Ecclesiastes 1:4 :

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. [KJV]

A generation is going, and a generation is coming, and the earth to the age is standing. [YLT]

One generation passeth away, another commeth: but the earth abideth styll. [Bishop's Bible 1568]

For עוֹלָם (Strong 5769) Brown Driver Briggs Biblehub gives a number of contextual meanings including 'indefinite futurity'.

The expression 'the earth abideth for ever' caught my eye yesterday when reading it since further revelation in the New Testament informs me that time will end and there shall be new heavens and new earth.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. [Revelation 21:1, KJV]

So, I am interested in the precise meaning and it is noticeable that YLT and the Bishop's Bible avoid a meaning which would contradict the further revelation seen in the Greek scriptures.

Can anyone fully explain the Hebrew in context, please ?

2 Answers 2


The Hebrew word עוֹלָם (olam) is widely misunderstood, but not by BDB which gives a good explanation. Let us notice very carefully how it is used in the OT. The word does not necessarily mean "for ever and ever" meaning unending time as illustrated by its use with a number of nouns which clearly do not last forever.

For example, it used of a slave serving his master forever: Deut 15:17, 1 Sam 27:12, Job 40:28, Ex 21:6, Lev 25:46, etc. That is, "forever" in these contexts is as long as the slave (or master) lives. Put another way, עוֹלָם (olam) means as long as the noun to which it is attached lasts, or, the situation does not change as long as the noun exists.

When applied to God/LORD. the sense become unambiguously "forever without end" because God is immortal and unending: Gen 21:33, Ex 15:18, etc.

In some cases, the word is used of things that clearly had a long but finite time span (eg, slaves of masters as above) -

  • Isa 32:14 - the destruction of Jerusalem (rebuilt many years later and exists today)
  • Jer 18:16 - the destruction of Jerusalem (rebuilt many years later and exists today)
  • Eze 26:21, 27:36, 28:19 - the destruction of Tyre (rebuilt many years later and exists today)
  • Isa 30:8 - Isaiah's tablet and scroll clearly did not last "forever"
  • 1 Kings 1:31 - David live forever
  • Neh 2:3 - the king of Persia live forever
  • Ps 115:18 - I will praise forever (ie, as long as I live)

A number of times the word is applied to the earth - Ps 78:69, 104:5, also meaning as long as the earth exists.

The force of Eccl 1:4 is actually straight forward. Solomon is contrasting the relatively short life of a generation, with the much longer (but still finite) life of the earth. BDB expresses this idea as "continuous existence".

Thus, based on the Bible references here, עוֹלָם (olam) does NOT mean forever in the sense of unending time unless it is applied to God; it means continuous existence as long as the noun lasts.

Only God is truly immortal; His creation has a finite beginning - the new earth will last forever, but the current earth clearly will not!

A number of versions attempt to reflect this in the way they render עוֹלָם (olam):

  • NLT: never changes
  • CEV: never changes
  • GNT: stays just the same
  • NET: remains the same
  • YLT: to the age is standing

“Ve Ha-Arets Le-Olam Omadet” ( וְהָאָ֖רֶץ לְעוֹלָ֥ם עֹמָֽדֶת ). [ Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:4 ]

  • Literal Translation : “ but the-earth ” ( וְהָאָ֖רֶץ ) “ forever “ ( לְעוֹלָ֥ם ) “ is positioned “ ( עֹמָֽדֶת )

// Abideth is not accurate.

  • As composed, this answer is unsubstantiated and therefore simply an opinion. This is far below the standard expected on this hermeneutical site. Please see the other answer @Dottard as a model and an example.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 8, 2020 at 12:44
  • I will “abideth” this feedback, and maintain the Hebrew translation. Aug 8, 2020 at 13:25

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