When the Bible uses the term "forever," does this always mean the same as "everlasting" or "eternally"?


While “forever” may indeed convey an absolute sense of being perpetual or interminable, “forever” is also used metaphorically and in a conditional sense.

The Hebrew word that is translated many times as “forever, is “owlam.” It can be found in Daniel 12:2. In this case, the English word “everlasting” is used to translate the Hebrew word “owlam”: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to everlasting contempt.” This prophesied occurrence speaks of a future time when the fate of many humans will be decided on a perpetual and eternal basis.

Jesus also taught about life that would be endless. In John 6:51, He states: “‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.'” The Greek word “aion” translated as “forever” in this passage is used by John in a similar context as he contrasted that which is temporary to that which is permanent: “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

In numerous instances the eternity of God is revealed through the use of the word “forever.”

One such example is found in the “Song of Moses” as recorded in Deuteronomy 32. Quoting from verses 39-40, God proclaims His own endless life: “‘”Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand. For I raise My hand to heaven, And say, ‘As I live forever…'”‘”

Another illustration appears in Revelation 4:9-10: “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever…”

In this context, consider these parallel concepts about God’s existence–His life–being forever:

Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your refuge…”

Psalm 90:1-2: “LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

Isaiah 57:15:”For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy…”

In examining the concept of “forever,” we also see that many of those who met Jesus also rejected Him, because they believed that the Messiah could not be subject to dying. Following statements from Jesus about His imminent sacrificial death, some reasoned from a wrong understanding of Scripture: “The people answered Him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Who is this Son of Man?'” (John 12:34). In Micah 4:7, it is stated: “‘…So the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion From now on, even forever.'” None of His day understood that Jesus would die and yet live again, because God would raise Him from death. Even His disciples were at first confused about what was to happen to Jesus. We have this statement from Jesus in Revelation 1:18: “‘I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.'”

Although Jesus Christ had existed from eternity, He did cease to live for a short period. He was brought back to life through the power of God–and so He now lives and will do so forever. We see from what Jesus experienced, then, that application of the ideas about “forever” must be understood in context.

Look at this statement that appears in Exodus 21:6: “‘then his master shall bring him to the judges, He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, AND HE SHALL SERVE HIM FOREVER'” (Compare Deuteronomy 15:17).

Does this verse mean that a servant in this circumstance will continue serving the same master for all of eternity? Obviously not, as both the servant and his master eventually died! The word translated here in Exodus 21 as “forever” is the same Hebrew word “owlam” that we have already seen used in earlier examples about living forever.

The “NASB Study Bible” translates “owlam” in Exodus 21, verse 6, as “permanently.” The NIV presents a portion of this verse as: “‘Then he will be his servant for life.'” “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible” offers definitions for “owlam” that include “eternal” and “perpetual” but also includes the idea of “lasting.” As we see, the service of a particular individual was a life-long commitment–lasting as long as either the servant or master lived.

In another place where “owlam” is translated “forever,” the obvious intent is for a lifetime. In this example, the mother of Samuel is quoted: “But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, ‘Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before the LORD and REMAIN THERE FOREVER'” (1 Samuel 1:22). But we know that Samuel died–that he is not NOW still before the LORD! (Compare 1 Samuel 25:1).

In Biblical usage of the word “forever,” we see that the context and application MAY be for something that will come to an end. God said of the Temple that Solomon built, “‘For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually'” (2 Chronicles 7:16). However, because of the sins of Israel and then Judah, God caused this Temple to be destroyed! (Compare 2 Chronicles 36:15-21).

When studying the concept of “forever” in context, we see a variety of intended meanings. The word can express a never-ending condition or situation, but it can also refer to a certain limited period of time, based on the life of the parties involved and also dependent on relevant conditions.

Lead Writer: Dave Harris

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