There are a couple of professional email lists which deal with Biblical Greek, and with Bible translation. They are called 'B-Greek' and 'B-Trans' respectively. I have been a member of both of them over the years. I'm still on B-Trans.
You will find, if you search their archives, that the classic Universalist questions have been posted there, and answered. Let's see a few examples.
In this first example, someone has posted questions from their friend. I have placed them in italics. The answer given is in normal text:
And (even though my Hebrew is so poor as to not be worth mentioning, your friend's understanding of "Holy of holies" and "King of Kings" reflects complete ignorance of Hebrew idioms, IMHO.
> Hi, > > I have a friend.... > > 2. He says that AION cannot ever mean "eternal" in the NT – that it is > an AGE, with an unspecified amount of time, but having a definite > beginning and end. An example of his reasoning is the question that > the disciples asked Jesus: "What will be the sign of the end of the > age".
If this is translated here as "eternity/forever" (as it is in > many other passages in several popular translations), it would not > make any sense at all (what will be the sign of the end of eternity). > I think he has a good point with that word, but what I’m really > interested in are the phrases "AION of AIONS", or "AIONS of AIONS" > (note the plural for both aion's in the last one). My friend would say > these should be taken literally, like the Holy of Holies, and King of > Kings – that they should be understood as "an age apart from all the > other ages", and "two ages apart from all other ages".
"Holy of holies" does NOT mean "a holy place apart from all other holy places." It means "The Most Holy place" or "The Holiest Place.". Hebrew lacks adjectives, and uses construct chains as a way of expressing things like "holier," "holiest." Likewise, "King of Kings" means "The Greatest King" or "King over all other kings."
As I said, my Hebrew is very poor, but I believe this is somewhat correct. Either way (i.e., whether I'm right or wrong), these phrases are definitely IDIOMS and to translate/treat them "literally" is to mistranslate them.
Hebrew has a phrase AD OLAM ("to the age") which I believe idiomatically can mean what we mean by "forever" as opposed to "unto a definite/specific age." The NT translates this Hebrew phrase with the AIWN usages you mention.
Look at how various scholars/translators translate Hebrews 1:2 for the different possible meanings/understandings of AIWNAS (accusative plural of AIWN). Most translators who translate AIWN here do not have an agenda -- they seek as best they can to translate what they believe the Greek means, based on their decades of study of the language.
I was raised Jewish and many prayers begin: "Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of HA-OLAM." There is no exact English equivalent to this word, just as there is no exact Greek equivalent. We used the words "universe," "eternity," "the ages," "Sovereign Lord" to translate "melech ha-olam"/"olam" in these prayers. Likewise, I don't think Greek had an exact equivalent for the Hebrew OLAM, but AIWN was their closest word to it.
The Greek AIWN loses some of the meaning of the Hebrew OLAM it's translating, but also adds some of the semantic range of AIWN in the uses/appearances of this word in the New Testament. This can complicate the translator's and the reader's task.
Recommend to your friend that he take at least 1-1/2 years (i.e., 3 seminary semesters) of NT Greek before he makes the kinds of pronouncements about Greek that he seems to be wanting to make. If his commitment to integrity in teaching/preaching the Word of God is real, he should be willing to do this.
If he doesn't do this, but continues to make the kinds of statements you claim he is making, then he will more quickly and more greatly than he may realize end up teaching error -- the very thing he seems intent on exposing.
In the second example, someone asks the questions themselves (in italics), and receives the same kind of answers as we saw previously (in normal text):
Blair Neil Davis wrote;
>First I would like to say hello to the people on this list. I just >subscribed and have read several of the posts. Congradulations on the kind >mannor of discussion this list seems to maintain.
Thanks, we are trying.
>I have never had any formal training in NT Greek. I have been using >lexicons and comparing the use of Greek words in the NT using my >Englishmans Concordance.
> >This works well in most cases but I am having some trouble with >conflicting evidence on how AIONIAN ZOE can be translated. As I understand >the term it means exactly what the KJV translates "everlasting life".I am >finding some scholars that want to translate AIONIAN ZOE as "life of the >age [to come]". I am trying to find someone to explain this conflict at a >beginners level that I can understand.
I would say the word "well" may be strained in this paragraph. I would encourage you to work with a good beginning grammar and continue to master basics of Greek grammar.
>Question; >1. Is "life of the age" a possible translation for AIONIAN ZOE?
First the adjective AIWNIOS (see fac for transliteration scheme) is an adjective of the second declension only and rarely takes a first declension form (AIWNIAN see below) which you give. There are three places in the NT where it precedes the noun ZWH. Most often it follows ZWH as in Matt.19:29 ZWHN AIWNION. "Life of the age" would have to be written ZWH TOU AIWNOS. I don't think that that appears in the NT. I did not check.
For the record, I checked. The phrase does not appear in the New Testament at all
The adjective is AIWNIOS. The noun is AIWN (nom) AIWNOS (gen).
>2. Is "of the age" a way of making AION into an adjective?[/]i
Yes, but it would mean something different from ZWH AIWNIOS.
> >3. How would "of the age" normaly be written in Greek.
TOU AIWNOS (using the noun)
>4. Is AIONIAN a word that deals only with matters concerning the age to >come?
I haven't looked up the adjective AIWNIOS, but I really think that it deals more with the kind of life than just the idea of beyond death or futuristic. Also there are two places in the NT where you do have a first declension form of the adjective in the accusative, 2 Th. 2:16 PARAKLHSIN AIWNIAN and Heb. 9:12 AIWNIAN LUTRWSIN.
Grace and Peace, Carlton L. Winbery Fogleman Prof. of Religion Louisiana College Box 612 Pineville, LA 71359 winbery at andria.lacollege.edu winberyc at speedgate.net Phones 318 487 7241, Home 318 448 6103
In the third example, we find specific reference made to EIS TON AIWNA as an idiom
On Fri 20 Jun 2003 (13:41:18), markosl80 at yahoo.com wrote: > John 8:51-52 [snippage] >
In both these passage there are Greek words untranslated in most > versions: "eis aion" never see death "for ever", never taste of death > "to the age". > > In your view.. > > What is the significance of these two words, in this passage, and also > John 11:26, in terms of .. translation > doctrine > idiomatic usage
In terms of Greek, EIS TON AIWNA in both verses 51 and 52 appear to be a Hebraism rendering `aD `oWLaM, "to eternity".
This adverbial phrase of time is found in Psalms 41:14, 90:2, 103:17, and 106:48. In Psalm 41:14 we have "Blessed be the LORD God of Israel Me`Ha`oWLaM W:`aD Ha`oWLaM 'aMeN W:'aMeN From [the] everlasting and to [the] everlasting Amen and Amen". The `oWLaM is "the age" or "eternity"; that is, eternity past and eternity future.
You'll notice that Jesus starts his saying in John 8:51 AMHN AMHN LEGW hUMIN: the doubled Amen with which Psalm 41:14 ends. EIS TON AIWNA reinforces the double negative OU MH in verses 51 and 52: "No not for ever" or "never ever for all eternity". Doctrine is a No-no for B-Greek; I'll refer you to the commentators for that.
Idiomatic Usage is the Hebrew idiomatic usage, somewhat woodenly translated into Greek. Compare Psalm 41:14 (40:13 in LXX) EULOGHTOS KURIOS hO QEOS ISRAHL *APO TOU AIWNOS KAI EIS TON AIWNA*: GENOITO, GENOITO.
With GENOITO for 'aMeN, compare MH GENOITO in Romans 6:2, 7:7,13, 9:14, 11:1, 11:11 and elsewhere, rendered "God forbid" in the KJV and "by no means" in later versions. You can hardly get more idiomatic than that! The emphatic negative MH plus the Optative implies "may it never ever be even an option!".
As you can see, we're getting a very consistent set of answers here.
In the fourth example, we have another respondent replying to some of the same questions we read earlier:
[i]> 2. He says that AION cannot ever mean “eternal” in the NT – that it is an AGE, with an unspecified amount of time, but having a definite beginning and end. An example of his reasoning is the question that the disciples asked Jesus: “What will be the sign of the end of the age”. If this is translated here as “eternity/forever” (as it is in many other passages in several popular translations), it would not make any sense at all (what will be the sign of the end of eternity). I think he has a good point with that word, but what I’m really> interested in are the phrases “AION of AIONS”, or “AIONS of AIONS” (note the plural for both aion's in the last one). My friend would say these should be taken literally, like the Holy of Holies, and King of Kings – that they should be understood as “an age apart from all the other ages”, and “two ages apart from all other ages”. Most translations use “forever” or “forever and ever” for these phrases. Which is right? Are both translations legitimate (for the phrases)? Bill Mounce makes reference to the Jewish concept of time in Basics of Biblical Greek, but he doesn't go into detail. Did the Septuagint translate Hebrew terms for "everlasting" as "age of ages",... or, in other words, is the phrase "age of ages" a Greek idiom meaning forever? Does Koine Greek have idioms?
Of course Greek has idioms, and NT Greek includes idioms influenced Semitic modes of expression, not the least of which are those idioms including the word AIWN, as has been pointed out already.
While AIWN **may** refer to an age with a definite beginning and end, the context determines whether or not this is so. Apparently your friend would have us believe that the very fig tree Jesus cursed EIS TON AIWONA (Matt 21.19) will indeed grow fruit once this specified "age" comes to its conclusion!
Or that when Jesus promised the woman at the well that she would not thirst EIS TON AIWNA (John 4.14) he meant only for a limited time, after which she would be thirsty again!
Or that when Jesus promised in John 6.51 that if anyone ate the bread he was talking about he would live EIS TON AIWNA, he simply meant for a limited period of time, even though the context makes it abundantly obvious that this is not the case?
What can EIS TON AIWNA mean in John 6.58 if not "forever"? Is Jesus there saying that the fathers ate manna and eventually died, and whoever eats the bread Jesus offers will likewise eventually expire once this "age" is over?
Did the Jews indicate by EIS TON AIWNA in John 12.34 their belief that the Messiah would remain only for a specified age with a beginning and an end?
When Paul says in Rom 1.25 that God is blessed EIS TOUS AIWNAS does he really mean only for a limited number of ages? Or does he mean to tell his readers with the same prepositional phrase in Rom 11.36 that God deserves glory for a limited number of ages?
Or--silliest of all--should we take the angel of Rev 10.6 to mean by EIS TOUS AIWNAS TWN AIWNWN that God lives only for two ages apart from all other ages? We could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Let's look at this from another angle. Mark 3.29 says:
hOS D' AN BLASFHMHSHi EIS TO PNEUMA TO hAGION, OUK ECEI AFESIN EIS TON AIWNA, ALLA ENOCOS ESTIN AIWNIOU hAMARTHMATOS.
Note here that the person who commits blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness EIS TON AIWNA precisely because he is guilty of an eternal sin (AIWNIOU hAMARTHMATOS). Why would such a person have forgiveness withheld for only a limited period of time when his sin is an eternal one?
Is Jesus really saying, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, does not have forgiveness for a limited amount of time, but is guilty of an eternal sin"? What sense does ALLA ("but") make here if this is so? Or would your friend suggest that the cognate adjective of AIWN here, namely AIWNIOS, be taken to mean "lasting for an age with a beginning and an end."
If so, I wonder how the NT has anything at all to say about anything truly eternal. In this case we would have to assume that when the man of Mark 10.17 runs up to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life (ZWHN AIWNION), what he really had in mind was not everlasting life, but a temporary life confined to a limited age!
One more example taken from Luke 1.33:
KAI BASILEUSEI EPI TON OIKON IAKWB EIS TOUS AIWNAS KAI THS BASILEIAS AUTOU OUK ESTAI TELOS.
What is immediately apparent from this example is that when Luke says that the Messiah will reign into the ages (BASILEUSEI ... EIS TOUS AIWNAS) he means that his kingdom will have **no end** (THS BASILEIAS AUTOU OUK ESTAI TELOS). Thus, the reign that lasts EIS TOUS AIWNAS is the rule that will have no end.
Note how EIS TOUS AIWNAS is clearly characterized as being endless.
I invite you to take up the issue on B-Greek and B-Trans.
Moreover, the phrase itself indicates that endless time is not in view:
Hebrews 1:8 is a quotation from Psalm 45:6, LXX, where the Greek text says, eis ton aiona tou aionos, "into the eon of the eon,"-the singular form for eon in both occurrences. The preposition eis is translated "into" or "unto;" idiomatically, "for." Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon and Concordance defines it: "eis, into, to as far as, to the extent of."
Dr. E.W. Bullinger's Lexicon and Concordance says (p. 804), "eis, unto, when referring to time, denoting either the interval up to a certain point, during; or the point itself as the object or aim of some purpose, up to, for."
Dr. Nigel Turner, in his book, Grammatical Insights into the N.T., says (p. 91), "eis involves a movement for development toward a goal." If eis means as far as, to the extent of, or a movement or development toward a goal, then it cannot be used with words meaning endless or unlimited time.
You are committing the root word fallacy by dividing up an idiom into its discrete units. The meaning of the entire idiom is not to be governed by one particular application of one particular part of the semantic range of any of its constituent words. It needs to be translated as an idiom, not broken up.
Again, you baselessly assert that this phrase, which makes fine sense as it stands literally, is idiomatic.
I'm not asserting it baselessly. Have a look at any number of Bible translations - you'll find it consistently translated as an idiom. Examine the lexical, historical, and textual data, and you'll find the same - it's an idiom.
Have a look at literal word for word translations, which do not take regard for idioms, and you'll find it translated as you do. What is this telling you?
You're going to have to give some reasons for disregarding the plain meaning of the phrase.
The plain meaning of the phrase is derived from understanding that it is an idiom.
Moreover, I do not see how I have committed the root fallacy. Could you explain? Thanks.
You have committed the root word fallacy by dividing up an idiom into its discrete units. You are not treating the phrase as an idiom.
I also wrote:
In addition, you are committing the fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer. The word eis as an individual word bears the semantic range mentioned here, but its precise meaning in a given context is not to be represented as the entire semantic range in any context.
If you can think of a more appropriate rendering of the word 'eis', I'd be happy to learn of it. No fallacy here.
Certainly - the more appropriate rendering is 'for'. Hence for
ever and ever.
You cited this rendering yourself, when you wrote:
The preposition eis is translated "into" or "unto;" idiomatically, "for."
And once more, I note that you are translating the phrase 'eis tous aionas ton aionon' as a time duration having a specific termination point. I know of no reputable lexical or translation authority which interprets the phrase in this way. I know of none which interpret it as meaning 'the final ages' as opposed to timelessness.
You know of no reputable lexical or translation authority which interprets the phrase in WHAT way, exactly?
In this way:
As far as the age of the age.
Up to the goal of the eon.
Into the ages of the ages.
Unto the ages of the ages.