[b-hebrew] one-to-one rendering of olam

Hedrick Gary GaryH at cjfm.org
Thu Dec 9 19:53:21 EST 2010

Fred, did you go to the archives? It's been discussed here before. 1 Chron. 23:13 is like Deut. 15:17 in the sense that it refers to something that is unending for a particular person (in this instance, an Aaronic priest) because that priestly position extends throughout his lifetime. But in other contexts, the referent is God's lifetime, which is surely eternal and unending. And it's the same word.

One problem we have here in B-Hebrew is that people come and go—and some of them have an underlying agenda or something they are trying to "prove" from the Hebrew Bible while they're here. For instance, ad olam might come up in a discussion about the New World Translation. There are numerous issues with the NWT, and one of them is whether or not hell is unending. It's a longtime bone of contention between the Watchtower Society and traditional Christendom.

But here's the deal. If you're looking for an iron-clad, one-size-fits-all translation of ad olam that fits every biblical occurrence, it's just not going to work because in each occurrence, the translation has to be contextualized.

Just because ad-olam means a relatively short period of time (a man's lifetime) in 1 Chron. 23:13 doesn't mean it has that same import in Ex. 3:15, where God's Name is said to be "forever," or even in Psalm 9:8 (9:7 in the English Bible), where Yahweh reigns "to forever" (l'olam, which is similar in force to ad olam).

We have the same thing in English. If I say something is "cool," it might mean (1) it's at a lower temperature or (2) it's something undeniably fantastic. The only way to determine which meaning applies in any given instance is to consult usage and context.

Gary Hedrick
San Antonio, Texas USA

On Dec 9, 2010, at 5:18 PM, fred burlingame wrote:

> Hello Gary:
> Thanks for the information.
> But the question persists. Does the phrase עד עולם mean "forever" as attested by the niv committee in this verse?
> http://www.biblestudytools.com/1-chronicles/23-13.html
> regards,
> fred burlingame
> On Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 4:51 PM, Hedrick Gary <GaryH at cjfm.org> wrote:
> I changed the subject line because we're straying from the original topic.
> Please check the archives for previous discussions regarding the range of meaning of עולם
> It can indeed mean forever in some contexts, like when it describes God himself (we can be relatively certain that El Olam doesn't mean "Temporary God"). In other contexts, though, it means a relatively long time (as in the case of a slave who commits to remain with his owner "forever"). In still other contexts, it connotes, very simply, indefinite duration.
> Here's a link to one archived discussion thread:
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2009-February/037249.html
> Again, translation is a game of contexts—and also, to some extent, preconceptions.
> Gary Hedrick
> San Antonio, Texas USA
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