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Concordant  Studies

EON  AS  INDEFINITE  DURATION

(PART THREE)

God locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all. (Rom.11:32)

Indeed though He afflicts, yet He has compassion according to the abundance of His benignities. (Lam.3:32)

God is love. (1 John 4:8)

Question:

RECENTLY I 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 other translations.
My 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.
In 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.
The 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 eternal’2 . . . . 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 . . . .
“Eternal 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 . . . .
“You cannot 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 to you?

Answer:

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 teachings.”
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 torment.
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.

WELL-VERSED OBJECTIVITY

I 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 opponents–with 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 . . .” (1 Cor.3:18-21a).
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” (Rom.5:20b,21).

PORTENTOUS CLAIMS

The 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.”

It 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 teaching. 6

(2.) A lurid phantasm of the supposed nature of hell is presented, from the pen of Jonathan Edwards.

This 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.”

In 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, Walvoord’s 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.

This 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.
Professor Tayler 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.
“ ‘These 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 olam’–the 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”).

It 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
The British 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
Likewise, the 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 or everlasting.10
Walvoord’s 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.

James Coram


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, LANGE’S COMMENTARY, vol.5, Ecclesiastes, pp.45,48 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, reprint 1969).

8. Thomas De Quincey, THEOLOGICAL ESSAYS, pp.143-165; cited in EON-EONIAN (John Wesley Hanson, 1875).

9. G. Campbell Morgan, GOD’S 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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