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Answering The Atheist
September 17, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 38

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Will the earth last forever? Some Bible texts say ‘yes' (Deuteronomy 4:40; Psalm 37:29; 78:69; 104:5; Ecclesiastes 1:4), but others say ‘no' (Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 65:17; Matthew 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; Hebrews 1:10-11; 2 Peter 3:10, 13; Revelation 21:1). Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
When the questioner (and indeed, many people) considers the word "forever", the concept of eternal comes to mind. Thus, for some Bible texts to state that the earth will abide forever, but then others to say that the earth will be destroyed, will perish, or will melt away, sounds contradictory. The trouble is not with the message of Scripture, but with the understanding of the word "forever" which some hold to.

The word forever appears some 382 times in Scripture, most commonly rendered in the Old Testament through the Hebrew word owlam, and in the New Testament with the Greek eis aion. The word forever has a variety of meanings, including "...long duration, unbroken age, perpetuity of time, antiquity, ancient, old, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, always, indefinite or unending, eternity..." (Strong's, Thayer's). The word need not mean eternal, without end, as the questioner has supposed.

The Bible lists things which are "forever", but are not "eternal". For instance:

  • The promised land to the nation Israel was forever (Genesis 13:15; Exodus 32:13), and yet they were also warned that they would lose it, if they were unfaithful (Deuteronomy 28:63-65);
  • The Passover feast was an ordinance forever (Exodus 12:21-24), and yet the Jews did not keep the Passover correctly from the time of Samuel until the time of Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:1, 18; 2 Kings 23:21-23);
  • A servant could choose to serve his master forever (Exodus 21:5-6), but his service would understandably cease at his death;
  • The Levitical priests were said to serve in the tabernacle forever (Exodus 27:21), and yet they ceased to do so when the temple was built, and have since ceased entirely;
  • The Sabbath day was said to be a sign between God and Israel forever (Exodus 28:15-17), but with the coming of the New Covenant, the Sabbath day has been abrogated (Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 8:1-13).
The word "forever" need not mean "eternity", and in many cases, it does not. The earth will be for "...a long duration...", an "...indefinite time...", and then will be destroyed, even as God's word has said.

There is no contradiction here.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible