four-gospelsSkeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman offers a brief look at how many Bible scholars estimate when the Gospels were written.

Let’s talk about that.


The Basic Summary

In the 6th edition of his textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Ehrman has a text box entitled “Establishing the Dates of the Gospels.”

In it, he notes that many scholars estimate the dates of the Gospels as follows:

  • Mark: written around A.D. 70
  • Matthew and Luke: written around A.D. 80-85
  • John: written around A.D. 90-95

These estimates are very popular, and not just among skeptical scholars. Many conservative scholars accept them as well.

My own view is that they are too late by a couple of decades, but Ehrman correctly reports their popularity in the scholarly community.

What’s interesting is that he also offers a brief account of the reasons scholars propose them.


Estimating an Earliest Likely Date

Before trying to assign dates to particular Gospels, it can be helpful to try to identify a broader range of years in which they were composed.

Concerning the earliest the Gospels might have been written, Ehrman writes:

To begin with, none of the Gospels appears to have been known to the apostle Paul, writing in the 50s.

Paul was an extraordinarily well-traveled and well-connected apostle, as we will see, and if anyone would have known about the existence of written accounts of Jesus’ life, it would have been him.

Probably they did not exist yet.

This point is largely fair. Many of Paul’s epistles were written in the 50s, and in those epistles, Paul does not quote from the Gospels.

He does echo a lot of things we find in the Gospels, but that could be due—and likely is due—to his use of oral tradition about Jesus. Without a direct quotation from the Gospels, we can’t show that he was aware of any of them.

He was very well-connected, and he would have been aware of the Gospels quickly after they began to be written, and the fact his epistles from the 50s don’t quote them suggests that they either weren’t in circulation or were only coming into circulation.

This isn’t a conclusive argument, because early Christians like Paul often relied on oral tradition rather than direct quotation from the New Testament, but the fact Paul’s epistles from the 50s never clearly refer to the Gospels is at least suggestive.


Some Exceptions?

I should note that there are some possible exceptions to the above.

First, in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Paul quotes Jesus’ words of institution for the Eucharist, and the form of words he uses is the one found in Luke 22:19-20, not the one found in Matthew 26:26-28 or Mark 14:22-24.

1 Corinthians was written around A.D. 53, but this passage probably is not a quotation from Luke’s Gospel.

If anything, it’s likely the reverse. Luke was a travelling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-8, 27:1-28:16; cf. Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:11, Philem. 24), and he would have heard Paul and others in his circle celebrate the Eucharist many times.

When it came time to write his Gospel, he likely used the Pauline version of the words of institution that he was familiar with.


“The Brother Whose Praise Is in the Gospel”

Second, Paul makes a mysterious reference in 2 Corinthians 8:18 to a “brother whose praise is in the gospel” (literal translation).

2 Corinthians was written around A.D. 54-55, and some have interpreted this passage as referring to the author of one of the written Gospels (if so, it would almost certainly be Mark).

However, the passage is ambiguous, and we can’t be confident of this.

In fact, the passage is normally taken as a reference to a brother Christian who was famous for preaching the gospel—not for having written a Gospel (some Bible versions even translate the verse that way).


“The Worker Is Worth His Wages”

Third, 1 Timothy 5:18 states:

[T]he scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

The first quotation is found in Deuteronomy 25:4 and the second is found in Luke 10:7.

The fact “scripture” is being cited shows that a written document—not oral tradition—is being used, and that suggests the Gospel of Luke was in circulation at the time 1 Timothy was written.

Many authors think that 1 Timothy was actually written by one of Paul’s disciples, sometime after his death around A.D. 67.

But others—myself included—believe Paul wrote it and would place it near the end of his life, perhaps around A.D. 65.

This would suggest that the Gospel of Luke was in circulation in the A.D. 60s, but Ehrman’s point is still fair that Paul’s letters from the 50s don’t contain any clear references to the Gospels.


Estimating a Latest Likely Date

What about the other end of the general timeframe in which the Gospels were written? By what time do we know they were in circulation? Ehrman writes:

On the other hand, early non-canonical authors such as Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna (see chapter 28) do seem to know some of the Gospels.

And so some or all of the Gospels were written before these authors produced their letters, around 110-15 CE.

This means that the Gospels probably date to somewhere between 60-115.

Can we be more precise?

Ehrman’s point about Ignatius and Polycarp is correct. I would adjust the timeframe to between 50 and 115, but other than that, I don’t have a problem with his logic to this point.

But as he tries to get more precise, things get more interesting.

That’s what we’ll talk about next time.

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second comingIn this episode of Catholic Answers Live (April 20, 2017, 2nd hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

2:22 Did Jesus falsely prophesy that he would return before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70?

13:39 Did some of the disciples initially think Jesus was a ghost after his resurrection?

17:50 What is “hermeneutics”? How to respond to the “All have sinned” passage in Romans with respect to the Immaculate Conception of Mary?

28:50 How should we evaluate Buddhism in relation to the Christian Faith?

38:50 How to deal with a problematic family situation that may even be dangerous?

47:23 Did the Council of Nicaea invent the divinity of Christ? Did it arbitrarily select books of the Bible? What was Constantine’s role in it? Was he a sincere Christian? How to know the truth about all this?

53:39 Catholic Answers MORE begins

In this episode of Catholic Answers More (April 20, 2017), Cy and Jimmy discuss:

* Beards!
* The origin of “Rindercella”
* Spoonerisms and other eech sperrors
* Hee-Haw comedian Archie Campbell
* Why the Church accepted 1 and 2 Maccabees into the canon but not 3 and 4 Maccabees
* Easter foods
* Why eggs are associated with Easter

Special appearance by Nick Chamberlain!

Archie Campbell does “Rindercella”:

Click this link to watch the Catholic Answers Live show on YouTube.


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Does the Bible indicate God is a deceiver?

Recently I was contacted by a reader who was looking for a response to claims made by a Muslim apologist concerning instances in Scripture where God appears to use deception.

Let’s talk about that.


What the Muslim apologist was doing

The Muslim apologist was responding to Christian apologists who have argued that in the Qur’an, God is depicted as using deception and thus the “God of the Qur’an” isn’t worth worshipping.

The Muslim apologist asserted, in essence, that if that argument works then it would equally well disqualify the God of the Bible from worship as well.

In other words, the argument would prove too much.

Frankly, the Muslim apologist has a point. Too often, Christian apologists make apples-to-oranges comparisons with Islam, where they criticize something in Islam without stopping to ask themselves if there is parallel in Christianity.

The same thing can also happen in reverse. Muslim apologists can do the same thing.

If there is a parallel to the thing an apologist wants to critique then he needs to stop and ask himself, “Am I handling the evidence in a fair or an unfair manner?”

This is a question every apologist needs to ask himself, regardless of his position—whether he is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, or anything else.

We all need to be fair, even when debating people of another perspective.

We shouldn’t use double standards.

As someone once said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


Not All About Deception

Not all of the passages the Muslim apologist brought up involved deception.

For example, he cited John 16:25, where Jesus acknowledges that he has said some things in a figurative manner.

He then cited Mark 4:10-12, where Jesus says that he uses parables so that certain people might not understand and repent.

Neither one of these passages involves deception.

Speaking figuratively isn’t deception, and while the Mark passage is puzzling, it also doesn’t involve deception. Not understanding what Jesus says when he uses a parable is not the same thing as being deceived.

For a discussion of what the passage does mean, see Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, volume 1 or my own Mark: A Commentary.

Similarly, the apologist cites two passages from Isaiah that also do not involve deception.

The first—Isaiah 19:14—says that God has made the Egyptians confused or dizzy, not that he has deceived them.

And the second—Isaiah 37:6-7—says that God will give the Assyrian king Sennacherib a disposition such that, when he hears a certain report, he will return home, which will lead to his death, which is what then happened (see Isaiah 37:37-38).

There are some interesting questions one can ask about these passages, but they do not portray God as deceiving people.


Verses Involving Deception

The Muslim apologist does cite some verses, though, where the issue of deception is on the table, such as where Jeremiah says:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life” (Jeremiah 4:10).

Or when the prophet Micaiah sees a vision of heaven in which:

[T]he Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’

And one [spirit] said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’

And he said, ‘I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’

And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so’ (1 Kings 22:20-22).

Or when Ezekiel reports an oracle, saying:

And if the prophet be deceived and speak a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel (Ezekiel 14:9).

Or when Paul says:

Therefore God sends upon them [i.e., those who “refused to love the truth”] a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

These verses do make it sound like God uses deception.

So how do we explain them?


The Christian View of God

The Christian Faith holds that God is an all-perfect Being. As a result, he is all-holy and is not capable of sinning, which I have written about before.

This has implications for God’s truthfulness. As early as the book of Numbers, we read:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it? (Num. 23:19).

The same view is expressed in multiple other passages (e.g., 1 Sam. 15:29, 2 Tim. 2:13, Tit. 1:2). Jesus even declares himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

Passages like these express the fundamental conviction that God is always truthful, and they reveal that passages which appear to suggest otherwise must be taken in a different sense.

This is not surprising. Scripture often uses non-literal language when discussing God.

Thus we sometimes read about God sheltering people with his wings (Ps. 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 64:1, 63:7) or we read about “the arm of the Lord” (Is. 53:1) or “the hand of God” (1 Sam. 5:11, 2 Chron. 30:12, Job 2:10) or “the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19, 31:18, Deut. 9:10).

These are not literal, for “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “a spirit has not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).

We thus have to sort between literal statements—like God is a spirit and God does not lie—and figurative ones which portray him as having body parts or using deception.


Direct Attribution

One of the things you discover when you study the modes of language used in the Bible is that the ancient authors frequently attribute things directly to God, although their causation is actually less direct.

We may call this mode of speech “direct attribution.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on it:

[W]e see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes.

This is not a “primitive mode of speech,” but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him [CCC 304].

A consequence of this mode of speech is that the authors of Scripture sometimes speak as if God actively caused things that he merely allowed as part of his providence.

This was, as the Catechism explains, their way of emphasizing God’s absolute Lordship, even though the figure of speech is not to be understood to mean that God literally caused something.

The literal truth is that he allowed it to happen, but this is expressed in figurative language that speaks as if he caused it.


The Key to the Deception Passages

This is the key to understanding the passages involving deception.

The literal truth is the one expressed in Numbers 23:19—“God is not man, that he should lie.”

But since God allows deception to take place on some occasions, the direct attribution mode of speech can be used in Scripture to speak as if God caused the deception.

Thus in Jeremiah’s day the people had become convinced that they would have peace when this was not the case. God allowed this to happen, but—per direct attribution—Jeremiah speaks as if God deceived them.

In 2 Kings, Ahab was deceived by false prophecies which God allowed to occur, and in Micaiah’s vision this is depicted—per direct attribution—as if God himself sent a lying spirit.

Ezekiel discusses the well-known phenomenon of false prophets, which God has allowed to appear, and—per direct attribution—speaks as if God himself deceived these prophets.

And Paul comments on those who “refused to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10), who God allowed to “not believe the truth but [have] pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11). God then allows them to embrace “a strong delusion,” but—per direct attribution—Paul speaks as if God sent this delusion.


The “Why” Question

A natural question is why God would allow these things, and here we are confronted by what philosophers and theologians refer to as “the problem of evil.”

If you’d like to learn more about it, check out my video on The Problem of Evil. (It’s also covered in brief in my book A Daily Defense).

In some cases, we can see why God allows evil.

For example, Ezekiel 14:10-11 indicates that God allows false prophets as part of a long-term process of purifying his people, so “that the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, nor defile themselves any more with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God.”

In other cases, we can’t know in this life why God allows a specific evil.

However, the Catechism, quoting St. Augustine, explains:

[A]lmighty God. . . because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself (CCC 311).

We can thus have confidence that, no matter what evil happens he allows to occur in the world—whether it is deception or anything else—God will ultimately bring good out of it.

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francis-readingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 3 March 2017 to 19 April 2017.

Note: There are several General Audiences that have not yet been translated into English.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences






Papal Tweets

  • “Hope helps believers to be open to the surprises God has in store for us.” @Pontifex 6 April 2017
  • “Lent is a period of repentance aimed at enabling ourselves to rise with Christ, to renew our baptismal identity.” @Pontifex 7 April 2017
  • “Dear young friends, don’t be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus with all your heart, to respond generously and to follow him!” @Pontifex 8 April 2017
  • “O Cross of Christ, inspire in us a desire for God, for goodness and for light.” @Pontifex 9 April 2017
  • “During this Holy Week let us focus our gaze on Jesus and ask for the grace to better understand the mystery of his sacrifice for our sake.” @Pontifex 10 April 2017
  • “Jesus comes to save us; we are called to choose his way: the way of service, of giving, of forgetfulness of ourselves.” @Pontifex 11 April 2017
  • “While the mystery of evil is profound, the reality of God’s Love poured out through Jesus is infinite and victorious.” @Pontifex 12 April 2017
  • “It is good for us to break out of our set ways, because it is proper to the Heart of God to overflow with tenderness, with ever more to give” @Pontifex 13 April 2017
  • “O Cross of Christ, teach us that the rising of the sun is more powerful than the darkness of night, and God’s eternal love wins always.” @Pontifex 14 April 2017
  • “Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from God’s love.” @Pontifex 15 April 2017
  • “Happy Easter! May you bring to all the joy and hope of the Risen Christ!” @Pontifex 16 April 2017
  • “Yes, we are sure of it: Christ indeed from death is risen!” @Pontifex 17 April 2017
  • “During this week of Easter it would do us good every day to read a passage from the Gospel which speaks of the Resurrection of Christ.” @Pontifex 18 April 2017
  • “Let us meditate with wonder and gratitude on the great mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection.” @Pontifex 19 April 2017

Papal Instagram

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lenten-2In this episode of Catholic Answers Live (April 14, 2017, 1st hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

1:10 What was happening at the Triumphal Entry?

4:50 What is happening with the mysterious incident where the disciples get the animal for Jesus to ride?

8:30 When was the cleansing of the Temple?

9:50 What is a “Markan sandwich”?

10:40 Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?

12:00 Why is Jesus angry in the temple? Why did he cleanse it?

13:55 Why does John have the cleansing of the temple at a whole different point in Jesus’ ministry?

15:00 How did Jesus’ opponents challenge him and try to get him in trouble with the authorities?

19:00 How did Jesus respond to the challenge of the Sadducees?

21:50 How did Jesus use one of the same techniques that modern apologists use?

22:55 What are we missing about the story of the widow’s mite?

24:55 What does Jesus teach in his prophetic discourse?

27:35 Who anoints Jesus and why is he anointed?

28:50 Why are the identities of some people kept secret in the Synoptic Gospels but then revealed in John’s Gospel?

30:05 How do we explain the mysterious way Jesus arranges a place to celebrate the Last Supper? How did Jesus secretly thwart what Judas might have done?

32:40 Where is the garden of Gethsemane? How do we know what Jesus prayed there if the disciples fell asleep?

34:10 Why is the identity of the disciple who used a sword kept secret–until John’s Gospel?

35:25 What’s happening with the young man who runs away naked in Mark’s Gospel? If it’s not Mark himself, who might that be?

37:15 Was Jesus’ trial legal? Why did the Jerusalem authorities have to take him to Pontius Pilate?

39:15 Why is Jesus said to rise “on the third day” when it was only two days later? Could he have been crucified earlier than Good Friday?

41:15 How do we reconcile the different descriptions of the angels at the tomb? What about the women?

44:10 Did Jesus bodily rise from the dead?

Click the link to watch the video on YouTube.

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Holy weekIn this episode of Catholic Answers Live (April 10, 2017, 1st hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

2:50 Why don’t Christians all celebrate Easter on the same day?

8:20 How is Easter related to Passover?

10:44 What date was Jesus crucified?

16:10 Why are the days of Holy Week given the names they are? (e.g., Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday)

21:22 Where does the word “Easter” come from? Is Easter pagan?

27:30 How do we know what Jesus prayed when he was alone in the garden of Gethsemane?

30:15 Where was Jesus held after he was arrested?

32:30 Why do we have an “interactive” reading of the Gospel in holy week?

34:50 What does “A.D.” mean? Is it “After Death”? Also, what’s the deal with “C.E.” and “B.C.E.”?

41:40 Do the Gospels contradict each other on when Jesus was crucified with respect to Passover?

49:40 Did Jesus and the apostles celebrate Passover on Wednesday? Do we need to propose that to allow time for all the events that happened after Jesus was arrested?

51:50 If Jesus “descended into hell,” how would he tell the good thief that he would be with him that day in paradise?

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crucifixionIn this episode of Catholic Answers Live (April 6, 2017, 2nd hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

01:28 How did people understand the term “church” at the time of Jesus? Was there a pre-Christian use of this term?

05:23 Are people in purgatory aware they are in purgatory? Could they be released only when they acknowledge that their sins deserve hell but God is being gracious to them?

08:09 How culpable is a person who sins after having been poorly counselled by a priest?

11:10 Are there equivalents to high mass, low mass, etc., in the ordinary form of Mass?

17:58 Were there female deacons and bishops in the early Church?

27:45 How to respond to the claim that, in the Atonement, the Father “poured out his wrath” on Jesus?

32:35 Is there historical evidence that the early Church had a papacy?

38:30 What does the Greek mean when Jesus says he is the Son “of Man”? Should it be translated the Son “of God made Man/flesh”?

41:30 Can we be affected by the sins of our ancestors and by curses people speak against us?

44:45 Does the Old Testament promote slavery?

48:20 Does the Church teach that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

50:35 Does the Church have a teaching on the meaning of death in Genesis? Does it refer to “spiritual death”?

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In this episode of Catholic Answers Live (March 30, 2017, 1st hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

00:12 What “polymath” and “autodidact” mean

03:35 How to respond to the claim that Peter isn’t the rock in Matt. 16.18 because Paul says no one can lay a foundation other than Christ

06:35 How to reconcile free will with John’s 6.44’s statement that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him

14:48 If a Catholic marries an unbaptized person, is the marriage valid?

17:30 If we’re supposed to bury cremated remains, why are saints’ relics put on display?

22:10 If one can use contraception to control hormones, why can’t you use them for contraceptive purposes?

28:15 How to explain to Protestants that at Christian can lose salvation

35:55 How does the Catholic Church explain the veneration of saints who were not in communion with the Church when they died?

42:25 How to evangelize someone who is ambivalent toward God and says they’re totally happy

46:30 How to defend the use of gendered pronouns to someone who is not Christian

51:40 How to dispose of remains after a miscarriage

Click the link to watch the video on YouTube.

Also, don’t miss our new mini-show, Catholic Answers MORE!

In this episode of Catholic Answers More (March 30, 2017), Cy and Jimmy do a relaxed, pre-show in which they:

* Explain what Catholic Answers More is

* Say hello to people watching and commenting

* Talk about heresies and which is Jimmy’s “favorite”

* Who Marcion was

* Why Pope Benedict resigned

* Whether the pope gets to order whatever kind of food he wants

* What kind of secular authority the pope has (can he order a Catholic president to do something?)

* What was the name of the Animaniacs’ pet fish?

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 23 March 2017 to 5 April 2017.



Papal Tweets

  • “May the certainty of faith be the engine of our lives.” @Pontifex 23 March 2017
  • “Fasting is fruitful when accompanied by concrete expressions of love towards our neigbors, especially those in difficulty.” @Pontifex 24 March 2017
  • “Let us remember our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution for their faith. May we be united with them.” @Pontifex 24 March 2017
  • “The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of bringing about the conversion of hearts.” @Pontifex 25 March 2017
  • “Lent is a favourable season for deepening our spiritual life through fasting, prayer and almsgiving.” @Pontifex 26 March 2017
  • “Caring for the sacred gift of all human life, from conception to death, is the best way of preventing every type of violence.” @Pontifex 27 March 2017
  • “If we learn to read everything in the light of the Holy Spirit, we realize that everything is grace!” @Pontifex 28 March 2017
  • “The peace that springs from faith is a gift: it is the grace of feeling that God loves us and that he is always beside us.” @Pontifex 29 March 2017
  • “Prayer is powerful. Prayer conquers evil. Prayer brings peace.” @Pontifex 30 March 2017
  • “Fasting with a proud heart does more harm than good. The first fast is for humility.” @Pontifex 31 March 2017
  • “Even in the hardest and most disturbing moments, the Lord’s mercy and goodness are greater than every thing.” @Pontifex 1 April 2017
  • “” @Pontifex 3 April 2017
  • “Today is the International Day of Mine Awareness. Let us please renew the commitment for a world without mines!” @Pontifex 4 April 2017
  • “Let us follow in the footsteps of Christ, especially by dedicating ourselves to our brothers and sisters in need.” @Pontifex 5 April 2017

Papal Instagram

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Akin-ETERNITY3Some people think that only the present is real and that the past and the future don’t exist.

This view—known as “presentism”—encounters problems if God exists changelessly, outside of time in an “eternal now” alongside the changing “temporal now” that we exist in.

We looked at some of these problems recently. For example:

  1. God’s changeless knowledge of what is real would seem to change if only the present is real and the current time changes from one moment to another. Thus, at one point God would know that 12:01 a.m. is the only real moment, but later he would know that 12:02 a.m. is the only real moment, and so on.
  2. God’s changeless knowledge of what is real also seems to change as the contents of the universe assume different configurations over time. Thus, at a point shortly after creation, God would know that stars and planets are not yet real, but later he would know that stars and planets are
  3. God’s creative/conserving action seems to change in that he must stop conserving one configuration of things in the universe to allow another to come to pass. Thus, he must first create/conserve the universe in one condition (such as before stars and planets exist) and then stop conserving it in this state so that a new condition (when stars and planets do exist) can come about.

None of these would be problems if God were inside of time like we are and thus capable of changing in his actions and his knowledge of what is real.

But the Church teaches that God is outside of time and changeless.

These aren’t the only problems with the idea only that the present exists. Here are two more . . .


New Creations from Nothing

Not only does God conserve everything in existence, it seems that God engages in a form of ongoing creation from nothing. In 1950, Pius XII taught that:

[T]he Catholic Faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God (Humani Generis 36).

Our souls thus are not inherited from our parents the way our bodies are. They are “immediately created by God.”

Furthermore, this teaching is understood to exclude the idea that our souls exist before conception.

If that’s the case, then for the vast majority of the history of the universe, God had not created your soul, or mine.

Then, all of a sudden, he started creating/conserving us, beginning at the moments of our conceptions.

Bang! New creations—apparently ex nihilo—long after the initial creation of the world.

But if the only moment that exists is the present, that would mean God accomplished our creation at a different time than he created the world.

If God is outside of time then he must, in the eternal now, be simultaneously creating/conserving both the physical world and our souls.

But if presentism is true and only the present moment of time exists then when God created the world there would be no other place in time to put our souls except its first moment, and our souls would have had to exist at the beginning of the universe.


The Incarnation

Now let’s consider the Incarnation of God’s Son.

If God is outside of time then he must, in the eternal now, be incarnating as Jesus Christ.

But when in time is he incarnating?

If only the present is real then, when God created the universe, God would have had to incarnate at that moment. There was no other time in which the Son could incarnate.

The Incarnation of Christ in Mary’s womb would thus have taken place before the stars were formed, before life was created, and before Mary herself was created.

The only way around this would be to say either that God is not outside of time—so that he could create the universe and then, long ages later, change his mode of action so that he became incarnate—or that there is more than one real moment of time.


The Growing Block Theory

We’ve seen that problems arise if only the present moment of time is real, but that isn’t the only view of time.

Another is the “growing block” theory of time, according to which both the past and the present (but not the future) are real. Time is like a block that grows with the course of events, with the present at the leading edge of the block.

What if this theory is true? Would it encounter similar problems?

We’d need to rephrase some of them, but the same fundamental problems would arise. For example, consider the initial puzzle about God’s knowledge of what times are real.

If we asked this question at the first moment of creation, it would turn out that:

  • In the eternal now, God knows that at the first moment of creation that 12:01 a.m. is real and 12:02 a.m. is not

But if we waited a minute and asked the same question, it would turn out that:

  • In the eternal now, God knows that both 12:01 a.m. and 12:02 a.m. are real.

Again, we’ve got a problem with God possessing changeless knowledge of what is real, because that knowledge would need to continually change as new moments arrive and get added to the “growing block” of real moments.

The same is true of all the other puzzles, such as God changelessly incarnating in Mary’s womb from the eternal now when only the first moment of time was real, long before Mary even existed.

Positing the growing block theory thus does not get us around the difficulties.



What about eternalism?—the view that all moments of history are real and the present (the temporal now) is simply the moment we are presently experiencing?

This view solves all of the puzzles:

  1. In the eternal now, God changelessly knows all of the moments of time he is creating. Thus he knows that 12:01 a.m., 12:02 a.m., 12:03 a.m., and all subsequent moments are real.
  2. In the eternal now, God changelessly knows the configuration of all of the matter and energy in the universe at every moment of its history—and he knows that these configurations are real at the different points in time he is creating.
  3. In the eternal now, God simultaneously creates/conserves everything in creation, including all of the different configurations of what the universe contains at different
  4. In the eternal now, God changelessly creates both the world and our individual souls, but because all times in history are real, he is able to put the creation of the world at one point and the creations of our souls at much later points.
  5. In the eternal now, God is changelessly incarnating as Jesus of Nazareth, but because all times in history are real, he is able to place the beginning of the world at one point and the moment of the Incarnation at a later point.



In view of the problems with presentism and the growing block theory, I find myself concluding that we have good theological reasons for saying that the past, present, and future are all real, and that God creates all of history all at once from his eternal perspective.

This view is also supported by modern physics and by various philosophical arguments.

I don’t agree with everything said by every eternalist. In particular, I reject the claim made by some—particularly among physicists and philosophers—that time is “an illusion” or that it doesn’t pass. Both of these claims are manifestly untrue, and eternalists shoot themselves in the foot when they say such things.

I also recognize that not all theologians, philosophers, and physicists agree with eternalism.

The Church doesn’t have an official teaching on this, and, as I’ve mentioned, orthodox Catholics have different positions on it.

However, I personally don’t see how to get around the puzzles I’ve mentioned here if only the present (or the present and the past) are real.

I thus conclude there are good theological reasons for eternalism.

(Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

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