However, what we've overlooked is that there are different ways to define "Eternal" and Everlasting which is a synonym for Eternal in the KJV. I've seen many non Universalist Christians (like Chuck Missler) define "Eternity" as being not unlimited or endless time but as being outside of time. And so remembering how I showed back before I was a Unviersalsit that the fire of the Lake of Fire comes from God. Perhaps there is room to define the Fire of Gehenna and the coming Judgment as Eternal because it comes from Eternity, and not as an indication of how long it lasts.
Which can again be backed up by how the KJV translates Jude 7.
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."That Fire is not still raging in the Dead Sea area today. And again Ezekiel 16 assures us that Sodom will be restored.
And in some verses maybe the key to the Universalsit interpretation isn't even how Aionion is translated but how to understand other words. Take the KJV of Matthew 25:46.
"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."This verse doesn't even mention fire or Gehenna it just says the Punishment is everlasting. Well in the Ancient world a common Punishment was Exile or Banishment. Which is consistent with my argument that "Outer Darkness" means outside New Jerusalem. Now the fire is mentioned earlier in verse 41, but again sometimes exile or banishment was in addition to a more brief physical chastisement.
And the only place where "for ever and ever" is used in connection to the judgment on normal humans is Revelation 14:11 where it says the Smoke goes up forever, terminology also used of the Judgment on Babylon in Revelation 19:3 drawing on Isaiah 30:10. It is used in Revelation 20:10 directly only of the Devil's sentence to the Lake of Fire though The Beast and False Prophet being there is mentioned.
And a lot of popular Universalist Proof texts, I aboslutly prefer to quote in their KJV version, from Romans 5 to the things Jesus said. In fact the only non Anionion verses where I'm not inclined to prefer the KJV rendering are Matthew 5:25-26 and and it's Luke Counterpart 12:58-59, where the rather archaic terminology used for a very low value unite of currency can cause a little confusion.
And I find it interesting in that context that the post Reformation revival of Unviersalsit thinking largley started in the English Speaking world, after the KJV was published. With men like Gerrard Winstanley. Many claim the Geneva Bible was still popular during this era, but being as that was a Calvinist production I highly doubt it translated Aionion/Aionos differently then the KJV.
So, I think a Universalist interpretation of even specifically the KJV is perfectly viable.
Now I ultimately don't care what the Early Church Fathers thought, but there are reasons why it's sorta relevant here for me to mention some of them. So the rest of this is purely supplemental to my main point.
If we reconsider how to define Eternal in this way, maybe we Universalists have been unfair to Tertulian? Here is one webpage attempting to cite Tertulian as a Universalist. But I'm not yet an expert on Tertulian, so that matter is far from settled.
Many arguing for the favoring of the Textus Receptus (The New Testament source texts for the KJV) over the Sinaticus, Vatincanus and Alexandrinus, like to define things in terms of an Alexandrian tradition versus an Antiochian tradition. Citing positive references to Antioch in The Bible over one arguably negative reference to Alexandria, paired with general vilification of Egypt. Overall I feel this is a bit of an over simplification, but in the context of this discussion, the Antiochian school of Early Christianity can be shown to be Universalist.
With Ingatius of Antioch it is impossible to firmly show one way or the other, enemies of Unvierslaism like to just translate when he used Aionios, but other demonstrably Unviersalist Church fathers used Aionios the same way.
Theophilus of Antioch, who wrote about A.D. 180, and was bishop of Antioch, speaks of aionian torments, and aionian fire, but he must have used the word the same as other ancient Universalists, for he says: "For just as a vessel which, after it has been made, has some flaw, is remade or remolded, that it may become new and bright, so it comes to man by death. For in some way or other he is broken up, that he may come forth in the resurrection whole, I mean spotless, and righteous, and immortal." (Ad Autolicum, lib. II, cap. 26, Vol. VI, Migne's Patrologiæ)
Methodius, bishop of Tyre (A.D. 293). His writings, like so many of the works of the early fathers, have been lost, but Epiphanius and Photius have preserved extracts from his work on the resurrection. He says: "God, for this cause, pronounced him (man) mortal, and clothed him with mortality, that man might not be an undying evil, in order that by the dissolution of the body, sin might be destroyed root and branch from beneath, that there might not be left even the smallest particle of root, from which new shoots of sin might break forth." Again, "Christ was crucified that he might be adored by all created things equally, for 'unto him every knee shall bow,'" etc. Again: "The Scriptures usually call 'destruction' the turning to the better at some future time." Again: "The world shall be set on fire in order to purification and renewal." (De Resurr., VIII.)
And then there is Gregory of Nyssa (335-395) and his sister Macrina the Younger.
Diodore, Bishop of Tarsus, from A.D. 378 to 394, was of the Antiochan or Syrian school. He says: "For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetual, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them .... the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed them. The resurrection, therefore, is regarded as a blessing not only to the good, but also to the evil." (Assemani Bib. Orientalis, III, p. 324.)
Theodore of Mopsuestia was born in Antioch, A.D. 350, and died 428 or 429. His own words are: "The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of his grace. For he never would have said, 'until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,' unless we can be released from suffering after having suffered adequately for sin; nor would he have said, 'he shall be beaten with many stripes,' and again, 'he shall be beaten with few stripes,' unless the punishment to be endured for sin will have an end." (Assemani Bib. Orient. Tom. III.)
Theodoret, the Blessed, was born A.D. 387, and died 458. He was ordained Bishop of Cyrus in Syria, 420. He was a pupil of Theodore of Mopsuestia. "In the present life God is in all, for His nature is without limits, but he is not all in all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all. For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that He may check the course of impeity"
It is at this point that Nestorianism emerged from the Antiochian school, I may talk about that more in the future. Today most or many Nesotrians might not be unviersalists, but there is evidence Nestorius himself and his early supporters were. The Nestorian Liturgy includes this quote "All the dead have slept in the hope of Thee, that by they glorious resurrection Thou thou wouldest raise them up in glory.".
Stephan Bar-sudaili, Abbot of Edessa, in Mesopotamia, at the end of the Fifth Century, taught Universalism,--the termination of all punishments in the future world, and their purifying character. The fallen angels are to receive mercy, and all things are to be restored, so that God may be all in all. (Assemani Bibl. Orient., II, p. 291.)
Maximus, the Confessor. As late as the Seventh Century, in spite of the power of Roman tyranny and Pagan error, the truth survived. Maximus--A.D. 580-662--was secretary of the Emperor Heraclius, and confidential friend of Pope Martin I. He opposed the Emperor Constans II, in his attempts to control the religious convictions of his subjects, and was banished, A.D. 653, and died of ill treatment. He was both scholar and saint. Neander says:
"The fundamental ideas of Maximus seem to lead to the doctrine of a final universal restoration, which in fact is intimately connected also with the system of Gregory of Nyssa, to which he most closely adhered. Yet he was too much fettered by the church system of doctrine distinctly to express anything of the sort." Neander adds, that in his aphorisms "the reunion of all rational essences with God is established as the final end." "Him who wholly unites all things in the end of the ages, or in eternity." Ueberweg states that "Maximus taught that God had revealed himself through nature and by his Word. The incarnation of God in Christ was the culmination of revelation, and would therefore have taken place even if man had not fallen. The Universe will end in the union of all things with God."
And then there is Isaac of Nineveh aka Isaac The Syrian.
Now Universalism can also be linked to the Alexandrian Church. But as both sides at the Council of Nicea were lead by Alexandrians, clearly there was a variety of beliefs there.
Unlike most Universalists Origen is not my favorite of the Early Church fathers, I do not question his Faith, but he taught many Plaotnic ideas I'm uncomfortable with, as did Clement of Alexandria. But many Universalsit scholars have pointed out how the earliest critics of Origen, including those from the Antiochian school (some of whom were people mentioned above), never cited his Universalism as one of the things he was wrong on. It was during the reign of Justinian that Unviersalism was formally declared a heresy by the Organized Church, and it seems during that era the enemies of Universalism wanted to tie it to Origen because he was such an easy target for other reasons.
So I feel Origen's Universalism was in-spite of not because of his Platonic and Gnostic tendencies.
And there are those who question that Origen was a Universalist, like this Calvnanist website. And the fact that he alluded to something like the Reprobate doctrine as I mentioned in an old blog post, does render his Universalism questionable. But even if the conclusions of that site are all wrong, Origen's Apokatastasis doctrine needs to be understood in his Platonic rejection of the physical world. Which goes back to what I talked about in my Is Universalism Pagan post the other day.
Cyril of Alexandria, who lead the opposition to Nesotrianism and other non-Calchedonian doctrines on the nature of Christ during the time of Emperor Theodosius II. Has been quoted as being both for Universalism and against it. The quote Universalists cite is just him talking about Hades being emptied when Jesus descended there. You can believe that happened and still view the Lake of Fire as Eternal. What Anti-Universalists quote is.
And this too we must bear in mind, that the crowns are to be won by labour. It is strong exertion united with skill that perfects those mighty athletes in the games. It is courage and a brave mind that are most serviceable to those who are skilled in battles: while the man who throws away his shield is ridiculed even by the foe: and if the runaway live, he leads a life of disgrace. But he who was steadfast in the battle, and stood stoutly and courageously with all his might against the enemy, is honoured if he win the victory; and if he fall, is looked upon with admiration. And so ought we to reckon for ourselves; for to endure patiently, and maintain the conflict with courage, brings with it great reward, and is highly desirable, and wins for us the blessings bestowed by God: while to refuse to suffer death in the flesh for the love of Christ, brings upon us lasting, or rather never-ending punishment. For the wrath of man reaches at most to the body, and the death of the flesh is the utmost that they can contrive against us: but when God punishes, the loss reaches not to the flesh alone;—-how could it?—-but the wretched soul also is cast alone; with it into torments. (Sermon 87, On Luke)I can't anaylize the Greek of this, but it does look like he qualified himself enough to not just be an issue of what Aionios meant.
Thing is, I don't want to agree with Cyril of Alexandria. He persecuted Jews and other non Christians, and was a jerk to other Christians who disagreed with him also. Attitudes that I feel are a natural result of not being a Universalist. If you believe non believers are going to burn for Eternity by God's will, it's natural to cease viewing them as fellow human beings. Universalists tend to respect Freedom of Religion. At any-rate Cyril will also come up more if I talk about Nestorianism in the future.
Cyril's life overlapped with Augustine, so he lived during the time when the doctrine of Eternal Torment got it's first major kick start.