His Achievement Are We
GOD is the First Cause, Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will. This is the testimony of the Scriptures, but, as we have found, the deceptive teachings of “free will” and “chance” drastically and direly undermine this truth of God’s deity.
Another most dangerous error, and one that equally obscures the character of God, is the idea of everlasting punishment. This denies to God the achievement of His will to save all mankind and bring them into a realization of the truth (1 Tim.2:4). In addition, it gnaws away at our own confidence in God and the glorious effects of Christ’s obedience even to the death of the cross.
For we read, “Faithful is the saying and worthy of all welcome (for this are we toiling and being reproached), that we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers” (1 Tim.4:9,10).
In this article, we wish to test one of the principle arguments used in defending the doctrine of unending loss as opposed to the teaching that God is the Saviour of all. This is the claim that the words aion and aionios have different and even opposite meanings in different passages of Scripture.
THE EONS, WORD MEANING, AND COMMUNICATION
There is a likeness between the arguments for “free will” and those for giving aion (“eon,” CV) the idea of endlessness. In both cases, the actual issue, that which is most pertinent and important, is unrecognized. It needs to be emphasized that the underlying position which has been taken here is that some words in Scripture, certainly aion, do not have any meaning at all. In themselves, they mean nothing whatever.
Even as it is not realized that those who teach “free will” champion the absence of causality as to human choice (even though this actually gains them nothing), it is also not realized that the position of those who oppose us on the eons affirms the absence of all meaning in the word aion (and, in a number of other terms as well). It is claimed that the word aion has a variety of meanings; it may mean “world,” or it may mean “age,” or it may mean “endless ages,” or perhaps it may even mean “timelessness; eternity”; that which is outside of time (including ages) altogether. Again, it may mean “lifetime” or perhaps “course” (as the AV renders the word in Ephesians 2:2). Yet none of these “meanings” can be taken as intrinsic. This is indeed the traditional position, that there is no actual, singular meaning that can be applied to aion. We might call it the doctrine of “the destitution of inherent morphological meaning.”
Now a number of corollaries follow from this position: (1) In all non-definitive passages, of which there are many, it will be impossible even to assign any meaning at all to the word with any certainty. For instance, when we read that “God makes the eons” (Heb.1:2), how can we have any idea of what He makes? After all, a wide variety of ideas, even beyond those suggested above, might also be assigned to aion, and for these non-definitive passages, it would be impossible to determine which of these is to be understood; most all such “meanings” would make sense. (2) Even when a genuinely definitive passage is discovered (a passage in which only one idea will even conceivably make sense and avoid absurdity), the definition discerned must be confined only to that passage and any other fully parallel ones. That is, the basic idea or meaning discovered in such a passage may not be applied to other types of passages. (3) This “principle” of the absence of inherent morphological meaning for some terms would actually have to be applied to all words. But it will follow from this that (4) there will not even be a single stable context in which to discover the meaning of any word in question. After all, these contextual terms may themselves mean something quite different in one passage than they do in another! But if this were true, we could not know the meaning of even a single passage of Scripture.
The purpose of language is to communicate, and yet the “orthodox” position, when fairly considered, makes communication impossible. Besides, its advocates are not foolish enough to practice it very often themselves. If they were to employ it continually, they would soon know nothing at all! It is only when one of their pet notions, such as “everlasting life” or “eternal punishment” is challenged that they seem to want to give much heed to it.
Other terms do not take on an altogether new nature “in some contexts,” and they certainly do not become antonyms to themselves. Does the word “dog,” in some places, come to mean “cat”? Does darkness become light, good become evil, and false become true upon occasion? Then neither does eon, a period of time, mean endless “in some contexts.”
THE CONCORDANT PRINCIPLE OF TRANSLATION
Those who oppose the concordant principle of translation, the use of concordances through which definitive passages are discovered for intrinsic word meanings, are actually claiming, whether realized or not, that scriptural words do not have any meaning at all. Instead, they assign a wide variety of meanings to be applied as fits their predetermined ideas.
It is not enough for us to produce a variety of New Testament, Septuagint, and secular citations which are manifestly speaking of time periods by means of the word aion. For it will generally be freely admitted that aion has such a sense in these passages. Indeed, most all students acknowledge that in those cases in which the AV translates aion as “world” the meaning is actually that of an age or eon. And most will agree that this is its meaning in a number of other passages as well.
Our opponents do not disagree with us here. Nevertheless, after considering these many definitive passages, they remain unconvinced that the basic idea inherent in the word “eon” (that of a period of time) is to be understood in all passages in which some form of the word aion is present. They insist that the word aion used in those passages which speak of life, redemption, and judgment acquires a sense that is the very opposite of “age,” not at all referring to a period of time. It is this practice of arbitrarily assigning quite different senses to the words aion and aionios from context to context, without recognizing a single, inherent meaning, that is used to defend everlasting punishment and to obscure the fact that God is truly the living God Who is the Saviour of all mankind.
APPEAL TO TRADITION
Good men, intelligent, educated, and dedicated, have believed all manner of things. The Arminians and the Calvinists have been unable to agree concerning who it is for whom Christ died (all or some), and whether the work of Christ saves or only makes salvation possible. A number of renowned scholars and famous theologians, due to their findings in the Scriptures, have been constrained to affirm that the dead are not alive, only to have most others, no less erudite than themselves, just as insistently reply that it is in death that glorious life, or terrible pains, truly begin. Similarly, over the centuries, most have confidently believed that God will never actually give the nation of Israel the glorious terrestrial kingdom which her prophets so explicitly predict, even if Isaiah and all the rest should insist otherwise.
In light of such a history of human controversy, how doubly welcome it is to place reliance on the living God and His Word. He is the Saviour of all mankind and is faithful to this designation.
EVERLASTING LIFE AND CONTEMPORARY SELFISHNESS
Perhaps the most common objection we receive concerning the eons is the claim that if “everlasting punishment” should ever come to an end, then “life eternal” would do the same (Matt.25:46, AV). The objector is so selfishly preoccupied with preserving what he supposes to be blessings for himself in this passage, that he is prepared to assist in stoking the fires of hell forever if this should be necessary in order to protect his own interests.
Instead of the usual “translation,” these words should be rendered “chastening eonian” and “life eonian.” By its ending, -sis, kolasis (“chastening”) refers not to a state, but to an action continuing on. And it has in view an action performed not as a penal infliction, but one with a view toward amendment or rectification. Since God is love, and wills to save all, His ultimate purpose in even His most severe judgments could never be the “eternal punishment” of anyone. He cannot deny Himself.
Indeed, it is well known that even the secular usage of kolasis had in view not some kind of terrible vindictive punishment, but acts done for the sake of betterment or correction.*1
In the Scriptures, in Acts 4:21, the Jews released John and Peter, “finding nothing how they should be chastening them.” Did they not aim to reform them? Was not their “chastening” with a view toward their returning to the unbelieving Jewish fold? From their standpoint, the word was certainly used to convey the idea of reformation.
To show that it had this meaning in Greek usage, we cite Plato: “For if, O Socrates, you will consider what is the design of punishing kolazein the wicked, this of itself will show you that men think virtue something that may be acquired; for no one punishes kolazei the wicked looking to the past only, simply for the wrong he has done—that is, no one does this thing who does not act like a wild beast, desiring only revenge, without thought—hence he who seeks to punish [kolazein] with reason, does not punish for the sake of the past wrong deed, but for the sake of the future, that neither the man himself who is punished, may do wrong again, nor any other who has seen him chastised. And he who entertains this thought must believe that virtue may be taught, and he punishes (kolazei) for the purpose of deterring from wickedness.”*2
Besides, the words kolasin aionion in Matthew 25:46 are in reference to national judgments which the Son of Mankind will make in the day of the Lord, “whenever [He] may be coming in His glory” (Matt.25:31). These judgments concern the kingdom of the heavens, and are to be implemented in the coming eon. This judgment of God is prompted by the unworthy way in which many of the living nations will treat the people of Israel in the time of her great affliction, in the conclusion of this present eon.
Concerning the judgments of that day, Isaiah declares, “For as a light are Your judgments to the earth [O Yahweh], The dwellers of the habitance learn righteousness” (Isa.26:9b). Instead of suffering “the eternal torments of the damned,” the nations will “learn righteousness.”
Matthew 25:31-46 is not concerned with any of God’s dealings with the members of the ecclesia which is Christ’s body (cf Eph.1:22). Instead, it has in view the granting of rewards, or chastenings, in response to the works of the nations of that day. It is not a revelation concerning divine grace nor of the evangel of our salvation and its transcendent grace. Perhaps the best proof that men do not really believe that our salvation is a matter of gratuitous grace is the fact that this passage concerning the “sheep” and the “goats” is commonly perceived as a summary of the gospel for today.
Though eonian life (and certainly, eonian chastening) will come to an end, death will one day be abolished, and all will then be made alive, in an era in which it already will have been true for an entire eon that “death will be no more” (Rev. 21:4; 1 Cor.15:20-28). The promises concerning our future life do involve the thought of endlessness. But this idea is not conveyed through any usage or form of the word aion. Therefore we should never speak of the matter of the endlessness of our future life by employing any of the usages of this word.
Instead, we should say that we will always be together with the Lord (1 Thess.4:17,18). We will be immortal and incorruptible (1 Cor.15:53), conformed to the image of God’s Son (Rom.8:29), our mortal bodies having been vivified (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor.15:23). We will have already been alive for a thousand years (the coming eon) when the promise goes forth that there will be no more death! We will continue to live during that eon as well (the length of which is not revealed), until the consummation when all will finally be vivified. Death will then be abolished for all mankind.
THE SAVIOUR OF ALL
The entire case for everlasting punishment is built on faulty arguments. Definite, intrinsic meanings are denied to Scriptural terms. The ideas of certain good and wise men are made decisive when apparently contradictory passages such as Matthew 25:46 and Romans 5:18 are considered. But perhaps most dangerous of all, there is a clear tendency to deny to God the achievements through the work of Christ that He has claimed. He is the reliable, the living, the saving God, Who cannot fail to achieve His purpose.
*1 cf John Wesley Hanson: Aion-Aionios, Northwestern Universalist Publishing House (1875), pp.50-55. cf F. W. Farrar: ETERNAL HOPE (1883), pp. 199-201; MERCY AND JUDGMENT (1881), pp.407-409.
*2 Hanson: op. cit., p.53; quotation from Protag.Sec.38, vol. 1, p.252.
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