© copyright 2010, Gerry Beauchemin, All Rights Reserved
Examining the scriptures…to see if these things were so. (Ac. 17:11 NAS)
“Test all things: hold fast what is good” (1Th. 5:21). The doctrine of everlasting punishment, in my view, is supported by four pillars. These pillars represent a misunderstanding of three key Greek words, and one concept. They are Aion, Gehenna, Apollumi, and “Free” Will. Once these are understood as the biblical writers understood them, our comprehension of God’s judgments take on a glorious new meaning.
The first pillar we will examine is the Greek word, aion. It is mostly translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” and for “ever” in the King James Version. However, some translations read “age-abiding,” “ageduring,” or “eon,” as noted below. “Robert Young, author of the highly respected Young’s Analytical Concordance, in his literal translation of the Bible, always translates it ‘age’ and never once as ‘everlasting,’ or ‘eternal.’”1
In History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution, Edward Beecher, D.D., pointed out:
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament and was the Bible of the early church. The word aion occurs in it about four hundred times in every variety of combination. The adjective aionios derived from it, is used over one hundred times.…Aion denoted an age, great or small, so the adjective aionios expressed the idea pertaining to or belonging to the aion, whether great or small. But in every case this adjective derives its character and duration from the aion to which it refers.2
In the Septuagint the Greek word, aion, is used to translate the Hebrew word olam. Thus, if we want to get a sense of the New Testament meaning of aion, we need to understand the meaning of olam in the Old Testament. Numerous passages referring to olam show clearly it cannot mean “never-ending.” Note these few:
- Jonah was in the fish forever [olam] until he left three days later (Jon. 1:17; 2:6).
- Sodom’s fiery judgment is eternal [olam] until God returns them to their former state (Ez. 16:53-55; Ju. 7).
- A Moabite is forbidden to enter the Lord’s congregation forever [olam] until the 10th generation (De. 23:3).
- Hills are everlasting [olam] until made low…earth is burned up (Ge. 49:26; De. 33:15; Is. 40:4; 2Pe. 3:10).
- Mountains are everlasting [olam] until they are scattered (Hab. 3:6).
- Numerous passages
referring to olam show
clearly it cannot mean
"never-ending."A slave serves his master forever [olam] until death ends his servitude (Ex. 21:6).
- The Mosaic covenant is everlasting [olam] until it vanishes away (Le. 24:8; He. 8:7-13).
- The Aaronic priesthood is everlasting [olam] until the likeness of Melchizedek arises (Ex. 40:15; Nu. 25:13; He. 7:14-22).
- These “stones” are to be a memorial forever until (Jos. 4:7)? Where are they now?
- The leprosy of Naaman shall cling forever [olam] until his death, of course (2K. 5:27).
- God dwells in Solomon’s temple forever [olam] until it is destroyed (2Ch. 7:16; 1K 8:13; 9:3).
- Animal sacrifices were to be offered forever [olam] until ended by the work of Christ (2Ch. 2:4; He. 7:11-10:18).
- Circumcision was an everlasting [olam] covenant until the new covenant (Ge. 17:9-13; 1Co. 7:19; Ga. 5:6).
- Israel’s judgment lasts forever [olam] until the Spirit is poured out and God restores it (Is. 32:13-15).
- I will make you an eternal [olam] excellence until many generations (Is. 60:15).
Even passages that do not use olam but signify unchanging are not so when God is involved. Nothing can deter Him from achieving His purposes. For example:
- Israel’s affliction is incurable until the Lord restores health and heals her wounds (Jer. 30:12, 17).
- Samaria’s wounds are incurable until the Lord brings them back and restores them (Mic. 1:9; Ez. 16:53 DOUAY).
- Egypt and Elam will rise no more until the Lord brings back their captives (Jer. 25:27; 49:39; Ez. 29:14).
- Moab is destroyed until the Lord brings back the captives of Moab (Jer. 48:4, 42, 47).
Turning from the Greek Old Testament, consider the New Testament use of aion. Does “eternity” make any sense in the following passages?
- What will be the sign…of the end of [eternity] (Mt. 24:3)?
- I am with you…to the end of the [eternity] (Mt. 28:20).
- The sons of this [eternity] are more shrewd (Lu. 16:8).
- The sons of this [eternity] marry (Lu. 20:34).
- Worthy to attain that [eternity] (Lu. 20:35).
- Since the [eternity] began (Jn. 9:32; Ac. 3:21).
- Conformed to this [eternity] (Ro. 12:2).
- Mystery kept secret since the [eternity] began but now made manifest (Ro. 16:25-26).
- Where is the disputer of this [eternity] (1Co. 1:20)?
- Wisdom of this [eternity], nor of the rulers of this [eternity]… ordained before the [eternities]…which none of the rulers of this [eternity]… (1Co. 2:6-8).
- Wise in this [eternity] (1Co. 3:18).
- Upon whom the ends of the [eternities] have come (1Co. 10:11).
- God of this [eternity] has blinded (2Co. 4:4).
- Deliver us from this present evil [eternity] (Ga. 1:4).
- Not only in this [eternity] but also in that which is to come (Ep. 1:21).
- Walked according to the [eternity] of this world (Ep. 2:2).
- In the [eternities] to come (Ep. 2:7).
- From the beginnings of the [eternities] (Ep. 3:9).
- Hidden from [eternities]…but now…revealed (Col. 1:26).
- Loved this present [eternity] (2Ti. 4:10).
- Receive him [for eternity] (Philemon 1:15). Comment: Forever or until Onesimus, Philemon’s former slave, dies?
- Powers of the [eternity] to come (He. 6:5).
- At the end of the [eternities] (He. 9:26).
- We understand the [eternities] have been prepared by a saying of God (He. 11:3).
How can we say…
- “before eternity” or “eternity began”? Eternity has no beginning (Jn. 9:32; Ac. 3:21; 1Co. 2:7; Ep. 3:9).
- “present eternity,” “eternity to come,” and “end of eternity”? Eternity transcends time. Only God is eternal (Mt. 24:3; 28:20; 1Co. 10:11; 2Ti. 4:10; He. 6:5; 9:26).
- “this eternity,” “that eternity,” or “eternities”? There is only one eternity (Lu. 16:8; 20:34-35; Ro. 12:2; 1Co. 1:20; 2:6-8; 3:18; 10:11; 2Co. 4:4; Ga. 1:4; Ep. 1:21; 2:2, 7; 3:9; Col. 1:26; 2Ti. 4:10; He. 11:3).
- “eternal secret” if the secret is revealed (Ro. 16:25-26; Col. 1:26)? It is no longer a “secret” at that point.
Scores of passages demonstrate that aion is of limited duration. In his book God’s Methods with Man, G. Campbell Morgan (scholar, associate of D.L. Moody, and a highly respected expositor of Scripture), said:
Let me say to Bible students that we must be very careful how we use the word “eternity.” We have fallen into great error in our constant use of that word. There is no word in the whole Book of God corresponding with our “eternal,” which, as commonly used among us, means absolutely without end. The strongest Scripture word used with reference to the existence of God, is—“unto the ages of the ages,” which does not literally mean eternally.3