"Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Co-author (with Dr. Ilaria Ramelli of Milan, Italy's Catholic University of the Sacred Heart) of Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts. His B.A. was in mathematics; in his senior year of college, he began ancient Greek and Latin, and went on to obtain a doctorate in classics. He has been at Brown since 1987; from 1992-2010 he was the John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition and Professor in Comparative Literature.

"Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:24 pm

The following was originally delivered as a talk, jointly by me and Ilaria Ramelli, in Edinburgh at the international conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, in 2006. A revised version appeared subsequently in the Mexican journal, Nova Tellus 24 (2006) 21-39. Please do let me know what you think of it.

Edinburgh-talk-Terms-for-Eternity.pdf
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Given the prevalence of the term aïdios in Greek literature down through the Hellenistic period, it comes as something of a surprise that in the Septuagint, aïdios is all but absent, occurring in fact only twice, both times in late books written originally in Greek: 4 Maccabees and Wisdom. In addition, there is one instance of the abstract noun, aïdiotês, again in Wisdom.

On the other hand, aiônios occurs with impressive frequency, along with aiôn; behind both is the Hebrew colâm. A few examples of its uses must suffice. In Gen, the perpetual covenant with human beings after the flood, commemorated by the rainbow, is termed diathêkê aiônios, just as is that between God and Abraham and his descendants; in Ex it is the compact between God and Israel sanctified by the observance of the Sabbath, which in turn is called "an eternal sign" of this covenant across the generations and ages (aiônes). Here we see the sense of aiônios relative to aiôn, understood as a time in the remote past or future.

In general, the sense of aiônios is that of something lasting over the centuries, or relating to remote antiquity, rather than absolute eternity. Now, when the same term is employed in reference to God, e.g., theos aiônios, the question arises: does aiônios mean simply "long-lasting" in these contexts as well, or is a clear idea of God's everlastingness present in at least some of these passages? Take, for example, Ex 3:15: "God also said to Moses, 'Say this to the people of Israel, The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': this is my name for ever [aiônion], and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations [geneôn geneais]." The emphasis on successive generations, past and future, suggests perhaps that aiônios here connotes repeated ages, rather than a strictly infinite period of time. Many of the other examples come from relatively late texts, but even in these it is difficult to decide which sense is intended, in the absence of the kind of precise language to be found in the philosophers but alien to the Hebrew Scriptures. In some cases, moreover, the reference may be to the next epoch or aiôn, rather than to an infinite time as such.

Of particular interest is the mention in Tobias (3:6) of the place of the afterlife as a topos aiônios, the first place in the Hebrew Bible in which aiônios unequivocally refers to the world to come. In 2Mac, the doctrine of resurrection is affirmed and aiônios is used with reference to life in the future world. In sum, the Septuagint almost invariably employs aiônios, in association with the various senses of aiôn, in the sense of a remote or indefinite or very long period of time (like colâm), with the possible connotation of a more absolute sense of "eternal" when the term is used in reference to God -- but this connotation derives from the idea of God. In certain late books, like those of Tobias and the Maccabees, there is a reference to life in the aiôn, understood in an eschatological sense as the world to come, in opposition to the present one (kosmos, kairos).

The adjective aïdios occurs only twice in the Septuagint. In Wisdom, which is saturated with the Greek philosophical lexicon, Wisdom is defined as "a reflection of the eternal [aidion] light" that is God. In 4Mac, an impious tyrant is threatened with "fire aiônion" for the entire age or world to come (eis holon ton aiôna). But here we find the expression bios aïdios or "eternal life" as well, in reference to the afterlife of the martyrs; this blessed state, moreover, is opposed to the lasting destruction of their persecutor in the world to come. This contrast between the parallel but antithetical expressions olethros aiônios and bios aïdios is notable. Both adjectives refer to the afterlife, that is, a future aiôn, but whereas retribution is described with the more general and polysemous term aiônios, to life in the beyond is applied the more technical term aïdios, denoting a strictly endless condition.

In the New Testament, when the reference is to God, aiônios may be presumed to signify "eternal" in the sense of "perpetual." Nevertheless, the precise sense of aiônios in the New Testament, as in the Hebrew Bible, cannot be resolved with the help of explicit definitions or statements equating it with terms such as "ungenerated" and "imperishable," of the sort found in the philosophers and in Philo of Alexandria. Hence, the positions adopted by religious scholars in this controversy have embraced both extremes. On the one hand, William Russell Straw affirms of aiôn that, in the Septuagint, "it is never found with the meaning of 'life,' 'lifetime'... The majority of instances can bear only the meaning 'eternal....' As for aiônios, "It may be rendered 'eternal' or 'everlasting' in every occurrence." Peder Margido Myhre, on the contrary, argues that the Platonic sense of the term as "metaphysical endlessness" is entirely absent in the New Testament. I quote: "Since, in all Greek literature, sacred and profane, aiônios is applied to finite things overwhelmingly more frequently than to things immortal, no fair critic can assert ... that when it is qualifying the future punishment it has the stringent meaning of metaphysical endlessness.... The idea of eternal torment introduced into these words of the Bible by a theological school that was entirely ignorant of the Greek language would make God to be a cruel tyrant."

We turn now to the two uses of the more strictly philosophical term aïdios in the New Testament. The first (Rm 1:20) refers unproblematically to the power and divinity of God. In the second occurrence, however (Jud 6), aïdios is employed of eternal punishment -- not that of human beings, however, but of evil angels, who are imprisoned in darkness "with eternal chains" (desmois aïdiois). But there is a qualification: "until the judgment of the great day." The angels, then, will remain chained up until Judgment Day; we are not informed of what will become of them afterwards. Why aïdios of the chains, instead of aiônios, used in the next verse of the fire of which the punishments of the Sodomites is an example? Perhaps because they continue from the moment of the angels' incarceration, at the beginning of the world, until the judgment that signals the entry into the new aiôn: thus, the term indicates the uninterrupted continuity throughout all time in this world -- this could not apply to human beings, who do not live through the entire duration of the present universe; to them applies rather the sequence of aiônes or generations.

We conclude with a glance at Origen's use of aiônios and aïdios (in our larger project we carry our investigation down to the time of Dionysius the Ps.-Areopagite). In Origen, there are many passages that refer to the aiônios life, in the formula characteristic of the New Testament: the emphasis seems to be not so much on eternity, that is, temporal infinity, as on the life in the next world or aiôn. A particularly clear instance is (we believe) Philocalia, where the aiônios life is defined as that which will occur in the future aiôn. Origen affirms that God gave Scripture "body for those we existed before us [i.e., the Hebrews], soul for us, and spirit [pneuma] for those in the aiôn to come, who will obtain a life aiônios." So too, in the Commentary on Matthew, the future life (aiônios) is contrasted with that in the present (proskairos). Again, Origen in a series of passages opposes the ephemeral sensible entities of the present time (proskaira) to the invisible and lasting objects of the world to come (aiônia).

Consistent with the usage of the Septuagint and the New Testament, Origen also applies the adjective aiônios to attributes of God. In one particularly illuminating passage, Origen speaks of the eternal God (tou aiôniou theou) and of the concealment of the mystery of Jesus over aiônios stretches of time (khronois aiôniois), where the sense is plainly "from time immemorial." So too, Origen mentions the "days of the aiôn," and "aiônia years" (etê aiônia), that is, very long periods of time, and the phrase eis tous aiônas here signifies "for a very long time."

In Origen, the adjective aïdios occurs much less frequently than aiônios, and when it is used, it is almost always in reference to God or His attributes; it presumably means "eternal" in the strict sense of limitless in time or beyond time.

In On Principles 3.3.5, Origen gives a clear sign that he understands aiôn in the sense of a succession of aiônes prior to the final apocatastasis, at which point one arrives at the true eternity, that is, aïdiotês. Eternity in the strict sense pertains, according to Origen, to the apocatastasis, not to the previous sequence of ages or aiônes. So too, Origen explains that Christ "reigned without flesh prior to the ages, and reigned in the flesh in the ages" (aiôniôs, adverb). Again, the "coming aiôn" indicates the next world (epi ton mellonta aiôna), where sinners will indeed be consigned to the pur aionion, that is, the fire that pertains to the future world; it may well last for a long time, but it is not, for Origen, eternal.

In this connection, it seems particularly significant that Origen calls the fire of damnation pur aiônion, but never pur aïdion. The explanation is that he does not consider this flame to be absolutely eternal: it is aiônion because it belongs to the next world, as opposed to the fire we experience in this present world, and it lasts as long as the aiônes do, in their succession. Similarly, Origen never speaks of thanatos aïdios, or of aïdia punishments and torments and the like, although he does speak of thanatos aiônios or death in the world to come (kolaseis aiônioi), i.e. punishment in the world to come.

Origen was deeply learned in both the Bible and the classical philosophical tradition; what is more, he maintained that damnation was not eternal, but served rather to purify the wicked, who would in the end be saved in the universal apocatastasis. His careful deployment of the adjectives aiônios and aïdios reflects, we have argued, both his sensitivity to the meaning of the latter among the Greek philosophers, and the distinction that is apparently observed in the use of these terms in the Bible. For Origen, this was further evidence in Scripture for the doctrine of universal salvation.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby JasonPratt » Thu Feb 24, 2011 6:45 am

Ultra interesting and helpful!

Are there more parts to the talk? (I think you said before, but I've forgotten...)
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby james.goetz » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:28 am

JasonPratt wrote:Ultra interesting and helpful!

Are there more parts to the talk? (I think you said before, but I've forgotten...)

Jason, the entire speech is in the PDF download near the top of each part/post. It looks like the speech in the PDF is divided into 6 parts on Robin's blog, which I suppose will be the same here.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Alex Smith » Thu Feb 24, 2011 1:40 pm

Robin divided it into 6, but here it's only in two parts. The full pdf is attached to both.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TamtheTyper » Fri Feb 25, 2011 3:16 am

This is absolutely wonderful to have this study from the academic world!

I think mainline scholarship has felt this way about aionios for a while, but never had the full research to state their case without some hesitation. I'm thinking of the liberal Alan Richardson's An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (page 74), and (surprisingly) the more conservative RVG Tasker's Matthew Tyndale Commentary (page 240). Both these state that the word relates to quality of the Age to Come rather than quantity of never-ending time. But I get the impression, too, that there was a slight lack of confidence in stating the case.

So thanks to David and Ilaria for this wonderful research and confirmation!!

One question to David Konstan: is the revised version in the Mexican journal an expansion of this article? In other words, does it carry even more details? Thanks.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby stellar renegade » Fri Feb 25, 2011 1:15 pm

Hey, David. Thanks so much for being here and posting all this. It's incredibly helpful and is an especially important aspect of universalism to me.

I have a question though. In trying to explain the concept behind aionios to people in my head, I came up with a way of possibly explaining it but am not 100% that it is accurate. I'm sure that the concept's fairly ambiguous to begin with that it could be interpreted more than one way, but here goes:

Plato was associating timelessness with a derivative of a word that meant an "age" because he was thinking of eternal essences which ages came to be identified with. We do the same thing in our own time by labelling ages, such as "The Age of Enlightenment," "The Information Age" and in the Christian world, "The Age of the Law" and "The Age of Grace." Plato believed that everything was rooted in the heavenly, eternal realm, thus "enlightment," "law," and "grace," for instance would be eternal things that have been communicated to us and have come to identify an age. In short, it was something akin to dispensationalism. To say that someone would experience "eternal correction," in the Greek meant something more like, they would be subject to the "Age of Correction."

Correction, judgment, punishment, fire etc, are all divine, eternal things that thus come to constitute an age of existence for some.

Would that be a fair thing to say?
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Fri Feb 25, 2011 4:04 pm

Dear Alex and friends,

It’s a thrill to know that people are taking such an interest in what we did. In answer to the first question, the published version is basically the same paper, but with some footnotes. The real detail is, I’m afraid, in the book, where case after case is examined: we tried to be exhaustive (and it was exhausting!), so we covered as many examples as possible.

On the second question, perhaps the following formulation will help. One meaning of eternity is infinite time; if I live eternally, I live forever, with no end. But at any given moment, I’m right here, with a past and a future, just like anyone else. But another meaning of eternity is outside of time. For example, when God created the universe, did he also create time, or did time exist before? If time existed, why did God decide to create the universe at one time rather than another? In addition, is Christ younger than God, because He is the son? The ancient thinkers worried about this, and some held that before the universe was created, there was no time at all. Besides, God sees all the past and the future simultaneously: it’s there like a picture to Him, not unfolding moment by moment but altogether present. It is thoughts like that which lead to a conception of eternity in which time, is, as it were, folded up. That was Plato’s intuition. It’s a hard thing to grasp, needless to say.

Very best,
David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby stellar renegade » Fri Feb 25, 2011 4:32 pm

David Konstan wrote:On the second question, perhaps the following formulation will help. One meaning of eternity is infinite time; if I live eternally, I live forever, with no end. But at any given moment, I’m right here, with a past and a future, just like anyone else. But another meaning of eternity is outside of time. For example, when God created the universe, did he also create time, or did time exist before? If time existed, why did God decide to create the universe at one time rather than another? In addition, is Christ younger than God, because He is the son? The ancient thinkers worried about this, and some held that before the universe was created, there was no time at all. Besides, God sees all the past and the future simultaneously: it’s there like a picture to Him, not unfolding moment by moment but altogether present. It is thoughts like that which lead to a conception of eternity in which time, is, as it were, folded up. That was Plato’s intuition. It’s a hard thing to grasp, needless to say.

Yes, thank you for that very eloquent explanation. It's something I stumbled upon in C.S. Lewis' writings when I was much younger and explained alot to me.

What I was wondering about was something more along the relationship between eternity and time, and a hint at why Plato may have used a denotation of time to describe something of eternity. In a sense an age in and of itself is eternal, it's just our perception of it which leads us to think of it as being based in what's before it and finalized in the future. But that's exactly what I was getting at. The "aeon" is eternal not in the sense that it has an infinite extension but that it has a life and essence all of its own, in the realm of the eternals. Does that make sense?

Thanks again for your help.
Justin
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Fri Feb 25, 2011 7:17 pm

Dear Justin,

Indeed, it does make sense.

All the best, David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TGB » Sat Feb 26, 2011 10:53 am

Dr. Konstan,

Thanks for the exhausting and hard work. It’s truly a gift. I’ve yet to read through your posts, so my question may be answered. But let me quickly post a couple of thoughts that came up on another thread elsewhere on this site and then ask you to comment (on Jude 1.6).

---------------------------

Tom: I don't see how June 1.6 doesn't sink his thesis. It's not a defeater for UR, but it doesn't look good for his thesis about aidios (that it always means "eternal"). Regardless of how you construe 'until' ("eis" + the accusative as showing finality or purpose or direction, whatever), it seems to me that these "chains" cannot be "eternal" in the sense he David claims because these chains are not divine, they're created (or they represent a created/finite state of affairs) which by definition makes them corruptible and finite.

Robin quoting Dr. Konstan on his (Robin’s) blog: We turn now to the two uses of the more strictly philosophical term aïdios in the New Testament. The first (Rom 1:20) refers unproblematically to the power and divinity of God. In the second occurrence, however (Jude 6), aïdios is employed of eternal punishment—not that of human beings, however, but of evil angels, who are imprisoned in darkness “with eternal chains” (desmois aïdiois). But there is a qualification: “until the judgment of the great day.” The angels, then, will remain chained up until Judgment Day; we are not informed of what will become of them afterwards. Why aïdios of the chains, instead of aiônios, used in the next verse of the fire of which the punishments of the Sodomites is an example? Perhaps because they continue from the moment of the angels’ incarceration, at the beginning of the world, until the judgment that signals the entry into the new aiôn: thus, the term indicates the uninterrupted continuity throughout all time in this world—this could not apply to human beings, who do not live through the entire duration of the present universe; to them applies rather the sequence of aiônes or generations.

To which I replied: I’m not sure. It seems that given Konstand’s thesis, I suspect just what he seems to have suspected, that aionios would be the appropriate term here (June 1.6), not aidios. To explain it by saying aidios is used “to indicate the uninterrupted continuity throughout all time in this world” is just to give aidios the sort of meaning one gives to aionios. Doesn't that undermine his thesis?

---------------------------------

I should probably say that I don’t find absolute timelessness/atemporality a helpful notion. I mean helpful in explaining God or God’s relations to a temporal world (least of all explaining supposed divine foreknowledge of all that occurs temporally along our timeline). I know the "eternal/timeless now" is a very popular argument, but I’m disinclined to adopt it. Not that rejecting divine atemporality doesn’t involve its own problems. It does. But in the end I think it’s less problematic than is divine timelessness.

Tom
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Sat Feb 26, 2011 2:57 pm

Dear all,

Jude 6 is indeed a troubling text, and I confess that it continues to worry me. We certainly don’t want to indulge in special pleading, and these do look like eternal chains, though it is significant that they are applied to angels, in contrast to human beings. Does it mean that fallen angels will suffer eternally? And does this include the time after the final judgment? Here is where we are left in some doubt by the text: if the angels are liberated at the end of days, then perhaps the chains go all the way back in time – they are eternal in that direction – but not all the way forward, to the very end. If that was the distinction intended, then perhaps we can see why the language was a bit strained. But this invites further reflection and discussion.

Very best,


David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby stellar renegade » Sat Feb 26, 2011 4:29 pm

TGB wrote:I should probably say that I don’t find absolute timelessness/atemporality a helpful notion. I mean helpful in explaining God or God’s relations to a temporal world (least of all explaining supposed divine foreknowledge of all that occurs temporally along our timeline). I know the "eternal/timeless now" is a very popular argument, but I’m disinclined to adopt it. Not that rejecting divine atemporality doesn’t involve its own problems. It does. But in the end I think it’s less problematic than is divine timelessness.

Hey, Tom. Perhaps this is a discussion for another thread, but have you considered the possibility of a meta-time in which God can indeed move and take action, yet is freely able to access both our past and future simultaneously?
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To think that all are not Thine own:
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TGB » Sat Feb 26, 2011 5:19 pm

Stellar: Hey, Tom. Perhaps this is a discussion for another thread, but have you considered the possibility of a meta-time in which God can indeed move and take action, yet is freely able to access both our past and future simultaneously?

Tom: Sure, it’s a popular view. I think Hugh Ross advocates something like this; a kind of hyper-time or supra-time in which God acts temporally but where our entire timeline is accessible from his own unique timeline or dimension.

The problem is that all events within our time are [i]by definition already the result of whatever God has done to influence them from his own dimension of meta-time. Being able to view events in our time from some dimension which supposedly gives God access to these events all at once could not provide God a basis upon which to act so as to bring about or prevent or otherwise influence what is foreknown in our time; what is foreknown from God’s meta-dimension is what actually happens in our universe. It can’t also be the basis upon which God acts to prevent or bring things about in our universe.

Tom
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TGB » Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:16 pm

...back to aidios...

David,

Thanks again for taking time (no pun intended!) to engage us here. I think it's probably best to think that if we have overwhelming reason to believe the semantic field for a term to be such and such that very rare exceptions are either a) poor language skills on the part of the speaker (in this case Jude), or b) well, I don't know what (b) would be.

What I'd like to ask is whether or not it's feasible to measure Jude against the larger witness of antiquity and just say Jude didn't really graps aidios so well himself and actually misuses the word here. Those who want to believe divine inspiration agree (because they have to) that such inspiration makes room for bad grammar and mispelling. Why not other misuses of language?

Just thinking out loud.

Tom
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Sat Feb 26, 2011 7:01 pm

Dear Tom,

Since aidios is so rare in the NT and the LXX, it’s certainly possible that the term had a special meaning in Jude. I think this is a sensible position: we’re not looking to hold Jude or any other text to rigorous standards of vocabulary, but to get the drift of their thinking. Taking account of the broad history of a term, as Ilaria and I did, is useful, even essential, but one must always be alert to idiosyncrasies. So yes, this is a way to proceed.

All the best, David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby james.goetz » Sat Feb 26, 2011 8:50 pm

David Konstan wrote:Dear all,

Jude 6 is indeed a troubling text, and I confess that it continues to worry me. We certainly don’t want to indulge in special pleading, and these do look like eternal chains, though it is significant that they are applied to angels, in contrast to human beings. Does it mean that fallen angels will suffer eternally? And does this include the time after the final judgment? Here is where we are left in some doubt by the text: if the angels are liberated at the end of days, then perhaps the chains go all the way back in time – they are eternal in that direction – but not all the way forward, to the very end. If that was the distinction intended, then perhaps we can see why the language was a bit strained. But this invites further reflection and discussion.

Very best,


David

I'll discuss Jude 6 and many other verses in my Wipf & Stock working title Conditional Futurism. We also can consider that if the fallen angels with "eternal chains" accept the gift of liberation, then we don't need to focus on how to literally interpret eternal chains.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TamtheTyper » Thu Mar 03, 2011 2:51 pm

Dear Dr. Konstan,

Thanks again for all of this! I'm especially interested in the bit where you say:

"Origen ... in the Commentary on Matthew, the future life (aiônios) is contrasted with that in the present (proskairos). Again, Origen in a series of passages opposes the ephemeral sensible entities of the present time (proskaira) to the invisible and lasting objects of the world to come (aiônia)."

I'm wondering if this solves one of my big textual problems: 2 Corinthians 4:18 -- with things proskaira being set against things aionia. Cf these 3 translations of the verse:

King James Bible
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.

English Standard Version (©2001)
as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

International Standard Version (©2008)
because we do not look for things that can be seen but for things that cannot be seen. For things that can be seen are temporary, but things that cannot be seen are eternal.

What I always wanted to do with that verse was this:
to take proskaira as temporal /in time, over against aionia which is outside of time, or at least belonging to the age to come.

However, it always bugged me that the other three appearances of proskairos in the NT (Mk 4:17 / Mt 13:21 and Heb 11:25) clearly had a "temporary" nuance rather than a "temporal" (in time) nuance.

But now there's hope for me, I think.
Is it the case, from Origin's quote, that the proskaira in 2 Cor 4:18 could indeed have the temporal nuance, over against a Platonic aionia ? Pls let me know what you think. I don't mind if I've got it wrong -- my life doesn't depend on it !! :?
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby JasonPratt » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:25 am

David Konstan wrote:Dear all,

Jude 6 is indeed a troubling text, and I confess that it continues to worry me. We certainly don’t want to indulge in special pleading, and these do look like eternal chains, though it is significant that they are applied to angels, in contrast to human beings. Does it mean that fallen angels will suffer eternally? And does this include the time after the final judgment? Here is where we are left in some doubt by the text: if the angels are liberated at the end of days, then perhaps the chains go all the way back in time – they are eternal in that direction – but not all the way forward, to the very end. If that was the distinction intended, then perhaps we can see why the language was a bit strained. But this invites further reflection and discussion.

Very best,


David


I have argued somewhere else on the forum, in detail, that the meaning for aidios here must be "unseen" more than "sequentially eternal", based not only on local contexts but on parallels with the Petrine epistle and some other scriptures. Since the word could carry that meaning, then it seems reasonable to go with the meaning that results in no contextual problems rather than the other meaning if that one results in contextual problems.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby JasonPratt » Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:27 am

james.goetz wrote:I'll discuss Jude 6 and many other verses in my Wipf & Stock working title Conditional Futurism. We also can consider that if the fallen angels with "eternal chains" accept the gift of liberation, then we don't need to focus on how to literally interpret eternal chains.


Good point, too! (I'm really looking forward to the completed version of that book, btw. Sorry for not helping much with the editing. ;) )
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Sat Mar 05, 2011 1:54 pm

I’m not sure about this one. Proskairos does mean of the present moment, and hence transient but also embedded in time. Aionios can refer to the coming eon, the time between now and the resurrection, and this would be a reasonable contrast to the present time, without necessarily implying an atemporal sense of eternity. But again, aionios can shade into the sense of eternal, and in the Church Fathers the Platonic notion of a timeless eternity is well established; so it may be reasonable to take unseen things as having a timeless existence, like the Platonic forms.

I hope this helps.

Warmest wishes to all,

David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TamtheTyper » Wed Mar 09, 2011 2:54 pm

Dear David,

Thanks for that very useful reply. There is one other issue I’d like to share with you.

In this paper you mention, in passing, the phrase “eis tous aionas” but maybe you have more on it in the book. My interest is in the longer phrase “eis tous aionas ton aionion” -- unto the ages of the ages -- found 12 times throughout Revelation.

Those who take it to mean “for ever and ever” and want to support the idea of everlasting punishment, quote three passages where it applies to

(a) God’s existence:
“Thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives for ever and ever.” (Rev 4:9)

(b) the suffering of the damned:
“The Devil, the Beast and the False Prophet will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Rev 20:10)

(c) the joy of the redeemed:
“God will be their light, and they (the Redeemed) shall reign for ever and ever.”

Before my big question to you, I’ll share these thoughts:

(1) As Robin Parry has said, the devil, beast and false prophet could be representations of wickedness in the spiritual, civil and religious realms, and not persons at all.

(2) If the above presentation had wanted to fix “eis tous aionas ton aionon” to human punishment, it could have used Rev 19:3 where the smoke of destroyed Babylon rises up for ever and ever. However, this city could also be a symbolic representation -- a symbol of wickedness in the commercial realm, and not persons at all. Moreover, this case of “eis tous aionas ton aionon” is clearly taking place in this world, and not in the next. If the smoke is truly to be everlasting, it will (in some way) need to continue on through the end of this age and on into the next (into the lake of Fire??).

And so we come to Rev 14:11 where many would say we have a clear case of human persons being sent into punishment “for ever and ever”. However the phrase here is not
eis TOUS aionas TON aionon
but
eis aionas aionon.

In other words, 12 times in Revelations we find the phrase “eis tous aionas ton aionon”, but only this once (when talking about human punishment) it is “eis aionas aionon” (without the article).

It seems to me that this must be more than mere coincidence, or random linguistic variation. And my big question: does the absence of the article (unto ages of ages) give us a slightly different nuance? Thanks!
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Thu Mar 10, 2011 12:16 am

Thanks for this question – as always, going to the heart of the matter. Here is our footnote 78 to the chapter “From the Septuagint to the New Testament”:
Cf. Apoc. 14:10–11, where the smoke of the tormented sinners rises eis aiônas aiônôn, in saecula saeculorum, which does not self-evidently mean absolutely forever; for Origen, as we shall see, this will be the time of the aiônes, before the apocatastasis which brings on the aïdiotês. Only the aïdiotês of the universal restoration will be truly forever.
We understood aiôn to mean a long period of time, and the duplicated expression does not necessarily signify eternity. I’m attaching the entry on aiôn that Ilaria and I wrote for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception; here we talk about some of the relevant issues.

With warmest regards,

David

EBR-Aion.pdf
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TotalVictory » Sun Mar 13, 2011 6:17 am

Hi David:

Just had a chance to read your essay/talk and thank you very much for it. Though I do confess that this sort of thing falls into the “second tier” of arguments for me personally. Which is to say that UR makes best sense to me in the context of ideas about God’s Love and the Universal nature of Christ’s sacrifice and the bibles insistence on God’s total and complete victory over death and sin and so on…

But there is another problem here which can be awkward at times too. And it’s been talked about I realize but I still struggle with the solution(s). It has to do with specific terms being used in different ways/senses depending on contexts. That is, if we say (or suggest) that “eternal” when applied to the fellowship of the redeemed with God lasting on for a time that has no end, then that meaning is sidestepped for another sense when it comes to the rehabilitative punishment of “hell” as being somehow “temporary” and having an end, we should expect to receive criticism.

IT seems to me a similar thing happens when we talk about words like “all”. Does all mean all without distinction -- or only a weaker sense like “many”? Or take the phrase “kings of the earth” in Revelation. When we say this must be the exact same group that is pictured going IN to the Holy City as was earlier seen being cast into the lake of fire, our non-Universalist friends insist it must be a different group…

So I guessI wish I had a rule of thumb by which I could easily resolve ALL of these sorts of issues, but it seems we must handle each one as a individual case as we try to argue for one coherent whole theology…

TotalVictory
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Sun Mar 13, 2011 7:44 pm

Dear Bob,

My colleague Ilaria would agree with you entirely that the real issue is theological, and so would I; but we tried to base our argument solely on philological method, because otherwise we would have been open to the charge of circular reasoning: we prove the meanings of the words from the theological position, and vice versa. I was the one who attempted to limit our evidence as narrowly as possible.

I believe you are right about the problem of different meanings in different contexts. Here, Ilaria and I probably have a slight disagreement. I would have said that aionios in relation to God refers to his role in the world to come, and that only by accident does it suggest “eternal,” since we know that God is eternal. We argued that aionios has two related senses: long-lasting, but also referring to the next aion; and many of the applications to God can be understood in the second sense. However, my solution too runs into problems, and you’ve put your finger on a major one.

All the best,

David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Melchizedek » Tue Mar 29, 2011 9:08 am

Hi David; I have a question.

In my study of "universalism" (although for various reasons, I prefer "restorationism") over the past few years, it seems that I continually run into two major scholarly camps on the issue of aion, aionios, etc. One seems to insist on it meaning literally without end, and the other camp varies in intensity, but comes up somewhere short of a literal endlessness. If scholars cannot seem to agree on this issue, how are we to know who is right?

The evidence that I have seen seems to strongly point in the direction favorable to the universalist (or what-have-you), but the other position seems rather entrenched (but maybe that's just my perception), so I wonder if you could comment on these issues.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:40 pm

To some extent, I think, the division in the ranks is due to prior commitments, whether to apocatastasis (and “restorationism” is a very good translation of that term) or to eternal punishment. This can be seen clearly in some earlier studies of the two terms, which we refer to in our book: in these, the motivation was explicit. It’s why I insisted that we avoid theological issues and focus on the words themselves.

Now, the words are not always perfectly clear in their meaning, and sometimes the sense appears to depend on the context. Still, there is no question but that the early sense of aion is simply a lifetime, and that it comes to mean also a long period of time, an eon or age; and aionios follows suit. Plato introduces the confusion, but employing aionios for his new idea of a timeless eternity, since aidios was too clearly connected with a time extending to infinity. Still, in classical literature the difference is fairly clear.

Then, with the Septuagint, aionios becomes the common term, and so too in the NT. It’s meaning here depends in part on the sense of the Hebrew terms that lie behind this usage, but since koine Greek is subtly different from classical, one has to do the work separately on these texts.

Now, aionios is most certainly applied to God, and my colleague Ilaria wants it to mean infinite in that case; of course, God is infinite in every respect, but is this the force of aionios when so used? My sense is that it still bears the connotation of belonging to another aion or epoch, and can mean something like “transcendent,” but it’s a delicate issue. At all events, here is where there is space for disagreement.

We did our best to lay out the evidence fairly, and came down on the side of restorationism.

I hope this helps,

Very best, David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Melchizedek » Fri Apr 01, 2011 2:45 pm

I think so, yes. It seems to be such a fine line to walk; and the emphasis placed on which side of the fence one should fall on seems to rely fairly heavily on those "prior commitments". Still, I have seen a number of scholars like yourself who in their study of the issue (laying aside their prior commitments) who have come down on the side of universalism after having started from scratch, so to speak. That is an encouragement to me.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby roofus » Fri Apr 01, 2011 7:41 pm

David,
Did you go into your study with any prior Christian beliefs about the matter?
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Sat Apr 02, 2011 1:06 pm

No, I didn’t; as I mentioned in earlier correspondence, I was raised in a Jewish family, and have not been a believer of any sort since I was about ten years old. (My wife is Catholic, I should point out, but our difference on the score has in no way interfered with our marriage.) I got interested in Christianity as a part of the classical world; like almost all classicists, I had imagined a wall between the pagan and Jewish or Christian worlds. Friends made me aware of the towering intellectual presence of the church fathers, for instance, and about 15 years ago I joined the Society of Biblical Literature, where I am now co-editor of a series and haven’t missed a meeting since then. My horizons began expanding when I wrote a book on friendship, and inquired why most early Christian writers – but not all – preferred the vocabulary of brotherhood to friendship, and then I began working on pity, and more particularly on divine pity, and this too took me into new areas.

So that’s the autobiographical part of the story.

Warmest greetings,


David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby roofus » Sun Apr 03, 2011 6:57 am

Thanks for the interesting reply!
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby roofus » Sun Apr 03, 2011 7:32 am

TotalVictory wrote:Hi David:

Just had a chance to read your essay/talk and thank you very much for it. Though I do confess that this sort of thing falls into the “second tier” of arguments for me personally. Which is to say that UR makes best sense to me in the context of ideas about God’s Love and the Universal nature of Christ’s sacrifice and the bibles insistence on God’s total and complete victory over death and sin and so on…

But there is another problem here which can be awkward at times too. And it’s been talked about I realize but I still struggle with the solution(s). It has to do with specific terms being used in different ways/senses depending on contexts. That is, if we say (or suggest) that “eternal” when applied to the fellowship of the redeemed with God lasting on for a time that has no end, then that meaning is sidestepped for another sense when it comes to the rehabilitative punishment of “hell” as being somehow “temporary” and having an end, we should expect to receive criticism.

IT seems to me a similar thing happens when we talk about words like “all”. Does all mean all without distinction -- or only a weaker sense like “many”? Or take the phrase “kings of the earth” in Revelation. When we say this must be the exact same group that is pictured going IN to the Holy City as was earlier seen being cast into the lake of fire, our non-Universalist friends insist it must be a different group…

So I guessI wish I had a rule of thumb by which I could easily resolve ALL of these sorts of issues, but it seems we must handle each one as a individual case as we try to argue for one coherent whole theology…

TotalVictory
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Bob,
What do you think of the argument that in Matthew 24, where we read of both eternal life and eternal punishment, it could read "the life of the age to come" or "the punishment of the age to come"? This would interpret it to mean something different than "forever". David, what would you say?
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby AUniversalist » Sun Apr 03, 2011 10:46 am

Now, aionios is most certainly applied to God, and my colleague Ilaria wants it to mean infinite in that case; of course, God is infinite in every respect, but is this the force of aionios when so used? My sense is that it still bears the connotation of belonging to another aion or epoch, and can mean something like “transcendent,” but it’s a delicate issue. At all events, here is where there is space for disagreement.


He is God throughout the ages, seen and unseen. Thus, aionios. ;)
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Sun Apr 03, 2011 8:29 pm

Indeed, I agree: where I see aionios in such contexts, I’m inclined to read “of the age to come.”

Very best, David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby AUniversalist » Mon Apr 04, 2011 9:54 am

Indeed! I am looking forward to ordering your book.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby roofus » Mon Apr 04, 2011 5:57 pm

David Konstan wrote:Indeed, I agree: where I see aionios in such contexts, I’m inclined to read “of the age to come.”

Very best, David


You were responding to me, right?
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Alex Smith » Mon Apr 04, 2011 9:11 pm

Yes, I think so, although I think his response applies to AUniversalist's too, as the "unseen" age is the "age to come".
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby roofus » Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:31 am

From Hebrews:
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

He has made perfect "forever". This doesn't seem to fit the universalist translation of aion (assuming that this is the word in the scriptures mentioned). He has made perfect "for the age to come"? do you think that this works? Seems like it doesn't.....
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby AUniversalist » Tue Apr 05, 2011 10:33 am

roofus wrote:From Hebrews:
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

He has made perfect "forever". This doesn't seem to fit the universalist translation of aion (assuming that this is the word in the scriptures mentioned). He has made perfect "for the age to come"? do you think that this works? Seems like it doesn't.....
r


Personally, I think so. He made perfect for the age to come, written as what 'age to come' although at the time it was written was a present reality. That, presently, the one sacrifice is now what was, and therefore is what is now is continues into what is to come. We are in that present perfect "forever", whereas prior to the one sacrifice, it was for an age to come.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby roofus » Tue Apr 05, 2011 6:20 pm

Ya lost me, sorry :)
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:22 pm

Writing from France, so only occasionally in touch this next week. AUniversalist's answer sounds like a good answer to me. By the way, I’m negotiating with the publisher to produce an affordable version of Terms for Eternity.

Warmest wishes, David
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby roofus » Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:34 pm

Thanks for the reply, David. I can't get the grammar for this statement: "He made perfect for the age to come, written as what 'age to come' although at the time it was written was a present reality."

"written as what "age to come"- what does that mean?
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby AUniversalist » Thu Apr 07, 2011 11:18 am

roofus wrote:Ya lost me, sorry :)


Oops. Sorry Roofus.

Let me make a picture.

perfect.JPG
perfect.JPG (10.92 KiB) Viewed 24481 times


So from Paul's perspective when he wrote this, he was looking backward to prior to the One Sacrifice, stating that prior they were looking forward to the Perfect Age. He was explaining a past event that had already come to pass.

He, and so are we, and those to come are presently in the perfect age (which was (Paul's time), which is (Our present time), and is to come (Our children's future).
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby TGB » Tue Aug 16, 2011 6:07 am

If any of you know David Bradshaw (University of Kentucky), author of Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007), he also has an interesting article on time as understood by the Greek fathers.

Tom

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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Sherman » Tue Aug 16, 2011 7:40 am

David Konstan wrote:Dear all,

Jude 6 is indeed a troubling text, and I confess that it continues to worry me. We certainly don’t want to indulge in special pleading, and these do look like eternal chains, though it is significant that they are applied to angels, in contrast to human beings. Does it mean that fallen angels will suffer eternally? And does this include the time after the final judgment? Here is where we are left in some doubt by the text: if the angels are liberated at the end of days, then perhaps the chains go all the way back in time – they are eternal in that direction – but not all the way forward, to the very end. If that was the distinction intended, then perhaps we can see why the language was a bit strained. But this invites further reflection and discussion.

I don't understand why this is an issue. The chains can be eternal, everlasting; but there is no reason to believe that the angels will continue to be bound by the "eternal" chains (meant to be understood as literal or metaphorical?) after the judgment, especially if one understands the judgment to be remedial and reconcilatory in nature and purpose. God's dealings in His realm, the realm beyond time, sometimes breaks into this realm of time like with the destruction of Sodom by "eternal fire".

To me, the primary understanding of aionios needs to be based on the Hebrew concept of olam, which is more pictoral and not as linear and specific as the Greek. When we read aionios in the Greek text, it is attempting to communicate the Hebrew concept of olam.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Gabe » Tue Aug 16, 2011 12:52 pm

Fascinating and extensive research! I look forward to reading Dr. Konstan's book when I can. I see that Dr. Konstan has not posted in awhile, but I do have a question for him.

Dr. Konstan, I was wondering what are your thoughts on the idea that 'aion' derives from the verb aio (which, I gather, meant "to breathe"), as some scholars have suggested? This particular etymology makes sense to me, for breathing is cyclical, just as the aions are. What do you think?
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Alex Smith » Tue Aug 16, 2011 5:25 pm

I've just emailed David, as he's been away in Istanbul and I'm not sure he's checked here for awhile...
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby Paidion » Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:03 pm

Just because the adjective "αιωνιος" may be used to describe that which is everlasting DOES NOT IMPLY that the word sometimes MEANS "everlasting" — just as the fact that the word "tall" can be used to describe objects over 20 ft. high does not imply that "tall" sometimes MEANS "over 20 ft. high". The meaning of "αιωνιος" is lasting. In secular Greek literature it was used to describe a stone wall. A stone wall is lasting. It can also be used to describe God. God is lasting. The fact that He also happens to be everlasting is irrelevant as far as the meaning of the word is concerned.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:21 am

I don’t know whether aio and aion are related; perhaps so, but that’s a question for linguists, and I fear I’m not the best authority on that.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby David Konstan » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:33 am

Below is a brief summary of the aionios question.

Ancient Greek had two words that are common translated as “eternal”: aidios and aionios. The latter of these terms is an adjective clearly deriving from the noun aion, from which we get the English “eon”: it is an old word, appearing already in Homer, where it refers normally to a lifetime, or else some definite period of time. It never suggests an infinite stretch of time, and in later writers it continues to mean, almost always, either a lifetime or some particular period of time.

What, then, about the adjective aionios? Here is where problems arise, since the adjective seems first to occur in Plato, and Plato adapts it to a very special sense. Plato had the idea that time was a moving image of eternity, with the implication that eternity itself does not move or change: it is not an infinite length of time, but a state of timelessness (think of what time must have been like before God created the universe). This is quite different from the common meaning of aidios, which the presocratic philosophers had already used to express precisely an infinite stretch of time, with no beginning and no end; and this is what aidios continued to mean.

So, we have two adjectives in use: one of them clearly means “infinite,” when applied to time; but the other does not, and what is more, it is connected with a common noun – aion – that means simply a lifetime, with no suggestion of eternity. Aionios remains relatively rare in classical Greek, and then we come to the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, where it occurs very frequently (aidios, by contrast, only appears twice, and those in parts originally written in Greek). Now, aionios here can refer to things that are very old (as we say in English, “old as the hills”), but by no means eternal – what in this world is eternal? This is a very common usage, based on the Hebrew term. But it can also be used in reference to the world to come, and here we face the fundamental issue.

If one speaks of the next life, or something that happens in the next life, as aionios, does it mean simply the next era or eon, or does it carry the further implication of “eternal”? Many of the passages in the Septuagint seem to indicate that the meaning is “of that eon” – and after all, it is a very long, but still finite period of time, that elapses between our death and judgment day and the resurrection, and this could be called an era. What is more, there is some reason to think that, after the resurrection, time itself will come to an end. So, saying that punishment in the afterlife is aionios may just mean “for that eon” or epoch, and not forever.

We argued that this sense was understood by many (or most) of the Church Fathers, and that when they used aionios of punishment in the afterlife, they were not necessarily implying that punishment would be eternal. Of course, one can only show this by careful examination of specific passages in context, and this is what we tried to do in our book. Very often, the evidence is ambiguous; for example, when God is described as aionios, it is very difficult to be sure whether the word means “of the other world” or simply “eternal,” since God is both. We hope readers will decide for themselves, on the basis of the evidence we collected and the interpretations we offered.
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Re: "Terms for Eternity: Aiônios & aïdios" talk part 2

Postby AllanS » Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:55 am

A very useful summary. Many thanks.
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