I was led to this page regarding the above article which I wrote. I just wanted to clear something up about what modus said. He said "that is the etymological fallacy" regarding my examination of the word parts. However, to my knowledge the etymological fallacy says that it is not correct to assume the meaning of the word based SOLELY on its etymology. That is why I was careful to say "one useful way
to discover a word's meaning..." Even dictionaries use etymology simply as one way to communicate meaning even just to show how the meaning changed. Etymology is just one way, but not the only way. I think I should have driven that point home a little more, by not only focusing on the Biblical usage to follow, but also in contemporary secular society showing alternative usage.
The information I included about the eymology of aionios is meant to show that it does not mean eternal of it's own parts, but must evolved based on interpretation in order to mean "eternal." To my knowledge translation is not a perfect science but relies heavily on interpretation given etymology AND contemporary usage. The word aionios can mean "peanut butter sandwich" if everyone in contemporary society agrees. So to your point about John of Damascus: he was a Christian who lived 200 years after the doctrine of eternal torment had been established. Of course he will say it means eternal because it has to align with the doctrine he already believed. But, here are some alternative examples of usage, some of which are sources who are indifferent to Christian doctrine:
1. Augustine (A. D. 400-430) was the first known to argue that aiónios signified endless. He at first maintained that it always meant thus, but at length abandoned that ground, and only claimed that it had that meaning sometimes. He "was very imperfectly acquainted with the Greek language."
2. A. D. 410 Avitus brought to Spain, from Jerome, in Palestine, a translation of Origen, and taught that punishments are not endless; for "though they are called everlasting, yet that word in the original Greek does not, according to its etymology and frequent use
, signify endless, but answers only to the duration of an age."
3. The Emperor Justinian (A. D. 540), in calling the celebrated local council which assembled in 544, addressed his edict to Mennos, Patriarch of Constantinople, and elaborately argued against the doctrines he had determined should be condemned. He does not say, in defining the Catholic doctrine at that time "We believe in aiónion punishment," for that was just what the Universalist, Origen himself taught. Nor does he say, "The word aiónion has been misunderstood, it denotes endless duration," as he would have said had there been such a disagreement. But, writing in Greek with all the words of that copious speech from which to choose, he says, "The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aiónios
("ATELEUTETOS aiónios") life to the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked." Aiónios was not enough in his judgement to denote endless duration, and he employed ateleutetos. This demonstrates that even as late as A. D. 540 aiónios meant limited duration, and required an added word to impart to it the force of endless duration.
4. Plato (De Repub. Lib. ii.) The Adjective. 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, 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.
5. In Rome there were certain periodical games known as the secular games, from the Latin seculum, a period, or age. The historian, Herodian, writing in Greek, calls these aiónian games, that is, periodical, occurring at the end of a seculum. It would be singular, indeed, to call them eternal or everlasting games. Cremer, in his masterly Lexicon of New Testament Greek, states the general meaning of the word to be 'Belonging to the aión.'" Herodotus, Isocrates, Xenophon, Sophocles, Diodorus Siculus use the word in precisely the same way. Diodorus Siculus says ton apéiron aióna, "indefinite time."
Here is an interesting note:
In the sixteenth century Phavorinus was compelled to notice an addition
, which subsequently to the time of the famous Council of 544 had been grafted on the word. He says: "Aión, time, also life, also habit, or way of life. Aión is also the eternal and endless AS IT SEEMS TO THE THEOLOGIAN." Theologians had succeeded in using the word in the sense of endless, and Phavorinus was forced to recognize their usage of it and his phraseology shows conclusively enough that he attributed to theologians the authorship of that use of the word. Alluding to this definition, Rev. Ezra S. Goodwin, one of the ripest scholars and profoundest critics, says,(10) "Here I strongly suspect is the true secret brought to light of the origin of the sense of eternity in aión. The theologian first thought he perceived it, or else he placed it there. The theologian keeps it there, now. And the theologian will probably retain it there longer than any one else. Hence it is that those lexicographers who assign eternity as one of the meanings of aión uniformly appeal for proofs to either theological, Hebrew, or Rabbinical Greek, or some species of Greek subsequent to the age of the Seventy, if not subsequent to the age of the Apostles, so far a I can ascertain."http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Aion_lim.html
In conclusion, the linguistic argument is not that it "cannot mean eternal." Like I said, it can mean "peanut butter sandwich" if everyone agrees. But the argument is that it does not mean eternal without interpretation or evolution of the word. Some clues exist as to when the evolution of aionios into "eternity" (as being a word which can be interpreted no other way) began as being the only way to understand the word:
From: HISTORY OF OPINIONS ON THE SCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE OF RETRIBUTION By Edward Beecher, D.D.
Some centuries, then, after the death of Origen, that great theologian in his own esteem, the Emperor Justinian, directed Mennas, the Patriarch of Constantinople, to call a local council in the year 544 to condemn errors of Origen. Among these errors was the doctrine of universal restoration. Justinian, in his letter to Mennas, presents an elaborate argument against that doctrine among others, and concludes it with a careful statement of the true faith. Here, now, was a call for an unambiguous word to denote eternal, as applied to life and punishment. The emperor, writing in Greek, had his choice of words. What word, then, from the full vocabulary of Greece, did he select? Did he rely on the word aionios as, of itself, sufficient for his purpose? Not at all. As if aware that it could denote simply “pertaining to the world to come,” he prefixes to it a word properly denoting eternal, so that his language is this, “The Holy Church of Christ teaches an endless aionian life to the righteous and endless punishment to the wicked.” Here the word used to denote endless in both cases is ateleutetos. In the case of punishment he omits aionios entirely. To denote the endless life of the righteous he uses the same unambiguous word ateleutetos, but prefixes it to aionios. But when he thus said the Church teaches an endless aionian life to the righteous, did he mean so flat a tautology as an endless endless life? Or did he prefix to the life of the world to come, as used in the creeds, a word that truly denotes eternal?
It deserves, also, particular notice, that, in a deliberate and formal effort to characterize the punishment of the wicked as strictly eternal, he does not rely on or use the word aionios at all, but employs an entirely different word, ateleutetos.
There was good reason for the distrust of Justinian of the power of the word aionios to express endless life and endless punishment. One of his contemporaries, the philosopher Olympiodorus, had pointedly used the word as directly opposed to endless punishment, and denoting a limited period. Speaking of the punishments of Tartarus, he says, Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless aions [Greek letters here] in Tartarus. Very properly, the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aionion period [Greek letters here], calling its life, and its allotted period of punishment, its aion.” Of the very worst, he says that they need a second life, and a second period of punishment, to be made perfectly pure, and that Plato called this double period their aion. With this distinct denial of endless punishment before his eyes, and a recognition in its place of aionian punishment as the direct antithesis to it, how could Justinian express endless punishment except by another word denoting endlessness?http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Retribut ... tion19.htm
So my point was not to submit etymology as the final and only indicator but to start from that, and then to show Biblical USAGE of it.