An Analytical Study of Words

Chapter Seven

Eonian Means What? A Search For Truth


"By this point in my studying I had begun to think that possibly these theologians were employing more subterfuge than enlightened honesty in dealing with the issue."
Dear Louis,

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! I read that you are to be a speaker at the upcoming Bible conference close to Springfield, MO. I'm writing to say that I now plan on attending on Saturday, if possible. I look forward to meeting you.

I enjoyed our correspondence of three years ago and have not forgotten the nature or substance of your thoughts expressed then. Here is the result of my thinking and studying on aiwnioj in recent times. For some years (I'm 32 yrs. old) certain passages had made me wonder as to the scope of their meaning; i.e. Romans 5, 1 Cor 15, Colossians 1, etc. In 1976 I received some sample literature, among which were tracts on the Salvation of All. Being a "Bible believing" orthodox evangelical, I rejected the idea. The year 1979 found me just having completed a year of studying the Koine (Greek) language at a theological seminary. Thus new tools were provided to eventually consider the idea of God being All in all.

As I began to seriously ponder this concept (which I felt no particular desire to adopt), I began to read more literature, books, pamphlets by others that were well reasoned from Scripture. I began to be convinced in spite of my previous feelings. I decided I had better read the "pro-eternal torment" position.

What do scholars of this position present? Clouded and confused thoughts. First I read a classic by William G.T. Shedd entitled The Doctrine of Endless Punishment. This was supposed by evangelicals to be the best defense of the foregoing doctrine. His first section in which he appealed to the "Church Fathers" I soon discounted, for as anyone who is even marginally aware of "the Fathers" can testify: they proclaim many diverse and even esoteric doctrines. The book did help me realize that one of the keys to resolving the question was the meaning of the word aionioj.. Does it mean eternal (endless) or eonian (age-lasting)? This is very critical. After much discussion, Shedd's conclusion as per page 84: anything, endless or limited, can be denominated aionioj! Both ways! It depends on the passage. And, of course, only a competent exegete such as Shedd can determine which of the two opposite meanings is to be chosen in a particular passage. There was no help for me here. What other conclusions did he come to? Page 145, "'If there were no God, we should be compelled to invent one' is now a familiar sentiment. 'If there were no hell, we should be compelled to invent one' is equally true." What else does this scholar say? Page 159, "the Bible teaches that there will always be some sin, and some death, in the universe." It's as if he had never read 1 Corinthians 15:26. One final quote from Shedd, Page 119: "Nothing is requisite for (doctrine of endless torments) maintenance but the admission of three cardinal truths of theism; namely, that there is a just God; that man has free will; and that sin is a voluntary action." He did not give a Scriptural reverence of Romans 11:32 for this statement. In fact, he gave no reference to the Scriptures at this point.

I thought I might read a more recent book of Endless Punishment--so I read a highly recommended Doctrine of Eternal Punishment to gather more information on aionioj. Page 49, "No sound Greek scholar can pretend that aionioj means anything less than eternal." I decided he must not have read Shedd's book. Also the very highly esteemed translators of the New International Version must not have read the latter book (or must not be "sound Greek scholars") because their rendering in Romans 16:25 speaks about, "the mystery hidden from long ages past." "Long Ages Past" being their translation "eonian times." I was confused--one meaning only (eternal) or two (opposite) meanings?

Well, in our Greek class we learned to trust the Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon to settle the questions that came to mind. I was curious--would Arndt-Gingrich say one or two meanings? The answer: three meanings: 1) endless past with definite ending point in the future, 2) definite beginning point in past with endless future, 3) endless past and endless future! Ingenious! By this point in my studying I had begun to think that possibly these theologians were employing more subterfuge than enlightened honesty in dealing with the issue. Most other reference works fall into one of the afore-mentioned categories when dealing with aionioj. Of course, there are the King James Version's "world began" phrases.

I cannot yet give you a conclusion to this whole matter from a personal perspective, but I think it will be obvious to you which direction my thinking is headed. In search of truth, Mike


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