A Word With One Meaning or 30?

Let’s pretend that you are a bible translator and you are working on creating an English translation of the bible from ancient (kione/biblical) Greek texts. And let’s say that there is one word – a noun – with a clear, agreed upon meaning. Every time you come across this word, all you have to do is substitute the English version of the word into the text and it works just fine. There’s just one hitch: if you do this your translation will be accurate and faithful to the ancient manuscripts but it will practically erase a long-held church teaching. Do you go with what the text says and use that one word in your translation? Or do you come up with a dozen or more other ways to translate that word in ways that leave the church teaching undisturbed?


This isn’t a hypothetical issue here. There really is a koine Greek noun which has one agreed upon meaning, yet has been translated dozens of different ways – presumably because translating it directly would almost totally remove the teaching of eternal hell from the bible. The word is aoin. It is the root word for the English word eon. The one word that can be used to translate it is “age”. It simply implies an undefined period of time. It has been used variously to describe everything from a few days to the span of a life to time longer than we can imagine. But like eon, it always indicates a period of time with a beginning and end. (Here’s a list of quotes from various biblical scholars saying the same thing. Here’s the wikipedia entry on the word aion. For an examination of how the word was used in ancient times by extra-biblical authors, go here. Or go here and scroll down to the section titled “The Greek Classics” about a quarter of the way down the page.)

Now here’s a chart that I laboriously created showing the way that the word got translated by actual biblical translators:

That’s a lot of different ways to translate one word – especially a noun – doncha think? But look at the words chosen and you can begin to understand what the problem is. This one simple word is the word that all those “eternal” and “forevers” in the New Testament come from. Suddenly instead of “the world to come”, we have “the age to come”. Instead of “forever and ever” we have “to the age of the ages”. Translate this one little word properly, and our familiar bible starts to look a little strange and mysterious. (To their credit, most modern translation do a decent job of putting the proper translation – age – into their footnotes. So if you’ve been paying attention, perhaps you’ve noticed that there’s something going on with ages in the bible before.)


Before going any deeper into how this word is used in scripture, we need to briefly look at the adjective taken from the word aion – aionian. For example, when we read the phrase “eternal fire” in Jude 1:7, it’s “aionian fire”. Aionian is the word used to describe the duration of the fire. Now, we don’t have a word in English that directly correlates with aionian. Sometimes the claim is made that while yes, aion does literally mean age, aionian means eternal. However, this makes no sense.

When we modify a noun to make it an adjective, the meaning of that adjective is still anchored to the meaning of the noun from which it was taken. For example, the word week means a period of 7 days. The word weekly means something that happens every 7 days. Same thing with daily or yearly or hourly. Now, aionian is slightly different in that it doesn’t describe how often something is happening, but rather is indicating the length of time for which something lasts. Like I said, we don’t have an English correlary. So if your kid’s summer camp will last a week, we say it’s a week-long summer camp. If an initiative will go on for a year, we say it’s a year-long initiative. In the same way a proper translation of the word aionaian would be age-long or age-lasting.


Now, if you’re a sharp cookie or knife or tool perhaps you have noticed that thus far I have only addressed the koine Greek words that get translated as forever and eternal (and world, universe, old, course or whatever else the translators need them to mean). And maybe you’re reaching for your Old Testament because you know that it contains its own forever and eternal statements. Or maybe you’re too busy wondering if I’m on drugs to think of such a thing. (The answer, sadly, is no.) But whatever the case may be, I’m glad I brought it up – what about the Old Testament? Well, the biblical Hebrew word translated as forever or eternal is “olam”.

Back in the very olden days – like around 2000 years ago, many Hebrews were no longer able to speak their ancient tongue. So they too relied on translations of their sacred text. They relied on the Septuagint. It was the Greek translation of the books of the Old Testament. Of course, in Israel, most people spoke Aramaic but that’s a whole other story. What’s important for our purposes is that we have several copies of the Septuagint to reference. Which is very handy for those of us who like doing word studies because we can look at the way a Hebrew word is used in context AND we can see how the Hebrew scholars translated said word into Greek. Which can be very revealing. It just so happens that the ancient Hebrew word olam is almost always translated into the Greek words aion and aionian. So for all practical purposes they are synonymous and everything that I say about those words above, also applies to the Old Testament as well. Since I have other things to do this week, I didn’t dive in and make a nice chart to show you exactly how various modern translations have screwed up olam, but if I did, it would look similar to the one above. So, just look at the one above again and pretend.

Why Should You Believe Me?

I know that if you’re encountering this material for the first time, the natural reaction may be think that maybe it’s not true because if it was, this wouldn’t be the first time you heard these claims. On Friday, I will get into the history of how and why our translations came to goof this word up so badly. However, anyone who paid attention to the uproar over the Committee on Bible Translation’s attempts to use gender neutral language in TNIV can understand how it is that little serious attempt has been made to correct this error. (For those who had things other than controversies over bible translations on their mind, here’s the gist: the CBT put out an updated version of the NIV which did things like translate “men” into “people” in order to more accurately reflect those places where “men” was used to indicate “mankind” rather than gender. There was much denunciation and gnashing of teeth. The Presbyterian Church in America and Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions denouncing the new translation. James Dobson and John Piper sobbed on each other’s lapels. Etc, etc, etc.)

Entire books have been written on this subject (in fact I link to a couple of them in the 2nd paragraph above), so clearly I can only skim the surface of the evidence in just a blog post. But for the sake of those who aren’t going to go read books, I’ll offer a couple of other bits of information which demonstrate that translating aion and aionian as eternal or forever is wrong.

First of all, are there words which DO mean eternal or forever in koine Greek or ancient Hebrew? Yes. And they are never used in reference to punishment, hell fires or anything else upon which the teaching of eternal hell is based. Those teachings are always described using the words aion, aionian and olem. Here’s another handy, dandy chart of words indicating eternity:

To further make the point, we have our old friend Josephus, the Hebrew historian who wrote in the time shortly after Jesus’ death. According to Josephus, at the time of Jesus, the normal Jewish teach was eternal punishment for the wicked. However, when Josephus speaks of this teaching, he doesn’t use aion or aionion (or any of its derivatives like aiona). He says that the Pharisees teach “the souls of the bad are allotted aidios eirgmos, to an eternal prison, and punished with adialeiptos timoria, eternal retribution.” Of the Essenes, Josephus says that they teach, “the souls of the bad are sent to a dark and tempestuous cavern, full of adialeiptos timoria, incessant punishment.” Jesus, on the other hand says in Matthew 5:25 “they will go away to (aionian kolasin)”.

Tomorrow we’ll dig deeper into the difference between “adialeiptos timoria” and Jesus’ “aionian kolasin”. But for now, the take-away from all this talk about kione Greek and translations is this: no where does the bible say that hell is eternal. It speaks of hell, punishment, suffering and such as aionian – for an age. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for olem – Greek aion – an age. 3 days as it turns out. The priesthood of Aaron was to stand for aion – an age. Until it passed to the priesthood of Melchizedek. The bible simply does not speak of eternal hell at all, ever. I know that some of you reading this are thinking, “I know there are verses that can be understood to teach about eternal hell that don’t use the word aion.” And you’re right. There are a few verses such as “unquenchable fire” that can be understood to indicate eternal hell. We’ll be getting to those later. In the meantime, take a look at these 100 bible verses/proofs for the idea of universal salvation. We’ll get to the tiny handful of “lake of fire”, unquenchable fire” and such verses tomorrow.

But the kids have taken my oldest son hostage and are demanding cheesy-poofs in exchange for his release, so I guess this will have to do for now!

*To make things simpler on me, I’m just going to use the transliterations of the Greek and Hebrew words.


28 thoughts on “A Word With One Meaning or 30?

  1. Pingback: Hell Week – Back to the Beginning « The Upside Down World

  2. Another thing about that Hebrew word we translate as ‘forever’… Reading Samuel, Kings, etc. — I keep finding occasions where God simply changes His mind. Circumstances change. Whatever once made a person or his family suitable for some some priestly office ‘forever’ no longer applies, and God passes it on to someone more appropriate. It doesn’t seem to have been an inappropriate choice; there’s probably something about an hereditary priesthood that breeds corruption, cynicism and impiety… “So long as appropriate” seems to be the operational meaning.

    On another hand, forgiving someone 7X7 times… let alone 7X70, does not translate as “God will let you slide for awhile, but 491 strikes and you’re Out!”

    Human nature, and what’s appropriate to us, can change. God’s nature — remains compassionate.


  3. Pingback: Eternal Punishment or An Age of Chastisement? « The Upside Down World

  4. This is one of the things that “contributes” to my doubts the most; if scripture is so important, why would God leave it to interpretation & translation? Somebody is bound to get it right, but in most cases, they will get it wrong. I am not trying to be cynical or confrontational. This really gets me…


    • As a woman, I have thought this same thing many times. Why would God have allowed verses that could be understood to approve of or even require women to be views as subordinate to be in the bible? In the end, I came to see the problem as part of humanity’s problem. We see things as we want them to be (or have been taught that they are) rather than as they are in reality. In a way this problem then becomes a test of who we understand God to be. Is he a God who views half of humanity as less than? Is he a God who created most human beings just to spend eternity suffering in hell? Are we willing to go against the tide of opinion if need be in order to stand up for God as he actually is – if only in our own hearts? For some people it’s as simple as trusting that a God of love will deal rightly. For some there’s a real struggle with demons of power and tribalism and judgement that some of these wrong interpretations and teachings invite them to. And some simply say, “a God like that isn’t good enough” and walk away. Frankly, I often think that people who walk away from the idea of a vengeful, mysogynistic, tribalist god are honoring God more than those who grab onto the power and self-justification offered by such a god.

      Also, the bible does say that creation is such a strong testimony to the truth of God that even those who have never heard a single word of scripture know enough to be judged. I hold a very high view of scripture, but scripture isn’t magic. It doesn’t save anyone. Frankly, many Christians use it as a substitute for actual faith and an actual relationship with God. Which it is never meant to be. Heck, many good and faithful people throughout the ages never read a word of scripture themselves although they loved God with all their hearts. It’s a priviledge to be able to sit around with several copies of the bible and numerous reference books at our finger-tips. But it’s not necessary and probably causes more harm than help to those who try to orient their hearts around it rather than around the Living God.


    • I meant to add re why God doesn’t act to stop such things (like mistranslations and misinterpretations): my understanding is that whatever can be redeemed is allowed. Of course, this is pretty wide-open, but I think that God understands that while he is limitless, we are not. Some people also argue that such misunderstandings are allowed to persist because we have not been sufficiently advanced as human beings to accept or understand them properly. But the truth is present and will be uncovered (or recovered) when we are ready.


  5. If I knew which college you studied Greek, or which textbook you used, I might have a better understanding of why you have written this. I do not know where this came from. The accepted basic meaning of aioon is “eternal”. See, for example, “Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament” by Balz and Schneider. To keep it simple, John 3:16 says “everlasting [ζωην αιωνιον (Wescott-Hort)] life”, which cannot refer to an age with a beginning and end. The many other examples I will leave. I would ask that you might help me out here by letting me know your source of expertise on koine Greek? Thanks, and I don’t want to sound judgmental, it’s just I have studied Greek and Hebrew for years at two universities and think I have an insight into this. Thanks…


    • Well, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? This isn’t something which would be taught at universities using standard texts otherwise it would be a big controversy that everyone had heard of. If you go to the links in the 2nd paragraph, you will find a couple of the texts which document the claims that I am making here. I will get into the details of history on Friday, but the error entered into translations with the introduction of the Latin Vulgate. The King James, being created from the Vulgate and also restricted (by the translator’s own admissions) from making any translations which directly contradict church teachings perpetuate the error. However, if you look through the links I provide, you will see that many scholar’s have recognized that the proper translation is “age”, although they usually add in that it can also mean “eternal” because we already know that hell and heaven are eternal and the word is used in reference to God as well. (This is simply arguing based on what we already know – not coming to a conclusion based on the evidence.) Further, if you look again at my post, you will see that I have charted the words which do indicate eternal or never ending/changing. Those words do indicate that we have eternal life with God, but John 3:16 speaks of the aionian life – the life of the age. Jesus is speaking of the period of time in which his followers will rise and work to establish the new Kingdom he is announcing. (See NT Wright’s King Jesus for a further explanation of this concept.)

      Aside from authority of scholars or texts or universities, we can also look at the way in which the word is used in order to see whether aion/aionian as eternal makes sense. In fact, just by looking in scriptures, we find many places where translating aion/aionian as eternal is self-contradicting. Because I don’t have time at the moment to tract down all the examples, I’ll just quote someone else:
      Furthermore supposing “aeon” and its adjectival form “aeonios” meant “eternal,” consider how illogical the Holy Spirit would appear saying, This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of eternity (aeonios)” (2Tim.1:9) “which God, who does not lie promised before the beginning of eternity (aeonios)” (Tit.1:2); “according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for eternity (aeonios) past” (Rom.16:25); who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil eternity (aeon)” (Gal.1:4); “the harvest is the end of this eternity (aeon)” (Matt.13:39); “who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming eternity (aeon)” Heb.6:5. Suffice it to say that there have been “aeons” in the past, there is the present “aeon,” and there are “aeons” to come.

      Again, while all the standard Christian texts and reference materials will say that aion/aionian means eternal, one need only look at all the wildly different ways which the word gets translated to see that there might be a problem. How can one word me eternal AND world AND course AND never AND the world began, etc. That doesn’t even make sense. On the other hand, simply translating the word as age or age-long/lasting works every single time. Doesn’t that seem strange to you – no matter what your university texts may say?

      Further, when we look at the way the word was used by other Greek writers we see again that the usage always indicated a period of time and not eternity. Again, I have provided links to a couple of texts providing details on this in the 2nd paragraph.

      Also, the link at the bottom of the post explains why aionian life (zoen) refers to something different than our “inheritance incorruptible (aphtharton) and undefiled and that doesn’t fade (amaranton) away.” – 1 Peter 5:4

      I understand that it can be a bit disconcerting to read something which is in complete conflict with what you have been taught from trusted sources. But I think that if you read through the post more closely, the basis for my claims will be clearer. The links I have provided will hopefully further elucidate that I’m really not just making this up out of thin air. Fortunately, there are many valid, compelling sources available to us beyond what is used in Christian education and we have access to the texts themselves to examine as well.


      • 1. Facts are not disconcerting.
        2. Since you did not list your credentials I have to assume you do not know Greek yourself. I do.
        3. Your comment on John 3:16 is interpretation, not translation.
        4. You made the claim that scholars agree the basic meaning of the word is “age”, and I still say, as a scholar and teacher and translator, that is not the case. In context almost every word takes on either different meanings, or different nuances. I do not dispute that in places age can be argued as a valid translation, but that is NOT the basic meaning of the word; that is my point. Your claim is that scholars for hundreds of years have lied, collectively and obviously purposefully. That I refute, as well.
        5. I am an iconoclast. I translate linguistically not theologically. I do not spout a party line on anything. I have proposed translations to phrases in Scripture which have been previously difficult to translate.
        6. The Authorized Version (“King James”) was NOT translated from the Latin Vulgate, but from Hebrew (including Aramaic) and Greek manuscripts.
        7. Your previous work showed a clarity. This one, taking on the entire academic world over vast centuries, does not meet the standard I had found in you. So, are you saying the word must be translated “age” except where that doesn’t work, or that you can interpret to make that translation fit, or are you saying the word CAN be translated “age” along with its basic meaning of “eternal”?


      • Truthfulness does not rest on how many pages you read. Even topnotch scholars submit their research to peers for review and analysis. But on your own you reach a conclusion which even your own references do not support. Theodoret, whom you listed in the last comment, makes it clear that usage and context change meaning. You make sweeping claims and say all scholars agree, which is not true. When I raise points with you, you insult me by saying that I have been duped by learning in a university, for my teachers and colleagues have all been deceived by a centuries-long conspiracy fit as fodder for a Dan Brown novel. You claim nouns have solid meanings, which in the field of linguistics simply is not true. Consider the English words “log” or “organ” to see how variant the meaning can be. Hellenistic Greek (a precursor to koine, uses “aioon” as a proper noun, a name for God, which clearly attests to their giving the word in question the force of eternal. So if you wish to argue that certain cases call for the word to mean “age, with a beginning and end” go for it, but not with hyperbolic claims, condemning scholars and discarding those whose disagreement with you can be silenced by labelling. In the name of Jesus I ask you to consider that your attitude lacks godly love. I shall refrain from further conversation, for my intent was to be helpful. You make it clear you do not need it for you have superior knowledge. I pray for you. “Your wisdom and knowledge have led you astray, so you say to yourself, ‘I’m the only one, and there’s no one else’ ” (Isaiah 47:10 God’s Word).
        This doesn’t need to be posted to your blog, so if you wish you can reply using my email sundaycircle@hotmail.ca. If you wish this on your blog, please edit out my email; I barely keep up with the inbox as it is.


      • Origen, Titus, Clement of Alexandria were all well known as Universalists. The all spoke of aionian punishment for the wicked. As did all of the early church fathers who taught anialation. A simple survey of the text demonstrates that the word aion is used in ways that clearly do not mean “eternal”. This has been subjected to many, many scholars. I didn’t discover it. Not by a long shot. I think that most people who teach believe that it means eternal, but I also think that they are misinformed. I would suggest you check out other modern Christian universalists who have much more time than I do to go through all of this. Thomas Talbot is one. Gregory McDonald is another. Robin Perry blogs about Evangelical Universalism and perhaps would be in a better position to answer your objections:
        As it is, my internet connection is out and I have about 1/2 a day on line at the moment, so I can’t argue any further. Either you agree or not. It’s totally up to you.


      • I naively thought I was in a conversation using the science of linguistics and socio-cultural anthropology. I didn’t realize your whole system of belief was at stake. As I subscribe to no system, creedal or doctrinal, but only the Person of Jesus Christ, I must heed God’s wisdom through Paul, “Remind them of this, and warn them before God, that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.”
        The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 (2 Ti 2:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


      • I did just check this article and link. The only Lee Salisbury I know of is a Christian minister turned atheist. Is that the author of this article?
        It’s premise is errors of translation in the AV (KJV). All translations carry errors, whether it be Bible or anything else. Translation is a painfully difficult task. I still do not find it convincing, even if it is interesting.


      • OK, you are correct – The KJV was not done from the Latin Vulgate. I was thinking of the Wycliffe Bible. My bad. My Greek and Hebrew, such as it is, is self-taught which given my experiences at University is a good thing. I never did learn much in class that I couldn’t teach myself much faster and more thoroughly on my own. Although I will readily admit that I have NO talent for languages. What I am very good at is asking the right questions, hunting down a much wider variety of resources than most people will use and recognizing connections that others often overlook.

        You’d need to look at the links in the 2nd paragraph for a list of scholars’ opinions on the meaning of aion. Here’s a just a few that I have at my fingertips culled from several hundreds of pages I have printed off over the years from many sources:

        Hesychius (lexigrapher who lived sometime between AD 400-600) defines aion: “The life of man, the time of life.”

        Theodoret of Cyrus says “aion is not any existing thing, but an interval denoting time, sometimes infinite when spoken of God, sometimes proportioned to the duration of the creation, and sometimes to the life of man.”

        John of Damascus (AD 750): The life of every man is called aion. The whole duration of life of this world is called aion. The life after resurrection is called the aion to come. – This definition was modified in the 16th century by Phavorinus under instructions by his superiors to include the words: “aion, time, also life, also habit or way of life. Aion is also the eternal and endless as it seems to the theologian.”

        I literally have 6 pages, single spaced sitting in front of me with definitions written by various Greek scholars through the ages saying the same thing.

        I first came across this information over a decade ago, so it’s been an enormous amount of work to cull through it all again and put it into fairly brief essays that are readable and not bogged down by an excess of references. I simply don’t have time at the moment to double check, but I don’t recall any instance where the word aion or aionian is used where using “age” or “age-long/lasting” wouldn’t fit. However, there are many dozens of places where translating aion or aionian into “eternal” clearly makes no sense, thus the multitude of often contradictory ways that the words has been translated. If this were a verb or preposition or some other part of speech other than a simple noun, it would make sense that a wide variety of words might need to be used in order to properly convey the meaning, but a noun is much more straight-forward and should not need to be translated with dozens of often conflicting words.

        As for that link I provided in my last comment, I don’t know who Lee Salisbury is. However, since the quote was simply pointing out bible verses where if aion or aionian had been translated as eternal, they would clearly make no sense, I’m not sure what difference that makes. If I had the time, I could have gone through and found a few dozen other examples myself. I just grabbed a quote I had handy. If Mr. Salisbury is not a reliable source, I have dozens of others and the original language itself which all make the same point. That being that there are many places where translating the word aion as eternal renders the text nonsensical.

        As I said in my first post in the series, I have read several thousands of pages of material on this subject, most of it dense, scholarly and filled with references. And I do commonly hunt down the references used in a work just because, clearly, it is not my habit to trust other people’s translations and claims. Otherwise I would have just looked at my Strong’s and seen that is says aion means eternal and kept on going. I will admit that I rarely take the time to hunt down the background of each author I use, although I do use multiple sources and do my best to hunt down original texts of ancient sources that are referenced by authors. And unlike with more modern authors, I do take the time to look at the background of ancient sources simply because of all the gnostic and apocryphal texts out there. I don’t want to be quoting someone with a fancy Greek name who it turns out was really a follower of Mithras or something! All of which is simply to say that nothing I write depends on one author’s claims. Anything I say has been repeated by many separate sources, not all depending on each other.

        Re John 3:16 I said that it says we have “age-long life” which is a translation and then offered an explanation for why this does not then mean that we do not have eternal life. It was a both/and comment. I didn’t want to just leave the idea that I was denying eternal life hanging out there unaddressed. But the translation is valid.

        Also, it should be noted that in ancient Greek texts outside of the bible, aion quite clearly does not mean eternal. And that there are other words which do indicate eternal. Given how much conflict there can be in the church and how hard it can be to recognize and root out errors within the church, I always look to extra-biblical texts in order to compare how the words are used.

        I’m totally OK if you do not find my arguments credible. After an enormous amount of research I came to the conclusion that I don’t find your arguments credible either. 😉 But part of the problem is that this is the personal blog of a mother of 5. The entire time I have been writing this, I have been interrupted ever 2-3 minutes by children wanting something from me. These posts already take 3-5 hours to write and I simply don’t have the time to provide much more detailed support for what I am saying. So I want to strongly encourage people to check out the links I provide and dig in on their own if they need more verification.


  6. Pingback: Getting back to Hell Week « The Upside Down World

  7. The most used Bible software in the world, Logos, allows you to look up a Greek word online. Cool thing is, it supports what you’re saying! http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?la=greek&l=AI)W%252FNION

    “Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts” is worth reading – although it’s very academic so hard going in places. It’s aim is to look at pretty much every instance of aionios & aidios in Greek texts (NT, LXX & many non-biblical ones). I haven’t finished reading it yet but the impression I’m getting is that in the biblical texts particularly, most of the occurrences of aionios don’t need to be translated everlasting, actually the opposite is true – doing so would result in illogical sentences or statements we can show are false! At the very, very least aionios doesn’t clearly, unambiguously mean “everlasting”, so if that’s what they really meant, then they’ve failed in their duty of care to adequately warn us.

    Btw, the “You’re not a Greek expert!” criticism that we’ve both gotten isn’t really valid, as we can reference Greek experts (like Origen!) who already had come to the same conclusion. However, I’ve started learning Koine Greek just to make sure for myself (I suspect opponents will disregard what we say even if we have PHDs!).


    • You seem blissfully unaware that Origen was a heretic. You also seem blissfully unaware that quantity of research is no substitute for quality. Without a firm foundation of koine Greek and ancient Hebrew in place, anything either of you write on this subject will be highly suspect, especially since you are trying to overthrow beliefs that were based on sound exegetical and hermeneutical practices by men trained to do that very thing.


      • I can see you haven’t read through the entire series as I go into Origin’s status as a heretic in a later post. You might want to read the entire series, as well as at least glance through the links before responding, if you’re attempting to be critical of what I’m writing. Otherwise it will be clear that you’re more intent on taking potshots than responding to the actual evidence.


  8. Do you also post articles from guests, i really liked your community and was wondering if i can contribute her


  9. Pingback: Let’s Talk Prophecy and End Times « The Upside Down World

  10. Well thought out and written. I must ask this question of you as you work through this. What does this do for verses like John 3:16 (the promise of “aionian” life) and 1 John 5:13?

    Are you also a believer that the life that Jesus provides for us is not eternal? If so, how do you separate the meanings of these same words in the verses that describe the eternal life that God grants us? Would not the death that is born to us from Adam be even more victorious if the sacrifice Jesus makes only covers us for a season?


    • That’s a good question. I know I have an article around here that covers the topic which I’ll pass on if I can find it. It’s been over a decade since I seriously studied this issue though, so I’ll share my functional understanding of it.

      I think that our life in union with God does not end. The third chart above gives examples of a couple of bible verses which say as much. I think we arrive at this union with God through salvation in Jesus. While the western church tends to see salvation as a one time event which secures our place in heaven, salvation has long been understood as theosis. Theosis means being purified and redeemed to our true nature which is the likeness of God. (I have a post explaining this: https://theupsidedownworld.com/2012/05/18/what-is-salvation-anyways/.) Various Christian writers like John of the Cross have described their experience of going through this process and it’s still actively taught in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

      My understanding is that aionian zoe, or age long life/eternal life refers to the time that we are undergoing the process of theosis. It is a positive, life affirming process, although by no means easy. It is the working out of salvation with fear and trembling. Aionian zoe, as opposed to aionian kolasin, happens through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and in the presence of Chrst. Aionian kolasin has the effect of destroying what is not of God through a process of destruction as in fire, but must be endured in the darkness unlike with aionian zoe.

      The best illustration of this process is found in 1 Corinthians 3:
      For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

      So all will be brought to salvation (or theosis) because of the foundation laid by Christ, but the experience of reaching it through aionian zoe and aionian kolasin are quite different. One is marked by life and the building of that which endures and the other is marked by darkness and the loss of a life built with that which is not of God.

      I hope that helps. Please feel free to pass on any other challenges or questions you have. I studied this issue from every angle I could conceive of and now have more information in my head than I could ever get out in my writing. So odds are I at least have some sort of answer for any concern you might have. Which isn’t to say that you will find all of my answers convincing or satisfying, of course. Blessings!


  11. It is impossible for anyone trained in the Biblical languages to take this article, and therefore, you, serious. It is an outrageous and ignorant handling of the language of both testaments conducted by a woman on a mission NOT to learn something or to discover truth, but obviously to try and slant every piece of evidence she can to prop her incredibly weak argument. If one really wants to understand what the bible is talking about when it talks about hell, this is not the place to get it.


    • LOL. Now there’s an argument that can’t be denied! Such substance! Such insight! Such evidence! Who can not be convinced?

      If it’s any comfort to you, the scholars who I relied on in my studies were men. I know my menstrual-ness is a grave distraction from the glory of the penis bearers and their authority. I do so apologize.

      At any rate, unless you have some actual argument to make with actual information, I’m going to start trashing your comments.


    • Hubris much, Edward? Visited your blog to verify your academic credentials (apparently non-existent, or without a recognized credentialing body, not sure which as you offer no info.), but nice Greek in the header! And I got it…yours is the horribly twisted “reformed” position, neo-Cal, “complementarian”, and indefensively unbiblical. You claim to be a biblical scholar yet you default to the teachings of a group of contemporary authors (Piper, Mohler, MacArthur ring a bell?). You twist every scripture to enslave and then project that slanting onto Rebecca. I think I’ll hang out here. This has been a great place to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t care who you are but that there was really funny. Sorry just had to say that about that last comment. Okay so i know this is an old post but it’s new to me. Anyhow my point is that thanks for sharing with us. I just recently (4 months ago) came to learn that God is way better than I ever thought (to put it mildly). Knowing that God will reconcile ALL really blows my mind. I wasn’t really looking to find this, but rather God’s truth found me on this. (long story)
    Several things on your blog we ( a friend I have shared this with) resonate with. One thing I guess that stands out more than anything is that my relationship with him is growing exponentially. It’s like “It’s all taken care of ! ”
    I wish that I could put it into better words. Suffice to say it’s like being born again again. Anyhow may God bless you and your family 🙂
    BTW I grew up in Crystal Lake Ill. (hated the cold weather) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. As soon as I started reading about aion, before scanning down, I though of olam. The problem is that the word really can mean different things; ad olam, for ever, but ha-olam ha-zeh this world, as opposed to ha-olam ha-ba, the world to come. So translating (and even reading, for a native speaker) does involve interpreting. You cannot assume that the same word means the same thing, but when someone assumes that on different occasions it means different things, you can reasonably ask why.

    Not sure this helps


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