May 2007


Introduction

What is God’s relationship to time? Is He timeless or temporal? Does He remain untouched the by the temporality of His creation, or has He entered into the flow of time with His creation? Does He exist in an “eternal now” outside of time, or does He experience chronology and succession? Does He transcend time so that He has His whole life before Him all at once without the ordering of temporal relations such as earlier than/later than, or does He experience His life moment by moment? Is it the case that from God’s perspective “the entire series of temporal events is real…and thus available for his causal influence at any point in history through a single timeless act,”1 or does God experience and act within the entire series of temporal events successively over time?

I am persuaded that it both Biblically sound and philosophically preferable that we understand God to be timeless without creation, and temporal subsequent to creation. With the act of creation God has entered into the flow of time, experiences chronology and succession, experiences His life moment by moment, and acts within the entire series of temporal events successfully over time. Before I argue for this conclusion, however, let’s consider the nature of time itself. (more…)

A United Methodist pastor has undergone a sex-change surgery from female to male. The ruling body does not see a problem with this. I bet the Presbyterian Church USA is mad that the Methodists beat them to this! These two organizations seem to be in a competition of whose ministers can be more sexually deviant. John Wesley is probably turning in his grave right now.Update: Arthur uncovered a news article indicating that the Presbyterians did beat the Methodists to it. See the comments section.

Philosopher Jerry Fodor made the following remarks in his review of Galen Strawon’s Consciousness and Its Place in Nature, on why materialist explanations for consciousness (particularly Strawson’s) do not work:

So, then, if everything is made of the same sort of stuff as tables and chairs (as per monism), and if at least some of the things made of that sort of stuff are conscious (there is no doubt that we are), and if there is no way of assembling stuff that isn’t conscious that produces stuff that is (there’s no emergence), it follows that the stuff that tables, chairs and the bodies of animals (and, indeed, everything else) is made of must itself be conscious. Strawson, having wrestled his angel to a draw, stands revealed as a panpsychist: basic things (protons, for example) are loci of conscious experience. You don’t find that plausible? Well, I warned you.

Nor, having swallowed this really enormous camel, does Strawson propose to strain at the gnats. Consider, for example: he thinks (quite rightly) that there are no experiences without subjects of experience; if there’s a pain, it must be somebody or something’s pain; somebody or something must be in it. What, then, could it be that has the experiences that panpsychists attribute to ultimate things? Nothing purely material, surely, since that would just raise the hard problem all over again. So maybe something immaterial? But monism is in force; since the constituents of
tables and chairs are made of matter, so too is everything else. So, Strawson is strongly inclined to conclude, the subjects of the experiences that basic things have must be the experiences themselves. Part of the surcharge that we pay for panpsychism (not, after all, itself an immediately plausible ontology) is that we must give up on the commonsense distinction between the experience and the experiencer. At the basic level, headaches have themselves.

I find amazing the lengths to which materialists will go to avoid a non-materialistic perspective of consciousness. They would rather confess that tables and chairs experience consciousness than admit that consciousness is an immaterial phenomenon that cannot be explained in terms of philosophical naturalism, and the sciences. In light of their belief that science can explain everything without an appeal to the immaterial, they spew forth nonsense such as this.

HT: Denise O’Leary at

 

Mindful Hack

Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason has another terrific post, this time on the topic of the appropriateness of God’s claim to worship and obedience. She writes:

A common objection has been raised by a number of the “new atheists.” In the ABC News debate, Kelly’s remark express it well: Even if there is a God, she “would rather go to hell than go to heaven and worship a megalomaniacal tyrant.” It comes up on Hitchens new book.

It’s one way of interpreting the God of the Bible who expects worship and
obedience. I don’t think it’s the accurate interpretation, and I don’t think it’s how we normally respond to appropriate authority in our lives and society. The expectation of respect, obedience is a very familiar one to us.

Do parents expect to be obeyed and respected by their children? Of course, because there is a certain relationship in place. Do we tend to show respect to a boss? Of course. Don’t we naturally show respect, and even awe, when we meet someone for whom we have tremendous respect because of their achievements? Yes. We experience relationships all the time where a certain deference is due the person in the higher station. That’s the case with God. It’s not at all outrageous.

It’s not megalomaniacal for someone to expect the kind of deference due his accomplishments and station. The expectation isn’t arbitrary; it’s appropriate given accomplishments and position.

Now grant for a moment that God is the person who created the universe, created each one of us, sustains us and provides for all of our needs and well-being, if He
is perfect, holy and good, then wouldn’t it be reasonable that respect, obedience, and even worship are due Him? We don’t worship other human beings, but if God is the being the Bible describes, then worship seems like an appropriate expectation, and it’s not a strange, outrageous expectation given familiar human relationships.

Well said.

“Prior” to the creation of the material universe ex nihilo there was no space or time. Because there was no time we conclude that God existed atemporally (timelessly). What about the absence of space? Would this not mean God existed non-spatially without creation? Yes it would. How does that conclusion square with the Biblical teaching that God is omnipresent? How can a being that is spaceless in nature be omnipresent? Is the Bible contradicting itself in its description of God’s nature? What exactly is the nature of God’s omnipresence? Has He always been omnipresent? These questions ought to cause us to think more clearly about what it means to say God is “omnipresent.”

 

To be all-present requires that there be a “here” and a “there” to be present at. Without the existence of spatial location the notion of omnipresence is meaningless. Seeing that there was no space “prior” to creation it follows that God was not omnipresent prior to creation.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> Omnipresence, then, is not an essential attribute of God’s nature; spacelessness is essential to God’s nature. “God existing alone without creation is spaceless.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–> God became omnipresent concurrent with creation in virtue of the creation of space.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[3]<!–[endif]–> Omnipresence emerged as a contingent relation between God and the spatial universe.

 

What is the Nature of God’s Omnipresence?

 

While we have determined that God is spaceless without creation and omnipresent subsequent to creation, this does not tell us anything about the nature of His omnipresence. What does it mean to say God is omnipresent? Does it mean He is spatially located within and extended throughout the universe such that He is present at every point, or does it mean He is cognizant of and causally active at every point in the universe though He is neither spatially located in, nor spatially extended throughout it?<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[4]<!–[endif]–> While we have typically conceived of omnipresence in the first sense I would argue that God’s omnipresence is more aptly described by the second.

 

At a minimum God’s omnipresence means He is not localized anywhere within space, and that He lacks both shape and size. But if omnipresence refers to God’s extension through space He would have both shape and size because the universe has both shape and size. God is not extended through space so that He fills it like air fills a container. God is not a physical substance that can fill anything. God’s omnipresence in the universe is more comparable to the way in which our minds are “filled” with thoughts. Our thoughts are not spatially extended throughout our minds, and neither is God spatially extended throughout the universe.

 

If God were spatially present at every point in the universe He could not distinguish “here” from “there.” For a being that is spatially present at every point in the universe everywhere is here; everything is ever-present before Him. There is no “there” for such a being. If God were spatially extended through space He must believe that two points, separated by millions of light years, are both “here.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[5]<!–[endif]–> That would mean God could not know the Statue of Liberty is separated from the Eiffel Tower by thousands of miles. That is patently absurd, and impugns God’s omniscience! There must be a better way of understanding God’s omnipresence.

 

Has God Changed?

 

Earlier I argued that spacelessness, rather than omnipresence, is essential to God’s nature. Those properties that are essential to a substance cannot be changed without causing the substance to cease to exist. Only accidental properties can be changed if the substance is to retain its essence. If spacelessness is essential to God’s nature, then, how could God become omnipresent at creation without giving up the property of spacelessness and ceasing to be who He was? If God’s omnipresence is understood as a spatial location extended through space this is unavoidable, for He would be required to relinquish the property of spacelessness in order to assume the property of spatiality, and thus He would cease to exist as the divine essence He once was. If, however, God’s omnipresence is understood as God’s immediate mental cognizance of, and causal activity at every point in the universe then God’s omnipresence would not encroach on His essential spaceless nature. Mental cognizance and causal activity do not require spatial presence.

 

Additionally, there is nothing intrinsic to the act of creation that would require God to be drawn into space (spatialized). Creation was not a spatial act, therefore, we have no compelling reason to believe God surrendered His divine spacelessness and began to exist spatially subsequent to the act of creation. It stands to reason that God remained spaceless even subsequent to creation. If God remained spaceless His omnipresence must mean He is simply “cognizant of and causally active at every point of space”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[6]<!–[endif]–>.

 

Conclusion

 

God’s omnipresence is an example of analogous language in which those incomprehensible aspects of God’s nature are described in terms finite humans can comprehend. We run into problems, however, when we take this use of language and apply it to God in literal terms. God is not spatially extended throughout the finite universe, but is cognizant of and causally active in each and every part of it as a non-spatial being. Because God is mentally cognizant of, rather than personally located at every point in the universe He can be both here and there, and know the difference between the two.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>


<!–[endif]–>

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>To speak of that which was prior to creation is a figure of speech, similar to the way scientists speak of temperatures “lower than” absolute zero. It is a mental construct only, having no ontological basis in reality. The beginning of time is a boundary beyond which only our imagination can travel. Trying to find time before the beginning is like trying to cross the boundary of space into spacelessness. There is no space on the other side of space in which to cross over into, and likewise there is no time on the other side of the beginning to go back to.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[3]<!–[endif]–>Space was created by God, but that does not mean it was manufactured as if it were some physical substance. To say God “created” space merely expresses the fact that (1) space had a temporal beginning, and that (2) God is its causal agent. Space is not a physical substance, but a relation that obtains in virtue of the presence of finite and material objects. Just as time keeps every event from happening at once, space keeps everything from being located at the same point. In the utter absence of finite and material objects space would not obtain. God no more created something called space than we create the relation “next to” when we place two books side-by-side. Apart from the creation of matter there would be no space (or time for that matter), for it is only the creation of material substance that necessitates there be space in which the matter can exist, and time in which the matter can move. Space and time “came along for the ride” in virtue of the creation of matter, but they were not the objects of creation itself. The relations of space and time emerged with the existence of matter. Space is a contingent relation emerging concomitantly with the presence of material substance.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[4]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[5]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[6]<!–[endif]–>William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 510.

I don’t know about you, but I have always been somewhat bothered by how the apostles interpreted the OT at times. While we are taught (rightly so for the most part) that meaning is to be found in the author’s intention, the apostles seemed to find meaning in the OT that the author could not have possibly intended. At times they seem to throw context and the whole historico-grammatical approach to hermeneutics out the door.

For example, in Hosea God says, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Matthew says this was prophetic of Jesus’ sojourn and departure from Egypt as a child. Nothing in the original context indicates the passage to be prophetic in nature, or have any Messianic application. It was a mere historical statement about what God did in the Exodus.

Or consider Paul’s use of Genesis 12 and 15. God told Abraham his “seed” would possess the land of Canaan forever. While the word “seed” in Hebrew (zera) is singular, the context makes it clear that God was speaking about all of Abraham’s physical descendents. In Galatians 3, however, Paul interpreted the singular “seed” to be a reference to a single person: Jesus Christ. He is said to be seed to whom the covenant promises applied. From this, Paul made a theological claim that by being united to Christ through faith we too become the seed of Abraham, partaking of the promises God made to Him. A very strange use of Scripture indeed. I can guarantee you that if Matthew or Paul was enrolled in a hermeneutics course today, and interpreted the Scripture the way they did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the NT, the professor would give them a failing grade.

So how do we make sense of this? Peter Enns, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, offers some help. He authored an article titled “Apostolic Hermeneutics and an Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture: Moving beyond a Modernist Impasse,” which appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the Westminster Theological Journal. While this is a complicated and vast topic that cannot be adequately tackled in a short paper, Enns did a good job of making some inroads. The paper can be downloaded here. While I would highly recommend that you read it for yourself, I will summarize and reproduce relevant points.

Enns begins by acknowledging a genuine conflict between the hermeneutic of the apostles and the hermeneutic of modern Evangelicalism. Whereas many Evangelicals try explaining away the apostles’ regular departure from a historico-grammatical (HG) approach to hermeneutics, Enns admits that the apostles’ hermeneutic is markedly different from the HG method. While at times they used the HG method, at other times they didn’t.

Enns points out that to understand the way the apostles interpreted the OT, we have to understand the hermeneutical principles being used by their contemporaries. Their hermeneutic was culturally informed. Looking at contemporaneous writings it becomes clear that the way the apostles interpreted the OT is consistent with the rabbis of the Second Temple era.

Not only was the apostles’ hermeneutic culturally informed, but more importantly it was eschatologically informed. Enns writes:

The Apostles had their own reasons for engaging the OT, their Scripture. How they engaged the OT (interpretive methods) and even their own understanding of certain OT passages (transmission of pre-existing interpretive traditions) were a function of their cultural moment. But why they engaged the OT was driven by their eschatological moment, their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was God with us and that he had been raised from the dead. True to their Second Temple setting, the Apostles did not arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is Lord from a dispassionate, objective reading of the OT. Rather, they began with what they knew to be true—the historical fact of the death and resurrection of the Son of God—and on the basis of that fact re-read their Scripture in a fresh way. There is no question that such a thing can be counter-intuitive for a more traditional evangelical doctrine of Scripture. It is precisely a dispassionate, unbiased, objective reading that is normally considered to constitute valid reading. But again, what may be considered valid today cannot be the determining factor for understanding what the Apostles did.

For example, it is difficult indeed to read Matt 2:15 as an objective reading of Hos 11:1, likewise, Paul’s use of Isa 49:8 in 2 Cor 6:2. Neither Matthew nor Paul arrived at his conclusions from reading the OT. Rather, they began with the event from which all else is now to be understood. In other words, it is the death and resurrection of Christ that was central to the Apostles’ hermeneutical task.
To put it another way, it is the conviction of the Apostles that the eschaton had come in Christ that drove them back to see where and how their Scripture spoke of him. And this was not a matter of grammatical-historical exegesis but of a Christ-driven hermeneutic. The term I prefer to use to describe this hermeneutic is Christotelic. … To see Christ as the driving force behind apostolic hermeneutics is not to flatten out what the OT says on its own. Rather, it is to see that, for the church, the OT does not exist on its own, in isolation from the completion of the OT story in the death and resurrection of Christ. The OT is a story that is going somewhere, which is what the Apostles are at great pains to show. It is the OT as a whole, particularly in its grand themes, that finds its telos, its completion, in Christ. This is not to say that the vibrancy of the OT witness now comes to an end, but that—on the basis of apostolic authority—it finds its proper goal, purpose, telos, in that event by which God himself determined to punctuate his covenant: Christ.

The big question is Can we do what the apostles did? Can we re-read the OT in light of the eschatological Christ event and find Christ where Christ would not be found using the normal HG method of interpretation? Most would say no. Why is it that the apostles could do it, but we can’t? The usual response is that the apostles could do it because they were inspired to do so, whereas we are not; they had apostolic authority to do so, whereas we do not. Enns destroys that argument on several counts. First, it would be all the more reason for us to employ their methods of interpretation. If God inspired them to interpret Scripture in such a fashion, the method must be valid. While we may not be certain that Christ is found in the OT where we think we see Him (since there would be no inspired Scripture to verify that we are right), looking for Him in passages not speaking of Him in their original context could not be condemned as illegitimate. Secondly, if we are to follow the apostles’ teaching, why should we not follow their hermeneutics? Thirdly, rooting the apostles’ ability to handle the Scripture in the manner they did because of their office could actually argue against the legitimacy of their claims to apostolicity. If the H-G method of interpretation is the only valid method, and the apostles did not consistently use it, then they were mishandling the Word of God. That’s hardly befitting of an apostle; hence, they are not apostles. If we reject the conclusions of these three arguments, then we must reject the traditional argument for why we can’t interpret the Bible the way the apostles did.

How does Enns answer this question? He argues that we can use the apostles’ hermeneutical goal, but not their exegetical method. Regarding the former Enns writes:

The Apostles’ hermeneutical goal (or agenda), the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ, must be also ours by virtue of the fact that we share the same eschatological moment. …
A Christian understanding of the OT should begin with what God revealed to the Apostles and what they model for us: the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ for OT interpretation. We, too, are living at the end of the story; we are engaged in the second reading by virtue of our eschatological moment, which is now as it was for the Apostles the last days, the inauguration of the eschaton. We bring the death and resurrection of Christ to bear on the OT. Again, this is not a call to flatten out the OT, so that every psalm or proverb speaks directly and explicitly of Jesus. It is, however, to ask oneself, “What difference does the death and resurrection of Christ make for how I understand this proverb?” It is the recognition of our privileged status to be living in the post-resurrection cosmos that must be reflected in our understanding of the OT. Therefore, if what claims to be Christian proclamation of the OT simply remains in the pre-eschatological moment—simply reads the OT “on its own terms”—such is not a Christian proclamation in the apostolic sense.


Regarding the latter Enns writes:

What then of the exegetical methods employed by the Apostles? Here I follow Longenecker to a degree in that we do not share the Second Temple cultural milieu of the Apostles. I have no hesitation in saying that I would feel extremely uncomfortable to see our pastors, exegetes, or Bible Study leaders change, omit, or add words and phrases to make their point, even though this is what NT authors do. One very real danger that we are all aware of is how some play fast and loose with Scripture to support their own agenda. The church instinctively wants to guard against such a misuse of Scripture by saying, “Pay attention to the words in front of you in their original context.” What helps prevent (but does not guarantee against) such flights of fancy is grammatical-historical exegesis.

But this does not mean the church should adopt the grammatical-historical method as the default, normative hermeneutic for how it should read the OT today. Why? Because grammatical-historical exegesis simply does not lead to a Christotelic (apostolic) hermeneutic. A grammatical-historical exegesis of Hos 11:1, an exegesis that is anchored by Hosea’s intention, will lead no one to Matt 2:15. The first (grammatical-historical) reading does not lead to the second reading. This is a dilemma. The way I have presented the dilemma may suggest an impasse, but perhaps one way beyond that impasse is to question what we mean by “method.” The word implies, at least to me, a worked out, conscious application of rules and steps to arrive at a proper understanding of a text. But what if “method,” so understood, is not as central a concept as we might think? What if biblical interpretation is not guided so much by method but by an intuitive, Spirit-led engagement of Scripture with the anchor being not what the author intended but by how Christ gives the OT its final coherence?

I’ll leave you hanging with that. Check out the article.

For additional resources, check out this excellent lecture by Matt Harmon, Associate Professor of NT Studies at Grace Theological Seminary, and this article by Glenn Miller (I haven’t finished reading it yet, but Miller is always good).

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