Can hermeneutics determine what scripture teaches: materialistic theism vs. idealistic panentheism

Does the Bible explicitly teach an objective material creation separate and independent from a theistic God who stands apart from His creation or does it teach a subjective ideal creation inseparable from the mind of a panentheistic God who indwells creation and is required to hold it together? Can hermeneutics, rationality, and/or tradition help us determine if scripture clearly supports one position or the other? I would appreciate any input to help me figure this one out if it can indeed be settled.


I consider myself a monistic idealistic panentheist. I believe that sin separates us from God only in a relational way and not in a physical or spacial way. I believe that God is omnipresent and is required to be present everywhere to hold reality together, even in hell. There are scriptures to support His omnipresence and His holding creation together. I believe that scripture also supports the idea that if God were to take away His spirit that creation would cease to exist. This indicates to me that all parts of creation require the presence of God to continue to exist. This also indicates to me that the creation cannot be independent or separate from God. This would make God panentheistic or indwelling all creation. This is different from a pantheistic God which is identified with the creation: the creation is God is the creation. Panentheism means that the creation is inseparable from God but God is greater and more than just the creation.


I believe both Jesus and Paul were panentheists. Jesus’ view that he is in the Father, the Father in him, he in us, we in him, and the Father in us is clearly panentheistic. Likewise, Paul’s repetition of we being in Christ and Christ in us demonstrates this principle as well as his clear teaching that we live, move, and have our being in God who makes us His temple. Paul also clearly showed his panentheism by indicating that by Christ all things were created, he is before all things and in him all things are held together. This clearly indicates to me that Paul did not view a material creation that was separate from God.


I believe that God's creation is not a material creation but is His mental projection. God spoke and the creation appeared. The creation is made of the Word of God. This is not necessarily audible words made out of sound waves which would presuppose a prior reality in which sound waves, space, and a materialistic medium would be required to accommodate sound waves. Rather, I believe these words were the thoughts of God. The Greek word for the Word which created the world is Logos which is also their word for logic. I believe creation is a logical construct in the mind of God.


There is also a rational argument for this. If creation cannot be separated and independent from God the creation must be immaterial and not made of a material substance for God is spirit and immaterial. I believe this necessitates an ideal rather than a material creation.


The Bible does appear to be dualistic because it distinguishes between the Spirit and the world/flesh/carnal. However, I believe that upon closer examination it reveals that the world is one of deception and not actuality while the Truth is of a spiritual nature and not carnal. Scripture can be used to examine this dichotomy in three sections. First, scripture indicates that the carnal is foolishness and deceit. Second, it indicates that Truth is mysterious. I believe the mysterious nature of Truth indicates that Truth is not equated with common sense. I believe common sense would tell us that there is an objective material reality independent of the mind. This is what I argue the Bible doesn’t teach. Finally, the Bible identifies Spirit as truth. I believe this clearly makes the case that the Bible teaches an ideal panentheistic reality instead of a material theistic reality where God is separate from His creation.


Here are the verses to consider. Let’s first look at how the Bible characterizes physical reality:


1 Corinthians 3:19


For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.


Colossians 2:8


Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world.


Ephesians 2:2


Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:


Revelation 12:9


And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.


1 Corinthians 3:


1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?



For me the Bible speaks of an objective material reality as a realm of foolishness, deception, and an immature mindset. I see the idea of a world separate and independent from God as a parable which speaks more to spiritual truths that are not carnally discerned. In fact, I believe ontological truth is so counter-intuitive that it seems like a mystery to a worldly mind. Consider the following verses:


Mark 4:


11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 12 that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand.


Romans 16:25


Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.


1 Corinthians 2:


6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.


Ephesians 3:9


And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:


Colossians 1:


26 even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:


Colossians 2:


2 that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3 in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.



The scripture seems to be clearly saying that the mystery of ontological truth is panentheism or Christ is in us and we are in Christ. Christ is in the Father and the Father in him. The Father is in us and we are in the Father. Panentheism is the mystery and that mystery of God is where all wisdom and knowledge are hid. The rest is error. Consider the following scriptures which indicate that spiritual reality is truth and material reality is the error:


John 4:24


God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.


John 14:17


Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.


John 15:26


But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:


John 16:13


Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.


Romans 8:


5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God:


1 John 4:6


We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.


1 John 5:6


And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.



What is the scriptural basis for a material creation separate and independent from a theistic God who stands apart from His creation? I know that many influential people in the Church have held to this traditionally theistic position but does scripture support it and can hermeneutics help to clear this issue up?


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I understand what you’re saying Justin. I’m just saying that it’s logically inconsistent on your principle that creation is separate from God yet dependent on the word of His power for sustainment. Let me try to formalize the line of reasoning to see if this adds any clarity.


My claim:

1. God is omnipresent; therefore, Creation is not spatially separate from God.

2. God sustains Creation; therefore, Creation is not independent of God.

3. If Creation is neither independent nor separate from God then it cannot be of a non-mental material as God is spirit and immaterial.


Your rebuttal:

A. Creation is a material reality.

B. God is immaterial and omnipresent but not spatial; therefore, creation is separate in substance and dimension but not in cognizant awareness from God.

C. Creation is independent in substance and dimension but dependent in sustenance from God; therefore, the above claim equivocates on the use of "separate" and “independent” and is not required to be immaterial in substance.


My rebuttal:

4. In addition to God being immaterial and dimensionless, He is also timeless.

5. Because God is timeless His act of creation is explanatorily transcendent of time and so His sustainment of Creation throughout time is better understood as God’s creation of each moment of time in Creation.

6. This negates the actuality of A-series time which negates the actuality of change which negates the actuality of energy which negates the actuality of matter which negates the actuality of space.

7. The negation of the actuality of time/matter/space negates the actuality of a material Creation separate in substance from an immaterial God.

8. Therefore, there is no equivocation of Creation either being separate or independent of God.


Your counter-rebuttal:

D. God created A-series time.

E. The creation of A-series time transformed God into a temporal being required to sustain a material Creation from moment to moment.

F. A-series time makes possible a material Creation separate from God.


My counter-rebuttal:

9. The creation of a fundamental property of a substance cannot change the fundamental property of the Creator.

10. The application of A-series time to God contradicts the principle of the separateness of a material (space/matter/time) Creation from God.


I don’t believe that a restatement of your counter-rebuttal actually rebuts points 9 and 10 above. Can you detail why either of these two points aren’t correct?

I should probably postulate a reason why point 9 is so instead of just asserting it as self-evident. It may be so because of a principle of cause and effect but that may not be the exact right principle. If you challenge me on this point I'll have to do a little more digging. However, if you find the assertion self-evident feel free not to challenge me.

McTaggert argued that the A-series was needed for anything deserving the name "time", since he argued that only the A-series can allow for genuine change, and he considered change to be an essential part of any reasonable definition of time. But, he argued, the A-series was logically incoherent, so he concluded that time was unreal, and since he also believed the B-series depended on the A-series, he also concluded that only the C-series could remain as a meaningful ordering.
Justin Mooney said:

 I don't think taking away the A-series entails taking away the actuality of time. B-series time (as I have understood it) is also actual time, for there would actually be a temporally extended dimension.

First let me back up to (6). I'm not persuaded of (6), because rejecting the A-series in favor of a different series is not (in a sense) denying that change exists. Rather, it is asserting that change is of a different nature than it would have in the A-series. Change can be seen as static from a timeless perspective, which I believe is what you are referring to when you say that change isn't real, but why can't this static four-dimensional interpretation of change ground real matter and energy?


Regarding (9), I have been defending the possibility that God's relationship to time is not a part of his nature; it's a contingent property. The property knowing that the red sea was parted is a contingent property of God. He didn't have to have it, and indeed if he is temporal then he did not always have that property, but now does have it. Many other contingent properties of God could be named. I'm not entirely sure what you mean by a "fundamental property," but if you mean an essential property, then I simply deny that timelessness is an essential property of God. If you just mean a property, then I challenge the notion that God cannot have contingent properties.


Regarding (10), I'm still not sure why this is true either. On my view, to say that time exists is just to say that there are things that have before-and-after relations. If God can act sequentially, like have sequential thoughts or will things sequentially, then in virtue of his doing so, time exists. This is all true even if God never actually creates anything at all (suppose he just has or begins a sequential mental stream of consciousness) so I don't see how this conflicts with his being separate from creation.

I guess we should clarify issues. Do you hold matter to be the only part of creation that was created and with matter came the properties of space and time by virtue of the existence of matter? In this scenario space would not have to be specially created as a set of rules to go along with matter nor would time but are an automatic property of the existence of matter. If this were the case it would be nonsense to speak of space/time/matter because space and time would be pre-existing attributes that would be actualized with the existence of matter.


However, if you hold that time and space were created properties that had to be created in addition to the creation of matter then my points 9 and 10 become relevant.


If you hold to the first perspective of space and time then I believe it would be logically consistent to say that with the creation of matter God became temporal but in the same way God must have become spatial because in sustaining the existence of the matter God would have to spread Himself to all dimensions where the matter existed even though God did not Himself have mass. This is due to the same principle as God being required to be temporal since matter automatically necessitated both time and space.


Now, if you're holding that space was created specially in addition to matter but time was automatic you'll have to explain why time is an automatic necessity of the existence of matter but space is not. If you're saying that time is a contingent property of God you'll want to explain why space is not... unless you're saying that it is also. Are you also saying that matter is a contingent property of God since he came in the form of Jesus? Let's clarify these issues before we continue.
Justin Mooney said:

First let me back up to (6). I'm not persuaded of (6), because the way I see it is that rejecting the A-series in favor of a different series is not denying that change exists, but rather asserting that change is of a different nature than it would have in the A-series. It can be seen as static from a timeless perspective, which I believe is what you are referring to when you say that change isn't real, but why can't this static four-dimensional interpretation of change ground real matter and energy?
Regarding (9), I believe that God's relationship to time is not a part of his nature; it's a contingent property. Just like his choosing to part the Red Sea is a contingent property of God. The property knowing that the red sea was parted is a contingent property of God. He didn't have to have it, and indeed he did not always have that property. I'm not sure what you mean by a "fundamental property," but if you mean an essential property, then I simply deny that timelessness is an essential property of God. If you just mean a property, then I challenge the notion that God cannot have contingent properties.
Regarding (10), I'm still not sure why this is true either. On my view, to say that A-series time exists is just to say that there are things that have before-and-after relations. If God can act sequentially, like have sequential thoughts or will things sequentially, then in virtue of his doing so, A-time exists. This is all true even if God never actually creates anything at all, so I don't see how this conflicts with his being separate from creation.

Okay, lets try this, for clarification purposes. I will state (and label) several relevant premises, and indicate wether I affirm or deny them. Let me know if I miss anything important.

(a) If time exists, then matter must also exist

I deny (a).

(b) If matter exists, then time must exist

I am not informed enough to evaluate (b), but I am willing to grant it for the sake of argument.

(c) If time exists then space must exist

I deny (c).

(d) if space exists, then time must exist

I do not know enough about the metaphysics of space to evaluate this one, but I would be willing to grant it for the sake of argument.

(e) God created time

I affirm (e) in the sense that time came into existence because of something that God did (namely, acted temporally)

(f) God created space

I affirm (f)

(g) God created matter

I affirm (g)

(h) time exists because matter exists

(i) time exists because God created it (by acting temporally)

Technically both (h) and (i) are true. Both are sufficient individually and conjointly to generate time. Though (i) has priority because God's creating is ultimately the reason that matter exists.

(j) God's relationship to time is contingent

I affirm (j).

(k) if time is an A-series, then God is temporal

A affirm (k).

(l) if space exists, then God is spatial

I deny (i)

(m) God is contingently spatial

I deny (m). God is not spatial at all, regardless of whether or not space exists. However, God is omnipresent in the sense that he is causally available and cognizant of every point in space. This property is a contingent property of God, since the existence of space is contingent.

Let me know what I've missed. Feel free to add more propositions for me to say whether or not I affirm or deny them. Hopefully this will help clarify things.

O.k. Wow!  You guys are way above me in this realm of discussion!  So please feel free to laugh at me if I am so stupid that what I say misses the whole point. I am saying I am ignorant from the beginning of this discussion, but maybe what I am about to say implies the same as others here, but I am a simple man so here is a simple idea.

Time cannot or does not exist outside of the material (matter) only matter infers time, that means we as part of matter of a spoken universe see or observe time and we use the term time to describe a conceived view, because matter exists?  

It is a mistake to insist that God is time, He is timeless true, in the sense his omnipotence can only be perceived by the material.  If God had not created the material, then time would cease to exist, nor could the material perceive it? 

What happened with your discussion all of you, when the Word says Father, Son, Holy Spirit?  The Son in creation in John (Logos), Let "us" in Genesis, and what ever the Father says to the the Son....?  There is one God; a truth from Scripture that God says about himself????

It seems that we apply finite statements about the Universe to an infinite God that can set all things in place materially  still hold it together perhaps in the sense that it is material or matter, by the power of his creative Word, but He is not the matter, nor is He time? Time is like a perceived consequence of his creative acts. He certainly has the power to create, set it in motion, and yet in the framework "we" measure time, He is not beholden to the finite. 

Sorry if this sounds infantile?

I think deep things but in a whole different area, this is good stuff.....I am very stretched by this conversation.  Cheers!!!

I agree with Lou. We need to distance ourselves from the notions that bind God to time. It is very difficult for those of us who are limited to time, who have a beginning to always remember that God has no beginning.

To ponder what God might have done for millions of years before creation assumes that He is contained within time. To speak of God rattling around in an empty universe for billions of years before creation seems to me to be forgetful of the biblical fact that Genesis One verse one, and John One verse one both speak of the same absolute beginning of all things time and space.

Note that Genesis One identifies that beginning as consisting of day one. NOW if it is day one, then it is also the first week of time, and the first year of time. There were no "years" or "billions" of years before the beginning. There was only the perfect self-sufficient and self-existent Now God, the Great I AM.

Note also that John One declares that all THINGS were made by this Logos who "already was in the beginning" and that without Him, or apart from Him was not one thing made that was made. That means there was no time and no space, only perfect divine essence, God who is Spirit.

And likewise, the discourse of Justin and Alexander is quite thought-provoking for me, but way above my pay-grade and intellectual capacity to follow in much of any direction of lucidity.

As I read many great theologians, omnipresence is an attribute of God relative to the created world. Before there was a created world there was only God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in perfect communion. So since that was all that there was, then I guess you could say that God was omnipresent.

What was, is the nature of God apart from all things created, material and immaterial?

Here above is a little article I have written on the nature of God. The link will also lead you to the next in a series.

While like you this is above my pay grade as well, I say YES YES YES to what you said.  The scripture is very clear about God in some areas.  Cheers!!

Lou and Jim, thank you both for your contribution to this discussion. I have hesitated to reply before now because the issue of time may also be above my pay grade as well but I enjoy thinking that stretches my thought process. Please, always feel free to contribute to conversations I am in.


What both of you said makes sense. I think the main issue here is whether time applies to God. Depending on whether it does or doesn't, has implications about creation itself... at least in my mind. I think we might be able to get closer to an answer though using the Bible, which is what it really comes down to in the end. Can hermeneutics help us determine if time applies to God?


I have already brought up the scripture in Ecclesiastes that indicates that time is predetermined. Does scripture indicate God's relationship to time? Perhaps this is what we should be focused on.


I sat in church this morning and the pastor covered a scripture that seemed to be relevant to this issue:


Psalms 90:2 - Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.


This scripture seems to talk of God in the present tense as existing from the beginning of time to the end of time. If time is already written and God exists presently from beginning to end doesn't this imply that God is timeless?


Justin, you seem to say that time is a contingent property of God but space is not and I'm not sure if you think matter is a contingent property of God. If you don't think space is a contingent property I doubt whether you think matter is. My question is, if matter and space aren’t contingent properties of God, why is time? Let's also try to get to the meat of the issue with scripture. Can you bring forth some scripture that seems to imply anything about God's relationship to time?


I think that the main issue here is God's properties. If you look at what I'm arguing and what you're arguing, I start with the nature of God and you start with the nature of creation. I think that we can both agree that God is the seat of existence. Everything that exists seems to be contingent on God's existence. Without God nothing exists. This seems to me to imply that we should start with God's properties instead of starting with Creation's properties if we intend to understand the nature of creation better. If we assume Creation's nature first we almost seem to imply that Creation exists independent of God's nature as if it has an existence of its own apart from God.


Let's also try to clarify time so we can compare it with what the Bible might indicate. McTaggerts’ A and B-series time is a little confusing. Let's try to substitute new definitions we can work with.


The way I look at A-series time is as existing as a machine known as the present which grinds its way in the direction of the future. All that exists is the present. The past no longer exists except as a memory. The future isn't written and isn't predetermined. The future doesn't actually exist and the script of history is created as the present grinds its way along. In this way, if A-series time existed God would be temporal and maintaining the existence of this machine known as the present. God doesn't have to hold the past together because it no longer exists. The future isn't written because the future doesn't exist yet. the only way prophecy works out is because God is super smart and when God created the machine of time in the beginning He knew just what elements to add in just the right proportions so that He could determine what was most likely probable to happen because He is just that smart but the future isn't actually written but is only a probabilistic variable. Actual free-will is only possible in A-series time because the future isn't written and we can make our own choices and change the future from what exists in the present. God, however, knows the probability of what choices we will make, therefore knowing the probability of future outcomes.


B-series time is predetermined because God has already written how things will turn out. Time is actual because the present is an existing machine that grinds along the written story of time. Time plays out the way God has written it so actual free-will doesn't exist as something other than perception to us. God is temporal because He holds the present together as it grinds along but the past and the future don't exist as actualities but only as pre-existing storylines that come before and after the existing actuality of the present.


C-series time is predetermined but does not require God to be temporal. There is no actual existing machine we refer to as the present that grinds along the string of time from beginning to end so God is not required to be temporal to maintain the existence of the machine we call the present. Instead, God holds each moment in existence. Each moment in existence has a sense of the present with memories of the past but not memories of the future. Each moment is like an individual picture on a film reel. In relation to each other there is a sense of motion and time and material substance but in actuality they are pictures and not actualities. They are ideas that represent things to be taken as actualities but they are not actualities in themselves. In C-series time, time is a concept which relates to the rest of the timeline but time is not an actual machine known as the present which grinds along this timeline. Each moment in time is timeless in itself without relation to all other moments. There is no actuality of change or motion in C-series time. Change and motion is only relatable in the context of the other relevant moments in time but there is no machine of time known as the present to make change actual. Change is still a concept but it is an ideal concept and not a physical or material actuality. Without the actuality of the machine known as the present time is conceptual but not actual. This would mean that energy would also be conceptual and matter along with it.


The question is, can hermeneutics help us determine which series of time is actual? I believe the answer invariably rests on the nature of God.


The view I have been defending holds that God is contingently temporal--you are right about that. (although its not actually my view; I don't have a view on how God relates to time, I am really only defending this view as being a coherent and perfectly acceptable possibility). But what it comes to matter and space, the question of whether or not these are contingent properties of God seems to miss the mark for me, because I don't think they are properties of God at all (unless we are pulling in the incarnation, in which case I would say that God contingently has the property of having a body).

On the nature of time, the main issue is whether or not past and future moments exist. I think the way one answers this question is totally independent of the issue of free will, for even on a view where the future exists and is laid out four-dimensionally beginining to end, the "shape" that our four-dimensional selves take through time can be explanatorily posterior to or willings.

I'm not sure I see the difference between A- and B- time as you have described them. Can you highlight the difference between them as you understand it?

Regarding whether we start with the nature of God or the nature of creation: when we are trying to figure something out it seems to me we should use whatever relevant sources of information we have. One of those sources is our experience of time. We also have Scripture, but I don't think it gives us much to work with on this question (see below). This whole issue of starting with one source of information rather than another is, in my view, a red herring. Because in the end our goal is to integrate and harmonize our understanding of all the information we have. Should we give more weight to God's nature over God's creation? That depends on where we get information about both. Scripture has more weight than our experience of creation, but that doesn't mean that God's nature has more weight than the nature of creation unless Scripture tells us relevant things about God's nature while our information about creation comes only from more fallible sources. That of course brings us to your question of hermeneutics.

I have indicated in other threads on this subject that I think Scripture is underdeterminative on this question. I don't believe the Biblical authors reflected on the metaphysics of God and time in their writings, and their comments that touch on the subject are not meant to be interpreted as if they are metaphysically precise. Some comments may lean in one way or another, but nothing is really decisive.

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