Paul Helm: Eternal God

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Helm, Paul.  Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time.  New York: Oxford University Press, Second Edition 2010.

Paul Helm is painstakingly thorough in examining the challenges to God’s being outside of time.  Almost too thorough. In any case, this book will likely be remembered as one of the classics in analytic theology.

Flow of the book: If God is outside of time, then a number of challenges and (perceived) difficulties arise.  The traditional view is the Boethian view: all of past, present, and future is present to God. This view is correct in maintaining that God is outside of time. It is open, however, to a number of devastating defeaters.  Helm’s goal is to reformulate the Boethian view in light of these defeaters.

The most challenging section of the book deals with indexicals: I am here at this place at this hour. The problem is that many of these indexicals can’t apply to God’s being timeless.  God can affirm the following proposition?

(1) I know that it is raining today.

The critic says he can’t because this would place God in a time-bound relation.  It’s not clear, though, why God can’t timelessly affirm this proposition. The only force indexicals would have is that God can’t affirm the following proposition:

(2) I know what it is to be married.

This deals more with omniscience than eternality.  In any case, it doesn’t seem like anything is lost.

Can God know future events?  Presumably, he can. This has been a given in almost every form of theistic belief.  Some philosophers like Swinburne say God can’t know the future if he has also given libertarian freedom to his creatures.  The future actions haven’t yet happened; therefore, God can’t know them. Helm offers something along the lines of a rebuttal:

(3) There is no logical connection between the view that the future does not already exist and the view that the future is indeterminate (121).

I think there is an easier rebuttal, though.  Christianity and Judaism (and I presume Islam) believe that some humans can prophesy (with varying degrees of accuracy) about the future.  If they can know the future actions of free creatures, then it stands to reason that God could, too.

Possibilities of Fatalism

Not all fatalisms are the same.  One can mean:

(4) Everything that happens was bound to happen.

It can mean something weaker:

(5) Everything that happens does so because of a logical necessity.

Timelessness and Human Responsibility

(6) God timelessly decreed that B occur at t₂ and this cannot be isolated from his timeless decree of A at t

(7) God timelessly decrees a complete causal matrix of events and actions (170).

Whenever we speak of God’s being and actions, we must realize that God’s being is logically prior to what he does.

Kripkean Terms

Rigid designator: a proper name which has x property in every possible world.

Accidental designator: property in some world.

Using these terms Helm suggests that “God” expresses the individual essence of God (208). A general essence isn’t a particular essence. God has a set of properties unique to himself. These are “God-making” properties.  This is important because “Being the creator of the world’ is not a part of his nature whereas ‘being infinitely good is’” (209).

Eternal Generation of the Son:  “There is no state of the Father that is not a begetting of the Son, and no state of the Son which is not a being begotten by the Father and necessarily there is no time when the Father had not begotten the Son” (285).

Corollary: If God is in time, then it does make sense to speak of a time when the Son was not.  When did the Father beget the Son? Even asking that question illustrates the problem. You can’t say in eternity past, for that is the thing the temporalist denies.

Time and Eternity (William Lane Craig)

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The best tool for understanding what is meant by God’s being eternal is not poetry but analytic philosophy (Craig 11).

Divine eternity: God exists without beginning or end.  But is God temporal or timeless? We will come back to this question, as Craig himself revisits it at the very end of the book.  We see much about time and eternity, and the numerous tortured arguments from all sides, but little on (T/E’s) relation to God, per the book’s subtitle.  That shouldn’t detract from the fine scholarship, though.

Much of the book is a sustained analysis of Einstein and the various debates concerning relativity.  I’m going to skip those. The heart of Craig’s argument is setting forth two views of time

Tensed time (A).  This is the common-sense view of time (and the one Craig upholds).  We can speak of past, present, and future. However, if God is timeless, as he must be if we deny that time is eternal, then it’s hard to see how he can relate to time.

Tenseless time (B).  Time is an illusion, or at least speak of a past and a future is meaningless.  This fits well with some models of relativity. If time is actually space-time, and space is a 3-D coordinate, and if space isn’t tensed (and it isn’t), then time is tenseless.  While this is quite bizarre, and Craig offers a number of rebuttals, but its strength lies in its ability to comport with God’s eternity.

In conclusion, Craig argues that God is eternal before Creation but has a temporal dimension with respect to creation.  And that’s my problem with his conclusion. I think there is something to it, but he does very little to develop it (Craig, 217-235, and much of that discussion is a summary of his Kalam argument). He adds a fine discussion on God’s foreknowledge as an appendix.

Divine Timelessness


  1. God is simple


(1’) God is immutable.

(2) If God is simple or immutable, then he is not temporal.

(3) Therefore, God is not temporal.

(4) Therefore, God is timeless.

This argument, though, depends on certain Thomist formulations.  Craig doesn’t pursue this line of thought.

Relativity Theory


Absolute time: time without relation to anything external.

Absolute space: 

Relative time: time determined by clocks.

19th century experiments on speed of light.

Light’s measured velocity is the same in all inertial frames.


Simultaneity becomes relative.  There is no absolute space.

What does this mean for God, Time, and Eternity?  If God is in time, then whose time is he in, for time is relative to the observer? The argument becomes thus:

  1. STR is correct in its description of time.
  2. If STR is correct in its description of time, then if God is temporal, He exists in either the time associated within a single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  3. Therefore, if God is temporal,He exists in either the time associated within a  single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  4. God does not exist in either the time associated witha  single inertial frame or the times associated with a plurality of inertial frames.
  5. Therefore, God is not temporal.

Craig is going to challenge (1).  Einstein’s relativity already presupposed that there couldn’t be Absolute Space.  But this was because Einstein held to verificationism, which has since been debunked.

Paradise Lost (John Milton)

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I understand why most consider Milton to be difficult reading.  To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “You have to drink all of the epic simultaneously.”  Milton rarely lets you up for air. It occasionally pays off, though, for Milton can ascend to the highest literary planes. You can’t stay at that pace the whole time, though.  Our mortal coil cannot take large amounts of pure beams of light.

Meaning no disrespect to Milton, this work is fan fiction.  It just is. It’s marvelous fan fiction, but still. Milton apparently went beyond even the Apocrypha and drew upon hermetic sources. While interesting, this gets him in trouble as many of his claims are simply wrong.  More on that later.

Wonderful Literary Passages

Goal of the book: assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to men (I:25).

* The description of Pandaemonium is one of those top ten moments of the English language (“Stygian council,” “hollow abyss,” .

*  “the reign of Chaos and old Night” (1:543; III:18).

*  “Of waters issued from a cave and spread/Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved/Pure as th’ expanse of heav’n” (IV: 454).

* Like the other great English poet Alexander Pope, Milton affirmed the chain of being, noting that “scale of nature set” (V:508) to which animals aspire to the angelic heights.

* “Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers/Hear my decree, which unrevoked shall stand” (V:601).

The Nature of God

Eternal: “wherein past, present, future he beholds” (III:78).  God’s foreknowledge does not cause man’s actions (III:118). From God “all things proceed, and up to him return” (V:469).

If you hold to the Boethian/Platonic view of time, you will enjoy Milton’s take: “For time, though in eternity, applied/To motion, measures all things durable/By past, present, and future” (V:580).

Man’s Free Will

Unfallen Adam was “sufficient to have stood, though free to fall” (III:99).

Marriage: Pure and Conjugal

Milton represented the Puritan view of marriage and sex, which was infinitely superior than the Gnosticism that had crept into the church. He writes of Eve, “Yielded with coy submission, modest pride/And sweet reluctant amorous delay” (IV: 310). It was said by someone that the devil will try to get you into bed before your married and keep you out of it afterwards.  Milton would agree. He writes, “With kisses pure: aside the Devil turned/For envy, yet with jealous leer malign/Eyed them askance” (IV: 503; also see line 750).

Indeed, our conjugal love is that by “which perhaps no bliss enjoyed by us excites his [Satan’s] envy more” (IX: 263).  Nonetheless, Milton is aware of the dark path sexuality, even married sexuality, can take. Even in marriage it is possible, so argues Milton, to use the spouse as an object of lust.  Milton starkly notes this between Adam and Eve after the Fall: “Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve/Began to cast lascivious eyes, she him/As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn” (IX: 1013)


Outline Turretin, Topic 3 (Doctrine God)

Part 1 Here.

First Question: The Existence of God

(Turretin goes through the standard pre-modern reasoning).

Third Question: The Unity of God

Turretin clarifies the question by saying God is one in the sense that there is nothing else like him.  It is a question of essential numerical unity.

Fifth Question: Can the Divine Attributes really be distinguished from the divine essence? We deny against the Socinians.

Definition: The divine attributes are the essential properties by which he makes himself known to us who are weak and those by which he is distinguished from creatures” (III.5.1). Attributes are not superadded to his essence. They are distinguished virtually and eminently (section 5ff). A virtual distinction is that which contains distinct effects

Seventh Question: The Simplicity of God: Is God most simple and free from all composition? We affirm against the Socinians.

Simple is used in two senses, either absolutely or relatively.  Absolute means not mixed with anything else. God is simple because he is not dependent.  If something is of composition, then it was composed by another (or depends on something else for its existence).

  1. Also proved from the nature of subsistence.   Persons and essence are not related as real component extremes from which a tertium quid may arise.  This would create a quaternity.
  2. Modes/subsistences only modify, they do not compose. Modes distinguish the persons but do not compose the essence.
  3. God’s relative attributes are attributes of relations, which is “to be to,” not “to be in.”

Tenth Question: The Eternity of God: Does God’s eternity exclude succession according to priority and posteriority? We affirm.

Def. = “The infinity of God in reference to duration is called eternity to which these three things are ascribed:

  1. Without beginning
  2. Without end
  3. Without succession. (experiencing past, present, future)


  1. His essence cannot admit succession.

Twelfth Question: Do all things fall under the knowledge of God, both singulars and future contingencies?

God’s intellect: the mode and object.  “The mode consists in his knowing all things perfectly, undividedly, distinctly and immutably:

  1. Perfectly: he knows all things by himself or by his essence, not by forms abstracted from things.
  2. Undividedly: He knows all things intuitively and noetically, not discursively.
  3. Distinctly:

The object of God’s knowledge is both himself and all things extrinsic to him whether possible or future (III.12.3). He knows both universal and singulars as to:

  1. Quality: good and bad
  2. Predication: universals and singulars.
  3. Time: past, present, and future.
  4. State: necessary and free or contingent.

Proof:  all things are naked and open to God (Heb. 4.13).  He knows hairs on our head. Etc.

The Real Issue: Does God Know Future Contingencies?

There are two ways a thing can be contingent: either it is produced by God (true by definition; all things contingent in this sense) or it depends on the prior causes of other contingent events.

Proof: “Lord, thou knowest all things” (John 21:17; 1 John 3:20).  Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world; God knows all his works from eternity.  All things are naked and open to his eyes (Hebrews 4). This includes future actions. God predicts future contingent things.

Things can happen necessarily as to the event (per the decree) and yet contingently as to the mode of production (section 23).

Thirteenth Question: Is there a Middle Knowledge in God between the Natural and the Free?  We deny.

God’s natural or simple knowledge: God’s knowledge of all things merely possible.  It is called indefinite. It is founded on God’s omnipotence

God’s knowledge of vision (Or free): Knowledge of future things.  Definite because fixed by his will.

Middle knowledge seeks to be about hypothetically possible things.

Statement of the question: all admit that God knows future contingencies. Is there a special decree concerning the certain futurition of this or that thing preceeds so that God may see things antecedently to such a decree. We deny.

Proofs: natural and free knowledge embraces all knowable things and entities are not be multiplied unnecessarily (sec. 9).  2) Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. 3) Such a knowledge posits a reason for predestination apart from God’s purpose and good pleasure (eudokian).

1 Sam. 23:11 no proof of MK. This is more of a revelation of “circumstances on the ground” than a hypothetical future contingency.

Fourteenth Question: The Will of God: Does God Will some things necessarily and others freely? We affirm.

There is a twofold necessity.  Absolute necessity, that which can’t be otherwise.  Hypothetical necessity, a necessity from a contingent source. There are two kinds of things willed: that which is willed to the ultimate end, and that which is willed in the relation of the means.  Therefore, we say:

“God wills himself necessarily, not only by a hypothetical necessity but also by an absolute necessity.”

Fifteenth Question: May the will be properly distinguished into the will of the decre and of precept, good purpose (eudokias) and good pleasure (euarestias), signified, secret, and revealed?  We affirm.

God’s will is simple but it may be apprehended as manifold.

  1. Decretive will: futurition and event of things; rule of God’s external acts.
  2. Preceptive will: that which we should do. It has a twofold object
  3. Will of eudokias (good purpose): that which seems good for the Father to reveal. Also our predestination.
  4. Will of euarestias:  frequently referred to the preceptive will. That which we are to conform to.

Will of sign and pleasure:

  1. Beneplacit will: answers to the decretive will.
  2. Will of sign: answers to the preceptive will.

There aren’t contrarieties between the two because they do not will the same thing in the same manner and respect (sect. 18).

Eighteenth Question: Is the Will of God the primary rule of justice? We distinguish

The will can be called the primary rule of justice extrinsically in reference to us, but not intrinsically in reference to God. In other words, some things are good because God wills them (e.g., the ceremonial laws)  God’s natural justice is antecedent to his free act of will.

Nineteenth Question: Is Vindicative Justice Natural to God?

Divine justice can be considered either absolutely in itself or relatively with respect to its exercise. Question: Does God have the right to punish?  Is this natural to God? We prove:

  1. Scripture. Ex. 34:7. Hab. 1:13. If hatred of sin is necessary to God, then penal justice is equally necessary because the hatred of sin is the constant will of punishing it.
  2. Dictates of conscience
  3. Sanction of the law
  4. Our redemption through the death of Christ.

Twenty-First Question: The Power of God?  What is the omnipotence of God and does it extend to those things which imply a contradiction? We deny.

Power of God: The divine essence productive outwardly

  1. The object of God’s power is nothing other than the possible (sect. 6).
  2. A contradictory is logically impossible.
  3. God can do contraries, but not contradictories.

Twenty-Third Question: The Holy Trinity.  What are the meanings of the terms essence, substance, subsistence, person, Trinity, etc.?

ousia/essence: the “whatness” of a thing

Substance: we do not mean in this in the sense of God’s having accidents, but rather from subsisting (through himself and in himself)

Subsistence: “marks a mode of subsistence or personality” (sect. 5).

Person: it is properly concrete and not abstract.

Property: the mode of subsisting by which this or that person is constituted (sect. 14).

Twenty-Seventh Question: Can the Divine Persons be distinguished from the essence, and from each other, and how?

They differ not essentially, but modally (sect. 3).