My confidence in the Bible has grown immensely over my 55 years. The Bible teaches these three important points:
1) God loves every person dearly and would save anyone that He could (1 Tim 2:4).
2) God is all-powerful and is able to save anyone that He intends to save (John 6:37).
3) God will save everyone in the end (John 12:32, Rom 11:32, 1 Cor 15:22, Phil 2:10, 1 Tim 4:10).
I had been taught most of my life that many people will go to hell and hell is endless. I understood that if this is true, then two of the three points above are false. Which two are false? There are dozens of verses that specifically support each of these three points. I still respected the Bible, but I was in a quandary.
Two years ago, an old pastor friend helped me see the answer to this dilemma. The word everlasting (Matt 25:46 KJV) is a translation of the original Greek word “aionios.” This word refers to an age, like our word “eon.”
Wiktionary defines aionios as “1. Long-lasting. 2. For an age. 3 For life (of an office or title).” Aionios is used throughout the Greek Bible and usually describes a period that comes to an end.
Many translations have replaced the word “everlasting” in places like Matt 25:46 with the word “eternal.” The old Latin root of the word “eternal” refers to an age, like aionios. However, this is still confusing because the modern word “eternal” is thought to mean endless. Some other Bible translations are clearer, like the YLT Bible, which translates aionios as “age-during.”
I found out that most Christians in the first few centuries (with their Greek Bibles) believed that hell is temporary and remedial. Many modern theologians like C.S. Lewis (in “The Great Divorce”) have expressed support for this concept.
Since the Greek Bible does not say that hell is endless, there is no contradiction with the three points above. Once again, I found that the Bible (in the original language) is reliably consistent. I would like to add a few more Bible points:
4) Hell is really scary. Jesus said it would be better to cut off your hand or gouge out your eye than to take a chance of going to hell.
5) A lot of people are on their way to hell.
6) If you follow what Jesus taught, you can avoid hell. More importantly, it’s the least you can do for him. After all, Jesus paid for your sins on a cross. Besides that, Jesus will probably reward your efforts beyond your wildest dreams.
Mark Beeksma is a resident of Koloa.