Yesterday, I wrote that the quickest way to determine how long the lost would be punished is to note that Christ used the same word aionios to describe the length of their punishment that He used to describe the length of the reward for the righteous. Now, I’d like to expand on that statement by looking at a few other uses of the word aionios in Scripture.
Let’s begin with II Corinthians 4:17-18:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
When we looked at Matthew 25:46, we saw that the word aionios was used in reference to the duration of both the punishment and the reward that Christ will administer at His return, but in II Corinthians, we can determine the meaning of this word by noting its antonym. Here the word aionios is used as the opposite of the word proskaira which means “temporal” or “enduring for a limited period of time.” Paul’s intended meaning of aionios in this passage is obvious. He was contrasting temporal rewards with those rewards that are eternal, that is to say, rewards that are without any limit in time.
For a much more detailed analysis of this “non-temporal” definition of aionios, see John Darby’s excellent article, “On the Greek words for Eternity and Eternal.”
In addition to Matthew 25:46, aionios is used another six times in the New Testament in reference to the punishment of the wicked. In Matthew 18:18 and 25:41, the fire of hell is said to be an everlasting fire. In Mark 3:29, those who blaspheme the Holy Ghost are said to be in danger of eternal damnation. II Thessalonians 1:9 tells us that those who do not obey the gospel will be “punished with everlasting destruction.” Hebrews 6:2 includes a reference to eternal judgment, and Jude 1:7 speaks of Sodom and Gomorrha “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” There is nothing in these six passages which would suggest any other meaning for the word aionios than that of “eternal” or the opposite of “temporal.”
With this understanding of aionios, let’s consider a few uses of its root word aion. In Revelation 14:10-11, we find this statement:
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
The phrase “for ever and ever” in this passage is composed of the Greek preposition eis and two uses of the word aion. Now, if you read Darby’s article, you know that the standard definition of this word is “eternity” or some variation of that such as “forever,” but anyone familiar with the particular age. This has prompted some Christians to argue that this word should never be translated as “forever” but rather as something like “for the age.” Darby did an excellent job pointing out why this should not be considered the default definition, and I’ll let you read his arguments for yourself. What I’d like to do is point out how this phrase would be translated if aion were understood here as meaning “for the age” rather than “forever.”
If we were to translate verse 11 with this meaning of aion, the phrase “for ever and ever” would still convey the idea of eternity. The reason that it would do so is quite simple. Both uses of the word aion in this phrase are plural. Thus, to translate it as referring to an age would be to translate this phrase as “for ages of ages.” This translation would carry essentially the same meaning as “for ever and ever” especially when we consider that the Jews only recognized two ages of the world: this present age and the age to come. Simply to refer to ages in the plural would have encompassed all time, but to refer to a plural plurality of ages would have been an emphatic statement along the lines of “for all time and then some.”
Thus again, we see that the Bible is clear in teaching that the wicked will be punished forever if they do not repent. Not only are they said to suffer and eternal punishment in an eternal fire, but the eternality of this punishment is so certain that God said that their burning would continue to produce smoke for all time and then some. God’s wrath is truly something to avoid at all costs.
Part 3: The annihilationist objection
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)