Today, is the last in the series, Reading the Bible, for the time being, and we’re thinking about when forever isn’t forever.
Many Christians believe hell is a place of eternal torment. The Greek word, aionios, is translated in our New Testament as “everlasting” and “eternal,” but it can also mean a very long time.
Note this usage: “They will be punished with everlasting (“aionios”) destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV).
“Everlasting” describes the destruction which is complete and final. The verse, taken in isolation, would support the theory that unbelievers will be annihilated because it’s talking about “everlasting destruction” and not everlasting torment.
Consider this example: “The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever (“aionios” in the Greek, “olam” in the Hebrew), the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks, until the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest” (Isaiah 32:14-15).
The fortress will be a “wasteland forever” “until the Spirit is poured on us.” Is it a wasteland forever or only until the Spirit is poured on us? It can’t be both. The words “aionios” and “olam” can refer to long periods of time that perhaps seem to our human perspective to be forever. The words can also refer to events that happened a long time ago. It’s also worth noting that it’s not uncommon for biblical authors to use hyperbole and Jesus himself did.
These few comments don’t scratch the surface of some very big issues but they remind us that it’s best to hold our theological positions lightly and remember the words of the hymn: “The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word” (We Limit Not the Truth of God by George Rawson).