Apologetics Thursday – William Lane Craig on Time

William Lain Craig believes that a Biblical theory of time lies not with the theologian, but with the philosopher:

When we speak of God as eternal, then, we may mean either ‘timeless’ or simply ‘everlasting’. The question is: which understanding of God’s relationship to time is to be preferred? Taking sharp issue with Cullmann’s study, James Barr has shown that the biblical data are not determinative. He argues that Cullmann’s study is based too heavily upon etymology and vocabulary studies, and these cannot be determinative in deciding the meaning of a term apart from use.4 Barr thinks that Genesis may very well teach that time was created along with the universe, and that God may be thought of as timeless.5 Barr’s basic contention is that, ‘A valid biblical theology can be built only upon the statements of the Bible, and not on the words of the Bible.’6 When this is done, the biblical data are inconclusive: ‘. ..if such a thing as a Christian doctrine of time has to be developed, the work of discussing it and developing it must belong not to biblical but to philosophical theology’.7

Therefore, the issue lies in the lap of the philosopher, not the theologian. Are there, then, good philosophical arguments for preferring one of these competing notions of God’s eternity to the other? I think that there are.

Barr’s study, which is cited, is about etymology (the study of how words are used). Granted, language is fluid and not as precise as many theologians would hope. But words have context. William Lane Craig, through Barr, claims that Genesis can be taken as God creating time, but parallel texts do not show this.

The chapter begins with a temporal clause often translated “In the beginning.” This translation implies that what follows is an account of the ultimate origins of the universe. The reader of such a translation expects to hear of the first act in time: “In the beginning, X happened as the first act in time.” Thus many English translations read: “In the beginning, Elohim created the heaven and earth.” This is, however, a poor translation of the Hebrew. The Hebrew phrase in question is similar to the opening phrase in other Near Eastern cosmologies and is best translated “when Elohim began creating the heavens and the earth,” just as Enuma Elish’s opening phrase is best translated as “when on high.” This more accurate translation suggests that the story is concerned not to depict the ultimate origin of everything, but rather to explain why and how the world is the way it is. The full translation of verses 1– 2 is: “When Elohim began to create heaven and earth (the earth being unformed and void and darkness on the face of the deep and the wind of Elohim hovering over the face of the water) Elohim said, “Let there be light” (Hayes’s translation).

Hayes, Christine. Introduction to the Bible (The Open Yale Courses Series) (Kindle Locations 753-758). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Where are the claims that Enuma Elish depicts the creation of time? Where are the claims that Homer’ Iliad and Odyssey depict timeless gods? Where are the claims that the pagan gods depicted in the Bible are considered timeless by their adherents? So-called Biblical scholars intuitively know that the Baal worshipers were not worshiping a pure-simplicity, timeless, and immutable god. They bring a second, arbitrary, and unintuitive standard when approaching the God of the Bible. Instead, the narratives show God acting in time, creating, and experiencing. The Bible is filled with such stories in which God is treated like a genuine character in the events that happen. To pretend that God is not, and that a wholly new standard of reading the text applies exclusively to Him, and deny this standard to anything else we know, is not intellectually tenable.

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