Sunday, February 08, 2015

More on God, Time, and Psalm 90 (A Response to One Brother)

Dated 7/31/2009:

As you are well aware, the NWT translates OLAM in Psalm 90:2 and elsewhere as "time indefinite" and I think this is enlightening since the etymology for the Hebrew term suggests that the Psalmist is possibly referring to "hidden time, long" (Gesenius). It seems to me that Psalm 90:2 is not just enunciating God's "eternal" past but also the fact that God's existence is endless or boundless. That is, I take the Psalmist to be saying that God has always existed (in time) and always will exist (in time): God has no beginning nor will he have an end.

I concede that the attempt to plumb (explore fully) God's eternal/everlasting psyche is probably futile. Of course, Trinitarians will say that God was never alone in the first place, although Tertullian does venture a theological opinion regarding God's solitary existence and what God was possibly doing before he generated his own Word, thereby making that impersonal Word the Son of God (a personal entity). Tertullian's account can be found in Adversus Praxean 5-7; it is undoubtedly based partly on Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8:22ff. His suggestion is that God conducted discourse within himself when alone much like a man or woman thinks or deliberates when by him/herself.

The mode in which God knew prior to creation or knows now is a tough question. But I'll just say that I'm very much opposed to the absolute divine timeless idea when it comes to Jehovah since a number of implications flow therefrom. If God is timeless, God does not, nor can God change ontologically or cognitively. Furthermore, if God is timeless, he does not have genuine emotional states. Additionally, if God is timeless, then God knows all things as present: all events whether past, present or future to us are all present to him. I can flesh out these implications at another time.


Duncan said...


How do you perceive:-

(Malachi 3:6) 6 “For I am Jehovah; I have not changed. . . .

Particularly in the light of a literal translation of YHWH meaning "he exist's"

Edgar Foster said...


1) in what sense has Jehovah not changed? Some theologians differentiate between God's ethical attributes and his ontological attributes. Does God change relationally without altering his ontos (being)?

Furthermore, Malachi 3:6 needs to be explained contextually. Is the verse more about God's covenantal faithfulness to Israel rather than his ontological unchangeableness?

The meaning of YHWH is highly controversial. I am not sure that it means "he exists," although I'm willing to entertain that possibility.

Duncan said...


"he exist's" is a basic Hebrew translation from basic Hebrew grammar (some have also translated this as "he who is") - all that the name implies is another matter.

Another of Jeff Benner's videos. He gets the point across in a very concise way.

Taking a verse like Leviticus 11:45 based on what I have studied so far seems to translate as - For I am the existing one, leading you up out of the land of the double straits to prove myself your mightiest, you should exist (breath) special, illuminating (burning) that I am special.

But taking the main point from his video (if true) then we are trying to extend the meaning of many verses beyond the way it would have been understood and applied in the Hebrew culture. It seems that they were just saying that Jehovah was older than they could see or understand. It seem to me that "eon" has been pushed also.

The name Yah has also been proposed to mean constant.

As far as usages for Mal 3:6 - search "Infinite, but approachable."

Edgar Foster said...


there are various theories about the meaning of the Tetragrammaton. I don't believe translating the four consonants is that simple. The name's exact meaning seems uncertain.

I'll look into the other points you mention.



Edgar Foster said...


here is one reason why I say what I do about the Tetra. Barry Beitzel writes:

"But the prominent position has been to associate the tetragrammaton with hayah (necessarily related to a hypothetical antique verb *HWY), and to suggest the meaning 'He Who is the Existing One,' 'the Absolute, Eternally Existing One, the One Who is with His people.' According to this view, Moses
poses a question of nomenclature and Yahweh offers an etymological response.
In appraising this point of view, this writer would offer three lines of counterargumentation: lexicographic, phonetic and onomastic."

Other journal articles and books I've read question the etymology "He Who Is." The lines of reasoning become dizzying, but it seems that certainty in this matter eludes us.

See Beitzel's article, "EXODUS 3:14 AND THE DIVINE NAME: A CASE OF BIBLICAL PARONOMASIA" in Trinity Journal 1 NS (1980): 5-20
Copyright © 1980 by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Edgar Foster said...

Please see Charles Gianotti on the meaning of the Tetra:

Duncan said...

"of nomenclature" again this is a modern concept even in ancient Greek


From a presumed derivative of the base of G1097 (compare G3685); a “name” (literally or figuratively), (authority, character): - called, (+ sur-) name (-d).

This is really pointing to the character like the Hebrew. In many cultures until recently name labels like western society uses would be meaningless.

Unlike many, my name was given "duncan" because I sat up almost immediately after being born.It was thought to mean "strong one" but my own investigations give a different result:-

Duncan — Gaelic Donnchadh (DOO-nuh-xuh) from Old Irish donn "brown" or "chief" + cath "warrior" = "dark-skinned warrior".

The paper you gave the link to is full of half measures. Verses of partial & translation with transliteration eg.

"And God spoke to Moses, and said to him: I am the one who exists. And I showed myself to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (I leave these transliterated) in the character of the mighty nurturer"

These kinds of tricks and word games are used frequently in translations of the rigveda also.

What is the Primary Character of YHWH that no other can poses?

Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” utters he who exists, my servant whom I have chosen, So that you may see and trust in me And be sure that I am the one you look too. No god facing me that is fashioned, neither any that follow.

This is the thing that stands apart from all in creation - existing in the ultimate sense.

He has many other character descriptions but none as unique as this. How would we describe this to the Piraha? In fact as the paper points out that we can never grasp it, I do agree since anything that has a beginning (period of non existence) cannot fully exist but I do think that the explanations to the Egyptian king is saying that he would know him by his effects.

Edgar Foster said...

Interesting points as usual, Duncan. But one point that I don't want to be lost in the shuffle is the apparent elusiveness of defining YHWH by resorting to etymology or paronomasia. Many studies indicate we're not certain about the meaning of the Tetra despite many suggestions/speculations posited.

Duncan said...


Is that really relevant - As I could say the same for about 20% of the AHL.

Paronomasia = AHL.

The study you posted gives alternative definition categories but are they mutually exclusive? Do the not overlap?

Edgar Foster said...


My point about the elusiveness of a definition for YHWH seems relevant. But whether we arrive at that definition by means of paronomasia or etymology is not all that important IMO.

Some categories of paronomasia could overlap. Not every linguist is going to parse categories in the same way. But again, my whole reason for posting the info was to show how difficult it can be to define the personal name of God. The definition "He Who Is/Exists" isn't necessarily the case when we consider Hebrew paronomasia/etymology.

Duncan said...


I think you will get from these post's and other that I have sent you that there is large amount of evidence (some generally ignored) that god does not have a single "name" (re. Yahu). The names are describing the character. I always have to grin when it is suggested that Yah is a shortened from of YHWH - Hebrew does not work that way, or at least I have found no real evidence - they never call David, Dave (you lose a symbol, you change the meaning) and if any scholar claims this is possible the burden of proof again rest's squarely on him to backup that kind of claim. Every time I have seen this type of claim I have been able to find a simpler & IMO better fit.

For any description of character to be on any value it has to have a clearly understandable meaning (at least withing its own language and culture). It is no different to any other word in a concrete language. At this moment the best fit is:-

BDB Definition:
Jehovah = “the existing One”
1) the proper name of the one true God
1a) unpronounced except with the vowel pointings of H136
Part of Speech: noun proper deity
A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H1961
Same Word by TWOT Number: 484a

There is no mystical value to the name - why should there be? If a name holds prophetic meaning then why ignore the supposed prophecy in Genesis chapter 5 which seems clearly readable?

This verse adds weight to the point:-

Isaiah 26:4 Have confidence in he who exists & exists & exists, constant is he who exists like rock (strength) beyond limit.

Neither the preceding or subsequent verse define a specific temporal imagery. Here the LXX strikes again.

So in conclusion & IMO. I work with this definition as I see no convincing argument to do otherwise.

Duncan said...

Also in keeping with this method of translation of YHWH. Exodus 3:11 yields "I become (the correct rendering of the imperfect tense into English) what I become".

Edgar Foster said...

good references above from the patristics. You've probably also read similar remarks made by Hippolytus and Athenagoras' discussion of the Logos too, no doubt.

See Adv Prax 11 also for Tertullian on the Word of God qua Son.

All the best,


Edgar Foster said...


are you talking about Exod 3:14? Why "I become what I become" instead of

"I shall be what I shall be" (Rashi).

"For the words are with equal propriety rendered, I WILL BE WHAT I AM, or, I AM WHAT I WILL BE, or, I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE" (Benson Commentary, Caps. in original).

"I AM THAT I AM. No better translation can be given of the Hebrew words. 'I will be that I will be' (Geddes) is more literal, but less idiomatic, since the Hebrew was the simplest possible form of the verb substantive" (Pulpit Commentary).

Also from the Cambridge Bible:

"I will be that I will be (3rd marg.)] The words are evidently intended as an interpretation of the name Yahweh, the name,—which in form is the third pers. imperf. of a verb (just like Isaac, Jacob, Jephthah), meaning He is wont to be or He will be,—being interpreted, as Jehovah is Himself the speaker, in the first person. The rendering given appears to the present writer, as it appeared to W. R. Smith, and A. B. Davidson, to give the true meaning of the Heb. ’Ehyeh ’ăsher ’ehyeh: Jehovah promises that He will be, to Moses and His people, what He will be,—something which is undefined, but which, as His full nature is more and more completely unfolded by the lessons of history and the teaching of the prophets, will prove to be more than words can express. The explanation is thus of a character to reassure Moses."

See Rotherham as well.

Duncan said...

Will be = future tense.

Am = present tense.

Become = imperfect.

No indication of commencement other than in traditional interpretation. This is the description of true existence.

Like when we say that we hope to live forever. This is misleading, to live forever you cannot have a beginning.

Edgar Foster said...

Okay, Duncan. I see what you're saying about the imperfect tense in English. But my concern was how we should translate the underlying Hebrew of Exodus 3:14.

Regarding English translations, most render the verse, "I am." Hardly any that I've consulted translate Exodus 3:14 any other way.

NWT, Rotherham, Rashi (et al) do use some form of "I shall/will." See the explanation above given in the Cambridge Bible for why a translator might employ "I shall become."

As fr your last point about living forever, you can view everlasting life from a past or future perspective. So there is a sense in which everlasting life will commence for those who are privileged to enjoy it.

Duncan said...


As the Cambridge commentary puts it - a continuous unfolding.

The description is not a promise to Moses and his people. It is a message to the Egyptian ruler.

His nature continuously unfolding. Isaiah 46:10.

To say "will" is another level of interpretation that implies that he is not already aware and already prepared for any given eventuality. "I am" carries no intent and would be just a redundant description to Semite thinking.

Or the lack thereof is one way to picture infinite processing capability.

For any decision of free will, his response already calculated and continuously in motion. IMO, ofcourse.

Edgar Foster said...


I don't see why the words of Exodus 3:14 could not be both a promise to Moses and a message to Egypt's ruler. See Exodus 3:12-13.

I can agree that his nature unfolds or concur on the meaning of Isa 46:10, undoubtedly, without believing that God's name must mean "He Who exists." Maybe it does have that meaning, but I don't see how we can know for certain without begging the question (petitio principii).

The words "I shall/will" need to be understood in their proper context. The rendering implies purpose or intentionality, that which has not yet been actualized. But if that's what the original Hebrew entails, why should we object? I do not take "I shall" to mean that someone (YHWH in this case) necessarily lacks awareness or preparedness. Propp and countless others (including the Cambridge Bible and Rotherham) have provided reasons to reject the "I am" translation. That is probably not the best way to render Ex 3:14.

Well, theology/philosophy may often influence translation, but I'd rather stick to philology/study of context in order to decide. We could go round in circles on the free will of God. :)

Edgar Foster said...

An additional note from Cambridge Bible which clarifies the "I will be" rendering:

The following are the reasons which lead the present writer to agree with W. R. Smith1[109] and A. B. Davidson2[110] in adopting the rend. I will be that I will be for ’Ehyeh ’ăsher ’ehyeh. In the first place the verb hâyâh expresses not to be essentially, but to be phaenomenally; it corresponds to γίγνομαι not εἶναι; it denotes, in Delitzsch’s words, not the idea of inactive, abstract existence, but the active manifestation of existence. Secondly the imperfect tense used expresses not a fixed, present state (‘I am’), but action, either reiterated (habitual) or future, i.e. either I am wont to be or I will be. Whichever rend. be adopted, it is implied (1) that Jehovah’s nature can be defined only in terms of itself (‘I am wont to be that I am wont to be,’ or ‘I will be that I will be’), and (2) that, while He is, as opposed to non-existent heathen deities, He exists, not simply in an abstract sense (‘I am that I Amos 3[111]’; LXX. ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν), but actively: He either is wont to be what He is wont to be, i.e. is ever in history manifesting Himself anew to mankind, and especially to Israel4[112]; or He will be what He will be, i.e. He will,—not, of course, once only, but habitually,—approve Himself to His people as ‘what He will be’; as what is not further defined, or defined only in terms of Himself, but, it is understood, as what He has promised, and they look for, as their helper, strengthener, deliverer, &c.5[113] The two renderings do not yield a substantially different sense: for what is wont to be does not appreciably differ from what at any moment will be. I will be is however the preferable rendering. As both W. R. Smith and Davidson point out, the important thing to bear in mind is that ’ehyeh expresses not the abstract, metaphysical idea of being, but the being of Yahweh as revealed and known to Israel. ‘The expression I will be is a historical formula; it refers, not to what God will be in Himself: it is no predication regarding His essential nature, but one regarding what He will approve Himself to others, regarding what He will shew Himself to be to those in convenant with Him,’ as by His providential guidance of His people, and the teaching of His prophets, His character and attributes were more and more fully unfolded to them1[114].