The ancient Greeks had ten ways of describing a process that goes on perpetually without end:
- They could use the adverb aei, meaning ever, or always.
- They could use the prefix aien, meaning the same idea when attached to a word describing a process, like aienaoidos, which means ever-singing, or aienaos, which means ever-flowing.
- They could use eisaei, a combination of eis (for), and aei (ever), hence, forever.
- They could use esaei, a variation of aei, with the same meaning.
- They could use eis to pan chronon, meaning “for all time.”
- They could use di’ aiōnos, meaning “through an age.”
- They could use ton di’ aiōnos chronon, meaning “through an age of time.”
- They could use eis panta chronon, meaning “for all time.”
- They could use eis aidion, meaning “for ever.”
- They could use sunechōs, meaning “continuously”.1
With this enormous vocabulary at their disposal, one must wonder why the New Testament authors never used any of it to describe the final state of the lost. Instead, they chose an the adjective aiōnios to describe – not the process, but the event of Gehenna hell. When describing an event, the adjective aiōnios refers to its permanence. The biblical authors use this word to highlight that hell’s consequences (judgment and death) are permanent.
- Matthew 25:46 — At the judgment, some will gain permanent life, others will suffer the punishment of death permanently.
- Mark 3:29 – Those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness. Their sin and guilt are permanent.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – The lost will suffer the punishment of permanent destruction. God is everywhere, and they will be so obliterated as to be taken away from his presence. That is total annihilation.
- Hebrews 6:2 – The concept of permanent judgment – that is, judgment that leads to permanent death – was considered one of the foundational teachings of the New Testament church.
- Jude 7 – Sodom & Gomorrah – the people and the lands – were completely destroyed by fire, and Jude says that their destruction serves as an example of what the fires of hell will do. It was not a process of perpetual tormenting, but an event that resulted in permanent destruction.
God is infinite, so the adjective “permanent” always applies to him.2 Believers are not infinite, but we are promised permanent life in place of our present temporary ones.3 But neither of these uses of the adjective aiōnios suggest the notion that the mortal souls of unbelievers must stay alive forever and ever in order for them to receive an unending process of being punished. The proponents of a never-ending hell have placed too much emphasis on an adjective, pretending that it is an adverb. The Bible never asserts that the lost will suffer eternally. It asserts that they will suffer proportionally – that is, according to what they have done.4 Then they will all suffer the same final fate, the second death.5 God is just, and he will punish sinners. But God is not condemned to keep doing so for eternity.
- Woodhouse’s English-Greek Dictionary, The University of Chicago Library (https://artflx.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/efts/dicos/woodhouse_test.pl?keyword=eternally&sortorder=Keyword).
- Romans 16:26.
- 1 John 2:25.
- Revelation 20:12-13.
- Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.