Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Eternal" punishment

I'm reluctant to deal with individual verses before the larger issues (uniqueness of salvation, nature of God and sin etc) are resolved but this came up in the comments of the last post.  I'm no Greek genius but the evidence seems very clear.

Matthew 25:46

"And these will go away into eternal (αιωνιον) punishment (κολασιν) but the righteous into eternal (αιωνιον) life.”

According to BDAG, (the gold standard of this sort of stuff)  κολασιν means retributive punishment and αιωνιον means a period of unending duration, without end.  These meanings make sense of the wider context, chapter 25, where Jesus gives an extended description of the final judgement.  Furthermore αιων, which I presume our English word for eon/age comes from, is a slightly different word and of course includes the meaning of a limited age (Mt 13:22) but can also mean "the Aeon person" (Eph 2:2) or a non-specific period of time (Lk 1:70).  In addition in Matt 25:46, it'd be nearly impossible for αιωνιον the same word, used in conceptual parallel, to have opposite meanings!

[Updated post: Greek Font display fixed, thanks Marc, such an obvious solution! You should all regardless of browsers see the words in Koine Greek, in Koine Greek!]


Luke said...

@ Alex and "Possum",

It'd be good to drag my BDAG, Wallace and interlinear over to work through alot of the individual verses. But in the meantime tell me what you think of some of the bigger issues, because we'll end there in the end.

You guys are great by the way, keep thinking and talking about this!

Alex C Smith said...

Like you, I'm no Greek or Hebrew expert, however, from my research so far, I don't think it's as simple as BDAG says :)

"αιωνιον" appears 45 times (71 if you include all renderings) in the NT. If you translated it as "eternal" in all of those places, you end up with many passages that don't make sense. e.g. Matt 28:20 "I am with you all the days till the conclusion of the 'eternity'." Obviously, 'age' or 'eon' would fit here.

The next step would be to see if 'age' or 'eon' makes sense in passages that some people uses 'eternal'. For example, Matt 25:46 "And these will go away into an age of punishment, but the righteous into an age of life." That still works, especially if you look at other passages to determine what kind of 'life' it is, e.g. one without death, dwelling with God, on a new earth that doesn't fade, etc.

If we take one step back, αιωνιον is usually the translation of the Hebrew 'olam'. In Ex 40:15 if it was translated 'eternal', that would make the passage say that the Aaronic Priesthood was eternal, which doesn't seem to fit with Heb 7, which sees it being replaced by Jesus, in the order of Melchizedek?

Looking at it from another angle, how do other writers use the word? As far as I know, in Homer it typically refers to life or lifespan (e.g. Iliad v. 685; Odyssey v. 160), and in Hesiod it could refer to ages or generations.

I haven't done much research yet on the word "κολασιν" or kolasis, but I have noticed that it's possible for it to be "chastisement" or "correction". Some people (e.g. William Barclay) say that it has something of pruning because it derived from "KOLAZÔ" (pruning) but D.A. Carson says that's an "etymological fallacy"! :D

Further reading:

Possum said...

Luke, you're a Big-DAG :P

Also, is the reason you consider BDAG to be the "gold standard" because their renderings agree with the conclusions you've already come to? ;)

Luke said...

Hi "Possum,"

I only said "gold standard" because BDAG is like the Oxford Dictionary of Greek Meanings and accepted by most (conservative or liberal) as the standard for definitions. (I'm also glad I'm using it because it cost $250! (Thanks Tas Anglicans!))

Hi Alex,

1. In your third paragraph you've avoided a difficulty in your interpretation. αιωνιον is used twice. Why wouldn't a person "dwell in Hell forever" if the other meaning is "dwelling with God forever"? Your translation is inconsistent but the words are identical.

2. I'd go with Carson, Barclay is in the minority if you want to stay broadly inside orthodoxy. If you look at the list at of famous universalists, there aren't many, if any, orthodox theologians. You might like with good intentions the idea God saves everyone, by wanting to uphold God's sovereign power but because the idea that everyone is saved is so comprehensive it changes everything. I think you've down-played this Alex, you've implied universalism is a smaller idea than it really is, but it affects everything, all Christian doctrine needs to be re-assessed in it's light.

3. Why is God, in Romans 16:26 described as the "eternal (αιωνιοu) God?" Does the Apostle Paul mean God is only for a limited time period? Why does it mean eternal here and not in Matthew 25:46?

4. Looking at it from another angle, how do other writers use the word? As far as I know, in Homer it typically refers to life or lifespan (e.g. Iliad v. 685; Odyssey v. 160), and in Hesiod it could refer to ages or generations.

Just because these authors used it one way on these particular occasions doesn't mean it's used the same way in all other occasions. αιωνιον is translated as eternal across dozens of verses in lots of different contexts.

5. The next step would be to see if 'age' or 'eon' makes sense in passages that some people uses 'eternal'.

You're also confusing a noun αιων "This present age" (1 Cor 3:18) with an adjective αιωνιον, "eternal life" (Matt 19:16).

Alex C Smith said...

1. αιωνιον is indeed used twice, and both times I'm happy to translate it as "an age of". I don't think it means "dwelling with God forever". I think it means "an age of life". To discover the qualities of that life, we have to go to other passages which talk about our life being on the new earth, with God, never rusting or decaying, etc.

2a. Orthodox translations used to translate many things to mean "Hell" and it was only relatively recently that we discovered that was error. Likewise, I'm hoping the Orthodox translations will reconsider how they translate αιωνιον, because at the moment it's, at the very least, inconsistent.

(There is no "might" about it, I definitely have good intentions dear cousin and brother in Christ :D)

2b. Sorry, I haven't intented to down-play this and don't recall saying it was a small idea. On the contrary, I think it's an awesome discovery, probably as big as the Apostles discovering that salvation was not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles too! The Jews of the day were also perplexed about what that meant for the Law and Judaism. But after a bit of reassement, it basically got sorted. e.g. you can eat anything but please bear in mind you're weaker brother might be lead astray, so sometimes abstain. This is the second time you've said it affects (possibly unravels) all Christian doctrine, please can I have some examples to ponder over?

3. That's an excellent example because in the verse before Romans 16:26, the word is used of the "revelation of the secret". i.e. if something is revealed, it can't also be a "eternal" secret. The verse after Romans 16:26 again uses our favorite word, and still makes sense if it was translated "be glory for the ages. Amen!" not "be glory forever. Amen!" Don't get me wrong, I think God is infinite and beyond time but I just don't think we get that from this particular passage but elsewhere (e.g. Rom 1:20). I think here it's talking about the God of the ages, i.e. His control and interaction throughout the ages, and this is reinforced in verse 26 where it talks about God being made know to all nations.

4. But it does mean that it wasn't always translated "eternal". In fact, I'm trying to show that there are many places where it definitely shouldn't be "eternal", which than begs the question wherever it should ever be translated as "eternal", especially if it turns out another word like eon or age works across more consistently.

5. I'm still getting my head around eon vs. eonian. Anyway, Matt 19:16 is looked about half way down I got lost in some of the other terminology, but you'll probably understand it, having been to Bible college :)

Alex C Smith said...

Shell & I read through this today and agreed that it's the most well written article we've found on the topic so far.

"Universalism and the Bible"

By Professor Keith DeRose from Yale University. In the tradition of Tom Talbott, former professor of philosophy from Williamette University, DeRose defends the teaching of universal salvation through Jesus Christ from a philosophical and moral point of view along with proving many scripture proof texts.

Please read it as it clarifies what I'm trying to say, better than I can :)

Luke said...

Regarding Romans 16:26, you've made it much more complicated than it is, αιωνιον is used in this verse as an adjective to describe God. There is no need to qualify it's meaning so much, all it's doing, as any good adjective should, is qualify it's immediate neighboring noun, in this case God. The standard definition of αιωνιον is eternal but your forced to make it time limited here because of the consequences you'll face in translating Matthew 25:46. Because your my dear cousin I'll give you two ways out, provide a lexical definition that shows αιωνιον means a limited time period or follow Jon's lead and agree its eternal but is just a rhetorical expression.
Most of Bible College was wasted on me, but I still wonder why hasn't there been more modern work done on this, is this really the best article (1875!) on the translation of αιωνιον?
And do you realize he doesn't actually provide an argument from the Greek for why Matthew 25:46 shouldn't be translated as eternal?! Instead he trots out some stuff about the nearby parable and works!

Alex Smith said...

You ask for a Lexicon, and finally I've found one for you :)

Luke said...

That's like using an out of date anatomy book, of some use but you wonder why they haven't updated it for sixty years. Furthermore they've only used seven manuscripts, what's wrong with using all the available manuscripts, although this could a be symptom of it's age. Compare BDAG and the Concordant in Amazon.