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“I know what time is, but if someone asks me, I cannot tell him.” Augustine of Hippo.[1]

We discussed the differences between kairos and chornos time in the post “It’s About Time.” We begin now to grapple with the central questions of what time is and why it moves in only one direction. Both of these are troublesome and have been so to philosophers and scientists for millennia.

Isaac Newton considered there to be an absolute, uniform rhythm of time throughout the entire universe, regardless of who was measuring it, where they were or how fast they were going.[2]

Though Albert Einstein showed through his two great theories, Special Relativity and General Relativity, that time was not absolute but affected by mass, acceleration, and gravity, he believed in a static (non-expanding, non-contracting) universe[3]. In a letter he wrote to comfort the surviving sister and son of his lifelong friend Michael Besso, he said, “This [Besso’s death] signifies nothing. For us believing physicists the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one.”[4]

Julian Barbour, in his book The End of Time, notes that though Newton and Einstein differed greatly on the measurement and flow rate of time, neither bothered to define time itself. (Barbour comes to the conclusion that there is no such thing.)[5]

After cataloging the great advances in clock and watch manufacturing, David Landes, a historical economist, had this comment:

“As a result of this heightened accuracy, the old definition of the second as one 86,400th part of a solar day was no longer suitable; the solar day was simply not uniform. After an attempt to redefine the second as a fraction of a given solar year was rendered obsolete in its turn, the General Conference on Weights and Measures decided in 1967 to detach the second entirely form celestial clocks: it was defined as ‘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.’

At the end of 1999, the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology proudly announced a new atomic clock to serve as America’s primary frequency standard. Expected variance: no more than a second in the next twenty million years!

No one knows what time is; certainly no one knows how to define and explain it to the general satisfaction. But we sure know how to measure it.”[6]

To define time is exactly what we are going to attempt to do. Whether it is to the general satisfaction or not is yet to be seen. To understand what time is, we need to look at its creation and purpose. It will then be possible, I believe, to arrive at a theological definition of time.

Genesis 1:1-3
1 In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. KJV[7]

Substantial debate surrounds the correct rendering of Genesis 1:2. Should it read as it does in most versions, “earth was without form and void,” or “became without form and void.”[8] It is not the purpose of this work to debate this subject. The reader is encouraged to do his own study so that “every man may be fully persuaded in his own mind.”[9]

For my own part, I feel that it is unfortunate that “Gap Theory”[10] has been used to try to substantiate evolutionary conclusions. To say that there is a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 2 is to miss the mark because time as we know it didn’t begin until verse 3. I do believe, however, that there is a gap in history between the first two verses of the Bible. Following are some of my reasons for believing this. But the main point I would like to make is that the spirit realm is not of this creation. And that has some profound impacts on time and our understanding of it.

Different Realms, Different Worlds, Different Times
Job 38:4-7
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Sons of God” is a term used in Job 1:6 and 2:1 in reference to the angelic host. Clearly, he is not speaking of humankind in verse 7 above (any more than Moses was when he used the term in Gen. 6:2, 4) as these beings were shouting and singing while the foundations of the earth were being set. This tells us that angels were created before our material order.

Ephesians 1:4
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

The words “foundation of the world” are in the Greek katabole kasmos, which literally means the casting down of the cosmos.  This does not refer to the setting up of this creation specifically but to the destruction of the previous order.

Hebrews 9:11
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. NKJV [Emphasis added.]

The real tabernacle in heaven is a spiritual place full of spirit beings and spiritual implements (just read the book of Revelation if you don’t believe me).  It is the real thing of which Moses’s Tabernacle was but a shadow.  It is not of this creation.

2 Peter 3:5-7, 13
5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. [Emphasis added.]

The overflowing spoken of in verse 6 is not Noah’s flood. Peter uses it as a comparison of the fiery judgment that is to come—a universal meltdown (2 Pet. 3:10-12). Peter catalogs the heavens and earth that were (Gen. 1:1) as being overflowed (Gen. 1:2). He then speaks of the heavens and earth which are now (Gen. 1:3ff) being kept by the word of God (Heb. 1:2-3) until the day when He melts it all down. Within the grand panorama of universal histories sets this shinning gem of insight into the different essences of time.

2 Peter 3:8
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

If this be mere poetry, why would it be something we are cautioned to be knowledgeable about? Do we read anything similar in the Song of Solomon? “Be not ignorant of this one thing, that thy breasts are like two young roes that are twins.” Who talks like that about poetry?

Peter is talking about scoffers, about linear thinkers who believe one day is like the next and the one before it. They believe they can extrapolate the past from the current state and with confidence project the future. Fools, God says, willingly ignorant of how the cosmos came to be, the dramatic changes it has undergone, and the cataclysmic future it faces. He then shores up the loins of our mind with the reminder of how it is that Jesus can say He comes quickly and two thousand plus years can go by: a day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.

[1] Quoted by David S. Landes, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 1.
[2] Michio Kaku, Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension, Anchor Books (Doubleday), New York, 1994, p. 85.
[3] Joao Magueijo, Faster than the Speed of Light, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, 2003, p. 67.
[4] Quoted by William Lane Craig, “Timelessness & Omnitemporality”, God & Time, edited by Gregory E. Ganssle, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 2001, p. 134.
[5] See Julian Barbour, The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999. The author’s entire thesis is that time doesn’t really exist.
[6] Landes, p. 202.
[7] All Scripture references are from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
[8] For an excellent overview of the arguments, see Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1996, p.105-107, 718-723.
[9] Rom. 14:5.
[10] I prefer the term Ruin-Reconstruction as it is more descriptive and leaves questions of time out.