How long did “for ever” last in Bible times?

In my next article (which you can read here) I’ll be explaining how the Hebrew Scriptures (meaning the books of the Bible that are normally, and mistakenly, referred to as “the Old Testament”) prove that Infernalism is an entirely unscriptural soteriology, but first, I should quickly explain why the Hebrew words that are generally translated as “for ever” or “everlasting” in some English Bible versions (olam/עוֹלָם and ʿaḏ/עַד) don’t actually mean “never ending” or “without end” the way most Christians assume they do. I’ll be using the KJV (the King James Version of the Bible) for this article, but you can use nearly any non-literal translation of Scripture to see what I’m getting at. I say “non-literal” because truly literal Bible translations such as the YLT or the CLV render these words the way they were actually meant to be understood, as referring to a specific period of time with a definite beginning and end, even if the end date is unknown. However, one can still get the truth from less literal versions of the Bible such as the KJV by simply realizing that these English words in these translations just need to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally.

For example, in Exodus 21:6 we read about servants who choose to remain in servitude rather than going free on the seventh year, as was their right: “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.” If we take “for ever” literally there, it would either mean that the servant (or slave) in question can never die, or that the servant will have to remain a slave to his master perpetually, even after both of their physical resurrections in the distant future (as well as in any afterlife, if one exists, in the meantime, even if they both end up in different places while dead or after they’ve been resurrected and judged at the Great White Throne). Since I doubt anyone believes either of these options to be the case, it seems that the “for ever” there actually means “for a specific time period, even if the end date (the time of the servant’s death) is currently unknown,” which means that “for ever” in the King James Bible doesn’t necessarily mean “without end.”

We also read about the fact that the Aaronic priesthood will be “everlasting” in Exodus 40:15, yet we know from Hebrews 7:14–22 that the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants is to be replaced by Jesus Christ, who will be “a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (and we know from 1 Corinthians 15 that even this new priesthood which is said to last “for ever” is eventually no longer going to be necessary).

Similarly, in 1 Chronicles 16:17 we read, “and hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,” which seems to tell us that the Old Covenant can never come to an end and be replaced by a New Covenant since it’s everlasting, but we know from other parts of Scripture that there will be a New Covenant, and that the Old Covenant in fact began to decay when Christ died (and will indeed eventually vanish away entirely, if it hasn’t already). So this tells us that “everlasting” can’t always mean “never ending” when we read that word in the King James Bible any more than “for ever” can.

But what about locations? Hell is supposed to be a location that is “everlasting,” and any location the KJV says to be “everlasting” must never go away, right? Well, Habakkuk 3:6 says that “the everlasting mountains were scattered,” so it isn’t seeming too likely that even “everlasting” locations will never go away (and since we know the whole earth will eventually be destroyed and replaced with a New Earth, any “everlasting mountains” really can’t continue to exist without end anyway).

But even if the ”everlasting mountains” will eventually cease to exist, surely hell won’t ever end, not to mention one’s time spent there. Well, Jonah 2:2–6 is the very first time being in hell “for ever” is written about in the Bible, which makes it very important, because being the first reference means it’s probably an important key to understanding all future references to the idea in Scripture. The main takeaway from this reference to being in hell “for ever,” though, is that Jonah’s “for ever” spent in hell only lasted for three days, after which he escaped from hell, which means that the very first passage in the Bible (and the only passage in the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures) which talks about being in hell “for ever” tells us that people can escape it after a period of time. It also tells us that the word “hell” must be just as much a figurative word as “for ever” is, unless you believe hell is literally located in the belly of a big fish (and if you believe that Jonah actually died and was literally in a place called hell, you’ve now admitted that people can indeed escape hell if they pray to God while there). And for those who want to protest my interpretation here by saying, And for those who want to protest my interpretation here by saying, “That passage is obviously using figurative language,” well, yeah, that’s my whole point. Based on this passage, the word “hell” in the KJV is clearly a word that doesn’t always mean the same thing every time it’s used, and so one can’t simply read their presupposition of never-ending punishment into a passage that contains the word, since that can lead to serious misunderstandings (especially when we take what we’ve already learned about “for ever” in the Bible into consideration). And before someone suggests that Jonah was simply using the word “hell” here as a figurative reference to the afterlife one is supposedly tormented in without end after they die, there had been no Scripture written that even implied such a fate in Jonah’s time which he could have even gotten that idea from, so whatever the word “hell” means in this passage, Jonah couldn’t possibly have been referring to a concept of never-ending torment in an afterlife since he wouldn’t have even been familiar with that as a scriptural idea to begin with (in fact, no Israelites would have been at the time; at least not any who based their theology on Scripture).

So does that mean the translators of the King James Version were confused about the meaning of the words they rendered as “for ever” and “everlasting” in their translation? Based on this next passage, it seems to me that they didn’t intend for these words to be interpreted as meaning “never ending” at all, and that passage is Isaiah 32:14–15, which says: “Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.” Unless we’re meant to believe that Jerusalem will be left forsaken and desolate and never recover or be inhabited again, as verse 14 seems to say, yet which we know won’t be the case, we have to interpret that “for ever” as meaning a specific period of time again, just as we had to do with the previous examples. And, indeed, verse 15 tells us when that “for ever” ends, stating that Jerusalem will be left deserted “for ever,” until the spirit be poured from on high. So, unless the translators were having a very off day when they translated these various verses, they obviously never intended for their readers to believe that “for ever” or “everlasting” should be interpreted as meaning “never ending” (presumably assuming that those who read or heard the KJV read were able to understand figurative language).

I could go on and on with example after example of things that were said to be “for ever” or “everlasting” that eventually ended in the Bible, not to mention that I could point out references to fire that was said would never go out (just like the fires of ”hell” are supposed to do) but which is no longer burning today, but I trust it’s obvious by now that these words don’t mean “without end” in the Hebrew Scriptures the way most Christians have assumed they do, but rather have very different meanings altogether (for those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, “for ever” in the KJV is really just figurative language that refers to “an age,” or to “a seemingly long period of time with a definite beginning and end” — similar to the way we still use the phrase today when we say things like, “I was stuck in that line for ever” — and “everlasting” just means “pertaining to an age or ages” or, to put it in simpler terms, “long lasting”; these words are quite clearly being used as hyperbole in the KJV, meaning they’re exaggerated expressions used for the sake of emphasis, and are not meant to be taken literally at all). And if they don’t mean ”without end in the Hebrew Scriptures, they likely don’t mean it in the Greek Scriptures (meaning the books of the Bible that are mistakenly referred to as ”the New Testament” by most people) either. And the truth is, it’s just as easy to prove that they don’t mean “never ending” there as it is to prove the references in the Hebrew Scriptures don’t, but that’s a topic for a future article.