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Did God create time?

Published: 9 January 2016 (GMT+10)

When preaching the Gospel to people of other religions, it is important to make clear that the God we worship is the ultimate being. God is the sole source of all things, He is uniquely worthy of worship, and the fundamental sin of humanity is that we put other things before God. If we don’t make this clear, there is a danger that people of other religions will add God to their pantheon, as today’s feedback illustrates.

Emily H. from the United States wrote:

OK, I have a question on how to deal with one of my friends. He believes something that doesn't even make sense. He is from India and says his religion is Jainism, but he believes in all gods from all over the world, and that there is a super power that we humans just don't know the real name of that created everything in the universe and believes that we just came up with different names for him (remember, he is from India and they have a multitude of false gods). He also believes that time is a god and that it created God. I tried to tell him that God created everything, and quoted several verses saying how God created all things, but he said that because it didn't specifically say God created time, he can't believe it. I have also tried to tell him that God always was. There was no beginning for God. He came back with “if God always was, then why couldn't time be there?” I don't know what to tell him. Do you have any pointers or verses that I can give him?

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

It looks like your Jain friend doesn't want to accept the biblical idea of God as transcendent. You were absolutely right to point your friend to passages that say that God made everything (e.g. Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:8–11; Ecclesiastes 11:5; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16–17). But there is more to the story. For instance, the Bible also teaches that God needs nothing outside of himself (see e.g. 1 Chronicles 29:14–16, Acts 17:24–28, and Romans 11:33–36), that God is eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 1:10–12, 9:14), and that God is unique in these ways (Deuteronomy 4:32–40; Isaiah 43:10; 1 Chronicles 16:26). These verses are of course only a small selection; these ideas are found all throughout the Bible. When we put all this together, it should be clear that your friend can’t assert that the Bible makes God a creation of time; He is supreme over all things, which includes time.

Nonetheless, there are even verses that may explicitly say that God created time (Hebrews 1:2, 11:3), which literally say that “the ages” were made through Christ. However, some commentators say that these uses may just be a roundabout way of saying that everything was made through Christ. However, the author’s use of the same word in Hebrews 6:5, 9:26 to refer to periods of time suggests that while Hebrews 1:2 and 11:3 are referring to the creation of all things, they place emphasis on the temporal nature of all things.

Now, this doesn't mean that your friend will accept that what the Bible teaches is true. The first step is just to get him to see that the Bible does not agree with his philosophy. This is extremely important to establish with any adherent of Indian religions like Jainism because they will tend to subsume any new ‘god’ into their polytheistic/pantheistic system, which is what he seems to be doing by saying that God was created by time. As such, we need to defend the idea that God alone is the ultimate reality and the sole originator of everything else. In other words, they need to see that they can’t simply subsume the Living God into their system because He claims to transcend everything else that exists (or could exist!) so that worshipping anything else but Him is the fundamental sin—the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) and first two commandments of the Ten (Exodus 20:2–6) are incredibly important for adherents of Indian religions to grasp.

What of his response, "if God always was, then why couldn't time be there"? Well, where’s his evidence that such notions are even possible, let alone likely? And what he means is not even clear! How can ‘time’ create something? What does he think time is? And what evidence does he have to suggest that his conception of time and God are accurate? At the moment, he’s making claims, and you’re on the defensive. You need to make sure that this dialogue is not a one way street of him asking questions and you giving answers. He has claims that he needs to make a case for. So press him on his claims; make him substantiate the value of his objections, and make him provide a case for his views. Remember that you have positive reasons to believe the biblical description of God is accurate; Jesus endorsed the Bible, and His teaching was vindicated when He was raised from the dead. You won’t find such solid evidential grounding in Jainism, or any ideology other than Christianity.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Christopher W.
And to really upset the pigeons.....

...... Stephen Hawking when talking about the big bang / black holes etc said a really interesting .... "You still have the question: why does the universe bother to exist?". In essence, he was saying that his theory describes WHAT happened, not WHY it happened, indeed not even WHAT CAUSED it to happen - ie what triggered the explosion & where did the "stuff" come from. he was in conflict with Fred Hoyle's "Steady State" universe theory because Fred saw that Stephen's theory inexorable leads to a question of beginnings.

the big-bang explanation { which actually sits very well with Genesis when read correctly } traces everything back to a single point in time when time = zero.

So, prior to that, time did not, could not exist. But the being {God} who created the universe did.

Shaun Doyle
Even Hoyle's Steady State model doesn't avoid the question of why the universe exists. This universe doesn't have to exist, whether it's eternal or had a beginning, and thus it needs an explanation for its existence outside itself (which is God). On Hawking, please see Hawking atheopathy. However, the big bang theory's consistency with Genesis 1 basically begins and ends with a finite age for the cosmos; on practically every other feature the two ideas contradict one another.
Anna N.
Chuck J has got the answer in a nutshell! We are actually reading how GOD created time for our earthly location! Whilst the universe is dependent on speed/time that is and will be the only time God so fit to create. Speed and time are intertwined and the two faces of the same coin!
Paul D.
I am not a scientist or even highly educated but I am a thinker. Time, as I understand it, is simply a way of keeping track of events. The fact that clocks or other electro/mechanical devices give fluctuating readings under different conditions is simply a matter of physical influences/stresses on the materials they are made of. light cannot arrive at its destination before its created and once its gone it no longer exists. Thank you.
Gian Carlo B.
Hi Shaun. Thanks for your reply.

You made very good points, I think it really comes down to the timelessness of God, even granting He created it. But that is also key to settle the debate: If God authored time, there's no logical reason why He should be bound to it. He Himself made time, so time is actually bound to God's power. When you addressed the second view, namely essential timelessness, I think the key here is how we define time in the first place, Koulk defines it as mere change, which I believe is equivocating. It is true God is a relational being, and that He is eternal, and immutable, but not bound by time; so this actually forces is logically to narrow down the concept of time to that which relates to history, senescence (aging), the effects thereof. When God is immutable, it doesn't matter what changes (even if God allows it) go through history, societies or people, God's nature is perfectly the same, His thinking is the same, and His ultimate plan is the same, He is unaffected by physical changes and circumstances in history *that does not affect His very essence*. That doesn't mean He necessarily does not react or responds to those changes, it means He is unwavered in opinions. Aging is obvious, since He is eternal and was never born and never will die. He can certainly count, but that does not rule out his boundless state to time. Another thing you pointed out in your address regarding how He relates to us is He can intervene in the temporal realm; I agree. He can appear at anytime without delay, He can intervene in history, but just that: intervene and relate; He is not, by power under, bound by time. That's the key in the discussions about His nature. I think it comes down to first how we define time in context.
Shaun Doyle
You are right; the definition of 'time' is key. Beyond a simple 'time is an 'earlier-than/later-than' relation' definition, there is also the question of whether temporal becoming is objective (A theory) or subjective (B theory). 'A theory' states that the past really is gone and the future really isn't there yet; all that really exists is the present. 'B theory' states that past, present, and future are all equally real, and we only experience the flow of time from past to future from our subjective perspective. On A theory, God must be in time in a temporal world, and on B theory, God can be timelessly 'outside time'. Koukl believes in the A theory, which is one reason why he rejects the idea that God is essentially timeless.

With the A theory, many worry that God is 'bound' by time, as if that's a limitation. However, that may be more due to the choice of language in describing God as temporal than it is due to any actual defect it creates in the concept of God. After all, if God is essentially timeless, He can't exist in time. Is that a limitation on God?

I make the point simply to get us thinking carefully about how our biases can turn us toward certain ways of construing ultimate perfection and away from others. However, ultimate perfection, or the idea that there is nothing conceivably greater than God, is a controlling factor in all our theologizing. (And it's Scriptural too, since such a being is the only one worthy of worship, and we are commanded to worship God in the Bible alone, and there is nothing greater for God to swear by than himself (Hebrews 6:18).) The question is, how do we parse that out in descriptive and metaphysical detail? The Bible provides a lot of helpful information (and it says more than enough to compel us to worship God), but it only goes so far.

So which theory of time is right? As I said, the Bible doesn't settle the issue, and better Christian minds than mine disagree on this question. As such, I'm happy to let the debate continue.
K. W.
The Bible clearly states that God created everything, which includes time.
David P.
"Time" is not a thing that can be created.
"Time" is nothing more than a count of the cycles of some motion considered to be stable. So in the first place, "time" cannot be created, it is entirely conceptual, but rather God created the universe with an uncountable (except to God) number of moving things and our count of some of those moving things is how we define time.
Since the fall, an even number of earth rotations no longer equals a year: The earth reaches the same point in its orbit of the sun in an uneven number of days, so the earth's rotation is not longer an accurate enough measurement for things such as GPS satellites.
So, the problem with your friend is that he assumes time is some physical object instead of a mere count of the cyclical oscillations of a physical thing. Ask your friend what a second is and when he attempts to define a second as a part of some other unit of "time" such as 1/60th of a minute, then inform him that in 1967 the SI second was defined as the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.
"Time" is not a physical thing or even a measure of a physical thing to be created: It is merely a count of the motions of one infinitesimally small part of another infinitesimally small part of the universe that God spoke into existence ex nihilo without effort or exertion and has ever after maintained (in subatomic detail) without effort or exertion.
Doug L.
I might also add concepts from physics in responding to Emily. The Bible says that God created all things. Spacetime is a thing. Einstein showed that time and space are both parts of the same whole and it is a fabric within which every material thing exists. As a matter of fact equations of quantum mechanics lead to the concept that at the tiniest distances spacetime consists of a boiling mass of virtual particles called the quantum foam.

The bottom line here is that you cannot separate time from space, energy, or even matter itself! God created it all.
Don R.
The verses you quote from hebrews do not specifically say God created time. True, "all things were made by him...." etc.and that must include time. I prefer to think that as God is eternal he exists outside time (as well as within it) and that since space-time is a unit, God must have created both simultaneously on Day One of before it.
God is too marvellous to comprehend but in making us he gave us a desire to know all about him and therefore to try, humbly. to understand the unknowable.
Shaun Doyle
True enough, Hebrews 1:2 and 11:3 don't explicitly say that God created time. However, they do imply that God created all things, and they do so by saying that God created tous aiōnas, which when literally translated means "the ages". As such, the implication I suggest can be drawn from the peculiar usage of tous aiōnas in those verses to describe the totality of God's creative activity is that the 'all things' God created are temporal in nature and had an absolute beginning (unlike God, of course). And if the 'all things' God created are intrinsically temporal, then God made time (as a byproduct of making temporal things).
Gian Carlo B.
Hi CMI, this article really points out an important clause of God's nature indeed, including time. So I have a question that I've been thinking about.

Greg Koukl, I believe you heard of him; was interviewed on the topic 'Is God bound by time?'; the first thing he has time defined by, is merely change. Time, so then, is defined on change, and gives an example that if God can count, then He is bound by time. He gives about two theoretical views about God's timefulness and that he says that the A theory (I think is the B one, don't remember), says that God, being a God that intervened in history and influenced it, is in a way bound by time. He also claims God's eternality does not require Him to be time boundless. Another example of His support is that if God, and the dimension He is in, were timeless, nothing would happen, Heaven would be frozen from change.

Now bear with me the faulty reasoning he has regarding God and crucially, how he defines time. Throughout the Bible, time is consistently defined as a continuum of history and senescence; not merely change of things. For all we know, God counted every number, or has counted from beginning, there are infinite numbers and He is infinitely powerful, there is no limit so such does not contradict His nature. Another claim is how he thinks timelessness is not require of His ontological eternality. By definition, it does require and it must, being eternal, it is necessarily true He is timeless and not bound by time; so this already blows his theory of a bound-by-time YHVH out of the water.

What thinkest thou?
Shaun Doyle
I think the Bible doesn't give enough data to construct a complete description of God's relation to time. As such, there’s room for discussion and debate. God has always existed, and always will; that much Scripture is clear on. However, that doesn’t give us much to work with. Perhaps God has existed for an infinite series of moments; perhaps God is essentially timeless; or perhaps God is timeless unless He chooses to do something new (by e.g. creating a temporal world). On all three theories of God’s eternity, God is the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8). Koukl prefers either the first or the third views, you prefer the second.
The majority view throughout church history is the second, largely because complete immutability was viewed as a divine perfection. However, in more recent times some Christians have questioned whether this complete immutability fits the depiction of God’s personal character in Scripture, and even whether such complete immutability is a divine perfection (these are two points that Koukl questions).
Personally, I think the first option is untenable. It seems impossible to count sequentially from –∞ to 0, much less –∞ to ∞. This means there can’t be an infinite series of moments, and God’s omnipotence is irrelevant because not even omnipotence can do the impossible (such as make 2+2 equal 5, or make a married bachelor).
However, the second and third options have their difficulties as well. If God is essentially timeless, then He doesn’t really relate to us, but only appears to. This is highly counterintuitive, and it’s really hard to harmonize with Scripture and our personal experience. Nonetheless, with the third view, is it possible to ‘switch’ from a timeless to a temporal mode of existence? Again, it’s counterintuitive. But I don’t think I can say that either is incoherent like the first view; they both seem formally possible to me. But which is the best solution? Better minds than mine still debate this, and since the Bible doesn’t settle the question, I’m happy to let the debate continue. I have a view, but if I’m shown that another view better explains the data, I’d happily adopt it.
Thomas J.
Time is not a sentient, self-conscious being capable of independent and purposeful action. Time is not an object or entity along side of other objects or entities. Time, space, matter, and energy are the created context within which diversely and distinctively created and limited entities have their being. Even though Paul, proclaiming Christ to the Areopagus, said of God, "In Him we live and move and have our being ...", he is not affirming the Hindu idea of Brahman as the conscious totality of all in which individual and distinctive being are merely illusion. As an Hebrew Paul ever affirmed the transcendent wholly other existence of the Trinity Who created by His Word the heavens and the earth, and all things therein, having real and separate, yet dependent existence. Our problem, if it be called a problem, is that all of our creaturely apprehension of and communication concerning God is referential and analogical, being conditioned by the forms and relationships within our limited existence and experience. But that is simply the condition of being created entities before the face of Him that breathes into our nostrils the breath of life. As such beings, the core relationship to God is trusting humility. "O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore." (Psalm 131 ESV)
Chuck J.
In Genesis, the Bible states what was created by God by day including the first day which to me means the FIRST DAY, which is time. To me, no days, or time, can exist before the first day. God is plain spoken so that we can understand while Satan splits hairs to mislead or confuse us. May God continue to bless CMI.
J. B.
Hi friends, thank you for all your incredible work! Just a pernickety, although seemingly necessary thought - it seems best and more rigorously truthful if we say that 'God made everything that was made', rather than just saying that 'God made everything', since using the latter opens us up to the charge of holding the nonsensical position that 'God made Himself', since He is part of everything. I have seen this charge brought by an apparently sincere questioner.
Another solution is to say that 'God made the Heavens and the earth and everything in them'.
In Christ,
Shaun Doyle
Thank you for the suggestion, but I prefer to stick with my original wording. Why? God creating himself is incoherent; nothing can create itself, since it would have to exist causally prior to existing, which is nonsense. As such, saying "God made everything", if it's to be understood as a coherent statement, can't imply that God made himself.

Moreover, saying "God made everything that was made" creates it's own problems. What if there are uncreatable objects, like numbers, propositions, or properties, that exist external to God? If so, there's an infinite number of objects God not only didn't create, but couldn't create because they are self-existent. This contradicts the idea that "from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36).
Paul S.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
Beginning of what?
Time. THE beginning.
Als General Relativity binds time with space - so if our 3D continuum was created at that point, time was too.
Les M.
It may help to point out that time is not a universal constant. As Dr Hartnett's clocks demonstrate, time passes at different rates for different conditions of speed and gravity. These differences become significant under extreme conditions, like black holes, or at speeds approaching the speed of light. So, time is a created thing that obeys the laws of physics (relativity), which were set by the one who made the laws and transcends time...God.
Shaun Doyle
The speed at which we might experience events happening may be relative, but it seems that the fundamental 'earlier-than/later-than' relation of change is absolute. If it were not, then time could possibly be cyclical; an event might be both earlier than and later than the present. Moreover, this fundamental feature of time is not merely physical. A non-physical being (e.g. an angel) that mentally counts from one to ten establishes a fundamental 'earlier-than/later-than' relation between events that constitutes an irreversible arrow of linear time. See Time travel and moral implications for more information.

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