Could a just and loving God punish someone forever for a finite amount of evil done in life? In all Bible verses concerning hell, with one exception, the Bible uses the Greek word aion to denote the duration of punishment. Aion means age, not endless duration. The only time the Greek word for forever, aidios, is used is in regards to hell is in Jude 6: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting [aidios] chains for judgment on the Great Day.” The aidios chains in Jude 6 are limited by the Day of Judgment and thus do not imply an endless duration. Fortunately, the Bible uses more permanent terms to describe the saints joyful existence in heaven.
Hell in NOT Eternal According to the Original Languages of the Bible
Imagine being punished forever. Would you ever wish such a fate on anyone? And if not, could a loving God ever do such a thing? I believe that a wise and just God could never sentence anyone, no matter how evil, to eternal punishment. The purpose or goal of all forms of punishment is behavioral modification. Eternal punishment does not modify behavior; therefore, eternal punishment serves no useful purpose since spirits in hell are never let out and given an opportunity to reform. Furthermore, one might also ask, “If hell is eternal, why does Jesus preach to spirits in Hades in 1 Peter 3:18-20?” “Also, why is Satan released from hell in Revelation 20:1-3?” Does the Bible really suggest that hell is eternal?
The English translation of the Bible does suggest that hell is forever. However, what do the original languages say? The Christian Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. Interestingly, there is no word for eternity or forever in Hebrew. Perhaps the closest word is olam, a word denoting a long duration of unknown length. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the third century B.C., the Hebrew word olam was most often translated aion. This Greek translation of the Bible is called the Septuagint. During the writing of the Septuagint, there was a large amount of Greek literature available called the Classics today. It is interesting to note that aion is never used in the Classics to denote eternity or endless duration.1 Aion in all its forms is used to describe the duration of punishment in thirteen verses in the New Testament. As a noun, aion is found in Matthew 12:32, Mark 3:29, 2 Peter 2:17, Jude 13, Revelation 14:11, Revelation 19:3, and Revelation 20:10. It is found as an adjective in Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, Mark 3:29, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Jude 7, and Hebrews 6:2. Because aion does not mean forever or endless duration in Greek now or during the time of the writing of the New Testament, the fact that the above verses translate this word in such a way as to imply eternal punishment is highly dubious.
Concerning everlasting punishment, the other Greek word that is used in this context is aidios. Aidios, not aion, is the Greek classic word for endless duration. Aidios is found in Jude 6: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the Great Day.” The aidios chains in the verse above are limited by the Day of Judgment and do not imply endless duration. The way in which aidios is used in Jude 6 is similar to the use of endless in the following sentence: “She is an endless talker. She can talk on the phone for ten hours at a time.”
Fortunately the soul’s immortal and joyful existence is not left to as ambiguous a term as aion or aionios. The following terms are applied to God and the soul’s happy existence only: “akataluton, imperishable; amarantos and amarantinos, unfading; aphtharto, immortal, incoruptable; and athanasian, immortality.”2
Why would a loving God punish at all? I think anyone who has children can recognize the utility of punishment. One clinician at a mental hospital in England once said, “My experience on treating the mentally ill [and] criminally insane is that they don’t feel they can benefit from treatment unless they are also punished. They often feel relieved that they were caught because they could not stop themselves.”3
Hell is Not Eternal Torment