Is God Outside of Time? Not according to the Bible.
Most Christian theologians join most of the secular philosophers of the last 2,500 years in saying that God is outside of time. However, if the Scriptures teach that God experiences change in sequence, that would indicate that God exists in time demonstrating that atemporality is not a necessary attribute of deity. So here is an example of a biblical proof falsifying that atemporality is an essential attribute of deity:
In the eternal state before the foundation of the world God the Son was not also the Son of Man; then He "became" flesh as "the Son of Man" and so the Son remains eternally "the Man Jesus Christ" (1 Tim 2:5).
We have noted that theologians typically will reject that this statement shows that God has a past, and therefore exists in time. However, the Incarnation has eternally changed God the Son, and therefore, also His relationship with the Holy Spirit and the Father. Hermeneutics are techniques, that is, tools, for interpreting the Bible. All valid hermeneutics will reinforce that the Incarnation is a fundamental teaching of Scripture, and that the Incarnation demonstrates unequivocally that God, in this case, in the person of the Son, has undergone change. This is a biblical proof that God is in time. Let's consider further the relationship between God and time.
You may also enjoy our interview with Liberty University's
Assistant Professor of Theology
Richard Holland on his groundbreaking book,
God, Time and the Incarnation
- in an eternal now,
- not was, nor will be, but only is,
- has no past
- has no future.
Of course NOT ONE of these phrases is in the Bible. They're from Plato. And they're uncritically repeated by the Christian authors of typical systematic theology textbooks, and therefore, taught to young ministers in seminary.
In this section heading above, the word Greek does not refer, as many would assume, to the text of the New Testament that was originally written in Greek. Rather, it was used to refer to pagan Greek philosophy, which insisted that God exists outside of time. In contrast, the Hebrew and Greek terms in the Bible about God and time are TOTALLY different and refer not to timelessness but to unending duration. The phrases in the Scriptures all speak of God existing through unending time and an everlasting duration. The above timelessness terms are foreign to the reader of God's Word, whereas the Bible's many terms, as listed below, are all so very familiar from our reading of Scripture.
When Reading Your Bible, We See that God:
is - and was - and is to come - Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting - Forever and ever - The Ancient of Days - From before the ages of the ages - From ancient times - the everlasting God - He continues forever - From of old - Remains forever - Immortal - The Lord shall endure forever - Who lives forever - God’s years - manifest in His own time - Everlasting Father - Alive forevermore - Always lives - Forever - Continually - God’s years never end - From everlasting to everlasting - From that time forward, even forever - And of His kingdom there will be no end.
Of course ALL THESE are verbatim phrases from Scripture, some being repeated many times. NOT ONE MEANS TIMELESSNESS. Rather, they mean unending duration. So the Bible teaches the opposite of pagan Greek philosophy. (This is not surprising seeing, for example, that in Plato's Republic he says the state should decide when a woman can have a baby; that at birth the state should permanently take away babies from their parents; and that a baby born without the state's consent should be killed.)
Those many phrases above, from the Old and New Testaments, that show God existing in an unending duration of time, are of course translations from words in the original languages. And the Bible of course is translated by human beings. Indications though are that most of those translators themselves have been convinced that God is outside of time. Yet regardless, the truth shines through the pages of the Word as so many descriptions present God as existing in a never-ending sequence of time! Thus, scores of verses use these phrases which teach the opposite of Plato's pagan Greek philosophical claim that God has "no past" and "no future."
It was a bit of a trick, above, to use "Greek" to refer to philosophy rather than to the New Testament. But interestingly, the Bible uses the term "Greeks" also to refer to the unbelieving nations of the world generally. And above it can refer not only to those committed to the philosophy of Plato, but also, to the Hindus, and unbelievers of countless persuasions, for many non-Christians share a belief that God, if He exists at all, exists outside of time. Thus, such a belief is not necessarily an indication of true spiritual insight.
Open Theism claims that the future is open (and not settled) because God is free and eternally creative and will always have new thoughts. The Settled View claims that the future is utterly and exhaustively settled and its advocates include all Calvinist and Arminian theologians. These Settled View adherents interpret ALL scripture about God and time as a FIGURE OF SPEECH. But they take Plato literally. Why?
The human philosophy of the pagan Greeks (which Augustine admitted that he adapted to Christian theology), assumes that God exists outside of time, something the language of Scripture could easily present if that were God's intention.
The Above Proof By Proof Texts: Let's demonstrate the above proof again this time using only Bible excerpts. Those who claim that God is outside of time also frequently use the unbiblical phrase, "the eternal state." Actually, every moment is in the eternal state, including those moments before creation, all those since, and including those that will follow the New Creation. The following purely scriptural phrases show that in the "eternal state," WHO GOD WAS in eternity past differs from WHO GOD IS now and in eternity future. The differences do not include anything like an abandonment of His fundamental attributes (which are that He is Living, Personal, Relational, Good, and Loving), but rather, they are divine expressions of these attributes. For:
"The Father… is Spirit" and "invisible," "from of old… from everlasting," just "like the Son of God," who "loved [the Son] before the foundation of the world." Yet "God was manifested in the flesh" for "the Word BECAME flesh," having "partaken of flesh and blood," and "coming in the likeness of men" "to be made like His brethren." So "He is the SON OF MAN," "from the seed of David," "Jesus Christ… the Son of Abraham." And "this MAN, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God." And "He ever lives to make intercession," for "the Mediator between God and men" is "the MAN Christ Jesus." So "God… will judge the world… by the MAN whom He has ordained," and "in the regeneration… the SON OF MAN sits on the throne of His glory."
The second person of the Trinity, God the Son, was not OF MAN through eternity past. Neither David, nor Adam, nor any of us, were necessary for God to be God. But the second person of the Trinity is now Jesus, the SON OF MAN. But willing to trade away God's freedom, holiness, and a thousand literal Bible verses, many theologians will sacrifice the greatest truths of Scripture for Platonic utter immutability. (Some Christians even say that they would reject Christ if God had actual freedom.) As we've seen in the "comment thread" to Bob Enyart's Open Theism Debate with the president of The North American Reformed Seminary, a reader responding to our own BEL producer Will, wrote:
"Jesus Christ is God and man, he is both, he has eternally existed as both."
Christians desperate to win an argument that God is outside of time will even flirt with the unbiblical claim that God the Son was always a man, from eternity past. However, regarding the extension of humanity onto God the Son through the incarnation, there is a divine chronological order. For:
"...the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth… the second Man is the Lord from heaven." 1 Cor. 15:46
But theologians committed to the Settled View handle this verse like they do a thousand others. They turn it into a figure of speech meaning the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the passage naturally states. If they were correct in this, then of course Christians could safely ignore the evident teaching of this and many other such passages. But in truth, Jesus was the Son of God from eternity past, and He became forever the Son of Man only at the Incarnation. For remember that writing in Genesis Moses introduced Melchizedek without parents making it appear that He had no beginning, "like the Son of God" (Heb. 7:3).
The Son of Man: As men, we probably would never pick the same title for Jesus as is His favorite title for Himself, "the Son of Man." That title seems almost common to us, because we are all sons of man. But He took that title for Himself after much humbling and lowering and emptying of Himself. That title, the Son of Man, is precious to Him because it cost Him so much. But many theologians reject that the Incarnation shows change in God, as demonstrated in the TNARS Open Theism debate (mentioned above). In defending their position, such theologians claim that Open Theists confuse Christ's humanity with His divinity. However, there are not four persons of the trinity, as is implied by such objections. His humanity did not become human. It is the eternal God the Son who became flesh.
To defend Platonic utter immutability those who hold the Settled View will deny that God has the freedom even to think new thoughts. So what do they get in trade for God's freedom? They can claim that before the criminal was ever born, God decided how often to rape that child and how filthy each time would be, "all for His glory and pleasure" including the rapist being beat to death in prison. The fact that God says, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezek. 33:11) is irrelevant because it's all a double figure of speech meaning the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the text says, as we can see from the sad reality that many theologians believe that God did ordain the rape, and the beating death, "for His pleasure." And they even claim that God is impassible, that is, that He can have no emotion or passion, for in contrast to a hundred verses in Scripture, John Calvin wrote that God is, "incapable of every feeling." So when God says He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, they claim really that He can have NO pleasure whatsoever. Yes, God's ways are higher than our ways. But they're not lower. He doesn't take pleasure from adultery.
When pressed, as in the above debate, many theologians will admit that Sovereignty is NOT an eternal attribute of God. That is a valid position, for otherwise, God's very existence would be dependent upon the creation. Just as Adam is not necessary for God to be God (as he would have been if the Son of God were also the Son of Man, eternally) so too if the quantitative attribute of exhaustive foreknowledge is required for God to be God, then the one reading this sentence at this very moment would also be a necessary prerequisite for God to be God, for God could not then exist apart from each and every one of us being and doing and thinking everything in fact that we've been and done and thought. For if our existence is necessary in His mind eternally for Him to be God, then in a fundamental way we are also eternally necessary for God's very existence, and He then could not be God without me. This is a twisted theological perversion. Such notions diminish God. And they bring the Christian into absurdities like praying to change the past. After all, if God is outside of time, then there is no difference to God in prayers for the future and those for the past, in praying for those living today and for those who died yesterday. Christians find themselves battling the same absurdities as time traveling science fiction characters. Coming back to reality though, even in sovereignty we see God changing. For in eternity past He was not sovereign. Yet after He returns "in His own time" as "the King of kings" (1 Tim. 6:15) He will reign Sovereign in His kingdom that will never end (Isaiah 9:7).
Bad Translations: "Before time began" (2 Tim. 1:9 & Titus 1:2) is widely quoted yet in the Greek text of the New Testament there is no verb "began" in the original language. And the singular word "time" does not appear. Instead, Paul wrote, "before the times of the ages," which is very different from the way many of our Bible versions render this phrase, which translations do not flow from the grammar but from on the translators' commitment to Greek philosophy.
- "Time shall be no more" (Rev. 10:6; hymns) is corrected even by Calvinist translators in virtually all modern versions as is also made overtly clear from the text and the context, "There will be no more delay!"
- "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" at Revelation 13:8 can be corrected (as at the NIV footnote) by cross-referencing the passage with Revelation 17:8. For the Bible teaches that "only those written in the Lamb's Book of Life" (Rev. 21:27) shall be saved, and that God could save Old Testament believers because He looked forward to the cross, and He can save believers now because He looks backward to the cross. So in the Old Testament God looked forward and in the last two millennia He looks backward to that wonderful and yet terrible time. However, if Christ had been slain previously, before the foundation of the world, then there would have been no need for the righteous dead to wait in Abraham's Bosom "until the death of the one who is high priest in those days" (symbolizing Christ). The parallel passage at Revelation 17:8 shows that the qualifier does not apply to the slaying of Christ but to the wicked, "whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world." This means that these evil men were not believers who had fallen away, but that their names were NEVER written in the book. (See a similar construct in Jeremiah 2:32.) Revelation 13:8 can even be seen as giving the title and sub-title of The Book of Life – Of the Lamb Slain.
Good Translations; Bad Interpretations: "And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them" (Ps. 139:16). This verse is almost always quoted completely out of context. The complete passage, Psalm 139:13-16 refers strictly to the development of the baby in the womb. God's "book" here is not the Bible, and it is not the Book of Life, but it is the genetic code that God wrote with His finger and enabled us to inherit from our parents. Thus the last day written in that book is not the day of one's death, but the day of one's birth. See this more fully exegeted at AmericanRTL.org/Bible#fetology.
- "...with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8). Rather than implying that God is outside of time, the passage means that God is patient, and extraordinarily capable. He is patient, as stated in the very next verse, that God "is longsuffering toward us" (2 Pet. 3:9), for God is love, and love is patient. Yet, if God were outside of time, patience is one of the many things that God could not have. For example, He also could not then have expectation or hope, but He has expectations (e.g., Isa. 5:1-4) and He is a God of hope (Rom. 15:13). The passage also shows that God is extraordinarily capable and can do in a single day what men may think would take eons. It is not that God is able to do anything, for He can only do that which is doable. Regardless of how much time was available, He could not make another God just like Himself, nor could He make it a virtue to worship the devil. These are logical and moral impossibilities, and God is good, and rational. For He is truth. On the other hand, a thousand years are not as one day to those of us living on this Earth, because we face death, and we have severe limits to what we can accomplish in a day. (Although in a brief moment we can gain eternal life, by trusting in Jesus Christ.) Consider one example though of what God can do in a single day. Eleven times the Bible says that God stretched out the heavens. Looking at the stars then, it appears that the light of the universe has been traveling for eons, yet God stretched out the heavens in a single day (Gen. 1:14-19). In fact, it was on a Wednesday. :)
There is Time in Heaven: When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about HALF AN HOUR (Rev. 8:1).
- When He opened the fifth seal [martyrs in heaven said]: "HOW LONG, O Lord… until You… avenge our blood…" (Rev. 6:9; 11:17-18).
- …the tree of life… bore twelve fruits [a different one] EVERY MONTH (Rev. 22:2).
- But this Man, AFTER He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down… FROM THAT TIME WAITING TILL His enemies are [defeated] (Heb. 10:12-13).
- [God will not punish demons] "before [their] time" (Mat. 8:29).
If the TRUE perspective is God's ETERNAL NOW, then David is now killing Bathsheba’s husband, each believer is still in his sin, and the Father is right now pouring out wrath on His Son, right now. But this is false for Hebrews says that Jesus suffered "once for all."
Neither men nor angles can be omnipresent, even in heaven, for they would thereby have to be divine. The same limitation would apply with timelessness. If God existed outside of time the angels before His throne ("who do not rest… saying, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come'") and the men ministering to Him forever would also have to be timeless, which would mean that they were divine also. And Jesus said we shall receive much "in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life" (Luke 18:30), and as for things that can happen, as He said in a parable, some things happen "by chance" (Luke 10:31). And "In the beginning" does not mean in the beginning of time, for that's Augustine's interpretation based on Plato, but we have the Lord's interpretation based on Mark, for as Jesus said, the phrase means in "the beginning OF CREATION" (Mk. 10:6; Mat. 19:4).
God did many things before creation (John 17:24, 5; Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:20; Eph. 1:4) and His children shall "endure forever" (Ps. 89:36) enjoying God eternally through an "everlasting covenant" (Gen. 17:7), "established forever." So the Bible teaches that God is in time. And a foundation of the Settled View is seen to be heavily based on human philosophy and contradicted by the entirety of the relevant biblical material.
By Bob Enyart, KGOV.com &
Pastor, Denver Bible Church
For more information, see:
- Bob Enyart's Summit Clock Experiment 2.0: Time is Absolute -- A Layman Questions Gravitational Time Dilation
- Bob's classic Open Theism Debate with D. James Kennedy's professor of New Testament Dr. Samuel Lamerson
- KGOV producer Will's fast-moving Open Theism Debate with Jaltus
- Bob Enyart's debates with Dr. Larry Bray: Is Calvinism Biblical? and Is the Future Settled or Open? (The host for both of these, David New, removed these debates from his site; we've rescued the first and put it back online, and Lord-willing we'll recover the second one and get it online by April 2014 at opentheism.org).
- Check out these DVDs at our KGOV Store: Chosen, Open Theism, Predestination & Free Will (or audio), and a P&FW Debate.
- Call 1-800-8Enyart (836-9278) and talk to us about which of our DVDs, books, or audio teachings may interest you!
Addendum: We human beings have difficulty thinking even about the more simplistic aspects of time. Consider these corrections to two other popular misconceptions.
Misconception 1: Measurement of time equals time itself. Simply pointing out this nearly ubiquitous error should suffice to correct it. Secular folks and believers alike frequently assume this non sequitur with Christians suggesting that there could be no time prior to the Earth's orbit or it's rotation, with their confusion resulting from an assumption that if man possessed no scale then there could be no mass, or no ruler then there could be no length, or no speedometer then there could be no velocity, or no clock then there could be no time. The measurement of something does not equate to the thing itself and neither does the the ability or lack thereof to measure something equate to the thing itself.
Misconception 2: Time flows from the past into the future. It is often claimed that "Time's arrow points from the past into the future and the current of time flows forward." Yes of course this is a metaphor, yet the widespread metaphor is unintentionally exactly backward of reality. The truth is the reverse, for in whatever way we may speak of time flowing, then time flows backwards. The current of time brings the future into the present and then to the past. Tomorrow's date, suspended perfectly in the flow of time, will eventually arrive at the present, and recede into the past. Incorrectly men assume that, "the current of time sweeps us from birth to death." But more accurately, the current of time sweeps our entire earthly lives into the past. Time does not carry our birth forward into the future, nor (as it might if time flowed forward) does it forever postpone our death nudging it later and later. Rather, "I" am like a floating buoy anchored to the river bed bobbing and resisting the flow of time. Contrariwise, the "events" that I experience are not similarly anchored and so being vulnerable to the flow of time, as sediment suspended in a river current, they are whisked into the past.