iSoul In the beginning is reality

Time in the Bible

Time in the Bible is duration, not what is called thermodynamic time or the arrow of time. There is no inevitability about time in the Bible, unlike the increasing entropy of thermodynamic time. In the Bible time has a beginning and an ending. Time is an era, an age, a period of time. It is what takes time, that is, duration.

In ancient times the motions of the sun, moon, and stars formed a cosmic clock, not outer space. Before the rise of the Roman Empire, people expressed “how far” in terms of “how much time”. The distance between places was given as how many days’ journey by a typical traveler. Genesis 30:36; Genesis 31:23; Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 8:27; Numbers 10:33; Numbers 33:8; Deuteronomy 1:2; and the Sabbath day’s journey, Acts 1:12. The distance covered by an average man in a day’s walk was 10 parsa’ot in Hebrew.

Greeks such as Herodotus also referred to a day’s journey, for example: “These Husbandmen extend eastward a distance of three days’ journey to a river bearing the name of Panticapes, while northward the country is theirs for eleven days’ sail up the course of the Borysthenes.” He also mentions: “a journey of five days across for an active walker”, indicating the kind of travel he has in mind.

The Greeks and especially the Romans with their road system brought longer lengths into common usage. There is the stadion or stadium, 600 Greek ft. or just under a furlong, and of course the Roman mile: Matthew 5:41; Luke 24:13; John 6:19; John 11:18; Revelation 14:20; Revelation 21:16.

Over the centuries space has supplanted time as the dominant way of viewing the universe. Since the discovery of artistic perspective and Newton’s notions of space and time as a container, the modern world has been oriented toward space. Even geometry changed from a realist view of the relation of objects to an anti-realist view of objects in an abstract space with Descartes’ analytic geometry.

That began to change with relativity and quantum mechanics, though the full implications are yet to be worked out, as Carlo Rovelli has noted (e.g., Are space, time, and all other physical quantities only relational? or his article in The Ontology of Spacetime). Scientifically, I think Poincaré’s point is correct: space and time are conventions, not arbitrary but convenient for understanding the universe (see his Science and Hypothesis).

For understanding the Bible and especially Genesis one should start with an ancient mindset that is realist and temporal. For example, when Genesis 1:3-5 says God created light and separated it into day and night, do not ask where the light was located because the separation concerns time, not space, and describes how the day was born.

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