“Leads to”
March 11, 2011 — 9:45

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: Afterlife  Tags:   Comments: 29

My favorite universalist passage is Romans 5:18. (Originally, my favorite one was I Corinthians 15:22, and I was then pleased to learn that that had also apparently been the favorite universalist passage of Abraham Lincoln. But I was putting it over Romans 5:18 because I was mistakenly thinking that Romans 5:19 severely curtailed the power of Romans 5:18. For this mistake, and why it’s a mistake, see my quick discussion of Romans 5:18 in section 2 of “Universalism and the Bible“.) Among the nice features of Romans 5:18, I’ll here quickly note just one. A decent percentage of the “refutations” of universalism I encounter make this move: They claim that while all will indeed be made alive in Christ, this life will turn out to be a bad deal for many, because they will be made and kept alive in order to face judgment and eternal torment! Now I think that (among its other problems) this move is based on an extremely bleak, excessively narrow, and wholly implausible understanding of Paul’s use in such contexts of the likes “alive” / “life” (and correlatively of the likes of “die”), especially as they occur in phrases that talk about such things as being made alive in Christ. (But any port in a storm, I suppose.) So perhaps I just shouldn’t even worry about such maneuvers. But it is nice, given the potential worries many apparently have here, that Romans 5:18 throws in that bit about “acquittal”, saying Christ’s act “leads to *acquittal* and life for all men.”
But what about that “leads to”? It’s long seemed to me the most likely escapes here would focus on the “leads to”, rather than the “all” of this passage. (Why I take a dim view of at least the most prominent forms of attempted escape that focus on the “all” is explained in my previous post here.) Maybe this passage just describes how all people are led, or what possibilities are opened to them, while leaving it open that some won’t follow this leading or actualize the relevant possibility?
But that’s not how such claims work….


(Well, in English. I have some inquiries in about potential differences between the English and the Greek here. For now I’ll note that those who resist a unversalist reading of this passage tend not to do so based on alleged difference between the English and the Greek, but rather tend to think their reasons apply to the standard English translations as well.) This can be tested in a variety of conversational situations, but I’ll give just one here. Based on it, it should be easy to construct more on your own. (It’s kinda interesting trying out various slightly different formulations to discern which ones will fly in situations like the one below.)
So, for instance, suppose you’re advertising a job training program. Suppose your program has enjoyed great placement success: that almost all of those who have gone through and graduated from your program have subsequently landed high paying jobs, and that they got those jobs because of your program. And suppose that those few who haven’t landed high-paying jobs didn’t fail to get a high-paying job due to any failure of leadership on your program’s part: One, say, didn’t even try to get a job after finishing, because she inherited a large sum of money right before graduating from your program and didn’t need to work. And the only other exception never intended to seek a high-paying job: This graduate knew all along he was going to stick with his low-paying job because he loves it so much, but was going through your program just to see what it was like. (Note how, to give non-universalist readings their best hope of succeeding, we consider situations in which the universal statements have very few exceptions. Most non-universalist Christians don’t think there are just odd exceptions here or there to everyone being saved; indeed some seem to think the vast majority of humankind is / will be damned. They of course will often face an even greater challenge in making sense of these passages.)
What can you honestly say about how successful your program has been? Well, there are a lot of very strong statements you’re in a position to make. But, I submit, here’s one thing you can’t say (although there are many little tweaks you can make to it to render it something you can honestly claim): “Our program leads to high-paying jobs for all our graduates.”

Comments:
  • Alexander Pruss

    1. I hear the English “leads to” as expressive of a tendency. “Smoking leads to lung cancer” is a common phrase (34300 hits on google). But there is additionally a quantifier scope issue here. We could read “A leads to having G for all Hs” in two different ways:
    1. A leads to (x)(Hx → Gx).
    2. (x)(Hx → (A leads to Gx)).
    On the first reading of Rom 5:18, there is a tendency to universal salvation. On the second reading there is universal tendency to salvation. The first reading supports universalism.
    2. Moreover, in English the degree to which “to lead to” is a success term depends on the tense. E.g.:
    – Simple past: “Your soda habit led you to obesity.” This entails that obesity has been attained.
    – Present continuous: “Your soda habit is leading you to obesity.” That’s a warning and does not entail you will become obese.
    I think the same goes for universal quantifiers:
    – Simple past: “A soda habit led everyone to obesity.” This entails that everyone in the domain of quantification became obese.
    – Present continuous: “A soda habit leads everyone to obesity.” This does not entail that everyone will become obese.
    3. So what tense do we have in Greek? The answer is: none. We don’t have any corresponding verb in Greek. Literally but unenglishly what we have is: “Therefore just as through the transgression of one for all to/toward condemnation, so through the justice of one for all to/toward justification of life.”
    The text is at least compatible with the reading: “Therefore just as through the transgression of one all got directed at condemnation, so through the justice of one all got directed at justification of life.” This may entail the universality of sufficient grace (and hence will be problematic for Calvinists) but does not entail the universality of salvation.
    4. A consistent universalist reading would seem to require that just as all receive justification, so all receive condemnation. But it is not clear that it is in the final analysis correct to say that those who are saved receive condemnation. Christ took their condemnation on himself.
    5. Suppose we allow that the text does indeed say that all received condemnation and that all received justification. Universalism still does not follow. For universalism to follow, one would need the additional premise that those who receive justification do not lose justification (or that if they do, they receive it again, with there being a final reception of justification not followed by any loss). Now if the first half of the text says that everyone has received condemnation, then condemnation is something that can be lost–it is, presumably, lost in those who come to be justified. By parallel we would expect that justification can be lost as well–or at the very least the text does not rule that out. Those who believe in the “perseverance of the saints” can’t take this way out.

    March 11, 2011 — 14:22
  • Keith DeRose

    One way to put what such examples show is that claims like “Our program leads to high-paying jobs for all our graduates” don’t have the second sense you allege (with “leads to” in your formulation being satisfiable by a mere tendency). [To address your particular take on a meaning of the relevant sentences, we may want to tweak the example so that it’s clear that each & every graduate has a tendency toward landing a high-paying job, though some never arrive at that promised land. I believe we’ll find that after applying those tweaks, “Our program leads to high-paying jobs for all our graduates” will still seem pretty clearly wrong so long as some graduates, whatever tendencies they exhibited, never made it to a high-paying job.]
    I do read the verse as claiming that all men are first condemned in Adam.
    As for subsequently losing it: Note that what we’re talking about here (under the assumption you make in your 5) is everyone winning “acquittal and life”, so we’d have to be imagining first having and then losing *that*.

    March 11, 2011 — 16:27
  • Alexander Pruss

    Keith:
    I think that in a context where everyone in the conversation knows that some people just don’t bother to apply for jobs, “Our program leads to high-paying jobs for all our graduates” might sound OK if all the ones who did apply got them. So I am not convinced by the example.
    But in any case, how about this? Suppose everyone who goes through the program is offered a high-paying job, but some don’t accept the offer. In that context, “Our program leads to high-paying jobs for all our graduates” would sound pretty much fine to me. In particular, the following doesn’t sound contradictory: “Our program leads to high-paying jobs for all our graduates. Inexplicably, some don’t take these jobs, preferring to switch industries.” After all, we can say about a grad student on the market: “I just heard that she got the job at Xyz College. I wonder if she’ll accept it.”
    Likewise, if A leads to a genuine offer of presidential pardon for x (which x can accept or refuse), then it sounds correct to say that A leads to presidential pardon for x. And if for all x, A leads to a genuine offer of presidential pardon for x, then it is correct to say that for all x, A leads to a presidential pardon for x. And if for all x, A leads to a presidential pardon for x, then A leads to a presidential pardon for all.

    March 11, 2011 — 17:52
  • Keith DeRose

    Hmm. I’d have thought truthfulness would require saying that it leads to offers of high-paying jobs for all your graduates. I mean, if I were composing the Placement page for a philosophy graduate program’s web site, and if I were for some reason stuck on the idea of using the “leads to” formulation (in reality, I’d no doubt skip the whole problem by finding a completely different way of saying things), and what’s happening is that all our graduates are getting offers of tenure-track jobs, but some are turning them down for non-tenure-track jobs at, say, top 10 departments, I’d feel I’d have to say “…leads to tenure-track *offers* for all of…” [then it would be nice, but not needed for truthfulness to add some explanation about how some turn them down] or, if I wanted to put things in terms of actual jobs and not offers, “…leads to tenure-track jobs or jobs at top 10 departments for all of…”

    March 11, 2011 — 19:15
  • Keith DeRose

    & I like to think of Paul as being a stickler, too 🙂

    March 11, 2011 — 20:54
  • Alexander Pruss

    I think it would depend on whether there was a likelihood that the text would be misunderstood. If it were generally well known to the writer and readers that not everyone accepts the offers, then there would be no need to insert the word “offers”.
    Given the conjunction of anti-universalism with the hypothesis that anti-universalism was generally taken for granted by the writer and readers, the English phrasing “leads to vivifying justification for all” (or however one translates “dikaiòsin zoès) would be neither untruthful nor particularly surprising.
    But all that said, the Greek has no “leads”. It just has eis+accusative. Eis indicates a directedness to a destination (whether a place or a purpose) and does not require success.
    While translating as “leads” is acceptable, translating it as “leads” and then insisting that the text calls for a success sense of “leads” would be an overreading. (It would also be an overreading to say that the text calls for a non-success sense.)
    Or so it seems to this non-scholar of NT Greek.

    March 11, 2011 — 21:02
  • Keith DeRose

    Given the conjunction of anti-universalism with…
    Well, given just anti-universalism, I guess we pretty much have to read it in a non-universalist way…
    English “leads” as well seems to indicate directing toward a destination (whether a place or a purpose) and does not generally require success; I’m not insisting on a success sense of “leads” as if it, in any setting, requires actually arriving at the destination, but that the whole construction “X leads to Y for all Fs” seems to indicate that all the Fs end up at/with Y (via X). Whether the Greek that gets rendered “leads to acquittal and life for all men” is accurately so translated is a question I’m (of necessity) very open on, though, as I wrote, those I’ve encountered (mostly through reading) who defended a non-universalist reading of this verse have written as if their defenses applied as well to the standard English translation.

    March 11, 2011 — 21:11
  • Alexander Pruss

    I was thinking that what we want to do is to compare:
    P(Paul writes Rom 5:18 this way | anti-universalism and K)
    with
    P(Paul writes Rom 5:18 this way | universalism and K)
    where K is the rest of our background.
    So the question of whether the phrasing is surprising given anti-universalism seems a good one to ask.
    By the way, on reflection, it seems to me that “eis” has more of an implication of success than “pros”, especially in the case of verbs of motion. That still doesn’t make for a very strong case for universalism based on Rom 5:18 (especially since there is no verb of motion).

    March 11, 2011 — 21:22
  • Keith DeRose

    Sorry, Alex, when I pasted my previous comment in, part of it for some reason didn’t paste, so I went back & added the missing part — and then saw you had replied to the part that initially did take in the meantime.

    March 11, 2011 — 21:40
  • Alexander Pruss

    Keith:
    I am more confident that the Greek doesn’t imply that all arrive at vivifying justification than that the English doesn’t imply it. 🙂 If you’re right that the English does imply that all arrive there (and I am not sure of that), then the “leads” translations decide something that they should be neutral on.
    But it’s hard to translate this particular verse into English without either deciding too much or sounding really bad. The Greek is very elliptical. (Evidence that if Paul is a stickler, he’s not a stickler for words?) I wouldn’t lean heavily on a verse that’s so elliptical.

    March 11, 2011 — 21:56
  • Keith DeRose

    I might add that English translations that opt for something other than “leads to” here often seem to go for “result in” formulations that seem even more friendly to success readings of this whole English sentence. The NIV seems to be moving around a bit on this, but what looks to be its most recent (here: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+5%3A18&version=NIV ) has this “resulted in” rendering:
    Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
    (I also note the updating from “men” to “people”, which I like, since I want to get everyone of either gender into heaven 🙂
    NASB is much like the above NIV; ESV is like the RSV I’ve been using with “leads to”. To *my* reading (given what I’ve argued the “leads to” renderings of this whole sentence require), these come to pretty much the same thing — not that “results in” and “leads to” *generally* seem to mean the same thing, but that these whole English sentences come to much the same thing. But the “resulted in” version seems more clearly universalistic. (Which still leaves open the possibility that these are bad translations of the Greek; in which case I guess the “resulted in” would be more wrong, or more clearly wrong.)

    March 11, 2011 — 22:25
  • Robert Allen

    Profs. DeRose and Pruss,
    If you guys were a symphony I’d be shouting ‘bravo’- great exchange. The highlight for me is the analogy of the department’s placement record. Given the dept’s pronouncement, could one legitimately claim false advertising if some of those given offers turned them down? I think not. It’s simply understood that the claim applies only to those interested working in academia. In the same way, I am a Universalist if that means that everyone willing to be saved is saved. But I can’t understand the notion of salvation for those who choose to be damned: dragging someone kicking and screaming into Paradise would not only be a violation of free will, but be cruel. Now I hasten to say that I can’t understand choosing to be damned either. (I read somewhere that the cyclist Lance Armstrong once claimed that he’d tell God to get lost if He dared criticized him for not being a Christian. I thought to myself, ‘No you won’t’.) That is why I tend to think that all will be saved. So my question is, can one be a Universalist and still posit the possibility of damnation for some (nearly unfathomable) individuals? Such a reading would then conform to St. Paul’s injunction to work out one’s salvation with “fear and trembling.” After all, if I came to believe that everyone will be saved no matter what, I would lose at least one incentive for obeying the Commandments.

    March 14, 2011 — 10:00
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alexander,
    You write: “The text is at least compatible with the reading: “Therefore just as through the transgression of one all got directed at condemnation, so through the justice of one all got directed at justification of life.””
    Yes. On the other hand it is incontestable in this context that through the one act of transgression we all were not just “directed” at condemnation, but arrived to the condemnation of humanity’s universally fallen state. If one wants to keep the semantic symmetry of the verse, which is indeed its very point, one *must* understand the second clause universally and definitively too, namely as that through one act of justice we all arrive to salvation.
    Incidentally, it just occurred to me that perhaps Paul did not use a verb in this verse because it is not clear what the appropriate tense should be.
    “For universalism to follow, one would need the additional premise that those who receive justification do not lose justification [snip]”
    It seems to me that this idea breaks the symmetrical semantics of the original verse. There are but two Adams: the first one who through a moral defeat has condemned us all and the second (and final) one who through a moral victory saves us all.

    March 15, 2011 — 6:40
  • Keith DeRose

    Hey, Robert….
    I am a Universalist if that means that everyone willing to be saved is saved
    Well, that’s not enough (on anything close to how I use the term) — but I suspect you’re here assuming other things you believe. Later, when you start adding stuff about thinking everyone will be saved, but b/c of freedom still allowing the possibility that some won’t, it sounds like you’re getting to a borderline-universalist position that I’m happy to count, but can understand if others don’t. I’ll paste here what I wrote in another discussion (though this will involve a quotation of myself within a quotation of myself!):
    There can be some tricky calls on whether to count some views as cases of universalism — especially once you start getting to the views of people who are worrying about free will (as you seem to be). For instance, Greg Boyd now reports that “Rob Bell is not a universalist” [ http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/rob-bell-is-not-a-universalist-and-i-actually-read-love-wins/ ]. But I wonder whether this might be just a little stickiness in what Greg will count as “universalism.” His denial that Bell is a universalist does seem to get a little guarded: “I would argue that Rob cannot hold to Universalism *as a… doctrine*”. And the reason seems to have to do with freedom: “While its clear from Love Wins that Rob believes (as do I ) that God wants all to be saved, it’s also clear Rob believes (as do I) that humans [and, I would add, angels] have free will and that God will never coerce someone to accept his love…”
    This gets tricky. I consider a position on which one holds that God just keeps trying to freely win everyone over, and that, given God’s amazing powers of persuasion (even while not overriding freedom) and the immense amount of time God has to work with, it is OVERWHELEMINGLY probable that all will be (freely) saved. But there is still, on the view in question, a possibility that there might be some forever hold-outs. Is *this* universalism? What I wishy-washily say:
    “If one takes this option, I think one can still be counted as a universalist. After all, you believe it is overwhelmingly probable that all will be saved, and in contested theological matters, …we can’t expect to reach beyond that level of certainty anyway. (Indeed, due to the usual causes — human fallibility on such tough questions — we’re not even going to get up to that level of certainty, nor even close to it, on this or any other tough matter, anyway.) But this does seem to compromise on universalism a bit, because one is not only admitting that one could (of course!) be wrong about the matter in question, but also that according to the position one holds (however firmly or tentatively), there is some (VANISHINGLY small, but still existent) *objective* chance that not all will be saved. Not even God knows absolutely for certain that all will be saved.”
    So I guess that’s classifying the view in question (which sounds like it may be close to options Bell is considering) as “kinda universalism.” I count it (for the reason given above), but can certainly understand someone else not counting it (for the reason above).

    March 15, 2011 — 19:43
  • Keith:
    I find Hanson’s reading of the “aionios life” as a life of indefinite duration implausible. The good news isn’t that we get life of indefinite duration. It’s that we get life eternal. And the “aionios fire” seems exactly parallel to the “aionios life”. The word “aionios” has other meanings, but the predominant meaning in the context of the afterlife seems to be that of eternity. (Actually, I don’t know what is a life of indefinite duration.)
    Dianelos:
    It depends how you read the condemnation in the first half of the verse. Christ saved us from condemnation. There is a condemnation which we would have faced had Christ not saved us from it. The first half of the verse could be talking about that condemnation–we were heading for it, and Christ saved us from it.
    One of our grad students also reminded me of Paul’s enjoyment of parallelism. While parallelism needs to be taken into account in exegesis, to some degree the parallelism can be just a stylistic thing, and we should not push the parallelism very hard in every case.

    March 15, 2011 — 22:00
  • Keith DeRose

    It’s been a while since I’ve been through it, Alex. What I found most valuable were like his lists of uses where it seems infinite duration could not be meant. But I don’t know what he has in mind by life of indefinite duration. Perhaps this? — You’d be better positioned to say whether this might be what he had in mind, having just read him. Maybe a use by which it means something like “at least a very long time” — that could be satisfied either by a very long finite period of time or an infinitely long period? That could be a reasonable conclusion to draw, given certain evidence (whether the evidence he puts forward would succeed in supporting it is a further matter, but maybe). And it would be extremely handy for dealing with Matthew 25:46, if you’re a universalist who’s inclined to worry about that verse (& as I recall, that’s the verse Hanson thinks is the most dangerous to his position). For my part, I don’t think we should worry about a detail of a parable that’s not part of the main point being made. But if you are going to worry about it, I think there is pretty strong pressure to read the two “aionios”s as being used in the same sense (no switching meaning). Well, then, if it doesn’t mean everlasting when applied to punishment of the goats, then it doesn’t mean it when applied to the life of the sheep. Uh-oh: Does that mean the life of the blessed in less than everlasting? But if “aionios” means “at least very long”, then it can be used in that same sense both times, and in neither case would be saying something is everlasting, but also in neither case would it be ruling out that the thing is everlasting. Then the universalist wouldn’t be boxed into the corner of denying that the life of the sheep is everlasting — all he’d lose is that you can support the thesis that the life of the blessed is everlasting from this verse. But (a) who wants to do that — base such a doctrine on some detail of a parable — anyway? & (b) If I’m remembering right, Hanson, having claimed that you can’t get forever out of “aionios,” goes on to list several terms used in the NT that he says *do* assert infinite duration of time & the use of which do provide us a good basis for thinking life in Christ will be forever.

    March 15, 2011 — 22:43
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    You write: “ It depends how you read the condemnation in the first half of the verse. Christ saved us from condemnation. There is a condemnation which we would have faced had Christ not saved us from it. The first half of the verse could be talking about that condemnation–we were heading for it, and Christ saved us from it. The first half of the verse could be talking about that condemnation–we were heading for it, and Christ saved us from it.”
    I agree it depends on how one reads the condemnation in the first half of the verse. I don’t think that first century readers would understand that Adam’s transgression moved us to the condemnation of hell; rather they would understand that Adam’s transgression moved us to the condemnation of our current fallen state. Neither do I think that the former comports with the classical soteriological understanding. Adam’s transgression is very strongly related to our current fallen state, but only indirectly, and only if universalism is false, and only possibly, with our future state in hell. Moreover the whole of the message of the Gospels is that Jesus is or opens for us (in our current premortal state) the path to the Kingdom – Christ’s salvation is not therefore to be understood as salvation from Hell but salvation from our current fallen state.

    March 16, 2011 — 7:45
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,
    In my judgment there are several verses in the Gospels and the epistles, such as the ones we have been discussing, which no writer having in mind an anti-universalist picture would ever write. Conversely there are several verses which no writer having in mind a universalist picture would ever write. Such is the case of Matthew 25:46 which you mention, and which implies that some will go into eternal punishment. (Perhaps there are ways for a universalist to dilute the obvious meaning of that verse. Here’s one possibility: The way that the anti-universalist feels free to interpret “all” as meaning “some”, the universalist is free to interpret “some” as meaning “none”. Indeed the actuality of “none” does not contradict the claim of “some”, whereas the same is not the case for “some” and “all”.)
    Anyway, given this state of affairs, what is one to do with the apparent contradictions in the scriptures? Well, one path is to go beyond the scriptures and look for the truth in our mystical relation with God. And here the record is pretty strong; mystics in general tend to speak of some kind of universalism. Another path would be to argue that universalism is better defensible within a broadly Christian theological context than is the doctrine of hell. That’s the argument of an upcoming book by Eric Reitan.
    But what if one wishes to uphold scripture’s definitive authority? Is there a way to actually synthesize universalism and anti-universalism? Is there a way to accept the evident meaning of both the universalist and anti-universalist verses in scripture? I think perhaps there is. I’d like to suggest two ideas:
    1. I read about this idea in one of bishop Kallistos Ware’s books. As I understand it, it goes like this: Hell, as a place of eternal (never ending) separation from God, certainly exists. The Day of Judgment in which we shall be judged by God and risk falling into hell also exists. But it is not for us to make any predictions about how God will judge. Perhaps God in His infinite wisdom will decide to forgive everybody, even the fallen angels. Meanwhile let’s work with Christ for universal salvation.
    2. I read about the second idea in an account about a monk of Mount Athos. There I found out that, at least in the Orthodox tradition, the power of prayer is considered to be unlimited, and includes the power to literally pull somebody out of hell. Hell, in that view, remains a place of never-ending suffering, but not a place that the power of prayer cannot reach. If that is so, then it is certain that the love and prayers of those in heaven will ultimately succeed in saving the very last soul in hell. (Which, incidentally, reminds me of one of the reasons why I am a universalist: As long as there is suffering in hell the state of those in heaven will not be perfect, for either their joy will be dimmed by the realization that some of their fellow humans are suffering, or else their mind will be dulled by the ignorance that some of their fellow humans are suffering.) An advantage of this idea is that it upholds God’s justice as understood by anti-universalists.

    March 16, 2011 — 7:49
  • Keith:
    We may have an interesting difference in intuitions here. I think that permanent cessation of a human’s existence would be a cosmically great evil, whether that cessation were to come after ten years or after 10^50 years. The important difference here (and elsewhere–I find only mildly interesting multiverse views on which there are 10^500 universes; but views on which there are infinitely many, my those are interesting (and problematic)) is between the infinite and the finite, not between the big and small. While no doubt I would worry more if I believed I would cease to exist in a year than if I believed I would cease to exist in 10^50 years, that would in part be due to a prudentially faulty bias, and in any case, eventually, namely in (10^50)-1 years, I’d still be in that terrible position of having to cease to exist in a year. So in the final analysis, the good news is only really good news if it is news of an eternal life.

    March 16, 2011 — 10:24
  • Keith DeRose

    Alex: The idea was to give you your eternal (everlasting, forever) life, but just not to try to wring it from the likes of Matthew 25:46.
    I just re-checked the Hanson piece on aionios & he does have a section on words in the NT that he says do mean endless duration and give us a basis for holding the life of the blessed to be everlasting. Search for “WORDS TEACHING ENDLESS DURATION”. It starts: “But the Blessed Life has not been left dependent on so equivocal a word. The soul’s immortal and happy existence is taught in the New Testament, by words that in the Bible are never applied to anything that is of limited duration….”

    March 16, 2011 — 13:24
  • Yeah, but given how common the phrase “eternal life” in the NT is, it would be at least a little bit surprising if it was as weak as Hanson thinks it is. There might be a Gricean violation there, like talking constantly (and not just as an occasionally deliberately understated point) that the proposition that 2+2=4 is going to remain true for a long time. I think it makes better sense of the text of the NT, and of the Church Fathers, to suppose that “aionios” in these kinds of contexts implies everlastingness.

    March 16, 2011 — 13:36
  • Keith DeRose

    One would think so, until one sees it used in cases where it seems it doesn’t mean everlasting. But I might not be adequately appreciating what “these kinds of contexts” are supposed to be — why the cases where it seems the term is being used in a way that doesn’t imply endless duration aren’t those kinds of contexts. (I’m speaking just of NT uses: I haven’t looked at the uses by Church Fathers.)

    March 16, 2011 — 20:38
  • Keith DeRose

    I’ve been reading a couple of bits of Olympiodorus’ commentary on the Gorgias — with the English translation being provided for me by a friend who happens to be a terrific scholar of ancient Greek philosophy. It’s fascinating, because here, apparently independent of any Christian influence, much of this whole debate is reproduced in a context of non-Christian, rationalist theology (arguing for a universalist understanding of Plato) — but by a writer (Olympiodorus) who presumably understands the ancient Greek very well. Olympiodorus argues, largely from the purpose of punishment (together with such premises as that God does nothing in vain) that eternal punishment (aiônia kolasis) should not be understood as punishment that lasts forever, but as punishment that lasts for a very long time.

    March 16, 2011 — 21:28
  • Keith:
    I was thinking of contexts of description of afterlife states.
    I am thinking that “aionios”, while derivative from “aion”, should probably be seen to have developed a life of its own by NT Koine times, so I am only looking at “aionios”.
    I’ve just quickly skimmed through all the uses of aionios in the NT. I might have missed something–but you can double check here (modulo the accuracy of Strong’s numbering).
    The instances of forms of aionios divide into two groups. In one group are three instances where aionios is pluralized (Greek adjectives match their governing noun in number) and paired with a form of chronoi (ages, times). The other group is all the rest–68 instances.
    Among the uses other than in the chronoi aionioi phrases we have our controverted punishment verses. Bracketing these controversial uses we have about sixty remaining uses. In these remaining uses, all of them are cases where “eternal” or “everlasting” would sound perfectly correct–we are told of aionios life, aionios divine power, the aionios gospel (maybe one might balk slightly at that, but it sounds fine to me–perhaps aionios modifies the content, or perhaps we are simply talking of gospel life being aionios), etc. If aionios in these contexts in NT Koine means something weaker than “eternal”, then we have the puzzle of why the NT, about sixty times, uses a weaker term where a stronger would work just as well. That’s the Gricean violation issue I’m talking about. The best explanation of the pattern of usage is that with the possible exception of chronoi aionioi uses, the term simply means “eternal” or “everlasting”.
    What about the chronoi aionioi cases? These are in Rom 16:25, 2Tim 1:9 and Titus 1:2. I think we should not put much if any weight on these cases. First of all, unlike all the other cases I can remember, the adjective modifies a plural noun. The context is thus very distinctly different from the context in the remaining cases. Second, the chronoi aionioi seems to be a set phrase, and older meanings can survive in set phrases while not being available in other contexts. Third, these three cases are different from the reward/punishment texts because all three texts deal with the past–the three texts respectively talk of the mystery of the Gospel having been secret for chronoi aionioi, God’s predestination being before chronoi aionioi and God’s having announced his promises before chronoi aionioi. Fourth, even if we insist on a compositional reading of chronoi aionioi rather than taking it as a set phrase, given the very small number of uses, we could take them (or perhaps only the Romans and Titus ones) as hyperbole, like the teenager who says that he had to wait “forever” for his turn. (I suppose one might then suggest that the aionios fire texts are hyperbole, too. But there is a difference–a literal infinitist reading is less likely to occur to people in the chronoi aionioi texts, so there is less danger of misunderstanding.)

    March 16, 2011 — 22:31
  • Keith DeRose

    I should note (in opposition to the suggestion of Olympiodorus I related above) that if William Barclay is right about “aionios” [ http://www.word-gems.com/time.aionios.html ] — and he would seem to be if anything more insistent about Plato than about the NT — then Olympiodorus is wrong to be taking the term to be talking about temporal duration at all. The suggestion seems to be that “aionios” refers in the first instance to what is outside of time (rather than in time but everlasting) — a meaning some uses of “eternal” in English seem to bear — and then is secondarily applied to things in time that bear a special relation to the eternal God as their source:
    “As we do so we must remember that aionios is distinctively the word of eternity, and that it can properly describe only that which essentially belongs to and befits God. It is used of the great blessings of the Christian life, blessings which have been brought by Jesus Christ…It is used of the eternal covenant of which Christ is the mediator (Heb. 13.20). A covenant means a relationship with God, and through Jesus Christ men enter into a relationship with God which is as eternal as God himself….But while aionios is used to describe the greatest blessings of the Christian life, it is also used to describe the greatest threats of the Christian life. It is used to describe the fire of punishment (Matt. 18.8; 25.41; Jude 7). It is used to describe punishment itself (Matt. 25.46). It is used to describe judgment (Heb. 6.2). It is used to describe destruction (II Thess. 1.9). It is used to describe the sin which finally separates man from God (Mark 3.29).
    It is in these passages that we need to be specially careful in our interpretation of the word. Simply to take is as meaning lasting for ever is not enough. In all these passages we must remember the essential meaning of aionios. Aionios is the word of eternity as opposed to and contrasted with time. It is the word of deity as opposed to and contrasted with humanity. It is the word which can only really be applied to God. If we remember that, we are left with one tremendous truth — both the blessings which the faithful shall inherit and the punishment which the unfaithful shall receive are such as befits God to give and to inflict. Beyond that we cannot go.”

    March 17, 2011 — 0:02
  • Keith:
    By the way, I think it’s compatible with the anti-universalist position to suppose that heaven and hell are timeless states. Sometimes people quote from the Book of Revelation “time will be no more.” I suspect that’s a mistranslation–the text probably means “this age will be no more”–but some people do take it as literally saying that our final destiny is a timeless state.
    Personally, I reject that move. First, it borders on incoherence. When we try to state it, it sounds like: “One day, we will be timeless.” 🙂 (It’s like McTaggart’s little joke–which I’m reporting second hand and hence perhaps botching–about how now they’ve proved the unreality of time and next week we’ll meet in the same place to prove the unreality of space.) I know that’s an uncharitable way to put it, but it is hard to get a good formulation of the idea that makes sense. Second, I think it doesn’t fit with the importance of the resurrection of the body in Christian theology. Temporality seems central to the point of having a body.
    Maybe though all the verse means is that we’ll all be B-theorists. That would be a happy consequence. 🙂

    March 17, 2011 — 8:49
  • Keith DeRose

    It’s of course a huge topic, but, though I’m no B-ist, I’m very much subject to worries about the coherence of claims involving timelessness, too, Alex. In fact, perhaps for somewhat related reasons, I’m one of those who suspects that it’s incoherent to suppose God (given certain other very basic things we hold about God) is outside-of-time-eternal (but then I’m an old student of Nick “God Everlasting” Wolterstorff). On the other hand, I am very open to (to the point of suspecting something in this big ballpark is right) the vague idea that God’s relation to time, whatever it is, is radically unlike ours (& also radically unlike the relation the number 2 bears to time), even if this relation isn’t accurately captured by claims to the effect that God is “outside” of time. This seems to open up for me a *roughly*-Barclay-style understanding of “God eternal”

    March 17, 2011 — 12:13
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    An argument for the claim that the authors of NT by “aionios” meant “of infinite duration” is the fact that theologians tend to attach concepts of infinity to God. But, as the ancients said, “ouk en to pollo to eu” (“not in the plenty the good”) . God’s perfection does not necessarily nor obviously imply infinities. Indeed it seems to me that the original theological thought about God’s attributes was quite primitive: God has the same attributes of a good human king, only raised to the infinity. So, as a good human king generously rewards those who obey him, so does God infinitely in heaven. And as a good human king punishes those who disobey him, so does God infinitely in hell. And whereas good human king can do much more than you or I, God can do everything. And so on. But such theological thought suffers from the serious mistake of ignoring the fundamental metaphysical difference between God and humans: We humans exist, but (as the better theological thought from John 1:3 to the Scholastics to Tillich has it) God is the foundation of existence. For us, contingent beings, there is a difference between what we want to do and what we can do and thus there exists a measure of our power and indeed a point of talking about our power; but not so for God. (As Augustine in his “City of God” rightly observed “God is called omnipotent on account of His doing what He wills”.) Similarly, somebody can violate her obligations to us, or be against us. For God who is the sustainer of all existence and the giver all freedom the same does not apply, so the idea of “sinning against God” is incoherent. As is the idea that God rewards or punishes. My point is that the traditional doctrines about hell (and about heaven) have originated with a primitive and sometimes misleading concept of God.

    March 17, 2011 — 16:18
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    The idea that heaven will be ultimately a timeless state comports well with the idea of theosis. By “theosis” I understand the event of complete union with God, at which point one’s individual existence is extinguished with one’s self dissolving in God’s nature like a drop of water dissolves in an ocean. I don’t see any incoherence in that idea. On the contrary I have trouble making sense of a finite being having an infinite life experience (whether in heaven or in hell).
    If theosis (the way I understand it) is true then our career as humans has both a beginning and an end in time, but an end not consisting of death but of what can only be called the opposite of death and the most glorious and beautiful conclusion of one’s being possible.

    March 17, 2011 — 16:48