Posted: Wed May 13, 2009 10:33 am
tomtalbott wrote:I think it safe to say that the basic meaning of this English word is indeed everlasting. So now consider how the precise force of “everlasting” varies depending upon which noun it qualifies. An everlasting struggle would no doubt be a struggle without end, an unending temporal process that never comes to a point of resolution and never gets completed. But an everlasting change, or an everlasting correction, or an everlasting transformation would hardly be an unending temporal process that never gets completed; instead, it would be a temporal process of limited duration, or perhaps simply an instantaneous event, that terminates in an irreversible state. So however popular it might be, the argument that “aionios” must have exactly the same force regardless of which noun it qualifies in Matthew 25:46 is clearly fallacious.
Accordingly, even if we should translate “aionios” with the English word “everlasting,” a lot would still depend upon how we understand the relevant nouns in our text: the nouns “life” (zoe) and “punishment” (kolasis). Now the kind of life in question, being rightly related to God, is clearly an end in itself, even as the kind of punishment in question seems just as clearly to be a means to an end. For as one New Testament scholar, William Barclay, has pointed out, “kolasis” “was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better.” Barclay also claimed that “in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment”--which is probably a bit of a stretch, since the language of correction and the language of retribution often get mixed together in ordinary language. But in any event, if “kolasis” does signify punishment of a remedial or a corrective kind, as I think it does in Matthew 25:46, then we can reasonably think of such punishment as everlasting in the sense that its corrective effects literally endure forever. Or, to put it another way: An everlasting correction, whenever successfully completed, would be a temporal process of limited duration that terminates in the irreversible state of being rightly related to God. Certainly nothing in the context of Matthew 25 excludes such an interpretation.
I probably read over this before, but it's not something that should be read over.
It's a brilliant observation.
Everlasting correction permanently corrects, everlasting fire permanently consumes, and to perish everlastingly would be to permanently cease to exist (at least as one was prior to perishing--2 Cor. 5:17.)
BTW: This may or may not fit here, but even Bishop Jeremy Taylor once quoted Justin Martyr to the effect that "everlasting" (when used of "everlasting fire") "signifies only to the end of it's proper period." (Sermon on Christ's Advent to Judgment.)