EON AS INDEFINITE DURATION
up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all. (Rom.11:32)
He afflicts, yet He has compassion according to the abundance of His benignities.
God is love.
(1 John 4:8)
purchased a copy of the CONCORDANT LITERAL NEW TESTAMENT, which you publish. Since I had soon become
deeply troubled through reading your version, I asked my pastor concerning it, especially
in regard to your renderings eon and eonian, instead of
[for] ever, everlasting, and eternal, as in nearly all
pastor was somewhat familiar with your translation; however, he said that it was designed
and prepared in order to support universalism, which you teach, and to deny eternal
punishment, which is the doctrine of all orthodox Christians. He also stated that all
scholars worthy of the name repudiate universalism, as well as the translation
eonian, instead of everlasting. I want you to become aware of some
of the things he shared with me, in the hope that it might cause you to reconsider your
mistranslations and false teachings.
support of his claims, my pastor read several passages to me from various books in his
library; later on, he furnished me with photocopies as well of the pages of these books
from which he had made his citations.
principal work from which he quoted was FOUR VIEWS OF HELL, from chapter one, The Literal View, by the famous and acclaimed
theologian, Dr. John F. Walvoord, of Dallas Theological Seminary. Professor Walvoord
states: The Old Testament revelation . . . clearly suggests that the
sufferings of the wicked continue forever . . . . While the term
forever may sometimes be curtailed in duration by its context, such
termination is never once mentioned in either the Old or New Testament as relating to the
punishment of the wicked. Accordingly, the term continues to mean everlasting
or unending in its duration . . . . As Buis points
out, the Greek word aiõnios in every instance refers to eternity. He writes:
Aiõnios [eonian, CV] is used in the New Testament sixty-six times:
[in fifty- nine of these occurrences] there is no doubt as to its meaning being endless,
and seven times of the punishment of the wicked . . . .1
In support of
the idea that aiõnios means endless is its consistent placement
alongside the duration of the life of the godly [i.e., in Matthew 25:46] in eternity. If
the state of the blessed is eternal, as expressed by this word, there is no logical reason
for giving limited duration to punishment. As W. R. Inge states, No sound Greek
scholar can pretend that aiõnios means anything less than eternal2 . . . . A
confirmation of eternal punishment is found in the use of the Greek word aiõnios.
A most convincing evidence that eternity usually means without beginning or
end is found in the definition of this word in Arndt and Gingrich.3 This word is used
normally in the New Testament to mean either without beginning or end or at
least without end. None of the passages uses the word in a sense other than
infinity in time . . . . [Therefore,] if exegesis is the final
factor, eternal punishment is the only proper conclusion; taken at its face value, the
Bible teaches eternal punishment . . . .
punishment is partly mental, partly physical, and partly emotional. The fact that
confinement in hell is pictured also as a place of total darkness is no doubt contributory
to mental anguish . . . . The emotional problems of facing eternal
punishment are beyond human computation and are certainly a major portion of the judgment
that is inflicted on the wicked . . . . The frequent mention of
fire in connection with eternal punishment supports the conclusion that this is what the
Scriptures mean . . . . There is sufficient evidence that the
fire is literal . . . . Punishment is eternal and
. . . is painful, both mentally and physically. Scripture never challenges
the concept that eternal punishment is by literal fire.4
My pastor then read
me the graphic illustration of hell contained in one of the sermons of the great
eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards: The wrath of God will be poured out
upon the wicked without mixture. Imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven
. . . and imagine also that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an
hour, full of fire, as full within and without as a bright coal fire, all the while full
of quick sense: what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace? Oh! then how
would your heart sink if you knew that after millions and millions of ages your torment
would be no nearer to an end than ever it was. But your torment in hell will be immensely
greater than this illustration represents . . . .
stand before an infuriated tiger even; what then will you do when God rushes against you
in all His wrath? It is everlasting wrath . . . . There
will be no end to this exquisite, horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a
long forever, a boundless duration before you . . . . you will
absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at
all . . . . Your punishment will indeed be infinite.5
By publishing and
using a Bible which denies the truth of eternal punishment in literal fire, you may
deceive yourself for now about the reality of this subject. But, unless you repent, you
will spend eternity in the very hellfire which, at present, you audaciously deny. My only
question to you is, What will you do with this information, now that I have presented it
YOU ASK what I now will do with this information
which you have set forth. Earlier you had said that you wanted us to become
aware of some of these things which your pastor first shared with you, in the hope
that it might cause us to reconsider our mistranslations and false
We have long been
familiar with such claims as those found in these works which you cite. We have nearly all
these books in our library, besides many more such titles. For many years we have spent
much time conscientiously considering the orthodox claims concerning both olam
and aiõn, not to mention innumerable arguments of every sort in favor of eternal
So in response to
your only question, which is what will I do with this information which you
have presented to me, my answer is that I will critique certain points of it, briefly, in
the text which follows.
would like to suggest at the outset that the arbiter of truth is not Christian
orthodoxy, which only speaks of the commonly accepted view, or customary,
prevalent opinion. The majority is often wrong, even among those of similar conservative
views of Scripture. Indeed, especially in a day of widespread apostasy such as the
present, to appeal to majority opinion is not a sign of strength but of weakness.
Similarly, the fact
that certain professors or preachers may be famous and acclaimed,
or, in some respect, great, is no indication of the correctness of their
opinions. Similar commendations may be made concerning certain of their
opponentswith no more benefit to be gained by so doing. The apostle Paul says
ideally, Let no one be deluding himself. If anyone among you is presuming to
be wise in this eon, let him become stupid, that he may be becoming wise, for the wisdom
of this world is stupidity with God. For it is written, He is clutching the wise in
their craftiness. And again, The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they
are vain. So that, let no one be boasting in men . . .
We should not act
prematurely, much less rashly, in forming our opinions. Ideally the proverb declares,
He who replies with speech ere he has heard, it is folly to him and
confounding (Prov.18:13). And, The first pleader seems right in his
contention, until his associate comes and investigates him (Prov.18:17). To apply
these aphorisms, then, to our subject at hand, my advice to you is for you to learn a
great deal more about this disputed subject than you presently know, before claiming which
side is correct. It is important that you become familiar not only with the arguments of
the proponents of the side which, at first, appears to be correct, but for you to become
well-versed as well in the arguments of the proponents of the side which initially seems
to be mistaken.
You state that
unless I repent (of my universalism), I will spend eternity in the very
hellfire which, at present, I audaciously deny. I must confess that according
to the first definition of audacity, which is, fearlessly daring;
bold, I have not always been thus, having sometimes failed to speak out when I
should. However, I hope I have not often been guilty of walking according to the second
definition of this word, which is, arrogantly insolent; impudent. Even if I do
not always succeed, I seek to write in an irenic spirit and in a gracious manner. In any
case, it is not necessarily wrong to reject any opinion, including a majority opinion,
simply because any certain man or group of men hold that opinion to be true.
I am confident that
in time you will see for yourself that it would be quite impossible for me to spend
eternity in hellfire. I say this because Christ died for my sins
(1 Cor.15:3), and because I was conciliated to God through the death of His Son
(Rom.5:10). Furthermore, before the disruption of the world, God chose me in Christ to be
holy and flawless in His sight, in love designating me beforehand for the place of a son
for Him through Christ Jesus. This was all in accord with the delight of His will for the
laud of the glory of His grace (cf Eph.1:3-6).
In due time, God
called me through His grace, to unveil His Son in me (cp Gal.1:15,16). After
the pattern of Saul of Tarsus, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ overwhelmed my calumny,
outrage, and unbelief (cf 1 Tim.1:12-16). As Saul, who is also Paul, declares
of God, Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls,
these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also (Rom.8:30).
I am assured that
whenever Christ, my Life, should be manifested, then I also shall be manifested together
with Him in glory (Col.3:4). This is because, even though I still sometimes sin quite
badly, according to the blessings of the evangel, where sin increases, grace
superexceeds, that, even as Sin reigns in death, thus Grace also should be reigning
through righteousness, for life eonian, through Jesus Christ, our Lord
arguments which you have conveyed against the Concordant Version and the teaching of the
Concordant ministry together with those in favor of eternal burnings, may be summed up
thus, under five headings:
(1.) A pastor declares that the Concordant Version
was designed and prepared in order to support
universalism . . . and to deny eternal punishment. This same
pastor also states that all scholars worthy of the name repudiate universalism, even as
the translation eonian, instead of everlasting. Similarly, a
theologian claims that No sound Greek scholar can pretend that aiõnios means
anything less than eternal.
simply is not true that the Concordant Version was designed and prepared in order to
support universalism and to deny eternal punishment. Such a charge is as false and unjust
as it would be for us to claim that the Authorized Version and its many imitators were
designed and prepared in order to support eternal torment and to deny the salvation of all
mankind. All honorable translators seek to be faithful to the Word of God according to the
light given to them, and do not willfully seek to support any certain disputed teaching.
Likewise, it is far
from the truth to say that none who are worthy scholars and learned in Oriental languages
can pretend that aiõnios means anything less than eternal. Nor do all
such ones, by any means, repudiate either universalism or the translation
eonian, instead of everlasting. The simple fact is that
universalism, though likely always a minority view, has at times been a sizable minority
view. Many accomplished scholars and recognized theologians have affirmed the
(2.) A lurid phantasm of the supposed nature of hell is presented,
from the pen of Jonathan Edwards.
fanciful piece of speculation is no proof whatever of the position taken. Such
terror-inspiring sensationalism has no place in a sober consideration of revealed truth.
(3.) After appeal to Buis, then Inge, and to a
lexicon, Arndt and Gingrich, Walvoord then claims that Scripture always uses aiõnios
in the sense of infinity in time, from which he concludes that if
exegesis [i.e., objective, scientific interpretation] is the final factor, eternal
punishment is the only proper conclusion.
reply to this we need only say that Buis and Inge simply make claims, and that the Arndt
and Gingrich lexicon (1974; after Thayer, 1886) merely gives the three definitions which
it perceives for aiõnios, that of (1) without beginning; (2) without end; and (3)
without beginning or end. None of this constitutes proof of the position affirmed.
Further, Walvoords claim that valid exegesis requires the conclusion that eternal
punishment is the teaching of Scripture, is merely asserted, not proved.
(4.) Walvoord appeals to Matthew 25:46 (And
these shall be coming away into chastening eonian, yet the just into life eonian,
CV), declaring that if the state of the blessed is eternal, as expressed by this word,
there is no logical reason for giving limited duration to punishment.
specious argument goes back at least to Augustine. As has long ago been said, however, due
to its unreasonableness, it ought never be heard again. From the fact that the life of the
just nations and the chastening of the unjust nations are herein described by the same
adjective, descriptive of duration, it does not follow that the latter group of nations,
therefore, will be subjected to endless punishment. The argument assumes what is at issue
by presuming that the life of the just, here, is termed an endless life. Simply because,
on certain grounds, the life of those persons comprising the just nations will prove to be
endless, it does not follow that the blessing of life afforded here to any such
nations is therefore that of endless duration. It is as unreasonable to assume that eonian
life doubtlessly signifies endless life as it would be to claim that youthful life
actually signifies aged life, simply because our presuppositions and predilections may
dictate such a conclusion.
Lewis (who was not a universalist) in commenting on what he calls the Olamic or Aeonian
words of the Scripture, affirms that they denote . . . the world
[i.e., in the sense of duration] in time, or as a time-existence (i.e., the
life of the object thus described or delineated). He insists that these words
are, in themselves, wholly indefinite (even though he conceives that, in Matthew 25:46,
the scene is one of finality). Hence, concerning aiõnios, he states:
It would be more in accordance with the plainest etymological usage to give it
simply the sense of olamic or aeonic, or to regard it as denoting, like the
Jewish olam habba, the world [i.e., duration] to come.
shall go away into the punishment [the restraint, imprisonment] of the world to come, and
these into the life of the world to come. That is all we can etymologically or
exegetically make of the word in this passage. And so is it ever in the Old Syriac
Version [i.e., the Peshito], where the one [i.e., uniform] rendering is still more
unmistakably clear: These shall go away to the pain of the olam, and these to the
life of the olamthe world to come. 7
(5.) Walvoord intimates that the ordinary meaning
of olam and aiõn is that of endlessness (though this may sometimes be
curtailed in duration by its context; otherwise, these words continue to mean
unending in its duration).
is simply contrary to historical fact to suggest that the essence of these time
expressions is that of endless duration. As Thomas De Quincey, the nineteenth century
essayist and literary critic states: All this speculation, first and last, is pure
nonsense. Aiõnios does not mean eternal, neither does it mean of
limited duration . . . . What is an aiõn? The duration
or cycle of existence which belongs to any object, not individually of itself, but
universally, in right of its genius [i.e., inherent
nature] . . . . The exact amount of the duration expressed by
an aiõn depends altogether upon the particular subject which yields the aiõn.8
Congregational minister and preacher, G. Campbell Morgan, makes the following
remarkable declaration concerning olam/aiõn: 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.9
Presbyterian Bible scholar, M. R. Vincent, in his extensive note on aiõn/aiõnios
states: Neither the noun nor the adjective, in themselves, carry the sense of endless
mistaken notion on this very issue, however, comes to the heart of the question whether
the Concordant Version is justified in its rendering eon. After all, not only
Walvoord, Buis, and Inge, but all intelligent students acknowledge that olam and aiõn
sometimes refer to limited duration. Here is my point: The supposed special reference or
usage of a word is not the province of the translator but of the interpreter. Since these
authors themselves plainly indicate that the usage of a word is a matter of
interpretation, it follows (1) that it is not a matter of translation, and (2) that it is
wrong for any translation effectually to decide that which must necessarily remain
a matter of interpretation concerning these words in question. Therefore, olam and aiõn
should never be translated by the thought of endlessness, but only by
that of indefinite duration (as in the anglicized transliteration eon
which appears in the Concordant Version).
In this response to
your deeply troubled encounter with the Concordant Version, I have principally
sought not to prove my position, but to open a door to its consideration; a door of
further inquiry, with a view toward your attaining an awareness of the grace of God in
truth, even as of the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord
(Eph.3:11). May our God and Father be pleased to use this writing unto such an end.
1. Harry Buis, THE DOCTRINE
OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT, p.49
(Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1957).
2. R. Inge, WHAT IS HELL?
p.6 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1930).
3. William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, A GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT and Other Early Christian Literature, pp.27,28 (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1974).
4. FOUR VIEWS OF HELL, pp.17,18,23,24,26-28; edited by William Crockett (Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).
5. Sermon II, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, THE WORKS OF JONATHAN EDWARDS, vol. ii, pp.7-12 (London: Ball, Arnold, and Co., 1840).
6. See such works as our reprints: RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS (Andrew Jukes, 1891); CHRIST
TRIUMPHANT (Thomas Allin, 1890); EON-EONIAN (John Wesley Hanson, 1875); SALVATOR MUNDI (Samuel Cox, 1879); THE ANCIENT
HISTORY OF UNIVERSALISM (Hosea
Ballou, 2nd, 1829); THE MODERN HISTORY OF UNIVERSALISM (Thomas Whittemore, 1830);
also see: Thomas B. Thayer, THEOLOGY OF UNIVERSALISM
(Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1891); F. W. Farrar, ETERNAL HOPE (London: Macmillan & Co., 1892); F. W. Farrar, MERCY AND JUDGMENT (New York: E. P. Dutton
& Co., 1881).
7. Tayler Lewis, LANGES COMMENTARY,
vol.5, Ecclesiastes, pp.45,48 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, reprint
8. Thomas De Quincey, THEOLOGICAL ESSAYS, pp.143-165; cited in EON-EONIAN
(John Wesley Hanson, 1875).
9. G. Campbell Morgan, GODS METHODS WITH MAN, p.185 (New York: Fleming H.
Revell Co., 1898).
10. R. Vincent, WORD STUDIES
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, vol.2,
pp.950-952 (McLean Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Co., n.d.).
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