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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(ζωὴ αἰώνιος ).
I. Biblical Usage of the Terms. —
1. In the O.T. we find this expression occurring only in Daniel 12:2 : Some shall awaken עוֹלָם לְהִיֵּו Sept. εἰς ζωὴν αἰὠνιον, the others
לְדַרְאוֹן עוֹלָם . For the first indication on this point, Leviticus 18:5 Ezekiel 20:11; Ezekiel 18:21; Habakuk 2:4 (comp. Galatians 3:11-12); Psalms 34:13 (comp. 1 Peter 3:10) are to be referred to.
2. In the N.T. it is of frequent occurrence. In the first three evangelists, we find ζωὴ αἰώνιος (eternal life), or sometimes only ζωή (life), represented as the object and destiny of man, e.g. Matthew 7:14; Matthew 18:8-9; Luke 10:28; comp. Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18. The resurrection of the dead precedes it (Luke 14:14). It therefore comprises the whole future of the disciple of Christ, his full reward; and the idea is thus connected with that of felicity (μισθὸς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, reward in heaven, Matthew 5:12; reception into the αἰώνιαι σχηναί, everlasting habitations, Luke 16:9). In Matthew 19:29; Matthew 25:46, we find it opposed to κόλασις αἰώνιος (eternal punishment). Paul considers the ζωὴ αἰώνιος as the supreme reward of well-doing (Romans 2:7; 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Timothy 6:19), the result of continually walking in the holiness secured to us by Christ; the τέλος (Romans 6:22), the reward (Galatians 6:8), as also the object of our faith (1 Timothy 1:16), and of saving grace (Romans 5:21), and consequently also the object of our hopes (Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7; comp. Judges 1:21). It appears synonymous with the ἐπαγγελία ζωῆς τῆς μελλούσης (promise of the life to come) (1 Timothy 4:8), the receiving of the incorruptible crown of righteousness (1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:8), the preservation unto the heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18). By Peter it is described as the κληρονομία which consists in the σωτηρία ψυχῆς, revealed as δόξα, and retained in heaven (1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:10). James considers it as the promised crown of life and inheritance of the kingdom (James 1:12; James 2:5). In the epistle to the Hebrews it is described as the Sabbath of the people of God (Hebrews 4:9; compare Hebrews 12:22 sq., etc.). While, however, life everlasting thus belongs to the future, we must not forget that, according to Paul's exposition, it appears in its essence indissolubly connected with our present life. As our relation to God, as altered by sin, can but lead to death, so in the restoration of the original relation there must necessarily, and, indeed, as an ethical religious principle, be ζωή (life) presented in the δικαιοσύνη, righteousness (Romans 5:21; Romans 8:10; Galatians 3:21); so that δικαιοσύνη in its connection with ζωη (Romans 5:18, δικαίωσις ζωῆς, justification of life), constitutes the very essence of the σωτηρία (salvation) imputed to the subject, even though in the Judaic epistles of the apostle the ζωή itself is dwelt upon more than the fundamental idea of the δικαιοσύνη . Christ is ἡ ζωὴ ἡμῶν (our life); though yet concealed (Colossians 3:3-4; Philippians 1:21; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 15:45), he is found in us (Galatians 4:19); we have put him on, and become parts of his body (Ephesians 5:30; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 1:18, etc.). From this it results that his life of glory must also become ours, which idea is presented to us in various ways (Romans 6:8; 2 Timothy 2:11-12; Romans 5:17; Romans 5:21; Romans 8:30; Ephesians 2:5-6). The Spirit gives also the πνεῦμα ζωῆς (Spirit of life), as the element of new life (Romans 8:2; comp. 2 Corinthians 3:17), the foundation of that life which overcomes that which is mortal (2 Corinthians 5:4-5; Ephesians 1:14); our mortal body is by it made alive (Romans 8:11); its results arepeace and life (Romans 8:6; Romans 8:10; Romans 8:13). In this respect eternal life is the "gift of God in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). As λόγος ζωῆς (the word of life) (Philippians 2:16), Christ has destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).
Aside from this evident connection between eternal life and the newness of life of the Christ was derived from Christ (Romans 6:4), the ζωὴ αἰώνιος (eternal life) is still always considered in Paul's writings as posterior to the casting off if the mortal body, and the exchange of the corruptible for the incorruptible. The consequences of these premises in their full development are first presented to us, however, in the epistles of John. Here we find' the most important principle for the subjective aspect .of Christianity: ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει ζωὴν αίώνιον (he that believeth on the Son hath eternal life) (John 3:36; John 3:15-16; John 5:24; John 6:47; John 6:53-58; John 10:28; John 17:2-3; John 20:31; 1 John 5:12-13). Having passed from death unto life, death has no longer dominion over him (John 5:24), and he is free from the law and from the anger of God; he becomes partaker of the fullness of salvation. On the contrary, those who do not hearken to the Son have not life, neither shall they see it, but the anger of God abides with them. Thus, while Paul distinguishes between the actual state of grace, with its accompanying hope on the one hand, and the future attainment of the object of our hope, John unites these in his conception of eternal life, and thus uses the expressions ζωὴ αἰώνοις (eternal life) and ζωή (life), which stand in the relation of form and contents, indifferently with or without the article (John in, 36; v. 24; 1 John 3:14-15; 1 John 5:11-13, etc.). The life of the faithful on this earth is inseparably connected with their eternal life, from the fact of their absolute deliverance fromn the sentence of death resulting from a state of estrangement from God (John 6:53). It is a result of the birth of the Spirit (John 3:1-36; comp. 5:21; 1 John 1:5; John 3:36). See also John 4:14; John 5:28; John 6:40; John 17:24; 1 John 3:2.
This eternal life, with its divine course and its victorious power, finds its ground in the communion of life with Christ which is the result of faith. For while God as the absolute being is He whose life is "of himself" (John 6:57), and is Himself "eternal life" (1 John 5:20), the source of all life, yet the communication of life to the world, i.e., to mankind, has from the beginning, even before time began, (John 8:56), been irrevocably vested in the Son. He is the λόγος (word) as well in his relation to God as in his relation to the world. He has received the fullness of divine life from the Father in such a manner that it belongs to him as thoroughly his (John 5:26; 1 John 5:11). Now, inasmuch as the Logos became flesh, the eternal life, which was of God, became manifested in him. It is, in the next place, the revealed light of life. Christ, in his relation to the world, is therefore as well ὁ λόγος τῆς ζωῆς as ἡ ζωή (1 John 1:1-2; John 1:3-4; John 6:53; John 14:6); in one word, the really sole source of life, the universal priiciple of life in the world, both spiritual and material (John 5:21-29; John 10:9; John 10:28; John 11:25; John 14:19; John 6:27; John 6:35; John 6:39; John 6:63; John 7:38-39). From this it is easilyseen how eternal life is designated in the N.T. as the command of the Father, the knowledge of God and of Christ, or also as the commandment of Christ (John 12:50; comp. John 8:51; John 17:3; 1 John 2:25; 1 John 3:14-15; comp. John 12:25).
Confirmations of this view, by which the ζωή comes to occupy the first place in the plan of salvation in Christ, are to be found in numerous passages of the N.T. Christ is represented as the ever-living (Revelation 1:18), the ἀρχηγὸς τῆς ζωῆς (Acts 3:15), the λίθος ζῶν, by virtue of whom those who follow him become λίθοι ζῶντες, living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5). In 1 Peter 3:7 (comp. 4:6) we read of a κληρονομία χάριτος ζωῆς, and in the apocalyptic description of the heavenly Jerusalem we still read of a ποταμὸς ὕδατος ζωῆς (river of the water of life) which flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb, as also of a ξύλον ζωῆς (tree of life) by the shores of the stream (Revelation 22:1-2; Revelation 22:14; Revelation 22:19; Revelation 2:7). See the different interpretations given to John's ζωὴ αἰώνιος in Kaeuffer, De bibl. ζ . ἀ . notione, page 22.
II. History of the Doctrine. —
1. The Talmudists speak only of the עוֹלָם הִבָּא, in which all Israelites have part, but nowhere of an eternal life; while the Targumists make use of the expression, for instance, in Leviticus 18:5.
2. It was long before even the Christian Church, was able to understand the full scope of the idea. In early times the ζωὴ αἰώνιος (eternal life) was represented only as future happiness, to be fully accomplished only after the resurrection and the judgment of the world. Irenaeus (adv. Haer. 1, c. 10) states what the per universum orbem usque ad fines terree seminata ecclesia (the Church dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth) believes on this point, the rediturum — ut justis et sanctis — incorruptibilem statum largiatur et vitam seternam tribuat (coming of Christ to confer eternal life upon the righteous and holy). So also Tertullian (De prcescr. Hceret. C. 13). Augustine (De Sp. et Lit. c. 24): "Cum venerit, quod perfectum est, tune erit vita seterna; it is totum prsemiumn, cujus promissione gaudemus" (that is, the complete reward, in the promise of which we joy) (Pe snorib. eccl. oath. page 25; De Trin. 1:13; Enchir. § 29, etc. Basil (Essarr. Psalms 45:1-17) connects it with the eternal membership of heaven. The Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed end the enumeration of their articles of faith with the dogma concerning eternal life as emanating from God, the absolute cause, and represent it as the final object of all ordained development (Const. Apost. 7:41). John of Damascus, at the end of his Orthod. fid., where he treats of the resurrection, says expressly, αἰώνιος ζωὴ τὸ ἀτελεύτατον τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος δηλοῖ· οὐδὲ γὰρ μετὰ τὴν ἀνάστασιν ἡμέραις καί νυξὶν ὁ χρόνος ἀριθμηθήσεται· ἔστι δὲ μᾶλλον μία ἡμέρα ἀνέσπερος, τοῦ ήλίον τῆς δικαιοσύνης τοῖς δικαίοις φαιδρῶς ἐπιλάμποντος . Even when the fathers speak of Christ as the ζωή they refer almost exclusively to the imparting of future blessedness: Cyril of Alexandria and Anamonius (Catena on John 14:6), Gregory Nazianzenus (Orat. 10, c. Eunom.). At all events, they call the assurance of life resting on communion with Christ merely ζωή, ἡ κυρίου ζωή, but not ζωὴ αἰώνιος .
Yet occasionally they touch upon nearly all the questions connected with that point, without, however, arriving at any definite system of doctrine. In their description of the state of the blessed they mention as the most important points its endless duration, freedom from evil, and absolute satisfaction. The latter was sometimes defined as complete knowiedge, perfect moral liberty inner and outer peace, or immediate intercourse with God and the saints, together with personal reunion with those who have preceded us; or, again, as the contemplation of God, as the fulfillment of all human desire, or as several of these different points together. The finis desidesiorumn nostrorum is God himself, qui sinefine videbitur, sinefostidio anabiter, sirvefatigatione laudabitur (Justin, Apol. 1:8; Origen, Deprinc. 3:318, 321; Cyprian, De mortal. , page 166; Greg. Naz. Osat. 16:9; 8:23; Greg. Nyss. Orat. fun. de Placilla et Orat. de Mortuis; Basil, Hom. 6 in Hexaom. et Hom. in Psalms 114:1-8; August. De civ. Dei, 22:29, 30; Chrysost. Hose. 14 in Ep. ad Rona; Ambros. in Galatians 6:1-18; Cassiodor. De anima, c. 12). The idea of different degrees of felicity in future life, as differences of reward, was widely prevalent, without however, making it lose its character as gratia pro gratia (grace for grace) (August. Tract. 13 in John; Theodoret on Romans 6:23, and in Canticum 1). According to the ἀξία (desert) of every one, there are πολλαὶ ἀξιωμάτων διαφοραί, βαθμοὶ πολλοί and μέτρα (Orig. 1:1, 2, 11; Greg. Naz. Orat. 27:8; 14:5; 19:7; 32:33; Basil in Eunom. 1:3; August. De Carv. Dei, 22:30, 2; Hieron. ad. Jov. 2). The fathers say also very positively that the joys of heaven cannot be described in words, and human imagination can only form an approximative idea of them. So Greg. Nyss. (Orat. Catecls. c. 40). "Bona vitae aeternae tam multa sunt ut numerum, tam magna ut mnensuram, tam pretiosa ut aestimationem omnem excedant" (August. De triapl. habit. c. 1, Conf. Orth.).
3. The divines of the Middle Ages brought to light no new truths on this point, but assembled those already recognized into a system. They also established a doctrinal distinction between vita aeterna (eternal life) and beatitudo (happiness), defining them both. Anselm (De simil. c. 47) counts fourteen partes beatitudinis, seven of which relate to the glorifying of the body, and seven to the soul. The occupations of the saints are generally connected also with the number seven. Yet it was more customary to divide the different aspects of that state-of course subject to all kinds of occasional modifications into twelve parts (Bonaventura, Dieta salut. 10, c. 4; Peter d'Ailly, Spec. consid. 3, c. 11; Johan. de Turre crem. Tract. 36 in reg.): "Duodecim considerationes vitae asternae:
1. Illa sola est vita vera;
2. Possidetur sanitas sine quacunque infirmitate, molestia aut passione;
3. Pulchritudo sine quacunque deformitate;
4. Copia omnium bonorum;
5. Satietas et adimpletio omnium desideriorum sine quocunque defectu;
6. Securitas et pacis tranquillitas sine timore quocunque;
7. Visio beata clarissima et jucundissima divinitatis;
8. Delectatio summa;
9. Sapientia et plenissima cognitio absque ignorantia (an especially gratifying prospect for the scholastics; so that, for instance, Duns Scotus wonders whether the saints knew the real essence of things);
10. In illa viventes sumnmo ibi honore et gloria sublimantur;
11. Est in ea jucunditas ineffabilis;
12. Laus interminabilis." (The twelve points are: 1. Eternal life is the only true life; 2. It has health without infirmity or passion; 3. Beauty without disfigurement; 4. All blessings in abundance; 5. Satisfaction of all desires; 6. Peace and tranquillity without fears; 7. Beatific vision of the Divinity; 8. Supreme delight; 9. Wisdom and perception without ignorance; 10. The highest honor and glory; 11. Ineffable sweetness; 12. Endless praise.)
Thomas Aquinas recognized, besides, the general and common beatitud, especial dotes, gifts. Thus, aside from the corona aurea, he reserves a special aureola to the martyrs and saints, and also to monks and nuns, as a sort of superadded reward. According to him, the organ of transmission of the blessings of future life is knowledge; according to Scotus, the will. After the times of Anselm, and among the scholastics and mystics, we find very attractive descriptions of the blessed state, full of elevated ideas. "Praemium est," says Bernard (De meditat. c. 4), "videre Deum, vivere cum Deo, esse cum Deo, esse in Deo, qui erit omnia in omnibus; habere Deum, qui est summum bonum; et ubi est summum bonum, ibi summa felicitas." (The reward is, to see God, to dwell with God, to exist with God and in God, who shall be All in All; to possess God, who is the highest Good; and where the highest Good is, there is perfect bliss.)
4. The Roman Catholic Church has simply gathered the teachings of the scholastics into a whole on this point, and has established them in a more fixed and dogmatic manner, as is shown in the exposition given in the Roman Catechism. According to it, the vita aeterna (eternal life), by which believers are, after their resurrection, to attain the perfection after which they aim, is non magis perpetuitas vitae, quam in perpetuitate beatitudo, quae beatorunm desiderium expleat (not only perpetuity of life, but also bliss in that perpetuity, satisfying all the desires of the blessed). It is evident, moreover, that the nature of the blessedness of the saints cannot be appreciated by our minds in any but an empirical, not an absolute manner. According to the scholastics, the eternal blessings can be divided into,
1. Essential; the contemplation of God in his nature and substance, and the consequent participation in his essence, which is identical with his possession.
2. Accessory; glory, honor, perfect peace, etc. They are expressly represented as incentives to lead a virtuous life. On their connection with good works in the Romanist system, see Council of Trent (Sess. 6, c. 26).
5. With the exception of the part relating to purgatory, the doctrine of the elder Protestantism on this subject does not essentially differ from that of the Romish Church. The symbolical books of the evangelical Church afford us but little information on this point. In general, the vita aeterna continued to be considered as salutis nostrce complementum, spei meta, finis fidei (the goal of hope, the end of faith). By it was understood the position of the just, partly after this life in general, and partly after the resurrection. (Comp. Augsburg Conf: art. 17; Apol. 4:212; Cat. Min. 2:3; Formula Concordiae, 633, 723; Coif. Belg. art. 67; Luther, Works, 1:360, 887, 997; 11:1487; Melancthon, loci. 1553, 75; Calvin, Institutes, 3:9, 1.) Still the effects of a deeper study of Scripture (a result of the Reformation) became manifest in various ways, and especially in the idea of a beginning of eternal life in the heart of the believer, which was recognised as connected with regeneration (Apol. Confessionis, 4:140, 148, 99, 187, 209, 210, 285, mostly in the German text; Buddeus, 445, 503; Zwingli, Exp. cld. 12; P. Martyr, Loci. 442; Cat. Pal. 58; Alting, Expl. Catech. 280; Alsted, 759; Perkins, Cat. 778; Confessio Bohem. Niem. 846). Compare also Jansenius, Comm. Cone. Ev. c. 136, 976. Yet this truly evangelical view was not steadily persisted in, but, on the contrary, it was soon asserted again that the expression "eternal life" occurred only in Scripture to designate the reward of Christian fidelity. Nevertheless, the fundamental points of the idea of eternal life remained in the doctrine of a mystical union with Christ, and in the doctrine concerning the Eucharist. Many draw a distinction between the vita spiritualis (spiritual life), of which Christ is the alimentum (food), and the vita aeterna (eternal life). The former was also designated as vita gratie (the life of grace), and the latter as vita glorie (the life of glory). There were three degrees of eternal life recognized: 1. initialis, in this world; 2. partialis, after the death of the individual; 3. perfectionalis, after the last judgment. (So Pearson, On the Creed, Oxford, 1820, 1:598.) Gerhard's definition (Cotta, 20, 533) is an excellent exposition of the Protestant scholastic views on this subject: "Vita aeterna est felicissimus ac beatissimus ille siatus, quo Deus ex immensa misericordia (causa efficiens principalis) propter Christum mediatorem (causa efficiens meritoria) perseverante fide (causa instrumentalis) adprehensum pios post hanc vitam beabit, ut primum quidem animae eorum a corporibus separatse, postmodum vero eaedem in die resurrectionis glorificatis corporibus reunita, ab omnibus miseriis, doloribus et malls liberatae, cum Christo, angelis sanctis et omnibus electis in sempiterna lmetitia, gloria et felicitate vivant, perfecta Dei cognitione, perfecta sanctitate et justitia ornatae Deum a facie ad faciem sine fine videant, sine fastidio ament ac sine defatigatione glorificent." The early Protestant theologians speak of the felicity of the future life as incomprehensible and ineffable (Conf. Belg. 37; Bohem. in Niem. 846; Calvin, 3, 15, 10; Gerhard, 20, 340). Its blessings are partly privative, partly positive: the meeting again and recognition of Christians was considered one of them (Zwingli In exp. fid. 12); this is called a positive blessing. That individual blessedness will not be disturbed by the, knowledge of the damnation of others is called a privative blessing. In opposition to Rome, the influence of personal merit on the future state was denied by these theologians; but some of them, while admitting that blessedness is essentially the same for all, hold to several degrees of blessedness. A number of other questions as to the language of the blessed, the manner of the contemplation of God, if he shall be praised in word, etc., are generally treated by the ancient theologians after the example of Calvin, Inst. 3, 25, 6, as irrelevant, and of no religious importance. In later times they have been discussed anew.
VII. Later Views. — The evangelical Protestant churches probably would all agree that eternal life commences in Christian experience in this world. So Wesley (Sermons, 2:181): "This is the testimony, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life [the eternal life here spoken of]; and he that hath not the Son hath not life." As if he had said, This is the sum of the testimony which God hath testified of his Son, that God hath given us not, only a title to, but the real beginning of eternal life; and this life is purchased by, and treasured up in his Son, who has all the springs and the fullness of it in himself, to communicate to his body, the Church. This eternal life, then, commences when it pleases the Father to reveal his Son in our hearts; when we first know Christ, being enabled to "call him Lord by the Holy Ghost;" when we can testify, our conscience bearing us witness in the Holy Ghost, "The life which I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." And then it is that happiness begins — happiness real, solid, substantial. Then it is that heaven is opened in the soul, that the proper heavenly state commences, while the love of God, as loving us, is shed abroad in the heart, instantly producing love to all mankind; general pure benevolence, together with its genuine fruits, lowliness, meekness, patience, contentedness in every state; an entire, clear, full acquiescence in the whole will of God, enabling us to "rejoice evermore, and in everything to give thanks."
As to the nature of the blessedness of the future life, "the sum of what we are taught by reason and Scripture on this point may be comprehended under the three following particulars:
(a) We shall hereafter be entirely freed from the sufferings of this life;
(b) Our future blessedness will be a continuation of the happiness of this life;
(c) But it will also be increased by the addition of many new joys, which stand in no natural or necessary connection with our preceding condition in this life.
But, for want of accurate knowledge of the state of things in the future world, we can say nothing definite and certain as to the nature of these positive rewards. In the doctrine of the New Testament, however, positive rewards are considered most obviously as belonging to our future felicity, and as constituting a principal part of it. For it always represents the joys heaven as resulting strictly from the favor of God, and as being undeserved by those to whom they are given. Hence there must be something more added to the natural good consequences of our actions, something which cannot be considered as the necessary and natural consequences of the good actions we may have before performed. Some theologians have supposed that the saints in heaven may be taught by immediate divine revelations (lumen glories); especially those who may enter the abodes of the blessed without knowledge, or with only a small measure of it; e.g. children, and others who have died in ignorance for which they themselves were not to blame. On this subject nothing is definitely taught in the Scriptures; but both Scripture and reason warrant us in believing that provision will be made, for all such persons in the future world. A principal part of our future happiness will consist, according to the Christian doctrine, in the enlargement and correcting of our knowledge respecting God, his nature, attributes, and works, and in the salutary application of this knowledge to our own moral benefit, to the increase of our faith, love, and obedience. There has been some controversy among theologians with regard to the vision of God (visio Dei intuitiva, or sensitiva, or beatifica, or comprehensiva); but Christ is always represented as one who will be personally visible by us, and whose personal, familiar intercourse and guidance we shall enjoy. And herein Christ himself places a chief part of the joy of the saints (John 14:1-31; John 17:1-26, etc.). And so the apostles often describe the blessedness of the pious by the phrase being with Christ. To his guidance has God entrusted the human race in heaven and on earth. And Paul says (2 Corinthians 4:6) we see ‘ the brightness of the divine glory in the face of Christ;' he is 'the visible representative of the invisible God' (Colossians 1:15). Paul says expressly (1 Thessalonians 4:17) that we shall be with Christ, in company with our friends who died before us (ἀμα σὺν αὐτοῖς ); and this presupposes that we shall recognize them, and have intercourse with them, as with Christ himself. Paul advises that Christians should comfort themselves under the loss of their friends by considering that they are at home with the Loa d, and that they shall be again united together" (Knap Christ. Theology, sec. 140, pages 490-494). See also Cotta, fist. Dorm. de Vita aeterna; Cotta, Theses Theol. de Vita caterna (Tttbing. 1758); Storr, Opuscula Academica, 2:75; Wesley, Sermons, 2:180 sq.; Baxter, Saints' Rest; Isaac Taylor, Physical Theory of another Life; Naville Vie Eternelle (1865); Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 8:254 (from which this article is in part a translation); Maartensen, Christian Dogmnatics, § 283-290. (See IMMORTALITY); (See RESURRECTION); (See HEAVEN).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Eternal Life'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/eternal-life.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.