Forever

Sometimes we are confident that we know the meaning of words and terms. Their definitions seem so fixed and settled in our minds. For instance, what does “forever” actually mean? Are we sure we know? Just how long is “forever?”

At our first look into the subject, “forever” surely would seem to be something about which we could be absolute; but as we look closely at the Scriptures, we will be amazed to find that our definition is not scriptural. We have been misled by faulty translation.

Words are simply vehicles to communicate ideas of understanding. As one author clearly has written,

In all languages, it is usage that determines meaning … Since usage always determines meaning, biblical usage, certainly, always determines biblical meaning.[1]

Actual scriptural usage of “for ever” will clearly demonstrate it cannot carry the religious meaning of “unending” that we have been brought up to accept. Let’s look at a few examples of the usage of “for ever” where the scriptural meaning obviously cannot mean “without end.”

Jonah and the Whale

The first passage we shall look at is a reference to how long Jonah was in the belly of the whale.

I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet have You brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God (Jonah 2:6).

The words “for ever” are here translated in reference to his ordeal, but he clearly defines the length of only three days and three nights as “for ever”:

Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).

The Lord Jesus confirmed the duration of “for ever” as three days and three nights.

For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).

The usage of “for ever” in Jonah 2:6 simply cannot carry the meaning of “unending” or “eternal.”

The Servant

The next passage we shall consider is in reference to how long a willing servant would be indentured to his master.

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever (Exodus 21:6).

Here, “for ever” could not possibly have extended past the servant’s lifespan. The usage of “for ever” in Exodus 21:6 simply cannot carry the sense of “unending” or “eternal.”

Solomon’s Temple

Another example we see of the translation of “for ever” is related to Solomon’s Temple. After it was dedicated, the Lord said He would put His name there “for ever.”

And the Lord said unto him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, that you have made before Me: I have hallowed this house, which you have built, to put My name there for ever” (I Kings 9:3).

Interestingly, Solomon’s Temple did not stand “eternally,” it stood only for a period of about 400 years.

Thus, the translation of “for ever” in I Kings 9:3 simply cannot carry the definition of “unending” or “eternal” either.

Ten Generations

In the following passage, the word translated “for ever” is clearly defined as ten generations:

An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever (Deuteronomy 23:3).

The translation of “for ever” here in Deuteronomy 23:3 simply cannot carry the definition of “unending” either, since it has been set by the context for a period of ten generations.

“For Ever … Until”

The last example we will consider is found in the book of Isaiah.

… The forts and towers shall be for dens for ever … until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness is a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted for a forest (Isaiah 32:14-15).

In this prophecy, this “for ever” condition would remain “until” a time when the Spirit would be poured out. Thus again, the translation of “for ever” here, as in the other passages we have considered, simply cannot carry the meaning of “unending” or “eternal.”

Loyal Hurley has noted the significance of “for ever” in the first three passages:

Here is something that ought to be clear to any intelligent, honest man. A word that is used to mean, in one case, three days and nights, in another case, a man’s lifetime, and in still another, a period of about four centuries, surely does not mean unending or eternal – no matter what English word is used to translate it. Usage determines meaning.[2]

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
The Salvation of All
© 2005-2010


[1]Loyal Hurley, The Outcome of Infinite Grace, Bible Student’s Press, 2007.
[2]Ibid.

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