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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Eternity —There is no word either in OT Hebrew or in NT Greek corresponding to the abstract idea of eternity.

In  Isaiah 57:15 both Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 have the phrase ‘the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity .’ Massoretic Text has שֹׁכןעַר, lit. ‘dwelling for ever’—the thought of the writer being evidently the unchangeableness of God. עַר probably comes nearest of all Hebrew words to express permanence. Originally it was a substantive connected with Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] adú , meaning ‘time,’ ‘passing time,’ ‘the present.’ But in OT it is used adverbially to express indefinite duration of time generally in the future. Its use is mainly poetical: of God ( Isaiah 57:15), His law ( Psalms 19:9), His attributes ( Psalms 111:3;  Psalms 111:10). But it is found also in connexion with things whose existence in Hebrew thought would be limited, e.g. a king’s life ( Psalms 21:6,  Proverbs 29:14), the lip of truth ( Proverbs 12:19).

A word of wider meaning and more general application is עוֹלָב, connected with Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] ullânu , meaning ‘ remote time .’ עוֹלָם is frequently used of the fast-days ( Isaiah 63:9;  Isaiah 63:11,  Micah 5:1;  Micah 7:14 etc.), people ( Isaiah 44:7,  Jeremiah 5:15), hills ( Genesis 49:26,  Habakkuk 3:6). It is also used, like עַר, of God or His attributes as existing from the remote past ( Psalms 93:2;  Psalms 119:52,  Isaiah 63:16;  Isaiah 63:19) to the remote future ( Psalms 138:8,  Jeremiah 31:3,  1 Kings 10:9), specially in the phrase מֵהָעוֹלָםוְעַרהָעוֹלִם ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ ( Psalms 90:2;  Psalms 103:17,  Nehemiah 9:5 etc.). But in the case of עוֹלָם also there are many places in OT where its meaning is obviously limited to the affairs and lives of human beings, e.g. of a slave ( Deuteronomy 15:7,  1 Samuel 27:12), of careless dwellers ( Psalms 73:12), and in the familiar phrase, ‘May the king live for ever’ ( 1 Kings 1:31,  Nehemiah 2:3). Often, however, the word is used to indicate the writer’s hope or belief that a certain state of good [ e.g. God’s covenant ( Genesis 9:16), or His promises ( Isaiah 40:8), or His relations to His people ( Psalms 45:17;  Psalms 85:8, etc.)], may continue indefinitely. Particularly is this true of the Messianic hope ( Isaiah 9:6,  Psalms 110:4;  Psalms 45:3). Sometimes this thought of permanence is emphasized by the use of the plural ( Isaiah 26:4;  Isaiah 45:17,  Daniel 9:24). In  Ecclesiastes 3:11, a very difficult passage, (Revised Version margin) gives as an alternative rendering of הָעֹלָם ‘ eternity .’

The other Hebrew phrases worthy of note are נ֪צַח ‘perpetuity’ in the frequent phrase לִנָצַח ‘for ever’ ( Isaiah 13:20;  Isaiah 25:8,  Amos 8:7,  Habakkuk 1:4 etc.), and אֹרְךְיָמִים ‘length of days,’  Deuteronomy 30:20,  Job 12:12,  Psalms 21:4, and in the well-known passage  Psalms 23:6 ‘I shall dwell in the house of the Lord ever.’ Here the meaning is disputed, but the probability is that the highest anticipation of the Psalmist was to have the joy of spending an indefinite period in the Temple in prayer and meditation. Similar to לְעוֹלָם is the phrase לִרֹרוַרֹך, lit. ‘to age and age,’ .e. to future ages ( Exodus 3:15,  Psalms 10:6;  Psalms 33:11;  Psalms 49:11). It is mainly poetical.

The idea of eternity, like the idea of immortality, was probably beyond the range of early Jewish thought. It arose after the Exile, partly through a natural development of the Hebrew conception of God, and partly through the force of circumstances. (1) The pious Jew, turning away more and more from the anthropomorphism of cruder religions, strove to differentiate the infinite God from finite man. God is transcendent—above the limitations of earthly existence. Hence He is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting. A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday. (2) With the Exile came a decay of national ideals, and the Jew began to consider more his own personality and its relation to this eternal God. This thought developed slowly, and was mixed with various elements. The Jew found himself in an evil world. His own nation was oppressed, almost blotted out. Good men suffered; wicked men seemed to prosper. If the eternal, omnipotent God ruled the world, then all this must surely end. The Day of the Lord would come for oppressed Israel, for the oppressors, for the whole world, and (in Apocalyptic literature, Ps-Sol 3:16, 13:9 etc.) for the Jew himself. Then the present evil world (עוֹלִםהַוְּה) would give place to a new and glorious era (עוֹלִםהַכָּא, see Generation). Whether this עוֹלָםהַכָּא would be endless the Jew did not at first stop to inquire. Sufficient for him that it would come with countless blessings in ‘the end of the days’ (קץהִיָמִים, cf.  Matthew 13:39;  Matthew 24:3). In the Book of Enoch, however, ‘Time’ is followed by ‘Eternity’ in the עוֹלָםהַכָא. Later Judaism developed the idea, probably borrowed from the Zend religion, of a series of world epochs (cf. the world empires of Daniel’s vision), followed by the Messianic age.

In the time of Christ, Jewish thought on the future had developed very much, and had assumed many forms (see Eschatology). Jesus must have sifted the various elements. He retained and perhaps developed the view of a new age (עוֹלָםחַפָא) about to dawn on the world as opposed to the present (עוֹלָםהַוָּה;  Matthew 12:32, cf.  Matthew 13:39;  Matthew 28:20). ‘the kingdom of heaven’ (מַלְכוּחשָׁמַיִם) would be established. Jesus endeavoured to concentrate the thoughts of His hearers on their relation to this kingdom, and the desirability of sharing it (see Life, Eternal Life). Doubtless this kingdom would be for ever and its members live for ever (cf.  Daniel 12:2 חַזֵיעוֹלָם ‘eternal life’). The vexed question of the absolute endlessness of this kingdom, with its rewards and punishments, would probably never be raised in the minds of Jesus’ hearers. At the same time, there is no evidence in the teaching of Jesus of any limit to the עוֹלָםהַבָּא, and while the frequent adjective αἰώνιος, ‘eternal,’ must be taken in the Gospels as referring in the first place to this coming kingdom, it may, so far as we know, be taken as implying also that quality of absolute permanence with which that kingdom has always been associated in the minds of men.

Literature.—The subject is practically part of the larger topic Eschatology, and all books dealing with this latter subject refer more or less to Eternity. On the OT and Apocalyptic views see Stade, Dic Alttest. Vorstellungen vom Zustand nach dem Tode  ; Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode  ; Schultz, OT Theology , vol. ii. pp. 364–398; Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality  ; Orelli, Die hebr. Synonyma der Zeit und Ewigkeit  ; Marti, Geschichte der Israel. Religion , pp. 270–310. On the NT see the various NT theologies, especially those of Beyschlag and H. Holtzmann. Ct. also Samuel Davidson, Doctrine of the Last Things  ; Toy, Judaism and Christianity  ; A. Beet, Last Things 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Dalman, The Words of Jesus .

G. Gordon Stott.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

is an attribute of God. ( See God . ) The self-existent being, says the learned Dr. Clarke, must of necessity be eternal. The ideas of eternity and self-existence are so closely connected, that because something must of necessity be eternal, independently and without any outward cause of its being therefore it must necessarily be self-existent; and because it is impossible but something must be self-existent, therefore it is necessary that it must likewise be eternal. To be self-existent, is to exist by an absolute necessity in the nature of the thing itself. Now this necessity being absolute, and not depending upon any thing external, must be always unalterably the same; nothing being alterable but what is capable of being affected by somewhat without itself. That being therefore which has no other cause of its existence but the absolute necessity of its own nature, must of necessity have existed from everlasting, without beginning; and must of necessity exist to everlasting, without end.

On the eternal duration of the divine Being, many have held a metaphysical refinement. "The eternal existence of God," it is said, "is not to be considered as successive; the ideas we gain from time are not to be allowed in our conceptions of his duration. As he fills all space with his immensity, he fills all duration with his eternity; and with him eternity is nunc stans, a permanent now, incapable of the relations of past, present, and future." Such, certainly, is not the view given us of this mysterious subject in the Scriptures; and if it should be said that they speak popularly, and are accommodated to the infirmity of the reason of the body of mankind, we may reply, that philosophy has not, with all its boasting of superior light, carried our views on this attribute of the divine nature at all beyond revelation; and, in attempting it, has only obscured the conceptions of its admirers. "Filling duration with his eternity," is a phrase without any meaning: for how can any man conceive a permanent instant, which coexists with a perpetually flowing duration? One might as well apprehend a mathematical point co-extended with a line, a surface, and all dimensions. As this notion has, however, been made the basis of some theological opinions, it may be proper to examine it.

2. Whether we get our idea of time from the motion of bodies without us, or from the consciousness of the succession of our own ideas, or both, is not important to this inquiry. Time in our conceptions, is divisible. The artificial divisions are years, months, days, minutes, seconds, &c. We can conceive of yet smaller portions of duration; and, whether we have given to them artificial names or not, we can conceive no otherwise of duration, than continuance of being, estimated as to degree, by this artificial admeasurement, and therefore as substantially answering to it. It is not denied but that duration is something distinct from these its artificial measures; yet of this every man's consciousness will assure him, that we can form no idea of duration except in this successive manner. But we are told that the eternity of God is a fixed eternal now, from which all ideas of succession, of past and future, are to be excluded; and we are called upon to conceive of eternal duration without reference to past or future, and to the exclusion of the idea of that flow under which we conceive of time. The proper abstract idea of duration is, however, simple continuance of being, without any reference to the exact degree or extent of it, because in no other way can it be equally applicable to all the substances of which it is the attribute. It may be finite or infinite, momentary or eternal; but that depends upon the substance of which it is the quality, and not upon its own nature. Our own observation and experience teach us how to apply it to ourselves. As to us, duration is dependent and finite; as to God, it is infinite; but in both cases the originality or dependence, the finiteness or infinity of it, arises, not out of the nature of duration itself, but out of other qualities of the subjects respectively.

3. Duration, then, as applied to God, is no more than an extension of the idea as applied to ourselves; and to exhort us to conceive of it as something essentially different, is to require us to conceive what is inconceivable. It is to demand of us to think without ideas. Duration is continuance of existence; continuance of existence is capable of being longer or shorter; and hence necessarily arises the idea of the succession of the minutest points of duration into which we can conceive it divided. Beyond this the mind cannot go, it forms the idea of duration no other way: and if what we call duration be any thing different from this in God, it is not duration, properly so called, according to human ideas; it is something else, for which there is no name among men, because there is no idea, and therefore it is impossible to reason about it. As long as metaphysicians use the term, they must take the idea: if they spurn the idea, they have no right to the term, and ought at once to confess that they can go no farther. Dr. Cudworth defines infinity of duration to be nothing else but perfection, as including in it necessary existence and immutability. This, it is true, is as much a definition of the moon, as of infinity of duration; but it is valuable, as it shows that, in the view of this great man, though an advocate of the nunc stans, "the standing now," of eternity: we must abandon the term duration, if we give up the only idea under which it can be conceived.

4. It follows from this, therefore, that either we must apply the term duration to the divine Being in the same sense in which we apply it to creatures, with the extension of the idea to adoration which has no bounds and limits; or blot it out of our creeds, as a word to which our minds, with all the aid they may derive from the labours of metaphysicians, can attach no meaning. The only objection to successive duration as applied to God, which has any plausibility, is, that it seems to imply change; but this wholly arises from confounding two very distinct things; succession in the duration, and change in the substance. Dr. Cudworth appears to have fallen into this error. He speaks of the duration of an imperfect nature, as sliding from the present to the future, expecting something of itself which is not yet in being; and of a perfect nature being essentially immutable, having a permanent and unchanging duration, never losing any thing of itself once present, nor yet running forward to meet something of itself which is not yet in being. Now, though this is a good description of a perfect and immutable nature, it is no description at all of an eternally-enduring nature. Duration implies no loss in the substance of any being, nor addition to it. A

perfect nature never loses any thing of itself, nor expects more of itself than is possessed; but this does not arise from the attribute of its duration, however that attribute may be conceived of, but from its perfection and consequent immutability. These attributes do not flow from the duration, but the continuance of the duration from them. The argument is clearly good for nothing, unless it could be proved that successive duration necessarily implies a change in the nature; but that is contradicted by the experience of finite beings,—their natures are not at all determined by their duration, but their duration by their natures; and they exist for a moment, or for ages, according to the nature which their Maker has impressed upon them. If it be said that, at least, successive duration imports that a being loses past duration, and expects the arrival of future existence, we reply, that this is no imperfection at all. Even finite creatures do not feel it to be an imperfection to have existed, and to look for continued and interminable being. It is true, with the past we lose knowledge and pleasure; and expecting in all future periods increase of knowledge and happiness, we are reminded by that of our present imperfection; but this imperfection does not arise from our successive and flowing duration, and we never refer it to that. It is not the past which takes away our knowledge and pleasure; nor future duration, simply considered, which will confer the increase of both. Our imperfections arise out of the essential nature of our being, not out of the manner in which our being is continued. It is not the flow of our duration, but the flow of our nature, which produces these effects. On the contrary, we think that the idea of our successive duration, that is of continuance, is an advantage, and not a defect. Let all ideas of continuance be banished from the mind, let there be to us a nunc semper stans, during the whole of our being, and we appear to gain nothing,—our pleasures surely are not diminished by the idea of successive duration being added to present enjoyment: that they have been, and still remain, and will continue, on the contrary, greatly heightens them. Without the idea of a flowing duration, we could have no such measure of the continuance of our pleasures; and this we should consider an abatement of our happiness. What is so obvious an excellency in the spirit of man, and in angelic natures, can never be thought an imperfection in God, when joined with a nature essentially perfect and immutable.

5. But it may be said, that "eternal duration, considered as successive, is only an artificial manner of measuring and conceiving of duration; and is no more eternal duration itself than minutes and moments, the artificial measures of time, are time itself." Were this granted, the question would still be, whether there is any thing in duration considered generally, or in time considered specially, which corresponds to these artificial methods of measuring and conceiving of them. The ocean is measured by leagues; and the extension of the ocean, and the measure of it, are distinct; they, nevertheless, answer to each other. Leagues are the nominal divisions of an extended surface; but there is a real extension, which answers to the artificial conception and admeasurement of it. In like manner, days, and hours, and moments, are the measures of time: but there is either something in time which answers to these measures; or not only the measure, but the thing itself, is artificial—an imaginary creation. If any man will contend, that the period of duration which we call time, is nothing, no farther dispute can be held with him; and he may be left to deny also the existence of matter, and to enjoy his philosophic revel in an ideal world.

We apply the same argument to duration generally, whether finite or infinite. Minutes and moments, or smaller portions, for which we have no name, may be artificial things, adopted to aid our conceptions; but conceptions of what? Not of any thing standing still, but of something going on. Of duration we have no other conception; and if there be nothing in nature which answers to this conception, then is duration itself imaginary, and we discourse about nothing. If the duration of the divine Being admits not of past, present, and future, one of these two consequences must follow,—that no such attribute as that of eternity belongs to him,—or that there is no power in the human mind to conceive of it. In either case, the Scriptures are greatly impugned; for "He who was, and is, and is to come," is a revelation of the eternity of God, which is then in no sense true. It is not true, if used literally; and it is as little so, if the language be figurative; for the figure rests on no basis, it illustrates nothing, it misleads. It is, however, to be remembered, that the eternal, supreme cause, must of necessity have such a perfect, independent, unchangeable comprehension of all things, that there can be no one point or instant of his eternal duration, wherein all things that are past, present, and to come, will not be as entirely known and represented to him in one single thought or view, and all things present and future be equally entirely in his power and direction; as if there was really no succession at all, but all things were actually present at once.

6. The Hebrew word for eternity is שלם . This is its proper sense; but, as Gesenius observes, as with us in common life, it is often used in an inaccurate or loose manner to express a very long space of time. So it is applied to the Jewish priesthood; to the Mosaic ordinances; to the possession of the land of Canaan; to the hills and mountains; to the earth, &c. These must, however, be considered as exceptions to predominant and certain usage.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

Most people find it difficult to imagine eternity. This is largely because the only kind of existence they have so far experienced is that of a world where everything happens within a framework of time and distance that can be measured. God alone understands eternity fully, because he alone is eternal ( 1 Timothy 1:17). Human beings lives in a created order of which time is a part ( Hebrews 1:2). Even the words they use to speak of eternity come from a world governed by time.

The meanings of words

When the Bible writers referred to eternity, they usually used the word for ‘age’. This was a word that denoted a length of time, without specifying its beginning or end. The writers used the word in relation to things that were very old or that would last for a very long time ( Psalms 24:7;  Psalms 125:1;  Habakkuk 3:6;  Romans 16:25). Concerning the past, the word could mean ‘a long time ago’ ( Joshua 24:2;  Luke 1:70); concerning the future, it could mean ‘endlessness’ ( Daniel 2:44;  2 Peter 1:11). When they referred to immeasurable time, the writers may have used such expressions as ‘to all ages’ or ‘from age to age’, which have been translated as ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ and ‘for ever and ever’ ( Nehemiah 9:5;  Psalms 21:4;  Romans 1:25;  Ephesians 3:21;  Judges 1:25).

The writers used similar expressions when they spoke of God as the eternal one ( 1 Chronicles 16:36;  Psalms 90:2;  Psalms 106:48). Divine actions are called eternal, or everlasting, because of the character of the eternal God from whom they originate. This applies to both salvation and judgment ( Isaiah 45:17;  Judges 1:7), to life and destruction ( John 17:2;  2 Thessalonians 1:9).

From a human standpoint, eternity is the age to come, in contrast to the present age ( Mark 10:30;  Ephesians 1:21). Eternal life, being the life of the age to come, is endless, because the age to come is endless. More importantly, it is life of a particular quality. It is a life that shares in some way the nature of God and that God gives through Jesus Christ ( John 1:4;  John 5:21;  John 5:24;  John 8:51;  John 17:2-3; see LIFE, sub-heading ‘Eternal life’). Even in the present age, believers in Jesus Christ have the life of the age to come – eternal life, the life of the kingdom of God ( Matthew 19:16;  Matthew 19:24;  John 3:3;  John 3:5;  John 3:15;  Colossians 1:13; see Kingdom Of God ).

Divine and human viewpoints

Jesus’ teaching concerning the nature of eternal life showed that it was more than merely life stretched out for ever. It was life of an entirely different order from the normal life of this world ( John 4:14;  John 6:51;  John 6:63;  John 17:3). Likewise eternity is not time stretched out for ever, but is something of an entirely different order. The realization of this helps to ease the difficulties that may arise in understanding God’s foreknowledge. God is not limited by time, and therefore he sees time differently from the way human beings see it ( 2 Peter 3:8).

An illustration that may help is that of a rod suspended horizontally in mid-air in a room. The rod has a beginning and an end, and represents time. The room represents eternity (assuming now that its floor, ceiling and walls are removed and it extends endlessly in all directions). From any point in the room (i.e. eternity), a person can see the whole rod (i.e. time). Human beings, who live in time, might be likened to an ant moving along the rod. They have a record of what is past, they are conscious of what is present, but they do not know what lies ahead. God, from the viewpoint of eternity, sees the whole of time as eternally present before him. (See also Time .)

It is therefore inadequate to think of God’s eternity solely as everlasting existence. God is not limited in any way. His characteristics and qualities are immeasurable in every aspect of his being ( Deuteronomy 33:27;  Psalms 103:17;  Psalms 145:13;  Isaiah 54:8;  Romans 1:20;  1 Timothy 1:17; see God ).

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [4]

With respect to God, is a duration without beginning or end. As it is the attribute of human nature, it is a duration that has a beginning, but will never have an end. "It is a duration, " says a lively writer, "that excludes all number and computation: days, and months, and years, yea, and ages, are lost in it, like drops in the ocean! Millions of millions of years, as many years as there are sands on the sea-shore, or particles of dust in the globe of the earth, and those multiplied to the highest reach of number, all these are nothing to eternity. They do not bear the least imaginable proportion to it; for these will come to an end, as certainly as a day; but eternity will never, never, never, come to an end! It is a line without end! It is an ocean without a shore! Alas! what shall I say of it! it is an infinite, unknown something, that neither human thought can grasp, nor human language describe!" Orton on Eternity; Shower on ditto: Davis's Sermons, ser. 11; Saurin's Sermons, vol. 3: p. 370.

King James Dictionary [5]

ETER'NITY, n. L. oeternitas. Duration or continuance without beginning or end.

By repeating the idea of any length of duration, with the endless addition of number, we come by the idea of eternity.

The high and lofty one who inhabiteth eternity.  Isaiah 57

We speak of eternal duration preceding the present time. God has existed from eternity. We also speak of endless or everlasting duration in future, and dating from present time or the present state of things. Some men doubt the eternity of future punishment, though they have less difficulty in admitting the eternity of future rewards.

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(1): ( n.) Infinite duration, without beginning in the past or end in the future; also, duration without end in the future; endless time.

(2): ( n.) Condition which begins at death; immortality.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [7]

See Eternal

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [8]

ē̇ - tûr´ni - ti ( עולם , ‛ōlām  ; Greek equivalent, αἰών , aiō̇n ):

1. Contrast with Time

2. In the Old Testament

3. In the New Testament

4. The Eternal "Now"

5. Defect of This View

6. Philosophical Views

7. Time Conceptions Inadequate

8. All Succession Present in One Act to Divine Consciousness

9. Yet Connection Between Eternity and Time

10. The Religious Attitude to Eternity


1. Contrast with Time

Eternity is best conceived, not in the merely negative form of the non-temporal, or immeasurable time, but positively, as the mode of the timeless self-existence of the Absolute Ground of the universe. The flux of time grows first intelligible to us, only when we take in the thought of God as eternal - exalted above time. Timeless existence - being or entity without change - is what we here mean by eternity, and not mere everlastingness or permanence through time. God, in His internal being, is raised above time; in His eternal absoluteness, He is throned above temporal development, and knows, as the Scriptures say, no changeableness. The conception of eternity, as without beginning or ending, leaves us with but a negation badly in need of filling out with reality. Eternity is not a mere negative idea; to make of eternity merely a blank and irrelevant negation of temporality would not satisfy any proper theory of being; it functions as the positive relation to time of that eternal God, who is King of all the eons.

2. In the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, God's eternity is only negatively expressed, as implying merely indefinitely extended time ( Genesis 21:33;  Deuteronomy 33:27 ), though  Isaiah 40:28 takes more absolute form. Better is the view of eternity, objectively considered, as a mode of being of God in relation to Himself. For He was eternal, while as yet the world and time were not. But even in the New Testament, the negative form of expression prevails.

3. In the New Testament

Time, with its succession of events, helps to fill out such idea as we can form of the eternal, conceived as an endless progress. But, as finite beings, we can form no positive idea of eternity. Time is less contradictory of eternity, than helpful in revealing what we know of it. Plato, in his Timaeus , says that time is the "moving image of eternity," and we may allow that it is its type or revelation. Not as the annulment of time, though it might be held to be in itself exclusive of time, is eternity to be taken, but rather as the ground of its reality.

4. The Eternal "Now"

Eternity might, no doubt, be taken as just time no longer measured by the succession of events, as in the finite universe. But, on a strict view, there is something absurd in an eternity that includes time, and an eternity apart from time is a vain and impossible conception. Eternity, as a discharge from all time limits, is purely negative, though not without importance. Eternity, absolutely taken, must be pronounced incommensurable with time; as Aquinas said, non sunt mensurae unius generis . Eternity, that is to say, would lose its character as eternal in the very entering into relations with the changeful or becoming. Eternity, as in God, has, since the time of Augustine and the Middle Ages, been frequently conceived as an eternal Now. The Schoolmen were wont to adopt as a maxim that "in eternity is one only instant always present and persistent." This is but a way of describing eternity in a manner characteristic of succession in time; but eternal Deity, rather than an eternal Now, is a conception far more full of meaning for us.

5. Defect of This View

To speak of God's eternity as an eternal Now - a present in the time-sense - involves a contradiction. For the eternal existence is no more described by the notion of a present than by a past or a future. Such a Now or present presupposes a not-now, and raises afresh the old time-troubles, in relation to eternity. Time is certainly not the form of God's life, His eternity meaning freedom from time. Hence, it was extremely troublesome to theology of the Middle Ages to have a God who was not in time at all, supposed to create the world at a particular moment in time.

6. Philosophical Views

Spinoza, in later times, made the eternity of God consist in His infinite - which, to Spinoza, meant His necessary - existence. For contingent or durational existence would not, in Spinoza's view, be eternal, though it lasted always. The illusoriness or unreality of time, in respect of man's spiritual life, is not always very firmly grasped. This wavering or uncertain hold of the illusiveness of time, or of higher reality as timeless, is still very prevalent; even so strong-souled a poet as Browning projects the shadow of time into eternity, with rarely a definite conception of the higher life as an eternal and timeless essence; and although Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer may have held to such a timeless view, it has by no means become a generally adopted doctrine so far, either of theologians or of philosophers. If time be so taken as unreal, then eternity must not be thought of as future, as is done by Dr. Ellis McTaggart and some other metaphysicians today. For nothing could, in that case, be properly future, and eternity could not be said to begin, as is often done in everyday life.

The importance of the eternity conception is seen in the fact that neo-Kantian and neo-Hegelian thinkers alike have shown a general tendency to regard time-conceptions as unfit, in metaphysics, for the ultimate explanation of the universe.

7. Time-Conceptions Inadequate

Eternity, one may surely hold, must span or include, for God's eternal consciousness, the whole of what happens in time, with all of past, present or future, that lies within the temporal succession. But we are by no means entitled to say, as does Royce, that such wholeness or totality of the temporal constitutes the eternal, for the eternal belongs to quite another order, that, namely, of timeless reality. Eternity is not to be defined in terms of time at all. For God is to us the supra-temporal ens perfectissimum , but One whose timeless self-sufficiency and impassable aloofness are not such as to keep Him from being strength and helper of our temporal striving. Our metaphysical convictions must not here be of barren and unfruitful sort for ethical results and purposes.

8. All Succession Present in One Act to Divine Consciousness

Eternity is, in our view, the form of an eternal existence, to which, in the unity of a single insight, the infinite series of varying aspects or processes are, together-wise, as a totum simul , present. But this, as we have already shown, does not imply that the eternal order is nowise different, essentially, from the temporal; time is not to be treated as a segment of eternity, nor eternity regarded as interminable duration; the eternal cannot pass over into the temporal; for, an eternal Being, who should think all things as present, and yet view the time-series as a succession, must be a rather self-contradictory conception. For the Absolute Consciousness, time does not exist; the future cannot, for it, be thought of as beginning to be, nor the past as having ceased to be.

9. Yet Connection Between Eternity and Time

After all that has been said, however, eternity and time are not to be thought of as without connection. For the temporal presupposes the eternal, which is, in fact, its positive ground and its perpetual possibility. These things are so, if only for the reason that the Divine mode of existence does not contradict or exclude the human mode of existence. The continuity of the latter - of the temporal - has its guaranty in the eternal. The unconditioned eternity of God brings into harmony with itself the limitations and conditions of the temporal. For time is purely relative, which eternity is not. No distinctions of before and after are admissible in the eternity conception, hence, we have no right to speak of time as a portion of eternity. Thus, while we maintain the essential difference between eternity and time, we at the same time affirm what may perhaps be called the affinity between them. The metaphysics of eternity and its time-relations continue to be matter of proverbial difficulty, and both orders - the eternal and the temporal - had better be treated as concrete, and not left merely to abstract reflection. Our idea of the eternal will best be developed, in this concrete fashion, by the growth of our God-idea, as we more completely apprehend God, as actualized for us in His incarnate Son.

10. The Religious Attitude to Eternity

Thus, then, it is eternity, not as immeasurable time, but rather as a mode of being of the immutable God, who is yet progressively revealing Himself in time, which we have here set forth. This is not to say that the religious consciousness has not its own need of the conception of God as being "from everlasting to everlasting," as in  Psalm 90:2 , and of His kingdom as "an everlasting kingdom" ( Daniel 4:3 ). Nor is it to make us suppose that the absolute and self-existent God, who so transcends all time-dependence, is thereby removed far from us, while, on the contrary, His very greatness makes Him the more able to draw near unto us, in all the plenitude of His being. Hence, it is so truly spoken in  Isaiah 57:15 , "Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite." Hence, also the profound truthfulness of sayings like that in  Acts 17:27 ,  Acts 17:28 , "He is not far from each one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being." After all that has been said, our best knowledge of eternity, as it exists in God, is not developed in any metaphysical fashion, but after the positive and timeless modes of the spiritual life - the modes of trust and love.


H. Cremer, Lexicon of New Testament Greek , English edition, 1880; G. B. Winer, Grammar of New Testament Greek , 3rd edition, 1882; R. C. French, Synonyms of the New Testament , 9th edition, 1880; E. H. Plumptre, The Spirits in Prison , 3rd edition, 1885; J. Orr, Christian View of God and the World , lst edition, 1893; I. A. Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine , English edition, 1885; J. H. Stirling, Philosophy and Theology , 1890; J. Lindsay, Studies in European Philosophy , 1909; The Fundamental Problems of Metaphysics , 1910.