Atemporality and the Incarnation
August 30, 2007 — 20:41

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God  Comments: 43

In a discussion about the metaphysical status of race (of all things) on my personal blog, Econ Grad Stud said something that led to a question that I’ve thought about before but having really arrived at anything definitive about. Assume an atemporal view of God and an orthodox position on the Trinity and the Incarnation. Answer the following questions:

1. Did Christ become human?
2. If so, was there a time when Christ was merely divine (and thus not human)?
3. In what sense, if any is Christ atemporal?

I’m not sure what I think of this, but I’ll try out a toy theory, which does have some argumentative support.

My understanding is that the orthodox view says yes to question 1. Christ did become human. That seems to follow from Philippians 2 anyway, but I think it's explicit in tradition, isn't it? Maybe I'm wrong here, though. I think it does follow that there was a time when it would have been correct to say that Christ was merely divine and thus not human. But I'm just going by what I think an orthodox view requires. If I'm wrong on this, maybe more possibilities open up for possible views.

What about question 3, then? That's where it gets tricky. If he is not atemporal in any sense, how can he have the divine nature? If he is purely temporal at some time, how can he have the divine nature? Yet if he is not temporal in any sense, how could he be human in any sense? So I think it must be that he is somehow temporal in some way and atemporal in another way. In what ways, though?

Here is the view I've been toying around with. Perhaps his divine nature is atemporal but his human nature is temporal and came into existence as of his conception within Mary. Any questions about his temporality or atemporality have to be asked at a time or asked about timeless propositions. At a time before his conception, it is correct to say that he is divine and incorrect to say that he is human. It is correct to say that he is atemporal (for the same reason's it's right to say God is).

At a time after his conception during his earthly ministry it is correct to say that he is temporal. It is incorrect to say that he is atemporal if that means that he is not temporal. But it is correct to say that he's eternal even if that means that he exists outside time, since he exists both in time and outside time, and he has a temporal nature and an atemporal nature.

It's less clear to me what to say on this view about any time after the ascension. I would guess that the best thing to say is that he remains in time because he continues to have a human nature. This means you can't think of his going to be with the Father as going to be outside time. But you couldn't think that anyway, since a temporal being can't become atemporal. An atemporal being can't have a beginning. His atemporal existence is the same no matter what time you speak of it.

The alternative seems to be that Christ's temporal existence only occurs during a certain time  occurs during a certain time and then jumps to a later time (the new heavens and earth at his return). Something like this might make some sense philosophically, but I think it has the implication that right now Christ isn't human, and I think that amounts to heresy. So I don't think it's available for a theologically orthodox divine atemporalist. So I conclude that (given what I've said so far) the only available view is that Christ remains temporal after the ascension, and whatever going to be with the Father means it can't mean becoming atemporal.

Are there any views that I haven't considered? Am I correct in what I've assumed orthodox theology requires? I'm not going to live and die by any of this, but it's a fascinating question for me, and I don't think I can identify any views consistent with orthodoxy besides this one. It's thus my working view for the moment. 

Comments:
  • Philippians 2:6-7 can be understood as saying Christ came into existence in the form of a man in the Greek.
    The term “ginomai” often means came into existence or arose.
    So this one verse really doesn’t settle the question.
    The question is can Christ as a person exist absent his divinity or absent his humanity.
    Traditional trinitarianism has said “no”. Christ is one person with two natures. He’s not a pre-existent being who picked up a ‘mansuit’. He’s a physical human who was literally the son of God. God was his physical father.
    In fact Christ is described as the begotten son of God. Now a begotten being has its origins in its father. In the Bible God begot Jesus in Mary.
    If Christ exists in some capacity before God begets him it destroys his literal relationship as “Son of God”. Of course the Incarnation requires that God beget Christ in Mary so that Jesus may fully be David’s heir.
    I’d also have to say that a binary view of atemporal and temporal may be wrong. Christ (and God in general) may exist in more temporal dimensions than we do. This would actually logically explain why God can speak with Moses (a temporal act) while still being an eternal being.
    The direct interference of God in human affairs in the Old Testament implies God has been temporal from the beginning (as he walks in Eden) but eternal (as he knows the future).

    August 30, 2007 — 21:28
  • Wasn’t what you’re talking about a controversy in the early church, where some wondered how Jesus could be human and be equal with God. How he could be both divine and human since divinity was believed to be strictly immutable.
    According to Roger Olson, I think someone like Athanasius believed that only Jesus’ “body and his flesh was truly human and the divine Logos – the Son of God – remained immutable and impassible and even outside of the body throughout Jesus’ life and death.” (Story of Christian Theology, pg 171).
    Sorry if this is not what you are talking about but I thought it was interesting because what you are talking about seemed to coincide with what I was reading today.
    Blessings,
    Bryan L

    August 30, 2007 — 21:31
  • 1. Did Christ become human?
    I think what you mean to ask is did the Son become human. And then I think the answer is yes.
    2. If so, was there a time when Christ was merely divine (and thus not human)?
    (Once again, to be technically correct, the question would be better asked of the Son, and not Christ.) The Son existed co-eternally with the Father (without beginning); and anything material, like a human body, must have a beginning, so the answer to your question would be yes, I’d say.
    Jesus Christ, however, is God and man: God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. (From the Athanasian Creed)
    The Son became human at the incarnation.
    3. In what sense, if any is Christ atemporal?
    Once again, I’ll quote the same creed, because I think it helps a little. About Jesus Christ:
    Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
    I’d say that “as touching his Godhead,” Christ is in every way like the Father. If the Father is atemporal, then Christ is atemporal “as touching his Godhead.”
    And as touching his humanity, he is like us: temporal.
    No, I don’t know how it works. But since God is incomprehensible to us, we might expect not to understand exactly how to fit these things together, right?
    I just affirm them, and try not to drive myself crazy over them.

    August 30, 2007 — 23:09
  • overseas

    Brian Leftow has an article on just this. You can find the reference in Thomas Senor’s response to it in the latest Faith and Philosophy.

    August 31, 2007 — 4:43
  • What Rebecca is doing is what God asked of Job, to accept what he says even though it was too deep for him to comprehend. The key is finding the balance between questions and acceptance, between faith and studying to show yourself approved.
    For me, part of the problem with the fall is it initiated a desire for knowledge beyond the bounds God had set, since he clearly tells us “The secret things belong to God.” So, because of our fallen nature, we have lost our “balance” and expect all knowledge as a “right” when it is not.
    This question is unanswerable, at least until after the parousia. That has been one of the problems in the Church since its inception and the source of heresy and arrogance about God or not God, our desire, yeah our demand to have answers to the unanswerable.
    We would do well to contemplate Job. He asked, but when given the stop sign basically said, “Well shut my mouth” and it was enough. Today, it seems, nothing is enough.

    August 31, 2007 — 7:57
  • Sorry, left off the ending.
    We want it all, indeed we demand it all. In doing so, we put ourselves in the place of Adam at the tree of knowledge and take the same step as he, beyond the bounds God has set. We are as guilty as he is.
    Knowing the bounds and keeping them is what separates the mature Christian (Hebrews 6:1-2) from the rest of the crowd.

    August 31, 2007 — 8:02
  • EGS: The translation “begotten” in John 3:16 has been shown to be faulty by recent scholarship. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean in the creed other than that the Son wasn’t created and yet somehow depends on the Father. But it doesn’t mean physically fathered, because the Father doesn’t have physical sex organs.
    Christ’s preexistence is so utterly clear in Hebrews, Colossians, and Philippians that there has to be some sense in which Christ exists before his conception. I think my account explains that while not positing a physical, temporal existence that’s literally prior. I don’t know if that satisfies your concern, but I think it should.
    As for multi-dimensional time, I think that counts as temporal, because if God operates in multiple dimensions of time then God can experience succession, which is how temporality is defined. The traditional view that God is atemporal would deny multiple dimensions of time in God’s experience as easily as it would deny one dimension of time in God’s experience.
    The standard way of explaining God’s speaking with Moses from eternity is that the effects of God’s one action manifest themselves throughout time in succession. But God’s thoughts are not temporally successive. They are one thought/act, with merely logical ordering and not temporal ordering.

    August 31, 2007 — 8:33
  • Bryan,
    I’m well aware of the controversies over the Incarnation. I’m unsure how the view that was settled on as orthodox should handle the issue of divine atemporality. It adds another wrinkle to the mix. The early church wasn’t dealing with that aspect, as far as I know. Augustine did have an atemporal view of God, but I’m not sure how he or anyone after him handled the Incarnation in an orthodox manner if they discussed it at all. The question isn’t how someone can be both divine and human (and how someone purely divine can become also human while remaining divine). The issue is how to say all that if God is not even in time at all by his very nature and if human beings are in time by our very nature.
    What you attribute to Athanasius doesn’t sound like Athanasius to me. He was confronting the view that Jesus was fully human and not divine (Arianism), but he didn’t swing all the way to the other side of the pendulum by saying that Christ was merely divine and just happened to inhabit a human body. Both views have been standardly viewed as heretical, and Athanasius is one of the great champions of orthodoxy.

    August 31, 2007 — 8:45
  • Heath White

    First, I think you are right about 1 and 2. “He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” (Apostles Creed.) Then about 3:
    I would have thought the atemporalist position would be something like this: there are just events. An atemporal being is one for whom all events are simultaneous, while a temporal being is one for whom some events are before or after each other. So my best stab at an orthodox position would be: qua God, all events are simultaneous for Christ, while qua man, some events are before/after others. I would not swear that this makes sense, but I wouldn’t swear that it doesn’t, either.

    August 31, 2007 — 9:05
  • Jeremy does “begotten” in its other appearance relating to Jesus appear to be faulty translation?
    The Greek word appears with the translation we have six times.
    In John 1:4, 1:18, 3:16, 3:18, Hebrews 11:17, 1st John 4:9
    I’ve noticed that the term used for Jesus’s human ancestors is different than the one used for his Father.
    As far as your view on multiple dimensions of time, it’s inaccurate. Higher dimensional time would imply a being could be present at every point in 1 dimensional time. The fact that God’s nature is unchanging doesn’t have anything to do with how he relates to us in time.
    To say he’s atemporal when he’s interacting with people in time is illogical. Either he exists beyond time and doesn’t dip down into it (what is required for interaction) or he exists with higher temporal capabilities than ourselves.
    The whole problem of God’s existence can be solved if he’s understood to operate in multiple dimensions of time (since being can literally have no beginning in higher dimensions of time). The math for this is fairly strong (F-theory).

    August 31, 2007 — 10:39
  • Rebecca, so there’s a distinction between the Son and Jesus Christ? The Son preexists, but Jesus Christ does not? Doesn’t that go against how the biblical texts speak of him? Isn’t it also thoroughly unorthodox? Is the Son only the divine part of Jesus, as if he has parts? I’m not sure what to make of this. I’ve never heard anyone speak this way before.
    Overseas, I know Leftow has done work on this, and I don’t have any experience of that work, but I do know his general view on eternity, which I think makes it easier for him. His view is that God isn’t alone in eternity. All temporal beings are also in eternity. So it’s trivial that a temporal Christ is also in eternity, since everything temporal is. It’s a little more difficult to think of this if you don’t have that assumption.
    William, I’m not trying to get the answer to this question. I think there must be one, but I’m not insisting on knowing everything. I’m curious about what our limited reasoning abilities can figure out, though, because sometimes we can figure out some things through reason based on what’s revealed in scripture, when we might not be able to do so without that revelation or without figuring out what follows from that revelation. Job’s problem is that he had a particularly insistent view of what God’s justice must be, and he was importing his own fallen sense of justice into that. I’m not insisting on anything here. I’m just curiously thinking through things that seem possible, speculating but not putting much stock in the results (although I would place higher confidence in positions that seem to be ruled out by careful thought).

    August 31, 2007 — 11:28
  • The issue is how to say all that if God is not even in time at all by his very nature and if human beings are in time by our very nature.
    If “not in time at all” is your definition of atemporal, then I don’t think orthodox Christianity views God as atemporal. Traditionally, God is viewed as both existing in creation and beyond creation; or existing in time and beyond time. In other words, he’s not limited by time and not contained by time, but he exist in time and acts in time.

    August 31, 2007 — 11:35
  • As far as your view on multiple dimensions of time, it’s inaccurate. Higher dimensional time would imply a being could be present at every point in 1 dimensional time.
    I’m not sure how that shows an inaccuracy, since I agree with all that. The idea of higher temporal dimensions is mainly to maintain succession in God without insisting that the succession God experiences is the same one we do. God is thus not limited by our time dimension. What counts as before and after for God depends on higher dimensions of time. But there is a temporal ordering, just a multi-level ordering. Atemporality, on the other hand, insists that God is outside time entirely and experiences no succession. God’s thoughts have no before or after, even if the effects of God’s one action occur in time and in an order. These are very different views, and those attracted to a timeless view of God will see multiple dimensional temporality as limited in the same way (but not as much so) as they see one-dimensional temporality as limited.
    The fact that God’s nature is unchanging doesn’t have anything to do with how he relates to us in time.
    Atemporality claims something stronger than just that God’s nature doesn’t change. It claims that God doesn’t change. God, in one action, deals with people across time, and sometimes the ways God deals with some at some points will be different from how God deals with others at different points. But it doesn’t involve a change in God in any sense, not just in the sense of having an unchanging nature. God is literally not changing in any way.
    To say he’s atemporal when he’s interacting with people in time is illogical.
    We interact with God in the sense that God knew how we would respond and intended the effects of his one act after our response to him to occur a certain way. So God knew I would pray and in his one act both set up the situation before I prayed and set up his response to that prayer. It is not interaction in time, and biblical portrayals of such interaction are only how things seem from the perspective of someone seeing the effects of God’s working. But it is interaction in the sense that God does the second thing in response to what I do after seeing the first thing.

    August 31, 2007 — 11:40
  • Rebecca, the issue is whether God’s thoughts are ordered in temporal succession so that he experiences time the way we do. On an atemporal view, he does not. On a temporal view, he does. On a multi-dimensional temporal view, he has an ordered succession, but the order is three-dimensional, which allows God to go backwards in the one dimension or be at all points in the one dimension. But it assumes a higher dimension that puts God’s actions in the other dimensions in an order. That means God is limited by that higher dimension in the same way that on a simple temporalist view God is limited by the one temporal dimension. Higher-dimensional time doesn’t make sense unless one higher dimension is the linear measure of the order in which God does the things in the other dimensions. Otherwise it isn’t meaningful to call it time at all.

    August 31, 2007 — 11:44
  • overseas

    Jeremy,
    My recollection of the Leftow piece isn’t fresh, but I don’t think it makes any use of his distinctive odd views.

    August 31, 2007 — 12:32
  • Rebecca, so there’s a distinction between the Son and Jesus Christ?
    Only this: Jesus is the name given the baby born in Bethlehem. It is usually used to refer to the Son in his humanity, or as the God/man. Christ is a little like that, too, but not so much.
    You’ll notice, in the creeds, for instance, or many theology texts, that when it’s talking about the Son in relation to the other persons of the Godhead, and how he existed eternally, he’ll be called the Son rather than Jesus Christ. It may just be a convention to avoid confusion, but “Jesus Christ” is mostly reserved to refer to the God/man.
    Anyway, my point was not so much that the way you asked the question was wrong, but that it wasn’t the way it would usually be asked, so it might be just a little confusing. It doesn’t mean I don’t think Christ pre-existed. I do, but I don’t think he pre-existed as God/man. I affirm that, “remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” The Son pre-existed as God, he did not pre-exist as human.
    Here’s the whole text of the Athanasian creed, so you can see an example of what I mean. As it related to Christ in relation to what he is eternally, it calls him “the Son.” When it speaks of him as incarnate, it calls him “our Lord Jesus Christ,” or “Christ”.

    August 31, 2007 — 12:42
  • rebecca

    Rebecca, the issue is whether God’s thoughts are ordered in temporal succession so that he experiences time the way we do. On an atemporal view, he does not. On a temporal view, he does.
    Okay, got it. You just threw me a little by the “not in time at all” statement, and I wondered if we meant the same thing by “atemporal.”
    I think you are right that, ” his divine nature is atemporal but his human nature is temporal and came into existence as of his conception within Mary.” I’d think he continues to have two natures, and he is atemporal in his divine nature and temporal in his human nature.
    And I think what you are saying is affirmed in the Chalcedon creed, where it says “the characteristics of each nature [of Christ] being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence…” =

    August 31, 2007 — 13:13
  • rebecca

    …that is if God is atemporal. I’m not sure we know exactly if that’s the case or not. We know he’s eternal, but I’m not sure we know precisely what that means.

    August 31, 2007 — 13:21
  • Jeremy, I think there’s some difficulty here because there are too many assumptions that stretch our Biblical understanding. Perhaps I rely more than yourself on traditional understanding.
    We know that God’s nature is unchanging. We don’t know if God himself changes[1].
    If we accept the trinitarianism of the 4th-5th century Church Councils (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedonia) then we must be open to a God that changes.
    That’s because their understanding of Jesus Christ was that he was a union between humanity and the essence of God. That is Christ had two natures but he was fully God. If Christ changes (in any way) then God has in some sense changed.
    Jesus obviously experienced change. At the very least the Incarnation was change in God (uniting him to a human individual).
    Dividing his humanity and his identity as God isn’t possible in traditional trinitarianism.
    However if you hold to a concept of a-temporality, the traditional trinitarianism isn’t possible.
    It seems to me, Jeremy that you hold to a type of Nestorianism that has adopted the forms of Dyophysitism.
    [1] My view on the temporality of God is that he is present at every moment of the history of our universe, before it and after it simultaneously. He can stretch a moment to infinity or shrink it to a point (my understanding of 2 Peter 3:8), God has for some reason opened himself to change via prayer and through the person of Jesus Christ. His nature however does not change.

    August 31, 2007 — 18:25
  • Christian Lee

    Here’s my simple minded thought. We have an inconsistent set of claims.
    (1) Jesus = God
    (2) Jesus exists at t (where t = is some time or other) since he was incarnated.
    (3) If God exists at t, then God is not atemporal.
    (4) God is atemporal.
    I take it that the right answer to this inconsistent set will be the same as the right answer to the problem of the Trinity.

    August 31, 2007 — 19:59
  • EGS: But my account explains how Jesus can change while God doesn’t change, including God the Son with respect to his divinity.
    The changes you are describing are not changes in intrinsic properties. They are changes in relations. An atemporal God is consistent with changes in what God is related to.
    I haven’t said anything about two persons. I’m trying to give an account of how one person can have a nature that’s atemporal and a nature that’s temporal.
    As for being open to God changing, I certainly am. I do hold the view that God is atemporal, but I don’t hold the view dogmatically. I am open to the view that God is temporal as long as God has direct epistemic access to every time. I just think the atemporal view is more likely than that view.
    Christian: Atemporalists will deny 3 right out. God exists now, but God is atemporal. I think you need to say a little more than that for this problem, though. What I said did assume that sort of thing, but I had to say a little more.

    August 31, 2007 — 21:26
  • I can see the Son being atemporal but The Christ (at least as Biblically defined–in its restrictive sense) had to be a temporal position. (ie: Ought not the Christ suffer many things; this Jesus whom you have Crucified God has been made both Lord and Christ). So since the text makes that distinction I could see that He wasn’t always The Christ until certain things were temporally accomplished.
    Of course, when one reads about the Lamb which was slain before the foundation of the world one would have to admit there there was an atemporal component to what was to be done (and that’s probably why such a position could only be fulfilled to the max by a divine-human).
    Probably tons of leaps and bounds in my thinking.

    August 31, 2007 — 22:21
  • …perhaps I should’ve read the comments first.

    August 31, 2007 — 22:31
  • I’d hold to the view that God is temporal but not _subject_ to time. Time simply is a characteristic of his nature/character. In a way we’re subject to time because it flows from God’s nature.
    The nature of God is such that he doesn’t have a beginning or an end (possible with higher dimensions of time) and is not limited to experience or linear causation.
    This is my understanding of how creation (in aspects besides time) points to God because it is a reflection of God’s attributes.
    So for me the real conundrum isn’t anything to do with the temporality of God but the miracle and profound act of the Incarnation.

    August 31, 2007 — 23:27
  • To be honest, I’m having difficulty seeing the problem here, so let me know if I’ve completely missed the point.
    First of all, unless angels are atemporal then God the Father exists temporally in the heavens (eg. Luke 1:19). So the problem of an atemporal and temporal Christ is pushed back to the Father. This also means that it is possible for Christ to be at the right hand of the Father right now and still be temporal in his humanity – there need be no gap between his ascension and his return. This may also mean that the Son has existed both temporally and atemporally since the beginning of creation, not just when he appeared as the Angel of the Lord.
    Second, these co-existing states of temporality and atemporality can all be explained the same way: God’s one atemporal action has been, is being and will be revealed sequentially. I know Jeremy doesn’t think in pictures but I do. Imagine a sphere with God in the centre. The sphere is created by a continual line going round and round like a ball of wool representing time. God acts by reaching out from the centre into time at every point of the sphere simultaneously, creating and sustaining and acting so that along the time line everything is sequential, but God himself is only performing one atemporal act.
    This is very similar to Jeremy’s explanation of how the atemporal God spoke to Moses. God acts in a single atemporal act, but from our perspective he is acting sequentially.
    Third…(how do I explain this without a picture?)…God’s atemporal action creates a sequence of temporal events that are not only apparently sequential, but actually sequential. Hence, not only does God appear to talk and act sequentially to Moses, all the points in time that his atemporal action touches form a line of actual sequence. This is true of God in the heavens surrounded by angels, of his works on the earth, and in Jesus Christ.
    What happens if you put a ruler on a piece of paper and run the lead along the ruler? You get a line. What happens if you use the pencil to create dots right next to each other along the ruler? You get a line.
    God, Jesus and the Spirit are all both atemporal and temporal. When the Son became a man, the line of temporality already existed, and since God is fully there whenever he is anywhere, the fullness of God was in him.

    September 1, 2007 — 2:34
  • Maybe I should make that last sentence more explicit:
    When the Son became a man, the line of temporality already existed, and is incorporated as part of his humanity. He, in his humanness is temporal, but as to his divinity both temporal and atemporal. This doesn’t mean Jesus is not fully God, however, because his human temporality is made up of the one divine atemporal act.

    September 1, 2007 — 2:46
  • Ali, an atemporal being could have a manifestation in time. I’m not sure why angels standing in God’s presence in heaven requires a temporal God anymore than Moses’ encounters with God at Sinai, Samuel and Isaiah’s encounters with God in the temple, or Ezekiel’s encounter with God at Babylon should.
    Your point about Christ is pretty what I said, isn’t it? I gave several options, and that was my favored one. But I’m not sure why it requires his having existed temporally and atemporally all along.
    As for the Angel of YHWH, I’m not going to assume anything about what that refers to. It’s clear that this is a manifestation of God through some sort of agent who directly represents him, but that’s as far as we can get from anything in the text. There’s no hint in the NT that this figure is the preincarnate Son, and none of the language in the OT requires such an interpretation, even if nothing rules it out absolutely.
    I think you can still distinguish between God the Father in his timelessness and God the Son in his human temporality, and once you do that I think you can distinguish between God the Son in his divine atemporality and in his human temporality. So there’s a sense in which God is just plain timeless, even if God in his second person participates in temporality. The way my account puts it is that he doesn’t participate in time except insofar as he is incarnated as a human being.

    September 1, 2007 — 9:06
  • Christian Lee

    Jeremy,
    Fair enough. I just assumed that existing at a time was sufficient for existing in time. I guess I need to know a bit more about what it would take for God (or Jesus) to be atemporal.

    September 1, 2007 — 16:07
  • Jeremy,
    Yes, we agree on the possible method of an atemporal God manifesting himself in time as I said, but we do not agree on the result. My understanding is that whenever God manifests himself in time he is simultaneously acting atemporally and temporally, his actions coming both from the one atemporal act and forming and building on each other sequentially. In other words, his full presence in his temporal manifestations join together making him actually present and sequential temporally while at the same time logically sequential atemporally.
    My picture explanation: God is a two dimensional square plane to our one dimensional lines. When one of the sides of that plane occupies the same dimension as the lines, the fact that it is part of a square plane does not make it any less a line.
    With that in mind, I consider God to be involved temporally in time with the angels, Abraham, Moses, Elijiah and us. This means, to me, the Son’s incarnation not a mystery about how an atemporal God became a temporal Godman, because he has always been involved temporally. The question is how is Christ unlimited God in limited man. And I have what I think are viable (but not fullproof) opinions about that as well.
    (The Angel of the Lord as pre-incarnate Christ is not essential to the topic at hand. Another time perhaps?)

    September 2, 2007 — 3:32
  • tpawl

    Econ Grad Stud says:
    If we accept the trinitarianism of the 4th-5th century Church Councils (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedonia) then we must be open to a God that changes.
    That’s because their understanding of Jesus Christ was that he was a union between humanity and the essence of God. That is Christ had two natures but he was fully God. If Christ changes (in any way) then God has in some sense changed.
    Jesus obviously experienced change. At the very least the Incarnation was change in God (uniting him to a human individual).
    Dividing his humanity and his identity as God isn’t possible in traditional trinitarianism.
    The incarnation wasn’t a change in God, and, depending on what “Dividing his humanity and his identity as God” means, I think that might be false to. Econ Grad Stud points at the first four councils as evidence that if we accept those councils, we must be open to a God that changes. However, there are no citations to those councils. Here are some quotations from those councils that I think militate against the claim that we must be open to God’s changing if we affirm the teachings of those councils.
    Nicaea 325; first ecumenical (general) council
    Nicaean Creed (the original, not the Nicea-Constanipolitan creed familiar today)
    “and for those who say that he [Christ] came to be from things that were not, or from another hypostasis or substance, affirming that the Son of God is subject to change or alteration these the catholic and apostolic church anathematises. “
    Ephesus 431; third ecumenical (general) council
    From the third letter of Cyril to Nestorius
    “We do not say that his flesh was turned into the nature of the godhead or that the unspeakable Word of God was changed into the nature of the flesh. For he (the Word) is unalterable and absolutely unchangeable and remains always the same as the scriptures say. For although visible as a child and in swaddling cloths, even while he was in the bosom of the virgin that bore him, as God he filled the whole of creation and was fellow ruler with him who begot him. For the divine is without quantity and dimension and cannot be subject to circumscription.”
    From the Letter of Cyril to John of Antioch about peace
    “But since God the Word, who came down from above and from heaven, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave”, and was called son of man though all the while he remained what he was, that is God (for he is unchangeable and immutable by nature), he is said to have come down from heaven, since he is now understood to be one with his own flesh, and he has therefore been designated the man from heaven, being both perfect in godhead and perfect in humanity and thought of as in one person.”
    Chalcedon 451; fourth ecumenical (general) council
    “But there are those who are trying to ruin the proclamation of the truth, and through their private heresies they have spawned novel formulas … others by introducing a confusion and mixture, and mindlessly imagining that there is a single nature of the flesh and the divinity, and fantastically supposing that in the confusion the divine nature of the Only-begotten is passible.”
    Affirmingly of the letter of the primate of greatest and older Rome,
    “it expels from the assembly of the priests those who dare to say that the divinity of the Only-begotten is passible “
    Perhaps there are other passages of these councils that would lead one to think that one must be open to a God that changes. I, however, don’t find such passages in these councils, and I see good reason to reject the claim. I think, rather, that these four councils clearly teach that God does not change, and I’ve provided some of the quotations that I think support that claim in this comment

    September 3, 2007 — 12:02
  • John Alexander

    It seems to me that if Jesus where not human then the significance and importance of his death and resurrection would be lost.

    September 4, 2007 — 8:39
  • Jeremy:
    For what it’s worth, I think your post is almost precisely right.
    The only quibble is that I think your argument against a temporal being becoming atemporal needs more work. While obviously it makes no sense to say that an atemporal being used to be temporal, if an atemporal being can take on a temporal nature, why can’t a temporal being shed its temporal nature, replacing it with an atemporal one? Of course if the only nature a human being can have is a temporal one, this is going to be heretical in the case of Christ–it will imply the denial of Christ’s now being human–so this is not a satisfactory view, and hence this is merely a quibble.

    September 4, 2007 — 13:19
  • John Alexander

    I was thinking about some of the issues being discussed a bit further and it occurred to me that the question of atemporality and temporality might apply to humans also. If we have souls and our souls are timeless then it would seem that we are simultaneously atemporal and temporal.

    September 4, 2007 — 16:54
  • John, no one here is discussing whether Jesus is human. That’s assumed by all parties.
    The reason I don’t think it would make sense to think of our souls as atemporal is that our thoughts are temporally ordered in exactly the way that atemporalists think God’s are not.
    Alex, my argument is against a temporal being becoming atemporal or an atemporal being becoming temporal. Both views make no sense. What does make sense is an atemporal being who has a temporal nature for a time with a beginning or an end while retaining a divine nature atemporally. That’s how I’ve described the case of the Son and why I think it’s logically possible (but theologically unwelcome) to describe his temporal nature as having had an end.
    What doesn’t make any sense at all is an atemporal being becoming anything, including becoming temporal or a temporal being becoming atemporal.

    September 4, 2007 — 18:13
  • John Alexander

    Jeremy
    I suppose that a one-sentence comment like I made opens one up to sounding a bit ridicules. Oh well, not the first time, doubt if it will be the last. I believe that Jesus was a human being, and only a human being. Now, if Jesus is only human and is resurrected by God, then this is truely significant because it does offer hope to the rest of us. If Jesus is already God then the resurrection seems of little importance.
    Also, and this applies to many of the commenters, one can probably find scriptural and/or creedal evidence to support any theological position. The problem I have with this discussion is really quite simply; it makes little sense to me. Now of course this is my problem in so far as it makes sense to you and others. But maybe you, or others, can help me understand what I am missing.
    So, let me briefly explain some of my difficulties. If being A is atemporal and has a certain nature, a temporal being B might have some of the characteristics of A but would not have the characteristic of atemporality. B would have the characteristic of temporality instead. The problem is how does a being with certain characteristics obtain a characteristic it does not possess? You say “what does make sense is an atemporal being who has a temporal nature for a time with a beginning and an end while retaining a divine nature atemporality.” Please explain how this can be because I presume, based on what you said, that there is a time where this being did not have a temporal nature. How does it obtain the characteristic of temporality that it did not have before?
    Another problem with this is that a being that is only atemporal now has the limitation of not being temporal. Presuming that an atemporal being is God, what does this do to the idea of God being, among other things, omnipresent? If He is present only outside of time, then He is not present in time.
    To turn to Scripture, explain why Jesus would pray to his Father to remove the yoke from his shoulders if he is God incarnate? The scene in the garden seems to indicate that Jesus is praying to a being that he believes is different in important ways from him. Now it seems to me that Jesus must think that he is not temporally separate from his father in the sense that he can talk to him and ask for help and guidance in his life at this time and place. If his father is capable of offering assistance does this not have to occur in time? In this situation, God would have to be a temporal being. If we do not believe that God is temporal and can enter into our lives in meaningful ways, why would we pray to Him? How would He hear our prays; they exist in time.
    It seems to me that making a distinction between an atemporal God and temporal beings like us separates us from God in ways that does not make much sense for those who would want a personal relationship with Him. But, maybe I am wrong!

    September 5, 2007 — 8:21
  • The problem is how does a being with certain characteristics obtain a characteristic it does not possess? You say “what does make sense is an atemporal being who has a temporal nature for a time with a beginning and an end while retaining a divine nature atemporality.” Please explain how this can be because I presume, based on what you said, that there is a time where this being did not have a temporal nature. How does it obtain the characteristic of temporality that it did not have before?
    Well, you already have to start with the idea that God can exist in three persons and that one of those persons is both human and divine in a way that involves a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. If that divine nature is atemporal, and that human nature is temporal, then you can say that the being is atemporal insofar as he is divine and existing in time for a finite length of time insofar as he is human. That’s based on the two natures, one being atemporal and the other being temporal.
    What I’m saying is that the truth conditions for “X is atemporal” are that X’s atemporal existence is simultaneous with the utterance, and that will always be true, because eternity with be simultaneous in the relevant sense with every time. The truth conditions for “X is temporal” are that X exists in time at the time of utterance or something like that.
    It’s more complicated when you speak of becoming temporal. At a time before the incarnation, the Son does not exist temporally. At a time after the incarnation, the Son exists temporally. It’s misleading to say that he becomes temporal, because that suggests being atemporal at one time and then being temporal at another. That’s not the best way to say it. It’s more that at that time there’s no temporal human nature that he has, and at a later time there is.
    It’s not as if he’s in time existing atemporally and then at a later time existing temporally. That’s nonsense. But you can represent his existence as being both outside time divinely and for a duration of time humanly. It would be misleading to say that he comes into existence or that he becomes temporal. It would be more technically accurate to say that his incarnation begins at a certain point of time and during the time of the incarnation he is both temporal qua human and atemporal qua divine.
    Another problem with this is that a being that is only atemporal now has the limitation of not being temporal. Presuming that an atemporal being is God, what does this do to the idea of God being, among other things, omnipresent? If He is present only outside of time, then He is not present in time.
    The standard way to think of omnipresence is not that God is literally in any place or time. God is outside space as well as outside time, on the traditional view. That’s in fact one of the arguments for atemporalism. If God is not limited by being in space, why think God is limited by being in time? Omnipresence, rather, is that God has direct causal contact with every place and every moment in time. Anything that exists and any place or time depends on God’s sustenance for its existence, and God could have direct influence of any events anywhere in space-time.
    In the garden, Jesus expresses his temporal discomfort and anxiety over what he knows will be an awful future he is about to experience. He doesn’t think it’s really possible for it not to happen. We often use figures of speech like that. He’s not really asking God to take it away, since he knows it’s necessary. He’s expressing his pain and foreboding about what’s about to happen.
    The orthodox position does not identify the Father and Son, by the way. One person in the Trinity can express such emotions to another without any rejection of Trinitarian views.
    One of the problems you present is just about prayer in general. Forget Jesus’ divinity. The problem you raise is that you think God needs to be in time to be prayed to and to respond to a prayer. But I’ve already given my response to that issue above (in the comment on August 31, 2007 at 11:40 AM).

    September 5, 2007 — 10:56
  • Dear Jeremy:
    You wrote: “What doesn’t make any sense at all is an atemporal being becoming anything”.
    Some qualifications are needed. An atemporal being can become known. Besides, can’t we say that Christ was an atemporal being, and Christ became taller over his lifetime, hence an atemporal being became taller? Of course the medievals would say that the latter statement is only true per accidens. But I am not claiming anything more than that.
    Maybe you are assuming a notion of becoming that is stronger than mine, which is just the at-at notion? (x becomes F iff there are t0 and t1 such that x is not F at t0 and x is F at t1 and t0 < t1)

    September 5, 2007 — 11:29
  • Maybe I’ve got a stronger notion of becoming, but I also think that it’s literally false that the Son qua atemporal could become anything. Becoming known isn’t becoming something. It’s just that a relation between being X and God is different at time t than it is at time t+1. That doesn’t mean God is changing, just that how X is related to God changes.
    Changes in relations aren’t really becomings. I became a father, but I didn’t change to become a father, so it’s not really a becoming. Becoming a human being is a becoming. Becoming taller is a becoming (although Christ qua atemporal didn’t ever become taller).

    September 5, 2007 — 15:05
  • Dear Jeremy:
    Suppose the following state of affairs holds. Jones atemporally has nature C, and from 99 AD to 155 AD, he also has the temporal nature B. Nature C is atemporal while nature B is temporal. Moreover, the cause of Jones’ having nature C is some event E that befell Jones in 155 AD and caused Jones to atemporally have nature C and furthermore caused Jones to cease to have nature B. Moreover, E befell Jones qua being with B. (This has certain non-coincidental resemblances to Lewis’s stuff on time travel.)
    My description appears coherent, and seems to be a description of a being that comes to have nature C. The coming-to-be happens qua its having B, so it doesn’t violate your prohibition on an atemporal being qua atemporal becoming anything. It is qua temporal being that Jones becomes atemporal.
    You might object that it is a conceptual truth that nothing temporal can cause anything atemporal. But that would need an argument. Certainly an atemporal being can cause temporal effects. Why, then, not the other way around?

    September 5, 2007 — 15:40
  • I agree that it’s coherent, and I don’t have a problem with a temporal event serving as the explanation of something’s being atemporal. I certainly think events in time serve as the explanation or cause of God’s knowledge of events in time, so I don’t think this is in principle problematic, and I don’t see why it should become problematic when it involves beings rather than knowledge. But I think it misdescribes the case to say that E causes Jones to become temporal.
    Event E seems to cause Jones always to have been atemporal. It causes him to cease to exist temporally. So I’d say that it’s accurate to say that it leads him to cease being temporal, but it sounds misleading to describe it as leading Jones to become atemporal, since he always was atemporal. It’s the cause of his always having been atemporal (even before his existence), but it sounds wrong to me to describe it as becoming atemporal.

    September 6, 2007 — 7:35
  • john alexander

    Jeremy
    Thanks for your thoughtful response.
    You write: Well, you already have to start with the idea that God can exist in three persons and that one of those persons is both human and divine in a way that involves a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. If that divine nature is atemporal, and that human nature is temporal, then you can say that the being is atemporal insofar as he is divine and existing in time for a finite length of time insofar as he is human. That’s based on the two natures, one being atemporal and the other being temporal.
    Now one can claim (correctly) that thee persons can have an idea of God, but that is not what you mean, is it? It would seem to me that what you mean is that there are three separate persons (one of them being God) who share the characteristics of God. But, if this were the case then there would be three persons who are God so that the principle of identity would pertain such that person 1 = person 2 = person 3 so that person 1 = person 3, etc. If this is the case then how can one even start to distinguish between having a divine nature and a human nature at the same time? If both natures are substantially different (non-identical) then it seems contradictory to say that a person can be both at the same time. The distinction becomes meaningless. This can be resolved along Platonic lines, but you reject that approach.
    You write: What I’m saying is that the truth conditions for “X is atemporal” are that X’s atemporal existence is simultaneous with the utterance, and that will always be true, because eternity with be simultaneous in the relevant sense with every time. The truth conditions for “X is temporal” are that X exists in time at the time of utterance or something like that.
    Who is making the utterance? The word ‘simultaneous’ seems to me to be time dependant meaning that it has to occur at some time so the idea of atemporal seems self-defeating given your explanation if someone (God) is making the utterance. Also, it would seem to imply that if I utter ‘I am atemporal’, then I would be atemporal (as well as eternal). Also, why should we assume that there is an equivalence between being atemporal and being eternal? Something (God, our souls) would be eternal if it existed in (at) all time.
    You write: One of the problems you present is just about prayer in general. Forget Jesus’ divinity. The problem you raise is that you think God needs to be in time to be prayed to and to respond to a prayer. But I’ve already given my response to that issue above (in the comment on August 31, 2007 at 11:40 AM).
    On 8/31 you wrote: As for being open to God changing, I certainly am. I do hold the view that God is atemporal, but I don’t hold the view dogmatically. I am open to the view that God is temporal as long as God has direct epistemic access to every time. I just think the atemporal view is more likely than that view.
    I assume that this is what you are referring too. I have no problem forgetting (or denying) Jesus’ divinity, if by divinity you mean having (sharing) the characteristics of God. But, even if I accept your position here (and elsewhere) it seems plausible that God might not be utilizing his direct access to every time at every time so there may be a time someone is praying to him at a time that He is not accessing. If you are claiming that He is accessing every time at all times, this would seem to imply that he is in time at all time, so why maintain that He is also atemporal? What does the concept of atemporality add to our understanding of God that is not captured by Him having direct access to every time which seems to imply that He is in time at every time, or a temporal being.
    I appreciate your willingness to dialogue on this.

    September 6, 2007 — 11:03
  • John, I don’t think this post is the place to discuss the puzzles of the logic of the Trinity and the Incarnation. My question was not about whether those make sense. I was wondering what you should say about the temporality question given an orthodox view on those matters. It’s not to the point to raise questions about whether the orthodox view makes sense, since I wasn’t exploring that question in this post. I was looking at what someone holding such a view should say about this question.
    Why should it matter who makes the utterance? I’m just talking about something like Stump and Kretzmann’s ET-simultaneity. You don’t need to have someone actually talking for such a notion to make sense.
    Why should your uttering “I am atemporal” make the sentence true? I don’t follow your reasoning at all. I can say I’m atemporal all I want, and it doesn’t make me atemporal. That’s consistent with saying that a sentence uttered at a time is true because of some facts about an atemporal being, which is what I had been saying.
    You raise questions about the common practice in the atemporality literature of using the word ‘eternal’ to refer to being atemporal. I don’t see the problem. The atemporal view cashes out the idea of eternity as atemporal rather than everlasting. There are certainly other senses of the English word ‘eternal’, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here. Leftow, for example, regularly uses the word to mean atemporal, acknowledging that the word can be used in other ways. But he specifies that that’s what he means. There’s nothing wrong with that.
    What you quote at the end doesn’t remotely address the question you asked, so I’m not sure why you picked that out. I don’t think it’s even from the comment that I referred to. This is the quote I was talking about:
    We interact with God in the sense that God knew how we would respond and intended the effects of his one act after our response to him to occur a certain way. So God knew I would pray and in his one act both set up the situation before I prayed and set up his response to that prayer. It is not interaction in time, and biblical portrayals of such interaction are only how things seem from the perspective of someone seeing the effects of God’s working. But it is interaction in the sense that God does the second thing in response to what I do after seeing the first thing.
    You ask how that is nonetheless outside time. Well, if God has just one action, and its effects are spread throughout the timeline, while God’s thoughts are not ordered temporally, I think it’s fair to call that being atemporal.

    September 6, 2007 — 15:55
  • john alexander

    Jeremy
    Sorry to have bothered you with my questions. I will wait until an appropriate post appears to continue.

    September 7, 2007 — 11:48