Just how eternal is aiônios?

David Konstan, Ph.D., is presently Professor of Classics at New York University. For three decades he taught at Brown University, where he remains John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Classics and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature. He is the author of numerous books and essays, including the book Terms for Eternity, which he co-authored with Ilaria Ramelli.

In this video Dr Konstan talks about the meaning of the Greek terms aiônios and aïdios.


This entry was posted in Eschatology. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Just how eternal is aiônios?

  1. That’s cool that he agreed to do an interview. Seems like a very genuine and pleasant person to be around.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. sybrandmac says:

    This reminds me of the Hart–Pakaluk Quarrel.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. father11 says:

    Excellent video – and wonderful to hear the last couple of minutes, with his sensitivity to the hope and comfort universalism offers to thousands of Christians (and others) who have had enough suffering and pain here in this age to contend with, without also having to deal with the threat of some monster god drawing out their suffering into an infinity of torture and pain as punishment for their sins.

    “For You are a good God Who loves mankind, and unto You do we ascribe glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ed H. says:

    This type of discussion about word meaning, both in the video and in his book, has little relevance or value. It would be like an English-speaker trying to decide how much time is intended by the word “forever” or “always”.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I think I take your point, Ed. James Barr incisively critiqued word study theology back in the early sixties. As I recall he advanced several objections, including the failure of such studies to pay sufficient attention to literary and historical context. Words do not mean; people mean. For this reason one simply can’t impose a dictionary definition upon a specific utterance. Is Konstan and Ramelli vulnerable to this criticism. Perhaps but I’m not sure. They appear, at least, to have made an honest attempt to take a look at how aionion was employed across the centuries. If they have gotten matters really, really wrong, I think we would have heard from the linguistic scholars by this time, but I’m unaware of the publication of any such critiques of their book. Are you?


  5. Ed H. says:

    Father Kimel,
    The review by Heleen Keizer in The Studia Philonica Annual 23 (2011) 200-206 is worth reading. (It is available on academia.edu.)
    More basically, even Dr. Konstans’ own book is filled with references where aionios is used of God and His attributes. So, if God can be aionios in various ways, how can that word be used as evidence in Matthew 25 that the punishment is not eternal? The semantic range of aionios is simply too broad to be useful in this way.
    This approach to universalism is simply wrong-headed and embarrassing. As you say, Barr pointed out the flaws in this lexical approach a generation ago. Amazing that it is still being attempted.


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Well now wait a minute Ed – it may not be conclusive, but accuracy in translation and meaning has to be established for communication to be possible at all, and they do so following established and sound means and criteria.

      Your critique can be levelled against any translation of aionios – that is, by which criteria and methods would aionios be translated as “eternal”? It hardly would be the first word to have multivalence determined by context.

      Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      The crudity of assuming that the word is reducible to a single meaning, and that this meaning is determined by its use in reference to God, and that its reference there is to a specific concept of “eternity” (say, endless duration, which can’t be univocal between God and creatures) is what is genuinely embarrassing. The multivalence of this word has been an object of philological study in both classics snd biblical studies for generations. The adjective appears to have been invented by Plato in the Timaeus, and even his use of it has been read in diverse fashion for millennia. His distinction between the aeon and chronos is not one between infinite and finite duration, but between completion and succession. If you think the evidence genuinely points to one clear definition, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. (Unless you believe your grasp of the word as used in late antiquity is superior to that of Origen, Philo, and Plotinus.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not that this may help, but it might. I read this in Charles Kahn’s work on Heraclitus. It kind of indicates the shift that occurs with Aeon/Aion, etc leading into Plato’s use in the Timaeus. Simply put, Aion had a pre-established mode pre-Plato that he is then using in his own way…But the use of it for “Eternity,” only, seems suspect in that older forms of Greek thought. If anything, it establishes the Aeon as a sense of a completed lifeline. So in the Aeon to come, one would see it as a way of expressing life that will come in a similar manner. One with a beginning and end in some fashion. As, DBH pointed out.

        “1) Aion has the sense Vitality’, ‘(human) life’, as when Pindar calls the soul ‘the image of [the man’s] aion’ (fr. 116 Bowra). On this sense is based the standard usage of the word for ‘lifetime’, ‘duration (of a life)’, which, under the influence of the cognate adverb aiei (‘always’, ‘forever’) eventually makes aion a synonym for ‘time’ (chronos). Finally, in Plato’s Timaeus and thereafter, aion acquires the technical sense of timeless ‘eternity’ as contrasted with temporal duration. This later technical sense is irrelevant here. But the whole range of other meanings, from human lifetime to larger temporal periods, are all properly suggested by the name of the player whose game includes both the movements of human life and death and the back-and-forth reversals of the cosmos.”


    • DBH says:

      Oh, and who suggested that the word is “evidence” of the non-eternity of the punishment mentioned in Matthew 25. I’ve never seen anyone make such a claim.


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Exactly right. I know Ilaria doesn’t make such a claim, and neither do you. There’s a supportive role for word studies, which opens up different and plausible ways of reading familiar passages. You have demonstrated that, in the context of larger considerations such as the theological, philosophical, and metaphysical, the examination of the meaning of aionios provides important insight into the meaning and translation of this term. Does universalism hang in the balance on just this “aionios”? No, not by a long shot!


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Ed, thank you for reminding me of Heleen Keizer’s review. I had forgotten all about it.

      In a personal email, Konstan acknowledges that Keizer scores some good points, but he does not believe that they severely undermine the book as a whole.

      You also failed to note the penultimate paragraph in the review:

      A positive observation can be made in as much as the hypothesis investigated by Terms for Eternity appears to be largely confirmed–a nuanced reformulation of the conclusion is, however, called for, which may be as follows: Scripture and the Church Fathers offer a basis to say that the aionios life is to be understood as really without end, whereas aionios death can be understood as once meeting its limit; aidios appears to be used by the Fathers far more frequently for future life than for death or punishment. This state of affairs, it can be stated, is bound up with the fact that aionios is very much more a biblical term than aidios as an obvious result of the respective frequency of the two terms in the Bible (OT + NT): aionios 222 and aidios 4 times. It can be concluded moreover that aidios regularly expresses endless duration in time, while aionios, as derived from aion, regularly refers to an entirety of time, the limits of which are not known or not there; both adjectives may also be employed to refer to a supra-temporal condition. (p. 206)

      Needless to say, Keizer is not nearly as negative regarding the central thesis of Terms for Eternity as you would have us believe.

      I also found a review of Terms for Eternity by Carl O’Brien published in The Classical Review He concludes:

      This is a first-rate reference work. The semantic development, though interesting in its own right, is important evidence for our understanding of the history of ideas of this period, and the philosophical and theological significance of the analysed passages is outlined.


      And contra what your comments suggest regarding the tendentiousness of the book, Konstan is not a universalist. He doesn’t even believe in an afterlife. In other words, he doesn’t have a universalist axe to grind, one way or the other. Konstan is a scholar and is simply following the evidence as he sees it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s