IF THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD . . .

Genesis begins with the phrase: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” The word “beginning” is always defined by us in relation to time. So we must conclude that God “created the heavens and the earth” at the beginning of time. For God to do this God must have been apart from time, existing outside of time.

The Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Should we read the non-stated phrase, “who was with God apart from the beginning,” into this sentence or is the God, who is the Son of God, a person of time? Was God the Son begotten of God the Father at the beginning of the beginning or apart from that event, when time did not exist?

Comments

IF THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD . . . — 65 Comments

  1. Hi, MP,

    This is what Arius and Athanasius were arguing about, isn’t it? Arius wanted to say “there was when the Son was not” [note that he does not say, “there was a time, when the Son was not”]: but Athanasius replied (in effect) that leaving the word “time” out didn’t eliminate the concept: if there was once just the Father and then at some other point there were both the Father and the Son, then the passage of time began at the moment of that change, and the Son was subject to time, and thus the Son was not truly transcendent, and thus the Son was not truly God, and thus the Son could not truly save us. This is why the Nicene Creed says the Son is “eternally begotten of the Father” (i.e., not in time) as well as “homoousios to Patri,” “of one being with the Father.” Or, in the less precise Christmas hymn paraphrase, “Of the Father’s love begotten / Ere the worlds began to be / He is Alpha and Omega / He the source, the ending he.”

  2. All, very true. But the title of this post is “IF THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD . . .”

    In the Bible the Son is not truly transcendent. What happens to the Son is dependant on the Father.

    Personally, as I have said many times before, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest if God is not “all” everything. In fact, I can’t see how there can be atonement if God is or anything to love God for.

  3. I was sort of following this conversation until the last sentence in your reply. Somehow at that point I lost it. Can you perhaps elucidate?

    FWIW
    jimB

  4. I’ve long had problems trying to wrap my mind around the “eternal begotten-ness” of the Son. Doesn’t “begotten-ness” necessarily presuppose that it is an event? And if an event, then it has to take place within time.

    I like what a colleague of mine once said about himself, that he is a Trinitarian in heart but a Unitarian in mind. I can identify with that.

    -Doug (WearyPilgrim)

  5. Good Lord, MP, you have worse sleep habits than I do!

    I suppose one answer to this is to say that there isn’t an answer simply in terms of the Bible, which is why all those irritating people in Africa and Pittsburgh are so irritating. One of the Arian arguments against the Athanasians was precisely that the Arian position stuck to the strict meaning of the biblical text. (Which is also what the Sadducees said about the Pharisees, iirc.)

    Another angle, though, would be to focus yet more closely on the language of Genesis. The Priestly author is talking about “creating,” a word used in this form strictly for the divine action, as opposed to me making a pot or something, but it doesn’t explicitly say “creatio ex nihilo.” Indeed we know from the psalms that other ancient Jews at other times thought God had to defeat the dragon of chaos in order to create the world. Meanwhile, the text doesn’t necessarily mean “In the beginning of time”–it could just mean “When God began to create the heavens and the earth.” So the biblical text in itself doesn’t support your first premise, “that God must have been apart from time”: it could mean that God was in time and at a particular point began to make the heaven and the earth. I would certainly read it the way you do, but that’s a conviction I bring to the text, not something written in it. Arguably, I get that conviction from the combined witness of other parts of the canon; but then arguably we can read the atemporality of the Son in John 1 from the combined witness of passages like “Before Abraham was, I am” or “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

    Similarly, if we look particularly closely at the language of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God,” the plain meaning of that language doesn’t allow for the begetting of the Son to be the beginning of time. Especially because the passage is composed to be parallel to Genesis, if the author wanted to say the beginning of the Son was, or came at, the beginning of time, he would have had to say, “In the beginning, God begot (or created, or whatever) the Word, and the Word was with God, etc.” The plain surface meaning already includes your idea “who was with God apart from the beginning.” (And, indeed, I think this meaning was why Arius was so careful not to say “there was a time when the Son was not”.) The question of the co-eternity of the Son is one people bring to the text of John because of their ideas gathered from other parts of the Scripture (e.g., “You are my son, this day I have begotten you”), or just from the implications of the metaphor of Father and Son.

    So: I think that, if we insist on arguing just from the Word of God written, without any preconceptions at all, then the two passages don’t (on close reading) raise the question we’re discussing; on the other hand, if we grant ourselves enough preconceptions to raise the question, we leave the door open to the particular package of preconceptions that constitute Athanasianism.

    But my preconception is that I have to get up tomorrow morning to go watch a football/soccer game…

  6. The thing that makes you a Unitarian is the belief that Jesus is not God. I cannot see why a begotten (as in created) Jesus cannot be God.

  7. And yet, Christians are supposed to be monotheists, right? Therefore Jesus = God, in the Christian way of seeing things. And Holy Spirit = God too. So Christians could be described as “Unitarians” because all Christians believe in the unity of God, right?

    Although admittedly I’m more at ease with “Unitarian” belief, that God is one unified entity, and Jesus is a phenomenon of time and place.

    wv: ameredge

    The American Edge. :beams:

  8. other ancient Jews at other times thought God had to defeat the dragon of chaos in order to create the world.

    That would answer a lot of Stephen Hawking’s questions.

  9. Now look what you’ve done, drat it! You have raised questions, that I have never questioned and now I’ll be struggling with it all day (off and on, I admit)
    If one of the grandkids asks me what am I sitting there thinking, fancy what they would say if I replied: “Oh, I am pondering whether the Blessed Trinity has been in 3 forms but one substance from the beginning of time if there ever was a beginning of time or whether God ever had a beginning, etc”
    Geez, you guys! Good conversation though! Nij

  10. Now look what you’ve done, drat it! You have raised questions, that I have never questioned and now I’ll be struggling with it all day (off and on, I admit)
    If one of the grandkids asks me what am I sitting there thinking, fancy what they would say if I replied: “Oh, I am pondering whether the Blessed Trinity has been in 3 forms but one substance from the beginning of time if there ever was a beginning of time or whether God ever had a beginning, etc”
    Geez, you guys! Good conversation though! Nij

  11. Now look what you’ve done, drat it! You have raised questions, that I have never questioned and now I’ll be struggling with it all day (off and on, I admit)
    If one of the grandkids asks me what am I sitting there thinking, fancy what they would say if I replied: “Oh, I am pondering whether the Blessed Trinity has been in 3 forms but one substance from the beginning of time if there ever was a beginning of time or whether God ever had a beginning, etc”
    Geez, you guys! Good conversation though! Nij

  12. The main thing is not to panic, Nij. This is purely a “what if” discussion. Any ideas put forward by any of the participants, wether orthodox or heretical will not be regarded as being a statement of belief and/or held against them here or in the hereafter.

  13. Time is a relative, man-made concept. The Bible as “The Word of God” is still humanity’s attempt to define the divine and undefinable.

    There are many contradictory points in the Bible. Apparently all that matters are the ones that humanity has decided to squabble over over the centuries.

    I’m not sure if I’m saying anything substantial here but after Nij posted his/her comments three times, I felt obligated to say something!

  14. Shucks, Renz, I didn’t post it 3 times on purpose. The blogger or whoever kept rejecting it, saying that I wasn’t copying the word thing-a-ma-jig correctly. So I would try again, that happened 2 extra times, thus 3 posts. I think that you are correct, Renz, what we call time is the name that people have given to the rotations of the planet earth which are named “days” and counted.
    PS to Renz, hope u r feeling better, even if it took 3 identical posts to rouse u to action :>)
    to MP – this old cynic has reached the point that pretty much all theology is in the “what if” category……there r too many for sure things to panic abt!
    Nij

  15. I agree with Nij that theology tends to be in the “what if” category but I have always read “in the beginning was the Word” as suggesting that God the Son has been around since before the beginning of the beginning. But the question is interesting.

  16. I have always read “in the beginning was the Word” as suggesting that God the Son has been around since before the beginning of the beginning.

    Cathy, I have, too. Of course, the Son incarnate exists in time.

    Signed,

    Pundia (my WV)

  17. But are the two of you bringing a post-biblical expectation to the text? Because you believe that the Son existed before the beginning of universe time you read the text as saying that. If you didn’t have that pre-existing belief, how would you read the text?

  18. That’s a big “if”. I doubt if I can imagine what I’d think the text is saying without my pre-existing beliefs.

    Another question arises: Does time exist, or is it a construct of the human mind?

    You can make yourself crazy thinking about this stuff. One thing leads to another, and before you know it….

  19. Everything we perceive is, in a way, a construct of our own minds, as our minds “bring order out of the chaos” that our senses send to it. But, time is a definite something as we can talk to each other about events in time and know what we are talking about. If I say “yesterday” to you, you know what I mean just as much as you would if I said “bottle of whisky” to you. However, although we know a lot about what a bottle of whisky is, we haven’t got a definite idea of what time is as yet.

  20. But, time is a definite something as we can talk to each other about events in time and know what we are talking about.

    Yes, but does time become a something only because we talk about it? Is the “thing” of time only what we say about it?

    You see? Crazy-making. There’s no end to it.

  21. Yesterday, bottle of whisky? Mimi, I think he is trying to insult you.

    Agreed that it is impossible to read the statement devoid of pre-existent beliefs (particularly since the language used seems deliberately opaque and is also a translation).

  22. I have always simply thought of it as the Word having been present at the beginning, not necessarily as having been begotten, created or somehow taking essence at said beginning. Instead, I would think that it was only in the beginning that the actual conception of the Word as a particular part of a deity could have been formulated, and therefore it was not that the Word did not exist prior to time, but that it was only in time given name.

    Of course, this theory came from my belief that the Word existed prior to time. This is the point where I wish I’d taken Greek in college, so I could figure out the real “meaning” behind the words. Oh, well. I’ll just have to deal with the English, then.

  23. If we haven’t got a definite idea of what time is as yet that makes it all the harder to say if God the son was begotten as part of time.

  24. No, Mimi. Unless you’ve turned fundie and don’t believe there was 3.5 billion years of stuff happening on earth before we started to evolve.

  25. The translation is accurate in John. In Genesis, the first line should be translated as the gods (plural) creating heaven and earth. This is one of the big cover ups in biblical scholarship.

  26. The word could have been begotten at the beginning of time, at a point where time had not begun. As all things came about through the Word, maybe the Word is responsible for time. Maybe the link between the Word and temporal existence allowed the Word to take on our flesh which may have been an act that was impossible for the Father who is transcendent.

  27. As far as I know, not outside of Genesis. In fact, it is translated as gods elsewhere in Genesis. The gods coming down to do the naughty thing with the daughters of men springs to mind. That episode led to the birth of the Nephalim, a race of giants,

    But this all comes about because much of genesis, especially the creation myths, are transliterations of much earlier, pre-momotheism, stories. In fact, the Israelites were polytheists until at least the 7th. century BC. Even then their understanding of such “creatures” as Wisdom showed that they had no problems with levels of divinity below God. I also think that they accepted that the other gods, worshipped by gentiles, were real – just no way near as powerful as God and completely unworthy of praise.

  28. That is totally fascinating. I knew the last bit (about the Israelites accepting that other gods were real) but have not particularly come across the rest.

  29. But what if “time” really doesn’t exist except as our own construct? What if it is all “now.” I’m reminded of the riddle what did the snail say to the turtle? Answer: Hot rod! That or what did the snail on the back of the turtle say? Answer: weeeeeeee!

    A firecracker ignites and explodes in a split second by our standards – yet when we compare the span of our human lives against geologic time – we exist in a split second.

    But what if it all exists always. Yet our collective and feeble animal brains have to perceive things in a linear fashion in order to make sense of it?

    “in the beginning” is simple another way of saying “always” in our limited way of expressing ourselves.

  30. I can translate the Greek (poorly), but I have no Hebrew. However, I read commentaries on OT books by perfectly mainstream scholars who have.

  31. Unless you’ve turned fundie and don’t believe there was 3.5 billion years of stuff happening on earth before we started to evolve.

    Hardly likely that I’ve turned fundie. I don’t see how your statement answers my question:

    Is the “thing” of time only what we say about it?

    But nevermind.

    Cathy, I caught the whisky reference but it bounced off. I have none in the house, but I may remedy that soon.

    The title nearly stopped me dead, Jonathan, because I don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, only what humans say about God, but for the Gospels, which very likely contain words that Jesus actually said.

    But lucky for you, I managed to carry on anyway and add my pearls of wisdom to your comments.

  32. “in the beginning” is simple another way of saying “always” in our limited way of expressing ourselves.

    Usually, yes. But in the first verse of Genesis, God creating heaven and earth, indicate that God existed before our always. The only other option is that God began at the same time as God began to create and I don’t think we believe that or that our universe has existed for always if God created it. Of course, if there is no God then maybe our universe has existed for always because there is nothing else except our universe and asking what was before the universe, or apart from our universe, is a non-question.

  33. Yes, I did. But I’ll say it again.

    Is the “thing” of time only what we say about it?

    No. If we weren’t here time would still happen. I think there is more to time than just entropy but entropy is a major component of time, and entropy would still happen to objects in the Universe if we weren’t around to witness it.

  34. The Dragon of Chaos is just biding it’s time waiting for an opportunity to strike – just as it has always done.

    Fortunately, I have the Cat of Glory to protect me.

  35. Yes. The universe exists. If you took humans out of the universe the only thing that would be different is that there would be no humans in it.

    Really, Mimo, you do have a very high opinion of your role in the Cosmos.

  36. Fortunately, I have the Cat of Glory to protect me.

    And I have the Penguin of Death! And KJ has the Budgerigar of Slight Annoyance!!

    So, thankfully, all of us will be OK. Hurrah!

  37. I’ve had a glass of wine (not whiskey) so I shouldn’t be commenting but:

    I really wish to be a monotheist

    I like the idea that the Word and Time began at the same “time”

    It was only when there was Christ/Word that it became possible to even contemplate and to talk about God and about time. In other words, Christ was/is/shall be that which allows time to be a concept.

    And, yes, mysteries rock!

  38. I think, more than just the concept, Susan. It is through Christ (the Word) that the Father (God) brings order out of chaos (rapid expansion of the universe). Without Jesus we might still have time but it would be all over the place.

  39. I hesitated, but why should you not? Assume I have something you desire.
    If I can give it to you why should you not be grateful given that equally I can decline to do so?

    FWIW
    jimB

  40. I love the Revised English Bible version of John 1:1-5

    “In the beginning the Word already was. The Word was in God’s presence, and what God was, the Word was. He was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; without him no created thing came into being. In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never mastered it.”

  41. MP, thou hast read “elohim” as “gods” in thy posting above; and, indeed, “elohim” is grammatically plural. But if thou dost read it so, thou ignorest the fact that usage often applieth plural forms to singular subjects, in English as well as Hebrew, as, for example, when English useth the plural “you” in speaking to one person as a sign of honour to the one addressed (as also in French and German). Thou wouldst not address the Supreme Governor of thy Church as “thy majesty,” and so the Priestly author useth the plural of majesty in speaking of the King of the Universe. One discerneth from the context whether the author meaneth singular or plural.

    The Priestly author certainly does use “elohim” to refer to God in the opening of Genesis, but the word is used 2346 other times (according to Strong’s lexicon) in the OT to refer to God, as opposed to about 250 times in various plural meanings (if I am reading the lexicon correctly). As the P author is writing out of the (so to speak)”discovery” of monotheism in the experience of the Babylonian Exile, he or she is actually quite insistent that this God is the only one in business. Note, particularly, that whereas the Babylonians worshiped the sun and the moon and the stars, the Priestly author’s God actually creates light without even needing sun, moon, or stars, and then, when he later does create the heavenly bodies, they don’t even get names. The gods of the nations are not gods, and even as physical objects, they are not necessary to the one God of Israel.

  42. Just a minor correction: Although the word elohim is plural in Genesis and other places the verbs that go with it are singular. It seems the word Elohim is used in different ways in the Bible, as a generic or proper name and the form of the verb will indicate which one it is.
    What exactly was the writer of John trying to communicate and how would it make sense or not make to the intended audience?

  43. Oh, you damnable, liberal scholars. You take the plain words of scripture and twist them round to mean anything you want them to mean.

    Genesis was written by lots of different people, some of them more monotheistic than the others. And the stories of Genesis are very old stories taken from the mythologies of polytheistic religions. They have been altered for the Jewish market but they are not new revelations. What Genesis gives us is a snapshot of a polytheistic religious culture which is being forced, by the scholars and priests, into a monotheistic belief system. That is why there is such confusion.

  44. Hmmmm…in Dogma it is said that humans cannot hear the voice of God (it’s a movie, I know, but bear with me) so the angels have to relay God’s words (played wonderfully by Alanis Morrisette).

    The Genesis story and other creation myths take something unexplainable and translate it for human ears.

    All this talk about God having to exist before “time” because of the language used in Genesis…

    Is it really that different from pondering what existed before the Big Bang created the universe?

  45. Is it really that different from pondering what existed before the Big Bang created the universe?

    Even within cosmology the question of what existed before the Big Bang is being openly discussed due to the possible outcomes of string theory. If God exists then the question is absolutely valid. This post is based on the existence of something apart from the universe and which existed before the Big Bang (if not in the timeline of our own universe, certainly within the timeline of the Multiverse).

  46. RE: Elohim = Gods

    Yes, and a friend of mine who studied at Texas Christian University told me that his OT instructor told the class that “elohim” is a *feminine* reflexive plural noun. So elohim = we Goddesses.

    RE: “As far as I know, not outside of Genesis. In fact, it is translated as gods elsewhere in Genesis. The gods coming down to do the naughty thing with the daughters of men springs to mind. That episode led to the birth of the Nephalim, a race of giants.”

    Giants. Hmmm. Where would I have heard that before??? 😉

  47. Just for the record: I have in fact confirmed that God Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has given us sinuses, ragweed and allergies to remind us of our sinful nature and to prevent us from becoming overcome with happiness. :grumble:

  48. Jesus as God incarnate is in space-time. God, the creator, must be outside time. it’s a bit like the particle-wave duality of light. Both at the same time. (Written after a half bottle or wine). I save Scotch for colder weather.

  49. Elohim is masculine plural and not feminine. Elohim is not godesses but could refer to male gods.
    Yes. The Genesis creation stories are modifications of earlier polytheistic stories but if we are talking about what Genesis 1 is focusing on how Genesis uses the word in this story it is a name of a God which may be one among many. The story that talks about the gods coming down to copulate with human women are called the bene’ elohim that is the sons of God which means like the Cannaite God El the Israelite god Elohim has sons.