# God and Time IV: Impassibility and the Bible

For my previous posts arguing that God is not temporal: I: Metaphysics, II: Special Relativity, and III: General Relativity.

In the next few posts, we'll examine the Scriptural arguments for this position.  While I don't think it's illegitimate to use arguments from Natural Theology in situations where the Bible is ambiguous, in the Bible we have revelation from God himself.  Since God knows who he is far better than we ourselves know it, we have reason to trust this source the most.

On the other hand, it is equally obvious that the Bible often speaks of God in metaphorical language.  All Theology involves some metaphors, necessarily so given that much of it is speaking about invisible realities which no one has seen.  But unlike academic theology, the Bible generally tends to use more "earthly" or "poetic" metaphors, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures.  For example, the Bible often speaks of God as if he had human bodily parts. Let me digress on this topic for a while, since it illustrates some of the relevant principles when interpreting the Bible.

Begin digression

Now as Christians we know that (apart from the Incarnation), God has no body.  To say God does have a bodily form is a heresy (i.e. a misunderstanding of the faith capable of doing spiritual damage), going by the name of Anthropomorphism.  Now Anthropomorphism is obviously false at a philosophical level—how could the creator of all physical things have had a human shaped body?  We may be made in the image of God, but to think that God is in our image is a pagan crudity, as though God were on the same level as the all-too-human immortal creatures described by Homer.

Although Anthropomorphism is philosophically absurd, it can also be seen to be false from a purely scriptural analysis.  That is, there are clues in the text that this kind of metaphor isn't supposed to be taken literally.

For example, several passages say that God delivered Israel from Egypt "with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (Deut. 5:15) [Click on the link and scroll down to see the cross-references in the right margin].  That this is intended as a metaphor is clear from the fact that the narrative portions of the Torah explain in detail the process of how the Exodus occurred, and none of the mighty miracles that dispersed Israel involved God literally smacking things around, or pointing, with a giant arm.  It is a metaphor for strength and command.  (To say that the ancient Hebrews didn't understand it was a metaphor is absurd.  If they didn't understand metaphors, they wouldn't have been able to consistently come up with such good ones!  It's Modern Americans who seem to have trouble understanding metaphors.)

Or, instead of saying that God is omniscient, they might say that "the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth" (2 Chronicles 2:9 + cross-references).  If you think this means that the Hebrew prophets thought God was literally shaped like a human being, go to Zechariah 4:10 and you may learn something surprising about just how many eyes God has.  And don't forget his wings! (Psalm 91:4 + cross-references).

Or they might say that God spoke to Moses "face to face, as a man speaks to his friends" (Exodus 33:11), yet this is clearly not meant literally, since later in the same chapter God tells him that "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20).

(So instead God covers him with his "hand" and he sees his "back".  But if the face is nonliteral, these obviously cannot be literal either.  One of the numerous pastors in my ancestry used to say that this meant that God showed him, not his essence, but what he had done since creation, in which God's glory is reflected as through a darkened mirror.)

While God might occasionally show the likeness of a bodily form in temporary visions of God (known as theophanies), for example in Exodus 24:1-11 or Daniel 7 or Luke 3:21-23, this does not prove that God actually literally looks like a really old man (or like a dove).  It only means that God chose to represent himself like that temporarily, accommodating himself to our weakness and limited understanding, in order to make a limited point.

In addition to pointing out that these passages make little sense on a literal interpretation, one may also point to broader Scriptural principles.  Most notably, even the earliest Hebrew Scriptures express an absolute abhorrence of idolatry, of any attempt to portray the divine in the image of any created thing:

You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully,  so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.  And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.  But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.  (Deut. 4:15-20)

While Solomon tells us that "The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!"  (1 Kings 8:27).  God cannot have a shape unless there is some kind of space that he can be enclosed inside of, but no such space exists.

In the New Testament, St. John says that (except for the Son) "no one has ever seen God" (John 1:18).  And St. Paul speaks of "God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see" (1 Tim 6:15-16).  These passages also indicate that the theophanies in the Old Testament cannot be taken as a literal depiction of God's likeness.

End digression

Now, I doubt any of my readers are tempted to think that God literally has a body (unless there are some Mormons lurking!)  So why am I going on and on about this?  Because I think the same situation applies, more or less, to the question of whether God is in Time.

"Open Theist" theologians, who believe God doesn't know the future perfectly, and that his knowledge and relationships change with time, will typically argue like this: the Bible teaches that there exists a personal, relatable God, but then later it was quickly contaminated by Greek philosophical ideas from Platonism, which portrayed God as being some timeless, impassible abstraction; so we need to reject all that and get back to the inspired Scriptures in order to get back to the real conception of God.  In other words, all the Christian theologians got it wrong from the 2nd to the 19th century, and we are only now getting it right.

One problem with this, is that the supposed "corruption" of theology by Platonism had already happened to parts of Judaism before the New Testament was being written, and some biblical texts already show signs of trying to explain Jesus in terms of these Greek ideas.  For example, the concept of λογος (God's word/reason holding the universe together) was borrowed by St. John straight from Platonic and Stoic philosophers, even if he uses it in a new way, to talk about the Son's role in the universe prior to the Incarnation.  So if we go all Platonism = bad and try to remove it entirely from Christian theology, we'll have to remove some parts of the Bible too!

Anyway, the God of Classical Theism, according to Christians, is a personal, relatable God.  He just had to take some extraordinary measures, such as the Incarnation of the Son and the Indwelling of the Holy Ghost, in order to be related to us in the way which he wanted.

OK, let's analyze the Scriptures now, starting with the ones which pose the greatest difficulty for my position, namely:

1. God changes his mind

So I agree that there are a bunch of biblical passages in which God talks as if he were temporal and could change.  For example, there are the passages in which God says he "regrets" having done certain things, for example, creating humans (in the account of the Flood) or choosing Eli's family for the High Priesthood, or making Saul king.  That is because they disobeyed him and became wicked.  And God reserves the right to adjust his plan accordingly:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me.   He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.  And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.  (Jeremiah 18:1-10)

Does this mean that God's promises are always tentative, and that everything could be revoked if we all become sufficiently bad?  No.  Why not?  Because about some things, God has promised that he will never change his mind, no matter what we do or how wicked people become!  In addition to his promise to eventually restore the nation of Israel, there are also explicitly unconditional covenants with Noah, with David, and also with Levi.  (This last passage presents a bit of a theological problem if taken too literally, since the New Testament is quite clear that sacrifices are no longer called for, in light of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  These promises are ultimately fulfilled in the New Covenant, through our faithful High Priest who cannot die or have his office revoked.)

This seems to be God's modus operendi when he interacts with several of the greatest figures of the Old Testament: 1) selection by God, 2) a trial period of testing to see if the person selected is willing to put their faith in God's purposes, sometimes resulting in 3) an everlasting and unconditional covenant building on God's favor towards that person.  The wicked may be cut off from the benefits of the convenant, but they cannot by their wickedness annul God's faithfulness towards Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

A second Scriptural theme is God changing his mind in response to intercession.  In typical examples, God threatens people with some kind of punishment, and then one of his saints or prophets pleads with him—or a priest makes atonement by offering sacrifice—and he relents from what he was planning to do.

The most famous example here is St. Abraham pleading on behalf of the Sodomites; I guess this wasn't exactly successful since in fact there weren't ten righteous men in the city, so God destroyed it after all.  But it's a proof of concept, since if there had been that many righteous people, God would certainly have spared the city.  (And don't tell me that Abraham was asking for the impossible since "no one is righteous, not even one".  That's true, but if God can condescend to use our language when he speaks to us, then he also knows who is righteous by ordinary human standards.)   And don't forget that Lot and his two daughters were rescued by angels, which still went part of the way towards granting what Abraham was hoping for.

Another dramatic example is St. Moses' intercession on behalf of his people.  Not once but twice, God tells Moses that he is going to destroy the entire nation of Israel for their sins, and start over with him!  But Moses refuses to accept this plan; instead he pleads with God for the idolatrous and ungrateful people, even for those who wanted to kill him, and the Lord listens to him.

The Torah contains many other examples of punishments which are remitted in response to intercession.  In one particularly dramatic example, the people rise up against Sts. Moses and Aaron and the Lord tells him to "Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once."  Moses' response?

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord; the plague has started.” So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped.  (Num 16:46-48)

So what does this mean?  Is God less merciful than Moses was?  No, but he wanted Moses to acquire a Christlike character, in which Moses internalized God's love for his people, and was willing to stand up even to God on their behalf.

Shocking as it seems, God actually encourages this.  He really does think it is worthwhile to conform his own actions to our limited, human sense of justice.  And it isn't just Moses, it can be you too!  If you have a real relationship with God, seeking his will and his justice; then simply by asking for it, you might be able to stand in the gap to spare those whom God would otherwise punish, and save those who might otherwise be lost.  It is an astonishing privilege which we could never have presumed to expect from the Lord of the Universe!  But everything in the Bible encourages us to view our relationship with God and other people in these terms.  The difference is, Abraham prayed that God would spare the city for the sake of ten righteous people in Sodom, but I am more presumptuous still, and pray that God would save even a tenth of a righteous person, among those he has given me to care about.

Here are some other notable examples of God "changing his mind" in the Old Testament.  (In the Gospels and Acts, the examples of individuals obtaining grace and mercy through interceding before Christ are too numerous to mention.  There are also some striking promises concerning intercessory prayer in the New Testament.)

Thus we conclude that there is a sense in which God is capable of changing his response to human beings, based on what those human beings in fact do.

2. Yet God does not change

But side by side with this, we find passages which indicate that God does not change his mind.  One particularly striking example of this comes in 1 Samuel 15.  In the very same chapter (!) where God says that “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions,” St. Samuel also says that

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.  (15:29)

which is in turn an allusion to Numbers 23:19 in the Torah, a passage in which king Balak tries to hire the pagan prophet Balaam to curse Israel; but in vain, since God had determined to bless them.

In other words, Saul (or Balak) should not think that God changes his mind in the same way that human beings do.  God's purposes are certain and secure; he cannot be wheedled or manipulated.  His decisions are final, unless he himself, in his eternal counsels, allows men to intercede.  (Here we see, as often happens, that the Bible includes both sides of a paradox, while limited human theologies often attempt to include only one or the other.)

Some more passages about God not changing:

"I, YHWH, do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed." (Malachi 3:6)

Some might suggest that this passages only means that God's purposes do not change, but that other aspects of God may be capable of change.  But the literal meaning of the passage refers specifically to the Lord; the statement about Jacob's descendents are an additional implication.  In other words, God's purposes follow from his nature.  If this is fixed, the purposes are also fixed.  Similarly, in the New Testament St. James informs us that:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.  (James 1:17)

This beautiful passage is noteworthy for its strong denial that even the "shadow" of change can affect God.  There is not even a hint of inconstancy or variation in the divine being, and this is why his gifts are good and perfect.

Similarly, the letter to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 102:25-27 and applies it to Jesus.  Speaking about his eternal divine nature, it says that

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”
(Hebrews 1:10-12)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Heb 13:8)

Taken together, these passages can reasonably be taken to imply that God is immutable, which means, incapable of change.  This implies that he is also impassible (incapable of suffering "passion").  It may be helpful to note that "passion" is one of those words whose meaning has changed subtly with time—it originally meant being acted upon passively by feelings, thus God has no "moods" or impulsive "reactions", so that he isn't carried away by emotions in the same way that we are.

(One time, I heard someone preach—she was normally the children's pastor, but she was "filling in" at the pulpit—that since God is personal, we should ask him how his day has been, and find out whether he is in a good or a bad mood before petitioning him for what we need.  I was astonished by the crudity of this conception of the divine nature.)

The traditional theology of "impassibility" has often been questioned, in light of the fact that the Bible also portrays a "living" God who is capable of being both pleased and grieved by what happens in the world.  And, however literally we take the biblical statements about God's changelessness, no Christian has ever denied that God is omniscient—that he knows everything taking place in the world, including contingent facts, even though it is tricky to see how this knowledge can be reconciled with his immutability.   (For example, here you can see St. Thomas Aquinas with his hands full trying to explain how God can know everything in the world, simply as a side effect of knowing his own unchanging nature.)

I discussed this issue a bit in Does God Need a Brain, in which I argued that God knows things in a different way than we do, a way which does not actually require him to change.   I would say that God is so living and complete that he doesn't need to change in order to respond to everything perfectly.  God's being is so full that it is already a perfectly responsive answer to whatever the thing is.  Whatever exists, exists in relation to God, and God by the very act of creating it is in relation to it, and knows it perfectly.  Without changing, he nevertheless enters into relationship with each thing that exists.

Although he has no emotions in the literal sense, he nevertheless has something which is analogous to our emotions, namely his holy and active benevolent will, which is full of love for us, and therefore vehemently opposed to sin and whatever else is against our being the saints that he calls us to be.

But how then, do we reconcile this idea of God with the first set of Scriptures I mentioned?  When faced with an apparent conflict between different biblical teachings, we have several tools for trying to interpret them.

For example, we can compare to other things we know from good science and philosophy (bearing in mind that these are incomplete).  All truth is God's truth, and he speaks through Creation as well as through the Inspiration of the Scriptures.  Thus, we should not interpret Genesis 1 in a way that is clearly incorrect given the fossil record, and we may take into account things like Relativity when asking about God and Time.

We may also ask and hope that the Holy Spirit will guide us in helping the Scriptures meet our spiritual needs.  As a corollary to this, we should consider how the saints in the past (remember that they were guided by the Holy Spirit just as much as we are) interpreted those passages.  As a Protestant, I don't believe that Christian tradition is infallible, but that doesn't mean it can't be helpful.  Scripture can and must be used to critique tradition whenever it departs from the Gospel truths.  But we also have to remember that a lot of what we call "tradition" is just the record of how people in the past processed the Scriptures.  The Bible didn't just fall straight out of heaven into St. Gutenberg's press.  The saints of old read the same Bible that we do, and they thought that what they read was consistent with asserting that God is impassible.

Thirdly, we should read each passage in the light of the whole Bible, in other words to "let Scripture interpret Scripture".  This is a good and important technique, although it is abused quite often.  One way to abuse it goes like this:  whichever passages seem to agree with your theology, you call these "key verses" and "a central teaching" and "biblical doctrine".  Then, when faced with a verse which seems to disagree with your theology, you call this an "obscure", "problematic", or "difficult" passage which therefore needs to be "put in context".  This means comparing it to the verses you agree with, and noting that those verses are more powerful and important.  Once the difficult passage is reinterpreted in a way which agrees with the "central message" of the Bible, you have successfully neutralized those verses.  This gives you the right to disregard them (in any context other than explaining why they don't mean what they appear to) at which point they cease to play any positive role in constructing your theology.

For example, I have heard Protestant sermons on James 2:24, and read Catholic sermons on Matthew 23:9, in which the pastor very eloquently and persuasively criticized the "wrong" interpretation of the verse—the interpretation that contradicts their own theology—and then totally forgot their obligation to make the verse relevant to the lives and hearts of the congregation.  Once the verse was defanged so that it could no longer be a weapon on the other side, it was useless to them.  This is the sure sign that (contrary to their own protestations) the theology of these individuals was not based on the whole Bible, but only part of it.

(I read somewhere on a Christian blog, but I can't find it anymore, that getting your theology from the Bible is like trying to reassemble a disassembled watch.  Some theologies are better than others—the watch is either ticking or it isn't—but if there are any pieces left over when you're done, then you know that your understanding of the original design is incomplete!)

I don't want to do this to the passages which assert that God "repents" and "changes his mind".  I think that they teach important spiritual truths about God, truths which we could not have obtained otherwise.  We need to leave room for paradox in our biblical understanding of God.  Unless we blasphemously claim to understand God as well as he understands himself, this is inevitable.

Nevertheless, I also think that we have excellent scriptural reasons to think that the passages about God repenting are anthropomorphisms, that they cannot be taken literally.  But this will require discussing two other biblical attributes of God, his foreknowledge and his eternity.

Next: Foreknowledge from Scripture

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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### 12 Responses to God and Time IV: Impassibility and the Bible

1. mom the linguist says:

Incomplete sentence in next to last paragraph.

[Fixed--Aron]

2. Robert Childress says:

Hey Aron,

What are your thoughts on how God atemporally relates to the created order? If God is outside of time, I do not think it could be said that God created space and time at a specific moment (unless we introduce some kind of meta-universal cosmic time/spacetime... which might be weird... or maybe kind of cool...). So has all of creation existed, in some sense, in an eternal (but dependent) relationship with God (from God's perspective, outside of time)?

Thanks,
Robert

3. Joshua Jones says:

Aron,

First, eloquent argument. I agree with your basic premise that G-d does not change his mind, but I think it's important to deal more directly with the terms of the original covenants in that light. For example, His promise that the Levites would never fail to have a man fail to stand before him continually to offer sacrifices (Jeremiah 33:18), especially when combined with the prophetic vision in Ezekiel appear to clearly indicate sacrifices will be restored, supporting the for the eternal nature of atonement by sacrifice.

I am a Christian Jew, so I take no issue with the idea that Christ is the "end (telos) of the law." Christ fulfilled (i.e. established) the purpose of the law, but I believe the law is still in effect. It simply does not do what it could never do, which was to justify man before G-d. It does, however, still show the proper and legitimate ways for Jews to serve, obey, and worship G-d. Why else would the temple appear, together with temple rituals, in prophecy?

This understanding would only strengthen your basic argument that G-d does not change, and can be supported by many other passages concerning the sonship of Israel (i.e. Exodus 4:22). In other words, why could it not be true that Israel would continue to serve G-d in the way that he commanded in the Torah? Just for an idea of how many verses, a search for "for ever" in the Old Testament came up with 336 verses. In fact, the idea that Christianity is a "replacement" for Judaism is probably the single biggest stumbling block Christians put before Jews, and directly challenges the idea that G-d does not change. When the nation is legitimately serving G-d, then sacrifices are proper and appropriate. I don't think we need to interpret these verses allegorically - just to understand their eternal reality in context.

Thank you for your hard work on this site - this type of thoughtful apologetic is sorely needed - I've had students forward me links like "jesusneverexisted.com" and it's nice to have a quick "counterlink".

Baruch HaShem,

Joshua

4. staircaseghost says:

“On the other hand, it is equally obvious that the Bible often speaks of God in metaphorical language.  All Theology involves some metaphors, necessarily so given that much of it is speaking about invisible realities which no one has seen.”

If no one has “seen” them (in the broadest sense of the term), then there has been no causal interaction between whatever these invisible realities are, and hence no transfer of information. So right out of the gate, there is a huge problem with the methodology, because even someone who agrees metaphoric talk is necessary has no way of adjudicating between an accurate metaphor and an inaccurate one, on pain of performative contradiction.

But why should anyone agree with that talking about these alleged invisible realities “necessarily involves metaphors”? Why can’t any given statement about whatever these invisible realities are, be literal? I can’t see any entailment relation between the concept of being unseen and the concept of being something indescribable.

"For example, several passages say that God delivered Israel from Egypt 'with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm' (Deut. 5:15) [Click on the link and scroll down to see the cross-references in the right margin].  That this is intended as a metaphor is clear from the fact that the narrative portions of the Torah explain in detail the process of how the Exodus occurred, and none of the mighty miracles that dispersed Israel involved God literally smacking things around, or pointing, with a giant arm.  It is a metaphor for strength and command.

So if I say my friend is keeping his ear to the ground for exciting new opportunities, what else is supposed to follow from this obvious metaphor? That he does not literally have ears? That I don’t believe he is a spatially extended person?

It's one thing to offer a refutation of this kind of flat-footed, wooden literalism; it's something else altogether to deploy the same response unproblematically to those stories where God appears as a character on stage.

Sure, it’s possible to come up with some far fetched interpretation of Exodus 4:24-27 where the writer “really” meant to convey a point about, say, Molinism and whether God’s foreknowledge involves an A-theory or B-theory of time. But if I’m being honest with myself, I’m jumping through an awful lot of hoops in cases like this that I’m not jumping through when I’m talking about god gazing upon things, or stretching out his hand.

If I were writing a story and specifically wanted the reader to understand that I wasn’t being metaphorical, I would use verbiage like "face to face, as a man speaks to his friends”, to draw a deliberate and obvious contrast with verbiage only a flat-footed, wooden literalist would miss. And if the fact that the various authors of the Bible contradict themselves half a dozen times over whether anyone has or has not seen God strikes someone as evidence in favor of them all being correct, then I’d have to ask them what the concept of a self-sealing argument means to them.

There's a real spiritual danger here. I spent years rebuking fundamentalists for their lack of sophistication, and for making the rest of us believers look bad. Kick away the ladder! Look at the moon, not the finger pointing to the moon! Then one day I realized the cumulative effects of all this -- I had gradually gutted the texts and doctrines of any discernible cognitive content to the point where it no longer made sense to say that they were propositions that could be the subject of truth or falsity, belief or disbelief at all.

5. Aron Wall says:

Joshua,

That's an interesting take on the Temple sacrifices, but I don't see any way to reconcile it with the letter to the Hebrews (that is, the letter to Jewish Christians such as yourself!), which says that:

"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—--not the realities themselves" (10:1)

"The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God." (7:18-19)

"By calling this covenant `new', he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear." (8:13)

"They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings---external regulations applying until the time of the new order." (9:10)

"It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat." (13:9-10)

These passages make it clear that the sacrifices, in addition to being unnecessary to salvation, also provide no benefit once Jesus has come, and that for that very reason, they will no longer be offered. According to both the Tanakh and the New Testament, ultimately it is the Messiah who will build the Temple of God. And that Temple is not a physical building, but the Church consisting of all who believe in him.

Even the Tanakh itself indicates that not all of its laws will last forever. For example, Deut 18:15-19 indicates that there will be a new prophet like Moses, with the authority to make new rules. And in Lev 20:22-26, God explains that the reason for the kosher rules is to separate the Israelites from the other nations, lest they be led astray by their sexual immorality. But the prophets also state (e.g. Isaiah 66:19-21, Zech. 2:10-13) that in the last days, God would join the nations to the people of Israel under a single covenant under the Messiah. This happened at the time of Jesus, and as a result there is no more need for sign putting a dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. And in fact in the New Testament we see that neither St. Peter nor St. Paul kept kosher, even though they were both Jews. Similarly, the NT is pretty clear that circumcision is now optional.

And even if that were not the case, how could animal sacrifices continue in the New Heaven and the New Earth, when there is no more sin and death?

I know that there are passages in the Torah which refer to the laws God gave as everlasting, but I think the point of this was to indicate that it should continue operating from generation to generation, that nobody should stop keeping it just because it was instituted a long time ago. That's quite different from saying that even God is unable to change it when circumstances warrent. (This article I found also has some interesting points.)

Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. An acorn is abolished if you throw it into the fire. It is fulfilled if you bury it in the ground and it becomes an oak tree. But either way, there is no more acorn.

6. Joshua Jones says:

Aron,
That site is quite thorough, and I will spend some time with it. The author, though, is quite flexible in the authorities he cites to show the law "changes" - from intro-textual analysis all the way through thousands of years of rabbinic commentary. One solid rebuttal is that in the orthodox Jewish tradition, unlike the Christian tradition, we are always headed down, away from Sinai, with lower and lower sets of laws, each made as a concession due to the weakness of man. Jesus himself referred to this entropic descent, saying in Matthew 19:8, "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." Jews don't believe the law never changes, they just generally believe it's getting more and more "lax" because we are so stubborn and sinful.

However, I find more value to support my view in your own commentaries on the nature of Time, especially what was called "B-theory". If the law was ever in effect for any people at any time, it remains in effect, in eternal time space. If our
destination is to truly become as He is, it will be in that eternal time space. I believe that Jerusalem is an eternal city, which has eternal laws, which are still in effect in that time space - and when we are in that time space, we will serve in that temple perfectly.

In that passage in Hebrews, Paul calls Christ a priest of the order of Malchizedek.

Although Malchizedek was greater, being both king and priest, and unusual, in that *he* brought the bread and wine, signifying he was a type of offering, Abram offered "tithes of all", and there are at least 34 uses of that same word later in the laws around temple offerings. Paul even refers to this as part of Abraham's righteousness in Hebrews 7:9., pointing out that in Abraham, priests are demanded to offer sacrifices, not simply receive them "after the order of Aaron."

You may be right about the New Heaven and New Earth, I'm referring to the Millenial reign, where there continues to be both sin and death.

Essentially, although I agree that the law is expressed differently in different places and different times, *and* it may be "set aside" or even "annulled" for the time being, But Scripture presents a lot of evidence that this is not the way it was, or will be. The word of G-d is coming back, in the flesh and in the mitzvot. Jesus said, mercy and justice come first, but "leave not the other undone". (I apologize for poor formatting, I'm on an old iPad). At this time, his Church is made of living stones. But read Revelation, and Ezekiel, and Zechariah - it becomes increasingly hard to see how the temple, and the laws concerning it, will be only be "spiritual" in nature - first, yes, we are "called out" as the Church, but the Church and the Temple
are of different natures, for different purposes.

I know there is room for disagreement here, but I think it's a rather essential point, especially concerning the salvation of the Jews. I believe the Law remains, although subsumed into a larger Covenant, made perfect by Christ. Let both be preserved. Christ places some pretty tight limits around how far one can extrapolate Paul's writings to be used against Mosaic law.

I will continue to read - I find your approach and your kind spirit to be heartening and informative. Just be as humble in your musings about cosmological chronology as you are in other areas about the limits of knowledge. According to Old Earthers, we have "accurately" known the age of the universe for about .000000001% the age of the planet. That fact by itself demands a great deal of caution when making assumptions that any of our observed constants stay "constant".

7. Joshua Jones says:

Hi Aron,
I'd like to reverse tack, actually. Questioning constants may be the wrong direction entirely. Although I know it's only allegorically relevant to the constancy of the G-d's law, all dating methods rely on constants. In fact, it may be not that we should question constants, but that we should *take more constants into account*. For instance, it's not uncommon that we will use a conventional dating method, such as a U-series, to "prove" that cave art is 40,000 years old (a quite thoughtful treatment on some of the difficulties with U-series dating is here: http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v16i11f.htm),
but forget to even ask - given the rate of collapse - why the cave is even still there!

Now I will stop vandalizing your wall and let you get back to your observations which I find great value in.

Grace & Peace,

Joshua

P.S. While it is true, as you said, that whether it decays or germinates, the acorn is gone. The difference being that while the tree is the end of the acorn, it's also the beginning of many, many thousands of acorns. John 12:24

8. willie says:

Aron
As so many a time you are touching difficult aspects to comprehend regarding the nature of God. “Our highest possible concept of God is embraced within the human idea of a primal, eternal and infinite perfect personality.”
The concept of a changeless God relates to the fact of God being outside of time.

“I am the Lord; I change not.”
He “declares the end from the beginning.”
“My counsel shall stand; I will do all my pleasures”
'Thus are the plans and purposes of God, like himself: eternal, perfect, and forever changeless.”

The seemingly contradictory passages in scripture as if God changes his mind are human attempts to explain the actions of God in the challenging changing time space creation

“The reactions of a changeless God, in the execution of his eternal purpose, may seem to vary in accordance with the changing attitude and the shifting minds of his created intelligences; that is, they may apparently and superficially vary; but underneath the surface and beneath all outward manifestations, there is still present the changeless purpose, the everlasting plan, of the eternal God.”

God's omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence makes him fully capable of meeting the challenging demands of a changing time space creation.

9. Aron Wall says:

Robert,
Consider one particular point in spacetime $p$. There is a certain trivial sense in which "God creates $p$ at $p$", namely that $p$ itself exists at point $p$. Furthermore, God is "present" at every moment of space and time, so in that sense he is also at $p$ (but also at any other point $q$)! But God is eternal, so it cannot be said that "God at $p$" is a different being in any way than "God at $q$". God does not have a spatial or temporal location in the same way that material objects do.

In other words, one has to clarify what one means by "at a particular moment". Creation is an act of God (who is eternal) but it is an act creating particular things (which exist at various places and times).

staircaseghost,
I can't tell from your comment whether, after deciding your previous worldview was meaningless, you decided to become an Anthropomorphist or an Atheist! Though statistics suggests that the latter is considerably more likely...

If I thought that my theological ideas lacked any "discernible cognitive content", I would stop believing in them too. But it seems to me that it does have content. Not to mention affecting discrenable observable events in the world. In other words, I don't agree that "there has been no causal interaction between whatever these invisible realities are, and hence no transfer of information." Christianity is largely based on revelation and certain miracle claims, which involve causal influence on the world.

I discussed the role of metaphors in theology here and here. It is not surprising that something which transcends space and time would require metaphorical thinking in order to discuss it. Actually we use metaphors all the time even in more mundane situations, for pretty much anything besides immediate sense descriptions (see the Lakoff book discussed in the first link in this paragraph).

Something to note is that just because language is metaphorical, doesn't make it contentless. It still requires that there must be some actual feature of reality to which the metaphor refers.

willie,
Is there any reason you're quoting from the Urantia book, a weird 20th century Gnostic text supposedly revealed by celestial beings, rather than from the actual inspired Scriptures?

10. willie says:

Aron

“Is there any reason you're quoting from the Urantia book, a weird 20th century Gnostic text supposedly revealed by celestial beings, rather than from the actual inspired Scriptures?”
I think the use of the word “rather” might just convey a wrong impression.
The topic of this series is of such importance. This series, so far, deals with some of the fundamentals of supernaturalism namely the nature and attributes of the great I AM.
To say that it is important for us as believers and to try to understand what God is like, is a huge understatement.
“While I don't think it's illegitimate to use arguments from Natural Theology in situations where the Bible is ambiguous, in the Bible we have revelation from God himself.”
Thus I thought quoting from non-scripture to be legitimate seeing that the quotes may add a little theological value where ambiguity may seem to be problematic. The quotes in question are, I thought, in total harmony with Scripture.
Finally, I would like to refer to an incident recorded in Mark 9:38. Jesus responded : “-for whoever is not against us is for us”
Trying to see the bigger picture, I had to learn to embrace everyone who is not against us.

11. Aron Wall says:

willie,
I agree that the parts you quoted from seem entirely orthodox and compatible with the Christian faith. There was nothing wrong with those quotes per se. I also agree that we should be open to truths from other sources, even in places we might not expect it. The trouble is, if you keep reading further in the Urantia book, the meaning of the words starts changing until it is no longer compatible with Christianity. I suppose the goal is to gradually draw you in, so at first you think you're reading something compatible with what you used to believe, and then it slowly mutates into something else.

For example, it says that Jesus was an incarnation of a lesser celestial being named Michael of Nebadon, who was not actually the same thing as the Eternal Son of God. This is clearly against the message of the New Testament, which asserts that Jesus is the unique Son of God who became flesh for our salvation. As St. John says:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. (1 John 4:1-2)

And St. Paul also tells us that Satan can appear as an angel of light.

You've got to watch out for those celestial beings, they might not necessarily be acting in your best interests!

The issue is not that the book is "non-scriptural". There are plenty of good and edifying nonscriptural books. The issue is that, given that the book claims to have a supernatural origin, it is either a fraud or delusion perpetuated by human beings (which means it is tainted by human dishonesty) or else it actually does come from a supernatural source. But if Christianity is right, not all supernatural sources are trustworthy either---there are some actively seeking to harm you. And they won't necessarily make up a lie as black as possible---then it wouldn't be believed. Instead they'll try to make it look as good as possible, except for denying just a few key truths about who Jesus really is.

12. Lurking Mormon says:

Lurking Mormon here. I have to say that while I find much of Joseph Smith's theology to more compelling than traditional Christian theology, God having body is not one of the things I resonate with. The conclusion I've come to is heterodoxic to Mormonism but orthodox among mainstream Christianity - God does have a body, because Jesus has a body.