I want to briefly deal with St. Augustine's argument that's currently a mainstream view of Matthew 25:46. Some scholars believe that the Greek word “aion“ and it‘s adjective form “aionios“ can mean any period of time from brief to endless, depending on context: when applies to God they believe it would mean endless, but when applied to men, or to mankind then they believe that it means a finite duration. There are Christian Universalists that believe that that way, so I don't want to sound like I'm running over anybody about this. Credible scholars believe that aionios can mean eternal, while admitting it's force in Matthew 25:46 is only pertaining to an age. However, "aion" just means an age. "Aionios" means an age belonging to _______ (fill in the blank). Some would try to say that aionios can sometimes mean eternal based upon the subject, as in the aionios God in Romans. But in Romans that's obviously just talking about the God who's working these redemptive plans throughout a series of ages. It does no injury to God to say that He works within ages and is therefore the age-lasting, or age-during God in that one context in Romans when elsewhere He's called the Immortal God.
Sin, wickedness, and punishment are never called "immortal" in Scripture.
To say that aionios sometimes means everlasting, although I realize that William Barclay did allow for it, but really it's like saying that the color "red" takes on additional meanings when you're no longer talking about "red" as a noun but are using it as an adjective. Does "red" hair suddenly have a hint of green because it's telling you something about the hair rather than being the abstract concept of the color "red" by itself?
Aion consistently means an age and aionios consistently means an age pertaining to _______ (fill in the blank). Aionios is using the age to describe something rather than establishing some new meaning that aion doesn't have. You're just tying age to the pruning by saying aionios kolasis rather than leaving the element of confusion that there would be if you just had aion and punishment side by side in a sentence. It's a grammatical difference rather than a change in meaning.
A really good book on this is "The Greek Word Aion" by J.W. Hanson. It lists other words in the Greek that are stronger than "aion" for implying perpetuity, many of which are applied to God, redemption, the work of Christ, Christ, the saints, etc., but are never applied to punishment, destruction, wickedness, fire, damnation, condemnation, etc. That book was extremely helpful to me my first couple of months in the Universal Restoration message 'cause an obvious, honest series of questions really are: "if aion's not eternal, how do you say eternal in ancient Greek? And of those alternative words, are any of them used in the New Testament? And if so, how are they used? With what are they associated? Any associations with either the wicked or punishment in either the New Testament or the Septuignt?" And the answer is, that there are ancient Greek words that come much closer to conveying the modern sense of eternity that are absolutely never used with regards to the eternal separation of anyone from redemption, God, the purposes of God, heaven, etc.
It's a really short book. I've owned a couple of copies over the last 7 years. Not sure if I own a copy right now, but it's roughly a 9" X 6" book that's about 79 pages. With short chapters. So, anybody that hasn't yet read that book, you really ought to try to get through it 'cause it's on the short side and it's enormously helpful. It has some preterism flavoring to it, so if you're not entirely sold on the idea of preterism, then just skim those parts until you're back to the proofs on the limited duration of aion and aionios.
Both the eonian life and the eonian pruning come to an end. Yes, most definitely. The believer has life for as long as there's any such thing as death, and when death is abolished, what else can there be but life for all? Others might say something different, but I'm trying to be brief. I'm surprised that I haven't run across a whole book by a Universalist on this one parable 'cause those who believe in eternal separation act as though it's unanswerable in the way that they want to interpret it, but I've seen a lot of valid interpretations that don't cost us the Universal Restoration.
There's a verse often cited on this point. If I remember correctly, Elhanan Winchester cited the passage and commented on it like this in his book "The Universal Restoration":
"He stood and measured the earth; He beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, and the perpetual hills did bow. His ways are everlasting." In our translation, the mountains and the ways of God are called everlasting, and the hills perpetual, but in the original, the word gnad is applied to the mountains and the word gnolam to the hills, and the ways of God. But whether we argue from the original or from the translation, it makes no difference. The question is, are the mountains or the hills eternal in the same sense in which the ways of God are? If so, the earth must have existed coequal with the ways of Jehovah, and the hills and mountains must never be removed, while his ways endure; and, as his ways can never be destroyed, the absolute eternity not of the earth only, but of it's present form, it's mountains and hills, must be inferred, contrary to Isaiah 40:4; 44:10; Ezek 38:20; 2Peter 3:7,10,11,12; Revelation 16:20; 20:11. Nay, even in this very text, the ways of God are spoken of as being of a different nature from the mountains which are scattered, and the hills which did bow. Thus no solid argument can be drawn from the application of the same word to different things, to prove that they shall be equal in their continuance, unless their nature be the same." -- end of quote.
Matthew 25:46 must be understood in the light of the preceding verses in that chapter that the life of the saints is with regards to their reign in that parable. And if Christ hands over the control of everything to the Father in 1Corinthians 15:28, then of course the reign of the saints -- the aionios zoe -- must come to an end. But their knowledge of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ will never come to an end. And the purpose of the reign is to work out the reclaiming of the wicked, so of course and by necessity the punishments of the wicked must come to an end.
"As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" 1Corinthians 15:22
None of the ancient languages had a word for the modern idea of "eternity" to start with. Others are listed in books such as J.W. Hanson's book on "aion" that would come closer to the idea than "aion" and those other words are used regarding God, His nature, redemption, Christ, the redeemed, etc., but never with regards to punishment, abandonment, chastisement, wickedness, etc. I'll see if I'm familiar enough still with the book to find the words in it in under a minute...:
" 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. They are applied to God and the soul's happy existence only. These words are akataluton, imperishable; amarantos and amarantinos, unfading; aphtharto, immortal, incorruptible; and athanasian, immortality. Let us quote some of the passages in which these words occur:
Heb. vii:15, 16, "And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless (akatalutos, imperishable) life." 1 Pet. i:3, 4, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, (aphtharton,) and undefiled, and that fadeth not (amaranton) away." 1 Pet. v:4, "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory thatfadeth not (amarantinos) away." 1 Tim. i:17, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, (aphtharto,) invisible, the only wise god, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen." Rom. i:23, "And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man." 1 Cor. ix:25, "Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible." 1 Cor. xv:51-54, "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, (aphthartoi,) and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, (aphtharsian,) and this mortal must put on immortality (athanasian). So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, (aphtharsian,) and this mortal shall have put on immortality, (athanasian,) then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." Rom. ii:7, "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, (aphtharsia,) eternal life." 1 Cor. xv:42, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption (aphtharsia)." See also verse 50, 2 Tim i:10, "Who brought life and immortality (aphtharsian) to light, through the gospel." 1 Tim. vi:16, "Who only hath immortality (athanasian)."
Now these words are applied to God and the soul's happiness. They are words that in the Bible are never applied to punishment, or to anything perishable. They would have been affixed to punishment had the Bible intended to teach endless punishment. And certainly they show the error of those who declare that the indefinite word aiónion is all the word, or the strongest word in the Bible declarative of the endlessness of the life beyond the grave. A little more study of the subject would prevent such reckless statements and would show that the happy, endless life does not depend at all on the pet word of the partialist critics." -- end of quote.
I want to briefly deal with 2 commentators on Matthew 25:46 who take the traditional view of Matthew 25:46 that St. Augustine ingrained into the Church as though it were the correct interpretation of Matthew 25:46:
Clarke speaking on Matthew 25:46 says: ...By dying in a settled opposition to God, they cast themselves into a necessity of continuing in an eternal aversion from him. -- end of quote.
This is an assumption backed by no Scripture. He that has died has ceased from sin. Countless Old Testament passages about people remembering and returning to the Lord. Hosea 13:14 and Zechariah 9:11 speaks specifically of redemption from Hell.
Barnes on Matthew 25:46 says: Besides, sin, as an abstract thing, cannot be punished. -- end of quote.
This was too hasty of an assertion when Micah 7:19 speaks otherwise: He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
Some people would ask questions at this point along these lines:
Why would Jesus state a simple sentence:
1)that takes two seconds to interpret one way and half a page to interpret another way;
2)that can be so easily misconstrued, if that is what happened;
3)that uses the same adjective to modify two opposing nouns, unless he meant the adjective to modify in the same way, when he could easily have made the whole thing very clear by using different adjectives?
And they might go on further to say that you can't fault people for reading it the way they are reading it with the traditional view of eternal punishment.
Some of the problems that arise, along these lines, are the question that some scholars have as to whether or not Jesus actually spoke in Greek or in Aramaic and if our Gospels are translations of Aramaic compositions, or if Aramaic thoughts were taken directly into Greek. In the 4 Gospels we only have this parable given once, so there's nothing to compare it with as far as other eye-witnesses of this teaching. So, the Apostles probably didn't place the weight on this as they did with the multiplication of the bread, which is mentioned in all 4 Gospels. This parable has been blown way out of proportion since the days of Augustine. Let's look at the English word "forever" and similar words and deal with what's the reality of English so that I can illustrate the human element in using words in any language:
I'll love her forever (Yet Jesus said marriages are null and void in the resurrection, while Romans says that romantic love ends at death.)
I was stuck in traffic forever (Is there genuinely any poor schnook stuck on the highway of your choice for all of eternity?)
I was stuck in the elevator forever (has anyone ever really spent eternity in an elevator? who??)
The toaster took forever (Does even Ezekiel bread genuinely take endless eternity to heat up?)
The microwave took forever (Even a potato is usually garbage if it's been in a microwave beyond 10 or 15 minutes. What could take all of eternity to microwave?)
She was in the bathroom forever (are we to understand that she was in the bathroom for as long as God exists?)
The dog's barking would never end (even politicians don't get to bark that long!)
That dog never did shut up (so are we to understand by this statement that the dog's barking to all of eternity?)