In “Love, omnibenevolence, and Francis Chan” I observed that many Calvinists reject the biblical presentation of God as sempiternal (that is, as backwardly and forwardly everlasting) in favor of an abstract and extra-biblical theory of divine atemporality. While I don’t have a problem with this per se, I do object when Calvinists then claim that Arminians are introducing extra-biblical concepts to the text when it comes to conceiving of the nature of perfect love and omnibenevolence.
In response Katie asked whether I could identify some specific Biblical passages which “support a view of God as sempiternal”. So let’s take a look.
God is just in time
Start with a passage like Genesis 6:3: ““My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal ; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” The clear implication is that mortal = limited duration in time whereas immortal = unlimited duration in time.
1 Chronicles 16:34 says “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” The assumption is that God’s love (a divine quality or property) endures forever because God endures forever.
This is echoed in Psalm 9:7: “The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.” In this case God’s reign continues forever through time precisely because God continues forever through time.
And now let’s skip down to Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” In this passage we see the writer to the Hebrews placing Jesus squarely within the category of the divine. Just as God (the Father) is one who exists yesterday, today and forever, so is Jesus Christ his Son.
Such examples could be multipled ad nauseum. The entire depiction of God throughout the Bible as freely acting in history through an endless series of actions provides overwhelming testimony to the divine temporality. This witness culminates in the incarnation where we see God himself walking the dusty streets of Palestne.
Is there biblical evidence for God beyond time?
Atemporalists will appeal to a few passages to establish the claim that God is beyond time. Perhaps the most notable is Isaiah 57:15: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name Holy” (KJV).
It sounds impressive. Could it be that God’s inhabiting of eternity means God inhabiting an atemporal existence?
Unfortunately no. The Hebrew noun `ad which is translated as “eternity” is best understood to convey the idea of continuing through time without end. Thus the NIV translates more accurately: “For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy”.
The fact is that atemporalists are deeply impacted by the philosophical tradition that began with Parmenides which views temporality as an inferior form of existence and thereby infers that God must transcend time, he must have, in the words of Boethius, “the fullness of illimitable life”.
I don’t have a problem with divine atemporality (so long as atemporalists don’t delude themselves into thinking they’re getting their philosophical abstraction out of the Bible). What I can’t abide is the claim that other Christians (e.g. Arminians) are improperly reading extra-biblical concepts into the Bible.