Infinite and from All Eternity

Infinite and from All Eternity

Article by an Anonymous Contributor

Many trinitarians have used such expressions like “eternity” and “infinite” found in the writings of Ellen White-Spirit of Prophecy and have asserted meaning of words without properly establishing them. This article examines such expressions and will seek to establish their meaning based on their usage both in Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. It will also assign an appropriate meaning of these expressions as it relate to Christ’s pre-existence and provide some valid reasons as to how these expressions can be compatible with begotten theology which believes in the literal Sonship of Christ.

Hopefully, this study will present an honest line upon line, precept upon precept, laying first a foundation of meaning and then exegetically and systematically carrying that forward to a sound conclusion.

“Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. HE WAS WITH GOD FORM ALL ETERNITY, God over all, blessed forevermore. The Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, existed from eternity, a distinct person, yet one with the Father. He was the surpassing glory of heaven. He was the commander of the heavenly intelligences, and the adoring homage of the angels was received by Him as His right…. He was equal with God, INFINITE and omnipotent.” {FLB 46.5,6}

Trinitarian’s objection: God is One Who is eternal and infinite. Eternal and infinite means always existent when it comes to God; therefore if Christ, being God is also eternal and infinite. Thus, Christ must’ve always existed alongside the Father and not literally begotten.

Hebrew words translated "eternity", "eternal" or "everlasting"

The Hebrew words from which we get the ideas of "eternity" and "eternal" are as follows:

‛ôlām עוָֹלם (H5769)

This is the principle word for "eternity" or "eternal" in the Old Testament. Etymologically, it is derived from the word ‛ālam (עלם) which means "to hide" or "to conceal". It's essential meaning is "indefinite time" or "unmeasured/immeasurable time". It can embrace the concept of infinity of time, insofar as these are "indefinite". The best explanation that has been given for this word is that which is over the temporal horizon - which is hidden from temporal view. 

It is mostly used in the direction of future time from any given point. However, it is also regularly used of the past. It is used both adjectively and substantively. 

When used of the future, it frequently refers to those things, which ended or will end. For example, frequently in the Torah we read of ordinances that were to endure "forever". Yet many of these passed away with the death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of the wicked is said to be "eternal" and even though the destruction itself will end the consequences will not. Though some things will never have an end, such as the reward of the righteous and God, this is irrespective of the word itself for it is evident that that which lasts forever will by its very nature be beyond any temporal horizon. It is sometimes explicitly used in parallel to temporal ideas. 

The closest it comes to expressing an explicit meaning of perpetuity it uses the superlative phrases often translated "forever and ever" or "from everlasting to everlasting". This latter phrase, "from everlasting to everlasting" doesn't point to both past and present, but is a Hebrew idiom that points forward into the future and still forward, like saying "beyond the horizon and then some". It is like the phrase "from glory to glory" which embraces glory to greater glory". 

When it comes to the past usage, it would be best translated "ancient" because it doesn't require the meaning of "without beginning" just as it doesn't require the meaning "without ending" in the future use. It is used for the indefinite past (Ecc 1:10; Isa 51:9; Mal 3:4) and even during someone's own lifetime (Isa 42:14), the time of the antediluvians (Gen 6:2), patriarchal times (Deut 32:7; Josh 24:2; 1 Sam 27:8; Psa 77:5), events during the time of Moses and Joshua (Pro 22:28; Isa 44:7; 63:9, 11; Jer 2:20; Mic 7:14), the time of David (Amo 9:11), the earlier prophets (Jer 28:8). It refers to the antiquity of wicked deeds (Job 22:15) those who have died anciently (Psa 143:3; Lam 3:6; Eze 26:20) and the old way of righteousness (Jer 6:16). It is also used of the hills/mountains (Gen 49:26; Deut 33:15; Eze 36:2; Hab 3:6). 

The majority of uses regarding God are future, though there are some exceptions. Relationally it speaks of God's redemptive acts of the past (Isa 46:9; 63:16), His loving-kindness (Psa 25:6), His judgement (Psa 119:52), His forebearance (Isa 42:14; 57:11) and His dominion over His creation (Psa 93:2). The only other divine contextual use of the word in a past sense is for Wisdom in Proverbs 8:23. Besides these, all other uses can be taken in a future sense including all adjectival attributive uses. 

‛aḏ עד (H5703)

This word is sometimes found on its own, at other times in a construct with the word ‛ôlām to indicate the superlative "and ever" in "forever and ever". In most instances it is used of the future and the root this word is taken from means "advance". This word is only rarely used of the past. One instance is in Job 20:4, which refers to the time Adam and Eve were created. It is also used of the mountains/hills in parallel with ‛ôlām in Hab 3:6. 

The references to God refer to His enduring qualities, rather than speaking of the past. One well known use is in Isaiah 57:15 where God is said to "inhabit eternity" which has led to some ideas that God is in a realm outside of time or that He is in all time. However this idiom doesn't mean that Eternity is a PLACE but rather is another way of saying that He will live forever. 

qeḏem קדם (H6924)

This word is usually translated as "east" but is also used to denote those things that are ancient or old. This further supports the concreteness of Hebraic thinking in relation to time. They viewed time as an extrapolation of space. Just as things can be in view or out of view in space, so things could be in view (measured) or out of view (unmeasured/immeasurable) in space. The east represented the things in the past. The east is also where Abram originally came from, which is rooted in the history of the Hebrew people.

Greek words translated "eternity", "eternal" or "everlasting"

With few exceptions, the words, which translate the above Hebrew words when they carry the sense of distant past or future time are:

aiṓn αἰών (G165) and aiṓnios αἰώνιος (G166)

These words are respectively the nominal and adjectival forms denoting the same concept. Because they have been used to translate the aforementioned Hebrew words, all that applies to those words equally applies to these when it comes to the Hebraic understanding. The force of perpetuity is strengthened by the superlative doubling of the words as with the Hebrew. 

The words are often understood to refer to a segment of time. Thus there is sometimes the contrast between "this age" and "the age to come" in Scripture (Matt 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30). Thus the word is sometimes translated "world". The Scripture sees essentially two "ages" in Scripture. The present "age" (Matt 13:22; Luke 16:8; 20:34; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6, 8; Gal 1:4; Eph 2:2; 2 Tim 4:10; Titus 2:12) and the "age" to come (Eph 2:7; Heb 6:5). The close of the present age is spoken of (Matt 13:40; 24:3).

In terms of past context, it refers to the mystery of the Gospel which was secret from ancient times (Rom 16:25; Eph 3:9; Col 1:26) and even BEFORE ancient times (1 Cor 2:7) yet also of the prophetic revelations given to the seers of old (Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; 15:18). The curious use is the one from 1 Corinthians with the phrase πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων which literally would mean "before eternity" if we were to apply the modern definition. This idea is also found in 2 Tim 1:9 and Titus 1:2. When understood from the Hebraic standpoint, "before the ages" could be understood as before this present age and the age to come - a pre-age before creation of this earth. 

God is spoken of as "king of the ages" (1 Tim 1:17), while Christ is spoken of as the One through Whom God created the ages (Heb 1:2) which were formed by the word of God (Heb 11:3). All other uses are forward/future-looking in reference. 

It is clear from the Greek that this word, like the Hebrew, is not as straightforward as the English meaning. There is no requirement in the past for this word or the Hebrew words before it to mean "without beginning" and this meaning is excluded by many of the references that have been presented. Now I will turn to the early Seventh-day Adventist understanding of "eternity" as it was related to "time"

The Early Adventist View of “Time” and “Eternity”

The early Adventist view of "time" and "eternity" was informed by deep study that was performed in regards to the State of the Dead, the Sabbath and other doctrines. Their view of "eternity" is striking in light of all that we have discovered so far from the Bible. J. N. Andrews wrote:

TIME, AS DISTINGUISHED FROM ETERNITY, MAY BE DEFINED AS THAT PART OF DURATION WHICH IS MEASURED BY THE BIBLE. From the earliest date in the book of Genesis to the resurrection of the unjust at the end of the millennium, the period of about 7000 years is measured off. Before the commencement of this great week of time, duration without beginning fills the past; and at the expiration of this period, unending duration opens before the people of God. ETERNITY IS THAT WORD WHICH EMBRACES DURATION WITHOUT BEGINNING AND WITHOUT END. And that Being whose existence comprehends eternity, is he who only hath immortality, the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God. {1873 JNA, HSFD 9.1} 

Andrews understood that "time" and "eternity" are both a part of "duration". "Time" was the approximately 7000 years that was measured off in Scripture. Anything before and after this 7000 years was a part of "Eternity". He states that "eternity" EMBRACES "duration without beginning and without end", but it is clear that any event before or after the 7000 years that is measured off would constitute "eternity" in his understanding. 

J. N. Loughborough wrote the following in relation to the nature of man and the state of the dead:

Paul testifies, [Heb. ii, 14,] "Through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the Devil." The words forever and ever in the original are eis tous aionas ton aionon. Aionas, and aionon are derived from aion on which Greenfield says, "Duration, finite or infinite: unlimited duration, eternity: a period of duration, past or future, time, age, lifetime; the world, universe." From this we may learn that the term forever and ever, does not in all cases signify eternal duration. Dr. Adam Clarke, in commenting on the words for ever and ever, gave us a rule to be guided by in ascertaining its extent of duration when applied to objects. It is this: that it signifies only, as long as a thing, considering the surrounding circumstances, can exist. God has promised to his saints, that they shall be clothed with immortality. Of course the term forever applied to them would cover their age, or lifetime, which is to be eternal; but it would not follow from this, that when the term was applied to wicked men and devils, they must exist to all eternity. {1855 JNL, MPC 178.2} 

It is clear that the pioneers were involved in deep study of these concepts. Uriah Smith's comments were again in relation to creation when he wrote:

Another attempt is made to nullify the force of the record of Gen.2:2,3. It is claimed that the seventh day which God blessed was the first day of Adam's existence, and hence the point where the reckoning should commence. If that was the point at which to commence, doubtless Moses, guided by the Spirit of inspiration, would have commenced there. But it so happens that he commenced the reckoning six days before, and has given it to us day by day down to that point. How is it that modern expositors have come to be so wise above what is written? We can answer: they couldn't oppose the Sabbath in any other way. To make this position of any force, the ground must be taken that Adam's first day was the first day of time. Then all that went before was eternity. God created the world and all things therein, not in the beginning, but in eternity. But TIME AS DISTINGUISHED FROM ETERNITY IS DURATION MEASURED, ETERNITY BEING UNMEASURED DURATION; and these days of creation are measured off to us, and hence belong to time and not to eternity. What blind presumption for men to set a point from which to reckon different from that which the Bible has given us! {1878 UrS, TBI 122.1} 

Now, Ellen White uses "time" and "eternity" in the same sense as two separate durations when she writes:

The character which we are now making will come in review before God before Christ leaves the sanctuary. Here God will see what characters we have been building FOR TIME AND ETERNITY. How shall we stand before the great Eternal? How many sheaves will we have brought to the Master through our earnest efforts? {RH, August 18, 1885 par. 9} 

This usage is in line with her peers. A more direct statement about the nature of time and eternity which agrees with her peers is the following:

In His teaching were embraced the things of time and the things of eternity--things seen, in their relation to things unseen, the passing incidents of common life and the solemn issues of the life to come. {Ed 82.3} 

Here she makes parallel three contrasts:

1. "things of time" and "things of eternity"

2. "things seen" and "things unseen"

3. "passing incidents of common life" and "solemn issues of the life to come". 

Ellen White's usage is perfectly in keeping with the Hebraic understanding that eternity is unmeasured or unknown time and fits with the study that the Pioneers had performed.

“Philosophy”?

The only reason to discuss philosophical ideas of "eternity" is to combat the all-pervading idea that "eternal" and "eternity" MUST mean "without beginning" and/or "without end". It CAN mean these things, but it is not necessary to the meaning in all instances. 

The Bible calls the hills "eternal" and says that the wicked will be punished for "eternity" and that the entire law of Torah would endure for "eternity", yet some of these laws were superseded with the death of Messiah and the destruction of the Temple while the wicked will burn until they are consumed and the hills had a beginning. It is clear that we have to use far more caution than to premise force a modern meaning, however universal, into inspiration. 

Some things require contrast to be fully defined. "Light" cannot be fully comprehended without "darkness", "hot" cannot be fully understood without "cold". So it is true that "eternity" and "time" are best understood next to one another. So I will conclude this study with three views of eternity as it relates to time.

1. Atemporal Eternity (Eternity is OUTSIDE of Time)

Illustration -

Eternity (---Time---) Eternity

In this view, Time is a different plane of existence to "Eternity" which is considered to be a dimension outside of Time. This is the most popular view within Christendom if we include Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism.

2. Infinite Eternity (Eternity is the INFINITY of Time in either direction, without beginning and without end). 

Illustration - 

Eternity <---Time---> Eternity

In this view also known as omnitemporality or sempiternity, Eternity is simply the infinite extension of Time into the Past or Future. This is the second most popular view and is mostly to be found within evangelical circles. 

3. Unmeasured Eternity (Eternity is the HIDDEN or UNKNOWN duration before or after a measured period)

Illustration - 

Eternity |---Time---| Eternity

This is the only view which perfectly fits within the Hebraic understanding, the Greek of the New Testament, the early Adventist usage and Ellen White's writings. This view is unique to Seventh-day Adventism (at least the early proponents) in terms of modern times. 


Case study

With all the evidence I have presented and the three views above, we can do a simple substitution to show the three possible meanings. 

1. For Atemporal Eternity we can substitute "timelessness" where this word means "independent of time".

2. For Omnitemporal Eternity we can substitute "infinity" where this word denotes the infinite extension of time. 

3. For Unmeasured Eternity we can substitute "immeasurability" with the obvious meaning. Now let's consider the following representative quote:

“Christ is declared in the Scriptures to be the Son of God. From all eternity He has sustained this relation to Jehovah…{Ms22-1905.4}

If we substitute the words in brackets for "eternity" into the above statement we have the following three ways it can read:


1. “Christ is declared in the Scriptures to be the Son of God. From all timelessness He has sustained this relation to Jehovah…{Ms22-1905.4}

2. “Christ is declared in the Scriptures to be the Son of God. From all infinity He has sustained this relation to Jehovah…{Ms22-1905.4}

3. “Christ is declared in the Scriptures to be the Son of God. From all immeasurability He has sustained this relation to Jehovah…{Ms22-1905.4}


Now, both timelessness and infinity deny that Christ could ever have been "begotten" as a true event. Therefore Christ cannot truly be the "Son" except in a meaningless titular sense. The only definition, therefore, which preserves the integrity of "eternity" AND Christ having the "relation to Jehovah" of a "Son" is the third reading. 

The word "all" does not indicate infinity, it is simply a superlative sense that is frequently found in inspiration to emphasize extent. 

In the dictionary Ellen White possessed, Robert Hunter's "American Encyclopedic Dictionary", volume 1, under the definition of "all" it states "Sometimes 'all' is loosely used, especially in colloquial language, for a large number, quantity, amount, or extent of anything; though this may fall far short of the whole." This refers to the superlative sense in which Ellen White is speaking.

Infinite, Infinity

As I have shown, the Hebrew and Greek terms are also used in a subjective or limited term when applied to God. His "redemptive acts" and His "dominion over creation" are all limited to the time that He has acted redemptively and that there has been a creation to have dominion over. 

Ellen White uses the word "infinite" about 4000 individual times in the works written/published during her lifetime, always in terms of attributes such as God's power, wisdom, knowledge, goodness, etc. I have NEVER seen her use it in terms of age or duration. Her phrases include

"infinite sacrifice"
"infinite offering"
"infinite price" and the converse "infinite loss"
"infinite justice"
"infinite mercy"
"infinite purity"
"infinite mystery"
"infinite greatness"
"infinite will"
"infinite help"
"infinite value"
"infinite in wisdom"/"infinite wisdom"
"infinite in love"/"infinite love"
"infinite in ... truth"/"infinite truth"
"infinite in knowledge"/"infinite knowledge"
"infinite in power"/"infinite power"
"infinite in goodness"/"infinite goodness"
"infinite in resources"/"infinite resources"
"infinite in compassion"/"infinite compassion"
"infinite in tenderness"/"infinite tenderness"
"infinite in pity"/"infinite pity"
"infinite in righteousness"/
"infinite in capabilities"

That Ellen White intends these qualities when she calls God or Christ "Infinite" is apparent from statements such as these:

“If it were possible for created beings to attain to a full understanding of God and His works, then, having reached this point, there would be for them no further discovery of truth, no growth in knowledge, no further development of mind or heart. God would no longer be supreme; and man, having reached the limit of knowledge and attainment, would cease to advance. Let us thank God that it is not so. GOD IS INFINITE; in Him are "all the treasures of WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE." Colossians 2:3. And to all eternity men may be ever searching, ever learning, and yet never exhaust the treasures of His WISDOM, His GOODNESS, and His POWER.” {SC 109.1} 

“And this development is gained through the constant unfolding to us of the character of God--the glory and the mystery of the written word. If it were possible for us to attain to a full understanding of God and His word, there would be for us no further discovery of truth, no greater knowledge, no further development. God would cease to be supreme, and man would cease to advance. Thank God, it is not so. Since GOD IS INFINITE, AND IN HIM ARE ALL THE TREASURES OF WISDOM, we may to all eternity be ever searching, ever learning, yet NEVER EXHAUST THE RICHES OF HIS WISDOM, HIS GOODNESS, OR HIS POWER.” {Ed 172.2} 

"Having entered the school of Christ, the student is prepared to engage in the pursuit of knowledge without becoming dizzy from the height to which he is climbing. As he goes on from truth to truth, obtaining clearer and brighter views of the wonderful laws of science and of nature, he becomes enraptured with the amazing exhibitions of God's love to man. He sees with intelligent eyes THE PERFECTION, KNOWLEDGE, AND WISDOM OF GOD STRETCHING BEYOND INTO INFINITY. As his mind enlarges and expands, pure streams of life pour into his soul. The more he drinks from the fountain of knowledge, the purer and happier his CONTEMPLATION OF GOD'S INFINITY, and the greater his longing for WISDOM sufficient to comprehend the deep things of God." (GW92 166-167) 

“THE MIGHTIEST HUMAN BEING, WHATEVER MAY BE HIS CLAIM, IS NOT INFINITE. HE CANNOT UNDERSTAND INFINITY. Christ plainly stated, "No man knoweth the Father but the Son." A teacher was once endeavouring to present the exaltation of God, when a voice was heard saying, "We cannot as yet understand who He is." The teacher nobly replied, "Were I able fully to set forth God, I should either be a god myself, or God Himself would cease to be God." THE MIGHTIEST CREATED INTELECT CANNOT COMPREHEND GOD; words from the most eloquent tongue fail to describe Him; in His presence silence is eloquence. 
Christ represented the Father to the world, and He represents before God the chosen ones in whom He has restored the moral image of God. They are His heritage. To them He says, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." No man, "knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." No priest, no religionist, can reveal the Father to any son or daughter of Adam. Men have only one advocate, one intercessor, who is able to pardon transgression. Shall not our hearts swell with gratitude to Him who gave Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins? Think deeply upon the love that the Father has manifested in our behalf, the love that He has expressed for us. WE CANNOT MEASURE THIS LOVE; FOR MEASUREMENT THERE IS NONE. CAN WE MEASURE INFINITY? We can only point to Calvary, to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. {BEcho, May 1, 1899 par. 7} 

“It is the duty and privilege of all to use reason as far as man's finite faculties can go; but there is a limit to man's resources. There are many things that can never be reasoned out by the strongest intellect, or discerned by the most penetrating mind. PHILOSOPHY CANNOT DETERMINE THE WAYS AND WORKS OF GOD; THE HUMAN MIND CANNOT MEASURE INFINITY. JEHOVAH IS THE FOUNTAIN OF ALL WISDOM, OF ALL TRUTH, OF ALL KNOWLEDGE. There are high attainments that man can reach in this life through the wisdom that God imparts; but there is an INFINITY BEHOND that will be the study and the joy of the saints throughout eternal ages. Man can now only linger on the border of that vast expanse, and let imagination take its flight. Finite man cannot fathom the deep things of God; for spiritual things are spiritually discerned. The human mind cannot comprehend THE WISDOM AND POWER OF GOD.” {SW, February 5, 1907 par. 10} 

The work Christ did was "infinite in its results", Christ's prayer is "infinite in importance", our own work is of "such infinite importance" and each one of us has "infinite possibilities". She spoke of an "infinite humanity in Christ". She spoke of the "infinity" of Christ's sacrifice and offering in the following terms:

The Son of man alone must be lifted up; for only an infinite nature could undertake the redemptive process. {ST, March 5, 1896 par. 6} 

Only in comprehending the value of this offering can we comprehend infinity. {Lt36a-1890} 

Ellen White wrote that "The Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, is truly God in infinity, but not in personality" (Ms 116, 1905). Yet we cannot apply to "infinity" what inspiration does not apply. If you can show me that Ellen White spoke of an "infinite age" or "infinite past" then that would be truly something to support what you assert she means by that word.

Now, there ARE some statements where Ellen White's natural meaning comprehends the view of eternity that is immeasurable when it comes to Christ. 

Here Christ shows them that, altho they might reckon His life to be less than fifty years, yet HIS DIVINE LIFE COULD NOT BE RECKONED BY HUMAN COMPUTATION. THE EXISTENCE OF CHRIST BEFORE HIS INCARNATION IS NOT MEASURED BY FIGURES. {ST, May 3, 1899 par. 4} 

In speaking of His pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through DATELESS AGES. He assures us that there NEVER WAS A TIME when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God. He to whose voice the Jews were then listening had been with God as one brought up with Him. {ST, August 29, 1900 par. 15} 

Conclusion

Now, I hope that you have really read what has been presented here about the Hebrew meaning of olam, because Ellen White's words demonstrate this idea PERFECTLY. These statements which EXPLICITLY speak of Christ's "divine life" and "existence" or "pre-existence" speak in terms of "not reckoned by human computation", "not measured by figures" and "dateless ages". And more than that, since the Biblical and Inspired meaning of "time" is the measured part of "eternity", her words "There never was a time" should take on a new significance. There never was one moment of "time" - the measured part of duration - in which Christ was not in close fellowship with the eternal God. 

Additional statement for consideration:

“Angels of God looked with amazement upon Christ, who took upon Himself the form of man and humbly united His divinity with humanity in order that He might minister to fallen man. It is a marvel among the heavenly angels. God has told us that He did do it, and we are to accept the Word of God just as it reads. AND ALTHOUGH WE MAY TRY TO REASON IN REGARD TO OUR CREATOR, HOW LONG HE HAS HAD EXISTENCE, WHERE EVIL FIRST ENTERED INTO OUR WORLD, AND ALL THESE THINGS, WE MAY REASON ABOUT THEM UNTIL WE FALL DOWN FAINT AND EXHAUSTED WITH THE RESEARCH WHEN THERE IS YET AN INFINITY BEYOND.” {E. G. White, S.D.A. Bible Commentary Vol. 7, p. 919} 1888

The usage of the term, infinity, in this context, may appear to denote a duration of time concerning Christ as in "how long he has had existence". But a careful reading will make it apparent that this is not about Christ nor about God but rather referring to our experience, pointing forward towards the future, as to how far reaching it would be for us-finite beings to understand some of the particular subjects mentioned, meaning, the "efforts" to which we may endeavor to find answers to our quandary is infinite in that we may exhaust and faint, not arriving at an answer, but there is a future ahead where we can find the answers to all these things.

Related Articles:

A Response to "There Never Was a Time"

Self-Existent