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I was talking to a scientist (a Christian one) who, though (I assume) he agreed that God is qualitively boundless, wasn't keen on the term 'infinite' when applied to Him. He explained but so cleverly it went right over my poor wee brain! What is the difference between infinite and boundless? I would have thought that the belief God is boundlessly perfect, beautiful, desirable and joyous to behold are all fairly 'universal' ideas among Christians...and therefore, the issue (that a suprising number seem to have) is concerned with some other matter?

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You're asking why someone would reject the full implication of an established truth? <sarcasm>Gee, I have no idea why anyone would do that.</sarcasm> Seriously - people rarely handle infinity well, of course they are going to have problems with it, in the same way they have problem with any of the claims of Scripture. –  Affable Geek Feb 14 at 14:14
Just for fun, I searched for the word infinite in all the Bible versions (some of which include the Apocrypha) at biblestudytools.com. I was surprised to find out that relatively few versions include the word, and many of the instances of that word seem to use it as hyperbole, with its denotation being "without limit" (e.g., Nahum 3:9 KJV; cf. the NIV). Many Christians, including me, tend to use the word "infinite," first, without a real understanding, and second, without scriptural warrant. I'm all for saying, for example, that God is infinitely holy, but I would be at a loss to explain –  rhetorician Feb 14 at 18:21
what that really means. Some Christians append words to the attributes of God, which though perhaps warranted, are still appendages. I suggest we let Scripture speak for itself. When it says, for example, ". . . for I, YHWH, am holy," that we simply stop there and say "selah." God is holy. Period. By implication and with supporting scriptures, we know that God alone is without peer in holiness. No one can compare to Him. He is sui generous in holiness (& all His attributes) & no one can, or ever will be able to, approach Him in holiness (or love, justice, righteousness, wisdom . . .). –  rhetorician Feb 14 at 18:32
@AffableGeek that was the interesting thing. This scientist was a christian who accepted that God is without limits or boundaries- exactly what I meant by 'infinite'. However, he wasn't keen on the word infinite. He didn't reject the word because he lacked belief- rather, from what he seemed to be saying- 'infinite' was too small a word as it ties God down with a definition. God is 'beyond' infinite- but surely 'infinite' already means beyond any measure, no matter what the amount of quality/quantity...? –  Sehnsucht Feb 14 at 18:44
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3 Answers 3

At the risk of creating a debate, I shall point our some places where I believe your scientists/Christian friend has a misunderstanding.

Concerning the metaphors: The Bible does indeed use the metaphors of king and ruler, because they convey important things about aspects of God. They shouldn't be taken to imply that he is of the same nature as Man because of that, any more than we should infer that God actually holds a real sword. There are plenty of places where the Bible also describes God as infinite.

To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless. (Psalm 119:96)

Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. (Psalm 147:5)

Philosophically and mathematically your friend has also made a mistake. Because something is infinite does not mean it is all-encompassing. For example, the set of whole numbers is infinite - i.e. has no limit. However there are numbers that are not whole numbers. The whole numbers are infinite but not all-encompassing.

Whether or not joy is an attribute of God, it is certainly an attribute of those around him.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)

So to actually answer your question, no Christian traditions that I am aware of espouse these views

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Agreed. On the infinite point as well, God is omnipresent, which would lean toward all compassing if we, in futility, try to make sense of it wholly. On the other hand, Love and joy are choices, and as we each have choice to believe in Him or not to believe, I imagine that extends to characters like Satan as well -- but it doesn't mean we and anything else in creation are not under His authority at all times and under His watchful eye. –  Dan H Jan 21 at 23:20
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This answer has been written by a Christian who holds a degree in mathematics.

It is difficult to undertake any serious scholarly discourse without first agreeing on the definition of words. In science, mathematics, and philosophy, we decide on the definitions of words or create new ones first, before undertaking discussion, so that when we make a statement we can evaluate the truth of the statement (in the case that the statement can be proved) and examine the evidence in support of or against the statement.

Unfortunately, discussion amongst people who hold different definitions is common. This difficulty caused my multiple simultaneous definitions is called ambiguity, and is something that we carefully avoid in the sciences.

The words infinite and boundless have a broad application within mathematics. The great thing for mathematicians about establishing definitions is that when I define a particular object, say a bounded operator, the word bounded in the title doesn't hold any meaning per se, since all of the properties of the object are derived from the formal definition which is logical, and not the title of the object which is linguistic. Unfortunately this is not great for laymen, as it makes difficult giving concrete and universally applicable definitions for these words.

In most applications, an unbounded object is one that has no maximum value. A bounded list (formally, a bounded function defined on the natural numbers) is a list of numbers that has an upper bound. An upper bound is a fixed number M such that M is bigger than each and every number in the list. An unbounded list would be one for which no such upper bound exists. A simple example of an unbounded list is 1,2,3,4,5,...- no matter the choice of M, far down the list there is a number bigger than M. An example of a bounded list is _-1,1,-1,1,...- this list is bounded by the number 2.

Infinite on the other hand usually refers to a count of objects. For example, the lists I previously described are not finite, but infinite. A count of objects that is infinite must contain a subset for which there is a one-to-one correspondence with the natural (counting) numbers. That is, I should be able to start counting some of the objects but never be able to finish.

This particular Christian's argument against calling God infinite and boundless is probably well founded and based on his formal understanding of those words. Similar to mathematics, when we engage in theology, which is indeed a science, it's important that our statements are well-defined (unambiguous), otherwise we might think we agree when we don't, or think we don't agree when we do, and end up learning nothing. The attributes of God being so important to Christian doctrine, faith, and practice, we should be very careful about the statements we make, always being sure that they align with the Scriptures and the doctrinal sources specific to our denominations. The difficulty that this Christian keenly pointed out is that these words, infinite and unbounded, are used very little in the Scriptures, and translation to them from the original languages is often imprecise (for instance the Greek into the eon is often translated into English as forever and the Greek of the ages is translated as eternal) and often depends on idiom and linguistic improvisation for readability; however, their use is increasingly common when describing the attributes of God from the pulpit or in common discussion.

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The concept that God is boundless rather than infinite is far more prevalent in Christianity than one would believe. Most Christians have a hard time understanding infinity.

Most Christians believe that there is no limit to what God can do, they believe that there is no limit to what God knows. Being unlimited is not in the same area as being infinite.

Boundless by itself indicates that there is an end somewhere; except that end is unknown. This is actually the concept that most people assigned to God. Most often you will hear that God can do anything he wants, that is the concept of being boundless.

On the other hand the concept of infinity would be that God can do everything he wants to do the difference being that anything indicates oneness, while everything indicates unlimited.

The most stark example of this is in the fact that most people cannot accept that space is unending. To the human mind it is incomprehensible that anything could be endless. Yet they cannot imagine what would take over at the end of space; even beyond that they could not imagine that next thing and being endless and that it would have something else which would have to follow that.

So is there anything in the Bible which can help us to understand the concept of eternity?

Consider these Scriptures:

All Scriptures are from the King James translation.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

This can only be read to say that God was present before creation; and before creation there would be no time. Nor would there be any limit to what came before time.

And Jesus told us that once we put our faith in him and life would never end. Christians accept this easily, while not truly understanding that it means without end.

John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

John 6:58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

Revelation tells us that the world as we know it will come to an end.

Revelati0n 4:11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

Revelati0n 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Revelati0n 22:5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

The word boundless may indicate something expansive beyond all normal precepts; however it does not define the term infinite.

Revelation also tells us that there will be a new world and that that world will never end:

Revelation 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

Revelation 22:5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

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Would you explain, please, what you meant by "On the other hand the concept of infinity would be that God can do everything he wants to do the difference being that anything indicates oneness, while everything indicates unlimited," particularly the word "oneness"? How are you using the word? Thanks. –  rhetorician Feb 14 at 18:00
@rhetorician The best example I can give is in the Creation story. God created every thing in six days, or that is to say that he created the heavens and the Earth on one day, animals and man on the sixth day. that is oneness where the common conception is that he could only create so much on any given day. On the other hand God could have created everything all at once, and he does not need for instance one day to create Earth another for light and so on. although we do not know why God took six days to complete creation we know that he is capable of instantly creating all things. –  Bye Feb 14 at 19:11
@rhetorician (continuation)My point is actually that whether consciously or unconsciously we limit God who has no limits. Otherwise why do we pray hoping God will answer instead of praying knowing God will answer. –  Bye Feb 14 at 19:12
I'm still not crystal clear on how you use "oneness," but I do follow your comments on God's M.O. in creation. I suggest God's M.O. of taking six days (not nanoseconds!) to create, followed by one day of rest, was primarily an object lesson for the Hebrews as they entered a new life of freedom from slavery. God was teaching them that life in freedom has a certain rhythm to it, with six days of labor & one day of rest ("man wasn't made for the Sabbath, but Sabbath for the man"). Later He introduced religious feasts and "holidays," which became part of Israel's rhythm of life in a theocracy. –  rhetorician Feb 14 at 20:26
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