In the last blog we saw many examples of how the Greek words aion and aionios were NOT used in Greek Literature outside of the Bible to express eternity. This further confirms that the Greek-speaking world did not necessarily attribute a sense of endlessness to these words. This blog will be a kind of reciprocal to that last one because in this blog I hope to show Greek words that actually DO mean endless.
Furthermore, these words almost without fail are only ever used in connection with Christ and HIS Kingdom, and never (with only one exception) concerning Hell or judgment of any kind. For instance, Luke 1:33 says,
“He (Christ) will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end.”
Isaiah 9:7 also says the same thing,
“There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace…”
The book of Hebrews quotes another Old Testament Scripture saying,
“Like a mantle You will roll them (the heavens) up, like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same and Your years will not come to an end.”
Jesus, speaking of the age to come and those who attain to the first resurrection from the dead, declares that, “they cannot even die anymore…” (Luke 20:36) Not only that, but Scripture emphatically declares that, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.” Language never used in connection with death or judgment.
Aside from this, the main word that the Greek language uses to define endlessness is the word aidios. Dr. J.W. Hansen in his short book Aion-Aionios quotes a certain scholar (on page 62 without giving his name) who remarks about this word,
“Aiónios is a word of sparing occurrence among ancient classical Greek writers; nor is it by any means the common term employed by them to signify eternal. On the contrary, they much more frequently make use of aidios…To me it appears that the Seventy (Septuagint), by choosing aiónios to represent olam, testify that they did not understand the Hebrew word to signify eternal. Had they so understood it, they would certainly have translated it by some more decisive word; some term, which, like aidios is more commonly employed in Greek, to signify that which has neither beginning nor end.” (Taken from The Christian Examiner. Sept. 1830, pp. 25,26.)
Dr. Hansen also makes mention of Aristotle’s use of the word aidios saying,
“[Aristotle] says: ‘aión sunekes kai aidios,’ ‘an eternal (aidios) aión’ (or being) ‘pertaining to God.’ The fact that Aristotle found it necessary to add aidios to aión to ascribe eternity to God demonstrates that he found no sense of eternity in the word aión, and utterly discards the idea that he held the word to mean endless duration.” (p. 22)
Aristotle uses aidios elsewhere,
“The entire heaven is one and eternal (Aidios) having neither beginning nor end of a complete aión (life, or age).”
A few paragraphs later he uses aidiotes to define eternity. (De Caelo, Lib. ii, cap. i.)
F.W. Farrar in his book Mercy and Judgment, concerning the doctrine of the Pharisees as recorded by Josephus, states,
“…when [Josephus] wants to assimilate Jewish theology to Greek teaching, he is so well aware that aionios will not convey his meaning, that he purposely uses instead the word aidios.” (p. 379, 380)
The Pharisees regarded the penalty of sin as torment without end, and they stated their doctrine in unambiguous terms, Josephus records this in his book Wars of the Jews, saying;
“[The Pharisees] believe that wicked spirits are to be kept in an eternal imprisonment (eirgmos aidios). The Pharisees say all souls are incorruptible, but while those of good men are removed into other bodies those of bad men are subject to eternal punishment (aidios timoria).”
Elsewhere Josephus says that the Essenes,
“allot to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing torment (timoria adialeipton), where they suffer a deathless torment (athanaton timorion).” (ii. 8. Section 14. See also Univ. Expositor. Vol. 3, p. 437.)
Philo uses the term athanaton (deathless) to describe the Pharisees’ horrifying doctrine,
“To live always dying, and to undergo an immortal (athanaton) and interminable (ateleuteton) death.” (Ibid. p. 446.)
If Jesus had intended to approve of the doctrine of the Pharisees then He would have used the terms by which they described it. But the only word that He uses to define the duration of punishment was aionios; their words were aidion, adialeipton and athanaton. Philo and Josephus say, “thanaton athanaton” (deathless or immortal death); “eirgmon aidion” (eternal imprisonment); “aidion timorion” (endless torment); and “thanaton ateleuteton” (interminable death). But Jesus used “aionios kolasis,” (Matthew 24:46) an adjective (aionios) used universally for limited duration, and a noun (kolasis) that described suffering which produces improvement (which we shall investigate in a later series).
Not once did Jesus ever endorse their doctrine of endless punishment, rather, He takes a strategic stand against it by using aionios instead of aidios. In fact, Jesus even warns His disciples not to fall prey to the teachings of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:12). The Bible only uses the word aidios two times. The first is in Romans 1:20 where it says,
“…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal (aidios – endless) power and divine nature, have been clearly seen.”
The only other time it is used is in Jude 6 where it refers to “eternal bonds” that hold fallen angels captive until the day of judgment. Now this can certainly be pointed to as proof positive that the New Testament does indeed endorse endless punishment; however, the context does not support this interpretation; for these bonds, though they are endless, are only holding the fallen angels UNTIL the day of judgment. At this point it becomes an issue of what you want to believe. But in light of all the other evidence, I find that one single instance of the word endless to describe a holding place for wicked angels that is to last only until the judgment day to be too little support for a sound doctrine.
On top of this the Bible also employs several other phrases to denote other types of endlessness, and I always make it a point to show that none of these instances ever refer to hell, the state of the wicked, or judgment of any kind.
The first one we will look at is aperantos which is only found this one time.
“nor to pay attention to myths and endless (aperantos – never finished) genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.” (1 Timothy 1:4)
Next is akatalutos which is also only found one time.
“And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible (akatalutos – indissoluble) life.” (Hebrews 7:15,16)
After this is adialeiptos which is found several times.
“pray without ceasing (adialeiptos – incessantly, endlessly);” (Thessalonians 5:17; see also Romans 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2:13 for more uses of adaialeiptos)
We also have amarantos which is found twice.
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading (amarantinos) crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4)
“to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable (aphthartos – never decaying, immortal) and undefiled and will not fade away (amarantos – unfading), reserved in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4; see also 1 Peter 1:23, 3:4 for more uses of aphthartos)
Aphthartos is the word that is used more than any other word in the New Testament to convey the sense of endlessness.
“Now unto the King eternal (king of the ages [aion is plural here]), immortal, (aphthartos) invisible, the only wise god, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)
“and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible (aphthartos) God for an image in the form of corruptible man.” (Romans 1:23)
“They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (apthartos).” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
“to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality (aphtharsia), eternal (aionios – age long) life.” (Romans 2:7)
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable (aphtharsia) body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42; see also verse 50.)
“who abolished death and brought life and immortality (aphtharsian) to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10)
“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable (aphthartoi), and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable (aphtharsian – incorruptibility)…” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53)
At this point in 1 Corinthians Paul begins to say the same thing but in a different way using the word athanasian. This word means immortality; which is not subject to death.
“…and this mortal must put on immortality (athanasian – immortality). But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable (aphtharsian), and this mortal will have put on immortality (athanasian), then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” (vs. 53-54)
Paul uses this word athanasian, in another one of his letters, to state that God alone is the only one who will never die.
“GOD ALONE possesses immortality (athanasian – immortality).” (1 Timothy 6:16)
So we see that endlessness or the quality of never ceasing is only ever attributed to God or the good things of His kingdom; never to the wicked, sin, death, judgment, hell, etc…
And if there are any who, reading these blogs, might become anxious and fear that if aionios hell ends, then that must mean that our aionios life will end as well; you need not worry, for the Bible declares that our life is wrapped up in God’s, for “as He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17). More than that, our new life IS HIS life, the very life of Christ within us. Paul emphatically declares that, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). So our life will never cease as hell and wrath is said to cease (Psalm 30:5, 103:9), for unlike condemnation, which is “passing away,” God’s life and grace will “remain” (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).
Therefore, having seen the words in the Greek language that were understood to mean endless, we can rest assured that aionios would not have been used if Christ or His Disciples meant to convey endless torment.
To summarize what we have looked at thus far in this series; we have 4 points of significant importance: 1 – that it can be shown academically that aionios does not necessarily mean eternal; 2 – that the Septuagint uses aionios to define the Hebrew word olam which does not signify endlessness; 3 – that aionios is used to convey a limited (and many times short) period of time in Classical Greek Literature as well as by historians and philosophers alive during the time that the New Testament was written; 4 – that there are other words in Greek that DO signify endlessness yet are only used to describe God and His Kingdom.
Therefore it becomes much clearer that the doctrine of endless hell holds very little water. In fact, we are just beginning to see how murky that water really is. The next series will make it clearer still just how unsupported the idea of an endless hell in Scripture actually is. But before we end this series and move on to the next there are a few insights that we need to look at to help clarify everything. Namely what does the Bible mean when it refers to aionios life and aionios judgment? And even before that, what is “the purpose of the ages” that Scripture refers to? (Ephesians 3:11)
It is the latter that we will look at next.