Eternal Creation -- By: Paul Helm

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 45:2 (NA 1994)
Article: Eternal Creation
Author: Paul Helm

Eternal Creation1

Paul Helm


The lecture provides a partial defence of the idea of the timelessly eternal creation of the universe, once commonplace among Christian theologians, but now widely disputed. On such a view God has ontological but not temporal priority over his creation. It is better to stress the negative aspects of divine timelessness than to think of it on analogy with temporal duration. Recent objections to the idea of causation being necessarily temporal are considered and rebutted. Some objections to the idea of God being in time are proposed. Finally, it is argued that the timeless eternity of God fits better with the Nicene doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son.

I. Introduction

The idea of the timelessly eternal creation of the universe, once commonplace among Christian theologians, currently faces an array of misunderstandings and objections, some more formidable than others. In this lecture I intend to explore and to defend the cogency of the idea of timeless divine creation. In what follows the chief focus will be on the timeless creation of the universe, though I shall not endeavour to prove from any source that God has created the universe thus. Nor will I be concerned to separately defend the idea of creatio ex nihilo. If you have difficulties with that idea, then I expect that by the end of this lecture those difficulties will remain, though they are not, of course, difficulties that are peculiar to timelessly eternal creation.

I shall first offer a preliminary characterisation of the idea of timelessly eternal creation, then look at some objections to it, and conclude the lecture with more exploration.

II. God, Timelessness And Creation

First, the idea of timelessness. There seem to be two logical possibilities; either that God’s relation to the universe is that of temporal cause, with himself being in time and the universe being created at a time; or that God is its timelessly eternal cause. If God is the timelessly eternal cause of the universe then it can make no sense to ask at what time God created the universe. On this view it would be necessary to provide different analyses of such expressions as ‘before’ in ‘God existed before the universe did’ and of ‘beginning’ in ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ For an eternal God cannot have existed before the universe in the same sense in which breakfast is before lunch, nor can the beginning of the universe be an event in time like the beginning of the Grand National.

Following Boethius, Augustine of Hippo, and a host of others I understand ti...

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