Time and Eternity
A Biblical Study
Chapter Eight

by G.T. Stevenson


It is fitting now to set out the conclusions which may be drawn from the material in the preceding pages.

(a) Eternity, without beginning or ending is never mentioned as such in the 'olam' passages of the O.T., nor so far as we can discover, is there any statement from which convincing evidence can be obtained in relation to 'olam', to show that the concept of infinite future duration existed among Hebrew writers in O.T. times. Hence the words 'eternal' and 'everlasting' should not be used to translate the 'olam' terms.

(b) In books now usually regarded as late (I Chronicles, Nehemiah, Ecclesiastes and possibly late Psalms 41,48,106,133) the occurrence of 'the olam' suggests the emergence of some idea of an 'age'. This is supported by the use of the plural in books of the same period (II Chron., Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Daniel, Psalms 61,77,145, and in I Kings 8:13). But there is no indication of any view of boundaries of any sort pertaining to age or period such as say, form creation to the flood, or the like. This of course corresponds to our usage also; the stone age, the age of steam, the dark ages, and other such expressions are never precisely dated.

(c) The element of hidden-ness, indefiniteness as to duration, and of obscurity pervades the whole range of 'olam' terms throughout. Even in cases where the meaning is clearly for the rest of one's life, 'a slave olam', or a limited period such as Jonah's three days, because of the imprecision respecting the length of the period (in Jonah's case the impossibility of his assessing the time), the sense of obscurity is still present. This highlights the difficulty of transferring nuances from one language to another particularly from Oriental to Western. The contexts require the use of terms such as - 'any more', 'always', 'remote or obscure times', 'long past', and 'far future'. Sometimes 'everlasting', if understood as futuristic only, may be considered, but only if the 'ever' is regarded as equivalent to 'long time future to the point of obscurity', and even then 'remote or obscure future' would be more accurate as a rendering for 'olam'.

'Age abiding' (Rotherham) and 'age-during' (Young), while more appropriate than 'eternal', or 'for ever' are too suggestive of a concept of time composed of , or divided into recognized 'ages', an idea which probably was emerging in post exilic Hebrew thought but of which there is no sure evidence (elsewhere) in the O.T. However by N.T. times the idea of several ages had become explicit in Rabbinic thought (see Chapter 10) and formed an important element in the doctrines taught by our Lord and the apostolic writers.

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