For Ever and Ever
Why do we say “for ever and ever”? Isn’t it a bit like saying “for eternity and eternity” or “never ending and never ending” or “to everlasting and everlasting”?
We say it because we read it in the Bible. The puritans’ use of scripture was so wonderfully relentless that many Biblical phrases entered into our way of talking. In the case of “for ever and ever” the phrase worked its way into fairy-tales.
And maybe it is from the fairy-tales that many of us adopted this singular and redundant way of talking.
Yet the phrase is not redundant when used in scripture.
The term “for ever and ever” is used 46 times in the Old and New Testaments. Not every time is it derived from the same Hebrew or Greek words. That is a small enough number that we can take the time to be a little technical.
We can categorize all of them on the basis of the way they are worded in Hebrew or Greek.
We will begin with a review of the various words used for ‘ever’ in theses passages. As the average reader could not read the original words, I will refer to those words by their “number” in the most common Greek and Hebrew lexicons today, those found in the back of Strong’s Concordance. For this reason these numbers are called “Strongs numbers.”
And under each of these words I will note how that word is used in scripture. Of particular interest to Seventh-day Adventists is the question “does ‘ever’ mean ‘eternity’?”
Words Translated “Ever” in the 46 Passages
Word # 05769 Used 439 times in the Old Testament.
Incidents where it is clear that this word does not denote an eternal volume of time include Genesis 6:4 where it is translated ‘of old’. An interesting use is the first use—Genesis 3:22. Here those that eat of the tree of life ‘live for ever.” For this reason Adam and Eve were removed from the garden. Youngs Literal Translation renders 05769 most consistently as ‘age-during.’ The Rotherham translation renders it as ‘age-abiding’ and in the past as ‘age-past.’
Word # 05703 Used 49 times in the Old Testament.
Incidents where it is clear that it does not denote an eternal volume of time include Hab. 3:6 where the ‘everlasting’ mountains are scattered by Christ’s coming. In Amos 1:11 the descendants of Esau are condemned for having kept their anger against their brother ‘for ever.’ Rotherham often renders it “to futurity” or “perpetually.”
The phrase “for ever and ever” is derived from these two Hebrew words almost every time it shows up in the old Testament. The other three Old Testament occurrences use three other words.
Word # 05331 Isaiah 34:10.
This word is used 43 times in the Old Testament. It is often used in parallel with # 05769 and so should not be much distinguished from it. It has some usages that are unrelated to the question—“victory,” “strength”—and is often used in questions and in negatives.
05957 Daniel 2:20; 7:18.
This is the Aramaic of the Hebrew word # 05769. It is used uniquely in Ezra and Daniel where it occurs 20 times in uses very similar to the way that # 05769 is used elsewhere.
05705 Daniel 2:20; 7:18.
This is the Aramaic of the Hebrew word # 05704 (not a typo for # 05703). It is used uniquely in Ezra and Daniel where it occurs 32 times. Only when used in conjunction with # 05957 does it denote ‘ever.’ In other passages it is translated “until” “season” “end” and in various other ways that designate a limited time.
So these are the five words translated “ever” in Old Testament phrases “for ever and ever.” The word “ever” is in the phrase twice and the following graph shows how the phrase is formed in Hebrew/Aramaic.
Formulations of These Five Words Translated “For Ever and Ever”
05769 05769 I Ch 16:36; 29:10; Neh 9:5; Jer 7:7; 25:5
05769 05703 Ex 15:18; Ps 9:5; 10:16; 21:4; 45:6, 17; 48:14; 52:8; 119:44; 145:1, 2, 21; Dan 12:3; Mic 4:5; Ps 111:8 ; 148:6; Is 30:8
05331 05331 Is 34:10
05957 05705 05957 Dan 2:20
05705 05957 05957 Dan 7:18
As noted initially, we would not in English write “eternity and eternity” or “to everlasting and everlasting.” These would seem redundant. We do, however, say “for ever and ever” and have probably picked this up from the Bible.
But in the Bible it appears that this is no redundancy. The individual words “ever” do not, of themselves, necessarily indicate eternity. The habit of using them in reduplication is enough to demonstrate the truthfulness of this assertion. Rotherham and Youngs Literal (two of the most literal translations available) translate these two formulas as follows:
05769-05769 “one age even to/unto another” “age even unto age” “age to age”
05769-05703 “age-abiding and beyond”; “futurity, to/unto times age-abiding”
05769-05769 “from the age [and] unto the age” “from age even unto age”
05769-05703 “to the age, and for ever”; “age-during—and for ever”; “for a latter day…unto the age”; “for ever to the age”
1. In the last three of these, Ps. 111:8; 148:6; and Is 30:8, the order of the words is reversed…05703 05769.
2. The first of these three renderings is used for all cases of 05769 05703. The latter two are used for the three reversed orderings.
3. The first two of these four renderings are used for all cases of 05769 05703. The latter two are used for the three reversed orderings.
What Kind of Persons or Things or Events Last “For Ever and Ever”?
The subjects of these formulas—the persons or objects that were to last “for ever and ever” are differentiated below. The designation A represents the first formula, B the second. B2 represents the reversed order pairs. C and D represent Daniel 2 and 7 respectively.
Jehovah A I Ch 16:36; 29:10; Neh 9:5
Jehovah B Ex 5:18; Ps 10:16
Blotting Out B Ps 9:5
Gift of Life B Ps 21:4
Jehovah’s Throne B Ps 45:6
Jehovah’s Praise B Ps 45:17; 145:1, 2, 21
Jehovah’s Praise C Dan 2:20
Jehovah’s Identity B Ps 48:14
My Trust in Jehovah B Ps 52:8
Commandments B-2 Ps 111:8
Law Keeping B Ps 119:44
Heavens B-2 Ps 148:6
Record of Rebellion B-2 Isa 30:8
Gift of Canaan A Jer 7:7; 25:5
Evangelists; Stars B Dan 12:3
Right-Living B Mic 4:5
Saints’ Reign D Dan 7:18
Summary: The Old Testament formulations translated “for ever and ever” always refer to Jehovah, His qualities, His work, or the Saints. They are often stated in terms of contrast with the wicked and the works of men—both of which are transitory.
The only passage that is even apparently troubling to standard Adventist doctrine is Isaiah 30:8. Adventists might expect the record of evil to be erased after the final burning. But perhaps this is unfounded. Perhaps the record of sin and all that it caused will be always available for review.
New Testament Passages
All the New Testament Passages are formed the same way. They are a reduplication of the Greek word # 165. The second word is generally in the genitive form and this is where the “of” comes from in the translations. Below you can see how Rotherham and Young translate this Greek phrase.
Rotherham “ages of the ages” “ages of ages” “times age-abiding” “the ages”
Young’s Literal “ages of the ages” “age of the age” “ages of ages”
The subjects of these formulas—the persons or objects that were to last “for ever and ever” are differentiated below.
Glory be to God Gal. 1:8; Phil 4:20; I Tim 1:17; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 13:21; I Pet 4:11;
Rev 1:6; 5:13; 7:12
God’s Throne Heb. 1:8
Dominion be to God I Pet 5:11;
God’s Life Rev 4:9, 10; 10:6; 15:7
God’s Reign Rev 11:5
Torment Smoke’s Ascent Rev 14:11; 19:3
Devil’s Torment Rev 20:10
Saints’ Reign Rev 22:5
Summary: The New Testament formula nearly always refers to God’s deserved honor, His reign, and that of his Saints. The exceptions to this formula refer to the ascent of the smoke of torment from the last-day wicked persons (Rev. 14:11; 19:3) and to Satan’s torment itself.
Only Revelation 20:10 is apparently troubling to the Adventist view. The two forever-smoke passages are similar in meaning to Isaiah 30:8 and seem to refer to the everlasting impact of sin on those that know its history and it sure results. They will ever be aware that sin caused suffering and destruction. This eternal knowledge will be to the righteous as the scent of smoke on a fireman’s clothing—evidence of what once was.
But what are we to make of Rev. 20:10?
From Ezekiel 28 we find that Lucifer will be brought “to ashes” by a fire that God kindles from the midst of our foe.
Eze 28:18 Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.
In Isaiah 14 we find that he will be brought down to the “side of the pit” and that those that “see” him there will “narrowly look upon” him and will consider the irony that such a helpless criminal could be the one that destroyed the world and its cities.
Isa 14:16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, ‘Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?’
As an apparent statement of justice, they go on to comment that he “opened not the house of his prisoners.” Is 14:17. There is no record of them seeing anyone else. And the impact of his wickedness is spoken of entirely in a past tense.
In short, it seems that Satan will be left to suffer for some significant period of time, apparently appropriately described as “for ages and ages.” This does not seem entirely unlikely when one considers:
A. That the scapegoat bears the sins of the congregation in the Day of Atonement
B. That there have been an estimated 35 to 70 Billion persons alive since creation
C. That if only 1 in 700 of 35 billion were saved at last, that would be 50 million
D. That if the Devil only burned two hours for each of these persons, that would be 100 million hours. That comes to 4 million days. That amounts to 12,000 years.
While the numbers above are purely speculative, excepting the estimate of world population which is more like a reasonable guess, they illustrate well the point. The Devil has significant suffering awaiting him after all others have been consumed.
And as the last phrase in Revelation 20:9 speaks of the fire consuming the rest of the wicked, it seems that this contrast in burning time must be the burden of Revelation 20:10 if it is to be harmonized with the rest of scripture.
Re 20:9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. 10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
In other words, the passage teaches that the fire that comes down from God and devours the wicked leaves the devil to suffer for “ages and ages” after the wicked are no more.
And we recall the evidence that neither of the words translated “ever” is necessarily indicative of an eternity. Together, in Revelation 20:10, they should be understood “for ages and ages.”
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ages and ages.”
And that will be just. Just and True are Thy ways, oh King of Saints.