Jewish Greek Usage

Those Jews who were contemporary with Christ, but who wrote in Greek, will teach us how they understood the word. Of course when Jesus used it, he employed it as they understood it.

Josephus(50) applies the word to the imprisonment to which John the tyrant was condemned by the Romans; to the reputation of Herod; to the everlasting memorial erected in re-building the temple, already destroyed, when he wrote; to the everlasting worship in the temple which, in the same sentence he says was destroyed; and he styles the time between the promulgation of the law and his writing a longaion. To accuse him of attaching any other meaning than that of indefinite duration to the word, is to accuse him of stultifying himself. But when he writes to describe endless duration he employs other, and less equivocal terms. Alluding to the Pharisees, he says:

"They believe that the wicked are detained in an everlasting prison [eirgmon aidion] subject to eternal punishment" [aidios timoria]; and the Essenes [another Jewish sect] "allotted to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing punishment [timoria adialeipton], where they suffer a deathless punishment, [athanaton timorian]."

It is true he sometimes applies aionion to punishment, but this is not his usual custom, and he seems to have done this as one might use the word great to denote eternal duration, that is an indefinite term to describe infinity. But aidion and athanaton are his favorite terms. These are unequivocal. Were only aionion used to define the Jewish idea of the duration of future punishment, we should have no proof that it was supposed to be endless.

Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally usedaidion to denote endless, and always used aiónion to describe temporary duration. Dr. Mangey, in his edition of Philo, says he never usedaiónion to interminable duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matthew, 25:46, precisely as Christ used it. "It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and everlasting punishment [kolasis aiónios] from such as are more powerful." Here we have the exact terms employed by out Lord, to show that aiónion did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ.

Philo always uses athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aiónion for temporary duration.

Stephens, in his Thesaurus, quotes from a Jewish work, [Solom. Parab.] "These they called aiónios, hearing that they had performed the sacred rites for three entire generations." This shows conclusively that the expression "three generations" was then one full equivalent of aiónion. Now these eminent scholars were Jews who wrote in Greek, and who certainly knew the meaning of the words they employed, and they give to the aionian words the meaning that we are contending for, indefinite duration, to be determined by the subject.

Thus the Jews of our Savior's time avoided using the word aiónion to denote endless duration, for applied all through the Bible to temporary affairs, it would not teach it. If Jesus intended to teach the doctrine held by the jews, would he not have used the terms they used? Assuredly; but he did not. He threatened age-lasting, or long-enduring discipline to the believers in endless punishment.Aiónion was his word while theirs was aidion, adialeipton, or athanaton, — thus rejecting their doctrines by not only not employing their phraseology, but by using always and only those words connected with punishment, that denote limited suffering.

And, still further to show that he had no sympathy with those cruel men who procured his death, Jesus said to his disciples: "Take heed and beware of the leaven [doctrine] of the Pharisees and the Sadducees" [believers in endless misery and believers in destruction].

Had aiónion been the strongest word, especially had it denoted endless duration, who does not see that it would have been in general use as applied to punishment, by the Jewish Greeks of nineteen centuries ago?

We thus have an unbroken chain of Lexicography, and Classic, Old Testament, and Contemporaneous Usage, all allowing to the word the meaning we claim for it. Indefinite duration is the meaning generally given from the beginning down to the New Testament.

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