Notes On The Biblical Use Of עד־עולם -- By: Brian Long

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 41:1 (Fall 1978)
Article: Notes On The Biblical Use Of עד־עולם
Author: Brian Long


Notes On The Biblical Use Of עד־עולם

Brian Long

The phrase עד־עולם occurs some 82 times in the Old Testament, including 9 occurrences of עד־העולם.Several characteristics of the usage of the phrase will be discussed, as well as evaluating the sense provided by the common English translations ‘forever’ or ‘always’. There will also be some discussion of its use in Ugaritic, where it appears at least six times.

As a preliminary consideration, it must be stated that the discussion of the usage of this expression is not a discussion of a Biblical view of time or eternity. Such a discussion would need to discuss not words alone but sentences and discourses. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the use of the word, not primarily to discuss the concepts which a writer might be using.1

The procedure used in investigating the expression was as follows: after isolating the sentences in which it occurs, the subjects, verbs and objects were listed and compared to determine whether any pattern or particular syntactic context was apparent; the investigation was then expanded to include explicit parallels within the context of each occurrence; then expanded into parallel contexts, providing both synchronic and diachronic comparisons and evaluation of the usage of עד־עולם.

Initial investigation of the syntactic context did not provide any unambiguous patterns for the usage of עד־עולם compared to its synonyms, though much more remains to be done in this area.

Before considering the sense of עד־עולם specifically, and 1 relation to parallel expressions, some attention must be given to the related word עולם.2

Most occurrences of עולם are translated ‘ever’, ‘forever’,everlasting’ or ‘perpetual’. The basic question confronting us is what the time sense of M~IV is. Is it to be rendered ‘everlasting’ by itself and limited in usage by other factors? Is there more than one meaning, so that עולם is translated ‘everlasting’ in one context, and something else in another (such as for פקד) ? Or does it mean ‘a long time’ or ‘of long duration’ with other factors determining more precise limits? That it is not always used as ‘forever’ is clear from looking at the occurrences, but we are still left with many that are so rendered...

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