Why People Believe in Timeless Truths

One of the things I have a problem is with the notion of timeless truths, particularly when it used to characterise what the Bible is or the most important things it contains. In a nutshell my argument is we are temporal beings, we experience a world with time, so a timeless truth has no relation to our time-bound experiences. The same is true of the Bible. I have written about this on many occasions so I am not going to rehash all my arguments. You can read in greater detail here and here why I think it is wrong. In this piece I want to look at some of the reasons why people think there is such a thing as timeless truths.

One of the reasons is people mistake regularity with timelessness. Just because some things happens in a consistent, predictable fashion, does not mean it is something that transcends time. We still experience whatever phenomenon it is within time which means it is still a temporal phenomenon. What it does mean is that thing has a consistent nature that results in things occurring in a consistent manner under certain conditions. For example,

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.

Genesis 8:22 ESV

These changing cycles indefinitely repeat themselves. However the scripture does not indicate a timeless truth because it specifies that there are certain conditions i.e. “while the earth remains”, under which they repeatedly happen. That little phrase expressing conditions for regular occurrences in the above verse indicated to me that the Scriptures have a similar stance and do not promote a belief in timeless truths. A good example of this are the following conflicting Proverbs.

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

– Proverbs 26:5-6 ESV

These proverbs follow one after the other yet they say to do the opposite of one another. Because of this, these proverbs are commonly used as a warning against an over literalistic interpretation of Proverbs. If there is any book in the Bible that is a candidate for a source of timeless truths then it is Proverbs. It consists of short, pithy, and authoritative statements that are easy to axiomatize. The trouble is, as the above examples indicate, the book does not consist of transcendent axioms. It is a book of proverbs and like any good proverbs it offers practical life wisdom. They are therefore tailored for people in particular situations and circumstances. If you read the verses above as what they really are i.e. proverbs, it is clear talking about how to act properly given different scenarios. The contradictory messages placed side by side are a deliberate literary device designed to convey certain wisdom. While these proverbs are not timeless they are still reliable truthd but as we have just seen, we need to know under which circumstances and conditions they are relevant.

Another reason why I think people believe in timeless truth is because they think it is being timelessness that makes something true. They reason that since time changes and truth is unchanging, for something to be true across time it has to transcend it. Interestingly enough, the statement “time changes” is true but people will not usually identify that as a timeless truth. That’s because it’s about the nature of time and not without regard to it. What makes that statement true is because it is the actual nature of time. What makes something true, as I just demonstrated, is not the timelessness of it but that it actually is the case. Something can be true across time if it has a consistent nature within or with respect to time. This is the reason why the Bible can authoritatively speak truth without ever appealing to the notion of timeless truth. It is unavoidably conditioned by time and place but that is a good a thing because it can then speak to real human experiences which are likewise limited by time and space. It actually speaks timely truth.

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