Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | October 10, 2018

Wrestling with “Eternal”

(4 Minute Read)

A recent BSG blog article of two weeks ago, The Eternal Gospel, stimulated a thoughtful question by John, a reader from Dallas, TX. He ponders the meaning of the word eternal, especially as applied to the Gospel.

Here is John’s insightful comment and question on The Eternal Gospel:

Thank you for this post on the eternal Gospel. The word “eternal“ has been wrestling with me for the past year or two. Not to the point of setting aside time to do a deep study of the word, but more so to paying attention to its context in Biblical use, and its use by the men of the cloth to whom I listen. This desire to know what God means with His use of this word has been engendered by the overuse (to the point of annoyance) of the word “infinite,” mostly by several of the members of the men’s Bible study I attend, as well as by some of the pastors and theologians to whom I read and listen. Challenging the men in my study with their use of the word “infinite” has engendered discussion about both infinite and eternal. I have no problem with understanding the common meanings of “infinite,” at least to the extent that mathematicians use the word.

“Eternal” doesn’t live comfortably in my known lexicon. In one sense I think of “infinite” as being of the created order and “eternal” as being transcendent. This is where I am with “Eternal”:
1) Without beginning or end.
2) Transcendent — an adjective describing many entities outside creation like God, His attributes, His Kingdom, His Word, etc.
3) Different from infinite, not particularly intended to measure size.
4) Not “time” related.
5) Unchanging.

I am not particularly comfortable with that list, but that is where I sit currently.

Until your post, the “Eternal Gospel” never took a foothold in my mind. With my limited understanding of “eternal,” this new (to me) use of the word has challenged my understanding; however, it makes me wonder if calling the Gospel “Eternal” implies that the Gospel will continue to be a prominent part of the glorified lives of God’s elect in the new heaven, in Christ’s Kingdom. And if that is so, other than that the Gospel will be a reminder to the elect why they are there, I wonder if there is more to derive from the knowledge that the Gospel is indeed eternal. Please share any thoughts you have on this, and please disabuse me of any misunderstandings.

Thanks again. I enjoy worshiping God discovering His Truth by reasoning about the meaning of words.

I appreciate John’s thoughtfulness and his drive to understand Scriptural truth. I admire the way he thinks deeply about Biblical issues.

He is undoubtedly a valuable part of his Bible study group, although I suspect that the men don’t always appreciate his probing questions, challenges, and insights.

Like Reader John, I also notice (and object to) people’s frequent sloppy use of the word “infinite.” So often it is used simply to mean “very big,” not true infinity. The accurate use of “infinite” overlaps with “eternal” in the sense that there is an infinite amount of future time or existence in eternal life.

Concerning the meaning of eternal, here are my thoughts. I think eternal means different concepts in different contexts. When used with reference to God, it certainly means without beginning or end, transcendent, and unchanging.

In most other contexts I think it primarily means only “without end” or “never ending.” In the King James Version, the word “everlasting” is often used instead of “eternal.” I think everlasting is a more accurate word, for “everlasting” clearly only means “without end.”

Here are some examples from the New American Standard version (NASB):
1. “The eternal God” (Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 16:26) and His “eternal power” (Romans 1:20). Here eternal means certainly means without beginning or end, transcendent, and unchanging as indicated above.
2. When eternal is used with reference to life and salvation as in “eternal life” (John 3:16 and many other verses) and “eternal salvation” (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 5:9), I think it means “without end.” It could not mean “without beginning” in this case because we mortals who receive the gift of eternal life all definitely had a beginning.
3. Eternal means everlasting or without end for “eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8) and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

Now what about the “eternal gospel” preached by the angel in Revelation?
I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Revelation 14:6-7)

Many translations (including the King James) say “everlasting gospel.” I think the thrust of eternal gospel or everlasting gospel is that the truth of the gospel has no end — in the sense that the redemptive work of Christ will be praised for all eternity, He will be acknowledged and praised as the Creator forever, and the results of His redemptive work (those He redeemed) will be evident forever. So, yes, I think as John from Texas writes, “the Gospel will continue to be a prominent part of the glorified lives of God’s elect in the new heaven, in Christ’s Kingdom.”

The angel’s description of the Gospel as eternal also emphasizes the Gospel’s importance and significance. Eternal things are always more significant than temporal things. Calling the Gospel eternal is also a way of indicating how tremendous it is — far more tremendous than we typically think. We have gotten inured to the word Gospel and fail to contemplate how great the Gospel is.

The angel’s eternal gospel is also an unchanging gospel. It’s the same for everyone across all the ages.

The Gospel is that Jesus of Nazareth, the Great Creator Himself, was crucified for sin and then raised from the dead for our justification (Romans 4:23-25). He commands men to repent of sin and offers forgiveness for sin and eternal life. This is worth eternal (never ending) contemplation and praise.

The true, eternal, unchanging Gospel presents Jesus of Nazareth as God and Creator as well as Savior. He is the sin-bearing, crucified, and resurrected God-Man who is the coming King of kings, Lord of lords, and Final Judge. The Gospel calls men to repent of sin and to serve and worship the Great Creator.

Questions to Ponder

1. How does the never-ending (eternal) nature of the Gospel affect your life and thinking today?
2. What else does eternal suggest to you about the Gospel?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Read the prequels:
The Eternal Gospel
Is Belief in Creation Necessary for Salvation?

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday October 10, 2018 A.D.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. . . . He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16,18)


Responses

  1. To me eternal Gospel also means never changing and I can count on that. Unlike society today, it’s not a moving target. It is not an event, it’s a lifelong commitment which brings a lifetime of blessings culminating in the greatest blessing of all, heaven.

    Like


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