Eternal Life - Chayei Olam
by Lois Tverberg
When we read the line above from Jesus, it makes us stop and pause. It seems odd that Jesus would define eternal life as knowing him and his Father. Isn't eternal life living forever after we die?
An interesting insight comes from how the term "eternal life", chayei olam (Hi-YAY Oh-LAHM) was understood by Jews in Jesus' time.1 While the phrase often had our understanding of life after death, chayei olam often had a different emphasis, when it was contrasted with "chayei sha'ah" (fleeting life). Chayei sha'ah, fleeting life, is living a life that is only concerned about everyday things - working, making money, eating, and sleeping. Chayei olam, "lasting life" or "a life of eternity" refers to living a life focused on matters of eternal importance.
Traditionally, Jewish people have considered the study of the Bible truly living out one's "eternal life." A story is told about a rabbi who spent years in study of the Scriptures, and then walked past farmers tilling their land. He remarked, "they have abandoned lasting life (chayei olam) and involve themselves instead with fleeting life (chayei sha'ah)." 2
Looking at Jesus' words in this light, his idea of eternal life seems to fit into this second definition. He is saying that knowing God intimately and living with Jesus Christ as your Lord, here and now, is living as if you were already in eternity. This makes a lot of sense - what thing in our lives has more eternal significance that that?
Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
reserved. This article is copyrighted and may not be redistributed
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