What does the Hebrew word ‘olam mean in the Bible?

Q. What does the Hebrew word ‘olam mean in the Bible?

The Hebrew word ‘olam means “to indefinite futurity,” that is, “for as far into the future as anyone can imagine.” For example, when at the dedication of the ark in Jerusalem David tells the people to “remember [God’s] covenant for ever” and that it is an “everlasting covenant,” he is using the word in both cases. He wants the people to obey the covenant for as far into the future as anyone can imagine, and he is saying that God himself intends to keep the covenant for that long.

But the word can also indicate “from as long ago in the past as anyone can imagine.” Wisdom says of herself in Proverbs, “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was.” In other words, “I was formed (or appointed) from as long ago in the past as anyone can imagine.”

Sometimes the word is used in both senses at the same time. We see this usage in Psalm 90, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” In other words, “You have been God from from as long ago in the past as anyone can imagine, and you will continue to be God for as far into the future as anyone can imagine.”

In many English Bibles, ‘olam is thus understandably translated with adverbs such as “forever” and with adjectives such as “everlasting.” I certainly don’t see a sense in ‘olam that the time period is finite or expected ever to end.

What is the difference between verse, Scripture, gospel, and Bible?

Q. What is the difference between scripture and verse, between Scripture and gospel, and between Bible and Scripture?

Thank you for your questions. I think the answers will be helpful to many readers.

Let me start with the word Bible. That word describes the collection of books that people of faith believe that God inspired various authors to write at different times in history and that God then gave to the world as a guide to what people should believe and how they should live. The Christian Bible has two parts, the Old Testament (books about things that happened before Jesus) and the New Testament (books about things that happened when Jesus came and afterwards).

Over 1500 years after the Bible was completed (that is, after the last books in the Bible were written), the whole Bible was divided into small sections so that people could find things in it more easily. These small sections are called verses. About 300 years earlier, the Bible had been divided for the same purpose into somewhat larger sections called “chapters.” Using a system that relies on books, chapters, and verses for reference, people can find things in the Bible very quickly. For example, if someone said, “I want to talk about Romans 5:8,” everyone who knew the system and had a Bible or Bible app with them could go right to that small section and read together, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Sometimes people refer to a verse as a scripture. (Note that the word is not capitalized in this usage.) They might say, for example, “There’s a scripture that says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This can be confusing, because the word Scripture (capitalized) can also mean the same thing as “Bible.” The word “Bible” comes from the word “books,” while the word “Scripture” comes from the word “writing,” and they both refer to the same thing. Sometimes the plural term Scriptures is used to refer to the writings in the Bible, since there are many different ones.

Finally, the word gospel means “good news,” and it refers to the story of Jesus. It includes his birth, life, teachings, and miracles, and it is especially concerned with his death for us on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. This story is told in four different books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these books presents the story from a slightly different perspective, and it is helpful to view it from all of these perspectives at once. When the term “gospel” is used as part of the title of one of these four books, it is capitalized, for example, the Gospel of Matthew. The term not capitalized can also be used to describe the message about Jesus itself, told in summary based on how it is told in these four books.

I hope these explanations are helpful, and I hope that as you read the Bible (that is, the Scriptures), you will hear more and more of the good news about Jesus (that is, the gospel).

Can you lose the Holy Spirit?

Q. Can you lose the Holy Spirit?

I believe personally that when people genuinely put their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live in them and does not depart. However, the Bible does warn us that we can “grieve” or “quench” the Spirit.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul describes the kind of behavior that grieves the Spirit: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

And in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul describes the kind of behavior whose absence or presence can quench the Spirit: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

So if a Christian is wondering whether they have lost the Spirit, it’s possible that they have grieved or quenched the Spirit in one of these ways. The Spirit has not left them, but the Spirit has withdrawn out of grief or been relegated to a marginal role in their life. I would say to all who might be wondering about this that they should examine themselves to see whether they have done this. They might be harboring bitterness towards another person, for example, or indulging in some activity that they know is wrong. They should recognize what they are doing, ask God’s forgiveness, and change their ways. Then, I believe, they will be able to pray confidently, in the words of William Cowper’s hymn:

Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.

Return, O holy Dove, return!
Sweet the messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn
And drove thee from my breast.

Should Christians pray the imprecatory psalms (the prayers for the destruction of enemies)?

Q. Should Christians pray the imprecatory psalms?

Let me say first that I think “praying the psalms” (that is, making the psalms in the Bible our own prayers) is a good practice. However, people who do this are often uncomfortable praying the so-called imprecatory psalms, in which the psalmists ask God to destroy their enemies.

I devote an entire lesson to the imprecatory psalms in my study guide to the Psalms. It is Lesson 10, on pages 59–63. You can read the study guide online or down load it at this link. I hope the lesson will give you a perspective on the imprecatory psalms that will help you decide whether to include them in your devotional practice of “praying the psalms.”

How do Christian people trace their heritage from Abraham?

Q. Hello, thanks for this blog, I am still confused about the genealogy in the Bible,
we know that Jewish people are linked with Judah (Yahuda)
and Israelis (the twelve sons) are linked with Israel (Jacob)
and Ishmaelites (the Arabs) linked with Ishmael (Ismail)
all those are the sons of Abraham biologically
How do Christian people link themselves with the Abrahamic heritage?

Thank you for your question. Christians do not trace their lineage from Abraham through physical descent, but rather through faith. As the New Testament says, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ so those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.'” Paul says a little bit later in that letter, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Paul says similarly in his letter to the Romans that Abraham is “the ancestor of all who … follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had.”

John the Baptist said similarly that what mattered was faith, expressed through repentance and confession. He told some people who thought they didn’t need to be baptized, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” In other words, it was not physical descent that mattered, but genuine faith.

So Christians understand from the New Testament that if they trust in God for forgiveness and new life, they are spiritual descendants of Abraham, who set the example of that kind of trust in God.

Are the people who removed Enoch, Jubilees, etc. from the Bible in trouble?

Q. In the book of Revelation 22:18 it mentions the adding or replacing of things written in the Bible as big trouble. The books that where taken out of the Old Testament; like the Jubilees, Enoch, Gospel of Mary, etc., are these people who removed these books in big trouble?

Actually, the books you list were never “in” the Bible, in the way I would understand that, so they were never taken “out” either.

The canon of Scripture—that is, what books the Bible contains, as far as Christians are concerned—was determined over the course of several centuries. Eventually a consensus emerged about the 66 books that all Christians accept as divinely inspired and fully authoritative. Some specific groups of Christians accept further books as useful and edifying, and in some cases they include them within their Bibles, but in every case they make some distinction between them and the other 66 books. (See this post: Do different Christian communities really consider different books Scriptural?)

As for the books you list, Jubilees and Enoch are accepted as Scriptural by one small part of the Christian church. The Gospel of Mary (which would relate to the New Testament rather than the Old Testament) is not accepted as Scriptural by any part of the Christian church. So as I said, these books, and others like them, were never really “in,” so no one is in trouble for taking them “out.”

For more about the issue you are asking about, see these posts:

Can more books be added to the Bible?

Why were some books removed from the Bible and is it a sin to read them?

Are these books missing from the Bible?

Is the earth only 6,000 years old?

Q. Two questions: (1) Where would I find the animals that were not taken onto the Ark with Noah? (2) Is there some place in the Bible that shows all the years of man, from Adam to today? While scientist have everything at billions of years old, I heard that we have only been here around 6,000 years and it is somewhere in the Bible, can you tell me where to find the truth?

Your questions reflect the very large issue of how faith and reason, or religion and science, relate to one another. They relate to one another in a complex way, and so I cannot answer your questions simply by telling you to look at one place or another in the Bible. Rather, I need to encourage you to come to understand faith and reason as two complementary ways of understanding the world that God created. I have co-authored a book about this that is now available online. It is called Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation, and you can read it starting here. Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the book that I think may describe your own situation. So I hope that the book will be helpful to you as you pursue your questions. Thank you.


Many believing Christians have experienced crises of faith and personal rejections when they have chosen to accept an account of origins that is based on reasoned interpretation of centuries of scientific observation because this account does not coincide with a literal interpretation of Genesis.

These crises and rejections do not have to occur. The two approaches to knowledge characteristic of faith and reason (or religion and science) can be reconciled and used in a complementary way. But unnecessary conflicts nevertheless arise because outspoken proponents of both approaches deny their inherent limitations and extended their claims into the proper realm of the other source of knowledge. This creates an “either/or” or “forced choice” situation in which one must either accept an entirely naturalistic account of origins or else effectively deny that what our eyes see and our instruments measure is anything more than illusion. Neither of these choices will ultimately satisfy an honest intellectual inquirer.

There is a middle position, however. Faith and reason are each qualified to make their own contributions to our understanding of our origins, purpose and destiny, and these contributions can be recognized as complementary. … The two authors of this book have traveled this way, and wish to share with their fellow travelers how they have struggled and what they have learned.

How old was King David when he died?

Q. Is there any record as to how old David, King of Israel, was when he died? 1 Kings just says, “He died at a good old age.” Thank you.

Yes, there is a record. 2 Samuel 5:4 says, “David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years.” This means that David was seventy years old when he died.

Why did God reveal future events to Nebuchadnezzar?

Q. Why did God reveal future events to Nebuchadnezzar?

Here is what I say about that in my study guide to Daniel and Revelation. (You can read the guide online or download it for free at this link.)

– – – – –

(p. 28, about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue) Nebuchadnezzar was wondering about the future of his empire. (Daniel notes, “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come.”) The take-home message of the dream is that his empire isn’t going to last forever. In fact, in the foreseeable future it will be overrun by a rival empire. Daniel’s task, as God’s representative, is to challenge Nebuchadnezzar to accept this fact and humble himself before the “Lord of kings.”

(p. 30, about the statue that Nebuchadnezzar built) God gave Nebuchadnezzar an inspired dream about a statue made of different materials. The interpretation was that the Babylonian empire (the statue’s head of gold) wouldn’t last forever; instead, it would ultimately be replaced by a kingdom that the “God of heaven” would set up. When Nebuchadnezzar first heard Daniel interpret his dream, he was so amazed that he “fell prostrate before” him and “paid him honor.” But now he’s had a change of heart. He makes a statue entirely out of gold, to assert—in the language of the dream, and directly contradicting God’s word—that his empire will last forever. He gathers provincial officials from all over his empire and demands that they “fall down” and “worship” this statue. (These are exactly the same Aramaic words used to describe what Nebuchadnezzar did for Daniel; the king wants his empire to be on the receiving end this time!)

(pp. 31–32, same episode) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego tell the king that if their God is able to deliver them, he will, but that even if he doesn’t, they won’t serve the Babylonian gods or worship the statue. Their obedience wasn’t conditional on their deliverance. Nebuchadnezzar recognizes this and praises them for being “willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” … In Daniel’s song of praise in the previous story, he said that “wisdom and power” belonged to God. When Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the king acknowledged God as a “revealer of mysteries”—a God of wisdom. Now he acknowledges that this God has “rescued his servants” and must also be a God of power. He forbids anyone in his empire to say anything against “the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.”

– – – – –

So, to answer your question, God revealed future things to Nebuchadnezzar to get him to realize that his empire would not last forever so that he would humble himself and acknowledge God as the true ruler of the world.

What is God’s full armor, according to Ephesians?

Q. What is God’s full armor, according to Ephesians?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the “full armor of God” as follows.

The “belt of truth.” In biblical times, soldiers would gather up their robes and fasten them with a belt so that they could move freely in battle. So we can think of speaking the truth and proclaiming the true message of God as something that allows us to work unencumbered for God, without having to think about whether we are “sticking to the story” that we have made up and without having to defend positions that have no grounds in the word of God. One translation says, “Let the truth be like a belt around your waist.”

The “breastplate of righteousness.” The breastplate was the piece of armor that protected a soldier’s chest and abdomen and the vital organs inside. One translation says, “On your chest wear the protection of right living.” The best protection against accusations of doing wrong is to have done right! Don’t give the opponents of God’s work any grounds to thwart that work based on your conduct.

“Your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” This is a reference to footwear that would allow a soldier “to face the enemy with firm-footed stability,” as one translation puts it. The “gospel of peace” is the good news that God wants peace with people, based on the reconciliation that Jesus achieved on the cross, and that God wants people to be at peace with each other on that same basis. Someone who ultimately wants peace and has good intentions can deal with conflict with a confident assurance that a hostile and hateful person cannot experience.

“The shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Soldiers would carry shields to fend off sword blows and attacks from flying weapons such as spears and arrows. As Paul observes, sometimes arrows were even set on fire before being shot at soldiers. This is a reference to the way the attacks of the devil, the evil one, have a special sting or burn to them, because the devil tries to make us believe wrong things about the character of God. But if we respond in faith, that is, implicit trust in who God is and what God wants, then those flames are extinguished.

“The helmet of salvation.” Soldiers wore helmets to protect their heads, perhaps the most vital part of their bodies. They certainly could not fight if they could not see or hear or think. The word “salvation” can be understood in the sense of “deliverance,” meaning that we must ultimately count on God to deliver us, and when we do, we will see his power working to do that. But “salvation” could also be understood in the sense of being saved from sin and being forgiven by God. One translation says, “The covering for your head is that you have been saved from the punishment of sin.”

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” This means the Bible. It has often been noted that this is the only offensive piece of the “full armor of God.” All the others are defensive. They protect us so that we can carry on our mission of advancing God’s purposes in the world. And we see here that we advance those purposes by knowing and applying God’s word to our situations and by proclaiming its truth and promises to those who need to hear its good news.

I hope this answers your question and gives you a better idea of what the “full armor of God” is. So now, as Paul says at the beginning of the passage in which he describes it, “Put on the full armor of God.”