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This book devotes a separate chapter to each of the words translated "hell" in the New Testament: Tartarus, Gehenna, and Hades. It also deals with the biblical nature of the "lake of fire" and its duration as "eonian." It concludes with a historical chapter, showing what many of the early Christian fathers believed about divine judgment and how it was restorative, rather than destructive.
Category - General
In any discussion of the duration of the lake of fire, it inevitably boils down to the meaning of the Greek word aionios and the Hebrew word olam. The words literally mean “age” or “age-abiding,” but they are often translated “eternal” or “everlasting” in the modern English translations. And so, this normally becomes the central issue.
The judgments of God are aionios (and olam) in duration. This Greek term has been misunderstood for about 1,500 years, but the early Church in Asia, Greece, and Egypt understood it to mean “pertaining to an eon.” It is the adjective form of the Greek word eon, that is, an AGE. In spite of this, many English translations continue to translate the word to mean “eternal” or “everlasting,” because of their doctrinal bias.
Strong’s Concordance says this about the Greek word aion:
“aion: from the same as 104 [aei, ‘continued duration’]; prop. an age; by extens. perpetuity (also past); by impl. the world; spec. (Jewish) a Messianic period (present or future).”
In other words, according to Strong’s Concordance, aion properly means “an age,” but he says that by extension it means “perpetuity.” Thus, he says that it can mean either a limited period of time or an unlimited period of time. But to make it an unlimited period of time requires extending its basic, usual meaning, which is limited.
He also shows that in Jewish usage of the term, “The Age” referred to the Messianic Age—that is, the age in which the Messiah would rule the earth. This particular application, we will discuss shortly.
Dr. Bullinger, in his Appendix 129 to The Companion Bible, says:
“aion = an age, or age-time, the duration of which is indefinite, and may be limited or extended as the context of each occurrence may demand.
“The root meaning of aion is expressed by the Heb. olam . . . which denotes indefinite, unknown or concealed duration; just as we speak of ‘the patriarchal age’, or ‘the golden age’, etc. Hence, it has come to denote any given period of time, characterized by a special form of Divine administration or dispensation.
“In the plural we have the Heb. olamim and Gr. aiones used of ages, or of a succession of age-times, and of an abiding from age to age. From this comes the adjective aionios . . . used of an unrestricted duration, as distinct from a particular or limited age-time. These age-times must be distinct or they could not be added to, or multiplied, as in the expression aions of aions.
“These ages or age-times were all prepared and arranged by God (see Heb. 1:2; 11:3); and there is a constant distinction in the New Testament between ‘this age’ and the ‘coming age’ (see Matt. 12:32; Heb. 1:2; Eph. 1:21).”
Thus, Dr. Bullinger agrees with Strong that the basic meaning of aion is an age that lasts an indefinite period of time. In other words, some ages are longer than others, but an age has both a beginning and an end.
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. IV, p. 643, says under “Time,”
“The OT and the NT are not acquainted with this conception of eternity as timelessness. God, according to Rev. 1:4, is the one ‘who is and who was and who is to come’; and if in Rom. 16:26 (the only time in the NT) he is called the ‘eternal [aionios] God,’ this does not mean that as a timeless God he would have nothing to do with time, but rather that he is also Lord of the greatest spans of time, which he uses in his revelation (vs. 25).”
On page 644 of the same article, it says:
“The OT has not developed a special term for ‘eternity’ which one could contrast with ‘temporality’.”
On page 645 it says,
“The word aion originally meant ‘vital force,’ ‘life;’ then ‘age,’ ‘lifetime.’ It is, however, also used generally of a (limited or unlimited) long space of time. In many cases it should then be translated by ‘eternity.’ To be sure, naturally, one cannot assume a philosophical concept of eternity here either.”
Later on the same page, the author continues,
“The use of the word aion is determined very much by the OT and the LXX [Septuagint]. Aion means ‘long distant uninterrupted time’ in the past (Luke 1:70), as well as in the future (John 4:14). The adjective aionios, ‘eternal,’ especially, serves for the actual statements of eternity (2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 9:12, 15), but nowhere is a clear distinction made between limited and unlimited duration of time …. The intensifying plural occurs frequently in the NT, especially in the doxologies (Rom. 1:25; 9:5; Heb. 13:8), but it adds no new meaning.”
This should be sufficient to show that it is by no means certain that the Hebrew word olam (Old Testament) and the Greek word aionios (New Testament) must be translated “eternal” or “everlasting.” This is plainly stated in many theological dictionaries and other articles. It is unfortunate that this fact is not transmitted to the average Christian believer—or even to the preachers and teachers, who seem totally convinced that these words can mean nothing other than unending time.
But if olam and aionios occasionally should be understood in terms of unending time, these occasions are the exception to the general rule. It may be that when aionios is used a few times in reference to God that it could be understood in terms of unending time, rather than to His sovereignty over those future ages. We will let the scholars debate this issue. Some say it can mean only a limited period of time—others insist that it can mean either limited or unlimited time.
It comes down to a matter of controversy and disagreement between scholars. So who is to be believed?
Let us, for the moment, concede to the opposition. Let us agree with them that aionios can mean either endlessness or a limited period of time. If that were the case, then every passage which uses this term will be interpreted according to the bias of the translator. All the passages that deal with aionios judgment can mean either endless judgment or age-abiding judgment, depending upon how we wish to understand it.
If this were the case, then it would be impossible to prove EITHER view by using the Biblical passages that talk about aionios judgment. We must then rely totally upon other Bible passages to prove either view. We challenge anyone believing eternal judgment to prove their case without using any verse talking about aionios judgment or olam judgment. The fact is, THEY HAVE NO CASE, because these verses form the entire basis of their doctrine. Their entire case rests upon the assumption that aionios and olam mean endlessness.
Many scholars do not believe that there is a single passage where aionios MUST always mean endlessness. However, we do recognize that there are passages where the word seems to imply endlessness. For this reason, we are willing to concede the point for the sake of argument. Conceding this point in no way diminishes the force of our argument, because the Bible teaches the Restoration of All Things from Genesis to Revelation without relying upon the word aionios.
We can prove that God will save all men by showing that the divine law mandates a Jubilee, which is a limit to all judgment. We do not need to rely upon the word aionios.
We can prove that God will save all men by the passages in the New Testament where Jesus came to save not only us, but “the whole world” (1 John 2:2). We do not need to rely upon the word aionios. We rely instead upon the phrase “the whole world.”
We can show it by Paul’s writings, who said that all things (ta panta, “the all”) were created by Christ and will be reconciled to him as well (Col. 1:16-20). In this, we rely upon the phrase, ta panta, which is defined by the context as meaning the created universe.
We can show it again in Paul’s writings, when he said that “as in Adam all die, even in Christ will all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Even as ALL die in Adam, so will ALL be made alive in Christ. We do not need to use aionios to prove this.
We can go to the last book of the Bible, where John sees all of creation praising God in Rev. 5:13,
13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever [aionas ton aionon, “for the ages of the ages”].
This passage uses the phrase aionas ton aionon, but our argument does not rest upon that phrase, but upon the earlier phrase, “every created thing.” In these few passages there are many ways in which God’s great Restoration of creation is expressed and established. All we must do is show that aionios does not have to mean endless time. Once we have established that fact—as we have done—then it is self-evident that aionios judgment cannot be used to contradict our view.
The bottom line is this: all we must do is show that aionios does not ALWAYS have to be understood as endless time. If we can show that, then we have won the debate, because if it can mean either limited or unlimited time, then those who believe in eternal torment have lost their trump card. But even our opposition concedes that there are MANY passages where aionios cannot possibly mean endlessness. In fact, that is why they must fall back upon the position that aionios has a double meaning. They would dearly love to make it endless all the time, but even they know that this is impossible.
Thus, from a clear-headed perspective, one can only conclude that God intends to bring all creation back under His dominion and will lose nothing in the end. The blood of Jesus to save His creation is more powerful than the sin of Adam was in its fall. God will be the big Winner in the end—not the Big Loser who has lost 99 percent of creation to the wiles of the devil.
There are at least four modern translations, however, which attempt to correct this mistranslation:
Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible
Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible
Wilson’s The Emphatic Diaglott
The Concordant Literal Translation
Young’s Literal Translation was done by Dr. Robert Young in 1898. He was also the author of the Young’s Analytical Concordance. Dr. Young says in his Concordance that aion means “age, age-lasting.” For example, Matthew 13:39, when Jesus explained the meaning of His parable about the wheat and the tares, He said, according to the King James Version,
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world [Greek: aion, “age”]; and the reapers are the angels.
The Greek word translated world is not aion, but kosmos. So quite obviously, this is not a good translation of the verse. Most modern translations have made this correction, including the marginal references in the King James. Dr. Young renders this verse,
39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is a full end of the age, and the reapers are messengers.
The Greek word aionios is the adjective form of aion, “pertaining to an age.” Young’s Concordance says that it means “age-lasting.” In his Bible translation, he consistently translates the Greek word aionios into English even more literally as “age-during” to show that it means the events occur “during” whatever age the author was discussing. This is very literal and precise. Even so, another Bible translator, Weymouth, on page 657 of The New Testament in Modern Speech, quibbles with Dr. Young, saying,
“Eternal: Greek: ‘aeonion,’ i.e., ‘of the ages.’ Etymologically this adjective, like others similarly formed, does not signify ‘during,’ but ‘belonging to’ the aeons or ages.”
I suppose we must allow scholars to dispute the fine points of each word, for that is their vocation. But regardless of who is correct, they both agree on the essential fact that aionios does not mean “eternal.” Dr. Young used this term “age-during” so that the reader would not be compelled to believe that it meant “eternal or “everlasting.” For example, in Matthew 25:45, 46, we read,
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of these, the least, ye did it not to me. 46 And those shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.
Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible, is much like Young’s Literal Translation. He renders verse 46,
46 And these shall go away into age-abiding correction, but the righteous into age-abiding life.
Benjamin Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott does not presume to render aionios “everlasting,” but prefers to just transliterate it directly from the Greek. This non-committal attitude allows men to interpret this word as they wish. He renders verse 46:
46 And these shall go forth to the aionian cutting-off; but the righteous to aionian Life.
The Cambridge Bible Commentary, by A. W. Argyle, has this to say about Matthew 25:46,
“46. eternal punishment, i.e., punishment characteristic of the Age to come, not meaning that it lasts for ever.
“eternal life, i.e., the life that belongs to the Age to come, the full abundant life which is fellowship with God.”
Argyle recognizes that the term aionios refers to “the Age to come” rather than eternity as such. In our next section we will have more to say about “The Age,” that is, the Messianic Age. This is the key to understanding how aion and aionios were defined when the Bible was written—and for many years afterward.
Wilson’s translation is prefaced by the statement,
“This Volume, principally designed for the instruction and advantage of others, is now reverently committed to the blessing of our Father in the heavens, with an earnest and sincere desire that many of those who peruse its pages may be led by the knowledge, faith and obedience inculcated therein to obtain an inheritance in the aionian kingdom of Jesus the Anointed One.”
Some will say that the Kingdom has “no end” (Luke 1:33); thus, they will say, aionian must be everlasting. The term “aionian kingdom” is used only once in the Bible—in 2 Peter 1:11, where the Apostle says (according to Wilson himself in The Emphatic Diaglott),
10 Therefore, brethren, more earnestly endeavor to make your calling and election sure; since by these things you will never fall; 11 for thus richly will be furnished to you the entrance into the aionian kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Peter, like most of the other New Testament writers, exhorted the believers to make their “calling and election sure,” that is, press on to being overcomers that will inherit the first resurrection. These will inherit “the aionian kingdom,” that is, they will receive their reward of immortality at the beginning of that thousand-year reign of Christ. Revelation 20:6 says that these will “reign with him a thousand years.” This does not mean that the kingdom lasts only a thousand years, nor even that their reign is limited to a thousand years. But that phase of the kingdom is limited to a specific age; hence it is aionian.
We will develop this concept a bit further in our next section on “The Messianic Age.” Anyway, Wilson’s term, aionian, is much like that found in The Concordant Literal New Testament, which renders verse 46,
46 And these shall be coming away into chastening eonian, yet the just into life eonian.
A second example useful for our purposes is found in Matthew 18:8, which Young’s Literal Translation renders:
8 And if thy hand or thy foot doth cause thee to stumble, cut them off and cast from thee; it is good for thee to enter into the life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast to the fire the age-during.
The Emphasized Bible says,
8 But if thy hand or thy foot be causing thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee; it is seemly for thee to enter into life maimed or lame, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the age-abiding fire.
Wilson’s The Emphatic Diaglott says,
8 If, then, thy hand or thy foot insnare thee, cut it off, and throw it away; it is better for thee to enter Life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the aionian fire.
The Concordant Literal New Testament says,
8 Now, if your hand or your foot is snaring you, strike it off and cast it from you. Is it ideal for you to be entering into life maimed or lame, or, having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the fire eonian?
We see from these examples—particularly from Matthew 25:46—that the Greek term aionios is used to describe both the judgment of fire upon the sinners and the life that is given to the believers.
In Matthew 19:29 Jesus spoke of the reward of the righteous, which is zoen aionion. This is usually translated “life eternal” or “life everlasting.” Dr. Young renders the verse,
29 and every one who left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields, for my name’s sake, an hundredfold shall receive and life age-during shall inherit.
What is the meaning of “life age-during?” Is it the same as immortality? Not exactly. Immortality is a word describing the quality of life that we have after death is abolished. Life that is “age-during,” describes the age in which we shall have that immortality. That age is specifically what the ancient rabbis called the “Messianic Age,” or “The Age.” Since David wrote that a day was as a thousand years (Psalm 90:4), the rabbis spoke about the seventh thousand-year period as a great Sabbath-rest for the earth. They identified it with the reign of the Messiah.
Revelation 20:1-6 treats the reign of Christ in the same manner.
Irenaeus, one of the earliest of the Christian fathers (120-203 A.D.) believed that a wicked man called “Antichrist” would arise at the end of the present age. In that context, he wrote in his book, Against Heresies,
“and the number is six hundred and sixty-six, that is, six times a hundred, six times ten, and six units. [He gives this] as a summing up of the whole of that apostasy which has taken place during six thousand years. (Book V, xxviii, 2)
“For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. . . . (Book V, xxviii, 3)
“For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.” (Book V, xxviii, 3)
“. . . bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day.” (Book V, xxx, 3)
According to Revelation 20, this thousand-year reign of Christ begins with “the first resurrection” and ends with the general resurrection of the rest of the dead. This means that those who inherit the first resurrection will receive immortality during “The Age.” But as we have seen in the previous chapter and in other books, ONLY believers, but NOT ALL believers will be raised in the first resurrection. Thus, only the overcomers (the barley company—see The Barley Overcomers) will receive “life age-during.” That is, only the overcomers will receive their reward of life (immortality) at the beginning of “The Age.” Only the overcomers will have immortal life during that thousand-year Age.
The rest of the believers will receive immortality afterward, and hence, strictly speaking, they will not receive “life age-during.” This is because they will have to receive their reward at the same time as the unbelievers receive judgment, for both will be judged. The believers will be “saved, yet so as through fire,” receiving either few stripes or many stripes. The unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire and will serve their sentence until the great Jubilee sets all creation free.
This concept of the eons, or ages, is obscured by translating zoen aionion as “life everlasting” and kolasin aionion as “everlasting punishment.” (Matthew 25:46). The fact is that neither is “everlasting.” Certainly, immortality itself is life that never ends. But “age-during life” points specifically to AN AGE when some believers will enjoy the blessings of immortal life. And “age-during judgment” points specifically to AN AGE of judgment for unbelievers.
Matthew 25:46 has been used since the time of Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, in the early fifth century to prove that aionian means an unending duration of time. Though Augustine spoke eloquently in Latin, he did not speak Greek. Thus, he was unfamiliar with the language of the New Testament, except insofar as it had been translated into Latin. Peter Brown tells us in his book, Augustine of Hippo, p. 36,
“Augustine’s failure to learn Greek was a momentous casualty of the late Roman educational system; he will become the only Latin philosopher in antiquity to be virtually ignorant of Greek.”
Worse yet, the more influential Augustine became, the less the Latin Christians felt the need to read the New Testament in Greek. Peter Brown says again on p. 272,
“Gradually the ‘learned fellowship’ would cease to feel the need for Greek books. For they had Augustine.”
Perhaps this is a good illustration of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:23,
23 . . . If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.
The Christians in the Latin-speaking Church took Augustine’s word for it that aionios meant everlasting. This was their “light,” but unfortunately, their light was darkness. And even today, most of the popular translations have continued to mistranslate aionios. So average Christians today who read the easy-reading Bibles do not realize that what they think is light (in regard to future rewards and judgments) is actually darkness.
In Book XXI, chapter xxiii, of Augustine’s City of God, he sets forth his argument that the judgment upon the unbelievers would be unending torture in fire. His argument is based upon the Latin translation of Matthew 25:46, which we have already quoted earlier. Augustine interprets this passage in this way:
“For Christ said in the very same place, including both in one and the same sentence: ‘So these will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ If both are eternal, then surely both must be understood as ‘long,’ but having an end, or else as ‘everlasting’ without an end. For they are matched with each other. In one clause eternal punishment, in the other eternal life. (To say) “eternal life shall be without end, (but) eternal punishment will have an end’ is utterly absurd. Hence, since eternal life of the saints will be without end, eternal punishment also will surely have no end, for those whose lot it is.”
The primary problem is that Augustine did not understand the Hebrew concept of “The Age.” He presumed that aionios life was the same as immortality, instead of seeing that it referred specifically to life (immortality) during the Messianic Age. To inherit life during this Age means to be an inheritor of the first resurrection promised to the overcomers alone. The rest of humanity, and even the rest of the Christians, will not receive their immortality until the end of the Messianic Age at the Great White Throne. We showed this in Chapter Four, quoting Jesus’ words in John 5:28, 29, as well as His parable in Luke 12:42-49. Augustine did not understand this concept.
Secondly, Augustine did not properly understand the Greek word aionios, at least not in the way that the Greek-speaking Church in Asia understood the term. He was looking at it from the Roman mindset, using an old Latin translation of the Scripture. The Latin translation at Augustine’s disposal used two different words for aionios: seculum and aeternum. Alexander Thomson’s book, Whence Eternity? says on page 11,
“Seculum meant a generation, an age, the world, the times, the spirit of the times and a period of a hundred years. That which is secular pertains to the present world, especially to the world as not spiritual.
“Long ago in Rome, periodic games were held, which were called ‘secular’ games. Herodian, the historian, writing in Greek about the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, calls these ‘eonian’ games. In no sense were the games eternal. Eonian did not mean eternal any more than a seculum meant eternity.”
Aeternas, or Aeternitas, is where we get our English words “eternal” and “eternity.” However, originally these had a double meaning, as we find in a scholar’s footnote in Augustine’s City of God, XXII, i, which says,
“The words ‘eternal’ and ‘eternity’ from Latin aeternus, aeternitas, are related to aevum, which means BOTH ‘unending time’ and ‘a period of time;’ for the second meaning the commoner word is aetas.”
This footnote was inserted in order to inform readers who did not realize that Augustine was engaging in some deceptive rhetoric. Augustine failed to mention in his book that aeternus also meant a limited period of time.
Aeternus was the Latin near-equivalent of the Greek word aionios, not because it meant unending time, but because it also meant a limited duration of time. Aeternus did have a double meaning, but Augustine applied the wrong meaning to aionios according to his own personal bias. That is why we are given the footnote in the modern publication of Augustine’s City of God.
Yet in all fairness to Augustine, at least one Church historian tells us that Augustine “all but abandoned” this argument later in life. Dr. F.W. Farrar informs us of this in his book, Mercy and Judgment, p. 378,
“Since aion meant ‘age,’ aionios means, properly, ‘belonging to an age,’ or ‘age-long,’ and anyone who asserts that it must mean ‘endless’ defends a position which even Augustine practically abandoned twelve centuries ago. Even if aion always meant ‘eternity,’ which is not the case in classic or Hellenistic Greek—aionios could still mean only ‘belonging to eternity’ and not ‘lasting through it’.”
As for Augustine’s argument that aionios in Matthew 25:46 must mean the same amount of time for both the believers and the unbelievers, this is contradicted by Dr. Alford Plumer in An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, pp. 351-352,
“It is often pointed out that ‘eternal’ (aionios) in ‘eternal punishment’ must have the same meaning as in ‘eternal life.’ No doubt, but that does not give us the right to say that ‘eternal’ in both cases means ‘endless’.”
We have already shown that the Bible speaks of more than one age to come. Revelation 20 makes it clear that there are at least two future ages that run concurrently. The first is the Messianic Age that was commonly believed to be the seventh millennium from creation—the Creation Sabbath. After that age was the Judgment Age of unknown duration—at least no one in those days claimed to know.
It is my belief, as I said earlier, that the divine law implies a 49,000-year time of man’s history. If we are now about to enter into the first Sabbath millennium, then the Judgment Age would have to continue for another 42,000 years beyond it, or six more great Sabbaths.
The Hebrew word olam is the Old Testament equivalent of the Greek word aionios. Olam literally means “to an obscurity,” but it is understood to mean an age, that is, an indefinite period of time, but not of infinite duration. Strong’s Concordance says that olam means “concealed, i.e., to the vanishing point.”
Dr. Bullinger, in his Appendix 151 of The Companion Bible, says of olam:
“This word is derived from alam (to hide), and means the hidden time or age, like aion. . . by which word, or its Adjective aionios, it is generally rendered in the Sept.”
Under the heading “Eternal,” Smith’s Bible Dictionary (Dr. William Smith) tells us what olam means:
“Eternal (Heb. OLAM, hidden, time long past, and of future to the end).”
Thus, Strong, Bullinger, and Smith all agree that the word means “hidden” or “obscure.” Hence, the time of olam is indefinite (obscure, hidden), rather than never-ending time, eternity, or everlasting. It is indefinite, because an age can be anywhere from a lifetime to thousands of years in length.
Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible renders Psalm 45:6,
6 Thy throne, O God, is to times age-abiding and beyond [Heb. olam va’ad, “to the age and beyond”], a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
The King James Version incorrectly translates it “for ever and ever,” which makes no sense at all. God’s throne will indeed be for ever, but does it require two “evers” to describe never-ending time? The Psalmist did NOT say, olam va’olam.
Psalm 45:6 shows that olam by itself was insufficient to express eternity. The Psalmist had to add the phrase va’ad, “and beyond,” to show that God’s throne extends beyond the olam of the Messianic Age. Young’s Concordance tells us that the Hebrew word ad means “duration, continuity,” and for this reason Dr. Young believed that this term really did describe eternity.
The Bible uses this same Hebrew phrase, olam va’ad, in the Exodus 15:18, which Young’s Literal Translation renders:
18 Jehovah reigneth—to the age and for ever! (olam va’ad)
Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate in the latter part of the fourth century, rendered the phrase olam va’ad to Latin as: in aeternum et ultra, or “into eternity and beyond.” This would be very strange if one insists that aeternum meant endless time. Jerome lived at the same time as Augustine and was well qualified to do a Latin translation of the Bible. In fact, the Latin Vulgate was the standard Bible used in the Church for the next thousand years. It is obvious that Jerome did not think that aeternum had to mean endless time, in spite of what Augustine believed.
Psalm 10:16 (Young’s Literal Translation)
16 Jehovah is king to the age, and for ever (olam va’ad), the nations have perished out of His land!
Daniel 12:2, 3 (Note the contrast between olam and olam va’ad.)
2 And the multitude of those sleeping in the dust of the ground do awake, some to life age-during [olam], and some to reproaches—to abhorrence age-during [olam]. 3 And those teaching do shine as the brightness of the expanse, and those justifying the multitude as stars to the age and for ever [olam va’ad].
In these verses we see that Jehovah, or Yahweh, will reign not only to the age, but beyond the age as well. Hence, this could express the idea of eternity. Daniel speaks of the resurrection, where some will be raised to life during the age, and others to judgment during the age. Then he takes it further, telling us that “those teaching” and “justifying the multitude” will shine to the age and beyond. His specific terminology sheds light on the meaning of these terms.
Dr. Young’s translation is not without certain problems, however. There are times when olam va’ad ought not to be translated “to the age and for ever” but left as “to the age and beyond.” This is because there is more than one future age, and sometimes “the age” is a reference to the first age. “And beyond” (va’ad) can also be a reference to the following age, rather than “for ever.” For example, Psalm 9:5 says in Young’s Literal,
5 Thou hast rebuked nations, Thou hast destroyed the wicked, their name Thou hast blotted out to the age and for ever [olam va’ad].
In this case “for ever” is not a valid translation. The wicked will not be destroyed for ever. God will rebuke the nations and blot out their name during the Messianic Age (when Christ and His overcomers will rule) and also in the age beyond (during the time of the lake of fire). So this verse does not prove that the wicked will be destroyed for all time. There will still be a Jubilee that will restore all nations to Him, as Psalm 86:9 says,
9 All nations that Thou hast made come and bow themselves before Thee, O Lord, and give honour to Thy name.
Psalm 67:1- 3 says in Young’s Literal,
3 Praise Thee do peoples, O God, praise Thee do peoples, all of them. 4 Rejoice and sing do nations, for Thou judgest peoples uprightly, and peoples on earth comfortest. Selah. 5 Confess Thee do peoples, O God, confess Thee do peoples—all of them. 6 Earth hath given her increase, God doth bless us—our God, 7 God doth bless us, and all ends of the earth fear Him!
The psalmist realizes that all the nations will rejoice in the judgments of God, because His judgments are corrective and remedial, not destructive. The only thing that is destroyed is the fleshly corruption and the injustice of man’s governmental systems that have prevailed in the present age. Psalm 72:11 says,
11 And all kings do bow themselves to him, all nations do serve him.
Psalm 82:8 also says that God will “inherit all nations.” How can God inherit all nations if He has destroyed them? And so we can only conclude that God does not intend to destroy the people of all nations who are currently unbelievers. God intends to inherit them. Isaiah 2:2-4 tells us that during that Age the people who did not know God will come to learn of Him,
2 Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain [Kingdom] of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills [smaller kingdoms]; and all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many peoples will come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths. For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.
The old forms of government will be abolished “for ever,” and Christ will be the Head of a true United Nations to render decisions that will resolve all disputes without resorting to war. The individual people themselves will rejoice as they come into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.
The bottom line is that the law of Jubilee mandates by law a limit on liability for all debt—and sin, in the Bible, is reckoned as a debt. The Lord’s prayer says in Matthew 6:12 says,
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
In Luke 11:4 it is rendered this way:
4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
Luke’s account specifically equates sins with debts. The same is true in a number of Jesus’ parables, such as the one found in Matthew 18 about the debtor who owed ten thousand talents. A “talent” of gold in those days weighed 131 pounds, or 2096 ounces of gold per “talent.” Ten thousand talents would equal 20,960,000 ounces of gold. At the price of $400 per ounce, this today would represent (literally) a debt of $8,384,000,000.
In the parable, the debtor was forgiven his huge, unpayable debt. But he, in turn, refused to forgive the small debt that his neighbor owed him. So his huge debt was put back upon him. The final verse of the parable is Matthew 18:35,
35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
This does not mean that believers can lose their salvation and go to hell. It means that believers may lose the blessing of the first resurrection and will be “saved, yet so as through fire” at the general resurrection of the dead. Forgiveness is the primary requirement to be an overcomer, because forgiveness is the way in which we live and breathe the principles of the Jubilee.
In view of the law of Jubilee, where all debts are cancelled, it is not difficult to see that the time of aionios kolasis (eonian judgment) must of necessity be limited. To make it never-ending would be a violation of biblical law, regardless of our view of its actual nature. That is to say, whether we believe the fire is literal or symbolic of the divine law, it must be of limited duration.