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Infinite; Infinitude

INFINITE; INFINITUDE

in'-fin-it, in-fin'-i-tud:

1. Scripture Use:

The word "infinite" occurs 3 times only in the text of the King James Version (Job 22:5; Psalms 147:5; Nahum 3:9) and once in margin (Nahum 2:9). In Psalms 147:5, "His understanding is infinite" it represents the Hebrew 'en micpar, "no number"; in the other passages the Hebrew 'en qets (Job 22:5, of iniquities) and 'en qetseh (Nahum 3:9, of strength of Ethiopia and Egypt; the King James Version margin 2:9, of "spoil"), meaning "no end." the Revised Version (British and American), therefore, renders in Job 22:5, "Neither is there any end to thine iniquities," and drops the marginal reference in Nahum 2:9.

2. Application to God:

Psalms 147:5 is thus the only passage in which the term is directly applied to God. It there correctly conveys the idea of absence of all limitation. There is nothing beyond the compass of God's understanding; or, positively, His understanding embraces everything there is to know. Past, present and future; all things possible and actual; the inmost thoughts and purposes of man, as well as his outward actions, lie bare to God's knowledge (Hebrews 4:13; see OMNISCIENCE).

3. Infinity Universally Implied:

While, however, the term is not found, the truth that God is infinite, not only in His understanding, but in His being and all His perfections, natural and moral, is one that pervades all Scripture. It could not be otherwise, if God was unoriginated, exalted above all limits of time, space and creaturehood, and dependent only on Himself. The Biblical writers, certainly, are far from thinking in metaphysical categories, or using such terms as "self-existence," "absoluteness," "unconditioned" yet the ideas for which these terms stand were all of them attributed in their conceptions to God. They did not, e.g. conceive of God as having been born, or as having a beginning, as the Babylonian and Greek gods had, but thought of Him as the ever-existing One (Psalms 90:1,2), and free Creator and Disposer of all that exists. This means that God has self-existence, and for the same reason that He is not bound by His own creation. He must be thought of as raised above all creaturely limits, that is, as infinite.

4. Anthropomorphisms:

The anthropomorphisms of the Bible, indeed, are often exceedingly naive, as when Yahweh is said to "go down" to see what is being done (Genesis 11:5,7; 18:21), or to "repent" of His actions (Genesis 6:6); but these representations stand in contexts which show that the authors knew God to be unlimited in time, space, knowledge and power (compare Genesis 6:7, God, Creator of all; 11:8,9, universal Ruler; 18:25, universal Judge; Numbers 23:19, incapable of repentance, etc.). Like anthropomorphisms are found in De and the Prophets, where it is not doubted that the higher conceptions existed. In this infinity of God is implied His unsearchableness (Job 11:7; Psalms 145:3; Romans 11:33); conversely, the latter attribute implies His infinity.

5. Infinity a Perfection Not a Quantity:

This infinitude of God is displayed in all His attributes--in His eternity, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, etc.--on which see the separate articles. As regards the proper conception of infinity, one has chiefly to guard against figuring it under too quantitative an aspect. Quantitative boundlessness is the natural symbol we employ to represent infinity, yet reflection will convince us that it is inadequate as applied to a spiritual magnitude. Infinitude in power, e.g. is not an infinite quantity of power, but the potentiality in God of accomplishing without limit everything that is possible to power. It is a perfection, not a quantity. Still more is this apparent in moral attributes like love, righteousness, truth, holiness. These attributes are not quantities (a quantity can never be truly infinite), but perfections; the infinity is qualitative, consisting in the absence of all defect or limitation in degree, not in amount.

6. Errors Based on Quantitative Conceptions:

The recollection of the fact now stated will free the mind from most of the perplexities that have been raised by metaphysical writers as to the abstract possibility of the co-existence of infinite attributes in God (thus e.g. Mansel); the reconcilability of God's infinity with His Personality, or with the existence of a finite world; the power of the human mind to conceive infinity, etc. How, it is asked, can the idea of infinity get into our finite minds? It might as well be asked how the mind can take in the idea of the sun's distance of some 90 million miles from the earth, when the skull that holds the brain is only a few cubic inches in capacity. The idea of a mile is not a mile big, nor is the idea of infinity too large to be thought of by the mind of man. The essence of the power of thought is its capacity for the universal, and it cannot rest till it has apprehended the most universal idea of all the infinite.

James Orr


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'INFINITE; INFINITUDE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.