(image courtesy clipartlogo.com)
By Spencer D Gear
When there are discussions about Arminians and Calvinists and their disparate views of predestination and election, some interesting theories sometimes emerge on Internet Christian forums regarding the nature of God’s attributes.
Attributes are ‘the qualities of God which constitute what he is. They are the very characteristics of his nature’ and they relate to the qualities of the entire Godhead. They ‘are permanent qualities. They cannot be gained or lost. They are intrinsic…. God’s attributes are essential and inherent dimensions of his very nature’ (Erickson 1985:265).
I met one person online who wrote:
As to God loving Jacob and hating Esau, it is certainly not illustrative of some being predestined for Heaven and others for Hell. God — in His Divine foreknowledge — saw that Esau would never be a true believer (Heb 12:16,17), and the nation that sprang from Esau (Edom) would be the bitterest enemy of Israel (and of God) throughout their history. Hence God hated Esau (Edom) and loved Jacob (Israel). As Scripture says of Christ "Thou hast loved righteousness, AND HATED INIQUITY" (Heb 1:9).
Another responded: ‘Don’t forget that when God spoke those words it was centuries after the fact and how the two Brothers and their offspring had acted. Based on that it is quite natural for God to say what he said based on their actions’.
That comment seemed to indicate that God knew after the fact rather than before the fact.
No time in God’s being
My response was: I’m not convinced that this is an adequate understanding of God’s eternity/infinity. We know that:
- There is no time in God’s being. He is timeless. See Psalm 90:2, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God’ (ESV). Also refer to Rev 1:8.
- God sees all of time simultaneously or vividly. See Psalm 90:4, ‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night’ (ESV).
- Yet, God takes action in time. Jesus came ‘when the time had fully come’, born of a woman, under the law, to redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4-5) [with help from Grudem 1999:76-78].
Therefore, I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be affirmed by Scripture: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).
So, the information about God loving Jacob and hating Esau does not have a ‘centuries after the fact’ dynamic when we understand God’s attribute of eternity or infinity because God is timeless in his being. This kind of understanding is seen in verses such as Eph 1:4 where God states of Christians that he chose us in Christ ‘BEFORE the foundation of the world’.
Systematic theologian, Henry Thiessen, wrote that
by the eternity of God we mean His infinity in relation to time; we mean that He is without beginning or end; that He is free from all succession of time; and that He is the cause of time.… That God is eternal is abundantly taught in Scripture…. Eternity for God is one Now’ (Thiessen 1949:122, emphasis in original).
Thiessen refers to Gen 21:33 (‘the Everlasting God’); Ps 90:2 (‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God’); Ps 102:27 (‘You are the same, and your years have no end’); Isa 57:15 where God is ‘high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity’, and 1 Tim 6:16 where the Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of Lords is the one ‘who alone has immortality’ (all citations are from the ESV).
Then came this opposition:
Hundreds of verses oppose such a view
This fellow, who often tries to make others and me seem inferior with his alleged superior knowledge, responded:
None of these verses support your belief. Moreover, there are hundreds upon hundreds of verses in the Bible which explicitly describe man actively, both mentally and physically, opposing the will of God. When God created man, He created him with the ability to successfully oppose His sovereignty – and he has been doing so from the very beginning of his creation!
God’s sovereignty does not mean that people cannot and do not commit evil. However, that is all in the sovereign plan of God. How do we know? It is God who has stated the boundaries of his sovereignty. John the Baptist stated, ‘And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham’ (Matt 3:9 ESV). The psalmist was adamant: ‘Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases’ (Ps 115:3). In saying that God does as God pleases, we know that God cannot do that which violates his own character such as lying (Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18; James 1:13). In 2 Tim 2:13, it states that ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself’.
My three points are untrue
This fellow’s rejection of my three-point claim regarding God’s eternity was what we could call the fourth point: The three points I made above were false. He wrote: ‘Point #3 proves that points #2 and #3 are not true. I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be based upon his overactive imagination rather than affirmed by Scripture’.
Notice what he did? He provided not one piece of evidence to demonstrate the falsehood of what I wrote. Thus, his response was a red herring logical fallacy. Red herring fallacies involve the use of a tactic to avoid dealing with the issues raised and pursuit of the person’s own agenda with information that looks as though it is related but is not. It’s a tactic that some debaters often use to get people off specific topics. They need to be exposed for what they do by naming the fallacies they commit.
My reply was that I disagree. Points 1-3 are all valid (which I’ll demonstrate again below). He provided no evidence to counter the view Grudem espoused, based on the scriptural evidence he provided.
Therefore, Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity/infinity is consistent with the biblical revelation he articulated: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).
Brilliant, basic Christian theology
A fellow chimed in with a beautiful response to PrincetonGuy and me with his analogy:
I can show that point number four (yours) [PrincetonGuy] is not true. Let’s take a look at this by way of analogy. Specifically, let’s go with Acts 3:15 and pretend that God is in some way like an author. I know you don’t like that idea, because it sounds a little too Calvinistic, but lets (sic) go with it, anyway:
1. The author is not subject to the time line of his own narrative. He may have his own time, but it is not the time line of his novel. This is similar to him not being physically contained within the confines of the universe that he created in the novel. Don’t be shocked by this. God is not fully encapsulated within the universe that he created, neither by space nor by time. Otherwise, he could not have existed before the universe in order to create it.
2. The author can hold the entire novel in his hand at once. Without even reading it, he knows what happens at every point in the story. He can either consider the story line as a whole, or he can read through it one page at a time, reliving the events. This is similar to God (2 Peter 3:8), and it is by definition a component of his omniscience.
3. Now, here’s the part that you think contradicts the first two: the author can write himself into his own novel as a character. He can interact with the characters as one of the characters, and he can do it on terms with their own time line. Hence, Jesus was God in the flesh, living among us as one of us, though God be eternal, immortal and self-existent. He lived according to our timeline, though God exists outside of time.
Space and time are both considered similarly. If we believe that God exists outside of the physical universe, which he must if he had to create it, then we believe that he exists outside of the universe’s time as well as the universe’s space. Nowhere, ever, has there been any demonstration of a divorce between space and time. Where one goes, so goes the other.
If God stands outside of the universe’s time, then he is not subject to it. For example, I stand outside of the timeline containing the events of World War II (thankfully). Therefore, I am not forced to move through that time at a set pace. I am able to consider individual events, in sequence or as a strategic whole, from that time period, so long as I am properly informed, because I am not contained by it.
Jesus was present within our space, and he was, therefore, contained within our time. He is also Emmanuel, which is to say that he is God with us. Therefore, God with us was present within our space and time. Therefore, God can be both outside of and independent of time, and he can be inside of and working with our time. The reverse is not also true: he can reach down to us, but we can not reach up to him.
This is not fanciful thinking. It’s just basic Christian theology. You can’t deny point number one without denying God’s self-existence, which then means he cannot be the creator of the universe. You can’t deny point two without denying point one, because the second point definitively follows from the first point. If you deny the third point, then you deny the deity of Christ. The first two make you a monotheist. The third makes you a Christian.
This is a dynamic example, so I responded: ‘What a splendid summary statement! You have explained it so well by analogy. In addition, it harmonises (if I understand you correctly) with the 3 points I made’ with their biblical backing.
Wrong philosophical thinking!
My opponent was not at all pleased by the above analogy. He wrote:
No, it is philosophical thinking that is dependent upon unprovable assumptions. Moreover, it conflicts with the historic understanding of God in the Scriptures as described in the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man.
Philosophical thinking is far removed from the analogy. It was used to explain biblical thinking, so I responded to this person: ‘It is biblical thinking as I demonstrated with the Scriptures given in points #1-3 above. Quoting the Nicene Creed does not deal with the specifics of God’s attribute of eternity/infinity and how he acts in time’.
It doesn’t belong in a Baptist forum
What kind of response would you expect from him?
Where is the scriptural evidence that Grudem cited to support his absurd notion that is refuted by the hundreds of passages in the Bible that teach a sequence of events and the cause and effect of each of those events? Does Grudem not know enough about biblical hermeneutics to realize that the book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion?…
The Nicene Creed, which Grudem seems to ignore, affirms that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “of the essence of the Father,” and is “of one substance with the Father.” God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega (and therefore not “timeless”), most certainly did not see “all of time simultaneously.” Theology that expressly and explicitly contradicts the Nicene Creed (as well as the Bible!) is NOT orthodox theology and does NOT belong in the Baptist forum.
Note the emphasis: ‘The book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion’. Predictably my response was:
All Scripture is from God – including the Psalms
I wrote that that is his view of the lack of authority and reliability of the Psalms. In fact, it’s affirming your low view of Scripture – the Psalms.
This is the biblical view that I, a Baptist, take with regard to Scripture – all of Scripture – (and so does Wayne Grudem, professor of theology & biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary): ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV).
The Scriptures do not affirm the authority of creeds. The Nicene Creed is a useful summary of theology, but it is not authoritative as are the Scriptures.
The Scriptures affirm that God’s attribute of eternity/infinity is not shared by us. According to Job 36:26, Elihu said of God, ‘Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable’ (ESV).
God’s eternity is suggested by NT passages such as Rev 1:8, ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (ESV). So, God’s eternity is affirmed in both OT and NT, the reliable Scriptures that are ‘breathed out by God’ and have a guess what? They are ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ to equip us for God’s good work in our lives. That applies to you and me and all Christians on this forum.
Thus, God is timeless in his being. God was never created so he did not begin to exist. See Gen 1:1; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; and Heb 1:2.
Second Peter 3:8 confirms that God sees all of time equally: ‘But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (ESV). Isaiah 46:9-10 affirms similar teaching:
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose (ESV).
This attribute of God’s eternity/infinity is demonstrated in time, where all human beings exist: Acts 17:30-31 provides but one example:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (ESV).
You can denigrate the Psalms, but that view is not supported by the doctrine of Scripture I’ve cited above, but the Scriptures affirm God’s eternity where:
- God is timeless in his being;
- He sees all time equally; and
- God acts in time – the time we experience.
That’s Bible, and denigrating the Psalms is an avoidance mechanism in dealing with the authority and teaching of Scripture on God’s eternity/infinity.
If you don’t believe the Psalms are a reliable source for theology, why don’t you start a new thread with a title such as, ‘The Psalms are unreliable teaching on biblical Christianity’. I look forward to the response when and if you bring Psalm 23 into that view.
William Craig doubts Grudem’s view of God’s eternity
(William Lane Craig photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Influential evangelical apologist and philosopher, Dr William Lane Craig, does not agree with Grudem’s exposition of God’s eternity. Although Craig uses some challenging philosophical concepts for me, he does raise some issues with Grudem’s view that are substantial. Take a read of Craig’s issues in: ‘A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity‘ (Craig 1996).
His assessment is:
It is shown how the attempt of one theologian to explicate the doctrine of divine eternity is logically inconsistent and his attempts to defend an atemporal understanding of eternity mistaken (Craig 1996).
Craig explains one of his issues with Grudem’s formulation of God’s eternity:
Grudem is oblivious to the fact that his claim "God always existed before there was any time" is patently self-contradictory, indeed, doubly so. First, to speak of God’s existing "before" time is contradictory because "before" is a temporal relation. So if God existed before time, He existed at some time prior to time, which is obviously a contradiction. Secondly, to say God always existed timelessly is self-contradictory, since "always" is a temporal adverb meaning "at all times." But to say God prior to creation existed both timelessly and at all times is clearly contradictory. Grudem protests that such objections are "just quibbling" and perhaps this complaint would be justified were such contradictions due merely to a popular style of writing used to explain a doctrine which can be more rigorously formulated with consistency. But Grudem asserts that "I simply do not think it is possible to express any more clearly in English the ideas (1) that time began at Genesis 1:1 and (2) that ‘prior to’ Genesis 1:1 time did not exist (and therefore there was no succession of moments or events in this ‘prior to’ or ‘before’), but (3) that in that timeless reality God still existed, and he existed not just for a brief second or any kind of finite amount of (non!)-time but that he ‘always’ existed timelessly" ("Comments"). Now this strikes me as an extremely serious and troublesome assertion on Grudem’s part. If it is really impossible to express such ideas in a logically coherent way, without speaking of such as (non-) time or God’s always existing prior to time, then how is that any different than saying that the Christian doctrine of God is simply logically incoherent? Since logical consistency is a necessary condition for truth, the sentences formulating the Christian doctrine of divine eternity are necessarily false. To believe that the Christian doctrine of God, despite its logical incoherence, is nonetheless true thus involves a sacrificum intellectum on the part of every believer (Craig 1996).
William Lane Craig, therefore, concluded:
Grudem’s treatment of divine eternity is multiply flawed both in its formulation and defense. This does not imply that the doctrine of divine timelessness is either incoherent or indefensible. The same sort of weaknesses in formulation and defense could have been shown to characterize, for example, Clark Pinnock’s defense of divine temporality. I hope only to have shown that Grudem’s own attempt to formulate and defend his view of God’s eternity is in need of major revision (Craig 1996).
Therefore, I conclude that my formulation of the theology of God’s eternity depended too much on Wayne Grudem’s understanding and my exposition of God’s eternity needs to consider the elements of William Craig’s critique. Some of these include:
Grudem defines divine eternity as follows: "God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time" (p. 168). This definition makes it evident that Grudem construes divine eternity to be a state of timelessness, not infinite temporal duration.
Now it is immediately evident that this affirmation outstrips the biblical passages quoted by Grudem as attestation. From passages like Ps. 90.2, Grudem has no difficulty showing that God has no beginning or end: "Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (cf. Ps. 90.4; 2 Pet. 3.8). But do such passages support Grudem’s affirmation that "God is timeless in his own being" rather than God’s beginningless and endless duration? Surely not. Grudem cites Gen. 1.1; Jn. 1.3 which indicate that God created all things "in the beginning," a phrase which Grudem takes to mean "in the beginning of all events, or in the beginning of time" ("Comments"). This line is more promising; but Grudem fails to give any argument why such passages should be taken to refer to the beginning of time rather than to the beginning of the world. Grudem is on less sure ground when he appeals to Ex. 3.14; Jn. 8.58 to prove God or Jesus’s eternal presentness (Craig 1996).
Thus it is evident that my own understanding of God’s eternity needs to get rid of statements such as, ‘God always existed before or after’ where ‘before’ and ‘after’ are language for issues in time.
Craig, as a Christian philosopher, has given some profound insight into Grudem’s shortcomings in his view of God’s eternity. Craig’s preferred language is, ‘God’s beginningless and endless duration’.
Craig, W L 1996. A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity. Philosophia Christi, 19, 33-38. Available at Reasonable Faith, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-critique-of-grudems-formulation-and-defense-of-the-doctrine (Accessed 11 July 2015).
Erickson, M J 1985. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.
Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).
Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Job8#28, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Baptists?’, June 27, 2015, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/baptists.7893826/page-2 (Accessed 11 July 2015).
 Ibid., classicalhero#47.
 Ibid., OzSpen#52.
 Ibid., PrincetonGuy#53.
 Ibid., PrincetonGuy#64.
 Ibid., OzSpen#55.
 Ibid., nonaeroterraqueous#56.
 Ibid., OzSpen#57.
 Ibid., PrincetonGuy#58.
 Ibid., OzSpen#59.
 Ibid., PrincetonGuy#60.
 Ibid., OzSpen#65.
 In Craig (1996, n. 1), Craig stated: ‘I am indebted to Dr. Grudem for his critical comments on a first draft of this paper (Wayne Grudem to William Craig, October 1, 1996). Citations of these comments will appear as "Comments”’.
 There is no pagination in this online edition.
Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 April 2016.