L. Ray Smith's "bibletruths.com" -- A Critique

This is a general overview of the teachings of L. Ray Smith of the website "bible-truths.com".

Eternal Punishment. On this one, a critical issue for Smith is the meaning of aionios (eternal). Our own study on the subject is here; but Smith makes no use of critical scholarship on the subject, most particularly works like Barr's Biblical Words for Time.

Smith says in a main article that he will prove that [aionios] does not ever mean "without beginning or end" or "eternal" in the Scriptures. We can see just how credible an approach we will get when, in reply to one who cited Bauer's lexicon (one of the premier and most respected sources), he says:

Furthermore, who cares that the "secular Greek-English lexicon by Bauer" defines aionios as without beginning or end and eternal? Does that mean that we should pick up our tents and go home? Should we burn all the other lexicons and dictionaries on our book shelves, that teach contrary, because "Bauer has spoken?"

Despite this approach, Smith deigns to cite "some real scholars on the subject" (is Bauer not such? it apparently means "real because I agree with them" and not "real because they are credentialed) who say that aionios does not mean eternality. None of the arguments from these sources are presented; much less is there interaction with other authorities who say the opposite. But the real problem is made clear with a look at some of the sources cited:

The New Testament in Modern Speech, by Dr. R. F. Weymouth: Eternal: Greek: "aeonion," i.e., "of the ages." Etymologically this adjective, like others similarly formed, does not signify "during," but "belong to" the aeons or ages."

The problem? Smith is quiet about giving full bibliographic data; Weymouth's "modern" work was written in 1902. Another work he cites by Marvin Vincent was written in 1887. While this does not itself prove error, it does show that Smith is being less than careful with the scholarship -- and has clearly avoided looking for anything later that might be better informed.

Still, it might work if the arguments are sound; are they? The only source cited that gives an argument of any sort is Hasting’s Dictionary of the New Testament -- I don't know the date of this one, for it is not even listed as existing in OCLC -- offers a tremendous philsophical error as its only reasoning:

The chronoios aioniois moreover, are not to be thought of as stretching backward everlastingly, as it is proved by the pro chronon aionion of II Tim. 1:9; Titus. 1:2. (Note: pro chronon aionion means "BEFORE times eonian." Since this Scripture tells us that there was time "before" eonian, eionian cannot possibly mean eternal, for nothing can be "before" eternity.)

There can't be? Then what word would be used to describe a period "before" time? Obviously there is a limitation in human language here, not any sort of real argument that aionios cannot mean "eternity". And this is really all that is offered; Farrar (wrote in 1874) is quoted as saying that to introduce this rendering into many passages would be utterly impossible and absurd, but we are not told what these "many passages" are or why it is absurd. Argument by asserted description proves nothing.

To this end, Smith must then say:

I have argued this point for years. Just because a word translated WRONGLY can still make sense does NOT justify doing so. Perchance someone might wish to translate Mark 9:41 as follows: "For whosoever shall give you a GLASS OF ICE COLD LEMONADE to drink in my name… shall not lose his reward." Does not the verse make equal SENSE as when it is correctly translated "A CUP OF WATER?" Yes it does, but that is NOT what the Holy Spirit inspired to be preserved for us. Hence, "a glass of ice cold lemonade" is wrong, just as translating Rom. 16:26 as "the everlasting God," is wrong. The Holy Spirit inspired the word aionios, which translated to our English equivalent "eonian," and this is how it must be translated if we are to be faithful to God’s Word.
And so I will repeat this most important truth of translating: "That the adjective is applied to some things which are ‘endless’ [as with ‘God’ in Rom. 16:26] does NOT, of course, for one moment prove that the word itself meant ‘endless;’ and to introduce this rendering into MANY PASSAGES [some of which we will look at later] WOULD BE UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE AND ABSURD." (CAPS are mine).

The obvious flaw with the analogy is that "lemonade" could not possibly be an option for a couple of reasons: "Lemonade" did not exist in the first century; and the word used clearly means "water" in other contexts -- Biblical and secular.

But Smith's "important truth" makes havoc with this method; it rejects clear intended meaning in one passage for no purpose at all other than desire. Again this may be of some use if indeed Smith could show us some of these "passages" but this is not done; instead we are delivered more non-argumentative declarations from outdated authorities who give no specific citation (if we can find them at all; "Dr. Edward Plumptre" wrote in the 1890s, and Time and Eternity by G. T. Stevenson isn't in OCLC, nor is the author Herman Oldhausen).

Thus we still don't know whether the likes of Plumptre determined that aionios was not "eternal" because of serious study of Greek, or because they were universalists with an axe to grind, or for some other unknown reason.

Smith's opponents follows standard scholarly procedure by noting that the word does mean "eternal" in secular works of the period. In response, Smith refuses steadfastly to engage: "You couldn’t get me to read all of these pagan authors at the end of the barrel of a 57 Magnum." And then, what? More undocumented declarations:

Dr. Mangey, a translator of the writings of Philo, says, "Philo did not use aionios to express endless duration."

Well, how about some examples of how this is so from Dr. Mangey (who wrote in 1742)? It is said Josephus obviously did not consider anionios to be "everlasting," seeing that he uses the word to represent the period of time between the giving of the law of Moses and that of his own writing [clearly not an eternity]. That's a little better as a specific -- if only we were told WHERE in Josephus this (and two other cites) are actually found; we aren't.

Smith seems quite hesitant to give us citations in almost all cases; this is the best we get:

Saint Chrysostum, in his homily on Eph. 2:1-3, says that, "Satan’s kingdom is aeonian; that is, it will cease with the present world."

This is itself careless, for Chrysostom's homily on Ephesians is divided into several parts; but the part referenced is online here and there seems to be semantic error afoot, for this is how it is translated:

Here again he means, that Satan occupies the space under Heaven, and that the incorporeal powers are spirits of the air, under his operation. For that his kingdom is of this age, i. e., will cease with the present age, hear what he says at the end of the Epistle...

So what seems to be the problem? It is clear that the use of the word here has nothing to do with duration in the first place, but with nature or description. Indeed it is interesting that Smith does not even tell us what English word goes in this place as he would translate it. If he allows for "of this age" as it is commonly translated, then his attempt to offer a meaning germane to duration (against "eternal") is destroyed.

After this Smith hands over the reigns for an extended period to one "Rev. John Wesley Hanson" and his text. Hanson was one of the sources we consulted for our study linked above; he was a Universalist who wrote in 1875 so his worth as a source is already questionable, but it again would be fine if Hanson provided some real and relevant argument.

He does not. Hanson quotes some authorities of his day who called the etymologies of Plato and Aristotle "absurd" and "forced, arbitrary, and fanciful," though nothing is said specifically of aionios or what this has to do with the word in the first place.

Much less do we have any assurance that these findings remain sound among modern scholars of Plato (even if we assume the persons Hanson cites were themselves worthy to make such comments). One searches in vain for critical examples of aionios wrongly rendered "eternal" but the best we get are examples from the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Sophocles in which it is clear that the word is used as a noun, not as an adjective (even if we assume that the cites are accurate).

Commentary that follows is rather confused, for example:

Plato uses aión eight times, aiónios five, diaiónios once, and makraión twice. Of course if he regarded aión as meaning eternity he would not prefix the word meaning long, to add duration to it.

But no one argues that aion means eternity; it is aionios that is taken to have that meaning. The claim that "it must mean the same as the noun that is its source" slides by the point that what "meaning" is taken from the noun source is what is most critical.

Here it is clear from such factors as how aionios is used (ie., of God) that what is being taken from aion is the character of time, not the idea of limited duration. After all, a limited duration is time; eternity is time. The noun "time" can refer to anything from a second to hours to infinity; but this is like arguing from the limited durations that "timeless" or "timely" must refer to something of limited duration as well.

Hanson makes some effort to dismiss the use of the word by Plato:

Referring to certain souls in Hades, he describes them as in aiónion intoxication. But that he does not use the word in the sense of endless is evident from the Phædon, where he says, "It is a very ancient opinion that souls quitting this world, repair to the infernal regions, and return after that, to live in this world." After the aiónion intoxication is over, they return to earth, which demonstrates that the world was not used by him as meaning endless. Again,(31) he speaks of that which is indestructible, (anolethron) and not aiónion. He places the two words in contrast, whereas, had he intended to use aiónion as meaning endless, he would have said indestructible and aiónion.

No cites are given for these Platonic passages, and a copy of the word referenced here has no exact match, but the difference is apparently due to translation. The full context of the quote is quite revealing in terms of how honest or competent Hanson was being with the text:

Whether the souls of men after death are or are not in the world below, is a question which may be argued in this manner: The ancient doctrine of which I have been speaking affirms that they go from this into the other world, and return hither, and are born from the dead. Now if this be true, and the living come from the dead, then our souls must be in the other world, for if not, how could they be born again? And this would be conclusive, if there were any real evidence that the living are only born from the dead; but if there is no evidence of this, then other arguments will have to be adduced.

From this two things are clear: The first, whch Hanson fails to report, is that Phaedo is a dialogue between persons; it is not Plato reporting his own views. Second, what is clearly being discussed is reincarnation.

The bottom line is that Plato is giving someone's own point of view on a subject, so to lay it against what is reportedly his view ("eternal intoxication" -- which from what I can gather, may come from Plato's Republic if anywhere), or to try to combone the two statements, is simply dishonest or else careless.

Hanson also makes this point, which is somewhat surreal:

Once more,(32) Plato quotes four instances of aión, and three of aiónios, and one ofdiaiónios in a single passage, in contrast with aidios (eternal.) The gods he calls eternal, (aidios) but the soul and the corporeal nature, he says, are aiónios, belonging to time, and "all these," he says, "are part of time." And he calls Time [Kronos] an aiónios image of Aiónos. Exactly what so obscure an author may mean here is not apparent, but one thing is perfectly clear, he cannot mean eternity and eternal by aiónios and aiónion, for nothing is wider from the fact than that fluctuating, changing Time, beginning and ending, and full of mutations, is an image of Eternity. It is in every possible particular its exact opposite.

It is peculiar how Hanson can on the one hand say that the meaning is "not apparent" and yet just as firmly say that it is "perfectly clear" that what he wants to see is there. I for one see no logic in Hanson's statement, which seems to be mere distraction. Time is indeed an image of eternity; it is a part of the eternal whole.

Some discussion following about the meaning of the Hebrew olam we will not dispute; though indeed (as out linked item shows) the word is compatible with eternity. We return to where Smith offers his own refutation:

Aionios is the adjective of the noun aion, and as such it must mean "that which pertains to ages." It could be one or many ages, just as the adjective "hourly" pertains to hours. It could be pertaining to only one, but it could also be pertaining to very many hours. But it must pertain to hours, and not weeks, months, or centuries!

The problem is that as it stands, "that which pertains to the ages" has no limit to it -- if it is not "eternal" then there are some "ages" to which the subject does not pertain. The word does not limit the pertinence; it does not say "that which pertains to these two or three ages" or such.

Smith is merely trying to force aionios out of its very clear meaning, and this methodology takes up much of his continued reply: The constant insistance that, ie, God being aionios is not meant to convey eternality, merely report God's pertinence to some ages in particular, as if it made any sense to report such a thing of God to begin with.

He also repeats Hanson's argument his own way:

NO ADJECTIVE can take on a greater or different means from the noun from which it is derived.

But that is false, since the very pertient example of "time" and "timeless" proves it false. An adjective CAN take on greater meaning than the noun from which it is derived, depending on the nature of the noun and/or the adjective. Time/timeless is a clear example. Age/ageless would be another. Super/superior would qualify as well.

We should note at this point that Smith is addressing some other arguer whom he does not even represent properly. The author presents a variety of detailed grammatical arguments that Smith apparently does not adequately refute with equitable technicality. For example, the original arguer says:

Adjectives may be used in three distinct ways in Greek: attributively, predicatively and substantively. The attributive use of the adjective is that use in which the adjective attributes a quality to the noun modified. In the attributive construction there are two possible positions of the adjective in relation to the noun:
either before the noun as in the passage on the previous page: tou aioniou Theou
or after the noun which would then look like this: tou Theou tou aioniou
Note that the adjective aioniou is immediately preceded by the definite article tou in this second possibility of the attributive case.
In the attributive case therefore the adjective aioniou strongly modifies Theou in whichever position the adjective is placed. Since God is an eternal God the adjective aioniou must be translated eternal or everlasting in the above two examples.

And Smith's response to this? It speaks for itself:

Balderdash. That is nonsense. That has no basis in fact or Scripture. We know that Satan is the "god of this age [aion]" (II Cor. 4:4). But he is nowhere called the "god of the ages," all of the ages, in the plural. Well, if Satan is not the God of the "ages," then Who is? Why, GOD, of course. God created the ages [aions] (Heb. 1:2), and He is working out His plan of the ages, therefore God is "the aionios/eonian GOD." This is not difficult.

Well, apparently it is, since Smith had not a word to say about the issue of the grammar, and his "answer" doesn't actually answer what is written at all. We find little from Smith but this for the duration; what little we can cull that is of worth, we report.

The original arguer noted Philemon 15:

For perhaps He [Jesus Christ] therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldst receive Him forever.

Smith rightly notes that the reference is to Philemon, not Jesus; but after that, his efforts are in vain again:

You believe that the phrase "…receive him for EVER" is the only correct translation of this verse, and that it would be wrong to translate it "receive him for an age [or eon]." Consider: If your interpretation is correct, then what Paul is advocating in this verse is "ETERNAL SLAVERY." That Onesimus should take back Philemon as a SLAVE FOR ALL ETERNITY. Kind of silly, huh? You shot yourself in your theological foot again, Walter.

It seems Smith forgot to read v. 16: "Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?" Not to have him as a slave, as Smith claims, but to have him as a brother. "Kind of silly"? Paul is advocating in this verse eternal brotherhood.

We know of only two things that are taught in reference to anything beyond the eons [1] we will all have IMMORTALITY [we will never die]. The word itself has nothing to do with "time," but rather ‘death-less-ness, and [2] God will be ALL IN ALL. That’s it! Beyond these, we must trust God in faith regarding what eternity holds for us.

In other words, Smith contrives some peculiar idea that we will be "deathless" but that somehow that does not mean we will not live eternally. It is manifest that Smith is looking to suggest some unknown alternative, for no other purpose than to rake from aionios a meaning he does not want it to have. The deathless, those who do not ever die, logically do not ever stop living. They are eternal. Smith's logic is like saying that a person described as one who will "never drink booze" can in no way be regarded as someone who will be "always sober". Indeed Smith tries to force this dichotomy again and again:

I have no problem with the fact that "immortality" is practically "eternal." That is, those with immortality live eternally. But that is NOT what the words themselves mean. Eternal does not MEAN immortality anymore than immortality means eternal.

Smith hides the fact that "eternal" and "immortal" while not synonyms DO describe two aspects of the same experience: One from the temporal perspective, one from the physical perspective. Smith wrongly compares the statement "God is eternal" to saying "wet rain." No: "God is eternal" is more like saying "Rain is wet."

We close then with Smith's final display in which he offers just a few scriptures in which "aionios" cannot possibly mean ETERNAL and his reasoning.

Rom. 16:25—"…according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world [Gk: aionios] began." You have attempted time and again to set up a straw man by insisting that if "aionios" is "eonian," then it must be changed to a noun and translated as "of the ages." Well check this bit of translating genius out. We have the ADJECTIVE word "aionios" and the KJV translators changed it to a NOUN, "world."
Well guess what? The word "world" (kosmos) is not found in this verse, furthermore, neither is the word "began." The Greek reads: "…in times eonian." Do we really believe in "times eternal." What does "time," let along "timeS" have to do with "eternity?" And as Paul speaks of the "revelation" of this secret, how could it EVER be revealed if it was kept secret ‘ETERNALLY?’ Do you not see a problem—a CONTRADICTION in all of this?

Yes, we see a clear contradiction between Smith's implications of his expertise and his actual practice. As Morris' commentary on Romans notes [546-7], the reference here is to "the eternity of God rather than to the time from creation to the coming of Christ (as some think)." The understanding is that the secret was kept in eternity past (note what we said in the linked article about eternity being something that occurs in two directions). Smith makes the same error re 2 Tim. 1:9, so we will not repeat that entry.

II Thes. 2:16—"…and has given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace." "Console" is defined as, "To allay sorrow or grief of." "Hope" is defined as, "To wish for something with expectations of its fulfillment." Now then, according to this inane KJV translation of this verse, just how long are we going to have our "SORROW AND GRIEF ALLAYED?" How long must we "HOPE" before we have our hope fulfilled? For ALL ETERNITY? Nonsense.

How this shows that "everlasting" is not a proper reading is hard to say. It refers to what we have been given now -- with no indication that we will "wait" for consolation or hope, though perhaps Smith is making the same error as the atheist McKinsey regarding the meaning of hope.

Jude 7—"Even as Sodom and Gomorha, 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." The Greek reads: "…experiencing the justice of fire eonian." Well just how long does this "eonian/aionios fire last? Is it really "eternal" as the Authorized Version and you, contend?

Smith goes on to speak of no evidence of "FIRE burning in Palestine since the days of Sodom anywhere, let along in the vicinity of these ancient cities" but as we noted in the linked article, this is a typological usage by Jude; Smith's literalism notwithstanding.

We close this item with a final note. One of Smith's issues seems to be the idea of "eternal torture" -- we do happen to agree (though we arrived at the conclusion via sound scholarship, not merely emotion, as Smith did) with the view that "torture" is not found at all in the Bible as the eternal fate of the wicked. For that subject we refer the reader here.