Word Study

Arlen L. Chitwood


Eternal Life

Neither the Hebrew text of the Old Testament nor the Greek text of the New Testament contains a word for “eternal.”  Olamis the word usually translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” or “perpetual” in English translations of the Old Testament; and aion(a noun) or aionios(the adjective form of aion) are the words translated “eternal” or “everlasting” in the New Testament (aidios, an older form of aionios, used only two times and meaning exactly the same as aionios, is the only exception (Romans 1:20 and Jude 6)).

Olam,aion, and aioniosall have to do with “a long period of time,” which, if the context permits, can refer to “eternity” (e.g., the aioniosGod in Romans 16:26;cf.Psalm 136:1ff).  But the words standing alone, apart from a context, cannot be understood as “eternal.”

Context is the all-important factor to ascertain the length of time in view when these words are used.

Aionand aioniosare usually thought of and used numerous times in the New Testament in the sense of “an age.”  And a usage of this nature is even brought over into English.  For example, the English word “aeon (or ‘eon’)” is derived from the Greek word aion.

The only way in which the Greek text can express “eternal” apart from textual considerations is by a use of aionin the plural (e.g.,Luke 1:33; Hebrews 13:8, referring to “the ages,” i.e., ages without end, which would comprise eternity) or a double use of aion,  in the plural and articular both times (e.g.,Revelation 1:6; 4:9, 10, referring to “the ages of the ages,” again, ages without end).

And the use of aioniosin Matthew 25:41, 46, referring to an inverse of that seen in verse thirty-four(failing to realize an inheritance in the kingdom) can only be understood as “age-lasting.” It can only be understood as referring to the outcome of a judgment of unfaithful saved Gentiles coming out of the Tribulation.

A judgment of the unsaved, with eternal verities in view, could not possibly be the subject at hand in Matthew 25:41, 46.  First, the context will not permit such an understanding of these verses; and second, inheritance in the kingdom, contextually in view, would limit this judgment to the saved alone.  Note Romans 8:17:  “Andif children,then heirs . . . .”

“Sheep” and “goats” (vv. 32, 33), can only be understood contextually as a metaphorical way of describing two classes of saved individuals, similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30.  The unsaved and eternal verities simply cannot be in view in either passage.  Rather, in both passages, only the saved, with a view to an inheritance or non-inheritance in the kingdom, can be in view.

(Taken from Prophecy on Mount Olivet, Chapter 24)