Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Using the Word "Aionios" to Unlock the Future
The pagan meaning invaded the biblical view and overcame it when Platonically-minded church leaders, notably Augustine, brought about a grand fusion of the Bible with pagan philosophy -- a form of spiritual drug which continues to make Bible reading difficult for church members who, unwillingly, have fallen under the spell of that dangerous mixture of the Bible and Plato.
by HOIM Staff
Two things struck me recently as evidence that the Bible is not holding its own against the winds of theological confusion which are blowing so violently. Firstly, an article in the Brethren Life Magazine in which only one of ten writers grappling with the issue of homosexuality felt able actually to include in his assessment of the problem the fact that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin serious enough to keep you out of the Kingdom (salvation) (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Secondly, an article which presented statistics to show that the "born again" camp in America does not behave markedly better in terms of divorce and other problems than the group which claims no rebirth experience!
If believers really understood what was at stake in being a Christian, I am sure they would find the resources to be radically different from the world. The trouble is, I think, that many do not grasp the awesome nature of their destiny as co-regents with the Messiah in the coming Kingdom of YEHOVAH God. They cannot thrill to Paul's challenge that we should behave in a manner worthy of the staggering invitation we have been given to the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God -- notice!
"...that you would have a walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory" (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
Until the Kingdom comes into focus in people's spiritual vision, the situation is likely to remain unchanged. In this brief study I suggest that the foggy translation of a key Greek word keeps Bible readers in the dark about their future and the future of the world.
In 1855 Charles Kingsley (clergyman and author of The Water Babies and Hereward the Wake) helped to dispel the darkness with which Platonism and its philosophy had shrouded the truth of Scripture in regard to the future. He declared,
"The word 'AION' [age] is never used in Scripture or anywhere else in the sense of endlessness (vulgarly called eternity). It always meant, both in Scripture and out, a period of time...aionios (the adjective from aion) therefore means, and must mean, belonging to an epoch, or the epoch; aionios kolasis [appearing as "eternal punishment" in our versions, Matthew 25:46; cp. 2 Thessalonians 1:9] is the punishment allotted to that epoch."
It is false, he maintained, to translate that phrase as "everlasting punishment," introducing into the New Testament the concept found in the Islamic Quran that God is going to torture the wicked forever.
Tradition rose to oppose this idea when Dr. Pusey preached a sermon at Oxford to maintain that aionios ("ay-ohn-ios") in classical Greek does mean endlessness. But classical Greek is a poor measure of the Hebrew oriented New Testament language. Samuel Cox (editor of The Expositor) replied by pointing out that
"the word AION is saturated through and through with the thought and element of time. The adjective aionios must take the whole of its meaning from the noun AION from which it is derived. In the New Testament the word is used in connection with the Jewish doctrine of the two aeons. Instead of affirming that time shall be no more when men pass out of this present order and age, the New Testament speaks of 'ages to come' as well as 'ages that are past.'"
The Bible recognizes the patriarchal age, the Mosaic age and in the future, "the age to come" of the Messiah. No wonder then that Paul spoke of YEHOVAH's "purpose for the ages." Aionios refers to the great age to come and YEHOVAH's great purpose for "that age" (Luke 20:35). The age to come is the age of the manifested Kingdom of YEHOVAH God on earth (Matthew 5:5; Revelation 5:10). Yeshua will introduce it at his future appearance on this earth.
In 1877 Cannon Farrar added the weight of his scholarship to the emerging light of truth by asserting that "it has been so ably proved by so many writers that there is no authority whatever for rendering aionios as 'everlasting."' Nevertheless the public continued to read in their standard translations that YEHOVAH God is going to usher the wicked into "everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46), and that the same wicked would suffer "eternal punishment." In this way the fog of Platonism continued to interfere with the inspired word.
The public was getting poisoned food instead of the pure wheat of the Word. The Bible could not be heard clearly while the confusion of Greek philosophical concepts jammed the pure Hebrew signals of YEHOVAH's Scripture. The truth for which Paul struggled so valiantly continued to be smothered by popular "religion," which preferred what it had always believed to the challenge of discovery and enlightenment. And as long as the doctrine of eternal punishment was promoted YEHOVAH God was presented as some kind of evil, cosmic fiend.
Derivation of the Word AIONIOS
Moulton and Milligan contend that the Sanskrit aye, to which aionios is related, contains the idea of life and long life. In the Septuagint (LXX), AION (age) translates no less than nine different Hebrew expressions, of which the one most familiar to Jews is the famous word OLAM = age. Interestingly, in the vocabulary of Plato the word AION applies to things belonging to the world of eternal ideas -- the core of Plato's philosophy of the world. It is that pagan meaning which has been foisted on our translations, as though Platonic metaphysics are the basis of what the prophets and Yeshua the Messiah said about the future!
Little wonder, then, that people expect souls to enter at death an eternal, timeless heavenly realm. But nobody would have received that impression from the Bible, if aionios had been allowed to retain its Hebraic association with YEHOVAH's plan of the ages. What the Bible promises believers is NEVER "heaven" as a place for disembodied souls at death, but the "life of the age to come" consequent upon resurrection into the Kingdom to be established on earth when the Messiah appears (see 1 Corinthians 15:23; Revelation 5:10).
Platonically-minded Bible writers and thinkers, then, will use aionios in the transcendent and timeless sense in which Plato used it. But the word deserves to be heard in its Hebraic environment. In Bible times we shall naturally find the pagan, Platonic meaning current in Alexandria, that great home of Platonizing philosophy -- and also in the writings of the philosophically-minded first-century Jew, Philo. The pagan meaning invaded the biblical view and overcame it when Platonically-minded church leaders, notably Augustine, brought about a grand fusion of the Bible with pagan philosophy -- a form of spiritual drug which continues to make Bible reading difficult for church members who, unwillingly, have fallen under the spell of that dangerous mixture of the Bible and Plato.
Paul did say, "Beware of philosophy and empty deceit" (Colossians 2:8). It is not clear to us that church members are even aware of Paul's solemn warning. They do not seem exercised about the possible baneful effects of a counterfeit Greek philosophical theology which is utterly foreign to the Hebrew mind of the Jew and Master Rabbi Yeshua.
Use of the Word AIONIOS ("Belonging to the Future Age of the Kingdom")
In the LXX (Greek version of the Old Testament) aionios occurs over 160 times. One of these texts is of paramount interest to us: Daniel 12:2, where aionios describes the resurrection life of those who emerge from their sleep of death in the dust of the ground. Here aionios modifies zoe ("zoh-ee," life) and it is this famous phrase which was so often on the Messiah's lips and appears 40 times in the New Testament, along with other phrases endorsed by Yeshua and drawn from Daniel, i.e., San of Man and Kingdom of Heaven, etc. Daniel provided the Messiah with a storehouse of phrases and ideas -- all of which have been distorted or ignored by Platonically oriented theology.
The phrases "eternal life" and "everlasting Me" appear in our standard translations. They reflect the Platonizing influence at work on translators -- and indeed on Christianity in general. The real meaning of these phrases is "the life of the age to come" or "life in the age to come." Life in the age to come is synonymous with life in the future Kingdom of YEHOVAH God on the earth. The "life of the age to come" gives the right sense for Daniel's "life of the age" (Daniel 12:2). This is the Christian hope and the heart of the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is the Life of the Age following the resurrection of the dead from the sleep of death (I Corinthians 15:23).
It is thus properly "the Life of the future Age." That life can be tasted even now in anticipation -- thanks to the presence of the spirit of YEHOVAH God in our lives. The Life of the Age to Come is equivalent to immortality, and it will be experienced in full only at the inauguration of the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God on earth consequent upon the future appearance of the Messiah. The concept is in direct contradiction of the popular idea that "immortal souls" are currently enjoying "bliss" in a far-off heaven. "Heaven in fact is never used in the Bible for the destination of the dying" (Prof. J. A. T. Robinson, In the End God, p. 104).
In Daniel aionios refers to the Kingdom to be set up at the future appearance of the Messiah. In 7:14 we are told of the "dominion of the age [to come]." In 7:27 we read of the "kingdom of the age to come," and in 9:24 of the "righteousness of the ages to come," to be introduced at the end of the "seventy sevens." Daniel 12:2 reveals that in that Kingdom the resurrected saints will obtain "the life of the age to come." The contrasted fate of the wicked is to be "the shame of the age to come," that is, the punishment which excludes a person from enjoying the life of the age to come, the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God. It is that wonderful phrase chaye olam (Daniel 12:2), "the life of the age," which comes across into our New Testament. It should be rendered always as "the life of the future Kingdom age." It is indeed immortality -- but it is much more specific!
Aionios tells us that we are going to enjoy life forever in the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God which belongs to the coming age. The translation "eternal, everlasting" loses information and obscures the Christian destiny. It is like the difference between "Tomorrow at nine I am going to take you to the airport to catch your plane to Tokyo," and "Sometime in the future you are going to take a trip." Christians need to be informed about what their hope is. Hope is the basis of faith and love according to Paul in Colossians 1:4, 5.
Aionios is the word which describes those precious facts of the Christian future. Those wonderful events associated with the future coming of Yeshua the Messiah and YEHOVAH God can be tasted now through the spirit which grants a down payment guaranteeing the fullness of the spirit at the return of the Messiah and YEHOVAH God. The holy spirit gives us a taste of the "powers of the age to come [the future aion]" (Hebrews 6:5).
That future age will see the new-born world of the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God, a reorganized political theocracy (Matthew 19:28), and the restoration of all that the prophets foresaw (Acts 3:21; cp. Acts 1:6). The tribes of Israel will be re-gathered in the land and the resurrected apostles will administer them in association with Yeshua as the Davidic Messiah (Luke 22:28-30) and YEHOVAH God the Father Himself who will be residing in the newly built Temple in Jerusalem.
Things described as aionios are things which "pertain to the coming age of the Kingdom of God on earth." Try now substituting that translation of aionios wherever it appears (as "everlasting" or "eternal"). You will see how prominent the future Kingdom age is in the New Testament. The Bible is indeed a forward-looking book, brimming over with hope for a better world to come on this planet. What Christians are to seek as the supreme reward of faithfulness is the Life of the Age to Come in the Kingdom.
Christians are called not only to be in the Kingdom but to be the Kingdom -- the royal family of priests and kings to assist Yeshua the Messiah in the reordering of our disordered earth (Revelation 1:6; 2:26; 3:21; 5:10; 20:1-6; 1 Corinthians 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:12; Isaiah 32:1; Daniel 7:14, 18, 22, 27). The Gospel of the Kingdom is rightly called "the Gospel about the Age to Come" (Revelation 14:6), inadequately translated as "everlasting Gospel."
Nigel Turner, celebrated author of Christian Words and of Moulton, Milligan and Turner's Grammar of New Testament Greek, says: "Christians do not suppose that the Gospel lasts forever. Rather it is the Gospel of or concerning the Kingdom age (Rev. 14:6)" (Christian Words, p 456).
Now try applying this meaning of aionios to the book of Hebrews. In 5:9 we have the salvation which pertains to the coming age, in 6:2 the judgment or administration of that coming age. 9:12 speaks of the redemption of the coming age and 9:14 designates the (holy) spirit as the spirit of the age to come. Most appropriately, 9:15 speaks of the inheritance (of the Kingdom) of the future age, and 13:20 tells us that the New Covenant has to do with the age to come.
The Messiah himself spoke of the covenant of the Kingdom and kingship which conferred the right to rule on himself and the apostles. We find this in Luke 22:28-30:
"Just as my Father has covenanted to me a Kingdom so I covenant with you a Kingdom."
This Messianic covenant -- "God has covenanted a Kingdom to me" -- is the climax of the earlier Abrahamic covenant -- the promise of land and descendants (Genesis 12:1-4), and the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 17) -- the promise of a perpetual royal family. The Bible is principally about the Land (Israel) and the King of that Land, the Messiah Yeshua.
Finally aionios -- properly translated -- will dispel the monstrous idea that YEHOVAH God is intending to torture human beings forever and ever. The punishment to be inflicted on the incorrigibly wicked is "aionian fire" (Matthew 25:41). It would be quite wrong to think of this as everlasting fire. The very same expression is found in Jude 7, where we learn that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the penalty of "eternal fire" (so the KJV, etc.). But was that fire literally everlasting? Of course not! It has long since ceased to burn. It was in fact "the fire of the age to come," "aionian fire," "supernatural fire," which will likewise burn up the wicked, consume them as smoke (Psalm 37:20) and reduce them to ashes (Malachi 4:3).
The ruin of Sodom is the model for the future ruin of the present wicked world. This judgment will happen when the Messiah comes back (2 Thessalonians 2:7-9). "Everlasting (aionios) destruction" really means "the destruction to be brought about when the age to come arrives." There is no support for popular ideas about "eternal punishment" here. In Revelation the word "torture" carries a meaning slightly different from our meaning. The city of Babylon is to undergo "torment" (Revelation 18:7) -- which is equivalent to being "burned up with fire" (v. 8). It connotes sudden and permanent destruction (vv. 9, 10).
Christians should take time to show their friends and neighbors these keys to understanding YEHOVAH's wonderful plans for the future. A proper understanding of aionios sheds a brilliant light on YEHOVAH's revelation. This information is readily available to truth seekers. As early as 1889 the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges stated: "The adjective aionios ('everlasting') does not in itself mean 'unending''' (Matthew, p. 196). This applies to the same adjective aionios in Daniel 12:2 where the future life of Christians is the life of the age to come. Aionios also describes the fire which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah thousands of years ago. The fire was not "everlasting" (Jude 7).
The world famous scholar of New Testament Greek, the late Nigel Turner, Ph. D, says:
"It would be imprecise to translate oionios as 'eternal.' It means 'belonging to the future age or dispensation"' (Christian Words, T & T Clark, 1980, pp. 452, 455, 456).
He was right. Often these gems of understanding go no further than learned books. They belong in preaching and teaching. The public needs to be informed of basic facts of faith.
Translations of the Bible may sometimes reflect not the truth of the inspired original but merely a prejudice in favor of established traditional doctrine. One of the tasks of the Bible scholar is to expose such misinformation. The Bible must be rescued from the corrupting influence of paganism which hit the church from the second century onwards. That paganism has affected Christianity in all of its central doctrines, including the doctrine of YEHOVAH God -- but that is another story.
Of crucial importance is a clear understanding of the Message of the New Testament. It might just be that potential believers are hindered from an encounter with the Messiah, precisely because current presentations of the faith offer a meaningless disembodied existence in a vague "heaven," or an unending conscious existence in a tormenting fire for the wicked. The Messiah spoke clearly and Hebraicly when -- quoting the fascinating Psalm 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34 -- he offered the faithful an invitation to "have the earth as their inheritance" (Matthew 5:5; cp. Revelation 5:10). The same Psalm tells us that the wicked will "vanish away like smoke" (v. 20).
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Courage for the Sake of Truth is Better Than Silence for the Sake of Unity.
|Scan with your