Based on your first impression - when someone says that you will either be in heaven or hell "forever and ever" or for "eternity" what does this mean to you?

I will exist is a state of unending time.
2 (14.3%)
I will exist in a state of timelessness which has no end.
7 (50%)
I will exist in a state of timelessness which has an end.
1 (7.1%)
I will not exist.
0 (0%)
4 (28.6%)

Total Members Voted: 14

Author Topic: 'εις αιωνας των αιωνων' - "ages of ages" - "forever and ever" - "eternal"  (Read 1518 times)

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Offline Onesimus

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This is a derivation from the subject of another thread…  HERE…

The subject of hell and divine love offer a rich target of opportunity for speculation and polarization as individual sinners attempt to wrestle with the implications of the subject.   The poles of universalism and eternal suffering torment come into collision, proof-texts and dogmatic references are hurled past one another.   But the divergence remains…indeed…I believe it is entrenched. 

One of the most overlooked – but most central aspects of this issue is the use and understanding of the Greek term 'εις αιωνας των αιωνων' (variously translated – “Forever and ever,” “to the age(s) of ages,” and “eternal,” etc. and its various constructs in Scripture and Patristic Greek manuscripts.     

"Ages of ages" or "Aeon of Aeons" are good and accurate translations.  "Forever and ever" is quite a problematic translation given modern colloquial usage of the word.     "Eternal" is correct...but becomes only an adequate translation given that colloquially we conflate "eternity" with "forever and ever"...as unending time. 

Any translation is sound insofar as it communicates a truth, but when divergences between etymology and colloquial common usage changes the meanings of words, perceptions change.  It is not correct to say "eternity" or "forever and ever" if one assigns time to those concepts, which is what has been and is largely done in most Christian discourse.   Eternity is a fine translation if it  means, as per one of its two definitions; "a state to which time has no application; timelessness."   But colloquially we don't express that, understand that, or convey that to others.   Instead we express a linear aspect of time and become dogmatic about it.  In that way, I believe we are not conveying doctrine and dogma correctly and with "gentleness and respect."

When one speaks of Hell as "eternal," it is most often in the sense of "punishment" inflicted in linear and endless time from an outside protagonist (in this case God).

The ages of ages is timelessness.   

I have no problems with the reality of changelessness as part of the judgement - for this is part of the very basis of our judgement - change does not exist where there is no time.   We become eternally what we have always been becoming in time.   But to convey eternal torment or eternal life as a time state becomes a disservice to the message in Tradition and Scripture.   The torment is a static state of eternity as a changeless "share" in the divine nature which is eternal and changeless....i.e. timeless and incorruptible.  It gets a little more messy when we think about hell though, for obvious reasons.

The bottom line is that the understanding of the "ages of ages" IMO indicates a timeless aeon in which we share in some respects the eternality of God by grace.   This eternality has no end...but it is not time.   

This understanding, I think, should temper both "infernalists" in their presentation of literalist presentations of hellfire and brimstone, but also should temper "universalists" in ideas of an "end" to the suffering that their state in relationship to Christ offers some hope of change/repentance.     

I have tons of resources to offer...but want to see where people generally land with this idea.    Does a more nuanced understanding of "the ages of ages" have the possibility to bring the poles of the "universalist" and the "infernalist" into closer alignment?   

No doubt this will bring out questions of whether hell is or is not a literal created place. 
« Last Edit: November 05, 2015, 04:23:09 AM by AaronIsom »

Offline TheTrisagion

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How can something be timeless, but have an end? That seems to be rather contradictory.
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Offline truthseeker32

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How can something be timeless, but have an end? That seems to be rather contradictory.
Not only can something timeless not have an end, it cannot have a beginning.

Offline Iconodule

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Which is part of why a truly eternal hell is problematic.

Re: the OP, I remember coming across some passages of St. Maximus discussing the difference between time, aeons, and aeons of aeons. It was all over my head, but it's out there.
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Offline Fabio Leite

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The whole phrase

καὶ νῦν καὶ ἀεὶ καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.

Both now and always, and unto the ages of ages.

points to three orders of time:

νῦν - now, the present moment we are right now.

ἀεὶ - always, the whole of time from beginning to end, all ages.

αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων - the age of ages, the "time of time", that is, that which is beyond time, eternity.

The phrase means right now at this point in time I'm in, in all time from Big Bang to Judgement Day and for all that is around and outside that time, that is eternity.


X - Present (the point where eternity touches time).

>>> Time (past, already formed, future, just as unrealized potentials)

" Eternity

A good approach to that can be found in David Bradshaw's Christian Approach to Philosophy of Time

Time and eternity thus stand as two sharply different modes of being which obtain of two sharply different kinds of entity. Each could conceivably exist without the other, for there is no intrinsic, genetic relationship between them.
This sharp division is itself a consequence of one of the most fundamental tenets of the Latin theological tradition, the doctrine of divine simplicity. Given divine simplicity as the Latin tradition understands it, God is identical with His own eternity, as He is identical with all of His essential attributes. This means that, as Augustine remarks, “eternity is the very substance of God.”1 Plainly since eternity is the divine substance, it cannot be shared by creatures.2


St. Basil likewise states that what time is for sensible objects, the nature of the eternal is for angels, so that διάστημα is the constitution common to both.13 Indeed, time as we experience it is an image (εἰκών) of this eternity.


Thus even angelic eternity is diastemic. How then does it differ from time? The answer is that it does not involve the “knife-edge present” of temporal succession. Gregory of Nyssa develops this thought in a passage of his Homilies on the Song of Songs. Distinguishing God and the angels as two species of the “intellectual nature,” he explains:


Time is not only linear but also circular, “revolving upon itself” in a weekly pattern that points to what the Church Fathers called the “Eighth Day,” the day of the new creation.17 This means that time and angelic eternity are not entirely distinct modes of being, but constitute, respectively, a more partial and a fuller arena in which the ever-forward movement into God is accomplished.
Although these ideas are suggestive, they do not directly address the question of the relationship between divine eternity and time. For this we must turn to the writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500 A.D.).


By contrast, God is not to be located at any particular point within this structure. He permeates and encompasses the whole, being identical both to eternity and to time, and yet prior to them both. Thus God is eternal in a different way from that of creatures, by Himself being Eternity. He is also the source of eternity, for creatures are eternal, to the extent that they are, by participating in Him.
This raises an interesting question. Would it not follow by parity of reasoning that since God is also Time, He must be temporal in a way surpassing that of creatures? Dionysius in fact draws this very conclusion.


Viewing time and eternity as divine processions is a striking innovation, but it also raises many questions. Most obviously, what becomes of the traditional view that time is a feature of the physical cosmos? How can this be, if it is also a divine procession, and thus one way of apprehending God himself? For an answer can turn to the earliest Byzantine commentator on Dionysius, John of Scythopolis (writing in the mid-sixth century).


There are here two distinct ways in which God can be referred to as Time. One is in reference to time in the proper sense, “the procession of the goodness of God in creating sensibles.” Time in this sense is God just as any of the divine processions is God, although He also remains beyond it as its source. (Indeed, it was “once at rest in He Who Always Is,” prior to its shining forth in the creation of the sensible world.) Second there is time as “the movement of temporal intervals,” that which is measured by time in the first sense. God can also be called Time in this sense, just as He can be called by the name of any of His creatures, since they pre-exist in Him as their cause.


Even more striking is the light that this passage sheds on the relationship between divine eternity and time. Time qua divine procession is the unfolding of divine eternity—the life of He Who Always Is—within the act of creating sensible beings.27 Contrary to the normal tendency in Dionysius, eternity and time are here decidedly asymmetric, for eternity is identified with the divine life, whereas time, although it is equally a divine procession, comes forth only as God creates. John may well have been inspired at this point by Plotinus, for whom eternity is the life of Intellect and time the life of Soul.28 Unlike Plotinus, however, John does not assign time and eternity to separate hypostases, but views them both as different forms of divine self-manifestation.


If we now draw together these various elements from the Cappadocians, Dionysius, and John, we arrive at a fourfold structure:

(1) (a) Eternity as a divine procession, “the life that is unshaken and all together at once, already infinite and entirely unmoving, standing forth as a unity.”

(b) Angelic eternity, the “timelike movement and extension” that is coextensive with the life of the angels.

(2) (a) Time as a divine procession, “the procession of the goodness of God in creating sensible objects.”

(b) Time as a creature, the “movement of intervals into portions and seasons and nights and days.”

There are several links binding this structure together. As I have mentioned, (2)(a) is the unfolding within the creative act of (1)(a), and in each pair (b) is the mode in which creatures participate in (a). Furthermore, according to Basil, (2)(b) is an image or icon (εἰκών) of (1)(b). One way to summarize these various relations is to recognize here a repeated pattern of procession and return. (1)(a) and (2)(a) are the processions of God within the intelligible and sensible realms, respectively; (1)(b) and (2)(b) the corresponding acts of return. In adopting this Neoplatonic language, however, one must be careful not to import any suggestion either of necessary emanation or of a hierarchy of being in which the lower levels serve only as a ladder to the higher. Both eternity and time are ways in which the unknowable God freely manifests Himself. It is true that time is an “icon” of eternity, but this means only that it finds there its final meaning and consummation, not that it is valueless in its own right.

Basically this pre-resurrectional world happens in time 2b and post resurrectional world will happen (in a sense it already does) in time 1b.
« Last Edit: November 05, 2015, 12:34:01 PM by Fabio Leite »
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Offline sestir

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It takes an aeon o read all that text. This occurs also in:

Quote from: Philippians 4:20
Τῷ δὲ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ ἡμῶν ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.

Quote from: 1 Timothy 1:17
τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, ἀφθάρτῳ, ἀοράτῳ, μόνῳ θεῷ, τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων: ἀμήν.

Here, the Gothic version of Codex Ambrosianus B is extant and reads: in aldins aiwe.
It does not read: in aiwins aiwe.
Aldins is plural accusative of alds, which means generation/age/lifetime. It seems to me the translator want to say εἰς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων doesn't mean forever but for a period encompassing a substantial number of generations of man.

Then there is ...
Quote from: Ephesians 3:21
... εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων.

If the Gothic text transalted αἰών with alds (meaning γενεά, see Luke 1:50) in Timothy, what will it do when these expressions exist side by side?
Answer: omit one.  :D
Quote from: Codices A & B
... in allos aldins aiwe.

Why would εἰς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων mean forever?
« Last Edit: November 05, 2015, 06:30:35 PM by sestir »

Offline Rohzek

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Voted what solely because I don't think time has concrete ontology. I think it is just an abstract concept used to address material substance (res extensa), which Einstein's theory of relativity suggests. This video by no means do I fully agree with, but it's a good crash course for where I approach it from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a-o5-EYzTY
« Last Edit: November 05, 2015, 10:33:01 PM by Rohzek »
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Offline byhisgrace

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In one of my earlier threads about universalism, I was given a link to this article that claims that "εις αιωνας των αιωνων" does not necessarily carry the same connotation as the English phrase "forever and forever":


I know that it's a pretty long read, but to all that know Greek, please read and tell me what you think of it.

« Last Edit: November 06, 2015, 11:19:51 AM by byhisgrace »
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Offline Onesimus

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Here is what Saint John of Damascus tells us in "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" Book II Chapter 1

HE created the ages Who Himself was before the ages, Whom the divine David thus addresses, From age to age Than art(1). The divine apostle also says, Through Whom He created the ages(2).

It must then be understood that the word age has various meanings, for it denotes many things. The life of each man is called an age. Again, a period of a thousand years is called an age(3). Again, the whole course of the present life is called an age: also the future life, the immortal life after the resurrection(4), is spoken of as an age. Again, the word age is used to denote, not time nor yet a part of time as measured by the movement and course of the sun, that is to say, composed of days and nights, but the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity(5). For age is to things eternal just what time is to things temporal.

Seven ages(6) of this world are spoken of, that is, from the creation of the heaven and earth till the general consummation and resurrection of men. For there is a partial consummation, viz., the death of each man: but there is also a general and complete consummation, when the general resurrection of men will come to pass. And the eighth age is the age to come.

Before the world was formed, when there was as yet no sun dividing day from night, there was not an age such as could be measured(7), but there was the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity. And in this sense there is but one age, and God is spoken of as aiwnios  and proaiwnios , for the age or aeon itself is His creation. For God, Who alone is without beginning, is Himself the Creator of all things, whether age or any other existing thing. And when I say God, it is evident that I mean the Father and His Only. begotten Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His all-holy Spirit, our one God.

But we speak also of ages of ages, inasmuch as the seven ages of the present world include many ages in the sense of lives of men, and the one age embraces all the ages, and the present and the future are spoken of as age of age.

 Further, everlasting (i.e. aiwnios ) life and everlasting punishment prove that the age or neon to come is unending(9). For time will not be counted by days and nights even after the resurrection, but there will rather be one day with no evening, wherein the Sun of Justice will shine brightly on the just, but for the sinful there will be night profound and limitless. In what way then will the period of one thousand years be counted which, according to Origen(1), is required for the complete restoration? Of all the ages, therefore, the sole creator is God Who hath also created the universe and Who was before the ages.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2015, 11:35:40 AM by AaronIsom »

Offline Onesimus

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Thank you Fabio - Sestir - and Byhisgrace for the links and info.

Very, very helpful resources!!!


Offline Onesimus

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quote]Why would εἰς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων mean forever?[/quote]

That's how several english translations have rendered ages of ages. 

"Forever and ever"

Most now translate it as ages of ages.