"Eternal Punishment"—the punishment of the age to come

I have just had the following monograph pointed out to me:

Ilaria Ramelli, David Konstan, Terms for Eternity: aiônios and aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007.

Ilaria Ramelli is Assistant Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan. David Konstan is the John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition, and Professor of Comparative Literature, at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

The book examines the use of two Greek terms in classical Greek literature, LXX, NT, and early Christian literature.

I have not yet read it but I have read a few online overviews and reviews. I was encouraged to see that they argue that:

"Apart from the Platonic philosophical vocabulary, which is specific to few authors, aiónios does not mean 'eternal'; it acquires this meaning only when it refers to God, and only because the notion of eternity was included in the conception of God: for the rest, it has a wide range of meanings and its possible renderings are multiple, but it does not mean 'eternal.' In particular when it is associated with life or punishment, in the Bible and in Christian authors who keep themselves close to the biblical usage, it denotes their belonging to the world to come” (p. 238).

That is exactly in line with what I argued (very briefly) in The Evangelical Universalist. There I proposed that "eternal" life and "eternal" punishment made no reference to the duration of the life or punishment but only that the life and punishment are the life and punishment that belong to (i.e., occur during and are appropriate to) the age to come. So I am encouraged to find such a thorough academic study coming to the same conclusion.


Mike Gantt said…
Robin, thanks for bringing this to light.

I myself have often wondered the following: since the worldview of Jesus' fellow 1st Century Jews naturally included the reality of judgments from God on nation and individual, what went on in their minds when they heard the word "eternal" put in front of it - for I am confident that they didn't think of "eternal judgment" the way we do.
MikeG said…
That's awesome! I had come to that understanding, but it's good to know that others think it too! It makes a lot of sense given the number of things "eternal" is used to describe.
Anonymous said…
Thank you! -- good to know about this study.

At the moment I'm going through "Life Time Entirety" by Helena Keisar, based on her PhD. She comes to the similar conclusion.

My only "beef" is that we should clean up our vocabulary, by distinguishing very clearly between the words "eternal" and "everlasting".

For example, I feel it's just confusing to say to someone "I don't believe in eternal punishment" when all the modern Bibles are using "eternal punishment" in Matt. 25:46?

What I really want to say is "I don't believe in everlasting punishment -- never ending punishment".

My appeal to everyone of us is to reserve the word "eternal" for "of the Age to Come". Please let's not muddy the waters by using the word eternal when we're really talking about the idea of "unending duration." Does anyone feel the same way?

Much more tricky, to my mind, is the bound phrases "eis ton aiona" -- unto the age -- (etc) which traditionally have been translated "for ever."

I'd be really interested to read how this monograph handles them!

Anonymous said…
Dear Robin,

Please excuse my "rant" above!

Your title ""Eternal Punishment"—the punishment of the age to come" is perfect, and so is the "meaning" of the passage you quote from the work.

It was just their use of the word "eternal" in that passage, when they were talking about "everlasting" that set me off!

Thanks again.

Alex Smith said…
I agree TN. I've tried to be more careful with how (especially which words) I describe what I think will happen after death.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Alex.

At the risk of overstaying my welcome on this thread, I'd like to share another point, and ask for feedback.

Although our modern word eternal is usually taken to mean "never ending", I think we can still find a hint of another nuance in the way we sometimes use the word.

Imagine your good friends are on their honeymoon, and send you a postcard; imagine the only words on the postcard are "Eternal Bliss!"

What exactly is the meaning of the word eternal in that phrase? I don't think it has anything to do with length of time. Rather I feel that it has something to do with the quality of Heaven. It means wonderful bliss -- or we could say, Bliss with the quality of the Age to Come.

For this reason I feel it could even be said that eternal is almost a synonym of Divine.

Re Matt 25:46 (eternal punishment and eternal life) I feel it could equally be translated "Divine Punishment and Divine Life".


Alex Smith said…
From memory, I think that's very similar to Talbott's approach in "The Inescapable Love of God"?

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