Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.6)

Part Five

The Kingdom of God and the New Heaven and New Earth

The prediction of a new heaven and a new earth seems to throw a spanner in the works of those interpreters who think they see a kingdom-age after the second coming of Christ but before the New Creation.  I think McClain is right in saying that the prophet simply views the kingdom-age and the New Creation together.[1]   And it is true that the Prophets do place events together which consequently are seen to be separated by millennia.  The prophecies concerning the first and second comings of Christ are cases in point.  Isaiah 65:17-25 predicts not only a new heaven and earth, it also predicts death and sin, though in a greatly modified setting where children and sinners die at a hundred years of age (Isa. 65:20).  But Isaiah has already said that God will abolish death (Isa. 25:8).  What is to be done?  I think both should be taken literally, although they don’t seem to belong together.  Are we to believe that death and sin are still in evidence in the New Creation?  But what of the efficacy of the finished work of Christ?

Let me admit that I feel the weight of inquiry from those who would pressure me into answering these points.  They would rather make the passage metaphorical or else gloss over verse 20 completely.[2]  If the death of a child and of a sinner at a hundred years old is a metaphor, what can it possibly signify?[3]  And if it is not, how can it be fitted into an eschatology where the new heavens and earth follow on directly from Christ’s return?  Better then to adopt the interpretation of Saucy who explains,

The blending by the prophets of a future restored Jerusalem and the final eternal city corresponds with their picture of the future of the entire earth and heavens.  The hope of the Old Testament was ultimately for an eternal state of things, for the prophets knew that the present “heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment” (Isa 51:6).  Consequently, along with the portrayal of the rule of the Messiah over an imperfect world (cf. Isa 2:1-4; Zech 14:16ff), they looked forward to the creation of “new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17; 66:22).[4]

The reference to Isaiah 51 in the quotation above is instructive, for although Isaiah 51:6 states that this present creation order will disappear, Jerusalem (which God is preeminently concerned about in this book[5], and which often in Isaiah stands also for the whole nation), is promised continuance:

So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah 51:11 (cf. 65:18; 66:22)

The city’s permanence is grounded upon the covenant God Himself, who laid the foundations of the present earth (Isa. 51:13), and who will establish a new foundation (Isa. 51:16).  The glorious yet imperfect kingdom of Isaiah 65:20-25 is the kingdom envisaged in chapter 11.  There are children (“offspring”) present (Isa. 65:23).

The conjunction of comfort upon Zion and judgment upon God’s enemies returns in the last chapter of this great book.  In the midst of this is an enigmatic declaration of the birth (rebirth) of the nation of Israel:

Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children. – Isaiah 66:8

Zion is said to bring forth a nation in one day. The suddenness of this “birth” is meant to tell the reader that it is God who will work a miracle for Israel.[6]  This suddenness corresponds with the impression already made of healing (Isa. 58:8) and comfort (Isa. 61-62).  Isaiah leaves us with an expectation of national renewal for Israel (cf. Isa. 46:13). (more…)

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The “Day of the Lord” in the Old Testament

The Day of the LORD in the Old Testament[1]

     The expression “the Day of the Lord” is sometimes thought to refer to the time of the end of this age.[2]  Unquestionably, there are passages which do refer to the eschaton, and we shall look at them, but not every usage of the phrase can be slotted into the last days; the locust plague in Joel 1 being a case in point.  In Joel 1 the Day of the Lord speaks of Yahweh using things in the natural world to punish His people.  Four descriptions of the locusts are given in Joel 1:4 and 2:25 (which could describe four separate varieties of locust).  This appears to tie together Joel 1 and 2.  Additionally, Joel 1:6 depicts the teeth of the locusts as lion’s fangs, which is figurative, so we must take into account similes when reading about the appearance of the army in Joel 2:4 as like horses.[3]  For reasons such as these Thomas Finley believes that Joel 1:5- 2:25 describes a contemporary locust infestation.[4]

Finley may be right, but some things in Joel 2 don’t fit his view easily.  The last reference to the Day in Joel 2:31 speaks of the sun and moon being blacked out before the Day of the Lord.  And Joel 3:14 -16 includes the same phenomena, as well as Yahweh Himself coming to deliver His remnant; and He comes to “dwell” in Zion (Joel 3:17).  These are eschatological uses of the phrase and describe events surrounding the second coming.

Regarding the circumstances of Joel 2:1-15 the first thing which strikes the interpreter is the shift to the future tense in chapter 2.[5]  The change in verb tenses does not of itself mean that the prophet is peering into the far distant future, but it strongly indicates a different set of circumstances than those in chapter 1.  Joel still uses the locust imagery, but now more for analogy.  Most striking is Joel’s use of similes.  For example,

Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run.

With a noise like chariots over mountaintops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array.

Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of color.

They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like men of war – Joel 2:4-7a (my emphasis)

 

If this is a description of a coming trained army why say they are “like horses,” “like a strong people in battle array,” “like mighty men”?  The usual answer is the employment of the caph veritatis where the expression refers to the way something actually is (or ought to be).[6]  This may be so, but it is not easy to claim this use in verse 4.  One could say that the men were indeed mighty (Joel 2:7), but you could not say that they were horses and actually galloped (Joel 2:4).

Another point worth considering is Joel 2:6; a trained soldier (say an Assyrian or Greek) would try to kill the enemy, not mame them so that they writhed in agony.  Perhaps this is the grisly part about an invasion that Joel chose to mention, but why not mention all the corpses (e.g. Jer. 41:9)?  Just maybe it is because this army inflicts pain but not death?  Such is the infernal army described in Revelation 9:1-10.

Far-off Eschatological Uses

After the Day of Yahweh in Joel 2:11 comes blessing from God reminiscent of New covenant blessing (Joel 2:15-27 cf. Amos 9:13-15; Hos. 2:16-23; Isa. 55:10-13; 66:10-13).   This indicates the real possibility that Joel 2 is a prophecy of the tribulation, second advent, and restoration of Israel.  The Day of the Lord in this context covers the first two, just as it does in Joel 3.

If we are reading through the Bible we first encounter the phrase in Isaiah 2:12-22.  In that place the Day of Yahweh (Isa. 2:12) connotes a time when men will be humbled and Yahweh alone will be exalted (Isa. 2:17).  The earth will be shaken, and people will behold “the glory of His majesty” (Isa. 2:21).  At that time people will “go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the crags of the rugged rocks” (Isa. 2:21) to hide themselves from God.  So there is good reason to think that “the Day of the Lord” in Isaiah 2 refers to the second coming.  The setting of Isaiah 13:6, 9 is likewise eschatological (e.g. Isa. 13:10), and Isaiah 58:13 can be situated in the same general context, although there it is part of an ethical charge.

Amos 5:18, 20 and Obadiah 15 are a little harder to decide.  Obadiah 15-21 is reminiscent of Zephaniah’s usage in Zephaniah 2 (see below).  It appears that the fulfillment of Obadiah’s oracle on all nations will occur in the eschaton.[7]  Amos alludes to the people foolishly wishing that the Day of the Lord would come, which implies that they thought it was the time when Yahweh would put everything to rights; doling out punishments to Israel’s enemies while rewarding the Jews.  Hence, they must have believed it was the great Day of Yahweh’s coming. But Zechariah 14:1 and Malachi 4:5 are eschatological.  In fact, they both focus in on specific events in the future time of trouble.  Zechariah has Yahweh coming in person and fighting for Israel, His feet even touching the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:1-4).  Malachi 4:5 promises the arrival of Elijah “before the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord.”  Hence, for Zechariah and Malachi, the Day of Yahweh is a shortened period prior to and including the second coming.  Zephaniah’s use of the term looks out to the time of the end.  His book is saturated with the theme of God’s Day of wrath coming before New covenant blessing.

Although in Zephaniah 2 there is a list of many cities and states that will experience the Day of the Lord, the tenor of the book implies that the prophet is looking at judgments to come in the last days.[8]  At the beginning of the third chapter God castigates Jerusalem, calling her that “rebellious… polluted …oppressing city” (Zeph. 3:1).  The doom-laden language continues until Zephaniah 3:9 when a new theme of hope is assumed.  Thus, Zephaniah 3:1, while it could be viewed in light of its ANE setting, still relates to the closing Day before the kingdom era.

Clear Near-at-Hand Uses

Nonetheless, there are places in the Prophets where the term “the Day of the Lord” refers to matters which were not centuries away from the time of the prophet.  That is to say, the “Day of the Lord” is not an eschatological concept in certain places.  In Jeremiah 46:10 the expression is used for the devastation of the Egyptians at Carchemish at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s army.  The two uses in Ezekiel (Ezek. 13:5; 30:3) make sense in an ancient setting, and can only with manipulation be thrust into our future.

Additionally, the geographical markers in Zephaniah 1:11; 2:4-8, 12-13 could be read in terms of close at hand fulfilment in Old Testament history.  But these markers (e.g. cities) are dealt with in such a way as to point to the final consummation.  For example, in Zephaniah 2:11 the nations are said to turn to Yahweh after He has “reduced to nothing” all of their idols.  So here contemporary issues are answered in terms of final outcomes.

In Summary

The expression “the Day of the Lord” in the Old Testament refers to the appearance of Yahweh in judgment[9] and is applied in general in two ways.  It is used to describe God’s impending judgment against a nation in Old Testament times.  The form the judgment took varied, but the outcome was devastating.  The other use of the term refers to the final time of God’s judgment before the New covenant kingdom is inaugurated.  It can refer to the whole time of tribulation, or to a part of it.  It may even include the second coming itself.  The instances of the Day of Yahweh that occurred in the past (e.g. the locusts in Joel 1) are sometimes adumbrations of the eschatological Day.[10]

——————————————————————————-

[1] See also the treatments of the individual books.  I appreciate that it might well be rendered “the Day of Yahweh,” but I shall mainly retain the more common terminology

[2] E.g. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, 230-231; Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “Day of the Lord,” in Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), general editor, Mal O. Couch, 87-88

[3] Patterson notices that both the Italian and German words for locusts refer to their horse-like appearance.  See Richard D. Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, Vol. 7, 249 n. 4

[4] Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 41

[5] Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 333-334

[6] Ibid, 338-339

[7] Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 370-371

[8] This does not rule out contemporary judgments against these places

[9] See William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order, 108, although Dumbrell allows the possibility of blessing in connection with the Day of the Lord.

[10] Interestingly, the New Testament uses of the term only concern themselves with the second, eschatological sense of “Day of the Lord,” although again the term covers several occurrences.

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 5)

Part Four

God and Israel: A Special Bond

Isaiah 54 is a reminder to Israel that she bears a special relationship to Yahweh, who is both her Redeemer and Husband (Isa. 54:5).  This role of husband has been seen already in Hosea (2:16), and will be repeated in Jeremiah (Jer. 3:14; 31:32).  It is no coincidence that what might properly be labelled “New covenant blessings” follow the atoning work of the Suffering Servant.  The overtures of God to Israel ought to be taken for what they plainly are; a promise of a perpetual bond guaranteed by the covenant faithfulness of God.  Like all the prophets, Isaiah is not backward in showing Israel her sin.  But again, like the other prophets, he is a prophet of hope: “But My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed” (Isa. 54:10).[1]  The “covenant of peace,” which is an expression that is appended to the redeemed priesthood in Numbers 25:12 and Ezekiel 37:26; or to restored Israel depicted as a haven in Ezekiel 34:25, is in Isaiah 54:10 a reference to God’s people as restored and protected (Isa. 54:17).  But each use of the phrase is prophetic and concerns the things to come when the New covenant is enacted.  The prophet makes reference to the Noahic covenant (Isa. 54:9) to underscore the unwavering commitment of God to Israel.  A great theme of Isaiah is what might be called “the Glory of God in a gloriously restored Israel.”  The nation will be restored in their own land, with their own king and with their priesthood.  Jerusalem (Zion) will become the most prestigious city in the world.  This is the word of God in the prophets.  It cannot be reinterpreted to say something it didn’t mean when it was uttered.

This unalterable word accomplishes what it was sent out to do (Isa. 55:11).  I have made the strong claim that there exists a natural connection between God’s thoughts, God’s words, and God’s actions.  If I am right about this then the purpose for which God sends out His word (Isa. 55:11) matches the content of the words He chooses to utter.  To put it another way, the result of the word of God closely corresponds to the words He “sends out.”  In fact, to believe that the accomplishment of God’s word does not match the words He uses is just as absurd as trying to test a prophet while neglecting the words he uses when speaking a prediction.  The fulfillment is in the words; the purpose resides in what is said.  It is folly to interpret Isaiah 55:8 as saying “My meaning is not your meaning.”  If that were true, there would be no logical reason for God to say anything to the creature.

Justice 

The vital connection between the Lord and the nation He created for Himself means that social justice is never too far out of the mind of God’s servants (e.g. Mic. 6:8; Isa. 1:16-17).  Perhaps the clearest example of this concern is found in Isaiah 58:

Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? – Isaiah 58:6-7    

A true people of God must reflect the character of God.  All of life is moral.  A life that mirrors God will understand why the character of God is both the source and the goal of their humanity.  This is aptly put in a recent publication:

There is no moral thought that is not, quite simply, human thought, no human being that was not born to think responsibly about being, living, and doing; yet there is no moral thought that does not depend for whatever effect it may have upon a gift for which no human source can be credited.  The relation of the self to God may or may not be consciously recognized, but whether it is or not, it underlies the sense of responsibility which gives the moral its character of urgency.  But to the extent that it becomes conscious, it becomes explicit.  Developed and self-conscious moral thinking begins and ends by calling on God.[2]     

The question in verse 6 resonates with the heart cry of God.  He calls His people to care for others like He does.  They don’t, we don’t.  That is another reason why Christ will come to spread justice and mercy over the face of this world.  He will “come to Zion” (Isa. 59:20), and, with echoes of the New covenant portents of Deuteronomy 30:6, He will pour the Spirit upon His people so that they shall indeed be motivated to fulfill their moral calling (cf. Isa. 59:21).

When the Deliverer finally comes, He will initiate the ascendency of Israel and of Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 49:13; 62:1-4, 12): that is the theme of chapter 60.[3]  God is shown bidding His city to take its rightful place at the top of the future world’s government (Isa. 60:9-14).  This same prediction will come from the prophet Zechariah after the Exile.  God still intends to make Israel “the head and not the tail” (Deut. 28:13).  Isaiah even states that, “the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, and those nations shall be utterly ruined” (Isa. 60:12).  True, interpreters often like to qualify this idea by speaking of the glorified Zion as a means to the end of turning the nations to God.[4]  But this is not what the texts say, and in my opinion the sentiment is encouraged by a nascent unbelief in the preeminence of the nation of Israel in the new order.  If Israel is indeed the bride of Yahweh (Isa. 54:5) it would not be surprising if one of God’s aims is to glorify her (Isa. 62:5).  I see no reason to deflect the away from where God Himself places it.  The affinity between bride and husband ought to be considered in such contexts.  Then there will be no confusion created by the nations coming to glorify Israel in the new kingdom.  The Lord’s presence will only make it more natural.

The two chapters 61 and 63 have common eschatological themes within them.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, 
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD… – Isaiah 61:1-2a

Readers of the Gospel of Luke are very familiar with these verses.  They were quoted by Jesus Himself at the synagogue at Nazareth right after His baptism and temptation[5].  Here in Isaiah they clearly refer to the One whom God calls to bring deliverance.  He is the Messiah (Psa. 2:2; 45:7).  And He is the ‘Branch’, the man of the Spirit (cf. also Isa. 42:1), who shall rule in righteousness and peace in the kingdom, and whom the Gentiles will seek (Isa. 11:1-10).  And this is surely Isaiah’s Servant (“He has sent Me”), and He is Moses’ Prophet (“To proclaim liberty… to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”).  This passage ties in the roles perhaps more conclusively than any that have gone before.  The Spirit of God, who will give Him His mission and empowerment, endows the Servant to “heal”, (actually to ‘bind up’, chabash), and to “set free.”  This Deliverer also speaks for God sui generis.  Meditation of this text alone should have rid all doubts from the minds of Jesus’ auditors about His claims.

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[1] The word translated “kindness” in Isaiah 54:10 is the familiar hesed, perhaps better translated “loyal love.”  Anderson refers to this word “one of the most important theological terms in the Old Testament.” – Bernhard W. Anderson, Contours of Old Testament Theology, 60.  Leon Morris, “It is too much to that the word originates in the usages of covenant…It is possible to have hesedh without a covenant, but it is not possible to have a covenant without hesedh.” – Testaments of Love: A Study of Love in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 69

[2] Oliver O’Donovan, Self, World, and Time: Ethics as Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 38

[3] McClain wrote, “Nothing in the whole field of Old Testament prophecy could possibly surpass the brilliance and grandeur of the 60th chapter of Isaiah; and its central theme is the restoration and world supremacy of the nation of Israel.” – Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 211

[4] See, e.g., James M. Hamilton, Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 211 n.145.  A fuller summation of Isaiah 60 is found in Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Glory, 340.  However, Schreiner’s eschatology makes him look for a non-literal fulfillment of the promises (Ibid, 341).

[5] See Luke 4:16-21.

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.4)

Part Three

The Suffering Servant

God’s Servant reappears in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage is of great significance because in it the Holy Spirit puts emphasis not on the reign of Messiah (if I may at this place call Him that), but upon His sufferings.  It is a singular fact that the Old Testament prophecies are more concerned with the reign of the coming Ruler than with his death.  This point has even caused interpreters to question whether we are dealing with the same person or with two “servants”, a sufferer and a conqueror.  This passage answers that question decisively I think.

It starts with the exaltation of the Servant (Isa. 52:13), but immediately the mood changes to His degradation (52:14ff.).  Since Philip identifies the Suffering Servant as Jesus in Acts 8:35, and 52:13-15 is really part and parcel of that portion of the prophecy in chapter 53, we might look at these verses as a kind of prelude to it.  Verse 13 certainly draws a parallel with what has been spoken of the great King to come in Isaiah 9:7 and 11:2-5.  The exalted One who shall “deal with prudence” over the earth’s affairs will also have to undergo great humiliation in the earth.  As we know that His reign will be eternal (Isa. 9:7), we are compelled to conclude that His degradation will occur prior to His being coronation (hinted at in Isa. 53:12a).

Even without seeing Jesus in the remarkable words of Isaiah 53 one feels sympathy for the man being described.  Oppressed and afflicted, yet having the meekness not to object (53:7).  A man despised by men (53:3) and “smitten and bruised by God (53:4, 10), and yet one who bears our iniquities so successfully (53:5, 6, 11, 12) that He can be made a sin offering to God (53:10), even making intercession on behalf of sinners in a way impossible for any mere animal (53:11).  This again is the Servant (53:11), but it is not Israel by any stretch of the imagination!  In no believable circumstances could Israel, who remember were under a complex sacrificial cultus, ever be thought of in this fashion.  This impression is intensified when we consider that those justified by the Servant (who though afflicted by God was nevertheless serving God – 53:4, 10), included Israel (“My people” in 53:8).

While the Servant is subjected to terrible treatment at the hands of men the prophecy makes it clear that it is for mankind that the transaction was allowed to happen.  No wonder then that after all He has to endure God exalts Him (53:12).  What a wonderful verse is verse 11:

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:11

The righteous servant does all this not only for God but for Himself!  “The labor of His soul” is such a beautiful phrase.  Once we couple this together with the developing portrait of the Messiah and we recall His connection, in fact His identification with the New covenant, and we remember how the New covenant gives new vigor to the other covenants I think we begin to see how the covenantal Creation Project comes together in and through the Person of Christ.

Humiliation before Exaltation

We might do well to pause here for a moment to reflect on the remarkable fact that the Old Testament dwells far more upon the victorious ascendancy and rule of the Promised One than with His being dishonored and put to shame by His enemies before coming to the throne.  Even in the first promise in Genesis 3:15 the serpent is said to crush the heel of the woman’s seed before He vanquishes the serpent.  In Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17 speak only of His glory, as does Micah 2:13 and 5:2.  Psalm 22:1-21 is the only other passage so far in the progress of revelation where a similar shameful treatment is recorded, but there the specific individual remains prophetically uncertain until the death of Jesus.  In Isaiah the prophecies in 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 32:1; 40:10 all refer to the reign of the Lord, there is no mention of any suffering.  This will be the consistent theme of Isaiah from chapter 54 onward.

We shall observe the same phenomenon all the way through the Prophets.  Zephaniah 3:15-17 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:14-16 teach us to expect someone who will usher in righteousness under His purview.  The “smiting stone” of Daniel 2 and the great Ruler of Daniel 7:13-14 again draw the reader’s attention to the glory of the Coming One, not to His misery.  Zechariah’s post-exilic visions do briefly mention that Yahweh will be valued at thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:13), and then there is the enigmatic pronouncement that “they will look on me whom they pierced” in Zechariah 12:10, but otherwise that writer’s more Messianic predictions follow the descriptions of splendor we find nearly everywhere else (e.g. Zech. 2:10; 3:8; 6:12-13; 8:3; 9:9; 14:3-5, 9, 16-17).  Finally, Malachi 3:1-3 and 4:1-3 raise the same expectations. (more…)

A Review of J. P. Moreland, “Scientism and Secularism”

A Review of J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism, Wheaton: Crossway, 2019, 222 pages, pbk

J. P. Moreland is a seasoned Christian philosopher who has provided the Church with some very good tools in defense of the Faith and the Christian Worldview.  He has been Professor of Philosophy at Biola for many years.  This timely book is most welcome as it engages one of the most pernicious false ideas that has arisen from man’s innate hatred of God (Rom. 1:18-25).

Scientism is essentially the belief that only science, especially the hard sciences, can give us solid knowledge of the world.  Although many of its advocates do not come right out and say it in such blunt terms, that is their faith.

Moreland refers to  “hard scientism” and “soft scientism”, the difference between them being that the softer variety allows that other fields of study may have something to say, but nothing as authoritative as the pronouncements of “science.” (29-30).  This belief in the magisterium of the lab coat has come about because of a shift in the “plausibility structure” in the society (32-33).  The organized and heavily guarded groupthink that permeates school and university curricula and the media.  Behind this is the ever-potent force of people not wanting God to be there. (191-194).

In the third chapter the writer relates how the universities were transformed into bastions of secularism, and this was chiefly done by the acceptance of scientism.  This shift did not occur because of evidence.  “Rather, it was merely a pragmatic sociological shift.” (48. Italics are the author’s).

The short fourth chapter is entitled “Scientism Is Self-Refuting.”  This little chapter is important because it not only shows that self-refuting stahttps://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/further-thoughts-on-the-call-to-the-ministry/tements are necessarily false (51), but that scientism is ironically not even a scientific position.  Scientism is “an epistemological viewpoint about science; it is not a statement of science.” (52, cf. 57).  From this position Moreland shows that philosophical presuppositions (say, about the nature of truth) are necessary before any science can get underway (ch. 5).

Unsurprisingly, Moreland spends time on the matter of consciousness and mental states.  Consciousness is and always will be a first-person phenomenon.  Neurologists depend upon the honest reports from the subject to gather their data (86-90).  But of course many neuroscientists have bought into physicalism, wherein the human being is viewed simply as the accumulation of active molecular parts – a machine (90-105).

Further chapters engage the Hawking/Mlodinow thesis that everthing came from nothing (ch. 10).  He takes several shots at methodological naturalism (121, ch. 13), includes a fine section on Fine-Tuning (143-149), and near-death experiences (92-94), and useful chapters on the integration of Christianity and Science (chs. 14 & 15).

The book does not analyze secularism as such.  It’s main aim is against the rampant scientism in our culture and to help Christians understand and critique it.  He rightly inveighs against “using watered-down, intellectually vacuous, simplistic preaching that is always applied to a parishioner’s private life while failing to deal from the pulpit with the broad cultural, intellectual, and moral issues facing us all” (39-40).  There is a helpful bibliography of recommended books at the end.

Scientism and Secularism sometimes seems to lack the cut and thrust of more polemical works, but it is recommended reading for anyone who wants to be conversant with a culture saturated with the canons of irrational scientism.

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.3)

Part Two

The Intertwining of the Covenants: A Little Summary of the Coming Kingdom

In these kinds of passages Isaiah presents a picture of the future kingdom of the Branch that is glorious in many respects.  It is fair and just and safe and beautiful.  After the initial battles, there will be a realization of the dream of world peace, brought about by the great mass of people turning to the true God; a New covenant era.  Additionally, the beautification of the earth, the desolate places made verdant, and the increase in natural productivity, will be matched by the pacification of the animal world.  This might readily be seen as a New covenant effect on the Noahic covenant.  Peace, both outward and inward, will not be the elusive thing for which men have unsuccessfully sought throughout history.  It will be present as a felt reality.  It will be a natural part of human experience.  And humanity will not be left to itself, but will know itself to be under the benevolent and judicial eye of the everlasting One.  For God Himself, through “Immanuel,” will dwell on the earth in Jerusalem,[1] and all eyes will be on the great nation of Israel.  This is where the first two parts of the Abrahamic covenant, together with the Priestly and Davidic covenants come in.

What happens in the Prophets is that the covenants of God intertwine.[2]  Even parts of the Mosaic covenant are refocused in the New covenant.  The New covenant is the key, because through it the other divine covenants can be realized.  The great obstruction of human sin is dealt with.[3]

This is the outlook of the prophetic witness we have studied so far.  It will be repeated and expanded as we move forward.  The future kingdom will be wonderful in many ways.  The believing will find “perfect peace” (Isa. 26:3) and “learn righteousness” (26:9).  In fact God will work it all within them (26:12. Cf. 35:17).

Many of these great themes are present in Isaiah 32.  There is the pouring out of the Spirit in 32:15, which is followed by the revitalization of the wilderness and super abundance of the field.  But a noteworthy thing is that these normally uninhabited places will be places of justice and righteousness (32:16).  The ethical and the physical are beautifully intertwined in the passage.

Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.  – Isaiah 32:15-17

In his Religio Medici, the 17th Century polymath Sir Thomas Browne supposed that while there is only one world open to the senses, there are two open to the reason; the visible and the invisible.[4]  It is my belief that the end of the Creation Project is where the two worlds unite in our sensory experience as well as in our understandings.  That is what is portrayed by the Prophet here.  “Peace,” that elusive dream often rather rudely confronting us on preachy bumper-stickers and placards, will indeed be “felt” in the former nether regions of the earth when the righteous King reigns (Isa. 32:1).

But it will not be completely perfect.[5]  Already we have read that the Messiah, if I may at this point call Him by that title, will still have to keep sin in its place.  When the last book of the Bible tells us that this “Lord of lords and King of kings” will rule the nations “with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15-16), it is because it is picking up on the language of Psalm 2.  Isaiah has also described how “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth” (Isa 11:4).  Micah, in the midst of predicting a scene of the kingdom (Mic. 4:1-8), has to report the continuance of idolatry (Mic. 4:5a. cf. Zech.13:2-6).

The “Little Apocalypse”

What has been called “the little apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 begins with a description of God’s wrath upon earth (24:1-23),[6] before introducing an era when God “will swallow up death forever, and… wipe away tears from all faces” (Isa. 25:8).  Yahweh says that He will expand “all the borders of the land” (Isa. 26:15), which obviously recalls the Abrahamic oath of Genesis 15:18-21.  Judgment gives way to blessing.  There is even a mention of resurrection (Isa. 26:19 cf. Job 19:25-26), places this section at the time of the Lord’s establishment of His kingdom.  Pain is substituted for joy because God “will establish shalom,” having done all their works within the redeemed (Isa. 26:12; 27:9).  This will be an era of true justice, not just politics under the name of justice (Isa. 26:9); an era of a resurgent and resplendent Israel (Isa. 27:6).

In sum, Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse shows that a global kingdom follows global tribulation.[7]

————————————————————————————–

[1] So many covenant theologians assume that these prophetic references to a glorified Jerusalem are to New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven (Rev. 3:12; 21:2), because their theological covenants force them to.  However, “heavenly Jerusalem“ is not a concept that occurs in the Old Testament.” – See Andrew T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Relationship to His Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 18-19

[2] Thomas E. McComiskey refers to the way the “redemptive” or “promise covenants” (e.g. Abrahamic) work in tandem with what he calls the “administrative covenants” (e.g. Mosaic).  Hence the covenants function “bicovenantally.”  – The Covenants of Promise, 139-177.  His work is stimulating, but the Abrahamic covenant is not a redemptive covenant.  Only the New covenant contains the means of redemption.  Furthermore, McComiskey holds a necessary correlation between Israel and the Church on this bicovenantal pattern (Ibid, 189-190).  This fails, for example, to account for the raising of specific expectations by God in the three strands of the Abrahamic covenant and the repetition of these expectations under New covenant conditions.

[3] As we shall see, the New covenant itself is embodied in the Messiah, making Him the center of the covenantal picture of the Bible.

[4] Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and The Garden of Cyrus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), edited by R. H. A. Robbins, 37

[5] Note, for example, that not until the creation of the new heavens and new earth is there “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

[6] In Isaiah 24:5 we read of the earth’s inhabitants breaking “the everlasting covenant.”  The phrase is found in relation to the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:16, and I believe that is the covenant Isaiah mainly has in mind here (John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 1 – 33, 318).  Still, I think Motyer is correct in saying that human beings have failed to live in right relationship to God within the terms of every divine covenant.  See his discussion in Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 199.  Less likely in view of the Noahic connections is the view that it may convey a less technical sense meaning the relationship between man to the Word of God under which he is to live, as in e.g. Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981), 236-237.  The term is also found in reference to the New covenant in, for example, the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 13:20).  In each of its usages the onus is not on “eternity past” but upon the future.  It will take a work of God Himself to rectify the persistent failure.

[7] Michael J. Vlach. He Will Reign Forever, 167

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 2)

Part One

Isaiah 11

A great monarch, called the “Branch” (Isa. 11:1. Cf. 4:2) will be possessed of the Holy Spirit (11:2).  His wisdom and justice will be equal to Yahweh (11:2-4).  Already Isaiah has taught us that this person will be miraculously conceived by a virgin (7:14 cf. Gen. 3:15); and no wonder, because He will be “Immanuel” – God with us.

Now we understand more clearly the import of Micah’s words about the coming One, “Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2), and our thoughts are turned to “the one who breaks open” of Micah 2:13.  In Isaiah chapter 9 we come across an extraordinary personage “called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6).  He is of Davidic origin (9:7), just as this mighty and benevolent king in Isaiah 11:1 (cf. the Ruler from Bethlehem in Micah 5:2).  The details are clamoring for attention: the Prophets speak together of a great Potentate who will hail from Judah (Gen. 49:10; Mic.5:2), from David’s line (1 Chron. 17:12-14; Isa. 9:7).  He will rule in wisdom and righteousness and equity, aided by God’s Spirit (Isa.11:2, 4-5).  As Dumbrell indicates, His concern with righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 11:5) shows His allegiance to God’s covenants.[1]

The Gift and Names of a King

But this person will be more than just an ideal human king.  His ancient provenance (Mic. 5:2), and special titles (Isa.7:14; 9:6) show Him to have close affinities with Yahweh Himself.  He will be “wonderful,” like no other ruler in human history.  Isaiah 9:6 refers to Him as “mighty God” (El Gibbor).[2]  Whoever this person of Isaiah 2 and 11 is then, even from the prophet’s perspective, He is very possibly divine!  By “everlasting Father” or “Father of eternity” is probably meant “protector of the people,” although He will remain so in perpetuity.[3]  The verse ought never to be misconstrued as equating this king with God the Father.  Although the description of Him as “everlasting” points to His divinity, the name “Father” does not.[4]

The first three names of Isaiah 9:6, along with the promise of the virgin born “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14,[5] could easily lead someone to the conclusion that God Himself will be this promised Ruler, this “great light” (Isa. 9:2).  Who else could preside over a world where the reaper could overtake the sower? (Amos 9:13).  Or bring about shalom among men and among the animal kingdom? (Hos. 2:18).  And if one is making connections with previous revelation, then who else could vanquish Satan (Gen. 3:15)?  The Psalmist had spoken about an individual so exalted that He was seated at God’s right hand until the kingdom was given to Him (Psa. 110:1).[6]  In fact Psalm 45:6 alluded both to His divine nature and the “scepter of righteousness” that He would wield (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17; Psa. 2:8-12).

The fourth name of Isaiah 9:6 is “Prince of peace.”  This peace is what Micah 4, Isaiah 2 and 32 envisage.  The Prince of peace doesn’t negotiate peace, He exudes peace!  His shalom influences the coming New covenant Kingdom which He is present in.

The early chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy bring many strands of hope together, and they all coalesce around one man, whom the prophet speaks of variously as the Branch, Immanuel, the Servant.  Further on in the Book more information will be added, although some of it will be perplexing in light of what has been said (i.e. Isa. 53).  Yet it will not be contradictory.  But the strong kingdom promises within the great covenants (Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic), require a special key to unlock them.  That key is salvation from sin.

There is no kingdom or participation in the kingdom without atonement.[7]

Will atonement too be accomplished by this Divine Ruler?  And if so, how will He accomplish it?

The Man who is the “Branch”

The answer to these questions lies ahead of us.  The reintroduction of the “Branch” from the Davidic line alludes to a kingly figure who will rule, not only over Israel, but the whole created order.[8]  As such the person of the “Branch” is a king par excellence.[9]  But in the setting of Isaiah 11 there are more extraordinary things of which to make mention.

After the opening description of the Branch of verses 1-5 there comes an enthralling description of a transformation of the instinct and temperament of the wild beasts of the earth:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. – Isaiah 11:6-9 (more…)

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 1)

This post and those to follow are extracts from a draft chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology’ Vol. 1 (forthcoming d.v.)

The prophet Isaiah prosecuted his ministry between around 755 to 685 B.C.[1]  Isaiah has a lot to say about both the developing picture of the Creation Project and the person of the promised King who will reign upon the earth.  His presentation of both of these broad themes furthers the developmental picture of the covenant program greatly.

The Prophet before his God

Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord in chapter 6 of his book helps us to understand the rest of what he had to say.[2]  The prophet is confronted by the unimaginably majestic vision of the throne room of God, being brought face to face with the King of the universe (Isa. 6:5b).  In this environment he quickly becomes acutely aware of his own decrepitude and unworthiness.  He is a sort of microcosm of the people of Israel to whom he is sent, and to every reader of his work.

The vision of the holy King in Isaiah 6 grants a glimpse of God, albeit terrifying, but with a lining of hope, that not only enables us to make (some) sense of God’s difficult words in the book, but also invites us to examine ourselves personally and corporately…[3]

The prophet sees his own sin before denouncing the sins of Israel, and is given many indications of sin’s vanquishing by the Judge on the throne.  Restoration, salvation, healing, and harmony are brought before the chosen race in this book; especially in and through the Messiah, whom Isaiah likes to call God’s “Servant,” in the second main division of the work.  Although there is an irony in that the prophet’s message will only accelerate Israel’s decline.[4]

Be that as it may, the hope which punctuates this book originates directly from the One who sits exalted on the throne.  If there was no hope from that quarter there would be no point in asking “Who will go for us?” for it would only be a fool’s errand of one doomed sinner telling every other doomed sinner what bad things God had in store for them all.  The vision of God in chapter 6 may be strategically placed so that, as Oswalt comments: “Just as the man of unclean lips had to abandon all hope before being cleansed by fire, so too must the nation.”[5]

The Lord (‘adonay) is seen in a temple (Isa. 6:1),[6] and the whole vision concerns the created earth (6:3).[7]  The fact that the Almighty cleanses the prophet before He asks for a volunteer (6:7-8) shows that a redemptive mission is in His mind.[8]  Isaiah goes forth “for Us” (the plurality that is the Lord[9]).  And even though there will be judgment against willful sin (6:9-10), yet in the end some, the “holy seed,” will be saved (6:13 cf. 4:3).

The Introduction to the Book

As Isaiah’s prophecy begins he wastes no time in coming to the point about Israel’s (i.e. Judah and Jerusalem’s) spiritual condition.  Isaiah employs several memorable images to show the people their abandonment of God: they are “laden with iniquity” (Isa. 1:4), “the whole head is sick, the whole heart faints” (1:5).  The trouble is the people don’t think (1:3).  Still, God tries to reason with them:

Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. – Isaiah 1:18-19

It is unclear whether this is simply a statement that we reap what we sow, or is also a prophetic oracle, looking at the cleansing action of God that will qualify His people to inherit what was promised to them many centuries earlier.  But as the first chapter draws to a close, Isaiah foresees a time when God will turn His people back to Himself.

I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.  Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness. – Isaiah 1:25-27 

With the benefit of hindsight we know that at no time was there a national repentance that led to Jerusalem being known as a “city of righteousness.”  The prophet is definitely on predictive ground again.  Furthermore, although it is not given the name, these are New covenant words; true righteousness will only come once the Law is satisfied. (more…)

God and Time (Pt. 2)

Part One

Carl Henry proposes the following view of God’s relationship to time:

The biblical view it seems to me, implies that God is not in time, that there is no succession of ideas in the divine mind, that time is a divine creation concomitant with the origin of the universe, that God internally knows all things including all space-time contingencies, and that this knowledge includes knowledge of the temporal succession prevalent in the created universe.  Although God’s nature, including His knowledge, is not in time, nonetheless, because He is omniscient He cognitively distinguishes between what I did in the past, what I’m doing now, and what I shall do tomorrow.  God includes time not as a constituent aspect of His being or knowing, but as a conceptual aspect of His knowledge of created realities.

God’s time-transcending knowledge in Himself does not cancel out distinctive space-time relationships to His created universe.  God is not limited to simply one track of relationships to the temporal order. He knows all historical factualities and contingencies through His eternal decree and He knows them in personal presence in the historical order.  It is therefore one thing to say that God simultaneously knows all things, past, present, and future, and quite another to insist that He knows them only in an eternal now that makes all time distinctions wholly irrelevant. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol. 5. 276 (My emphasis)

In this quotation Henry has said that God transcends time, so he is obviously a B Theory or Tenseless time advocate.  But he claims that that view does not mean God cannot know the ‘I’ in the now or the ‘I’ in any sentence (this is called the problem of indexical reference).

The reason that Henry gives for this is that God does not have time or include time as part of his nature.  It is not, as he says, “a constituent aspect of his being or knowing, instead it is a conceptual aspect of his knowledge of created realities.”

In other words, it is part of His decree; part of His foreknowledge, and therefore it is not something that impacts God’s being and attributes.  So God does not have to change from an atemporal to a temporal being, as William Lane Craig says.  Such a change would of course impact His immutability.

The way Henry has formulated the issue means that God is both atemporal in His being, but temporal in His knowing (at least within creation).  Henry adds to what he has said by giving the example of the Incarnation of the divine Logos (Ibid, 257).  He asserts the eternality of the Logos, Jesus Christ as the “I am” (John 8:58), yet He enters into time.

Now, if that is possible without any contradiction in the divine essence as far as the second person is concerned, why can’t it be true of the Father and the Spirit, even if they do not take on physicality?

Theologically, one has to start with what the Bible says, and the Bible certainly does seem too intimate in John 1:1-18 that the One who was the Beginner, the One who created all things, was before time.  You see the same thing in Genesis 1:1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Time is shown as coterminous with creation.

James Barr, in his book on Biblical Words for Time, agrees with this.  He says that is certainly the biblical teaching.  Now if time didn’t start until creation, we can say that God was at least supratemporal or atemporal before He created (the preexistence of Christ plays in to this too).  That being the case, the only issue that has to be resolved is whether God has now confined Himself to time.

John Frame has said that the biblical view reflects God’s immanence, which includes temporality, and His transcendence, which includes atemporality (The Doctrine of God, 551).  It should be recalled that God’s immanence and transcendence in the true biblical view, are part of each another.  Therefore, it is no contradiction to say that God is immanent in time (and therefore temporal in His working), and yet in His actual being He transcends time (and is atemporal, just as He transcends all other things).

Frame writes,

Too little attention has been paid to God’s temporal omnipresence (the term he uses, in the discussion of His relationship to time).  Much of what some writers want to gain by a temporalist view, other than of course libertarian freedom, can be easily secured through sufficient recognition of God’s temporal covenant presence.  In other words His immanence. 

For example a covenantally present God, like a temporalist God, can know and assert temporarily indexed expressions like “the sun is rising now”…  He can feel with human beings the flow of time from one moment to the next.  He can react to events in a significant sense, events which to be sure, He has foreordained. He can mourn one moment and rejoice the next.  He can hear and respond to prayer in time.  Since God dwells in time, therefore, there is give-and-take between him and human beings.  But God’s temporal immanence does not contradict his Lordship over time or the exhaustiveness of His decree.  These temporal categories are merely aspects of God’s general transcendence and immanence as the Lord.  The give-and-take between God and the creation requires, not a reduced, but an enhanced view of His sovereignty.  God is the Lord in time, as well as the Lord above time.  So God is temporal after all, but not merely temporal.  He really exists in time, but He also transcends time in such a way as to exist outside of it.  He is both inside and outside of the temporal box; a box that can never confine Him nor keep Him out. This is the model that does the most justice to the biblical data. – John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 558-559†

Frame’s account is on a par with Carl Henry’s view; and that is, I believe, the biblical view.††  We should look at the problem of God’s working in time through the theological categories of God’s immanence in transcendence.  God is temporal through his “covenant presence.”††† He is atemporal in his transcendence or Lordship.

Some Scriptural Representations of God, Eternity, and Time

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. – Psalm 90:2

Many have noted here the duplication of the word olam which should be recognized as a way of speaking of eternity.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. – Revelation 1:8

Although these references to the “Alpha and the Omega” seem to be temporal references, they are explained as atemporal by the description that is appended to them.  The text describes the Lord thus: He “is and was and is to come.”  It does not say that God “was and is and is to come.”  That would imply a temporal existence always.  The presence of God in the ‘now’ situation (“is”) is placed first, therefore putting emphasis on God’s atemporality.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:36

By “all things” this passage must mean all things in time and space.  Creation and its time are from God.  By saying all things are of God, through Him, and to Him Paul is not claiming creation is an emanation from God.  They are created separate from Him.  Only He is eternal.


†  My quotations here come from lecture transcripts.  Though I own these books, I do not have them in front of me as I write this.

††  In saying this I am not claiming to have answered every objection or read every counter-proposal.  This is my opinion so far as I can give one.

†††  By speaking of ‘covenant presence’ Frame (if I understand him rightly) is invoking the theological covenant(s), not those clearly found in the Bible.  However, one can use the term ‘covenant presence’ just so long as it is understood more as a figure of speech than as a reference to the biblical covenants.

 

God and Time (Pt.1)

The well-known biblical scholar James Barr, in his book Biblical Words for Time, wrote that the dispute about whether God is timelessly eternal or eternally time-bound cannot be decided by going to a Hebrew and Greek lexicon and looking at the terms.  The evangelical scholar Carl Henry claimed that “The Bible’s explicit teaching about the nature of divine eternity is inconclusive.”

This is an important subject.  There has been a lot of debate about whether God is necessarily in time Himself or whether He transcends time.

Two Basic Theories of Time: they are called the A Theory and the B Theory.

The A Theory of Time, also called the Tensed Theory, teaches that the ‘now’ exists, but that the past did exist and the future doesn’t yet exist; so only the ‘now’ exists.  In this view God is thought of as being a ‘temporal’ being; most modern philosophers of religion hold to a tensed theory of time.  Some of these advocates hold that this means that God is, in some sense acquiring new facts as He experiences passages of time.

The A Theory teaches that the future doesn’t yet exist, so if the future doesn’t exist then it doesn’t exist for God either.  This means God must be receiving facts; at least the fact that the future is coming into existence.  Naturally, Open Theists, Process Theists, and some Arminians like this view, because it appears to protect their belief in forms of libertarian free will.  But this view does have knock on effects for the attributes of God.

If God is experiencing the passage of time, as this view teaches, then He cannot be omniscient in the sense that men like Augustine and Calvin have insisted on.  Moreover, He cannot transcend time.  And if that is so then it seems hard to believe that God is immutable, since He would experience changes in time with all that would appear to imply.

Most of the Reformed Epistemology school (e.g. Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga) accept this A Theory view of time.  So does John Feinberg, who in his book No One Like Him, embraces the view of a temporal God.  For Feinberg, divine timelessness is both incomprehensible and undermining to God.  He writes:

For if God knows all things intuitively at the same moment and these thoughts don’t change, then that means that God has always been thinking the exact same thing. Added to this, it surely implies that the communal fellowship between the persons of the Trinity is ruled out, since all three have always had the same thought. – John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him, 429-430

Feinberg thinks this completely nullifies any kind of intercommunication between the three persons.  How can they communicate, he reasons, if they know all things about each other, and know them intuitively all at the same time?

Sempi-Temporality

A derivation of the A Theory is called Sempi Temporality, whereby God was eternal prior to creating, but when He created He entered into time so as to have a relationship with his creatures.  This is the view of William Lane Craig, although it is also attractive to men like Feinberg.

A Major Problem with the A Theory of Time (and Sempi Temporality theory)

A major problem of this view relates to the Doctrine of Creation.  John Frame explains:

Some have claimed that the God who exists in time without beginning or end would embody an ‘actual infinite,’ that is, an infinity of actual events in temporal sequence, past and future. If God is temporal, then time is not created. If time is not created, then it extends infinitely far into the past. In that case, an infinity of days would have elapsed before God’s creation of the world.  But if an infinity of days elapsed before creation, then creation never took place. But since creation did take place, God must not embody an actual infinite, and so He exists outside of time.

I cannot detect a flaw in this argument, but I would hesitate to give it doctrinal weight, in the absence of biblical teaching.  William Lane Craig, in his book Time and Eternity argues that God was originally supra-temporal, which is beyond time, but became exclusively temporal when He created the world.  This view would avoid the problem I mentioned here, but I don’t believe it is consistent with the biblical data I discuss later. – John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 552

So we should look at the alternative.

The B Theory or Tenseless Theory of Time.

In the B Theory of Time the ‘now’ exists in the same way that the past and future exists, at least to God’s mind.  The main argument against this view is neatly expressed by Gregory Ganssle in the book God in Time: Four Views, which he edited.

If God is atemporal , His relation to each event is the same.  He knows them all in His eternal now.  How does He know which of them occurs now and which of them has already occurred?  Since every event is present to Him, He cannot know which is actually present. – Gregory Ganssle, God in Time: Four Views, 15-16

 In another book Ganssle comments,

If the traditional view is correct then God cannot be and at your ‘now’.  He knows everything that happens at the time you say your sentence, but he does not experience it as ‘now’ in the way you do.  He experiences every point in time all at once, so to speak.  If God were to use a word ‘now’ literally, He could not point precisely to one point in time, as opposed to another point.  For Him all times are ‘now’ just as each point in space is here for Him. – Gregory Ganssle, Thinking About God, 172

So God cannot really use the same sentence we use to express what He knows; He has to use a different sentence.  For example, He could only say “Fred is reading on the couch in his living room at 4 pm on Tuesday,” as opposed to “I am reading on this couch at 4 pm on Tuesday.”  The referent changes for God, so He cannot experience what you are doing.  He only knows what you’re doing.

How does one surmount this hurdle?  Does one go with the modern Christian philosophers of religion, and opt for the A Theory of Time where God is a temporal being?  Do we go for Craig’s Sempi Temporality, where God was supratemporal / atemporal before He created, and now He has created He is bound to time for the rest of eternity (i.e. for the rest of the passage of moments)?  Or do we hold to a B Theory, a Tenseless Theory, with men like Paul Helm, and in fact all the classical expressions of theology?

Buswell rejected the traditional position, but most reformed and dispensational scholars held to the B Theory.  In which case do we have to say that God doesn’t know or experience the ‘I’ in the same way we do, and does that therefore limit His knowledge?

Ones view of time will have knock on effects to the way that you formulate the attributes of God.