Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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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."1

Berkhof is echoing the famous words of Boethius (c.480-524): eternity is "the simultaneous and perfect [tota simul] possession of illimitable life."2

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 traditions.3 Thus this is the position of historic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.4 "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."5

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.6 Philosophers who advocate the sempiternal view of God's eternity include Nelson Pike, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Nicholas Everitt and Jonathan Harrison.7 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.8

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 interpretation."9

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.10

This 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.11


(II) Proof for God's Being Above Time

(1) Scripture

We 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.12

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.13

(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.14 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."15 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."16 Thus, when the Scripture speaks of something as being "before the foundation of the earth," it means "before" time, i.e., timeless.17

A 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?18 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).19 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.20

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.21 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.22 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."23 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.24 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.25 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 God!"

(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.

If 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.26


(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 significance.

(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."27 The main force of this argument has already been removed by the scriptural proof for divine timelessness above (in section II, 1).

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).28 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.

A 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 doctrine.

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 time.

On 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" language.29

In 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.30 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 ..."31

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 world.

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.32

(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 heaven and 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.33 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.34

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).35 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.36 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."37

Wolterstorff goes on to say that this Hellenistic and philosophical view of God must be "renounced."38 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."39

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)."40 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 eternal" (10).41

It 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 inerrancy!

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.42 In fact, "Greek philosophy," in this context refers to Parmenides and Plato, and those who followed their teaching at this point.43

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."44 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."45

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."46

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.47

We 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.48 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."49

"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. 50:21). This is idolatry.

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 divine invisibility?

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.50

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."51

It 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"!52 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 place.53

In Augustine's penultimate chapter of his Confessions, we see a God who is far from "static."

In 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 ceases.54

In 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."55

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 succession."56

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,

If 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.57

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.58 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."59

Brunner declares that God's timelessness makes time an "illusion."60 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.61

When it is alleged that history has no significance, we ask, For whom has it no significance?62 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).63

As 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.?64 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.65


(IV) The Significance of God's Being Above Time

In 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 Trinity66

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 writes, "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."67

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.68 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 Spirit.69 This would present the Father as being of slightly greater duration than the Son and the Son of slightly greater duration than the Spirit.70 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 salvation.71

If 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.72

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.73 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.74

(2) Omniscience

If 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.75 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 knowledge:

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.76

(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.77 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?78

If 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 present."79 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.80

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 timelessness.81 They reason that if God is eternally present there be nothing future to him and therefore God cannot foreknow the future.82

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.83 We can put it this way, if an event occurs at a certain time would not God timelessly know that event the day before?84 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.85

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.86

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.87 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.

A 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.88 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.89 This led to a redrafting of divine timelessness with the jettisoning of God's sovereignty, independence, immutability and omniscience.

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 man.90 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.91

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.92 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 time.

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.93 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."94

(4) Creation

So 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 earth?"95

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."96 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 not elsewhere."97

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."98

On 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?"99

(5) Worship and Comfort

If 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 eternal God:

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.100

In 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. 29).

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)!101

1 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rev. 1996), p. 60.
2 A 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 [1981], 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 [1994], 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 [1978], p. 503 ; italics mine). This view, by positing a change in God at creation, is obviously inconsistent with God's immutability.
3 Cf. Thomas C. Oden, The Living God (USA: Prince Press, 1998); Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. G. T. Thompson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), p. 65.
4 Nicholas 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).
5 Leftow, 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).
6 Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, repr. 1974), pp. 266-271.
7 Nelson 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).
8 Robert 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).
9 Nash, Op. cit., p. 83.
10 Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 176; italics Reymond's.
11 The 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).
12 That 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).
13 Cf. 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).
14 Hermann 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, 206.
15 Richard 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).
16 Augustine, 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).
17 The 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).
18 Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31.
19 This 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).
20 David 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 [1994], p. 343).
21 This 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).
22 Cf. Augustine: "If time never changed, it would not be time" (Confessions, xi:14, p. 263).
23 Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA, 1966), p. 73.
24 Cf. Polanus a Polansdorf: "In God there is nothing which is not either essence or person" (quoted in Heppe, Op. cit., p. 58).
25 If 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?
26 Cf. 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).
27 Wolterstorff, Op. cit., p. 182.
28 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).
29 For these terms, see John M. Quinn, "Eternity," in Allan D. Fitzgerald (ed.), 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.
30 This understanding of Psalm 102:27 would apply also to Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."
31 Cf. Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5.
32 John 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.
33 Cf. 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).
34 Gerstner, Op. cit., p. 4.
35 Since 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).
36 Brunner, Op. cit., pp. 266-268; cf. pp. 293-300, 241-247.
37 Wolterstorff, Op. cit., pp. 182-183.
38 Ibid., p. 183.
39 Nicholas Wolterstorff, "Free Space," Modern Reformation, 8:5 (Sept./Oct., 1999) p. 45. Wolterstorff returns to this imagery on page 47.
40 Braine, Op. cit., p. 339; Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877), p. 57.
41 Ibid., 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).
42 E.g., 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).
43 Parmenides of Elea was a Greek philosopher in southern Italy who flourished in the first half of the fifth century BC.
44 Clark, Op. cit., p. 80.
45 B. A. G. Fuller, A History of Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt and Co., rev. 1948), p. 63.
46 Clark, Op. cit., p. 81.
47 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.
48 We 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).
49 Wolterstorff, "Free Space," p. 45.
50 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).
51 Colin Gunton, "Time, Eternity, and the Doctrine of the Incarnation," Dialog, 21 (1982), p. 266; italics mine.
52 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).
53 Augustine, Confessions, xi:31, pp. 279-280.
54 Augustine, Confessions, 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).
55 Hoeksema, Op. cit., p. 74.
56 Charnock, Op. cit., p. 89.
57 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).
58 Cf. Bavinck: "Scriptural theism views the counsel of God as the link that connects God and the world" (The Doctrine of God, p. 339).
59 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, Three Volumes in One (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, repr. 1979), p. 277; italics mine.
60 Brunner, Op. cit., p. 266.
61 Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), p. 153.
62 Cf. Reymond, Op. cit., pp. 174-175; Buswell, Op. cit., p. 47; Brunner, Op. cit., pp. 266-267.
63 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).
64 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.
65 Helm, Op. cit., pp. 107-108.
66 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).
67 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).
68 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"!
69 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 inter-Trinitarian relationships.
70 Moreover, this would mean that the Father was not eternally Father, for there was a time when He had no Son.
71 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 5-6.
72 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).
73 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).
74 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).
75 Thus I Timothy 1:17 extols "the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God," where God's eternity modifies His wisdom.
76 Augustine, Confessions, xii:15, p. 290.
77 Cf. 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?
78 For an excellent treatment of the order of the decrees and a proposed solution to the debate, see Hoeksema, Op. cit., pp. 161-165.
79 Richard 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.
80 Muller, Op. cit., p. 135; italics mine.
81 Michael 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).
82 Foreknowledge 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.
83 Cf. 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], p. 44).
84 Cf. Helm, Op. cit., p. 100.
85 If foreknowledge speaks anthropotemporally of God's knowledge of the future, God's remembering speaks anthropotemporally of God's knowledge of the past.
86 Hence God's eternal foreknowledge is the cause of all events in time and the events themselves are effects.
87 Robinson, Op. cit., p. 231.
88 Cf., e.g., Ibid., pp. 236-238.
89 Ibid., 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, 235-238)!
90 Cf. 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. 184).
91 Ibid., 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?
92 Cf. Helm, Op. cit., pp. 54ff.
93 Andre 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 [1977], pp. 49-62).
94 Rushdoony, Op. cit., p. 184.
95 Augustine, Confessions, xi:10, p. 261. Calvin also refers to this question (Institutes, I:xiv:1, pp. 141-142).
96 Augustine, Confessions, xi:12, p. 262.
97 Augustine, 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. 207.
98 Augustine, Confessions, xi:13, p. 263.
99 Clark, Op. cit., p. 78.
100 Quoted in Helm, Op. cit., p. x; italics mine.
101 Time is included in "things present" and "things to come" in I Corinthians 3:22.