Monday, April 26, 2010

Age versus Eternity

In our word studies, we have shown that "olam" (or "oulm") in Hebrew means hidden or distant, without necessarily implying endless, perpetual, forever or eternity.
Similarly, "aionios" in Greek has the meaning of age-lasting or age-during, or pertaining to the age or belonging to the age, or some similar age-related connotation, rather than eternal or everlasting.
Regardless of the outcome of these word studies, the Bible itself gives us some good examples of how "forever" or "eternal" are poor and misleading translations of olam in Hebrew and aionios in Greek.
There are many cases where olam or aionios is translated forever in many English Bibles, but the Bible record shows that the situation being described did not last forever, but was only age-lasting.
Please have a look at these examples.
a.  Sodom's fiery judgment is called "eternal" in Jude 7, but God promises to restore the fortunes of Sodom in Ezekiel 16:53-55, so the judgment was only to be age-lasting.
b.  Ammon will be a "wasteland forever" or a "perpetual desolation" in Zeph 2:9, (also described in Jeremiah 25: 27 as falling to rise no more), but God promises to restore the fortunes of Ammon in Jeremiah 49:6, so the wasteland was only to be age-lasting.
c.  The Aaronic priesthood was to be "everlasting" in Exodus 40:15, but was superseded by the Melchizedek priesthood in Hebrews 7: 14-18, so the Aaronic priesthood was only to be age-lasting. 
d.  God was to dwell in Solomon's temple forever in 1 Kings 8:13, but clearly this was only for an age, since it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
e.  The law of Moses was to be an everlasting covenant (Leviticus 24:8) but we know it was abolished and a new covenant introduced. 
f.  Jonah was imprisoned under the sea forever (Jonah 2:6), but he was only there for 3 days and 3 nights (Jonah 1:17), a very short age.

It seems to me that whatever any expert might say about the meaning of these words, their use in the Bible can only mean a period of time, the length of which is determined by the context of the discussion.

As an aside .....
Some of the more recent English translations, like NIV and TNIV, seem to be addressing these more accurately ..... when it suits them.
In Exodus 21:6, a slave is to serve his master "forever" in older translations, but more sensibly translated as "for life" in the newer ones.
Indeed, just looking at Exodus alone and its translation of olam or oulm reveals some interesting insights.  This Hebrew word is used 17 times in Exodus*. In the older translations it is always translated as forever or perpetual or everlasting. But in 10 of these ^, the NIV and TNIV change the translation to "lasting" or "for life" (in the case of the slave) or "for generations".
But these corrections only seem to occur when the context makes forever or everlasting ridiculous or when the theology of the translators is not threatened.
It's amazing to me how often our English translations are influenced by the doctrinal position of the translators.

*  Ex 3:15, 12:14, 12:17, 12:24, 14:13, 15:18, 19:9, 21:6, 27:21, 28:43, 29:9, 29:28, 30:21, 31:16, 31:17, 32:13, 40:15.
^  Ex 12:14, 12:17, 12:24, 21:6, 27:21, 28:43, 29:9, 30:21, 31:16, 40:15.

Another aside .....
This is not relevant to our discussion on the 'age versus eternal' translation issues, but is intriguing nevertheless.
a.  In Jeremiah 30:12, Israel's affliction is said to be incurable, yet the Lord promises to restore her health and heal her wounds 5 verses later; and Samaria's sin is incurable in Micah 1:9 but the Lord will restore her fortunes in Ezekiel 16:53.
b.  Moab is said to be destroyed in Jeremiah 48:42 yet will be restored in the days to come (48:47).
How do we explain these? God is forever gracious and redemptive in his purposes is the best I can do.
Actually this is a characteristic of a lover. God is love by nature and therefore is a lover.
He and we are in a love relationship. We are friends bound by love.
We discuss things together.  We listen to each other and even argue back. God also feels pain - his and ours, as lovers do. When jilted, God suffers like any wounded lover. He makes threats and then backs down from them......
Gee, that might explain why God destroys and restores in the examples above.
What do you think?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Case of Adolf Hitler

Most people, including Christians, believe that Hitler should pay severely for his crimes against God and humanity. "God's justice demands it," they say. "Burn him in hell forever", "toss him in hell and throw away the key" and "the worst you can think of is too good for him" are commonly heard expressions.

The Christians in this group would probably change their verdict completely if they discovered that Hitler, on his death bed, repented of his sins and found faith in Christ as Saviour.

Their previous stern judgment would change to rejoicing and celebration - as long as Hitler came to this point BEFORE he died.
What about if he came to this point immediately after he died and was confronted with the same Jesus who confronted Paul on the road to Damascus? 
"Too late," most of them would say.
I don't think the God of love and mercy would agree that one minute would make such a huge difference to a person's ultimate relationship with him.  I don't think God's love for any of us, including Hitler, changes when our time on this planet is finished.  He is still the prodigal Father waiting with open arms for his wayward children to return.

Where do we get such horrid pictures of a mean, vengeful God when the Bible describes a loving, forgiving and merciful Father who sent his Son to be the Saviour of the whole world?

Indeed, I can't help thinking that if God did torment Hitler forever, or annihilate him, then God would be acting the same way Hitler did.  And that from the One who Jesus said is our model of kindness and mercy?

It's hard to figure how Christians who have been forgiven their sins and reconciled to their heavenly Father want to limit what God will do for others whose circumstances and history are different to theirs.

Use in God.Character, Salvation.Judgment and Mercy