From Here to Eternity

THE ABSURDITIES AND INCONSISTENCIES OF “FOREVER”

The concept of eternity is a difficult one. For instance, is it time without an end, time with no beginning or end, or is it the complete absence of time or, maybe the transcendence of time? Any way you slice it, it is an abstract idea that we have been wrestling with since Plato first introduced the concept. Yes, Plato the Greek philosopher, introduced the idea of “eternity”.

Today, in scholarly circles, discussions about the meaning of eternity center around Medieval philosophical and theological reflection on the Latin word aeternitas, the word from which our “eternity” comes. More than just its predecessor, however, aeternitas was the catalyst for the idea in scripture. It was the Latin Vulgate, published in AD 400, that first juxtaposed the Greek sense of eternity upon scriptural teaching regarding the afterlife.

The ancient Hebrews had no such notion of endlessness and, as such, the Old Testament, in the original language, is all but void of the concept as well. The ancient Jews believed in a resurrection of the dead but had no clear view of what that looked like (Daniel 12:2).

By extension, the writers of the New Testament do not present an abstract and developed sense of eternity either. They present the future in a basic linear form – ages. When they use the Greek aion or one of its derivatives, very simply, they are talking about an “age” or “ages”. Tou aionas ton aionon, or “to the age of the ages” is about as complicated as it gets.

On the other hand, “forever”, “eternal” and “everlasting” are very complicated, abstract concepts which have their root in Greek philosophy. Like the concept of infinity, these ideas are fun to entertain, but none of them exist in real life and have no place in the scripture obscuring the simplicity of ages and dispensations.

Abstract concepts often become absurd when they invade the world of real things. Take the idea of infinity, for instance, and inject it into mathematics:

  • Let’s say I have an infinite number of marbles (Do I sound like your teacher?) and I want to give you all the even numbered ones. What would that look like?
  • Now let’s say I have an infinite number of marbles and I want to give you all but four of them. What would that look like?
  • Finally, let’s say I have an infinite number of marbles and I want to give you all of them. What would that look like?

Mathematically, you cannot have an equation with three unique correct answers. As shown by this simple exercise, infinity is an abstract concept that exists only in the realm of speculation.

In the scriptures, these abstract concepts often violate the simplicity of the message, and we end up with absurdities and contradictions. Here are a few:

And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, ‘Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.’ And presently the fig tree withered away. (Matthew 21:19)

“Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” KJV (above)

“Let there be never more fruit of thee for ever.” DARBY

“May fruit no longer come from you— forever” DLNT

“May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” DRA

“Let no fruit grow on thee from now on for ever” JUB

“May there be no more fruit from you forever” LEB

The Greek aion is rendered in this passage as “forever”. Jesus curses the tree making it barren from then on, “forever”. Is that tree really going to live eternally? That is what the passage is saying – it is the barrenness of the tree that is forever. By extension, the tree must live barren forever. I realize the tree withered away, but just like any tree dried up and presumed dead, watering it will cause sprouts to grow and, given enough time, the tree would be fully revived.

We run into problems when English translators of the New Testament render the Greek aion and its derivatives as “forever” or “everlasting”. The King James does so with 121 occurrences of the word. We also find it problematic that aion was rendered “world” on 40 more occasions.

First, the Greeks had a word for “world”; kosmos has been translated such 187 times in the New Testament. Clearly, favored by NT writers when dealing with the physical world, kosmos, was an appropriate word available to them. But they chose aion in those 40 passages because “age” or “ages” is what the writers meant.

Inconsistencies like the following come up. These passages in the New Testament in which aion is rendered “world” indicate that it does NOT last forever:

  • And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [aion]? (Matthew 24:3)
  • The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world [aion]; and the reapers are the angels (Matthew 13:39)
  • Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world [aion]. Amen. (Matthew 28:20)

However, we have these passages that seem to indicate the opposite:

  • Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world [aion] without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21)
  • One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4)

That aion should be rendered “age” and cannot be rendered “forever” or “eternity” seems obvious when you realize the context of many passages of scripture containing the word describe it in terms of duration (forever has no duration):

  • Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the [age] to come life everlasting. (Luke 18:30) The period referred to here has not arrived yet.
  • The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the [age]; and the reapers are the angels (Matthew 13:39) This present period has an end.
  • That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7) Here we have multiple predetermined periods of time coming.
  • Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this [age], but also in that which is to come: (Ephesians 1:21) Referenced here, in one passage, are two periods of time – the present period and one that is yet to come.
  • But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the [age] unto our glory: (1 Corinthians 2:7) God was working before the present period started.

It seems to me that we couldn’t have “the end of eternity” and what exactly would “in the forevers to come” mean. Certainly, a phrase like, “not only in this eternity, but also in the eternity to come” is just absurd.

More absurdity would ensue in passages like these when aion (which should be rendered “age” or “ages”) is translated, “forever”:

  • …upon whom the ends of the [forever] are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
  • …which God, that cannot lie, promised before the [forever] began (Titus 1:2)
  • …which from the beginning of the [forever] hath been hid in God (Ephesians 3:9)
  • I will eat no flesh while the [forever] standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:13)
  • …we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present [forever] (Titus 2:12)

As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: (Luke 1:70)

The promise to raise up a horn of salvation in the House of David and to remember the oath sworn to Abraham are promises of God spoken through the holy prophets of Israel which did not exist since the “world” began. However, Zacharias, living at the close of an age, could accurately speak of the prophets which have been since the “age” began. A rendering of aion here as “world” does not fit. (Luke 1:67-73)

Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:21)

Akin to the comment on Luke 1:70 above, rendering aion “world” creates a scriptural inconsistency. God spoke of the restitution of all things through the holy prophets since the beginning of the “age” or “ages”. Technically, there have been no prophets that were around “since the world began”.

Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:13)

The idea that Paul said that he would “… eat no flesh while the world standeth” or “forever” doesn’t seem cohesive. But, “I will eat no meat to the age” or “as long as I live”, seems more coherent. The ancient Greek writers saw aion as “a period of time”, a “generation”, “life” or “lifespan”, so this fits contextually rather than Paul declaring that he will abstain from meat until the end of the world.

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever. (Philemon 1:15)

Paul, advocating for the servant of a man named Philemon, reasoned that the servant left the household for a time to prepare to work there for life (the age). There would seem to be an uneasy translation that would have the servant working there forever. Aion is better rendered “age” than “forever”.

And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. (Jude 1:6)

The passage itself supports chains that last only to the end of the age until the judgement of the great day. “…he hath reserved in [age-lasting] chains under darkness.”

The New Testament writers, inspired by God, chose aion to describe periods of time with definitive duration – ages. When translators rendered aion “forever” or “everlasting” to preserve their understanding of eschatology, inconsistencies and absurdities ensued and the rendering of the word as “world” wasn’t any better.

Most of the latest English translators of the New Testament have followed the theology of the 4th century Latin Vulgate and the early English translations; Wycliffe (1380), Tyndale (1525), Geneva (1560) and the King James (1611) when rendering the Greek aion as “forever” or “everlasting”. Research of the etymology of the word supports a rendering of “age” or “age-lasting” and doing so avoids the inconsistencies and absurdities above, but it also decimates the doctrine of eternal punishment. Passages of scripture that describe “everlasting” punishment and torment lasting “forever” based upon an improper rendering of the Greek aion are being reexamined with a fresh eye toward Universal Reconciliation.

One of the few arguments against Universal Reconciliation is “forever” and “everlasting”. Without rendering aion as such, very little gets in the way of the idea that God will reconcile all things to Himself in the end (Colossians 1:15-20). A flood of scripture in support of Universal Reconciliation is held back only by a cracking and corroded dam of misapplied scripture and incorrectly rendered Greek. Truth cannot be restrained indefinitely and when that levy breaks, the good news of the universal reconciliation of all humanity will come flowing over the dry ground scorched by fire and brimstone preaching of what is about to be a bygone era. The glory of God in all His power and love will shine all over the world.