Apologetics Thursday – Geisler’s False Dichotomy on Repentance

By Christopher Fisher

Norman Geisler writes in his Creating God in the Image of Man:

And 1 Samuel 15:29 affirms emphatically, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind: for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” What is more, this is affirmed in the very context that states that God does change his mind, something that the author of 1 Samuel thought to be consistent (15:11). But this could only be the case if one of these two is taken literally and the other not. But which is which? Once again the answer comes only by seeing which is best explained in the light of the other.

Notice Geisler’s False Dichotomy: There are two verses that contradict each other; one must trump the other. Geisler is appealing to his reader not to see the common sense third answer: that both texts are literal and should be viewed in the way that the original author intended.

When 1 Samuel was being written, the author did not think that in verse 11 he would describe God repenting only to affirm 18 verses later that God is immutable. In fact, if the Samuel’s entire point is quoted, the point is that God had just taken Israel from Saul:

1Sa 15:28 And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

To Geisler, this is how he views this conversation:

So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has taken your kingdom, and by the way, have I ever explained to you about God’s incommunicable attributes such as immutability and impeccability?”

Because Calvinism is dependent on “proof texts” ripped from context, they tend force odd readings onto texts. It would be unnatural for Samuel to add a random sentence into his conversation explaining immutability. What was his point? What was he trying to accomplish? What is Samuel communicating to Saul? Context is key for understanding what sentences mean.

Here is the context of the entire chapter:

King Saul has just violated God’s command not to take spoils of war:

1Sa 15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
1Sa 15:10 Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
1Sa 15:11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.

This leads God directly to “repenting” of having made Saul the king of Israel. Samuel hears God’s message, and the next morning confronts Saul on his spoils of war. Samuel explains to Saul that “Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” Saul immediately repents, and asks for mercy (for his kingdom to not be taken away):

1Sa 15:24 And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.
1Sa 15:25 Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.

Notice Saul’s deep repentance. Saul seeks pardon and wants to go worship God. But this is denied. Samuel says:

1Sa 15:28 And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

The context of God not repenting is “repenting that He made Saul king.” When God says He will not repent, God is saying “I will not repent of repenting that I made Saul king (taking his kingdom away).” God is not making a general claim of immutability. God is making the claim that Saul cannot expect to convince God to give him back the kingdom. God has made up his mind.

To set up a parallel to really drive home the point: Pretend I allow my boys to play with GI Joes. Pretend I have given them instructions on how to play gently such that they do not destroy those action figures. If my boys then play with those GI Joes, destroy a couple, then I might then take away those toys. If my boys apologize and promise to be more careful in the future, I would be well within my rights to say: “I am taking the GI Joes. I will not change my mind. I am not your mom that I would change my mind.”

For someone to come along and claim that I am immutable would be a disservice to the context. My statement was limited to the events in question, and extrapolating and mystifying would be a gross injustice. My words, taken literally, are that my mind is made up on this one issue.

Interestingly enough, Geisler fails to mention the text then recounts God’s repentance again:

1Sa 15:35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.

When Geisler talks about having to interpret one verse in light of the other, this reveals his flawed method of interpretation. The best means of interpretation is to ascertain exactly what the author of any specific text was trying to communicate to his readers. Implications of verses should only be secondary. Geisler would rather read his theology into the text than gain his theology from the text. He tries to distract by assuming the way he sees a particular verse is a literal understanding, when it is the farthest thing from it.

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