During the middle ages a concept of God was accepted by the Church that was not the product of Biblical revelation. This concept was the construction of Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. This philosophic portrait was embraced by various theologians from Augustine to Aquinas and was called natural theology. Natural theology is an attempt to explain God's natural attributes and prove his existence. It was incorporated into church doctrine and is the foundation of what is called classical theism. Despite the many contradictions, conveniently called paradoxes, that classical theism presents, this theology is still firmly implanted in the minds of most Christians as the only possible way of thinking about God. If we go back to where it started and understanding how it developed we will be able to reject this synthesis and see why truth, based on rationality, is the only firm foundation for Biblical faith.
Knowledge of God begins with nature and cause
The starting point for Natural theology is the exact opposite of Biblical theology. Dr. Colin Brown explains,
"In the Middle Ages two basic types of theology began to crystallize...There was natural theology according to which a genuine knowledge of God and his relationship with the world could be attained by rational reflection on the nature of things without having to appeal to Christian teaching. And revealed theology which was concerned with what was disclosed to man by God through the revelation recorded in the scriptures. Revealed theology goes back to Biblical revelation, and Natural theology back to classical Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle."1
Thomas Aquinas wrote, "the philosophers place scientific knowledge of creatures before the divine science...a philosophy of nature comes before metaphysics."2 Metaphysics is the study of God's relationship to the universe. According to the Greek philosophers, the quest for knowledge about God begins with nature.
A premise is a starting point for an argument. A premise may or may not be true. It is a statement of belief more than one of fact. The premise of philosophy is that every change and movement in nature must have a cause. Plato wrote, "Everything that becomes or changes must do so owing to some cause;"7 Aristotle said, "There is something that is always moving the things that are moved.8 "For with all change, there is something that changes into something else through the agency of something."9 Aristotle believed that nothing moves itself, even the soul is moved by the "object of its thought."10
God is immovable, changeless, and timeless
The philosophers observed that the world was constantly moving and changing. Plato tells us it never stays the same. He said the visible world is "that which is always becoming and never is...the object of opinion and irrational sensations, coming to be and ceasing to be, but never fully real."3
Aristotle defined four kinds of change that he saw in nature. "Change of what a thing is is simple coming-to-be and perishing; change of quantity is growth and diminution; change of affection is alteration; change of place is motion."4 He also said everything in nature "changes from being potentially to being in actuality; a thing changes, for instance, from being potentially white to being actually white."5
Time is associated only with those things that change or move. Plato wrote, "we must reserve was and shall be for the process of change in time: for both are motions."6 Only those things that change or move have a past and a future. The future represents what a thing has a potential to become and the past represents what a thing was.
Plato and Aristotle also concluded that the ultimate or primary causes of change, motion, and time in the universe must be outside of this process or be subject to these elements. The cause behind the movement, change, andtime must be its complete opposite, its antithesis.
Plato explained this antithesis when he wrote, "We must distinguish between that which is and never becomes (is changeless and immovable) from that which is always becoming but never is (is always changing and moving)."11 He also stated it this way, "When God ordered the heavens He made in that which we call time an eternal moving image of the eternity which remains...eternally the same and unmoved."12 Aristotle said, "There is something that moves things while being itself immovable and existing in actuality (without any potential for change), it is not possible in any way for that thing to be in any state other that in which it is."13
The philosophers, then, antithically abstracted from nature three essential attributes of a philosophically perfect being: He is eternally changeless, immovable, and timeless; and therefore the ultimate cause of movement, change, and time in a temporal and imperfect universe.
God did not create the world and cannot enter it
Plato's God is not the creator of the world, he has only moved it from a disordered state to an orderly one. He said, "God wishing that all things should be good, and so far as possible nothing be imperfect, and finding the visible universe (water, fire, earth, and air) in a state not of rest but of inharmonious and disorderly motion, reduced it to order from disorder."14
For Aristotle, the world, orderly movement, change, and time are eternal. He argues, "It is impossible for movement either to come into being or to perish, since it has always existed. Nor can time do either of these things, since there could not be anything "prior" (before) or "posterior" (after) if there were no time; and movement is as continues as time, since time is either the same thing as movement or is an affection of it. There is something that is always being moved...(by) something that moves things without being moved."15
For both philosophers, movement, change, and time are imperfections. God is perfect and always will be. The world is imperfect and always will be. That's why their God cannot enter the world and act in human history. It is clearly impossible for a perfectly changeless, immovable, and timeless deity to enter an imperfect world of change, movement, and time. That's why Plato says that God is "imperceptible to sight or the other senses (hearing for example) the object of thought (only)."16
For Aristotle, a perfect being cannot think imperfect thoughts; therefore, God cannot think about an imperfect world; he can only think about his perfect self. His thoughts cannot even change. This is what He says about the "divine mine." "Plainly it thinks of what is most divine and most valuable, and plainly it does not change; for change would be for the worse, and already be a movement...The mind then, must think of itself if it is the best of things."17
Knowledge of God begins with God
The Biblical premise is that God has spoken to us through the prophets and had revealed himself to us through his son. This means that God moves himself.
Hebrews 1:1-3, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He make the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature."
Exodus 33:11 "The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face; as a man speaks to his friend."
John 14:8-9 "Jesus said to his disciples, 'If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.' Philip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'He who had seen Me has seen the Father.'"
Movement, change, and time exist in God
The entire Biblical record clearly indicates movement, change, and time in relationship to God. Here are some examples.
Hebrews 1:10-12 "Thou, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands; they will perish, but thou remainest; and they all will become old as a garment, and as a mantle thou wilt roll them up as a garment they will also be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years will not come to an end." The creation is the work of God; this is movement. God has "years"; this is time. These verses tell us that the material world will run down and wear out through time, but God, who is spirit, will not experience change nor perish though time.
Psalms 90:1-4 "Before the mountains were born, or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. For a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night." Because God has no beginning and no end, a thousand years is a very short amount of time for him. Peter says that God is "long-suffering", another aspect of time. (II Peter 3:9) There are theologians who say that these verses explain that God is timeless, but the verses only say that God experiences time differently than we do.
The Bible records that God has changed his mind, his mood, and his form. Some examples are: Genesis 6:5-8 "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart."
Exodus 32:14 "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people." To repent is a change of mind and action.
John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the word became flesh and dwelt among us."This is greatest change of all. The Word becoming flesh not only speaks of change but also time and movement.
The very act of communication is movement. Hebrews 3:15 "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."
There are many verses that demonstrate movement in God. Here are a few more. James 4:8 "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you." Isaiah 55:6 "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near." I Samuel 4:22 "The Glory of the Lord has departed from Israel."
God is the creator of the world and enters it
The Bible reveals that God acted sequentially in the creation of the universe. In six days he brought into existence a world that had not previously existed. This reveals time and movement in God. The incarnation is a change in God; "The Word became flesh." This is the antithesis of Plato's deity who "always is and never becomes", and Aristotle's "immovable" deity.
That God has a past, present, and future is quite obvious. The creation and incarnation are past events for God just as they are for us. The day of judgement is a future event for God as it is for us. The essence of time has always existed in God himself. In the creation there is only a new way to measure it, "seasons, days and years", Genesis 1:14. God assures us that his character does not change. He always has been and always will be love, light, and justice, etc.. But the Bible clearly tells us that God can change his mind, make plans, and alter them. He has unlimited potential of thought and action in an eternity of unlimited time.
Theologian R.C. Sproul admits, in an article in Table Talk, "It is often said of Augustine that as Aquinas achieved a synthesis between Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy, so Augustine achieved a synthesis between Christian theology and Platonic (or neo-Platonic) philosophy."
By attempting to mix two views of God which are completely opposed to each other, theologians like Augustine and Aquinas violate one of the most basic rules of rational thought, the law of non-contradiction. Because the philosophic concept of God contradicts the prophetic concept of God, it is irrational to believe that both views could be true. While many theologians today still defend and support Augustine and Aquinas for their synthesis of Greek philosophy and Biblical theology, others have rightly rejected it is as a distortion of the Biblical record. Unfortunately, most pastors, Biblical teachers, and Christians today are not even aware that such a compromise has even taken place. They are under the illusion that what they are being taught is purely Biblical when it is not.
The fatalism of timelessness
The tragedy of believing that God is timeless is the inescapable conclusion that all events are fixed from eternity--what will be, will be. All events that are known to God are predetermined for us, and directly or indirectly predetermined by God. This leads to passivity in Christianity.
The Bible does not teach that the future is absolutely predetermined nor completely knowable. God has predetermined some things but not everything. God has predetermined to give the kingdoms of this world to his Son and everlasting life to those who believe in him. God has also predetermined to destroy Satan and those who will not believe in his Son. But God does not predetermine, and does not have foreknowledge of who those persons will be that will believe nor those who will not.
Some will ask how it is that God can tell us what will happen in the future if he can not see it. The answer is, God is all powerful and therefore can cause any event he wants to take place. Again, one may ask, isn't God also all knowing, which should include knowledge of all future events. The answer is that God made the world finite and the future does not exist as something that can be known as an actuality. In Biblical prophecy, God has told us about the future events he will cause to happen and the effects they will have when he judges the world.
1. Brown Colin, Philosophy and the Christian Faith, Tyndale Press, p. 33 2. The Pocket Aquinas, Pocket Books, p. 292 3. Plato, Timaeus and Critias, Penguin Book, p. 40 4 - 5. Aristotle, The Philosophy of, Mentor Books, p. 119 6. Plato, et al., p. 51 7. Ibid., p. 40 8. Aristotle, et. al., p.126 9. Ibid., 120 10. Ibid., 126 11. Plato, et al., p. 40 12. Plato, et al., p.5 13. Aristotle, et al., p127 14. Plato, et al., p. 42 and 72 15. Aristotle, et al., p. 124 and 126 16. Plato, et al., p. 71 17. Aristotle, et al., p. 129 18. Table Talk, May 94, p. 6