Αἰώνιος in the New Testament – the fourth attributive instances
Jefferson Vann explores the 48 instances of αἰώνιος in the New Testament classified as fourth attributive construction, showing how they are consistent with his preferred translation of the word, as permanent. He demonstrates through these texts that the gospel is all about the offer of permanent life, the fact that we need it, and its availability through faith in Christ.
Today I would like to survey the 48 remaining instances of αἰώνιος in the New Testament. These are examples of what is called the fourth (anarthrous) attributive position.
Wallace defines this grammatical construction this way: “When it has been determined from the context that an adjective in a noun-adjective construction expresses an attributive relation to the noun, such a construction is in the fourth attributive position. The reason for this is that both the second and third attributive positions involve an adjective following a noun. Thus to say that an adjective is in the fourth attributive position is to say that the article does not occur in the construction at all (e.g., βασιλεὺς ἀγαθός = a good king). This usage is quite common..”1
In order to avoid too much repetition, I will include the Greek adjectival phrases in parenthesis within the text quoted.
Notice, first of all, those who asked Jesus for a permanent life.
And see, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good thing must I accomplish to have (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life?”
While he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what do I have to do so I will inherit (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life?”
Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life?”
Now a certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life?”
Jesus did not correct the theology of these people. They may not have understood everything about the gospel of grace, but each of these people knew instinctively that they were not born immortal. They knew that death awaited them, and they wanted to know what to do about it. They may have heard that a permanent life in the coming kingdom can be inherited. That’s gospel. Innate immortality is not.
Jesus promises those who seek a permanent life from him by becoming his disciples that they will inherit it.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will get a hundred times as much and will inherit (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
who will not welcome a hundredfold now in this age– houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions– and in the age to come (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
who will not receive many times more in this age — – and in the age to come, (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.”
But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will not get thirsty for the age. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.”
The harvester is already receiving wages and gathering fruit for (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) permanent life, so that the planter and harvester can rejoice together.
Don’t work for the consumable that perishes but for the consumable that lasts for (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set his seal of approval on him.”
Because this is what my Father wants: that everyone who is seeing the Son and believing in him has (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life, and I will resurrect him on the last day.”
I honestly tell you, anyone who believes has (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
The one who gnaws on my flesh and drinks my blood has (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life, and I will raise him up on the last day,
I am giving them (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life, and they will never be destroyed, and no one will forcebly take them out of my hand.
Whoever loves his soul destroys it, and whoever hates his soul in this world will protect it for (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
And I know that his command results in (ζωὴ αἰώνιός) a permanent life. That is why what I speak, I say just as the Father has told me.”
just as you have given him the right to decide over all humanity, to give (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life to everyone whom you have given him.
But those who reject God will suffer the punishment of permanent destruction instead. Remember, capital punishment is permanent. Death is the ultimately permanent punishment.
And these will go away into permanent punishment, but the righteous into (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.”
so that everyone who is believing in him may have (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life. Because God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone believing in him will not be destroyed but have (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
The one believing in the Son has (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life, but the one resisting the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God stays over him.
“I am honestly telling you, anyone who hears my word and believes the one who sent me has (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life and will not go into judgment but has departed from the death to the life.
You examine the Scriptures in detail because you think you have (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life in them, and yet they testify about me.
Peter decided to stay with Jesus because only had the words about this permanent life.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words (ζωῆς αἰωνίου) about a permanent life,
The new believers in Acts had been divinely appointed to receive this permanent life.
But when the Gentiles hear this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life believed.
Paul taught the Romans that permanent life was not an innate quality. It is conditional.
He will repay each one according to his works: (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life to those who by consistently doing good works seek glory and honor and immortality,
in order that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness resulting in (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But now, set free from sin and enslaved to God, you have your fruit leading to sanctification, and the end result is (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life. Because the salary of sin is death, but the gift of God is (ζωὴ αἰώνιος) a permanent life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul described the permanent life believers will inherit as a new building to live in – a permanent building made by God, reserved in the sky for us.
2 Corinthians 5:1
Because we know that if the tent that is from this world is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made by hand, (αἰώνιον) permanent in the sky.
He taught the Galatians to live their lives as an investment in anticipation of that future life.
Because the one planting on his own flesh will from that flesh harvest destruction, but the one planting on the Spirit will from that Spirit harvest (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
He taught the Thessalonians that God’s enemies will suffer permanent destruction, while his children will have permanent comfort.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
in blazing fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of (αἰώνιον) permanent destruction, from the presence of the Lord and from the brilliance of his might,
2 Thess. 2:16-17
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us (αἰωνίαν) permanent comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them with every good work and word.
He taught Timothy and Titus (his coworkers) that God alone has immortality, but that believers can be given a permanent life by his grace.
1 Timothy 1:16
But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, as the first of sinners, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as a prototype to those who are about to believe in him for (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
1 Timothy 6:16
who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. He has honor and (αἰώνιον) a permanent dominion. Amen.
2 Timothy 2:10
This is why I endure everything for the sake of the chosen ones, so that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with (αἰωνίου) a permanent brilliance.
so that having been declared not guilty by his grace we might become heirs, confident of inheriting ( ζωῆς αἰωνίου) a permanent life.
The author of Hebrews also stressed the centrality of the permanent life to the gospel message.
And being made perfect, he became the source of (αἰωνίου) permanent salvation to all who obey him,
and of teaching about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead ones, and (αἰωνίου) permanent judgment.
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the (αἰωνίου) permanent Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the (αἰωνίου) permanent covenant,
John, in his letters, focused on the centrality of Jesus Christ as the means to the permanent life.
1 John 3:15
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life staying in him.
1 John 5:11
And this is the testimony, that God gave us (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life, and this life is in his Son.
1 John 5:13
I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
1 John 5:20
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we can know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and (ζωὴ αἰώνιος) permanent life.
Jude stressed the two permanent options, death and destruction (like Sodom and Gomorrah experienced), or permanent life.
just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and went after a different flesh, are set before us as an example of those who are undergoing a punishment of (πυρὸς αἰωνίου) permanent fire.
keep yourselves in the love of God, while waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) a permanent life.
In Revelation, John saw an angel proclaiming the permanent Gospel. It is the good news of permanent life available to all nations through Christ.
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with (αἰώνιον) a permanent gospel to proclaim to those who live on the land, to every nation and tribe and language and people.
The gospel is all about the offer of permanent life, the fact that we need it, and its availability through faith in Christ.
After surveying every instance of αἰώνιος in the New Testament, we can now conclude that not one instance necessarily suggests an ongoing activity. When the contexts of these passages give clues to the meaning of the word, those clues suggest that permanent is a much better translation than the traditional eternal.
- Αἰώνιος in the New Testament – three rare instances
- Αἰώνιος | aiónios in the New Testament – the first attributive occurrences
- Paul’s ‘sky and land’ references
- Αἰώνιος in the New Testament – the four adverbial instances
- Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1996), 310-311.