Martin W. Bender
The New Testament takes the Old Testament as a given. This is why it is so important to understand the Old Testament’s take on impassibility and bring those ideas forward into the New Testament. In the history of Israel, we see a particular world view established over the ages as God interacts with his people. Each interaction builds upon the previous to demonstrate God’s covenantal love for his people as well as his personal character. The two previous chapters make a strong case for the impassibility of God as one of the definitive attributes from the Old Testament. The present two chapters do the same from the New Testament.
The New Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God, Immutability, and Impassibility by Richard C. Barcellos and James P. Butler
The nature of God as described in the New Testament mirrors the Old Testament. This isn’t surprising in the least. In various texts God is said to be invisible, spirit, other, eternal, immortal, and above all creation. These ideas are directly in line with the scriptures received by the New Testament writers. The creator/creation distinction is shown to be as much in effect in the Christian era.
God’s immutability is also evident in the New Testament. Immutability creates the necessity for impassibility. James 1:17 describes the Father as existing without variation or shadow. If this is taken didactically, it paints a picture of God in concert with Old Testament passages used to demonstrate immutability. He is utterly different from man in whom there is much variation and turning. As such, the Father’s love also is without variation and passages that seem to indicate otherwise must be understood as figures of speech.
The New Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Creation, the Incarnation and Sufferings of Christ, and Conclusion by Richard C. Barcellos
The doctrines of creation and the incarnation are difficult when one attempts to reconcile them with the immutability and impassibility of God. Oliphint is used as an example of a modified view of impassibility to ease the tension inherent in this reconciliation. His position is that God eternally decrees his own emotional changes just as any of his other eternal decrees. This does not solve the issue of whether or not God reacts to actions of creatures. Impassibility is not off-putting because of the nature of God’s decree’s, but because the Bible uses language that on the surface indicates a sense of contingency on the part of God. It doesn’t seem Oliphint’s argument overcomes this discrepancy as his alternative view maintains contingency on the part of God. Without reading God with Us I can’t give an appropriate response, but maybe I’ll read it in the future (probably not unless it gets another printing).
The other challenge addressed in this chapter is the problem of the incarnation. The very notion of incarnation is difficult, but when you add to it the presuppositions of immutability, impassibility, and eternity it’s enough to boil your brain without removing it first. There are issues of logical vs. temporal primacy in trying to see how the Son can come into flesh (change?) while remaining immutable in eternity. The classical answer lies in the hypostatic union. “In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion, so that the one person Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man” (Council of Chalcedon, 451). Christ’s human nature is created, but his divine nature is eternal. Christ’s immutability is maintained by understanding the difference between his two natures.
This book is very tricky. It took two readings of chapter seven and cracking open my Elwell to get a passable understanding what the author was trying to say. There is a lot of interaction with dissenting opinions which makes for more difficult reading. The reasonableness of divine impassibility shines through despite some nit picking theological jargon. So come for the nit picking if that’s your thing, but stick around for the thoughtful consideration of the classical doctrine of divine impassibility.
Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).