Eternal And The Q Factor
Forever and Everlasting
Just a few thoughts regarding the various aspects of the words:
eternal, everlasting and forever. It is
possible to misconstrue certain passages of Scripture by reading such
LANGUAGE in quantitative terms of much-ness, many-ness
or longevity i.e., the quantity or length of linear time as in
endless duration; instead of in a qualitative sense of
total-ness, or that of wholeness, fullness and
completion i.e., the full measure. Jesus said: "
have LIFE! and have it more abundantly" [Jn 10:10] to the
FULL!! This fullness equates to eternal life and is more akin to
quality in life now, as opposed to quantity of life to
Example: An older couple were celebrating their 60th wedding
anniversary, and when asked about the success and longevity [quantity]
of their relationship, in joyous unison responded "it seems but as
yesterday" they exuded such vitality, freshness and love it was
plain to all present that they had such a depth [quality] of
relationship built over the years that it was not to be measured by the
distance or passage of time [quantity], but by the joy they
shared along the way [quality].
Apart from direct references to God, His nature or His attributes etc,
eternal, everlasting and forever, in relation to 'man' in
most cases, does not carry the meaning of endlessness
of duration. In other words, concerning the eternal the
traditional quantitative approach tends to furnish a future SPATIAL
context : a place to go Heaven beyond.
Whereas a textually understood qualitative approach points to a
present RELATIONAL condition "in Christ" view: our
standing in God Heaven now. The qualitative view while not
negating quantitative aspects of "eternal" better qualifies it. So,
eternal, everlasting or forever are
better determined by the subject to which it is applied, i.e.,
context. Thus these words only express the idea of endlessness of
duration when connected with what is endless
the infinite Creator Himself.
We further find that John likewise supports this qualitative or
relational understanding of eternal:
And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the
only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
These things I have written to
you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know
that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe
in the name of the Son of God. cf. Jn 20:31.
We see connotations of this eternal also in Paul's thoughts when
he says "even so we also should walk in newness of life"
Rom 6:4. This newness of life is that ever-present
abundant life promised by Jesus, and is NOT speaking of some ageless
sweet by and by, but our present walk in Christ's righteousness. Even
the "eternal life" of Jn 3:16 being in the aorist tense, is a
presently accomplished reality. Likewise those finding "the way which
leads to life" of Mt 7:14 this is not speaking in terms of
post death destiny, but is in the present tense and in the same vein as
Jn 10:10. As with the "fullness of the Gentiles" [Rom
11:25] being qualitative and NOT quantitative, so too is eternal
life i.e., it is covenantal and relational something to be
experienced in life, this life.
There is also the issue of God's covenantal dealings with Israel most of
which are stated as being
everlasting or forever, none of which however in their
redemptive settings necessitates an endlessness of duration requirement;
but are indicative of God's dealings with His specific people for a
specific purpose, in a specific way, according to a specific period,
epoch, era or age; thus longevity when dealing with man does NOT
necessitate endlessness nor timelessness.
We have for example 'Sodom and Gomorrah' Jude 1:7 tells us that
these cities and their surrounds would suffer "the vengeance of
eternal fire" yet none of these are still burning today eternally.
Clearly the unquenchable fire was indicative of the TOTALITY of
destruction that was wrought upon them.
For it is the day of the LORDs vengeance, the
year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams shall be turned
into pitch, and its dust into brimstone; its land shall become burning
pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall ascend
forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; no one shall
pass through it forever and ever.
Some suppose such words as "shall not be quenched"
or "unquenchable fire" to mean such fire of endless duration, yet in the
Scriptures such as an unquenchable fire is one that cannot be quenched
nor extinguished until its full purpose has been reached and
accomplished. If for instance a house has been totally consumed by fire,
the fire it is said, strictly speaking, was unquenchable, and no effort
made to put it out could extinguish it; yet no one would contend that
the fire, left to itself, would never expire of itself there was
totality of destruction but not ongoing destruction.
and forever need not always be locked to the meaning of
endlessness or longevity. Scripture gives many examples of life,
land, laws, circumcision and time as being
forever and ever, everlasting or eternal, yet in many of these instances
they are governed or determined by a definitive period or time
frame in which God is dealing with a specific people in a specific
way for a specific purpose and can in no way be seen as meaning
ageless or ceaseless.
The following table shows this to be the case; promises are made
"eternally" yet with a Divinely predetermined end or fulfilment in view:
Gen 17:10-13 CIRCUMCISION Gal
Ex 12:14, 17, 24 PASSOVER Col
Ex 29:9; 40:15
AARONIC PRIESTHOOD Heb
Lev 16:29, 31, 34; 23:31 DAY OF ATONEMENT Heb 9:23-28;
Psa 119:151-152, 160 RIGHTEOUS ORDINANCES Gal 3:24-25; Heb
Ex 31:16-17 THE SABBATH Col
He asked life from You, and You gave it to him-- Length of
days forever and ever. ["Length of days"
is a reference to physicality hence limited]
So shall I keep Your law continually, forever and
ever. [Poetic licence]
Now go, write it before them on a tablet, And note it on a scroll,
That it may be for time to come, forever and
ever: [Time, epochs i.e., eras]
then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land
that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
[Continuance in the Land was always conditional upon Israel's obedience,
even though initially all these promises were fulfilled Josh 21:43-45]
Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in
which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting
possession; and I will be their God." [As above]
He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must
be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an
[Are we bound to this everlasting type? as someone once said: "well
it's no skin off my nose". Deut 30:6 shows circumcision's true
This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make
atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year."
And he did as the LORD commanded Moses. [Fortunately for us, Jesus
was the everlasting or ultimate sacrifice Heb 9:26; 10:12]
and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of
an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his
God, and made atonement for the children of Israel." [What a
difference a new covenant makes Heb 7:12]
The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have
transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting
[Can logic allow for that which is supposedly "unending" if that's what
"everlasting" means, to be broken?]
expression as outlined above is
determined by and is to be understood in
terms of "the age" in which each is applicable
thus any sense of unending or never ending are clearly
bracketed by predetermined ends.
Lastly we come to the literal text, for although it can be abused
it certainly carries clout and cannot be ignored.
Again, from the pantelistic perspective when it comes to life
eternal, everlasting or forever it is NOT speaking post mortem
existence, but as the apostle John clearly signified it relates to the
totality and comprehensive nature of our vital
relationship with God in this present life. Conversely,
John's everlasting "condemnation" of Jn 5:29 speaks of the
total and comprehensive nature and gravity of the historic shame
experienced in this life by those who were thus "judged" [same
Greek word as "condemned"] in that "end of the age" period
culminating in the AD70 Parousia. For them this was their perpetual
shame or historical contempt as is testified in this life.
This however in no way takes away from the fact that where sin abounded,
grace, mercy and peace much more abounded in forgiveness from God toward
them in Christ God above all remained and remains faithful to His
Word, Rom 3:3-4a; 11:32-33.
When speaking of the nature and attributes of God we speak in
terms of His "eternal love" etc, and understand such qualitatively so,
i.e., the comprehensive or total extent and reach of His love in other
words it is not limited by measurable or fathomable human terms and
definitions. Yet even in the hidden-ness of the eternal can a
sense of finite-ness be understood as reaching both backward and
forward, from time immemorial into the far reaching future, and
can possibly be illustrated accordingly:
And in capturing this thought the Psalmist so simply
and succinctly says:
even from everlasting to everlasting,
You are God. Psa 90:2
Now when speaking of "eternal" as it relates to man this
"qualitative" nature of "eternal" always fits within
man's earthly timeframe thus "eternal" can rightly be understood as "unto
or into the age" as it is often rendered in 'Young's Literal
Translation' when translating the words "eternal" or "everlasting". This
is further evidenced in the following Old and New Testament Greek texts
where "forever" [eternal] and "the age" are both
designated by the one Greek word aionos:
for all the land which you see I give to you and
your descendants forever.
οτι πασαν την γην ην συ ορας σοι δωσω αυτην και τω σπερματι σου εως
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him
privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be
the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Mt 24:3 καθημενου δε αυτου επι του ορους των ελαιων προσηλθον
αυτω οι μαθηται κατ ιδιαν λεγοντες ειπε ημιν ποτε ταυτα εσται και τι το
σημειον της σης παρουσιας και της συντελειας του αιωνος.
So we have the literal Greek text
του αιωνος, being variously translated as above and
unmistakably indicative of the limited or defined nature
that the words "forever", "everlasting" and "eternal"
can have when ascribed to man and his age of existence,
i.e., aionos fits within a specified era relative to the
subject matter at hand.
in the bible the notion of "unending" or "endlessness" can be
expressed either by the use of particular negatives such as "not", "no
not", "un" or "less", or more directly by specific Greek words meaning
such. There are a number of examples to draw from: Lk 1:33 "
of His kingdom there will be no end."
ouk estai telos
to the power of an endless life.
give heed to fables and endless
and Rev 18:21-23 "
shall not be
of these specific words are ever used in the context of
punishment beyond the grave, and certainly these could have been used IF
such was the case; they were not for there is not.
David G. Embury
© Copyright 2005ΰ