What is Endless, Eternal or Everlasting?

Stephen MarshMormon 14 Comments

My apologies to anyone who thinks I’m discussing aleph numbers or SSM. I’m on to something else.

When God instituted circumsision with Abraham as an everlasting covenant, how long did that last and did it require Adam to become circumscribed?

What about Moses and blood sacrifice?  How long did that last?

Or Levi and exclusive access to the priesthood by a single tribe out of Israel?

Or keeping kosher in dress and food?  Was Noah told he could not drink wine and had to keep the word of wisdom?

Or how about polygamy?

Think about D&C 19: 6-12.  Endless, Eternal, Everlasting, do they just mean something instituted by God, no matter how long or how short a period they are for?

What else might be “endless” yet temporary, fitting this pattern?

Comments 14

  1. Sec 77 says that the earth will come to be in an eternal state. Does that mean that it has always been in that state? Obviously not. I think … I think this very much … that these words are used as adjectives to describe an association with things that have a quality of boundlessness, not only or even primarily in time, that cannot be better described. There are things that are everlasting – truth, for instance – when we come to a certain ‘sealed’ relationship with these endless things, our lives will also become Eternal. Although they will not have always been so. ~

  2. Our own church is filled with things that, at the time, seemed “Endless”

    – BY teaching that polygamy was basically necessary to reach the highest degree in the Celestial Kingdom
    – McConkie teaching that blacks would NEVER hold the priesthood until every single other person had the chance to, likely after the Millenium, which seems pretty far away to me
    – JS proclaimations of Zion being established essentially once and for all in Missouri, prior to the subsequent migration west
    – Multiple prophets since JS teaching that “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become” as an eternal principle before GBH told Larry King that he wasn’t really sure what that meant, and wasn’t sure that we taught that.

    So, we change quite a bit that seem endless and eternal in our own church.

  3. I read a blog article some time ago (see here: http://loydo38.blogspot.com/2009/02/relocating-eternal-dz-phillips.html ) arguing that Endless/Eternal/Everlasting is adjectival describe nature or quality, not time or quantity. You presented some examples, but as one other to think of, the scriptures have several examples of people who suffer “endless torment” (e.g., Alma), but obviously live to see the light of day. You point out D&C 19: 6-12, which really seems to be a slam dunk for this interpretation. So, I do agree with your conclusion (endless = relating of the quality of God).

    6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
    7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
    8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
    9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
    10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
    11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
    12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

  4. I think the idea of endless can be compared to “now” and “today” as well. We assume if the Lord says now or today that it is immediate, but one day for him compared to one day for us is very different. I think endless torment means He decides the length and the severity, and I am sure each situation is different so really we have no idea what His timing will be until after it happens.

  5. Post

    Andrew and Jen, thanks for supporting the topic. Most of the examples, coincidentally, served as forces that separated the people from the others and pushed against assimilation.

    Thomas Parkin, I like your expanding on the topic, that is a good thought.

    Mike S, interesting, though I think you are missing the point, especially the way you take it.

  6. Alma uses the adjectives several time in his account of a 3-day visit to hell in Alma 36. Regardless of how long it lasts, it seems to describe the quality of or an aspect of what it describes – eg. everlasting chains.

  7. After some recent posts, I was just thinking of the teaching from the King Follet Discourse, “That which has a beginning may have an end”. The intelligence of spirits is listed as having no beginning or ending. The priesthood has also been taught to be an eternal principle, being without beginning of days or end of years. Obedience to God has also been called an eternal principle.

    As far as what seems endless, but is temporary, I can only offer some guesses. Offices within the Priesthood? The physical process of ordinances which signify the making of eternal covenants? The scriptures as the definitive word of God? “Religion” as the process of receiving messages from HF? Polygamy–as an earthly device that was used as a “type” to give Abraham light on the concept of endless posterity?

    “do they just mean something instituted by God”

    Perhaps, but the faith of individuals being tested for their obedience through those temporal institutions is probably eternal.

  8. Post
  9. Anyone else not satisfied by the explanation of “Endless” in D&C 19? It conveniently negates countless other scriptures in both Bible and BoM that talk about the fate of the wicked by “revealing” that all those other scriptures were a word game used by God and his prophets to signify something other than the natural meaning of the words. Were the misinterpretations spanning millennia what God intended? I suspect rather, that JS came to understand something different about the fate of the soul after death that differed from that which was taught in the Christian religions of his day, but not before those doctrines of eternal punishment found their way into the text of the BoM.

  10. Post

    SteveS, I appreciate you are not satisfied, and would prefer an unending torment of the wicked. However, I’m satisfied with it, as it provides a context for what most really believe about how God treats us and a context for all the other endless covenants (such as circumcision, or keeping kosher). Otherwise the “it wasn’t ended, just fulfilled in Christ” line that Peter and Paul use seems very shallow and unsatisfying in the New Testament.

    Nice quote from another blog:

    I came across a puzzle, each facet of this configuration represent facts and information, even indisputable info. Depends on how you arrange this information. Each entity, how it is placed, adjacent to other pieces, how it is placed in contrast to the others has everything to do with how we understand events and how we appreciate events. It can be arranged in a way that there would be no familiarity to the pattern but a feature of chaos in how it’s organized. Others may want to make it (the story) very neat and tidy, maybe in a way that doesn’t represent it (the reality) well. By placing some items of info outside of scrutiny, being selective in the use of material. Sometimes we do that, and I don’t think it does us any favors. There are all kinds of ways to apply the information, maybe if we’re brave enough and have confidence that as we place these things together, as we create from historical information, the impossible past that we really don’t have a chance to replicate exactly, but which we must give our best shot at, we must end up with something compelling, that causes us to think about our religion in ways maybe we have been afraid to in the past, but find in doing so that this thing of which we are apart, the reason for which this organization (FAIR) even exists, is something that must be defendable because of it is importance in this world and in the immortal world. I think it’s worth the trouble we take to make sure we do this right, I think this man (Joseph Smith) is worth all the effort to understand him. He’s won me over in every way.


  11. “I appreciate you are not satisfied, and would prefer an unending torment of the wicked” LOLZ. I should have read back my comment before posting; in retrospect it sounds a bit harsh. I don’t begrudge JS from proclaiming an end to eternal punishment–his version/vision of the fate of the soul after death seems more equitable to me than anything else in Christianity. I bristle only at the too-neat explanation for the terms “endless” and “eternal” in D&C 19. For some reason, it just doesn’t strike me as revelatory.

  12. RE: #11. In fact, this explanation of such terms applying to the source or nature rather than duration of punishment was formulaic (including the debate about whether or not Deity would threaten unending torment in order to scare people from sinning, without really meaning it). It was all standard Universalist argument, very widely published, known and extensively debated in young Joseph Smith’s culture well before, during, and long after March 1830 when D&C 19 was dictated. It was nothing new.

  13. thanks, Rick. I didn’t know that. Seeing as there were lots of Universalist sentiments coming from Joseph’s dad and grandfather, I’m not surprised.

  14. FYI “The word for eternal is aionios. It means more than everlasting, for Plato – who may have invented the word – plainly says that a thing may be everlasting and still not be aionios. The simplest way to out it is that aionios cannot be used properly of anyone but God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give.” William Barclay: A Spiritual Autobiography, pg 67, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1977. William Barclay was a Scottish biblical scholar best known for his New Testament commentary series “The Daily Study Bible”. cf also his “New Testament Words” on “Aionios”.

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