Point-Counterpoint: Pollock on Aionios
We have now come to A. J. Pollock’s discussion of the Greek word “aionios”; this is the Greek word that is often translated into English as “eternal” or “everlasting”. As far as I am concerned the translation of aionios is probably the most critical issue in deciding whether or not conditional immortality is true. If aionios always carries a connotation of “never ending” then there are New Testament passages where eternal conscious torment (ECT) would be the only natural interpretation.
Below is Pollock’s entire discussion on aionios. I have inserted comments within the quote because Pollock says some things that either I have already dealt with or cannot wait to be commented on later. Unfortunately this will chop up the flow of the quote a bit but I don’t want to appear to be dodging his major points.
Here is Pastor Pollock:
“But,” urge the non-eternity teachers, “aionios,” the Greek word translated eternal and everlasting, means age – lasting. And if it means age – lasting it cannot mean eternal.”
Let us remember that language is brought into existence by man to express his ideas. The word is coined to meet the need. The word follows the need. Seeing man is bounded by time and sense, and all beyond is outside his natural ken, and that he is dependent on revelation for all true knowledge of what is beyond death, one would not expect to find in human language words expressing divine and eternal ideas.
Here I must disagree with Pastor Pollock. He shows a low opinion of language and is at odds with scripture on this point. If you search the internet you can find a few articles on human language from a biblical literalist standpoint. Articles such as “The Mystery of Human Language” and “Language Acquisition: Making Sense of the World” discuss some of the issues from a Christian viewpoint. A quote that reflects my view of language comes from the online article “The Origin of Language and Communication”:
When God created the first human beings—Adam and Eve—He created them in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). This likeness unquestionably included the ability to engage in intelligible speech via human language. In fact, God spoke to them from the very beginning of their existence as humans (Genesis 1:28-30). Hence, they possessed the ability to understand verbal communication—and to speak themselves!
God gave very specific instructions to the man before the woman was even created (Genesis 2:15-17). Adam gave names to the animals before the creation of Eve (Genesis 2:19-20). Since both the man and the woman were created on the sixth day, the creation of the man preceded the creation of the woman by only hours. So, Adam had the ability to speak on the very day that he was brought into existence!
So I think it is wrong of Pastor Pollock to state that language was brought into existence by man.
Now back to Pollock:
Missionaries translating the Bible into heathen languages all testify to the difficulty they have in expressing divine thoughts in language coined to meet man’s needs and limited by his experience and environment.
But as divine ideas are revealed a fuller meaning is often stamped upon a word. This we shall see plainly and be able to prove to all honest readers is the case with the Greek word aionios.
Before giving the Scriptural use of the word I would quote from a well-known authority on such subjects:-
“The etymology given as early as the time of Aristotle, and by him is aìe? ??, always existing. The earliest use of the word is in the sense of a man’s life. It is so used by Homer of the death of his heroes and in other ways.
Very much later it came to mean one whole dispensational period or state of things: but when used by itself in its own meaning, it had very clearly the sense of eternity. It is thus used by Philo in a passage which can leave no doubt: ‘In eternity [?? aìw??], nothing is either past or to come but only subsists.’ (J. N. Darby).
Philo’s definition leaves nothing to be desired as to clearness. No past, no future, a continuous present. Could anything be more striking as a definition of eternity? Moreover, Philo has special weight as a witness, he was a Hellenistic Jew and was contemporary with the apostles. When it is a question of the force of Greek words as used in the New Testament, we could not adduce weightier authority.
Mosheim, whose learning none can dispute, says aion properly signifies indefinite or eternal duration as opposite to that which is finite or temporal.
Arrian – the Greek philosopher – says: “I am not an ?ì?? (aion), but a man, a part of all things, as an hour of a day, I must subsist as an hour, and pass away as an hour.” Arrian here contrasts the ephemeral existence of himself as a man with eternal existence and for this he employs the word, aion .
Such authors clearly give the thought of eternity as the meaning of the word.
Let us now turn to what is of infinitely more importance, the way Scripture uses the word. Aionios is used seventy-one times in the New Testament. In three passages only does it apply to past periods.
“Ordained before the world [aionon]” (1 Cor. 2:7).
“Upon whom the ends of the world [aionon] are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
“Once in the end of the world [aionon] hath He appeared to put away sin” (Heb. 9:26).
Aionon means, by force of the context in these passages, ages which were bounded by time.
In all other cases the word clearly means eternal. It is used once in relation to God; once in relation to God’s power; twice in relation to the Lord; once in relation to the Holy Spirit; forty-two times in relation to eternal life; fourteen times to express the duration of eternal bliss; and seven times to express the duration of everlasting punishment.
None of us, who profess in the smallest degree to be Christians, question the eternal existence of God, or of the Lord Jesus Christ, or of the Holy Spirit. All must allow that aionios means eternal in this connection. One passage very clearly, even in our English Bibles, presents the thought of eternity.
‘The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal [aionios]” (2 Cor. 4:18).
Surely that which is literally age-lasting is temporal. What is eternal is here contrasted with what is temporal, or age-lasting. Apart from Greek, the force of this important verse is very plain.
Then see the long list of forty-two texts affirming that the believer has eternal life; the long list of fourteen texts affirming the eternal duration of the believer’s blessings – fifty-six texts in all. Now we do not find books written fiercely contending that aionios in this connection is only age-lasting, on the contrary, we find writers who teach non-eternity of punishment, affirming suavely that everlasting life is eternal. Verily the legs of the lame are not equal. What a pitiable sight, men receiving the Word of God when it suits them, and refusing the same when it does not suit them.
But of the fifty-six passages referring to eternal life and its blessings, and seven passages referring to everlasting punishment, let us look at one which conveys both thoughts. Surely it is not for nothing that it is so put.
“These shall go away into everlasting [aionios] punishment; but the righteous into life eternal [aionios]” (Matt. 25:46).
Surely if the punishment is not eternal, the life is not. Both Universalists and Annihilationists are impaled upon the horns of a dilemma here. The SAME word is used to characterize the duration of the punishment of the one class, and the life of the other. There is no running away from this argument.
I have said this before and I want to state it again: Pollock is correct on this only if annihilation is not punishment! If a person is annihilated, never to exist again, it seems to me that this is an eternal punishment. Just because burning for all eternity is certainly the most painful thing I can conceive of does not mean that something that is less painful is not also a punishment. He has never convinced me of this.
Professor Salmond, in “Christian Doctrine of Immortality,” writes:-
“To say that the adjective aionios has one sense in the first half of the sentence, and another in the second, is the counsel of despair.”
This must be faced. For no one can be honest in suggesting that God employs the same word in one short verse to express two different meanings.
And seeing the word is used to characterize the duration of the existence of God, of the Lord Jesus, of the Holy Ghost, we can have no doubt as to the meaning of the word. God has stamped the meaning of eternity on this word. Take another passage where the thought of eternal punishment is put two ways:-
“He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal [aionios] damnation” (Mark 3:29).
Then again, take the solemn statement three times repeated by the Lord Himself,
“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48).
I have already covered this in my post “Pollock: Their Worm Dieth Not”. Jesus was quoting Isaiah 66 whose context is literal dead bodies and not living people existing in eternal torment.
Is this not in contrast to the Gehenna outside of Jerusalem, where millions of worms perished, and thousands of flames were quenched? Here “their” worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched, and as if to make the meaning doubly plain, a still stronger expression is used in relation to the being of God and eternal punishment.
“God who liveth for ever and ever” (literally to the ages of the ages ) (Rev. 15:7).
“And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever (literally to the ages of the ages): and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image” (Rev. 14:11).
Pastor Pollock cut this quote too short; here is Revelation 14:9-11:
9 And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,
10 he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb,
11 and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.
This is speaking of those who take the mark of the Beast during the seven year Tribulation (remember I am a Dispensational pre-Millennialist) and is not a blanket statement concerning all unbelievers. In fact it seems very reasonable that these people’s torment occurs while they are still on earth. If aionios is translated in the “age-lasting” sense (I know Pollock objects to this) then temporal torment would be the natural interpretation here.
How forcible is this! The same writer, within the compass of a few verses, affirms that God exists to the ages of the ages and that the torment of the lost continues to the ages of the ages, that is, as long as He exists the torment of the lost continues.
Torment signifies a condition which requires a living entity. You cannot torment what is annihilated; that which does not exist cannot be so spoken about, therefore, if the torment of these lost souls continues for ever – to the ages of the ages – it is necessary that these lost ones should be, not annihilated, but in conscious existence.
HADES and Eternal Punishment
A J Pollock
[Click on this link to see the next installment in this series: Point-Counterpoint: Vincent on Aionios]