THE UPWARD CALL
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;
but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
IN CHRIST JESUS.
(Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)
by – Stuart H. Pouliot
August 11 , 2013
Is Eonian Judgment New Age, Liberal Theology?
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.
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, especially of late, you know that I see judgment as
eonian or age-during (i.e., limited in duration), based on the Greek words aion and aionian . Please see,
articles #57 and #58.
Now, I have some news for you regarding the source of eonian judgment, beside 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
Is Eonian Judgment New Age, Liberal Theology?
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 .
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