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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Seventh (Eternal)

The topic this week is something I would say the majority of the world is obsessed with. People search for, and have even dedicated their lives to finding, the key to immortality. There's movies and TV shows about fictional human-like species that never die, stores and products that have been named based on the desire for immortality, and fortunes spent on searching for things like the fountain of youth.

It's not surprising actually, that the world is so focused on this. As a consequence of sin, our immortality, as given by Yehovah in His original design, was stripped of us. Our bodies, in this corruptible form, have a timer that will eventually reach zero and none of us know what the time remaining is without being told through divine inspiration from God. There's a story about Kathryn Kuhlman, an evangelist, as she neared the end telling a nurse the exact time she would pass, down to the minute. Whether it's true or not, I don't know, but it's certainly possible she was given that word from God.

This timer affects some individuals more than others, causing some to go to desperate lengths to get even just a little bit of time added. Pills, radiation, late night home shopping network products, a small fortune for some, spent on what? A worldly answer to a spiritual problem.

If we try to search for this topic in scripture we'll have to look at a couple different words, at least in the KJV. Looking for "eternal," we'll find 47 verses contain this word, with a whopping two of them being in the Old Testament. The word "everlasting," on the other hand, we'll find in 91 verses. In this case, the New Testament has the minority of occurrences with a total of 26.

Now, starting in the Old Testament, here's where things get interesting. The first occurrence of eternal is Deuteronomy 33:27, however the Hebrew word is qedem, which Strong's tells us means, "front, east, formerly." In fact, the only time this word is translated to eternal is in this verse. Looking at other verses, it is translated to ancient, so I think we can safely say that was the original intent for that word in this verse. So rather than "The eternal God is thy refuge," it should say, "The ancient God is thy refuge," and we can remove this verse from our study.

The only other occurrence in the Old Testament is Isaiah 60:15. In this case, eternal is an appropriate translation since the definition of the Hebrew word olam, is "long duration, antiquity, futurity." You'll also find that almost everywhere the word everlasting occurs in the Old Testament it is translated from this Hebrew word.

What I find interesting is looking through all of these occurrences, there are quite a few referencing everlasting covenants. However, that is a study for another day! One other Hebrew word with the idea of eternal is ad, which means perpetuity. This, along with olam, also gets translated to "forever," which is the same idea as eternal or everlasting.

In the New Testament, we find there are again a couple words used for eternal. The primary one is a version of aion, which means "a space of time, an age." Another is aidios, which quite literally means everlasting. Both of these words make up the source of all translations to "eternal" and "everlasting" in the KJV, with one notable exception.

As a side road, if we take a look at this exception we find that in this case other translations more accurately capture the intent of this Greek word, ontos. In 1 Timothy 6:19, Paul talks about actions Timothy should encourage other believers to take. For some reason, the KJV and NKJV translators translated his letter to mean those actions would allow the believers to receive eternal life. In fact, Paul was simply saying those actions would enable them to experience true life. The more accurate translations prevent a misinterpretation that could lead to believers thinking works are required for eternal life.

Coming back to the main road, I want to point out that while the word aion means an age, it is a root word that can be used to also mean eternal or everlasting. What I mean by that is when it gets derived into aionios, for example, it means "agelong, eternal." When you see it conjugated to aionon however, you find that in some places it has been translated to eternal when in fact this version is meant only to mean ages, not eternity.

I think by now you've figured out that in some cases translators have inserted their beliefs into the translation or changed a word, presumably because they thought it made the idea from the original text more clear to the reader. In my opinion, while things like "ages" and eternity may be quite similar, I'd rather have a translation more in line with how words are used across scripture, rather than changing the translated word to something different for one or two verses. In this way, I can better see patterns of use of certain words or phrases rather than those being obscured by a different tone or idea the translator inserted in some cases.

For example, in Ephesians 3:11, the KJV translators wrote eternal instead of ages. The overall idea of this verse, if you look at the original Greek, is God used Jesus Christ to set forth for the ages the realization of His full wisdom to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms by way of the church (Ephesians 3:10). In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus' death and resurrection, and the subsequent atoning of all sins for believers, was unknown to those principalities and powers prior to it occurring, while God knew from the beginning that it was going to be so. Once the death and resurrection occurred, and the key to eternal life was revealed through the church, God's wisdom in setting this out from the beginning of the ages was shown.

Now, that's a little tricky to understand, but essentially it's like those principalities and powers were watching a movie with a plot twist. They saw the fall of Adam and Eve, the subsequent descent of man into wickedness followed by the institution of sacrifices as sin atonement, likely all the while expecting that this was the way it was going to be until the end of the earth. Much like the Jews, they likely expected Jesus to show up and become King and rule rather than become a sacrifice. Hence, they worked together to crucify Jesus thinking they had won and defeated Him (remember, principalities and powers are who we're fighting against, Ephesians 6:12).

Once they saw that Jesus' sacrifice resulted in forgiveness of sin for His church, the multi-faceted wisdom of God was revealed to them. That's what Paul was saying there. Now if you look at how "ages" was changed to "eternal" in Ephesians 3:11, that, along with a couple other words being translated differently creates a whole different idea for that passage. It makes you think Jesus' eternal purpose was to be a sacrifice, rather than informing you that the sacrifice was set forth for the ages and enacted through Jesus.

And to think, all that just from taking a look at the word eternal! I hope this short study was meaningful to you in some way. Just remember, sometimes you never know what you're going to find when you dig into His Word! Also, remember that despite our bodies being corruptible and having a countdown timer, Jesus' sacrifice renders that timer pointless because of His promise of eternal life!

Shabbat shalom and God bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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