I recently encountered a claim that the Bible contradicts itself by using both "eternal" and "forever" to describe God. The argument depended on saying that "eternal" refers to God being outside of time, but "forever" means something more like "endless time." This has been my understanding of these terms as well. Unfortunately no specific passages were cited, but I did find these relevant verses, among others:

Isaiah 57:15
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity...

Deuteronomy 33:27
The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.

1 Chronicles 6:34

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

 

Is it contradictory to say that God is eternal (outside of time) and also that, e.g., his love endures forever (throughout all time)? Have I misunderstood the meaning of these words?

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Personally, I wouldn't sweat it.  Think of it this way:  an omnipresent God who designed time and exists externally to time could probably also reach into the time He has created and there dwell, as well. 

 

Hmmm . . . reading over that, it doesn't make much sense.  Let's put it this way.  Let's say I build houses for a living, and I just finished building a spectacular house for a client.  I do not, physically, dwell inside of that house - my dwelling is external to it.  However, could I not still enter that house?

 

Of course, the analogy breaks down once the people have moved in - because then I can't enter it without consequence!  Hopefully, though, the idea gets across.  There is no contradiction if we say that God is both eternal - outside of time - and forever - inside of time but without temporal constraints.  The contradiction would be if we said that God was both eternal and not eternal.

Good point. I suppose as long as time continues forever then there is no problem. After all, even if God does not enter into time, he will still exist forever and ever from a human perspective (i.e. at any point in the future within time, humans can be confident that God still exists outside of it). 

Charles Martin Jr said:

Personally, I wouldn't sweat it.  Think of it this way:  an omnipresent God who designed time and exists externally to time could probably also reach into the time He has created and there dwell, as well.

 

Hmmm . . . reading over that, it doesn't make much sense.  Let's put it this way.  Let's say I build houses for a living, and I just finished building a spectacular house for a client.  I do not, physically, dwell inside of that house - my dwelling is external to it.  However, could I not still enter that house?

 

Of course, the analogy breaks down once the people have moved in - because then I can't enter it without consequence!  Hopefully, though, the idea gets across.  There is no contradiction if we say that God is both eternal - outside of time - and forever - inside of time but without temporal constraints.  The contradiction would be if we said that God was both eternal and not eternal.

Justin,

Here is something else to consider. After checking my dictionary, eternity and eternal both have the meanings of endless time and being outside of time, which I believe are actually two separate and distinct meanings. The only being who is outside of time is God. He is ("I am"). He created time. On the other hand, humans were created as eternal beings. Our souls will exist for all time (whether in the presence of God or absent from His presence (the 2nd death). Time had its beginning at the first instant of creation and will proceed into the future without end. Our souls were created after the beginning of time, and will exist forever. (The moment of our soul's creation is up for debate, but that is another topic.)

There would be a contradiction only if the two terms were mutually exclusive. They are not.  God exists in all time (from when he created it until it ends, if it does).  That is a subset of God's self existence which is also outside of time.  Concentric circles.
I have studied the issue of how God relates to time in a lot more depth since I originally started this thread. Most philosophers and theologians agree that God was timeless without creation, and the argument is over whether he entered in to time at the point of creation or remains outside of time. As it turns out, the way one answers this question will depend a lot on which theory of time one accepts, the "A theory" or the "B theory." But anyway, my view now is that the language of Scripture does not clearly indicate what it means for God to be eternal beyond the fact that he is without beginning and without end. Whether that means he is timeless or endures through all time is an open question.

In the NT, as often as not eternal and everlasting are the same word in the Greek (e.g. Matt. 25:46). An unnatural, extrabiblical distinction is made between the two ideas which is not supported by the vocabulary and usage of the original language. It is a similar hodgepodge of human ideas found in the message of many who invent a false distinction between "belief" and "faith" as well as between "believe" and "have faith." The same Greek word is used for both words. Same with Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost. And then comparing the Gospels you see the same event recorded in two of the synoptics with the Aramaic of Jesus being translated in one case Kingdom of Heaven and in another case Kingdom of God.

Why should make fine points of nuance and distinction when the Bible does not?

How do you suppose Paul would answer the question about "A theory," "B theory," "eternal" "everlasting" and the like?

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