Matthew 25: Did Jesus Teach that Hell is “Eternal”?

(This is a response to a blog wherein the objection to interpreting “aionios” as [essentially] “age” is refused because it is “parallel” with “eternal life”)

I know I am very “late to the game” – but, (regarding the issue of “parallelism” in Matthew 25:46) – what (I think) must be acknowledged is:

1. aionios is a very “elastic” word with regard to the time-period it implies (it really can mean a few days – or be stretched to eternity – especially when related to the life of God). Therefore to simply “translate” it as “eternal” is (in the end) NOT a “translation” – it is an “interpretation”.
A transliteration of the word should be preferred – leaving us all to wrestle with its ambiguity…

2. What I missed for so long (with regard to this text) is the potential importance that TWO “ages” are explicitly and purposefully mentioned here (in contradistinction to one another). In other words, the author (or Jesus himself) could have just used aionios ONE time – and the matter would have been cleared up – i.e. both punishment and life would (it could be more strongly argued) have the same duration (i.e. truly “parallel”).

But, instead, two ages are set side by side – which in this case could mean they are NOT (of necessity) the same in duration. In this way each age is more strongly distinguished from the other – allowing one to interpret this passage like this, “some to the age of punishment [but who knows how long that will be?] – and others to the age of Life (that life being a participation in God’s eternal life).”

An analogy would be that Jim and Bob stood before the judge, who says, “Jim – you must now go serve your sentence – and Bob you must go and serve your sentence.” It would be altogether illogical to assume that both sentences were the same in quality or duration!

Thus the “parallelism” only lies in the fact that the same word is used – but that very word (aionios) can (by its very definition) in each case mean something VERY different with regard to quantity/duration.

A final thought: I am 65 years of age (and a seminary trained ex-Calvinist pastor[which obviously does not make me “right”!]), and have been engaged in this “debate” for some time (at least internally) – and this is where I stand:

Good and reasonable people disagree about this – and need to reign in the invectives and ad-hominems.

But if I grant (for the sake of argument) that both sides have an equal amount of evidence – how will one decide?

There are many very fundamental reasons (that I won’t go into here) – but the most decisive one for me (as a Christian Universalist) is this:

Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1 both speak most clearly of God’s purpose for the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ: the unification and reconciliation of “all things”.

So – At the end of the ages – what will be the state of the Cosmos?
Will it be an eternal divide – defying the power of the Cross – and God’s desire that “all be saved”?
Will some irrational form of “free(!) will” be the final “sovereign” determinate?

I cannot seem to believe it (anymore – as I did for nearly 50 years).

Jesus’s purpose was NOT “to condemn the world – but that the world/cosmos through Him might be saved”. (John 3:17)
I do believe in both “free will” (although a glaring misnomer due to our fallenness and enslavement to sin – being taken captive by Satan to do HIS will) – but, above all – I believe in the God of Sovereign Love!

And (as God says) His Word (ultimately the Logos, Jesus Christ) “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

So for that (and numerous other reasons) I now simply accept the Truth put forward by Paul, “we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of ALL men, especially of those that believe.” (1 Tim. 4:10)

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