For example, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, regarded the penalty of sin as torment without
end, and they stated the doctrine in unambiguous terms. They called it eirgmos aidios (eternal
imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment), while our Lord called the punishment of
sin aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement).
The language of Josephus is used by the profane Greeks, but is never found in the New Testament
connected with punishment. Josephus, writing in Greek to Jews, frequently employs the word that our
Lord used to define the duration of punishment (aionios), but he applies it to things that had ended or
that will end.1 Can it be doubted that our Lord placed his ban on the doctrine that the Jews had derived
from the heathen by never using their terms describing it, and that he taught a limited punishment by
employing words to define it that only meant limited duration in contemporaneous literature?
Josephus used the word aionos with its current meaning of limited duration. He applies it to the
imprisonment of John the Tyrant; to Herod's reputation; to the glory acquired by soldiers; to the fame
of an army as a "happy life and aionian glory." He used the words as do the Scriptures to denote
limited duration, but when he would describe endless duration he uses different terms. Of the doctrine
of the Pharisees he says:
"They believe that wicked spirits are to be kept in an eternal imprisonment (eirgmon aidion). 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 he 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). Aidion and athanaton are
his favorite terms for duration, and timoria (torment) for punishment.
(Joshpus was Jewish priest and historian that lived in Jesus' time)
Philo adopts athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aionian temporary
duration. In one place occurs this sentence concerning the wicked: "to live always dying, and to
undergo, as it were, an immortal and interminable death."2 Stephens, in his valuable "Thesaurus,"
quotes from a Jewish work: "These they called aionios, hearing that they had performed the sacred
rites for three entire generations." 3 This shows conclusively that the expression "three generations"
was then one full equivalent of aionian.
To find aionion attached to punishment
proves nothing of its duration. In his Epist. ad Trall., he says that Christ descended into Hades and
cleft the aionion barrier.
The Epistle to Diognetus.--This letter was long ascribed to Justin Martyr, but it is now generally
regarded as anonymous. It was written not far from A.D. 100, perhaps by Marcion, possibly by Justin
Martyr. It is a beautiful composition, full of the most apostolic spirit. It has very little belonging to our
theme, except that at the close of Chapter X it speaks of "those who shall be condemned to the
aionion fire which shall chastise those who are committed to it even unto an end," 11 (mechri telous).
Even if aionion usually meant endless, it is limited here by the word "unto" which has the force of
until, as does aidios in Jude 6,--"aidios chains under darkness, unto (or until) the judgment of the
great day." Such a limited chastisement, it would seem, could only be believed in by one who
regarded God as Diognetus's correspondent did, as one who "still is, was always, and ever will be
kind and good, and free from wrath."
Irenĉus has been quoted as teaching that the Apostles' creed was meant to inculcate endless
punishment, because in a paraphrase of that document he says that the Judge, at the final assize, will
cast the wicked into "eternal" fire. But the terms he uses are "ignem aeternum" (aionion pur.) As just
stated, though he reprehends the Carpocratians for teaching the transmigration of souls, he declares
without protest that they explain the text "until thou pay the uttermost farthing," as inculcating the
idea that "all souls are saved." Irenĉus says: "God drove Adam out of Paradise, and removed him far
from the tree of life, in compassion for him, that he might not remain a transgressor always, and that
the sin in which he was involved might not be immortal, nor be without end and incurable. He
prevented further transgression by the interposition of death, and by causing sin to cease by the
dissolution of the flesh that man ceasing to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God."
Clement insists that punishment in Hades is remedial and restorative, and that punished souls are
cleansed by fire. The fire is spiritual, purifying13 the soul. "God's punishments are saving and
disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of the
sinner, (Ezek. xviii, 23, 32; xxxiii: II, etc.,) and especially since souls, although darkened by passions,
when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly because of their being no longer
obstructed by the paltry flesh." 14
He again defines the important word kolasis our Lord uses in Matt. xxv: 46, and shows how it
differs from the wholly different word timoria used by Josephus and the Greek writers who believed
in irremediable suffering. He says: "He (God) chastises the disobedient, for chastisement (kolasis) is
for the good and advantage of him who is punished, for it is the amendment of one who resists; I will
not grant that he wishes to take vengeance. Vengeance (timoria) is a requital of evil sent for the
interest of the avenger. He (God) would not desire to avenge himself on us who teaches us to pray for
those who despitefully use us (Matt. v: 44). 15 Therefore the good God punishes for these three causes:
First, that he who is punished (paidenomenos) may become better than his former self; then that those
who are capable of being saved by examples may be drawn back, being admonished; and thirdly, that
he who is injured may not readily be despised, and be apt to receive injury. And there are two
methods of correction, the instructive and the punitive, 16 which we have called the disciplinary."
Unquestionably Origen, in the original Greek of which the Latin translation only exists, here used
"aionion" (inaccurately rendered everlasting and eternal in the New Testament) in the sense of limited
duration; and fire, as an emblem of purification, for he says:
"When thou hearest of the wrath of God, believe not that this wrath and indignation are passions of
God; they are condescensions of language designed to convert and improve the child. So God is
described as angry, and says that he is indignant, in order that thou mayest convert and be improved,
while in fact he is not angry." 13
Origen severely condemns those who cherish unworthy thoughts of God, regarding him, he says,
as possessing a disposition that would be a slander on a wicked savage. He insists that the purpose of
all punishment, by a good God, must be medicinal. 14
In arguing that aionios as applied to punishment does not mean endless, he says that the sin that is
not forgiven in the ĉon or the ĉon to come, would be in some one of the ĉons following. His
argument that age (undoubtedly aion in the original, of which, unfortunately, we have only the Latin
translation) is limited, is quite complete in "De Principiis." This word is an age (saeculum, aion) and a
conclusion of many ages (seculorum). He concludes his argument by referring to the time when,
beyond "an age and ages, perhaps even more than ages of ages," that period will come, viz., when all
things are no longer in an age, but when God is all in all.15
to eternity. For that which did not always exist shall not last forever."
His language demonstrates the fact that the word aionios did not have the meaning of endless
duration in his day. He distinctly says: "Whoever considers the divine power will plainly perceive that
it is able at length to restore by means of the aionion purgation and expiatory sufferings, those who
have gone even to this extremity of wickedness." Thus "everlasting" punishment will end in salvation,
according to one of the greatest of the fathers of the Fourth Century. (Gregory Nyssen 335-390)
It is conceded that the half-heathen emperor held to the idea of endless misery, for he proceeds not
only to defend, but to define the doctrine.2 He does not merely say, "We believe in aionion kolasin,"
for that was just what Origen himself taught. Nor does he say "the word aionion has been
misunderstood; it denotes endless duration," as he would have said, had there been such a
disagreement. But, writing in Greek, with all the words of that copious language from which to
choose, he says: "The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aeonian (ateleutetos aionios) life to
the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked." If he supposed aionios denoted
endless duration, he would not have added the stronger word to it. The fact that he qualified it by
ateleutetos, demonstrated that as late as the sixth century the former word did not signify endless