” (permanent in effect); once with “habitations” (doubtless the new earth) without end; once with “destruction” (like punishment); once with “consolation” (unending for the saved); once with “power” (ascribed to God, and hence without limit); once with “covenant” (unending in results); once with “kingdom of our Lord” (hence unceasing); and once with “gospel,” or “power of God” (and thus limitless in duration—Rom. 1:16). So AIONIOS always takes its meaning from the word to which it is attached.
In the Authorized Version, in prepositional phrase form (with aiōn as the base), it appears some 68 times, and has been variously rendered: “since the world began” (Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21); “from the beginning of the world” (Eph. 3:9); “for ever” (20 times); “ever” (Heb. 7:24); “for evermore” (Heb. 7:28); “for ever and ever (20 times), et cetera.
II. Aiōn and Aiōnios in the Contrasts of Scripture
1. Golden Rule: Perpetuity within Limits.—Aiōn and aiōnios, when used in connection with life (zōe) for the righteous, mean constant, abiding, eternal, measureless. It involves unbounded existence and duration in the world to come. But when used of the continuance (or more accurately of the consuming) of the wicked, who are to be destroyed, it is transitory, and comes to an end. Everything consequently and consistently depends upon the nature and destiny of the substantive that it modifies. That is the golden rule of interpretation of these terms. It is perpetuity within limits—the duration being determined by the person, or thing, or condition to which it is attached.
Thus with the fate of the wicked. It is until their destruction is accomplished—not a process going on forever. The "fire" that shall not be “quenched” does not mean that it shall not ultimately cease. The fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was “unquenchable” (no one could put it out), but it finally ceased burning. But this was not until its objective was accomplished. (This is discussed under “destruction,” and “punishment.”
2. Two Determinative Principles Re “Aiōnios”—All are aware that aiōn and aiōnios have been the subject of avid dispute among proponents and opponents of the Innate-Immortality postulate. The issue has been: Do these terms mean endless or age enduring, or both, upon occasion? Two things need to be noted at the outset:
(1) Aiōnios is constantly predicated of the new supernatural life, received through regeneration by the Spirit of God. But, in contrast with this, aiōnios is never, in any of its forms, used in Scripture of the old, or natural, life of man. Furthermore, (2) it is never, anywhere throughout the entire Word of God, predicated of a continuing death as the penalty of sin. When used of death, it means a period of limited duration. These principles are determinative.
The terms “eternal death” and “everlasting death” are consequently not found in the Bible. Life may be brief, or long—or endless if it pleases God to perpetuate it—but death is a finality in itself, and needs no qualifying epithet. And that is the doom denounced upon sinners—“Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15; cf. Rom. 6:23). This is the “second death,” which follows the judgment of the wicked. From this there is no resurrection. But of the new life, the spiritual life, the divine life, upon which the people of God enter, and of which the epithet aiōnios is predicated, and no other, is zōē aiōnios. It is without any limitation.
3. Gehazi's “For Ever”-Leprosy Lasted until Posterity Extinct.—The master key that unlocks the meaning of any passage employing the terms aiōn or aiōnios is that they are to be taken to mean as long as the thing or person under consideration (in the light of the surrounding circumstances) can exist. Its duration is always determined by the noun to which it is attached. That simple principle will solve all problems and meet all cases.
Take an Old Testament example: The curse of leprosy upon Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27)—that the leprosy of Naaman “shall cleave unto thee [Gehazi], and unto thy seed for ever”—simply means that it should continue as long as Gehazi and his posterity should continue to exist. In other words, until the line became extinct. Then it would cease. And, under the terms of this prophecy, it must have taken place fairly soon. It is restricted to the extent of the duration of the thing or person to which it is applied. The “for ever” of Gehazi was consequently only until his posterity became extinct.
4. Length Governed by Noun to Which Attached.—When aiōn and aiōnios are applied to Divine Beings, or to the eternal home of the saints, or to the redeemed, immortalized saints, they then obviously denote eternal duration, or eternity of being. But as noted, when aiōn and aiōnios are applied to things that will have an end, they are correspondingly limited in meaning. Thus, when they are applied to the existence of the wicked—who will finally cease to be as the result of the “second death”—they must be limited, according to their signification.
We must consequently conclude that the modifiers aiōn and aiōnios, with reference to the two classes—“saints” and “sinners”—mean, respectively, bliss throughout all eternity, on the one hand, for the eternally righteous, and on the other hand coming to an end forever, after a due and just period of suffering for the unrepentant and doomed sinner. The wicked are ultimately and utterly extinguished because they refused the eternal life so freely offered to them, which is nevertheless to continue throughout the ages without end for the righteous, who accepted its provisions.
5. Body Blow to Immortal-Soul Theory.—We have already established the fact that aiōnios (“eternal” or “everlasting”) is constantly coupled with zōē in Scripture—giving the meaning of endlessness to the life. And we have stressed the point that aiōnios is never, in Scripture, joined with psuchē. It therefore follows that such terms as “immortal soul,” “never-dying soul,” and the like, though frequently used by many ecclesiastics and philosophers, are not found anywhere between the covers of Holy Writ.
That inexorable fact is a body blow to the Immortal-Soul theory. Those who possess nothing higher than the natural psuchē-life from Adam are destined to perish, and ultimately cease to be. And inspired Bible usage counterbalances and nullifies any and all human opinions to the contrary.
6. Restricted Use in the Apocalypse.—And observe this added point: In the Apocalypse, where the plural form eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnon (“to the ages of the ages”) appears frequently, the reference is usually to personified organizations, systems, or associations (such as “beast,” “Babylon,” “false prophet”) which must be punished, but which will not exist in the world to come.
III. Texts Exemplify Diversified Meanings of Aiōn and Aiōnios
Before testing out these principles with a diversified group of New Testament passages, let us first establish the connection between Old Testament and New Testament usage.
The Septuagint again constitutes the vital link between the Hebrew Old Testament ‘olam and the Greek New Testament aiōn and aiōnios, and provides a second valuable key to right understanding. In the Septuagint’s use of aiōnios, God and His attributes, kingdom, and covenant are set forth as unlimited and eternal. But earthly objects, belonging to a passing dispensation, and divine dealings not lasting beyond the continuance of the earth in its present form are always set forth as limited, or restricted, in duration.
Thus it is with the priests’ office (Ex. 29:9), “perpetual” statutes (Lev. 3:17), the burning of Ai (Joshua 8:28), “perpetual hissing” (Jer. 18:15, 16), “perpetual desolations” (Jer. 25:12; Eze. 35:9; Zeph. 2:9), “perpetual wastes” (Jer. 49:13), et cetera. This mixed usage constitutes a reliable guide to New Testament practice.
Eighteen Dissimilar Examples Typify Differences
Here are eighteen annotated New Testament examples of this multiple usage with the Greek original, and its literal meaning:
Matt. 13:39—“The harvest is the end of the world [sunteleia tou aiōnos, “consummation of the age,” or aiōn].”
Matt. 21:19—“Let no fruit grow on thee [barren fig tree] henceforward for ever [eis tōn aiōna, for the remainder of its life—not to all eternity].”
Luke 1:70—“Which have been since the world began [tōn ap’ aiōnos, “since time began,” “from all time,” “from the age,” "from of old”].”
Luke 20:35—“Accounted worthy to obtain that world [tou aiōnos, “that other age,” “the age to come”].”
John 9:32—“Since the world began [ek tou aiōnos, “out of the age”] was it not. …”
John 13:8—“Though shalt never wash my feet [eis tōn aiōna, “never while the world lasts,” “as long as I live,” “not to all eternity”].”
Acts 15:18—“All his works from the beginning of the world [ap’ aiōnos, “from the age,” “from of old,” “eternity”].”
Rom. 16:25—“Which was kept secret since the world began [chronois aiōniois, “through ages long past,” or “along with times eternal”].”
1 Cor. 2:7—“Which God ordained before the world [pro tōn aiōnōn, “age or age-time,” “of indefinite duration”].”
1 Cor. 10:11—“Upon whom the ends of the world [tōn aiōnōn, “of the ages”] are come.”
2 Cor. 4:4—“The god of this world [tou aiōnos toutou, “of this present age”] hath blinded.”
Gal. 1:4—“Deliver us from this present evil world [ek tou … aiōnos, “out of the present age or period”].”
Eph. 2:7—“That in the ages to come [en tois aiōsin, “in the periods of the future”] he might shew.”
2 Tim. 1:9—“Given us in Christ Jesus before the world began [pro chronōn aiōniōn, “before the ages of time” or “before times eternal”].”
Titus 1:2—“Eternal life, which God … promised before the world began [pro chronōn aiōniōn, “before times eternal,” “before the commencement of the ages,” “long ages age”].”
Heb. 1:2—“By whom [His Son] also made the worlds [tous aiōnas, “ages”].”
Heb. 11:3—“The worlds [tous aiōnas, “ages”] were framed by the word of God.”
Jude 25—“Be … dominion and power, both now and ever [eis pantas tous aiōnas, “to all the ages,” “before every age and now and unto all the ages”].”
Let us now analyze the evidence, seeking out and applying the sound guiding principles disclosed by these and other passages wherein usage alone is determinative.
IV. Sound Interpretive Principles Emerge for Guidance
The fact that the adjective aiōnios is applied to some things that are “endless” does not for a moment prove that it always means endless, for such a rendering would, in many passages, be manifestly impossible and absurd. Further, the adjective “eternal” (aiōnios) and the adverbial phrases that express eternity (such as “forever” and “forever and ever”), indicate an indeterminate duration, whereof the maximum depends upon the nature of the person or thing that it modifies.
It is clearly infinite when predicated of God and eternal things, which are above and beyond time, or or beings who live by faith in communion and connection with Him. On the contrary, it is only relative for other beings, such as mortal man. Thus the sufferings of perishable creatures logically cannot be prolonged longer than is compatible with their perishable nature.
The length must be inferred and determined from the context and nature of the thing or persons under consideration. For example, in Romans 16:25, 26 the mystery of the gospel, hidden in times past—“chronois aiōnios” (along with eternal times, but which have come to an end)—is placed in contrast with aiōniou Theou (“eternal God,” v. 26, R.S.V., endless and independent of all time). To hold that aiōnios in the one instance must mean the same as the other is manifestly an absurdity.
The Old Testament equivalents of aiōn and aiōnios were applied to the Aaronic priesthood, the inheritance given to Caleb, the period of the slave's life, the burning of the fire upon the altar, the leprosy of Gehazi, et cetera. One notable case in point was “the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever” (Isa. 34:9, 10). And in Deuteronomy 23:3, 6 “for ever” is limited to the “tenth generation.” Such examples afford sound principles for our guidance.
1. Vast Scope of Meaning of “Aiōn” Exhibited.—In the Authorized Version aiōn is frequently translated “world.” Later, the revisers usually rendered aiōn by “age,” at least in the margin. The Greek word for “world,” in its material framework, is, of course, kosmos, while aiōn is earth's history in the larger setting of eternity. It is finite man in a finite world, preceded and followed by the timeless eternities of past and future. God, the King of the “ages,” laid His redemptive plans before the ages began to unroll, and sent forth His Son at the appointed time to consummate His matchless plan for the redemption of humanity.
In its backward look in depth, aiōn was a period lost in the mists of past eternity—the farthest dawn of time (Luke 1:70; John 9:32; Acts 15:18; Jude 25). But it may refer not only backward to time without beginning, but forward as well, as without end in the future. Thus we see that one group of aiōn texts tells of that which is divine and endless—God Himself (Rom. 16:26); His attributes (1 Tim. 6:16); His kingdom (2 Peter 1:11); His covenant (Heb. 13:20), et cetera.
Another group tells of the “ages” planned by God (Rom. 16:25; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2). A third group tells of His various acts and activities—“punishment” (Matt. 25:46); “judgment” (Mark 3:29; Heb. 6:2); “destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9); “salvation” (Heb. 5:9); “redemption” (chap. 9:12), et cetera. And there are lesser categories, but there is no conflict. Let us note a few important points.
2. God Has Infinity; Man Does Not.—There is a common misconception that any existence beyond this life is eternal, and that anything that is indefinitely extended is infinite and endless. But infinity is an attribute of God alone. He is the “King eternal, immortal, invisible," et cetera (1 Tim. 1:17), “who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto” (chap. 6:16). Therefore, intrinsic eternity of being cannot be the attribute of any creature, or he would be equal to his Creator.
Man does not, and cannot, possess God’s infinite attributes. Man can and does have wisdom, intelligence, power, and other attributes of free moral agents. But because of the very fact of his creation he must be dependent upon God for all that he is and has (Acts 17:28).
God gives to man “life.” But this life is subordinate to God's own absolute, original, underived, self-existent life. God may prolong man’s life, even without end. But such life is ever conditioned on God’s will, power, and pleasure. It is contingent, and cannot be an independent life. The life everlasting, or immortality—which He has promised to all who are united to Him—is everlasting simply because such beings are in vital connection with Him. Such life is not absolute, but conditional. It is because He thus keeps them that the redeemed will be immortal.
Again, because the wicked will live again after the first death, some jump to the conclusion that such life after death will be endlessly perpetuated. But the Scriptures solemnly assure us that the wicked dead are to be raised, judged, and destroyed with an everlasting destruction, which is the “second death” (Rev. 20:6, 14, 15; 21:8 [see also Rev. 2.11 —J. D.]).
The present earth and sinners are not to be forever in process of destruction by the purifying fires of the last day. The new earth is to rise from its ashes (Rev. 21; 22; 2 Peter 3:10-13). And the new earth, purified from all the deformities of the curse, is to be the everlasting abode of the righteous forever. Those are the contrasts left on record for our guidance.
3. “Aiōnios”—Eternal in Results, Not in Process.—Many illustrious scholars recognize that the meaning must be sought not in aiōnios but in the noun to which it is attached. Let us apply the principle: If the noun stands for that which is essentially eternal, then the accompanying adjective (aiōnios) is properly translated eternal. But if it is applied to that which is temporal and terminable, then aiōnios simply means lasting to the natural limits of the noun. Thus the “eternal God” (Rom. 16:26, R.S.V.), “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14), and “eternal kingdom of our Lord” (2 Peter 1:11, R.S.V.) are all clear and incontrovertible. Here the adjective has the meaning of endless, for the existence of Deity and His divine attributes and kingdom are without end.
But when aiōnios modifies nouns of action, such as an “eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:2), “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46), and the everlasting fires of Gehenna [see Mt 18.8–9; 25.41 —J. D.], it must be understood as lasting “forever” in the sense of everlasting results rather than an everlasting process. It is the verdict of the judgment that is immutable and stands forever—eternity of result, not of process. The same is true of “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). This is not an endless process, but the eternal result of Christ's once-for-all redemptive activity for man's salvation.
Similarly with “eternal destruction.” A thing that is not destroyed until the act of destroying comes to an end. The results of the destructive process are therefore eternal. When aiōnios modifies “punishment,” the process is not one of eternally punishing but the eternal result of a terminative process. When a criminal is hanged, electrocuted, or gassed, the process is not one of eternal hanging, electrocuting, or gassing. The criminal is deprived of life forever.
In the case of “eternal fire” (Jude 7), the duration is determined by the nature of the fire, which burns until it consumes that upon which it is feeding, and then ceases—as with Sodom and Gomorrah, where the complete destruction of the cities is set forth as an example of the puros aiōniou which will destroy the wicked.
4. Revelation 20:10—Example of Limited Torment.—That the terms aiōn and aiōnios often denote a limited period, and not always one of eternal duration, is apparent even from Revelation 20:10.
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever [eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnon, “to the ages of the ages”].”
The limitation in the text is explicit. The verse does not refer to all the wicked, but speaks only of the devil and the symbolic “beast” and the “false prophet.” The “lake of fire,” as the place and means of torment, is mentioned in verse 14. But there it is the declared symbol of complete and final utter destruction. “Death and hadēs” are cast into the lake of fire, after which it is recorded, “There shall be no more death” (Rev. 21:4). It comes to an end. Whatever was cast into the lake of fire, after it has wrought its destruction, no longer exists. In Revelation 20:15 is the declaration that “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” This marks the final disposition, through destruction, of all who are not saved in the kingdom of God.
Again, Revelation 14:11 represents the duration, or period of the unrest of a special group. It, too, represents a limited period that will end. As seen elsewhere, this allusion to the smoke ascending is clearly a figure of speech, and to make that the basis of a doctrine which contradicts all the plain teaching of the Word on this question, as well as making God infinitely cruel, cannot be the proper exegesis.
5. Beware of Unscriptural Foundations and Unsound Reasoning.—The rendering of the same word (aiōnios) once by “everlasting” and the other by “eternal”—as they appear twice in the same verse—is a purely arbitrary translator variation. Note it: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment [kolasin aiōnion, “everlasting in result”]: but the righteous into life eternal [zōēn aiōnion]” (Matt. 25:46).
But, far more important, we must beware of eisegetically reading into the word kolasis (“punishment”) a sense that it does not possess. “Punishment,” here, is the opposite of life only if that punishment be “death”—which it is. The eternal result is the same in both cases. There is no validity, for example, to Augustine's argument that if we do not make aiōnios kolasis mean endless punishing, we have no assurance that the aiōnios zōē that follows means endless living—and that we thereby lose our promise of everlasting happiness.
Such an Immortal-Soulist contention is utterly invalid. Our sure and certain hope of everlasting happiness rests on no such flimsy foundation as the disputed meaning of a Greek adjective, which is often used of things that are transitory. We have the clear, positive, and explicit foundations of God’s nonfigurative affirmations recorded for our assurance. Sound doctrine is based on solid Scripture, and sound reasoning therefrom.
Notes1. Rev. 1:6; 4:9, 10; 5:13, 14; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 14:11; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5. The difference between the K.J.V. and the R.S.V. in the number of occurrences is partly due to the critical text used for translating.
2. Dean F. W. Farrar states that in the Septuagint, which gives a reliable Greek parallel, the Hebrew ‘olam is rendered by aiōn 439 times. And in Exodus, twelve of its fourteen usages are “of things which have passed away; in Leviticus, twenty-four times, always of things which have come to an end; and in Numbers ten times; in Deuteronomy about ten times.”—Mercy and Judgment (2d ed.), p. 378.
3. That aiōn can mean either a finite of an infinite period—a human lifetime or an eternity of endless duration, according to the nature of the case or usage—is sustained by many standard authorities, such as Greenfield, Schrevelius, Liddell and Scott, Parkhurst, Robinson, Schleusner, Wahl, Gruden, Strong[,] Young, Bullinger, et cetera.
4. In this Dr. R. F. Weymouth concurs:
“The use in the N.T. of such words as ‘death,’ ‘destruction,’ ‘fire,’ ‘perish,’ to describe Future Retribution, point to the likelihood of fearful anguish, followed by extinction of being, as the doom which awaits those who by persistent rejection of the Saviour prove themselves utterly, and therefore irremediably, bad.”—The New Testament in Modern Speech (3d ed.), on Heb. 10:27, n. 1.
5. According to Archbishop R. C. Trench (Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 208, 209) aiōn often means the “duration of the human life.” Prof. Herman Cremer (Biblico Theological Lexicon, p. 74) likewise says “Duration of human life, as limited to a certain space of time … hence the duration of life, course of life, terms of life, life term, life in its temporal form.”
6. As to Augustine, Dean F. W. Farrar soundly remarked that—
“aiōn, aiōnios, and their Hebrew equivalents in all combinations, are repeatedly used of things which have come and shall come to an end. Even Augustine admits (what, indeed, no one can deny) that in Scripture aiōn, aiōnios must in many instances mean ‘having an end’; and St. Gregory of Nyssa, who at least knew Greek, uses aiōnios as the epithet of ‘an interval.’ ”—Eternal Hope (1879), excursus III, “On the Word Aiōnios,” p. 197. (Italics his.)
7. Here are a few: Isa. 25:6-8; Hosea 13:14; Luke 20:36; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Peter 1:4; 5:4; Rev. 21:4; et cetera.
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