A Question I Was Asked:

When is "Everlasting" Not Everlasting? Can You Explain?

The Question:

I have a problem because quite often the Old Testament talks about things being instituted and, thereafter, being "everlasting." Apparently, however, they were not "everlasting" as we would use the term; there are no Levite priests around today, for example. Can you help me explain this one? I am confused.

UK Apologetics Reply:

It's a very good and a very fair question, so let us look at it.

The word 'everlasting' is actually used of several things within the Old Testament. Yet the New Testament makes it pretty clear that those things were not going to last forever, indeed, were only to last until Christ. Let us look at some examples:

1. The Aaronic Priesthood.
Actually the better language of the NIV helps us understand some of these things better. For instance in the KJV, we have this:

And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations. (Exodus 40:15, KJV),

But in the NIV we have this:

Anoint them just as you anointed their father, so they may serve me as priests. Their anointing will be to a priesthood that will continue throughout their generations. (Exodus 40:15, NIV).

Without question this makes better sense of the Hebrew. Let us look at Numbers:

And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel. (Numbers 25:13, KJV).

But the NIV gives us this:

He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites. (Numbers 25:13, NIV).

This seems, again, to make better sense of the Hebrew.

We have to understand (although, sadly, many continue to resist the understanding), that the KJV is sometimes really archaic in its use of language; unfortunately its successor, the NKJV, never really 'took the bull by the horns' in fully correcting its predecessors shortcomings, although several newer translations (not all of them) have tackled this problem.

'Everlasting' in the KJV comes from the Hebrew, 'olam.' 'Olam' is bigger and broader than the English words 'everlasting' and forever.' Those two English words have a precise and narrow meaning, we all know what they mean, but 'olam' is not so specific and - frankly - there is naivety in how the KJV translators handled this problem. The non-denominational 'Bible Pages' website states this:

"The Old Testament part of the 1769 edition of King James' Bible contains the phrase "for ever" in 330 passages and "everlasting" in 66 places. Casual readers of the Bible might think that the things mentioned in those passages are "for all time to come" ("time without end"). It is important to know and always keep in mind that that is not the case.....

Again, most bible-versions fail to translate the Hebrew word olam in a correct way. Because of that, they make it seem that many instructions that were given to ancient Israel, would be "for ever" (or "everlasting" or "eternal", or whatever) and would thus apply even today. That is not true, of course..... the ancient Hebrew word in question, olam (owlam), did not mean "for ever" but simply "a long time", either past or future.

Linguistics: It is thought that olam (owlam) was related to the verb alam which apparently meant something like "to hide from sight". The idiomatic meaning of olam perhaps was "of long duration, so that the beginning or end of the matter cannot be seen" (on the relatively short and narrow human point of view). In some cases, "long-lasting" can be a fitting English translation for olam. Not "ever-lasting", but simply long-lasting.

More linguistics, for those who are interested: In the LXX (the Septuagint, an ancient Jewish translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language), the Hebrew olam is mostly translated as aon or (sometimes) aionios. Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott shows that the Greek word aion meant "a period of existence", such as "life-time", "life", "an age", "generation", "posterity" (ho mellon aion), "a long space of time", "of old", "for ages" (ap aionos), "a definite space of time", "an era", "epoch", "age", "period", and so on.

As was mentioned, the old Hebrew word olam could even refer to past time...."
(This is excerpted from the Old 'Bible Pages' website, a website which sadly no longer exists).

Earlier, we briefly considered the verses on the Levite Priesthood but there are other examples of things insistuted 'for ever,' or for an 'everlasting' time, let us just check out one or two:

2. The passover was to be a 'feast forever' (Exodus 12:14, KJV).

But this divine festival was given to the Israelites alone, it commemorated the 'death angel' of course which took the lives of firstborn Egyptian children. Israelite children were spared by the blood of an unblemished lamb; this, of course, represented Christ. As we should all know, Jesus Himself took the passover and changed its true meaning and significance turning it into Christian communion. Christ Himself is now our passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).

3.The sabbath was to be a 'sign for ever.' (Exodus 31: 16a, 17a, KJV).

The 'everlasting' seventh day Sabbath was given to Israel alone as the sign of the Mosaic covenant. It identifies those who wish to (or, who attempt to) live under and within that particular covenant. But it really looked forwards to our eternal 'rest' in Christ, Who alone is our true Sabbath (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:1-11).

There are still further examples, but we will confine ourselves to these ones here since these should suffice to make our point.

Let us consider the following chart. It is suggested in a book by John Reisinger, but it clearly represents a true biblical perspective and I know that John won't mind me using it here:

Promised to Israel

'Everlasting' Priesthood

'Everlasting' Sanctuary

'Everlasting' Sabbath

'Everlasting' Circumcision

'Everlasting' Land

Old Testament Type



Seventh Day

Physical Circumcision

Israel, and Earthly Jerusalem

New Testament Fulfillment


The Body of Christ

Salvation 'Rest'


The New Jerusalem

Robin A. Brace. August 15th, 2011.