Time in the mind of God

A study on 2 Peter 3 – Part II

Part I can be found here.

Possibly one of the most quoted and most widely interpreted verses in the Bible in relation to the chronology of the Bible from Creation to final Judgment is the 8th verse of chapter 3 of Peter’s second epistle (letter).

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.  (my emphasis added in bold)

Some have used this to re-scale the length of the Genesis 1 creation days from 24-hour days to 1000-year days. This feeble effort to try to get the creation chronology of the Bible to fit in with the alleged billions of years of the secular chronology is referred to as the day-age theory. But it makes very little sense as the second part of the verse reverses the order and thus using the same type of logic you would have to say that a 1000 years in the Bible really means a 24-hour day.

673px-aristotle_altemps_inv8575

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; the alabaster mantle is a modern addition. Credit: Wikipedia (Public domain)

Another problem is an understanding of what time is. Since the Greek thinkers, like Aristotle, time has been given a linear deterministic feature where past, present and future are referred to in a real sequence. But that is not the way the Hebrew mind operated.

God’s consciousness is a world consciousness in which everything that takes place is treasured and held fast in the eternal and is therefore as indestructible as ‘matter’. Without a world consciousness, all the history of humanity and of the universe would end in nothing; for a people, however, for whom life and history is everything, the concept of a divine world consciousness is as necessary as the concept of eternal being was for the Greeks. For the Israelites, the world was transitory, but Jahveh [Jehovah] and his words (and deeds) were eternal (Isaiah 40.8).1

… the Semitic concept of time is closely coincident with that of its content without which time would be quite impossible. The quantity of duration completely recedes behind the characteristic feature that enters with time or advances in it.1 (Emphasis in the original)

… time is for us an abstraction since we distinguish time from the events that occur in time. The ancient Semites did not do this; for them time is determined by its content. Time is the notion of the occurrence; it is the stream of events.1

This verse, 2 Peter 3:8, was written in Greek but by the Apostle Peter, a Hebrew. Therefore we should expect he writes with a Hebrew way of thinking. Reading the verse in context with those that precede it, it simply means that God does not view time the way we do.  In the preceding verses, it is made clear that God is not in a hurry to bring about the promised judgment. Judgment may not happen immediately but it will come at the time appointed. So God was telling the believers back in Peter’s time (and us now by extension) not to be too anxious because the Christ will return at the appointed time.

Considering that God is outside of time He does not view time the way we do. More than that; it is a Greek way of thinking to see time as a linear sequence. This verse reflects a Hebrew way of thinking to see time as the contents of the events themselves. To the earth observers the events may take thousands of years to unfold, in a linear fashion, but to the mind of God, and a Hebrew way of thinking, the events have already happened. They form a whole set, because what God says will happen, in our realm, has already happened for Him.

In regards to this verse, John Gill’s commentary follows (blue text).

that one day [is], with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day; referring either to Psalms 90:4; or to a common saying among the Jews, founded on the same passage,

  הק בה אלף שנים יומו של,

“the day of the holy blessed God is a thousand years” {z}; suggesting, that though between thirty and forty years had elapsed since the promise was given out that Christ would come again, and should even a thousand, or two thousand years more, run off, before the coming of Christ, yet this should be no objection to the accomplishment of the promise; for though such a number of years is very considerable among men, ye not “with God”, as the Arabic and Ethiopic versions read, with whom a thousand years, and even eternity itself, is but as a day, Isaiah 43:13. Unless this phrase should be thought to refer, as it is by some, to the day of judgment, and be expressive of the duration of that: it is certain that the Jews interpreted days of millenniums, and reckoned millenniums by days, and used this phrase in confirmation of it. Thus they say {a},

“in the time to come, which is in the last days, on the sixth day, which is the sixth millennium, when the Messiah comes, for the day of the holy blessed God is a thousand years.”

And a little after,

“”the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man”. This is in the time of the Messiah which is in the sixth day.”

And elsewhere {b},

“the sixth degree is called the sixth day, the day of the holy blessed God is a thousand years. And in that day the King Messiah shall come, and it shall be called the feast of gathering, for the holy blessed God will gather in it the captivity of his people.”

So they call the sabbath, or seventh day, the seventh millennium, and interpret {c}

“”the song for the sabbath day”, Psalm 92:1 title, for the seventh millennium, for one day of the holy blessed God is a thousand years.”

To which agrees the tradition of Elias, which runs thus {d};

“it is the tradition of the house of Elias, that the world shall be six thousand years, two thousand years void (of the law), two thousand years the law, and two thousand years the days of the Messiah;”

for they suppose that the six days of the creation were expressive of the six thousand years in which the world will stand; and that the seventh day prefigures the last millennium, in which will be the day of judgment, and the world to come; for

“the six days of the creation (they say {e}) is a sign or intimation of these things: on the sixth day man was created; and on the seventh his work was finished; so the kings of the nations of the world (continue) five millenniums, answering to the five days, in which were created the fowls, and the creeping things of the waters, and other things; and the enjoyment of their kingdom is a little in the sixth, answerable to the creation of the beasts, and living creatures created at this time in the beginning of it; and the kingdom of the house of David is in the sixth millennium, answerable to the creation of man, who knew his Creator, and ruled over them all; and in the end of that millennium will be the day of judgment, answerable to man, who was judged in the end of it; and the seventh is the sabbath, and it is the beginning of the world to come.” (my emphases added in bold)

{z} Bereshit Rabba, sect. 8. fol. 7. 3. Vajikra Rabba, sect. 19. fol. 160. 2. Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 14. fol. 216. 1. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 20. 1. Zohar in Exod. fol. 60. 1. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 157. 1. & Nishmet Chayim Orat. 1. c. 5. fol. 12. 1. {a} Zohar in Gen. fol. 13. 4. {b} Ib. fol. 16. 1. {c} Bartenora in Misn. Tamid, c. 7. sect. 4. {d} T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 97. 1. & Avoda Zara, fol. 9. 1. {e} Ceseph Misna in Maimon. Hilchot Teshuva, c. 9. sect. 2.

day-correspondenceThis is a reasonably common line of interpretation where it is argued that the history of the world is reflected in the 6-day Creation with a six thousand-year period ending in the final judgment. One day of Creation corresponds to one thousand years of world history. The seventh day of the Sabbath (the rest day), the day of the Lord, represents the seventh thousand-year period. These interpretations are predicated on the historical biblical chronology of six thousand years from the Creation to the present time.

There are some commentators, however, who promote a longer chronology from Genesis chapters 5 and 11, using the Septuagint (LXX), instead of the Masoretic (MT) text that most modern Bible translations are based on. Using those LXX genealogies adds about an additional two thousand years to the six thousand you get from the MT text.

I will not comment further on the evidence for or against this, other than to say even if you used this line of argumentation, you cannot get millions of years, or even billions of years, for a Genesis creation history. This is, in fact, what some ill-informed theologians do in their futile efforts to force the history of Genesis 1 into the big bang/evolution time line.

Now read the following verse.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack [slow] concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

day-of-lord-2It starts to become apparent that verse 8 reflects a Hebraism that describes God’s view of time. He is patient and as the Apostle writes “long-suffering” (from man’s perspective) and will bring about His will to redeem those He has chosen (the elect). The Apostle also says that the “Lord is not slow”. We may think He is taking His time, even waiting six thousand years from Adam (two thousand years from Christ’s first advent), but from God’s view of time, it is the content of the events that are important. The repentance of all His chosen will happen according to the prescription of God’s plan. This culminates in the final judgment of all men, when the sheep are separated from the goats, and the wicked are sent into hell-fire, while the saved are taken to mansions in heaven, at the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). In the Scriptures that event is called the day of the Lord.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

I have written on the meaning of this verse before. I don’t believe “the heavens shall pass away” means the destruction of the starry heavens, but at most a renovation of the earth and its atmospheric heavens. Read Do the heavens literally pass away or don’t they? and Scientific evidences in the Bible: Information or misinformation?

However I do believe that the Lord may return anytime now. Yet I don’t hold to some futuristic interpretation of Bible prophecy. Instead I believe it is possible that we are chronologically somewhere near the period of time in Revelation 20 called the battle of Gog and Magog. The so-called ‘millennium’ (actually a ‘thousand years’ in Revelation 20) is symbolic for the period of the church age, the time of the Gentiles. That is about to end, but don’t sell up everything yet, because God is patient and time to Him is not the same as our modern (Greek) earthbound view.

Verse 10 here describes the works of man being burned up. It makes much more sense that this verse symbolically represents the change in government that the world experiences when Christ returns in judgment at the day of the Lord. Mankind is judged not by his physical possessions but by his spiritual possessions. The “the elements shall melt with fervent heat” is a reference to the judgment of your works by fire. (The Hebrew understanding of man is both a physical body and spiritual soul, meaning that judgment is over both. Yet the soul is the most important to be concerned about. Matthew 10:28).

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest [known]: for the day shall declare it [the day of the Lord], because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try [test] every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The day of the Lord is for judgment of both saved and unsaved. The saved are purged of their worthless works, only the true gold, silver and precious stones of the souls won for Christ will remain. But those found without a “wedding garment” (Matthew 22), being judged by fire, are sent into hell-fire. Jesus spoke of this in His parable of the tares (weeds) and wheat. He concludes it with:

Matthew 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest [the great white throne judgment]: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather you together first the tares [weeds, unsaved souls], and bind them in bundles to burn them [in the lake of fire]: but gather the wheat [saved souls] into my barn [mansions in heavenly city].

Conclusion

What can we conclude then regarding the timing of these events? I believe it is ill-advised to conclude anything on a sequential time line from these verses. God will conclude His business of the great white throne judgment upon all mankind when He is ready at the end of the latter days. We don’t know when that will be, God only knows. And it would be foolish to say otherwise.

Also it is foolish to ascribe some sort of chronology to an exact seven thousand-year period. God is not in a hurry, yet he is not slack either. To Him the final judgment is certain and will happen as described because to the mind of God it already has. This is what the expression “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” means.

Definitely one cannot use this verse (2 Peter 3:8) to interpret Genesis chapter 1 creation days of 24 hour duration as indeterminately long periods of time in order that the Genesis account might fit with so-called secular science.

References

  1. Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek, W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 1970, page 139. The book was translated from German Das hebräische Denken im Vergleich mit dem Hriechischen (2nd Ed.) Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1954.

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2 thoughts on “Time in the mind of God

  1. Thanks for the Article John. I was wondering if you knew of Professor Richard Muller and his new theory of time? https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-physical-principles-postulates-equations-and-predictions-of-Dr-Richard-Mullers-new-theory-of-time. He professes to be a believer (although not a creationist) and claims that his theory is testable: “The third and most imminently testable prediction is that the effect could be observed by the LIGO gravitational wave detector in the next few years when it observes two black holes combining into a single one. The first LIGO event should have had a time creation of 1 millisecond, but that was just (barely) too small to be observed. If a new and similar event is seen that is ⅓ as far away, then the prediction could be verified, or if not seen, then the new theory would be falsified.”

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