God Above Time
Rev. Angus Stewart
(I) The Two Views of Divine Eternity
That God is eternal is clearly and repeatedly taught in the
Bible, in both the Old and the New Testaments. There is,
however, a difference of opinion as to the meaning of God's
eternity. Basically there are two views. One is that God's
eternity means that He is from infinity past and will be to
infinity future. This is the view of God's eternity as
everlasting or sempiternal. The other position, and the one
defended here, is that God is above time; that He is neither
in time nor is time in His Being. It presents God's eternity
as timeless or supertemporal. Louis Berkhof defines God's
eternity as "that perfection of God whereby He is elevated above all
temporal limits and all succession of moments, and possesses
the whole of His existence in one indivisible present."
Berkhof is echoing the famous words of Boethius (c.480-524):
eternity is "the simultaneous and perfect [tota simul]
possession of illimitable life."
This view, known as the "classical view," is also that of
Athanasius, Basil the Great, Augustine, Gottschalk, Anselm,
Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and both the Reformed and Lutheran
Thus this is the position of historic Protestantism and
"The doctrine of divine timelessness was a nearly
unchallenged orthodoxy for the millennium between Athanasius
and Duns Scotus," writes Brian Leftow, before observing
that, "Today the claim that God is temporal enjoys nearly as
universal an acceptance among philosophers and theologians."
Deism, Socinianism, pantheism and process theology unite in
their rejection of God's timelessness as do the "theologians
of hope," such as Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg,
and the neo-orthodox, such as Emil Brunner.
Philosophers who advocate the sempiternal view of God's
eternity include Nelson Pike, Nicholas Wolterstorff,
Nicholas Everitt and Jonathan Harrison.
Furthermore, the conservative American Presbyterians, Robert L. Dabney and James Oliver Buswell Jr., may be ranked amongst
those who hold the everlasting view of God.
More recently the evangelical, philosophical theologian
Ronald Nash has declared himself undecided: "Is
God a timeless or an everlasting being? At this time, I
don't know ... The jury is still out and presently I see
no reason why theism cannot accommodate itself to either
Another contemporary American theologian, Robert L. Reymond,
opts decisively for everlastingness.
The ascription to God of the attribute of timelessness
(understood as the absence of divine consciousness of
successive duration with respect to his own existence)
cannot be supported from Scripture nor is it
self-consistent. At best, it is only an inference (and quite
likely a fallacious one) from Scripture ... The
Christian should be willing to affirm that the ordering
relationships (before, now, after) that are normally
represented as relationships of time are true for God
as well as for man.
article will advocate the classical view of God's
eternity. Two types of proofs for this position shall be
presented: those directly from Scripture and those from a
consideration of other divine attributes. Then various
arguments against this position will be examined. Finally,
the significance and importance of God's timelessness shall
be insisted upon. Throughout, the weaknesses of the merely
everlasting concept of God's eternity will be pointed out.
(II) Proof for God's Being Above Time
shall formulate three arguments from the Bible for God's
transcending time: the first from a consideration of God's
name Jehovah, the second from His creation and the third
from His rule over time.
(a) Jehovah. The personal name of God is Jehovah (Ex. 6:2-3) which means "I am that I am" (3:14). No man can
truly declare, "I am that I am," for before he finishes the
sentence he will not be what he was. Time passes in the very
utterance so that the man who pronounced these vocables is
older than he was before he spoke. The reason for this is
that man is limited by time, that is the succession of
moments. The future becomes the present which becomes the
past. Of the many things involved in "I am that I am," one
is that there is an absolutely perfect identity between the first "I am"
and the second "I am" in the sentence. This means that there
is absolutely no change in the speaker and therefore no
succession of moments.
God says, "I am," when talking to Moses. Jesus Christ
declared, "Verily, verily, before Abraham was, I am" (John
8:58). Here the eternal Son of God is speaking not according
to His human nature but according to His divine nature which
He possesses with the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Therefore God can say "I am" to Moses and repeat this
statement fifteen hundred years later according to His
infinite truthfulness (cf. "Verily, verily"). Clearly time
has introduced no change in God; He is not fifteen hundred
years older. The Son would have had to say, "Before Abraham
was, I was," if there was any succession of moments
in God or if He moved through time.
(b) Creation. Not only is divine timelessness
indicated in God's personal name but it is also implied in the
very first verse of the Bible: "In the beginning God created
the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The first question
is, What does the beginning refer to? It cannot refer to God
since, as the "I am," He has no beginning. It must therefore
refer to the world. The second question is, Does this
creation include time? In favour of this is the similarity
between time and space. Both have indexicals: time has now
and then, and space has here and there. Both have dimension.
Time has one dimension and space has three dimensions:
length, breadth and height. Hence we speak of a universe of
space and time. These are the basic categories of our minds
in which we place something. We say, for example, the storm
hit Miami (space) on Friday (time).
However, this idea of a universe of space and time is not
merely the production of the twenty-first century. It is found
is the Hellenistic mysteries and right from the early days
of Jewish Rabbinic thought.
More importantly, it is found in the New Testament; thus
making it normative. The Greek word kosmos,
writes Richard Trench, is "the world contemplated under
aspects of space," while aioon
is "the same contemplated under aspects of time."
From this it follows that if matter was created ex nihilo,
i.e., was not preexistent, then so is time.
Therefore, in Hebrews we read that God created time through
Jesus Christ. In its opening sentence, we read that by His
Son God made the "worlds" or "ages" (epoieesen
tou aioonas; 1:2). At the beginning of chapter 11, we read, "Through
faith we understand that the worlds [or "ages"] were framed
[kateertisthai tous aioonas]
by the word of God" (11:3). Whether or not we translate
aioonas as "worlds" or "ages" the concept of time is included, for
if the former is chosen the world is being considered under
the aspect of time. This clearly puts time in the category
of creation and not Creator. Augustine is correct when he
declares of God, "You are the Maker of all time."
Thus, when the Scripture speaks of something as being "before
the foundation of the earth," it means "before" time, i.e.,
possible objection might arise at this point: Why must
time's being created exclude its existence in God, since the
original creation is said to be good and goodness is a
perfection of God?
Here we must distinguish between God's creating persons
and things, and His communicating His attributes to
them (according to their respective creaturely capacity).
God makes things such as time, man, grass, etc., and the works
of His hands reflect their wonderful Creator. On the
other hand, the theory of God's eternity merely as
everlastingness would have God creating a finite version of
one of His attributes. Not only is this bizarre but it would
be unparalleled. The communicable attributes of God of which
pre-fall Adam partook were qualities in which he shared
according to his capacity. There was no finite attribute of
knowledge or righteousness or holiness in the world like a
finite version of God's infinite time.
(c) The King of Ages. Not only is the timeless
Jehovah the Creator of time but He is also the Lord of
time. I Timothy 1:17 speaks of God as "the King eternal" or,
more literally, "the King of ages" (basileus toon aioonoon).
God's lordship, being God's lordship, absolutely and
infinitely transcends that over which He rules. Therefore,
this text presents God as the self-sufficient, absolute,
sovereign Lord over time, His creature. He rules over the
church; He rules over the wicked world; He rules over the
creation; and He also upholds and governs all the ages and
hence time itself. God's providential lordship over time and
His creation of time necessarily involve each other, for God
is Lord of that which He makes and that which He makes He
sustains and governs according to His sovereign will.
Moreover, since God created the world of space and rules over
it, His creation of the world of time necessitates that He
also rule over it.
Arguments (a), (b) and (c) above relate divine timelessness
to His name, His creation and His rule over all things.
Therefore, when we think of God Himself or of creation or of
providence, we must think of the Most High as being exalted
above all time.
(2) God's Attributes
Not only is divine timelessness taught in Scripture but it
is also harmonious with the other divine attributes, whereas mere
everlastingness is not. Here we shall consider the evidence
for God's transcendence over time from His immutability,
simplicity, independence and perfection.
(a) Immutability. That God is immutable means He is
infinitely and absolutely exalted above all change and all
possibility of change in His Being, perfections and decree.
The Scriptures speak of Him as having "no variableness,
neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). God's immutability
is the first divine attribute considered here because of its
intimate connection with divine eternity.
Briefly the argument is this. If God is in time then He
grows older with time and if time is in God then there is
succession of moments in His very Being. Since time, by
definition, includes change, either way this God is not the
immutable God presented in the Scriptures (cf. Mal. 3:6) but
rather an idol.
On the other hand, if God is above time, there is not even
the possibility of change for He is infinitely exalted above
it. Thus the two attributes of immutability and timelessness
necessarily entail each other and are perfectly harmonious.
(b) Simplicity. Herman Hoeksema defines God's
simplicity as meaning that He "is not composed, that his
essence and virtues are identical, that he is his virtues,
and that all his virtues are absolutely one in him."
The everlasting view of God's eternity falls short of this
since it presents God's duration as capable of division.
God's everlastingness can be considered a parte ante
(infinite time past to the present) and a parte post
(infinite time into the future). Thus God can be divided
into two. Moreover, He can be divided into a vast number of
parts within these two parts, and then divided again and
again and again.
Furthermore, since divine simplicity teaches that God is,
not merely possesses, His attributes, a sempiternal God not
merely possesses infinite time but is infinite time.
Thus, according to this view, it follows that we can address
God not only as the Truth or the Unchangeable One but as
Infinite Time. Similarly, we must worship God not merely as
Perfect Wisdom and the Absolute Good but as Infinite Time,
that is, infinite succession of moments.
Thus we will be worshipping and serving the creature rather
than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:25).
(c) Independence. God's independence is that
perfection of God whereby He is absolutely and infinitely
self-sufficient having no need of
anything outside of Himself. For man, time is both external
(moments pass in the world) and internal (moments pass in
his mind). Those who teach that God passes through time and
not merely that there is time in God have something external
to God before creation. On their model, before Genesis 1:1
there was God and time. While some advocate
pre-existent matter, for example, Aristotle, these people
advocate pre-existent time. This is dualism and denies that
God alone is the one true God since it posits a principle
other than Him. Against this we protest. We must not have a
god Kronos or Aeon (from two Greek words for time) alongside the
living and true God.
Moreover, this sempiternal view of God presents Him as
limited, bound and subservient to time. Time is a standard
to which God must conform and according to which He is
regulated and measured. This is similar to the notion that
there is an objective standard of justice outside of God
with which He must comply and alongside which He can be
judged. Against this the Christian vehemently exclaims, "Let
God be God! Let God be the independent and self-sufficient
(d) Perfection. God's perfection is usually not
listed as a specific divine attribute in contemporary
theology. Though normally treated under the subject of God's
Being, we can justify its inclusion here since God not only
is His attributes but He is His Being. God's perfection may
be defined as His absolute blessedness in Himself as the
greatest, highest and most exalted Being so that He is
infinitely exalted above all weaknesses and shortcomings, and
there is no possibility of anything adding to His glory.
God's independence rules out His being in time, His
perfection excludes all time from His Being. Time is change
and change necessarily involves weakness for the change is
either an improvement, in which case that which is changed
is involved in imperfection before the change, or the change
is deterioration, in which case that which is changed
partakes of imperfection by the change.
(III) Objections to God's Being Above Time
Four objections to divine timelessness will
here be considered:
first, that it is not biblical; second, that it is a
philosophical construct; third, that it presents a cold and
static God; and, fourth, that it makes history of no
(1) It Is Unscriptural
Nicholas Wolterstorff levels the charge: "A theology which
opts for God as eternal [i.e., above time] cannot be a
theology faithful to the Biblical witness."
The main force of this argument has already been removed by
the scriptural proof for divine timelessness above (in section
Perhaps then the objection could be reformulated thus: these
claims are peripheral to the biblical witness. This also
will not hold water. Jehovah is the name of God par
excellence in the Old Testament where it is used some
5,321 times as well as being included in many proper names,
e.g, Jehoshaphat (II, 1, a).
Creation is the first great work of God recorded in the
Bible and undergirds the whole of scriptural revelation (II,
1, b). Providence is the second of the three great works of
God ad extra (II, 1, c) and the third, redemption,
depends upon creation and providence.
better argument would be that the proof for divine
timelessness is somewhat oblique and that the Old Testament
saints may not have understood the Scriptures this way. In
response, we concede that Old Testament believers and
indeed many in the New Testament era may well have failed to
see this. However, theology is a different thing from the
history of religion. In this article, we are dealing with what
the Scriptures objectively teach. We affirm with the
Westminster Confession that that which "by good and
necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" is
included in "the whole counsel of God" (I:6). If the
arguments from God's Word in section II are valid, then we
insist that that divine timelessness is a biblical
Here we must point out that all biblical
doctrines involve reflection and a comparison of Scripture
with Scripture. There is no one text which contains a
developed doctrine of the Holy Trinity nor of divine
simplicity nor of paedobaptism, etc. But it might be objected
that divine timelessness is a particularly oblique
doctrine and that, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity
is taught in its essentials in Matthew 28:19: "the name [i.e., one
Being] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost
[i.e., three Persons]." Here we respond that Exodus 3:14, Hebrews
1:2 and 11:3, and I Timothy 1:17 likewise teach that God is
above time, that He has created time and that He rules over
a slightly different tack, it may be argued that there are
other passages of Scripture which teach that God is in time.
Immediately, we must point out that, since we have shown that
the Word of God teaches that He is above time, this would
involve the Scriptures in contradiction and that, therefore,
God cannot be in time. The advocates of the sempiternal God
could counter that, if their case could be proven from other
biblical texts, this would necessitate a reexamination
of my arguments from the Bible for God's being above
time. Our answer to this must be a brief examination of
those texts which might appear to teach that God is
everlasting, showing that they can be adequately understood
in the context of a timeless God.
(a) Psalm 90:2. The advocates of a sempiternal God
appeal to Psalm 90:2: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst
formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to
everlasting, thou art God."
They argue like this. (1) "From everlasting" is explained by
the preceding words as going back "before" the creation of
the world. (2) "Before" is a temporal indicator. (3)
Therefore, there was time before the creation. (4) "To
everlasting" must be explained with reference to "from
everlasting." (5) Therefore, God's eternity consists in His
(infinite) extension in time past to time future.
There is an appearance of truth in this exegesis but it
fails to examine the text in accordance with the analogy of
Scripture. Instead, we must remember that time was created
with space (cf. II, 1, b). Thus the psalmist is speaking of
the glory of the God who preexists the world. Everything
else has a beginning but He eternally is. Man is a
creature of time. He is conceived and born in time, he lives
in time and he dies in time. He knows nothing other than
time and has no language suited to a timeless God. The
Scriptures in speaking of the God who is above time must
therefore use "temporomorphisms" and "anthropochronic"
this way, we see the divine pedagogy. God tells us that He
exists infinitely before the creation of the world and ever
will exist, for He is God. This is indeed a wonderful thing.
How can we comprehend One who always has been and who is
without beginning? A consideration of other texts, however,
indicate that God is even greater than this (cf. II, 1,
a-c). He is above time itself; He created it and rules it.
Here our marvel is even greater. We can only think in time
and our ideas follow each other, but God knows everything
and lives His own perfectly full and blessed life above the
succession of moments that is time.
(b) Psalm 102:27. Another text which might
appear to teach a sempiternal God is Psalm 102:27:
"But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end."
Their argument here is that God's eternity is His endless
existence since His "years [a reference to time] have no
end." In response, we note the phrase "thou art the same"
teaches God's immutability which, as God's
immutability, is an absolute and infinite immutability. God's
immutability, as we have seen (II, 2, a) is incompatible
with any succession of moments in God.
Thus our text, in speaking of God's endless "years," is making
a sharp contrast between the transience of man and the
unchangeable God who causes all change (vv. 23-28). It does
not rule out God's being above time but rather implies it in
its teaching of immutability. Moreover, many of those who
hold that God is sempiternal will have to agree that it uses
a temporomorphism, since they would not want to say that a
"year" in God is the same thing as it is for us.
(c) Revelation 1:4. To "the seven churches which are
in Asia," John writes, "Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which
was, and which is to come ..."
The One spoken of in our text is not the Spirit of Christ
for He is mentioned in the latter part of this verse nor is
it Jesus Christ for He occurs in verse 5. Instead, He is the
Triune God. That He "was" is a reference to His presence at
the creation (cf. Gen. 1:1; John 1:1) and that He "is to
come" speaks of His coming in Jesus Christ at the end of the
The reference to creation warns us against any temporal idea
of God (cf. II, 1, b; III, 1, a). Thus we do not have here a
presentation of God as being before the creation temporally
and existing endlessly into future time. Moreover, the
reference to God as He who "is" (oon)
is understood by all to be an echo of Exodus 3:14 which
brings us again to the "I am that I am" who is exalted above
all time (cf. II, 1, a).
(d) Daniel 7:9. Daniel 7:9 is the fourth text which
we shall consider that is appealed to by those who want an
everlasting God: "... the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as
snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool ..."
Their argument from this text is that there are days (or at
least some sort of time) in God, and that He has infinite
succession of moments since He is given the title "the
Ancient of days." We agree that this text speaks of the
Triune God and not Jesus Christ, since verse 13 has the
ascended Christ appearing before Him to receive His
mediatorial kingdom (v. 14). However, Daniel 7:9 contains a
number of anthropomorphisms. If God's white garment and
white hair are not to be taken literally, why should His
possession of "days" be so interpreted, since many of the
proponents of a sempiternal God acknowledge that "days" in
God will be something different than what days are for us
(cf. III, 1, c).
What then is the purpose of calling God "the Ancient of
days" in Daniel 7? The answer lies near to hand. Daniel 7,
though written in the sixth century BC, speaks of the
(coming) world powers: the Babylonian, the Medio-Persian, the
Greek and the Roman empires. Moreover, Daniel 7 speaks
typically of the final Antichristian kingdom at the end of
the world and the great tribulation. Thus the God who gives
this revelation to Daniel and who controls the future
centuries is spoken of with reference to time. He is set
forth as a glorious king seated on His throne in His
spotless garment and as "the Ancient of days" whose hair is
white, indicating that He is hoary with age. Here we are
within the realm of God as the "King of the ages" (I Tim.
1:17), the providential ruler of time (cf. II, 1, c). Thus
there is nothing in this figurative language which is
inconsistent with the God who is above time governing the
future of the world for the salvation of His church.
(e) Matthew 25:46. Matthew 25:46 is the final text
which we shall consider that might appear to teach that God
is everlasting and not above time: "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the
righteous into life eternal."
The scene is the Day of Judgment and the Son of man is
making the final and irrevocable separation between the
righteous and the impenitent wicked. The advocates of a God in time
argue that the bliss of heaven and the torments of hell are
unending. The same word aioonios (the adjectival form of
aioon) is used elsewhere of God (e.g., Rom. 16:26). Therefore, God's
eternity is His never-ending existence.
While we agree that both the eternal states of
hell are unending and that the adjective aioonios
is used of God and of heaven and hell, the conclusion that
God's eternity is therefore His unending existence is a
non sequitor. The word aioon
and its various forms are used differently of God and all
created entities, for, after all, He is the transcendent God
of heaven and earth.
Yet there is a reason why the same word should be predicated
both of God and of heaven and hell. As Jonathan Edwards
points out, eternal life involves "constancy and
endlessness" in heaven and hell. The blessed and the damned
do not alternate between glory and misery; their destinies
are sealed for ever. These two qualities, constancy and
endlessness, are "dependent upon the immutability and beginninglessness of God," which
are included in His timelessness.
Thus when the Scriptures, especially the Gospel according to
John, speak of our possessing eternal or everlasting life
before our physical death (e.g., John 3:16), this means that
we unchangeably and unendingly have the great blessing of
God's salvation through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Thus the quality of our redeemed life is also indicated.
God's own eternal life is His timeless fellowship in the eternal
Trinity, and by grace we have communion with this true and
living God through Jesus Christ (17:3; I John 5:20).
Yet never will we become timeless like God, even in the state of
glory, since time belongs to the creature and timelessness
to the Creator.
(2) It Is a Philosophical Construct
If, according to its critics, God's being above time is not
scriptural, what is it then? Emil Brunner and Nicholas Wolterstorff are among those who are most adamant that it
is a product of Hellenism.
The latter writes, "I
am persuaded that ... the most important factor accounting
for the tradition of God eternal [i.e., His being above time] within
Christian theology was the influence of classical Greek
philosophers on the early theologians."
Wolterstorff goes on to say that this Hellenistic and
philosophical view of God must be "renounced."
He also realizes that God's timeless eternity,
immutability, impassability, aseity and simplicity all hang
together in "the tightly integrated traditional way of
understanding God." Wolterstorff uses an illustration:
"The picture that comes to my mind is of those sweaters knit
in such a way that when you pull on one thread, the whole
thing unravels before your eyes."
Wolterstorff shows us what is at stake in this accusation.
If God is not timeless, the Christian church was seriously
wrong in her thinking about God these past two millennia. To
use Wolterstorff’s imagery, she made a massive blunder at
the very start of her knitting and now has to unravel the
whole sweater and start again. All who attack the doctrine
that God is above time ought to consider this very
seriously. Even those conservative theologians who wish to
present God as everlasting but have no agenda for a
reconstruction of the whole doctrine of God must recognize
the danger here, especially in the light of God's
simplicity. One cannot change any aspect of God without
thereby changing all the others.
Another warning must be made. If the doctrine of God's
timelessness is Greek philosophy our understanding of the
creeds is also influenced. Certain it is that Athanasius
held to God's transcendence over time and that this is the
stand point of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed
(381) in its confession that the Lord Jesus Christ was
"begotten of the Father before all worlds [i.e. ages] (pro
pantoon toon aioonoon)."
Likewise, the Creed of Chalcedon declares that
Christ was "begotten before all ages (pro
aioonoon) of the Father" and the Athanasian Creed speaks of
"The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost
is, however, ironic that Wolsterstorff and Brunner attack
divine timelessness as philosophy when Brunner is heavily
influenced by existentialism and Wolterstorff betrays the
influence of feminism, liberation theology and humanism.
Moreover, when they argue for the "biblical" view of God's
eternity we are reminded that both repudiate biblical
Nevertheless, especially since not all advocates of divine
everlastingness are heterodox, we need to explore further
the relationship between divine timelessness and Greek
philosophy. "In the first place," observes Gordon Clark,
"there is no theory that can be called 'the Greek view of
time,'" for the simple reason that there were various
schools of thought.
In fact, "Greek philosophy," in this context refers to
Parmenides and Plato, and those who followed their teaching
at this point.
From what remnants of Parmenides' works that have been
preserved, it would appear that he taught that eternity is
above time. It ought to be noted, however, that Parmenides
was a monist and, thus, as Clark notes, "Parmenides had no
time at all."
For him, all human "opinions" to the contrary, the only
reality is "a single, eternal, solid, absolutely compact, motionless,
changeless ball of completely transparent and homogenous
world-stuff, without crack or flaw or differentiation or
quality of any sort within its substance."
Plato certainly taught that eternity was above time and his
worldview is somewhat less outlandish. He held that there
were many timeless forms, and that time and all that is in
this life are only shadows of the world of the forms. Thus
he did not believe in a personal, independent God. Moreover,
Clark also points out that
"Plato, perhaps not with perfect consistency, has world
cycles within each of which there was repeated historical
evolution or devolution from kingship to oligarchy, to
democracy, to dictatorship."
Thus, whereas some pagan Greek thinkers held that eternity
was timelessness, none of them taught that only the personal
God is above time, never mind approach the doctrine of the
eternal Triune God.
ought not be surprised that some heathen arrived at the view
of eternity as transcending time since Romans 1:20 teaches
that God's "eternal power and Godhead" are clearly
seen from the creation of the world.
Nor do we altogether rule out that the possibility that the
idea of eternity as timelessness may have first been
suggested to some of the early theologians from the pagan
philosophers. However, we insist that the Bible itself, as
we have seen, teaches that God is above time. As such, this
view is to be held and confessed as God's truth.
(3) It Presents God as Static and Frozen
Whereas the first two objections against the God who
transcends time concerned the Bible and philosophy, this one
is a matter of aesthetics. Many advocates of an everlasting
God allege that a God who is above time is "static,"
"abstract" and "frozen." Time and time again, we hear this
objection in our day. Furthermore, Wolterstorff states that, in a
time of great grief, he found the doctrine of an eternal,
impassive God, not merely unsatisfying, but "grotesque."
"Static" speaks of inactivity and motionlessness. It is true
that we do not teach that God literally moves in time but
then neither does He move in space. Do those who deny that
God is above time wish also to deny that He is above space?
The charge that the timeless God is "cold" or even "frozen"
presents Him as lacking in warmth and love. Neither of these
accusations can be proven.
Our first response to this objection is that since we have
proved from the Scriptures that God is timeless, and the
Bible presents Him as the ever blessed God and the "God of
all comfort" (II Cor. 1:22), then God is not and cannot be
"static." Therefore, those who object to divine timelessness
on aesthetic grounds are judging the scriptural God
according to some other criterion than His own attributes.
Then they fashion a god according to their felt needs (Ps.
The God who is above time is the Triune God of heaven and
earth. The Father is eternally generating the Son, and the
Father and the Son are eternally breathing forth the Spirit.
Moreover these intra-Trinitarian relationships speak of
God's intellect (the Word) and affections (the Father and
the Son breathing after each other in love in the Spirit).
Also God's counsel regarding His works ad extra is
not some abstract blueprint but His living plan for the
redemption of His church through His beloved Son to the
glory of His name.
One senses that the problem that the advocates of the
everlasting God have with divine timelessness in this regard
is that God cannot be in time with them as are other human
persons. This objection deserves a little more sympathy. How
indeed can a timeless God really meet with us and comfort
us? This question is indeed a difficult one. But let it be
noted that most advocates of a God who is in time believe
that a spaceless God can meet with us creatures of space and
so why should He be unable to meet us in time? It might also
seem preferable to us when we are distraught that God would
come to us in a physical form. Should we then question
Suffice to say that the invisible God who made time
and space can meet us in time and space. If
the God who is above time and space can unite Himself in the
Person of the Son to a human nature, can He not comfort our
hearts by the Spirit of Christ? In fact, we can turn it
around. Since the timeless God is the true God of Scripture,
it is only the glorious God who transcends space and time
who Has the power and wisdom to create and uphold the world,
and to gather, preserve, defend and succour His church which
is in time.
Here we also need to remember that God is not only
transcendent in all His attributes but that He is immanent
in all His attributes. Herman Bavinck writes,
God's eternity does not exist in the abstract: it is not
separate from time, but it is present and immanent in every
moment of time. There is, indeed, an essential distinction
between eternity and time; but there is also analogy and
resemblance so that the former can be immanent in and exert
influence on the latter.
The transcendent God who is "the high and holy one who
inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy" who "dwell[s] in
the high and holy place," is also the immanent God who
dwells there "with him also that is of a contrite and humble
spirit" (Isa. 57:15).
The immanence of the Triune God in time is clearly seen in
Jesus Christ. In Jesus of Nazareth, God is manifest not only
in space but in time. In Him, the eternal God came into
created time and divided it into BC and AD. Here was one
related "at once to time and eternity, to history and God."
Colin Gunton sums it up nicely: "Attention to the New Testament's presentation of the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus compels us to affirm that
in him the eternal love of God becomes datable."
remains to show, briefly, that the view of God as being
above time did not impoverish the view of God in the history
of the church. What better place to start than with
Boethius' famous dictum? Eternity is "the simultaneous and
perfect possession of illimitable life." Here timelessness
is defined in terms of God's perfection and glorious
infinity and unboundedness ("illimitable") and even "life"!
Similarly, the medieval scholastics and the Reformers and
their successors commonly speak of God as actus
purissimus (most pure actuality), that is He who
possesses all perfections and no inactivity.
What shall we say about Augustine? Is there a devotional
book which better sets forth the glory of God than his
immortal Confessions, containing as it does a lengthy
treatment of divine timelessness in Book xi? Nor is it the
case that Augustine's book as a whole presents a rich and
wonderful God, though the Most High is static and frigid
when His transcendence of time is discussed. Augustine ends
Book xi with the following words:
But it is unthinkable that you, Creator of the universe,
Creator of souls and bodies, should know the past and all
the future merely in this way [i.e., by memory and
expectation]. Your knowledge is far more wonderful, far more
mysterious than this. It is not like the knowledge of a man
who sings words well known to him or listens to another
singing a familiar psalm. While he does this his feelings
vary and his senses are divided, because he is partly
anticipating words to come and partly remembering words
already sung. It is far otherwise with you, for you are
eternally without change, the truly eternal Creator of
minds. In the Beginning you knew heaven and earth, and there
was no change in your knowledge. In just the same way, in
the Beginning you created heaven and earth, and there was no
change in your action. Some understand this and some do not:
let all alike praise you. You are supreme above all, yet
your dwelling is in the humble of heart. For you comfort the
burdened and none fall who lift their eyes to your high
Augustine's penultimate chapter of his Confessions, we
see a God who is far from "static."
that eternal Sabbath you will rest in us, just as now you
work in us. The rest that we shall enjoy will be yours, just
as the work that we now do is your work done through us. But
you, O Lord, are eternally at work and eternally at rest. It
is not in time that you see or in time that you move or in
time that you rest: yet you make what we see in time; you
make time itself and the repose which comes when time
the Reformed tradition, we find that the "eternal" God is
"the overflowing fountain of all good" (Belgic Confession
1). Similarly, Herman Hoeksema states, "There is no time for God [i.e., in Himself]. He is infinite
and constant fulness, and constantly is all that He is, and
constantly lives all His infinite life with perfect
consciousness. He alone is the eternal I AM."
Stephen Charnock, in connection with the enjoyment
of the eternal God in heaven, writes,
"God is always vigorous and flourishing, a pure act of life,
sparkling fresh rays of life and light to the creature,
flourishing with a perpetual spring, and contenting the most
capacious desire; forming your interest, pleasure, and
satisfaction with an infinite variety, without any change or
Thus, while we are not suggesting that God's exaltation
above time has never been presented in a cold and abstract
way (especially by some philosophers), generally speaking the church has seen divine eternity
as a beautiful truth about God, and has presented it in a
warm and living way. Nevertheless, we will accept the
warning implicit in the attacks of the opponents of divine
timelessness and seek to continue in the tradition of
Augustine and Charnock.
(4) It Makes History of No Significance
According to Robert Reymond,
God's "time-words" to us respecting his plans and actions do
not mean for God the same as they mean for us, then for
him the creation of the world may not actually have
occurred yet, for him Christ's first coming may still
be a thing of predictive prophecy, for him Christ's
second coming may be a thing of the past, for him the
Christian may still be in his sin and still under divine
condemnation, or for him these things and everything
else may be past, present, and future all at the same time.
There are two issues here: language and the reality of
history. We shall consider the latter first. According to
the classical view, God eternally decrees all things in our
world of space and time. Moreover, He decrees them in a
specific order. For example, creation is decreed as
occurring before Christ’s atonement on the cross, which is
before the conversion of Augustine, which is before
Augustine's writing of his Confessions, which is
before the second coming of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, God's
knowledge of the succession of time and events which He
decrees does not require that He be in time. Rather He knows
all of history through His decree, that is to say, through
His own eternal essence.
Thus God is not conscious in time but He is conscious
of time. As A. H. Strong writes, "To
[God], past, present, and future are 'one eternal now,'
not in the sense that there is no distinction between them,
but only in the sense that he sees past and future as
vividly as he sees the present."
Brunner declares that God's timelessness makes time an
This does not follow, nor does Brunner prove his point.
Gordon Spykman, who holds that God is above time, has some
fine remarks that are of service here:
The biblical view of time is emphatically different [from
its cyclical counterpart among other ancient peoples]. Time
is itself a creature of God's making. It is an integral
dimension of all created reality. Its onward movement has a
definite beginning, and a goal, with new beginnings and
stopping-off points along the way. Time is linear,
sequential, and teleological. One moment anticipates
another. There are befores and afters. Each segment of time
embraces something uniquely important and unrepeatable.
When it is alleged that history has no significance, we ask,
For whom has it no significance?
History has significance for man. He is a rational moral
creature who will be judged according to the deeds done in
the body, which judgment determines his eternal state.
History has significance and "interest" for God, not because
He is bound by time nor because He does not know what will
happen, but because history is the realization of His
eternal "good pleasure" (Eph. 1:5, 9) in glorifying His name
through the salvation of His church in Jesus Christ. Thus
not only is the development of the kingdom of God historical
but it is also teleological with its ultimate purpose that
God might be "all in all" (I Cor. 15:28).
regards the problem of language concerning the God who is
above time, we acknowledge that this does present a
difficulty. However, if God can be perfectly blessed though
the Bible says (anthropopathically) that He is grieved (Gen.
6:6), and if He can be above space though the Bible says He
"came down" to see the tower of Babel (11:5), why cannot He
timelessly know, love, comfort, speak, etc.?
Paul Helm's remark is helpful concerning the Bible's speech
and our speech of God in temporal and spatial modes:
The difficulty is real enough, but it need be no more
intellectually embarrassing than is talk of unobservable
electrons. In religion and theology, as in other
sophisticated ways of thought, abstract and theoretical
reflection can go hand in hand with more concrete and
practical modes of thought and speech.
(IV) The Significance of God's Being Above Time
the course of this article, the importance of God's
transcending time has been suggested at various points. It
now remains to bring some of these threads together to prove
the significance of the debate. If one opts for God as above
time one has a harmonious theology. If God is viewed merely
as everlasting, problems result, especially if this is
carried over to other areas.
(1) The Trinity
Christian theology makes bold to speak not only of the
eternal God but also of the eternal Trinity, the eternal
generation of the Son and the eternal spiration or
procession of the Spirit. If God is above time, then we are
aided in our confession of the full equality of the eternal
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the interest of the
co-eternality of the Three Persons of the Trinity, Augustine
"Wherefore let him who can understand the generation of the
Son from the Father without time, understand also the
procession of the Holy Spirit from both without time."
If, on the other hand, there is time in God, then it would
appear that the Son is generated in time, however brief the
period might be between the Father existing alone and the
Father's begetting the Son.
This passing of time within the "everlasting" Trinitarian
relations of God seems to be required even more clearly from
the fact that the Father and the Son then spirate the
This would present the Father as being of slightly greater
duration than the Son and the Son of slightly greater
duration than the Spirit.
But anything that is even in the smallest degree less than
God is, therefore, not God. Thus we lose the Trinity and the
Deity of Jesus Christ and hence the possibility of
the advocates of a sempiternal God object that they do not
want time in the eternal generation and the eternal
procession of the Second and Third Persons in the Holy
Trinity, we ask them, Where then is there room for time in
God? If they place time in God's attributes they place time
within the Trinity since, for example, God's omniscience
involves the Father's knowing all things through the Son and
by the Spirit. If they desire to place time only in God's
decree, then we insist that this also indicates time in
God's nature since the decree is the product of God's wisdom
and knowledge. Moreover, since God knows through His Triune
Being, there must be time in the eternal relationships
between the Three Persons. If those who hold that there is
succession of moments in God then say that they can teach
both the full doctrine of the Trinity and that there
is time in God, we respond that outside the divine persons,
attributes and decree there is nothing that is God. They
ought therefore reject divine everlastingness and hold fast
to the full ontological equality of the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit, denying all subordinationism.
Not only does God's transcendence of time preserve the
parity of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity but it
places God's eternity firmly in the category of the
incommunicable attributes and not the communicable
attributes of God.
This means that those texts which refer to the Son and the
Spirit as being eternal (e.g., Mic. 5:2; Isa. 9:6; Heb. 9:14)
can more easily be used to prove their deity.
the advocates of God's everlastingness insist that they can
have time in God's nature though not in the eternal
generation of the Son nor the eternal spiration of the
Spirit, they will necessary involve God's attributes in
imperfection. This can be most clearly seen by a
consideration of God's omniscience. If God is above time,
then He knows all things at once and His knowledge is
therefore perfectly glorious.
However, if there is time in the mind of God, then His
thinking must involve a succession of thoughts and thus God
cannot know everything at once. Augustine's words on God's
will could equally well be applied to His
Within me I hear the loud voice of Truth telling me that
since the Creator is truly eternal, his substance is utterly
unchanged in time and his will is not something separate
from His substance. This they will surely not deny. It
follows that he does not will first one thing and then
another, but that he wills all that he wills simultaneously,
in one act, and eternally. He does not repeat this act of
will over and over again or will different things at
different times, and he neither starts to will what he did
not will previously nor ceases to will what he willed
before. A will which acts this way is mutable, and nothing
that is mutable is eternal. But our God is eternal.
(3) God's Eternal Decree
Reformed theology has long carried on an internal debate
between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism concerning
the order of the divine decrees. In a nutshell, the issue can
be reduced to this: Did God decree the salvation of the
elect in Christ subsequent (infra) to the decree of
the creation and Fall (lapsus)? Or did He decree the
salvation of the elect in Christ prior (supra) to the
decree of the creation and Fall (lapsus)? Both sides
confess that there is no temporal sequence in God's
decreeing for He is above time.
Thus the order of the decrees is not a chronological one but
a logical one, the question being, What is God's primary
purpose and what are means to this end?
God's eternity is His everlastingness, then this whole debate
is not only reduced to worthless quibbling, similar to that
attributed to late mediaeval scholasticism, but it is
completely also wrong-headed. Furthermore, if there really is
succession of moments in God's will, then the possibility is
there that God reacts to His creation and especially the
actions and will of man. In this connection, it is
interesting to note that though Arminius held to the
classical position, he "nowhere grounds the divine knowledge
of all things on the existence of God in an eternal
His pupil, Simon Episcopius (1583-1643), and Philip van
Limborch (1633-1712) carried through the logic of Arminius'
position and rejected the classical view for the
"everlasting" position. Richard Muller points out the
rationale for this:
Indeed, if as Episcopius argued, the reality of past,
present and future depends upon the acknowledgment of the
changeless duration of God, and, therefore, of reality of
succession to God extrinsically considered, then a way is
opened to argue not only the relation but also the
interrelation of God with the world and, perhaps, even of
a certain temporal determinedness of the divine.
However, some free-will theists, such as the Southern
Baptist, Michael D. Robinson, have argued for their position
not from divine everlastingness but from divine
They reason that if God is eternally present there be
nothing future to him and therefore God cannot foreknow
This argument rests upon a confusion regarding the word
foreknowledge. It is true that foreknowledge does not
indicate that anything is future to God, since He is above
time. Instead, divine foreknowledge is a
temporomorphism derived from the language of time-bound man.
We can put it this way, if an event occurs at a certain time
would not God timelessly know that event the day before?
Acts 2:23 tells us that Christ was delivered into the cruel
hands of those who had Him crucified by the "foreknowledge
of God." Did not God timelessly know this at the beginning
of the Passion Week? From the perspective of man,
God knew it beforehand.
Moreover, Acts 2:23 indicates that God's timeless knowing of
events future to temporal knowers is through His
"determinate counsel." Thus God knows all events through His
decree. In other words, He timelessly knows all actual
events as actual and not merely possible because He has
timelessly determined them.
Michael Robinson is correct that there is a
"foreknowledge-free will dilemma," only if free will is
understood as indeterministic freedom, i.e., an
ability to choose without God's having ordained whatsoever
comes to pass.
If by free will, however, is meant that man is not coerced
but chooses according to his desires, there is no
contradiction, for man's free choices are eternally decreed.
closer analysis of Robinson's book reveals that his (faulty)
version of the timeless God is not the God of classical
Christianity but a God whose will is conditioned upon the
will of man.
Free will theism is not a necessary inference of the
doctrine of divine timelessness. Nor are the two in any way
compatible. Rather it appears that "the central concern" and
primary motivation of Robinson's book is to ascribe a
(false) freedom to man.
This led to a redrafting of divine timelessness with the
jettisoning of God's sovereignty, independence, immutability
Thus we return to our original observation that, while God's
transcendence of time preserves His absolute sovereignty,
the view of God as everlasting places Him in time and hence
opens Him up to the possibility of responding to the will of
This heretical idea like all heretical ideas is unstable and
can rapidly degenerate into a more consistent
man-centredness. Rousas J. Rushdoony points out sinful
man's basic proclivity:
Man the sinner seeks to make time central and determinative
of all things, which means that man, the central creature in
time, is determinative and central. God and eternity are
under-rated or denied, and the key to meaning is within
time. If God is allowed any relevance, it is to the degree
that He is temporalized and made an aspect of the ascent of
being in time.
This is apparent in much of contemporary literature on the
subject. For example, there are philosophers who argue that
since our thoughts require succession, God's thoughts must
too. Therefore, God cannot be above time.
This is merely a more sophisticated form of the idolatry
condemned in Romans 1:18-32. The pagans in Romans 1 placed
God in space; these unbelieving philosophers place Him in
Other modern writers not content with even an everlasting
God advocate more derogatory and bizarre, even intoxicating,
views of God and time. The French polymath, Andre Mercier,
Robert Neville and the Jesuit Tibor Horvath serve up heady
brews of divine eternity including elements of Christianity,
Eastern religions, philosophy, existentialism, scientific
theory and sheer speculation.
Rushdoony's strong statement contains much truth: "The
doctrine of God's eternalness is basic to any understanding
of the faith. Without this doctrine, men are all humanists."
far we have considered the significance of divine
timelessness for God's works ad intra: His
Persons, attributes and decrees. Now we turn to His first
work ad extra, creation. Here we observe that
only the view of God's eternity as transcending time can
satisfactorily answer the question put to Augustine by the Manichees: "What was God doing before he made heaven and
Augustine rightly rejects the "frivolous retort" that "He
was preparing Hell for people who pry into mysteries," since
"it is one thing to make fun of the questioner and another
to find the answer."
In The City of God, Augustine draws a parallel
between time and space: "For, as they demand why the world was created then and no
sooner, we may ask why it was created just where it is and
While this response may make the questioner pause for
thought, the heart of Augustine's answer is "You made all
time; you are before all time; and the 'time,' if such we
may call it, when there was no time was not time at all."
the other hand, if God is merely everlasting, it is hard to see how
He can be cleared of the charge of being idle. He waited
through infinite time before creating the world. Does this
then make Him infinitely idle? Does this not also suggest
vast patience on God's behalf? As Gordon Clark asks,
somewhat wryly, "Could God have forborne the innumerable
ages from so great a work as creation?"
(5) Worship and Comfort
the first four explanations of the significance of God's
eternity are primarily theological, the last is eminently
practical. We have seen that the God who is truly God is the
One who is exalted above time. He alone must be worshipped
and no other. He alone, to use Anselm's phrase, is that than
which nothing greater can be conceived. It ought to be
evident from the preceding that He alone is worthy of
worship, and thus we must and do desire to worship
Him. "Rabbi" John Duncan, a nineteenth-century Scottish
Presbyterian, makes the following wonderful remark about the
When at the Grammar School in Aberdeen, I got hold of a
volume of George Campbell, in which he ridicules, as
lamentable folly, the notion that to God there is no past,
present or future - to Him all are one. I remember how well
I abhorred George Campbell for that. I thought it
the most magnificent thought I had ever met with.
Deuteronomy 33, we have the account of Moses' blessing the
twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 1-25). Moses closes by
extolling God's incomparability, transcendence and glory:
"There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun who rideth upon
the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky"
(v. 26). The attribute of God which he singles out as
partaking of these qualities and essential for his
prophetic blessing is God's eternity. The God who is
above time rules the future for the good of the church. This
is Israel's comfort: "The eternal God is thy refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms" (v. 27). No
wonder Moses concludes, "Happy art thou, O Israel: who is
like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord [i.e., Jehovah]" (v.
This comfort not only applies to the people of God
collectively but also individually. In Psalm 31, David is
reproached by his enemies (v. 11) and slandered on every
side (v. 13). What is his response? "My times are in thy
hand" (v. 15). Faith reposes in the King of ages.
What great comfort we have in knowing that the God who loves
us is beyond the finitude and change of time, and that He is
the Creator and disposer of time for our salvation! It is
not just life and death and preachers and the world (kosmos)
but also time that forms part of the "all things" which work
together for our good (I Cor. 3:22; Rom. 8:28)!
Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, rev. 1996), p. 60.
third view, that of Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann,
seeks to mediate between the two basic views by viewing
God's eternity as timeless yet possessing duration
("Eternity," The Journal of Philosophy, 78
, pp. 429-458). Brian Leftow propounds a modified
version of the thesis of Stump and Kretzmann which seeks
to emphasize timelessness (Time and Eternity
[Ithaca, NY & London: Cornell University Press,
1991]). Katherin A. Rogers rightly points out that it is
incoherent to predicate duration (i.e. the flow of time)
to that which is timeless ("Eternity Has No
Duration," Religious Studies, 30 , pp. 1-16). While the third view tries to merge
the first two views, a fourth view juxtaposes them.
William Lane Craig writes, "God exists changelessly and
timelessly prior to creation and in time after
creation" ("God, Time, and Eternity," Religious
Studies, 14 , p. 503 ; italics mine). This view,
by positing a change in God at creation, is obviously
inconsistent with God's immutability.
Thomas C. Oden, The Living God (USA: Prince
Press, 1998); Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics,
trans. G. T. Thompson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), p.
Wolterstorff speaks of "the massiveness of the God
eternal tradition" since it is held by the "vast
majority" of theologians in the history of the Christian
church ("God Everlasting," in Clifton Orlebeke and Lewis Smedes
(eds.), God and the Good.
Essays in Honor of Henry Stob [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1975], pp. 182, 181).
Op. cit., pp. 2-3. In the late Middle Ages,
Willam of Occam was another notable who challenged
divine timelessness (Ronald H. Nash, The Concept of
God [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983], p. 73).
Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God, trans.
Olive Wyon (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, repr.
1974), pp. 266-271.
Pike, God and Timelessness (New York: Schocken
Books, 1970); Wolterstorff, Op. cit., pp. 181-203; Nicholas Everitt, "Interpretations of God’s Eternity,"
Religious Studies 34 (1998), pp. 25-32 ; Jonathan
Harrison, God, Freedom and Immortality
(Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1999).
L. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand
Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972), pp. 38-40; James Oliver Buswell Jr., A Systematic Theology of the Christian
Religion, Two Volumes in One (Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 1962), 1:40-47. Nash's claim that Jonathan
Edwards held to this view (Op. cit., p. 73) is
explicitly refuted by John Gerstner (The Rational
Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 [USA:
Berea Publications, 1992], pp. 3-4).
Op. cit., p. 83.
L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the
Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), p.
176; italics Reymond's.
views of modern science on time do not fall under the
provenance of this article. For an introduction to
Einstein's theory of general relativity and other
matters that is lively, engaging but unbelieving, see
Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time
(Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1989).
God's eternity and not merely his self-sufficiency or
immutability is indicated in "I am that I am" is clearly
underlined in the next verse: "This is my name for
ever" (Ex. 3:15).
Stephen Charnock: "I AM is his proper name. This
description being in the present tense, shews that his
essence knows no past nor future" (The Existence and
Attributes of God [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, repr. 1979],
p. 79). Francis Turretin notes, "The French Version
appropriately translates [Jehovah]
everywhere by l'Eternel because eternity
eminently belongs to him alone" (Institutes of
Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger,
vol. 1 [Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1992], p. 203).
Sasse, "aioon, aioonios,"
in Gerhard Kittel (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley,
vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1979), pp. 203-204,
Chevenix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 214. Cf. Sasse: "The
sense of 'time or course of the world' can easily pass
over into the 'world' itself, so that aioon
approximates closely to kosmos."
Sasse adds, "Paul uses as equivalent expressions
sophia tou kosmou [the wisdom of the world],
sophia tou aioonos toutou
[the wisdom of this age], and sophia tou kosmou toutou
[the wisdom of this world]" (I Cor. 1:20; 2:6; 3:19; Op.
cit., p. 203; cf. p. 205).
Confessions, xi:13, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin
(England: Penguin, 1961), p. 263. This is also the
Reformed view, as represented by Leonhard Riisen: "God created all
things in or with the beginning of time" (quoted in
Heppe, Op. cit., p. 199).
Scriptures frequently place God's decree "before" the
foundation of the earth (e.g., Eph. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9;
Titus 1:2; I Pet. 1:20). Simlarly, we read of the Son
being with the Father "before the world was" (John 17:5)
and of His antemundane existence (Prov. 8:22-26) and
active participation in creation (vv. 27-31; cf. 3:19).
1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31.
is an objective genitive with the verb basileuoo
(to reign) implied in the noun basileus
(king; cf. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St.
Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians,
to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon [USA:
Hendrickson Publishers, 1998], p. 527).
Braine points out, "If created things because of their
temporality need sustaining in existence through time,
then so would God if He were temporal" ("God, Eternity
and Time – An Essay in Review of Alan G. Padgett,
God, Eternity and the Nature of Time,"
Evangelical Quarterly, 66:4 , p. 343).
is a point often made by Augustine (e.g., Confessions,
xi:15, pp. 290-293) and is widely recognized by
Christian theologians (cf. J. J. Van Oosterzee: "Most
closely connected with this eternity of the Divine Being
is the Unchangeableness [of God]" (Christian
Dogmatics, trans. John Watson Watson and Maurice J.
Evans [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1878], p. 257). The
Westminster Larger Catechism in its treatment of
the perfections of God teaches that He is "unchangeable"
immediately after stating that He is "eternal" (A. 7).
Augustine: "If time never changed, it would not be time"
(Confessions, xi:14, p. 263).
Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA,
1966), p. 73.
Polanus a Polansdorf: "In God there is nothing which is
not either essence or person" (quoted in Heppe, Op.
cit., p. 58).
there is infinite, absolute time in God must there not
also be infinite, absolute space in God? And must He
not, therefore, be worshipped as Infinite Space?
Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, I:8, trans.
Cyril Vollert (St. Louis, MO & London: B. Herder
Book Co., repr. 1955), p. 13. In this connection, we
should note that it is as "the everlasting God, the Lord
[i.e., Jehovah], the Creator of the ends of the earth" that
God "fainteth not, neither is weary" (Isa. 40:28). Here
we have the eternity of God treated in connection with
His personal name, Jehovah, and His creation of the
world, the first two of our biblical proofs for divine
timelessness (section II, 1, a-b). Moreover, God's
eternity in Isaiah 40:28 is clearly presented as
something incomparable and transcendent (vv. 18, 25).
Op. cit., p. 182.
It is also found 25 times in the abbreviated form Jah,
according to Gottfried Quell ("kurios,"
in Gerhard Kittel [ed.],Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,
trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1979], p. 1067).
these terms, see John M. Quinn, "Eternity," in Allan D.
Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 319;
Paul Helm, Eternal God: A Study of God without Time
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 2.
understanding of Psalm 102:27 would apply also to
Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday,
and to day, and for ever."
Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5.
Gill goes further, stating that the "Ancient of days"
does not mean that God is "ancient in days, or
through them" but that "he is more ancient than
days; he was before all days, and his duration is not to
be measured by them" (A Body of Divinity
[Atlanta, GA: Turner Lassetter, repr. 1950], p. 49;
italics Gill's). Certainly this is in keeping with the
analogy of Scripture.
Sasse: "As a predicate of God
aioonios [i.e., eternal] contains not merely the concept of unlimited
time without beginning or end, but also of the eternity
which transcends time" (Op. cit., p. 208; italics mine).
Op. cit., p. 4.
this is an article on God's attribute of eternity and not
His attribute of longsuffering, a lengthy consideration
of the latter is unnecessary. Suffice to say that the
divine longsuffering does not necessitate time in God.
As the self-sufficient and unchangeable One, God's
longsuffering with respect to Himself means that He
"never grows weary of his perfect delight in himself"
(Hoeksema, Op. cit., p. 121).
Op. cit., pp. 266-268; cf. pp. 293-300, 241-247.
Op. cit., pp. 182-183.
Wolterstorff, "Free Space," Modern Reformation,
8:5 (Sept./Oct., 1999) p. 45. Wolterstorff returns to this
imagery on page 47.
Op. cit., p. 339; Philip Schaff, The Creeds of
Christendom, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Brothers,
1877), p. 57.
pp. 62, 67. The second Capitula of the Council of
Constantinople II (553) is particularly explicit: "If
anyone shall not confess that the Word of God has two
nativities, the one from all eternity of the Father,
without time and without body and the other in these
last days ... let him be anathema" (Henry R. Percival
(ed.), The Seven
Ecumenical Councils, in Philip Schaff and Henry
Wace (eds.), A
Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of
the Christian Church, Second Series, vol. XIV [Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1983], p. 312). The Reformed creeds likewise speak
of God as eternal (e.g., Belgic Confession 1;
Westminster Confession II:1).
the Stoics had a cyclical view of time, Democritus did
not discuss the subject, and Aristotle taught that time
had no beginning nor ending and that time is the motion
of any body (Gordon Clark, "Time and Eternity," in John
W. Robbins (ed.),
Against the World: The Trinity Review, 1978-1988 [Hobbs, NM: The Trinity
Foundation, 1996], p. 80).
Parmenides of Elea was a Greek
philosopher in southern Italy who flourished in the
first half of the fifth century BC.
Op. cit., p. 80.
A. G. Fuller, A History of Philosophy (New York:
Henry Holt and Co., rev. 1948), p. 63.
Clark, Op. cit., p. 81.
If eternity as timelessness can be
dismissed simply because Plato held it, then the view of
eternity as everlasting time ought to be rejected since
another pagan, Aristotle, taught it.
are not here advocating natural theology. Plato and
Parmenides twisted the truth of God's eternity, as we
have seen above, by subverting it in unrighteousness
(cf. Rom. 1:18, 21, 23, 25).
"Free Space," p. 45.
Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of
God, trans. William Hendriksen (Great Britain: Banner, repr. 1991), pp. 156-157. Elsewhere Bavinck writes,
"Time in all its moments is pervaded by the eternal
being of our God" (In the Beginning: Foundations of
Creation Theology, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend
[Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999], p. 49).
Colin Gunton, "Time, Eternity, and
the Doctrine of the Incarnation," Dialog, 21
(1982), p. 266; italics mine.
It is true that Arminius modifies
Boethius' definition by exchanging "essence" for "life,"
but we are not overly concerned with defending Arminius
(The Writings of James Arminius, vol. 1, trans.
James Nichols [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1956], pp. 439-440).
Augustine, Confessions, xi:31,
xiii:37, p. 346. For the church fathers' rich view of
God, though in regard to the Holy Trinity, Bavinck
writes, "The beautiful idea of the divine fecundity is
emphasized and repeated over and over by the
church-fathers. He is not an abstract 'distinctionless unity.' In him is fulness of life. His
nature is a 'generative, fruitful essence;' it is
capable of unfoldment and communication. Whoever denies
that divine fecundity does not figure with the truth
that God is infinite blessed life" (The Doctrine of
God, p. 308).
Hoeksema, Op. cit., p. 74.
Charnock, Op. cit., p. 89.
Reymond, Op. cit., p. 175;
italics Reymond's. James Oliver Buswell, Jr., writes in a
similar strain and, if anything, makes even wilder
claims (Op. cit., p. 47).
Cf. Bavinck: "Scriptural theism views
the counsel of God as the link that connects God and the
world" (The Doctrine of God, p. 339).
Augustus Hopkins Strong,
Systematic Theology, Three Volumes in One (Valley
Forge, PA: Judson Press, repr. 1979), p. 277;
Brunner, Op. cit., p. 266.
J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm
for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992),
Reymond, Op. cit., pp. 174-175; Buswell, Op.
cit., p. 47; Brunner, Op. cit., pp. 266-267.
Though there are many true statements
that we can make regarding God's transcendence of time
and His ordering of history, we acknowledge that "the
relationship of eternity to time constitutes one of the
most difficult problems in philosophy and theology,
perhaps incapable of solution in our present condition"
(Berkhof, Op. cit., p. 60).
For an excellent treatment of the
harmony of divine timelessness with other attributes of
God in opposition to the attacks of philosophers, see
Paul Helm, Op. cit. For other philosophers who
advocate God's being above time, see R. L. Sturch, "The
Problem of the Divine Eternity," Religious Studies,
10 (1974), pp. 487-493; Rogers, Op. cit.
Helm, Op. cit., pp. 107-108.
Interestingly, Augustine saw the
importance of God's transcendence of time for the
doctrine of the Trinity. He does not go very far in his
discussion of God and time in his Confessions
before he speaks of the eternal generation of the
Son (Confessions, xi:13, p. 263).
Augustine, On the Trinity,
XV:xxvi:47, trans. Arthur West Haddan, in Philip Schaff
(ed.), A Select
Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the
Christian Church, First Series,
vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1988), p. 225.
Similarly, concerning the personal relationships within
the Trinity, John Calvin writes, "In eternity there can
be no room for first or last" (Institutes of the
Christian Religion, I:xiii:18, trans. Henry
Beveridge, vol. 1 [Great Britain: James Clarke & Co., repr. 1949], p. 126).
Thus, according to the everlasting
view of God, Arius may well be correct in his statement
that, "There was when the Son of God was not"!
Thus Augustine notes that if there
are "intervals of time" in God then "it could be shown,
or at least inquired, whether the Son was born of the
Father first, and then afterwards the Holy Spirit
proceeded from both" (On the Trinity, XV:xxvi:47,
p. 224). Robert L. Reymond, who advocates God's
everlastingness, has nothing to say about the eternal
character of the Son's generation nor of the Spirit's
procession (Op. cit., pp. 324-338). Thus he
avoids facing the problem of time in the
Moreover, this would mean that the
Father was not eternally Father, for there was a time
when He had no Son.
For the necessity of the doctrine of
the Holy Trinity for our salvation, see the Athanasian
Creed (1-28). For the necessity of the Deity of
Christ for our salvation, see the Athanasian Creed
(29-44) and the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Days
Cf. Augustine: "In your Word all is
uttered at one and the same time, yet eternally. If it
were not so, your Word would be subject to time and
change, and therefore would be neither truly eternal nor
truly immortal" (Confessions, xi:7, p. 259).
That divine eternity is incommunicable
condemns the Eastern Orthodox Church for
its teaching that redeemed man is deified and Herman Dooyeweerd's notion that there is a supra-temporal
center in the human heart (Clark, Op. cit., p. 81).
The importance of the eternity of the
Son is well brought out in R. C. H. Lenski's comments on
John 1:1: "In John's first sentence the emphasis
is on this phrase 'in the beginning' and not on the
subject 'the Word.' This means that John is not
answering the question, 'Who was in the
beginning?' to which the answer would naturally be,
'God;' but the question, 'Since when was the
Logos?' the answer to which is, 'Since all eternity'" (The
Interpretation of St. John's Gospel [USA:
Hendrickson Publishers, 1998], p. 27; italics Lenski's).
Thus I Timothy 1:17 extols "the King
eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise
God," where God's eternity modifies His wisdom.
xii:15, p. 290.
Charles Hodge: "That the decrees of God are eternal,
necessarily flows from the perfection of the divine
Being ... [for] the distinctions of time have no
reference to Him who inhabits eternity" (Systematic
Theology, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr.
1993], p. 538). Though Robert L. Reymond holds that God
is everlasting, he nevertheless rightly excludes time
from God's decree. God, he says, "has always had the
plan [i.e., His eternal purpose] and within the plan
itself there is no chronological factor per se" (Op.
cit., p. 463). The inclusion of the little words "per
se" suggests, however, that Reymond senses a
difficulty in his position, for why else are they added?
an excellent treatment of the order of the decrees and a
proposed solution to the debate, see Hoeksema, Op.
cit., pp. 161-165.
A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the
Thought of Jacob Arminius (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker,
1991), p. 249; Arminius, Op. cit., pp. 439-440.
Op. cit., p. 135; italics mine.
D. Robinson, Eternity and Freedom: A Critical
Analysis of Divine Timelessness as a Solution to the
Foreknowledge/Free Will Debate (Lanham, MD:
University Press of America, 1995). Boethius also used
divine timelessness to "redefine" foreknowledge (cf.
Helm, Op. cit., pp. xii-xiii, 95-97).
is not used here in the rich sense of God's eternal love
for His elect in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; I Pet. 1:2)
but in the more philosophical sense of God's timeless
knowledge of events future to some temporal knower.
I. T. Ramsey: "We can only talk of eternity through and
in relation to time" ("The Concept of the Eternal," in
G. B. Caird et al. [eds.],
The Christian Hope [Great Britain: SPCK, 1970],
Helm, Op. cit., p. 100.
foreknowledge speaks anthropotemporally of God's
knowledge of the future, God's remembering speaks
anthropotemporally of God's knowledge of the past.
God's eternal foreknowledge is the cause of all
events in time and the events themselves are effects.
Op. cit., p. 231.
e.g., Ibid., pp. 236-238.
p. 231. Throughout his book, Robinson opposes what
he calls divine "causal determinism," i.e., the sovereign
will of God (e.g., Ibid., pp. 17, 25, 55, 57,
60-62, 143-146, 158-160, 177-178, 200, 203-205,
Rousas J. Rushdoony: "Because God is eternal and
uncreated being, and in no wise dependent on any
creature, all the conditions, factors, and consequences
are totally a part of God's eternal decree" (Systematic
Theology, vol. 1 [USA: Ross House Books, 1994], p.
p. 183. Similarly, Colin Gunton observes that modern man
wants to make time "absolute" (Op. cit., p. 264). On the
subject of "the philosophical passion for present time,"
Robert Cummings Neville notes, "With the modern period ...
something in the experience of subjective conscious
thinkers is sought as the mark and even the definition
of truth." He notes that a key assumption of Kant is
that "time is the form to which all things must conform
and that, if we only understood time, we would
understand something apriori about everything" (Eternity
and Time's Flow [New York: State University of New
York Press, 1993], pp. 31-32). Thus the question arises,
Why not apply this to God?
Helm, Op. cit., pp. 54ff.
Mercier, God, World, and Time (Germany: Peter
Lang, 1996); Neville, Op. cit.; Tibor Horvath,
Eternity and Eternal Life: Speculative Theology and
Science in Discourse (Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier
University Press, 1993). As one would expect, the
proclivity in modern thought to temporalize God is
reflected in an emphasis in contemporary theology on the
immanence of "eternal life" in the here and now and a
denial or disregard for its culmination in the future
state (cf. Charles Stinson, "On the Time-Eternity
'Link': Some Aspects of Recent Christian Eschatology,"
Religious Studies, 13 , pp. 49-62).
Op. cit., p. 184.
Confessions, xi:10, p. 261. Calvin also refers to
this question (Institutes, I:xiv:1, pp. 141-142).
Confessions, xi:12, p. 262.
The City of God, xi:5, trans. Marcus Dods, in
Philip Schaff (ed.),
A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers
of the Christian Church, First Series, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1983), p.
Confessions, xi:13, p. 263.
Op. cit., p. 78.
in Helm, Op. cit., p. x; italics mine.
Time is included in "things present"
and "things to come" in I Corinthians 3:22.