SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Image Map
Discussion Forum : Scriptures and Doctrine : Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

Print Thread (PDF)


 Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

In another thread, philologos used the phrase (of eternal life) as being not only [i]long[/i] but 'qualitatively eternal'.

In roadsign's thread on Church in the Old Testament, the phrase 'everlasting covenant' arose as I researched possible answers.

Simply - without even touching on the nouns (unless they are relevant to the answsers) - are the adjectives 'eternal' and 'everlasting' interchangable, or not?

 2005/7/24 11:40

Joined: 2003/7/18
Posts: 6566
Reading, UK

 Re: Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

In the KJV the word aionios is translated by the English words everlasting and eternal. In the following ratios.

eternal = 42
G0166 aionios aiwnioß = 42
ever = 1
G0166 aionios aiwnioß = 1
everlasting = 25
G0166 aionios aiwnioß = 25

Ron Bailey

 2005/7/24 13:58Profile

 Re: Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

Thank you. I notice sometimes both words are used in the same verse, presumably for ease of reading and remembering, and perhaps, pleasantly poetic resonance.

Would it be rash to assume that in Hebrew there is the same difference?

 2005/7/24 14:31

Joined: 2003/7/18
Posts: 6566
Reading, UK


The Hebrew word really mean 'age-enduring' and needs to be interpreted according to its context. Again according to my computer it is used 439 times, but translated variously in the English versions. This little list of verses will illustrate the point. In each verse the Hebrew 'olam' is underlined.
Gen. 3:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for [u]ever[/u]:
Gen. 6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not [u]always[/u] strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
Gen. 6:4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of [u]old[/u], men of renown.
Gen. 9:12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for [u]perpetual[/u] generations:
Gen. 9:16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the [u]everlasting[/u] covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
Gen. 13:15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for [u]ever[/u].
Gen. 17:8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an [u]everlasting[/u] possession; and I will be their God.
Gen. 49:26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the [u]everlasting[/u] hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.
Ex. 21:6 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 [u]ever[/u].
Ex. 29:9 And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest’s office shall be theirs for a [u]perpetual[/u] statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons.

There are many more, but I have purposely chosen some provocative illustrations here.

Ron Bailey

 2005/7/24 17:03Profile

 Re: Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

I thought I'd bring this thread back up because of the question 'does God know the future?' (separate thread), in which there is discussion about whether God is inside time, time itself, or greater than time.

When I asked the question in this thread, I simply wanted to know if the English translations to 'everlasting' and 'eternal' convey specifically different concepts based on the original languages.

It appears they do not. This means that 'everlasting' is slightly misleading, if it is taken to imply that 'eternal' has a 'time' factor within it.... At least, my understanding of 'eternal', has nothing to do with time [i]whatever[/i].

I see 'time' as the way we describe one attribute of our limitations as humans..... and this is why I don't want to apply it to God, even though He has made us like Him.... Without doubt, He is uncreated and we are created..... He may have created light, so that we could measure distances - and time - but, He is LIGHT Itself.

 2006/4/10 12:16

Joined: 2005/7/17
Posts: 1791

 Re: Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

If you’re like me, perhaps many of you have grown up spiritually thinking eternity was more like infinity. . . . This is strange, since they are not at all the same thing. “Infinity” speaks of being endless, but “eternity” speaks of being immeasurable.

First, I would like to congratulate you on noting the oft-missed distinction between "eternal" and "infinite"! Second, I'd like to say that while I agree with the spirit of what you have written at several points. There is a noted oversimplification of the terms "infinity" and "eternal life" in our popular terminology that can lead to misunderstanding. In this case neither infinity nor eternity are measurable. "IN-finity" and "E-ternal" are both negations of finitude, and all measurable things are, by definition, finite.

The distinction there may seem subtle, but it’s not just splitting hairs – it makes a difference. Though it is true that eternity and infinity are similar in that they are both ‘endless’, it’s also worth pointing out that eternity alone bears the distinction of being beginning-less as well.

I think you are actually comparing "eternity" with "everlasting." "IN-finite" means no finitude - no boundary. A beginning is a boundary just as much as an end is. Something with a beginning cannot be infinite. Now technically there are two categories referred to as infinites: A potential infinite has a beginning but no ending {1, 2, 3, . . . }, but an actual infinite has no beginning and no ending { . . . }. However, "infinite" when used without qualification should refer to an actual infinite. Time, on the other hand, is the measure of a potentially infinite series of changes. So yes, technically we can refer to a (potentially) infinite amount of time, but this is what we probably should call "everlasting."

“Infinity” is more mathematical. It gives us the picture of something with a beginning that went on forever. But “eternity” is spiritual; it gives us the picture of something we cannot understand – endlessness outside of time. Outside of time? That’s right… outside of time. Not constrained by time. Not defined by time. Not run on time. Free of time because time is not necessary to the equation of God’s presence and glory. And this is the part that hurts my head! I can’t picture life or consciousness without TIME. Go ahead, try to do it… you can’t! Time is all we know. . . . Time defines our perception and colors our every experience. But eternity is not time forever, it’s no time at all.

Agreed, mostly. :) Time is actually part of our judgment of what we perceive - it is not a "thing" that can act upon or "define" our perceptions like light or sound waves. Rather, it is part of how we measure the ongoing causes and effects of our perceptual experiences.

To put it another way, one term (infinity) classifies something within our reality and our scope of understanding, but the other term (eternity) is foreign to our senses by nature.

Actually, we can no more fit infinity (actual or potential) into our understanding than we can eternity! No actual infinite can exist in reality. And all potential infinites are really expanding finite series. For example, the set of all natural numbers has no "end" because one more can always be added. But in order to form such a series one must begin to count (beginning boundary) and one is always at some number as they continue counting (ending boundary). Thus the series is finite - bounded on both ends but always capable of being expanded.

We can’t really understand the full meaning of it. We can talk about it, but in doing so, we might each borrow a line from Job, admitting that the things of eternity are “things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). You see, eternity, the hope we cling to and share, is a theological term. And before we can attempt to explore it, we must lay down the groundwork that ultimately, the concept and doctrine of eternity, is, like the God we serve, rooted in Divine mystery.

No doubt!

And since we are not Divine, we must realize that we will not be able to completely wrap our heads around it… At least, not in this lifetime. And what that tells us is, we can only explore the wondrous concept of eternity to a point. Mostly, we have to just wait for it. We’ll have to experience it to really know what it’s like. (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Will we??? More on this below.

So the pursuit of this subject is not so much an intellectually- satisfying one as it is a spiritually-satisfying one. We’re not trying to get to the bottom of this whole eternity thing in order to understand everything about God; we’re exploring it in order to step in to his majesty.

Why is this an either/or? What is it that separates the intellectual from the spiritual? What can we say about our spiritual focus that is not rooted in the intellect? Isn't it our intellect that which allows us to even have an object of worship?

We recognize that Divine mystery motivates the heart to worship, and the bigger we let God be in our hearts and in our minds, the more we can rest in Him. It doesn’t question our faith at all, but rather affirms the awesomeness of our God. It brings Him glory, and leaves us to once again agree with Job when he said, “Dominion and awe belong to God” (Job 25:2). I want a God that inspires me to awe every second. But the moment I define Him and make Him so classifiable that I pull Him into my realm of understanding, I’m doing Him a major disservice. I’m robbing Him of His mystery. If He no longer holds mystery, He no longer holds majesty.

Are you defining God as being un-definable? :) Certainly all talk of God's nature per se will eventually get us to a point where we cannot fully define it - that is why we use analogical and negative language to speak of His nature directly. But the popular idea that we must not "put God in a box" is rather incoherent as this only places God in the box of things not able to be placed in boxes! Now, it is certainly wrong to put a limit on God that is not proper to His nature - but this does not entail that we discard all limits (all "boxes"). To do so would be to eliminate our ability to even recognize truths of God versus falsehoods. I can give you several boxes to put God in: changelessness, perfection, sinlessness, etc. What really matters is that we get the box right!

But since the Christian faith is rooted in Divine mystery, I need to take every step to embrace the higher truth. I need to make sure I’m embracing the mystical, and honoring God by giving Him His mystery, that I might bask in His majesty.

What is a "higher" truth, and how is mystery any "higher" truth than the simplicity of the Gospel? In fact, isn't that the root of Christian faith (1 Cor. 15)? Where is this focus on mystery taught in Scripture? And can we not also have awe of and honor those things of God that are available to our understanding? In fact, does it not require some measure of understanding to even know to be awed? How can we worship that which we do not know? This is the very ignorance that Paul uses to show the people of Athens which God he spoke of. Further, in heaven we will know Him "face to face" - and this will be the greatest time of worship humans can have!

It’s the same as with the issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. If I can’t accept these two truths as a paradox, it only shows my immaturity at trying to simplify and make it one or the other. God’s bigger than that, and more transcendent.

We should be careful with the word "paradox." In this case it should be understood to mean a seemingly contradictory statement that is nonetheless be true. Same with the Trinity, the Incarnation, . . . hmmm, funny how fast we reach the limits of our understanding!

That said, have you ever stopped to consider what it means to be with God in an eternal sense? It’s a wondrous thought. Norman Geisler, in his book "Who Made God," says, “The world did not begin by a creation in time but by a creation of time. But, you may think, if there was no time before time began, what was there? The answer is, eternity. God is eternal, and the only thing prior to time was eternity.” (pg. 28) Eternity is where we will join God.

There are a host of difficulties, both scriptural and metaphysical, with this last claim. Jesus specifically said that eternal life is knowing God (Jn. 17:3) - not being timeless. This makes sense because eternal life is (at least in some sense) a present possession (Jn. 3:16; 3:36; 5:24; 6:54). This would be impossible if eternal life meant being timelessness. At least in these instances eternal life seems to be describing a quality of life which comes by knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ. Perhaps in the future sense (Mt. 25:46; Mk. 10:28-30; Titus 1:2; 3:7; Rom. 6:22) it is referring to an ever-increasing quantity of time (i.e. a potential infinite) in this quality of life state - but this dual usage requires that it not be limited to either. The narrow notion of eternity applies solely to the Divine existence. Only God, as an infinite and simple being, can be truly eternal. There is also a wider notion in which we speak of eternity as an endless (i.e. "everlasting") succession in time - and I think this can cause confusion if we are not clear. As to man's final state in heaven or hell it seems best to conclude that one will remain in a fixed and fully actualized state based on one's life decisions made in mortality. Thus, it is not that there will be no more succession of any kind (and thus no time); rather there will not be any more change in what survives death: the soul, the glorified body, or the new heavens and earth. In this sense change (and therefore, in a sense, time) will cease. This state is, in the wide sense, spoken of as life or death eternal, because of its participation in, or relation to, the character of the Divine eternity.

He declares the end from the beginning because he IS the end and the beginning, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last (Rev. 1:8; Isa. 44:6). God sees the whole parade. He is not bound by time. He does not wait. He is the God “who was, and is, and is to come”. He is not those things in sequence, but simultaneously. When Moses was called to deliver Israel from the hand of Pharaoh, he asked God who he should say had sent him. God’s answer was “I AM that I AM.” The Hebrew for ‘I AM’ is hayah; it is a present and active verb “BE”.

Actually, what is used here is the Qal imperfect, first person common singular, of the verb “to be” (haya). The imperfect tense could be rendered as either the future tense (“I will be”) or the present tense (“I am”) as the same form in verse 3:11 shows. Context as well as philosophical / theological considerations must be brought forth to make the decision. I think the present tense is correct of course (and it agrees with the Greek renderings and quotations), but we would not want to rely too heavily on the grammar here.

That’s God’s name. And Moses’ answer from the Lord was clear: he would tell them, “I AM has sent me to you.” And to quote one of my favorite pastors, Louie Giglio, “That’s terrible grammar, but brilliant theology.” Only a God named ‘I AM” can be the author of time and the resident of eternity. That said, I can’t go on to define eternity. Meditating on what it isn’t is about as far as I can go, and where that leaves me is in awe of God, and encouraged by His mystery and majesty. All things considered, the most wonderful thing about God, what makes Him God, is His otherness. And eternity is like God in that respect – it’s something else. Something different. Something beautiful. Eternity is what we’re living for.

Well said, Aquinas would most certainly concur!

© Doug Beaumont 2004

 2006/4/10 23:40Profile

Joined: 2005/11/8
Posts: 619

 Re: Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

Simply - without even touching on the nouns (unless they are relevant to the answsers) - are the adjectives 'eternal' and 'everlasting' interchangable, or not?

Etenrnal Life is "life which is eternal'. That is eternal in nature. Of course it implies it is everlasiting.

Eternal Life is the very Life of God Himself which is eternal in nature. John says, "God has given us eternal life, this life is in His Son, He who has the Son has the Life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have the Life."

IN the beginning of 1 John He establishes the eternal Life:

1 John 1:2 "And the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and report to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us".

He goes on in 5:11 And this is the testimony, that God gave to us eternal life and this life is in HIs Son. He who has the Son has the Life..."

Eternal Life is life which is eternal. It is the Life of God, manfested in the Son and imparted into us through regeneration and the New Birth.

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotton Son that whosoever believes into Him might not perish but have eternal Life.

This Life which we have recieved through faith in the crucified and risen Christ is the very Eternal Life of God, imparted into us making us sons of God with His Life and His Nature to make us the many sons with His Life.

As Peter says in 2 Peter 1:4 "Through which He has granted to us precious and exceedingly great promises that thrugh these you might become partakers of the Divine Nature, haveing escaped the corruption which is in the world through lusts"

The Eternal Lfie of God is not a state of being, is not a place to which we go, but rather a Life which we recieve. The very Life of God, imparted into us, regeneratining us and making us sons of God with His Life and Nature.

John 1:12,13 But as many as recieved Him, to them He gave the authority to become the sons of God, to those who believe into His name... who were born of God."


 2006/4/17 14:08Profile

 Re: Is 'everlasting' meaningfully different from 'eternal'?

This question comes over from p2 of 'Jews against Zionism' at


'and they shall inherit it for ever' Exodus 32:13

Young chooses

`Be mindful of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou hast sworn by Thyself, and unto whom Thou speakest: I multiply your seed as stars of the heavens, and all this land, as I have said, I give to your seed, [b]and they have inherited to the age[/b];'

What is Young getting at?

Does 'age-during' mean something different from 'to the age'?

What does 'for ever' mean when compared with 'everlasting' or 'eternal'?

 2007/5/20 10:37

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy