From All Eternity

I would like to take a moment to respond to Brother V’s claim that my view is “not a Biblical teaching” but instead “is based on traditional philosophy.” I take umbrage to this claim because my view is derived from Scripture.

To begin with let us note what God’s Word says about “eternity” and man’s grasp of it.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Eccl 3:11)

Here we see that God has placed “eternity” (Heb: Olam) within the heart of man and it serves as a barrier to prevent us from finding out what God has done from beginning to end. How this works is that man perceives eternity as unending duration using the measurements of time that he is subject to and was created under. It is a mental conception – like a line of never ending days, weeks, months, years extending infinitely into the past and future. Sister White uses language this way when speaking about our education “going forward through all eternity” ever progressing, never being complete.

“…The education begun here will not be completed in this life; it will be going forward through all eternity,—progressing ever, never completed. Day by day the wonderful works of God, the evidences of his miraculous power in creating and sustaining the universe, will open before the mind in new beauty and grandeur…{ST March 20, 1884, par. 10}

This is the typical way, at least from what I have seen, that men and women think of eternity. And, in a sense, this is as it should be. And inspiration also tells us that when we think this way, except now we are going to be mentally conceiving of moving backward into eternity, there was never a time when Christ is not in close fellowship with His Father:

“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}

Now here are other statements that make the proper meaning clear:

“FROM ALL ETERNITY CHRIST WAS UNITED WITH THE FATHER, and when He took upon Himself human nature, He was still one with God. He is the link that unites God with humanity… {ST August 2, 1905, par. 9}

“As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in rich currents, and CHRIST WAS INDEED GLORIFIED, EVEN WITH THE GLORY WHICH HE HAD WITH THE FATHER FROM ALL ETERNITY.{AA 38.3}

“Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. HE WAS WITH GOD FROM ALL ETERNITY, God over all, blessed forevermore.—The Review and Herald, April 5, 1906, p. 8

“The terms of this oneness between God and man in the great covenant of redemption were ARRANGED WITH CHRIST FROM ALL ETERNITY. {ST August 24, 1891, par. 10}

“Christ is declared in the Scriptures to be the Son of God. FROM ALL ETERNITY HE HAS SUSTAINED THIS RELATION TO JEHOVAH. Before the foundations of the world were laid, He, the only begotten Son of God, pledged Himself to become the Redeemer of the human race should men sin…

Thus when we interpret the testimonies by the testimonies we find that Christ was the Son of God “from all eternity.” He was with God “from all eternity.” This superlative means the whole, not a part or section but all of it. This is not language that someone would use who was trying to teach a pre-incarnate Son of God begotten at a point of time in eternity past. And this, by the way, is why numerous SDAs started believing and teaching the doctrine of eternal generation. I believe they were trying to reconcile the two seemingly contradictory concepts- a begotten Son who was a Son from all eternity – but I digress. Perhaps I can share some of their quotes at a later time.

Now let’s make it very clear what we have just done here with the ST, Aug 29, 1900 quoted. We have mentally projected days (or years) back without end, like a never ending line, and we are expressly told that when we think this way (our minds carried back through the dateless ages) there was never a time when Christ was not in close fellowship with the Father.

The point I am trying to make here is that “eternity” (which I understand to be a mental conception corollary to time) serves as a barrier between us (finite beings) and Deity (infinite Beings of God and His Son). It is something that we are not able to penetrate thus making it impossible for us to find God’s work out. The finite can never grasp the infinite. To use EGW’s language:

“The mightiest human being, whatever may be his claim, is not infinite. He can not understand infinity….{ST June 28, 1899, par. 7}

And we know that both God and His Son are Both “truly God in infinity” although the Son is different in personality . And it is this infinite nature alone that the Son shares with the Father that qualifies Him as the only One who could redeem man (i.e. pay an everlasting death penalty qualitatively)

“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}

Think about this for a moment. The wages of sin is an everlasting death. This penalty has been paid by Christ who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself to God (Heb 9:14). When Jesus was suffering the penalty of sin “there was a “sundering of the divine powers” That is an internal separation between God and Christ. It is in that moment of time that “infinite nature” did something that only it can do – it paid the everlasting death penalty for all eternity future. Only a Being who is greater than all time can do something like that. This is why the resurrection of Jesus is, to me, the greatest proof that He is the eternal Son of God.

Now that we have touched upon man’s relationship to eternity (aka: God placed it in man’s heart as a barrier that prevents us from figuring out His work from beginning to end) I would now like to take a look at what God’s Word says about God’s relationship to it.

Now there is very little data here but there are a few statements that I draw upon. Please pay close attention to “when” God is presented as active in the following verse.

“in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2 ESV)

The Greek which is rendered as “before the ages began” by the ESV is “πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων.” It is also present in 2 Timothy 1:9.

This Greek phrase translates literally as “before times eternal” or better “before eternal times.” Here we see an action of God – He promised – but it is considered to have occurred “before eternal times.

N
ow I grant the point that this is very difficult language for us to grasp but it is my understanding here that we are dealing here with a Divine action that proceeds from God’s realm or mode of existence before the creation of the universe. In other words it’s something He did but you can never date it or reckon it according to time because time did not yet exist. To use EGW’s language it would be something that is from all eternity.

“to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:25 ESV)

The relevant Greek phrase for us here is “πρὸ παντὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος” which is literally “before all the ages” or “before all the eternity.” Here glory, majesty, dominion and authority are being ascribed to God the Father through Jesus Christ before all the ages/eternity. Again I would suggest to you that this is language that describes the infinite Beings or nature of God the Father and His only begotten Son before the creation of the universe.

So if God existed before times eternal then where did time come from? I believe that God created it through His Son. Turning to the good Book we read:

“In these last days did speak to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He did make the ages (Heb 1:3 YLT)

I quoted this in the YLT (Young’s Literal Translation) because the Greek phrase “τοὺς αἰῶνας” has been accurately translated as “the ages.” Here we see God, through Christ, making the ages. Now we know that through His Son God has made our all earthly ages but wouldn’t it be absurd to conclude that there was some sort of age that wasn’t made by Him? I think so! Thus my conclusion is that time itself (all ages) were created by God through Christ.

So it is my understanding that when God begot His Son before the creation of the universe. And God made two plans with His Son. One was the plan of creation (which was executed) and the other was the plan of salvation (which was a hidden contingency plan They had made in case sin arose among created beings). Thus it is my understanding that the plan of salvation is “from all eternity” just like the Son of God is. It is an action of God done before any work of creation and can never be reckoned according to time.

So with all of this (and forgive me brethren if I have not explained it well) I find myself in harmony with M. L. Andreasen who taught:

“There are those who believe that God did not create time, but that in some way He found it already existing. But this cannot be. Time and space are not self-existent entities, operating apart from God and independent of Him. If that were true, they would be equal with God, or even His superior; for that which is coeval with God or exists prior to God must at least be equal with Him; and that which is not created by God is self-existent and is God. The Christian believes that ‘without Him was not anything made that was made,’ and that time and space are created by God as verily as anything else He has made. John 1:3.

“Though the two conceptions of time and space are beyond human comprehension, each is helpful in understanding the other. Our conception of space, for example, helps us to understand time better, and how it is possible for God to bless time.” (The Sabbath, pp. 54, 55 – M. L. Andreasen)

And with respect to the begotten Son of God I concur with the following statements from SDA leaders of time past:

“The word “born” is used because, in contrasting the Creator* with His creation, it postulates the nature of the Lord’s origin. He was not created as were creatures, but was born out of God as God; and so is of the same nature as the Father. Just as a human son is born human by nature because his father is human, so the divine Son of God is by nature “born” God because His Father is God….ALL ENDEAVORS TO PLACE THE SON IN TIME, TO APPREHEND HIS DIVINE INCEPTION, MUST DISSOLVE. He is indeed, the “Alpha and the Omega,” “the first and the last,” “the beginning and the end” (“William G. Wirth, Signs of the Times, August 5th, 1930 *type fixed)

“As the absolute Son, He, who ‘in the beginning was with God, and was God,’ WAS BEGOTTEN BEFORE TIMES ETERNAL; as the Son, who was the-God-man, He was begotten by the resurrection from the dead. So shall we be ‘sons of God, being sons, of the resurrection.’ Luke 20:26.” (W.W. Prescott, Signs of the Times, Jan 8, 1929)

As I read it, the Spirit of Prophecy tells us that we, as finite beings, cannot understand the infinite. It is the quest to explain how these things can be that resulted with men like Lacey or Andreasen using an analogy of the sun with its rays. As I see it, if we maintain God and time as coeval with a before and after sequence for the Father and Son, with God the Father being first, then that would mean that only the Father is from all eternity. The Son would not be from all eternity but only from a part of it. This would create an infinite gap between the Two. The Father’s personal existence would stretch back indefinitely in time without the personal existence of His Son. In this system, when our minds are carried back through the dateless ages there actually would be a time (however distant it might be) when the Son was not in close fellowship with His Father. Finding this concept to be out of harmony with the express terminology of inspiration I reject it.

So then what am I left with? Namely this- a pre-incarnate begotten Son who is from all eternity. Can I explain it? Certainly not. Yet far from that being the reason I reject it that is actually the reason why I accept it. While I have a theory about God creating time I openly confess it is just that – a theory. Yet when I reflect on the matter it is the incomprehensibility of the concept, a Son begotten from all eternity, that makes the most sense to me because even though I can’t grasp it, it is a perfect explanation for other truths (i.e. why the Son is truly God in infinity, why He is of one substance with the Father, having the Father’s life as His own, etc,.. yet, simultaneously, He is truly God’s Son, a different personality, not a role play or prophetic title, etc,..). Ellen White’s Christology, at its maturest point, appears to maintain both data points but she never attempts to resolve the tension. Ultimately that is my position too, although this does not satisfy many minds.

“But while God’s Word speaks of the humanity of Christ when upon this earth, it also speaks decidedly regarding his pre-existence. The Word existed as a divine being, even as **the eternal Son of God**, in union and oneness with his Father. **From everlasting** he was the Mediator of the covenant, the one in whom all nations of the earth, both Jews and Gentiles, if they accepted him, were to be blessed. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Before men or angels were created, the Word was with God, and was God. {RH April 5, 1906, par. 5}

“The world was made by him, “and without him was not anything made that was made.” If Christ made all things, he existed before all things. The words spoken in regard to this are so decisive that no one need be left in doubt. Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was **with God from all eternity**, God over
all, blessed forevermore. {RH April 5, 1906, par. 6}

“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. This was no robbery of God. **“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way,**” he declares, “before his works of old. **I was set up from everlasting**, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, **I was brought forth**; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills **was I brought forth**; while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth.” {RH April 5, 1906, par. 7}

“There are light and glory in the truth that Christ was one with the Father before the foundation of the world was laid. This is the light shining in a dark place, making it resplendent with divine, original glory. This truth, **infinitely mysterious** in itself, explains other mysterious and otherwise unexplainable truths, while **it is enshrined in light, unapproachable and incomprehensible.** {RH April 5, 1906, par. 8}

Before I continue, let me issue this disclaimer. I am going to have to, inevitably, use some time language to try to describe my belief. I am a finite, created being trying to explain my conception of God and His begotten Son and They are infinite, uncreated Beings. The SDA Bible Commentary states that “a timeless eternity can be expressed in human words only by finite, temporal terms such as John employs here.” (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia Volume 7, page 732). I feel like I can relate to that quite well. Anyhow, with that disclaimer made, let me go ahead.

My understanding of the expression “from all eternity” appears quite similar to others in that, I understand it to mean the realm or mode of God’s existence prior to the creation of the universe. As far as I can tell the difference between my view and that of a few of my brethren is that I hold that this existence was timeless and that time itself is an inseparable corollary of creation. Therefore I do not put any of God’s actions, accomplished in that realm or mode of existence, into a sequence of before/after.

Now maybe there is such a thing from His perspective but I have absolutely no way of knowing. Presumably I would have to be Him or a god myself in order to do so. I’m finite while He is infinite and I’m quite fine with that. All I have is time of days, weeks, months and years and my conception of eternity hinges upon them. So when I use it to try to imagine all of eternity past or eternity future I find myself stuck, as it were, in an open ended, never ceasing box of days, weeks, etc,… There’s no end either way and I am unable to go beyond it or outside of it to figure out God from beginning to end. And I am assured, by inspiration, that if I mentally project back through the dateless ages there is never a time when the only begotten Son was not in close fellowship with the Father. I accept this while simultaneously accepting the other thing inspiration tells me – that He was begotten of the Father. How can they both be true? While I cannot explain it with certainty (I only have a theory) I nevertheless believe it. And, personally, the very fact that I cannot figure it out is one of the reasons why I believe it.

Now you have asked me some questions about the plan of salvation. In response let me say this. A plan cannot be a self-originated thing. A plan requires a cognizant being in order to exist.

“All our thoughts and imaginations will not alter in the least any part of the plan of redemption devised from all eternity…. {ST February 5, 1894, par. 6}

“But known unto God are all his works, and from eternal ages the covenant of grace (unmerited favor) existed in the mind of God. It is called the everlasting covenant; for the plan of salvation was not conceived after the fall of man….”{ST February 13, 1893, par. 2}

The quotes above inform us that “the plan of redemption” was “devised from all eternity.” And we know where this devising took place because are told that from eternal ages it “existed in the mind of God.”

Notice also that Mrs. White asserts here that “the plan of redemption was not conceived after the fall of man.” Yet, at the same time (!) she tells us elsewhere that the plan for man’s redemption was devised “after the fall.”

“The kingdom of grace was instituted immediately after the fall of man, when a plan was devised for the redemption of the guilty race…{GC 347.2}

Now I shared this quote because I don’t think anyone can honestly argue that “after the fall” is the same thing as “from all eternity.” I hope that is clear.

So did Mrs. White contradict herself? Truthfully we really do seem to have a contradiction here. Is there any harmonizing factor? If so, what?

Well here is my effort. I believe there are two senses in which God devised the plan. One sense is from His timeless existence before creation and the other is within in His time-filled experience with created beings. The former may be the generic plan, based on His character, while the other may be the plan specified for His interaction/implementation with the circumstances at hand. The jury’s still out for me on this but it’s something I am studying. Anyhow the plan devised “from all eternity” would be the plan He made from His timeless mode or realm before the creation of the universe. I believe that God’s actions in this realm or mode were real but cannot be reckoned by time.

Now one action of God, from this realm, was the begetting of His Son. Hence He is the Son of God and He has sustained this relation to God from all eternity.

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

This timeless realm or mode of Divine existence is also where I believe that God the Father made known the plan of creation to His Son. Thus we read that it was the Father’s will that the Son executed in creating all the heavenly hosts.

“Before the assembled inhabitants of heaven the King declared that none but Christ, the Only Begotten of God, could fully enter into His purposes, and to Him it was committed to execute the mighty counsels of His will. The Son of God had wrought the Father’s will in the creation of all the hosts of heaven; and to Him, as well as to God, their homage and allegiance were due….{PP 36.2}

Now both God and His begotten Son in Their Divine glory are immutably perfect yet through creation they would expose themselves to the possibility of interaction with imperfection. They would make beings with free will, capable of using it contrary to the Divine will, whose actions could negatively impact Themselves and other created beings. This required a contingency plan. So God the Father and His Son made a covenant agreement of what They would do to meet such a scenario.

“The terms of this oneness between God and man in the great covenant of redemption were arranged with Christ from all eternity… {ST August 24, 1891, par. 10}

So here we have it. God begot His Son, revealed to Him the plan of creation and arranged with Him what They would do if sin should arise among created beings.

“The plan that should be carried out upon the defection of any of the high intelligences of heaven,—this is the secret, the mystery which has been hid from ages. And an offering was prepared in the eternal purposes to do the very work which God has done for fallen humanity. {ST March 25, 1897, par. 4}

“The plan for our redemption was not an afterthought, a plan formulated after the fall of Adam. It was a revelation of “the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal.” Romans 16:25, R. V. It was an unfolding of the principles that from eternal ages have been the foundation of God’s throne. From the beginning, God and Christ knew of the apostasy of Satan, and of the fall of man through the deceptive power of the apostate. God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency. So great was His love for the world, that He covenanted to give His only-begotten Son, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. {DA 22.2}

So anyhow I hope this is clear. My doctrine does not do away with a pre-incarnate begetting (though some will argue it does). I simply do not place it within time as we know it. I can never say, as some do claim, that there was a time when the Son did not exist or that He was begotten at some distant, incalculable point of eternity past. I believe that is using a finite tool to define an infinite Being. Hence I use the language begotten from all eternity. And what I mean by that is that He was begotten from the mode or realm of God’s existence prior to the creation of the universe and this action cannot be considered or reckoned by time.

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