Definition and meaning of eternity - Bible dictionary (2023)


e-tur'-ni-ti (olam; Greek equivalent, aion):


1. Contrast with time 2. In the Old Testament 3. In the New Testament 4. The eternal "now" 5. Failure of this view 6. Philosophical views 7. Inadequate concepts of time 8. All successions in one act to the Divine Conscience 9. But the connection between eternity and time 10. The religious attitude towards eternity


1. Contrast over time:

Eternity is best understood, not in the merely negative form of timeless or immeasurable time, but positively, as the form of the timeless self-existence of the absolute basis of the universe. The passage of time only becomes comprehensible to us when we take up the thought of God as eternal, superior to time. Timeless existence, being or essence without change, is what we mean by eternity here, not mere halftime or permanence in time. God rises within himself over time; in its eternal and absolute character it reigns supreme over time and, as Scripture says, knows no change. The idea of ​​eternity as having no beginning or end leaves us with a negation that desperately needs to be filled with reality. Eternity is not just a negative idea; To make eternity merely an empty and irrelevant negation of temporality would not suffice for any adequate theory of being; it functions as the positive time relation of that eternal God who is the king of all aeons.

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2. In the Old Testament:

In the Old Testament, the eternity of God is expressed only negatively, since it simply implies an infinitely extended time (Genesis 21:33;Deuteronomy 33:27), even ifIsaiah 40:28takes on a more absolute form. Better is the contemplation of eternity, considered objectively, than God's way of being in relation to himself. Because he was eternal while the world and time were not yet. But the negative form of expression also predominates in the New Testament.

3. In the New Testament:

Time, with its sequence of events, helps to complete the idea that we can fashion eternity as endless progress. But as finite beings we cannot have a positive idea of ​​eternity. Time is less at odds with eternity than useful in revealing what we know about it. Plato says in his Timaeus that time is "the moving image of eternity" and we may admit that it is its type or revelation. Eternity is not to be understood as the suspension of time, although in itself it can be seen as exclusive to time, but as the basis of its reality.

4. The eternal "now":

Undoubtedly, eternity could only be understood as time, which is no longer measured by the sequence of events as in the finite universe. But, strictly speaking, there is something absurd about an eternity that includes time, and an eternity outside of time is a vain and impossible notion. Eternity as liberation from all time limits is purely negative, although not unimportant. Eternity, taken absolutely, must be declared incommensurable with time; as Thomas Aquinas said: non sunt mensurae unius generis. That is, eternity would lose its eternal character by becoming related to what is changing or becoming. Ever since Augustine and in the Middle Ages, eternity, as in God, has often been thought of as an eternal now. The scholastics adopted as a maxim that "in eternity a single moment is always present and lasting". This is nothing but a way of describing eternity in a characteristic way of chronological order; but eternal divinity, rather than eternal now, is a far more significant concept to us.

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5. Default of this view:

To speak of the eternity of God as an eternal now, a present in the sense of time, implies a contradiction. For eternal existence is no longer described by the concept of a present than by a past or a future. Such a now or present presupposes a no-now and renews the old temporary problems regarding eternity. Certainly time is not God's way of life,

Its eternity means freedom from time. Therefore, it was extremely problematic for medieval theology to have a god who was not in time and supposedly created the world at a specific point in time.

6. Philosophical views:

In later times Spinoza made the eternity of God in his infinite existence, which for Spinoza meant his necessary existence. For conditional or permanent existence, in Spinoza's view, would not be eternal even if it lasted forever. The illusion or unreality of time, as far as man's spiritual life is concerned, is not always very firmly grasped. This shaky or uncertain understanding of the illusion of time or higher reality as timeless is still very widespread; even an inspired poet like Browning casts the shadow of time upon eternity, seldom with a definite conception of the higher life as an eternal and timeless essence; and although Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer have held such a timeless view, it has by no means become a generally held doctrine, either by theologians or philosophers. If time is seen as unreal, then eternity is not seen as the future, as Dr. Ellis McTaggart and some other metaphysicians are doing this today. For nothing could really be future in that case, and eternity could not be said to have begun, as is usually the case in everyday life.

The importance of the concept of eternity is shown in the fact that both neo-Kantian and neo-Hegelian thinkers have shown a general tendency to view concepts of time in metaphysics as inadequate for the ultimate explanation of the universe.

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7. Insufficient time concepts:

Eternity, it can certainly be argued, must for God's eternal consciousness encompass or include everything that occurs in time, with everything past, present, or future that lies within a temporal sequence. But we are not entitled to say, as Royce did, that such a totality or totality of the temporal constitutes the eternal, because the eternal belongs to a quite different order, namely that of timeless reality. Eternity cannot be defined in terms of time. For God is for us the timeless ens perfectissimum, but He whose eternal self-sufficiency and unsurpassed estrangement do not prevent Him from being the strength and helper of our temporal striving. Our metaphysical beliefs must not be sterile and fruitless for ethical purposes and results.

8. All successions present in an act to Divine Consciousness:

From our point of view, eternity is the form of an eternal existence, to which the infinite series of variable aspects or processes belong together in the unity of a single intuition as totum simul. But this does not mean, as we have already shown, that the eternal order is not essentially different from the temporal; Time is not to be treated as a segment of eternity, nor is eternity to be regarded as unending; the eternal cannot pass into the temporary; for an eternal being who is to think of all things as present and yet see the series of time as a sequence must be a very contradictory conception. Time does not exist for absolute consciousness; for him the future cannot be thought of as beginning, nor the past as having ended.

9. But the connection between eternity and time:

However, after all that has been said, eternity and time are not separate. For the temporal presupposes the eternal, which is its positive basis and its everlasting possibility. This is so because the divine way of being does not contradict or exclude the human way of being. The continuity of the latter - the temporal - has its guarantee in the eternal. God's unconditional eternity reconciles the limits and conditions of the temporal. Because time is purely relative, which is not eternity. Distinctions of before and after are not permissible in the concept of eternity, so we have no right to speak of time as part of eternity. Thus, in maintaining the essential distinction between eternity and time, we simultaneously affirm what might perhaps be called an affinity between them. The metaphysics of eternity and its temporal relations remains proverbially difficult, and both orders, the eternal and the temporal, are best treated as concrete and not left merely to abstract reflection. Our conception of the eternal will will best develop in this concrete way through the growth of our conception of God as we better understand God realized for us in His incarnate Son.

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10. The religious attitude towards eternity:

So it is eternity, not as immeasurable time, but as God's unchangeable mode of being that is revealed more and more over time, which we have revealed here. This is not to say that the religious consciousness does not have its own need for the conception of God as "from eternity and eternity," as inPsalm 90:2, and his kingdom as "an everlasting kingdom" (Daniel 4:3). Nor should we be led to believe that the absolute and self-existent God, thus transcending all dependence on time, is distant from us, while on the contrary, precisely because of his greatness, he is better able to approach us . in the fullness of your being. That is why it is spoken so truthfullyIsaiah 57:15, "Thus says the High and Exalted One who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy:

In a high and holy place I dwell also with the contrite and humble, to quicken the spirits of the humble and quicken the hearts of the contrite.” Hence the profound truthfulness of sayings like that ofAtos 17:27,28, "He is not far from each of us: because in him we live and move and have our being." From all that has been said, our best knowledge of eternity as it exists in God does not develop metaphysically, but in the positive and timeless ways of spiritual life: the ways of trust and love. .


H. Cremer, Lexicon of New Testament Greek, English edition, 1880; G.B. Winer, Grammar of New Testament Greek, 3rd edition, 1882; R. C. French, Synonyms of the New Testament, ninth edition, 1880; E.H. Plumptre, The Spirits in Prison, 3rd edition, 1885; J. Orr, Christian View of God and the World, first edition, 1893; I.A. Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine, English edition, 1885; JH Stirling, Philosophy and Theology, 1890; J. Lindsay, Studies in European Philosophy, 1909; Basic problems of metaphysics, 1910.

James Lindsay

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bibliographic information
Orr, James, MA, DD Editor-at-Large "Entry to 'ETERNITY'". "International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia". 1915


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