Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but this is my one aim:
to forget everything that's behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what lies ahead.
I press on toward the finish line, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God
IN KING JESUS.
by – Stuart H. Pouliot
August 11, 2013
Eonian Judgment—New Age, Liberal Theology or Not?
Recently, a brother in Christ attempted to share with another believer about the ultimate salvation of all
mankind and the error of believing in the modern-day concept of hell as a place of literal fire and worms.
Knowing this brother, along the way, he probably also mentioned the concept of eonian as it relates to
the age and ages. Well, the one receiving this word did not take it too kindly and informed church
leadership, which led to an inquisition of the brother who had shared it. They demanded: Where did you
get this? Where did this come from; we never heard of this? There was such an indignant rise against this
understanding of scripture that the leader (head pastor) felt the need to refute it from the pulpit, which
was labeled as new age, liberal theology .
Interestingly, about a year before this incident, I shared similar thoughts with men of this same local
assembly. The initial reaction was on the same order. Actually, I thought some of them were going to run
from the room screaming. But things settled down and I was able to meet with these men without conflict
for the next year. Some knew what I believed and they accepted me in the group. Unfortunately, I met
with another group of men from the same assembly, but it did not turn out quite the same, and I stopped
meeting with them. I will leave it at this. Needless to say, an open dialogue on this subject is not welcomed
at this local assembly, and in my further experience very few, if any, gatherings.
The purpose of this issue is not to air dirty laundry, so to speak, but to key off the question that is often
asked: Where did this come from? We could add another question that goes along with this one: Is this
something new? You see, the tradition of men has so permeated Christian teaching in our day that, when
it is challenged, it is not unusual that there is a great push-back on it. Rather than search it out, many
choose to brand it as something new, something liberal . This is especially true of those who hold to the
tradition of men that says billions upon billions of mankind are going to face eternal punishment or
judgment, a never-ending judgment likened to torture with absolutely no chance of reprieve or release.
Simply, God is going to toast them forever and ever.
Of course, if you have read any of my material, you know that I see judgment as eonian or age-during (i.e.,
limited in duration), based on the Greek words aion and aionian .
Now, I have some news for you regarding the source of eonian judgment, besides the obvious fact that it
is in scripture. Would it surprise you to know that the early Greek church held eonian judgment to be the
truth, meaning it is not some new age, church doctrine of our day?
The early church was split by language, the Greek-speaking in the east (Constantinople) and the Latin-
speaking in the west (Rome). The Greeks understood that kolasin aionian referred to eonian or age-during
judgment ; thus, they did not hold to endless punishment. The Greek root word for kolasin is kolazo , which
means "to curtail; thus, to prune; figuratively to chastise, restrain." Thus, it signifies a chastening or
pruning, which is a far cry from endless torture. However, this was not universally understood, especially
in the western Latin church where the concept of eternal or endless judgment took hold. We could say
that the controversy centered on the meaning of the word aionion .
Eonian Judgment—New Age, Liberal Theology or Not?
In the early fifth century, Jerome translated the Greek new testament into what is known as the Latin
Vulgate , and the Latin word aeternum was used to translate the Greek word aionion . However, aeternum
can mean either unending time or an age or eon , as in a limited period of time. In a sense, both meanings
incorporate the concept of time, but practically speaking, unending time is eternal.
Unfortunately, Augustine, a contemporary of Jerome, was virtually ignorant of Greek, as noted in the book
Augustine of Hippo by historian Peter Brown: Augustine's failure to learn Greek was a momentous casualty
of the late Roman educational system; he will become the only Latin philosopher in antiquity to be virtually
ignorant of Greek. Now, when Augustine read the Vulgate , he chose to interpret the word aeternum to
mean "eternal" or "endless," rather than an "age" or "a period of indefinite time." From this, he made
judgment eternal and not eonian. It is said that Augustine nearly abandoned this understanding later in
his life, but the damage had been done, and the Latin church made it a tradition that has stood to this day
and permeated a vast majority of Christian teaching.
However, Augustine knew the argument of eternal verses eonian judgment as evidenced by what he
wrote in City of God :
"For Christ said in the very same place, including both in one and the same sentence: 'So these will
go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.' If both are eternal, then surely both
must be understood as 'long,' but having an end, or else as 'everlasting' without an end. For they
are matched with each other. In one clause eternal punishment, in the other eternal life. (To say)
'eternal life shall be without end, (but) eternal punishment will have an end' is utterly absurd. Hence,
since eternal life of the saints will be without end, eternal punishment also will surely have no end,
for those whose lot it is."
Based on common logic, his argument is sound. If life is eternal then judgment must be so also. If life is
eonian then judgment must be so also. However, this does not change the fact that the argument rests
entirely on the Greek meaning of aionion , not on the Latin meaning. In other words, the Latin
interpretation of the Greek word does not necessarily make it the correct meaning, especially if it is
contrary to the Greek.
The fact that the early fathers of the Greek-speaking church believed that judgment was age-during was
not lost on Augustine and Jerome. Augustine wrote that very many who, though not denying the Holy
Spirit, do not believe in endless torments . Jerome wrote: I know that most persons understand by the story
of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the adversary and all rational creatures . These are
amazing admissions by these fathers of the Latin church. Note that they acknowledged many and most
held to eonian judgment, not a few. Ultimately, ALL are forgiven! Today, it is just the opposite as many
and most hold to eternal judgment and only a few being forgiven.
So, the next time the question of "where did this come from" is posed to me, I am going to respond that
it came from the early Greek-speaking church prior to the fourth-fifth century. However, I won't stop
there, for I am going to ask the same question of them regarding eternal judgment. What is your answer?
You are encouraged to research this topic on your own; there are plenty of good resources on the subject.