Negative Theology

Sanders on Ineffability

John Sanders posts to Facebook:

To begin, let’s distinguish between two forms of ineffability: strong and modest. The strong version says we have no knowledge of what God is like. God is completely different or wholly other because God is totally outside the bounds creaturely existence. This was the common view in NeoPlatonism and became very influential the Christian tradition. On the desk in my office is a trophy base given to me by a student. The base reads: “Image of the Ineffable God.” On top of the base, where the trophy would be, is nothing. This image wonderfully captures the concept of strong ineffability. (see the photo of the plaque below)

Modest ineffability says that we can know something about God but we never understand God exhaustively since there is always more to know. To hijack a phrase from the apostle Paul, “We know in part” but we do know something. Those who affirm strong ineffability are motivated by a desire to safeguard the divine majesty and worry that modest ineffability undermines this by “bringing God down” to the level of creatures. However, it seems to me that a key part of the gospel is that God comes to us in the person of Jesus. To paraphrase Jesus, “the one who knows me knows what God is like” (Jn. 14:9) and the author of Hebrews says Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s very being” (1:3). In other words, God comes to us on our level and meets us where we are at—within the boundaries of creaturely existence.

Boyd on Pure Actuality

Gregory Boyd from Do You Believe God is Pure Actuality:

The basis of the classical view of God as pure actuality (actus purus) is the Aristotelian notion that potentiality is always potential for change and that something changes only because is lacks something else. So, a perfect being who lacks nothing must be devoid of potentiality, which means it must be pure actuality.

I think this perspective is misguided on a number of accounts.

First, if all our thinking about God is to be centered on Jesus Christ, the definitive revelation of God (Heb. 1:1-3), I don’t see how we could ever come to the conclusion that God is devoid of potentiality. In Christ, God became something he wasn’t previously – namely, a human being. This entails that God had the potential to become a human being. And this alone is enough to dismiss the “God as pure actuality” idea.

Rushdoony on Platonic Impassibility

Stoicism followed the neoplatonic depreciation of passion or feeling. Reason, the faculty of mind or spirit, had to be the mainspring of action and life; the act of virtue must come from the knowledge of reason; reason being naturally good, the more nearly a man became pure reason, the more he approximated ideal reason and good. The “summum bonum” or highest good of man is the regulation of passion and the total ordering of life by passionless reason. The law of nature is virtue, a rational or passionless good; “nature” definitely did not mean the material world but the world of Ideas or Forms. The irrational nature of man must be suppressed and subjugated by his rational and true nature. The world of reason or nature is a passionless, determined, impersonal world, and as a result Stoicism was fatalistic. The world of necessity is the world of reason, whereas the world of freedom is the anarchistic world of personality, feeling, and imperfection.

Rushdoony, R. J.. The Flight From Humanity: A Study of the Effect of Neoplatonism on Christianity (Kindle Locations 350-356). Chalcedon/Ross House Books. Kindle Edition.

Atheist Describes the Difference Between Eternal and Everlasting

From about.atheism :

A more important basis for defining “eternal” as “timeless” is the ancient Greek idea that a perfect god must also be an immutable god. Perfection does not allow for change, but change is a necessary consequence of any person who experiences the changing circumstances of the historical process. According to Greek philosophy, especially that found in the Neoplatonism which would play an important role in the development of Christian theology, the “most real being” was that which existed perfectly and changelessly beyond the troubles and concerns of our world.

Eternal in the sense of everlasting, on the other hand, presumes a God who is part of and acts within history. Such a god exists through the course of time like other persons and things; however, unlike other persons and things, such a god has no beginning and no end. Arguably, an everlasting god cannot know the details of our future actions and choices without impinging upon our free will. Despite that difficulty, however, the concept of “everlasting” has tended to be more popular among average believers and even many philosophers because it is easier to comprehend and because it more compatible with the religious experiences and traditions of most people.

Torbeyns‎ on Isaiah

Torbeyns‎ writes:

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure”
– Isaiah 46:6-10

Verse 10 is often used to “prove” that God is outside of time and therefore has perfect knowledge of the future. Yet, the text only signifies that God “from the beginning” (indication of time) declares what will happen in “the end” (the future, another indication of time). You can read this as meaning that God, who is outside of time, on a certain moment (speaking from a human perspective) states what He will do in the future (again, speaking from a human perspective). The most natural reading, however, seems to me that God simply lives in sequence, just like human beings. The platonistic concept that God is outside of time, is not necessary, is not a natural reading of the text and has to be read into the text (eisegesis) to arrive at that conclusion. If I take the context into account (this is always a necessity), then I see that the meaning of verse 10 is simply that God can say that He is going to do something and He can even accomplish this. The idols cannot speak, let alone tell in advance what they will carry out.

Bible.org Lists Attributes Questioned by Open Theists

Bible.org lists out several attributes of God (besides omniscience) that are questioned by Open Theists (a list that is not without merit):

Independence. Grudem defines God’s independence as, “God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.” Open theism teaches that God is dependent on the world in certain respects.

Immutability. Classical theology defines God’s immutability as, “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations. Open theism teaches God is, “…open to new experiences, has a capacity for novelty and is open to reality, which itself is open to change.” Trying to have it both ways open theism says, “God is immutable in essence and in his trustworthiness over time, but in other respects God changes.”

Eternality. Classical theism states, “God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.”15 Open theism teaches that, “God is a temporal agent. He is above time in the sense that he is above finite experience and measurement of time but he is not beyond “before and after” or beyond sequence of events. Scripture presents God as temporally everlasting, not timelessly eternal….Clearly God is temporally related to creatures and projects himself and his actions along a temporal path.”16

Omnipresence. Classical theology teaches that just as God is unlimited or infinite with respect to time, so God is unlimited with respect to space. God’s omnipresence may be defined as, “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.”17 A leading proponent of open theism says, “I do not feel obliged to assume that God is a purely spiritual being when his self-revelation does not suggest it….The only persons we encounter are embodied persons and, if God is not embodied, it may prove difficult to understand how God is a person….Embodiment may be the way in which the transcendent God is able to be immanent and why God is presented in such terms.”18

Unity. The unity of God in classical theology is defined as, “God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different time.”19 This is also called in theology the “simplicity” of God, meaning that God in not composed of parts and cautioning against singling out any one attribute of God as more important than all the others. This will be examined when the hermeneutics of open theism is discussed. Open theism reveals that, “The doctrine of divine simplicity, so crucial to the classical understanding of God, has been abandoned by a strong majority of Christian philosophers, through it still has a small band of defenders.”20 Clark Pinnock, having abandoned this doctrine says, “Let us not treat the attributes of God independently of the Bible but view the biblical metaphors as reality-depicting descriptions of the living God, whose very being is self-giving love.”21

Omnipotence. Classical theism defines God’s omnipotence in reference to His own power to do what he decides to do. It states, “God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will.”22 On the other hand open theism states that “we must not define omnipotence as the power to determine everything but rather as the power that enables God to deal with any situation that arises.” Pinnock openly states that, “God cannot just do anything he wants, when he wants to….His power can, at least temporarily, be blocked and his will not be done in the short term.”

China Rejects Omniscience

From China and the Christian Impact, by Jacques Gernet:

If it is said that at that time [after the Fall], the Master of Heaven [Yahweh] would have liked to destroy [Adam] and [Eve] but was afraid that then there would be no human race, why did he not start all over again and create a man who was truly good, since he possesses the inexhaustible power to create men? And if it is said that he had not the heart to cut the evil short, by eliminating the guilty, because the evil was not yet very serious, how is it that he could leave things as they were, knowing full well that little streams turn into big rivers and that great fires begin with tiny sparks?

Nor can it be held that the Master of Heaven wished to test the man he had created by leaving him free to act in order to see whether he would resist the temptation of doing evil. Omniscient as he was, he must have known in advance that Adam and Eve would transgress his prohibitions. Knowing for certain that they would fall into sin, he simply set a trap for them. The thesis of free will is incompatible with the creator’s omniscience:

If it is said that he knew in advance from the moment man was created that he would surely commit a fault but that he allowed him to act as man himself decided. either for good or for evil, so as to decide whether he should be rewarded or punished, that is what is called ‘trapping people with a net`. How does that show him to be the master [of all beings]? So what do these words ‘omniscient’ and ‘omnipotent’ mean?

Jesus’ Knowledge in the Gospel of John – part 2

Part I can be found here: [link]

Jesus on Lazarus

The Lazarus incident has several very interesting features. The first is that Jesus seems to instantly know the condition of Lazarus when he is told that Lazarus is sick:

Joh 11:4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Jesus says it is not an illness that leads to death. But Lazarus dies. Is it the case that Jesus was incorrect but was ultimately made correct through God’s intervention? Is it the case that Jesus knew the entire episode would play out with Lazarus dying and coming back to life? Was Jesus just confident that if Lazarus died, that God would resurrect Lazarus (as evident in Jesus’ claim that Lazarus’ condition would be used for God’s glory)? Was Jesus just under the impression that Lazarus would be healed by God? It is hard to say.

The scene seems to flash forward a couple days until Lazarus dies. Jesus seems to know this, and says:

Joh 11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died,
Joh 11:15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Was Jesus waiting for Lazarus to die? Possibly. Did Jesus know that Lazarus would die? Possibly. Did learning of Lazarus’ death prompt Jesus to set out for Judea? Possibly. It is not clear how Jesus has and is using his knowledge here.

Jesus sets out for Judea. In Judea, Jesus meets Martha. Jesus tells her that Lazarus would rise again. The grave is opened and Jesus thanks God for hearing him:

Joh 11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.
Joh 11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus is confident that God answers all his prayers. This suggests that Lazarus was healed by Jesus’ prayers to God and that God’s power was at work. Does this reflect back to Jesus’ assurances that Lazarus would be healed? Is Jesus just confident that God is powerful and answers prayer, or is this passage about foreknowledge? It seems to be a passage about Jesus’ relationship with God, not about knowledge.

Jesus knows what God will do because Jesus wishes God to do those things. The causality flows from Jesus to God. One would assume the knowledge accompanies this trust. If this is the case, the story of Lazarus might be of one in which Jesus sets up a situation to prove that he has God’s favor. Jesus hears Lazarus is sick, waits for things to turn south, and then arrives to make things right. Again, this text is probably not about knowledge but relationship.

Jesus Has Come for the Hour

In John 12, Jesus is said to have not been weary of the final hour:

Joh 12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

The most straightforward reading is perhaps a rejection of what is written in the other gospels, where Jesus prays to be saved from the crucifixion. If Jesus is saying this in emotionless confidence, then it would be in contrast to his behavior elsewhere. But Albert Barnes attempts to rectify John with the other gospels:

Father, save me – This ought undoubtedly to have been read as a question – “Shall I say, Father, save me?” Shall I apply to God to rescue me? or shall I go forward to bear these trials? As it is in our translation, it represents him as actually offering the prayer, and then checking himself. The Greek will bear either interpretation.

To Albert Barnes, the solution is that Jesus said these words in perplexity. Jesus was wondering if he should pray to be released from the crucifixion or go through with the crucifixion. If this is the correct reading, it fits that Jesus was “troubled” (per the text), that Jesus believed the future was open (per other texts in John), and Jesus could persuade God to forgo the crucifixion (per the other gospels).

Jesus Figures out the Hour has Come

In John 13, the text talks about Jesus coming to the realization that his hour has come. This text is ambiguous. Did Jesus always know the exact hour? Or did something indicate to Jesus that his time had come? The use of “hour” here seems to be a more specific timeframe than other uses of “hour” in John, as consistent with normal figurative speech:

Joh 13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

This text does not indicate heavily about the extent and use of Jesus’ knowledge.

Jesus Knows Judas will Betray Him

Jesus then proceeds to host the last supper. In this supper, Jesus’ betrayal comes up in conversation. Jesus makes a convert comment towards Judas and the narrator follows with:

Joh 13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Jesus then follows this by claiming that Judas’ betrayal is predicted by scripture:

Joh 13:18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’
Joh 13:19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

Calvinist James White claims verse 19 is an allusion to Isaiah 43:10 and a deity claim. Isaiah 43 reads:

Isa 43:9 All the nations gather together, and the peoples assemble. Who among them can declare this, and show us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right, and let them hear and say, It is true.
Isa 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

John 13:19 and Isaiah 43:10 seem to only share parallel concepts. The words, themselves, seem to have different phrasing. Isaiah has “witness”, “know and believe”, and lacks the “before and after” terminology. It might be a jump in logic to style John as a deity claim based on Isaiah 43 rather than a Messiah claim based on the immediate context. As seen from the woman at the well, knowledge of things gave prophet status, not necessarily deity status.

The previous verse, verse 18, is an allusion to Psalms 41:9. The phrases are directly parallel. Compare:

Joh 13:18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

Psa 41:9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

It would be strange that Jesus alludes to two separate Bible verses in two very different manners just one verse apart. It is more reasonable to think that Jesus is making a combined claim, one that God will raise him up and overcome his enemies (the context of Psalms 41) and that this will prove he is Israel’s Messiah.

In any case, the disciples do not understand anything Jesus is saying (which would make a knowledge based deity claim even stranger). Jesus, later, becomes troubled and point blank says he will be betrayed:

Joh 13:21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Joh 13:22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.

The disciples continue to be confused and do not understand even after Jesus indicates Judas will betray him. Satan then enters Judas:

Joh 13:27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

In verse 2, the Devil is said to put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. Is “Satan entering Judas” a figure of speech, meaning Judas acted on the thoughts the devil planted in verse 2? Or was Judas possessed? Why does John 13 introduce the Devil and Satan in relation to Judas? The Devil is mentioned only 3 times in John, and Satan only once. Perhaps, Satan is being used in a sense of personification. Judas became adversarial after Jesus indicated Judas would betray him. Jesus then tells Judas to go, and Judas proceeds to leave.

Jesus links Judas’ betrayal to God being glorified. This links back to John 12:27 where Jesus questions whether to forgo the crucifixion. In John 12, Jesus links his hour coming to God being glorified. In John 12:28, God speaks back to Jesus claiming to be glorified again. Could John 12 have been the defining moment when Jesus resolved on this outcome, cementing the events?

How did Jesus know that Judas was to betray him? Was it based on character (Judas is described by John as robbing the donations (Joh 12:6) and was picked for his bad character (Joh 6:70))? Was Jesus’ knowledge based on fatalism? If so, how does that fix the crucifixion not being a fixed event in John 12. Was Jesus’ knowledge based on the works of the Devil (who entices Judas in verse 2 and is equated with Judas in 6:70)?

The mechanism for this knowledge is probably not fatalism or future exhaustive knowledge. The text goes out of its way to involve the Devil, literally or figuratively. This serves as motivation for Judas.

Part 2 conclusion

Jesus is styled as knowing much about Lazarus, possibly even setting up the scenario. Jesus possibly states that the crucifixion can be avoided if he so wished. Jesus then knows that Judas is in the process of betraying him (predicted in earlier texts).

Boyd Inteprets All God’s Attributes Though Love

From Reknwew:

The same thing must be said of all the other attributes of God. All of them are ultimately expressions of God’s servant love. Here are a few examples of what we’re talking about.

Scripture teaches that God is everywhere (he is “omnipresent”). Since God’s very essence is love, the primary meaning of this teaching is that it’s impossible to hide from God’s love. Even if we make our bed in hell, Scripture teaches, we’re surrounded by God’s triune love (Ps. 139:7-10).

Scripture teaches that God never changes (he is “immutable,” see Ps 102:25-27). Since God’s very essence is love, the primary meaning of this teaching is that it’s impossible for God’s love to ever waver. His love is perfect and unwavering and it endures forever (Ps 36). The immutability of God’s loving character is marvelously expressed in Scripture’s repeated emphasis on God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness.

Scripture also teaches that God knows everything (he is “omniscient”). Since God’s very essence is love, the primary meaning of this teaching is not merely that God knows all the facts that exist, but that God is intimately aware of every facet of our being. As David says, God searches our heart and knows our innermost thoughts and feelings, even before we do (Ps. 139:1-2).

Finally, Scripture teaches that God is “holy.” While this attribute is frequently associated with God’s strict rules and burning wrath against sin, the biblical word for “holy” (Heb 12:16) denotes something set apart, utterly unique and other-worldly. Since God’s very essence is love, the primary meaning of God’s holiness is that God’s perfect love is different from the kind of fickle and shallow love we usually experience in our world.

Jesus’ Knowledge in the Gospel of John – part 1

Reblogged from Realityisnotoptional.com:

I was recently challenged on the concept of Jesus in the gospel of John. The challenger stated that Jesus is depicted as omniscient or semi-omniscient. Jesus, throughout the gospel of John, seems to have access to God’s knowledge (and power) and utilized it on a regular basis.

The first thing to note about the writing style of John is that it is more ethereal and cryptic than the other gospels. John introduces about 90% new material, and uses that material in such a way that it presents Jesus as more divine than the other gospels. Much more of Jesus’ statements are contextless and not very concrete. There is a lot of confusion for the listeners and the readers. The text sometimes, but not always, follows up with clarifications.

The book also tends to divorce Jesus from his Jewish apocalyptic primary message depicted in the other gospels. This suggests a late date of writing, when the followers of Christianity began to expect the imminent end was not so imminent and the Gentile mission was larger. The book seems to be written to later Greek converts (having to define terms such as “Rabbi” and “Messiah”). The cryptic nature probably appealed more to the Greek sense of mystery than the Jewish sense of apocalypticism.

Jesus shows clairvoyance

Jesus is depicted as having access to much of God’s knowledge. There is a very early scene in which Jesus recalls having seen someone in a place where Jesus was not present:

Joh 1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
Joh 1:48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Joh 1:49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus’ knowledge of the character of Nathanael is based on seeing Nathanael earlier. Something about this scene gave Jesus the indication that Nathanael was doing something under the fig tree that spoke to his character. Perhaps Nathanael was in prayer. Jesus’ claim would be that God showed him Nathanael’s prayer.

Jesus knows the character of man

In the second chapter, Jesus is said to know the character of his new converts. He knows not to trust them, because he understands “man”:

Joh 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.
Joh 2:24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people
Joh 2:25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

How this is worded seems to say that Jesus knew the general character of man, especially the people who are claiming to be his disciples. This instance seems to be referenced in a much later context:

Joh 6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
Joh 6:61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?

Joh 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)

If John 6:64 is a reference to John 2:25, it would appear that Jesus knew who would betray him because he knew the character of the people with which he was dealing. Unlike the John 1:48 instance, Jesus is not tapping into divine knowledge for this event.

Jesus acquires new information

John 4 begins with Jesus learning about the actions of the Pharisees. In this case, Jesus did not have foreknowledge or clairvoyance (assumedly) about something that happens.

Joh 4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John
Joh 4:2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),
Joh 4:3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

Jesus is operating in a manner in which he learns something, after it happens, and then Jesus responds accordingly.

Jesus knows a woman’s past

John 4 cuts to Jesus interacting with a woman at a well. In this interaction, Jesus is able to recall events from this woman’s life with accuracy:

Joh 4:17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;
Joh 4:18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Joh 4:19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

To this woman, that Jesus could recount her past put Jesus in the role of a prophet, someone who communicates with and for God. The woman’s normal interpretation of these events is not to bestow omniscience on Jesus, but to understand Jesus as operating through the power of God.

This passage reveals several idiomatic expressions, hyperboles. The woman says that Jesus “told me all that I ever did” and she says that Christ would “tell us all things.” These normal idiomatic expressions are very important, because within John, the disciples tell Jesus that Jesus knows “all things”:

Joh 16:30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”

The phrase “all things” most naturally is limited to a hyperbolic expression that needs to be taken in context. It would be a mistake to assume some sort of literal and metaphysical sense to these words unless the context is explicit.

Jesus changes the future

Jesus’ ministry is entirely in the context of saving people from things that can happen. One does not see in Jesus a sense of fatalism. Jesus warns people that their actions will be responsible for future contingencies. Jesus attempts to avert the worst with warnings.

In John 5, Jesus warns someone he has just healed that he needs to refrain from sinning to avert judgment:

Joh 5:14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

Jesus attempts to save people:

Joh 5:34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.

Jesus uses the power of God

Consistent with the events of Nathanael and the woman at the well, Jesus makes the claim that his power is through God.

Joh 5:19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

And:

Joh 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Jesus tests the disciples

Although Jesus generally knows people’s hearts, sometimes Jesus tests them in specific ways to learn what they will do:

Joh 6:5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Joh 6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

Jesus planned on performing a miracle, but wanted to see if the disciples would put their faith in Jesus’ power. The disciples are thinking of the non-miraculous, and seem to fail the test.

Jesus knows that Judas will betray him

Later in John 6, Jesus has a falling out with many of his disciples. These are probably many of the same disciples that Jesus did not trust in John 2:25. Jesus calls them out and then a bunch leave. The text then states that Jesus knew they were not true converts, adding in that Jesus knows who would betray him:

Joh 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)

The text then identifies that individual, by name:

Joh 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
Joh 6:69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Joh 6:70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”
Joh 6:71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

How does Jesus know Judas would betray him? The knowledge about the other disciples was per their character. Would it not be safe to assume Jesus knew the character of Judas? There are no hints of divine information sharing in this text.

Jesus avoids dangerous situations

After this, Jesus decides to avoid Judea because there would be a chance he would die:

Joh 7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.

Jesus, here, is not operating with exhaustive future omniscience, but is minimizing risks of future occurrences by avoiding dangerous situations. Someone with exhaustive future omniscience could easily inject themselves into dangerous situations and overcome. Someone operating within the bounds of human activity, with some divine help, needs to take precautions.

Jesus eventually does go to Judea, but is careful not to let that information out:

Joh 7:10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

Jesus’ divine protection

In John 7, Jesus gives a speech that incites the authorities. They attempt to arrest him, but Jesus escapes. The stated reason is that “his hour has not come”:

Joh 7:30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.

Perhaps this is because Jesus was given divine protection. If this is the case, divine protection thwarts what would have been. The future is being changed through divine action. The Jews are thwarted at the end of chapter 8 where they attempt to stone Jesus:

Joh 8:59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Jesus runs away. This is reoccurring:

Joh 10:39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

Jesus learns about a man

In chapter 9, Jesus heals a blind man. The Jewish authorities expel the man from the synagogue for declaring Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus learns about this and then seeks out the man:

Joh 9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Part 1 conclusion:

The text presents Jesus as knowledgeable, with the ability to tap into God’s power. Jesus is not depicted as omniscient. And the future is portrayed as flexible and indefinite.

Calvinist Defends Impassibility

From Mere Orthodoxy:

Not a Rock – Critics often contend that the doctrine of impassibility depicts God as an emotionless rock. But to teach that God is impassible is not to deny that God has an emotional life with cares, joys, loves, and so forth. Impassibility does not mean impassivity any more than immutability means immobility. Both are caricatures and misunderstandings of the classical doctrine. Just as the doctrine of God’s immutability or changelessness is not a teaching about a static, stone God, but a God so perfectly overflowing with life that any “change” could only tend towards a lesser state, so the doctrine of impassibility is statement about the perfection of God’s emotional life, his sovereignty over it, rather than its absence. In the early Fathers, to teach that God was impassible was to teach that God did not have “passions”, or unrestrained feelings ungoverned by reason or will that could simply sweep over him. A passion was thought of as a sort of violent, semi-physical force that could move a person without the consent of their reason or will. To deny that this can happen is to say that God’s emotional life is under his own control and will not erupt violently in irrational or sinful ways. In other words, God is not an emotional teenager.

Overbaugh Reviews The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas J Oord

By Bryan Overbaugh413AFRflbyL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Thomas Jay Oord’s book The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence is an excellent contribution to the contemporary conversation on this topic.  As displayed in the book’s title, Oord offers a view of providence that is uniquely situated amidst an ongoing open and relational conversation about the God/world relationship. The Uncontrolling Love of God is poised to offer new possibilities for not only those immersed in open and relational conversations but also those outside this particular theological movement. Those for whom the problem of evil has been a point of contention (theist and atheist alike) could also benefit from the insights offered in this book.

But lest you think that The Uncontrolling Love of God is merely a theological and philosophical treatment of the problem of evil, let me assure you it is not.  While Oord navigates the theological, philosophical and scientific disciplines with ease and precision, his book has an immensely practical aspect, as well.

Oord’s practicality is evident from the beginning of this book. From the very first page, he delves into the tragedy of the human experience, presenting real stories of people encountering unfathomable evil and suffering. For Oord, these stories serve as a catalyst for the theodicy question – if God is all-powerful and all-loving than why does evil, pain and suffering exist?

But while Oord is concerned with the practical, those who are seeking an academic conversation on the topic will not be disappointed. He explores the topics of providence and the problem of evil by taking seriously randomness, law-like regularities, free will, genuine evil and genuine moral goodness.  As Oord states, “My overarching aim for this book is to offer the best way to believe God acts providentially in a world of regularities, randomness, freedom and necessity, good and evil” (81).

Oord’s proposal avoids being determined by more popular theological answers. He spends a substantial portion of his book sketching out various models of providence. On one end of the spectrum there is the view that God is an omnicausal agent, determining all events according to the divine will. On the other end, there is the view that God is removed and uninvolved, whose ways are wholly other. Oord charitably presents all the models, offering a helpful critique of each while creating the space for his mediating position, essential kenosis.

Essential kenosis offers an alternative way of thinking about issues pertaining to the problem of evil and providence by coloring outside the theological lines [tweetable :) ].  In a conversation where God is believed to be either self-limited by God’s own choice or by some external force, Oord argues for involuntary divine self-limitation which comes not from some outside force but from the core of the divine nature, which is essentially and fundamentally love.

While Oord’s essential kenosis theology paints a picture of a God who is limited in agency due to the primacy of love, God is also intimately and persuasively active in the world, luring creation moment-by-moment. While this is not the first time Oord has written about essential kenosis, this is his most thorough presentation to date.  For those who are interested in reading his thoughts for the first time or are looking for deeper engagement with his theology, The Uncontrolling Love of God will undoubtedly be an important resource.

While one may argue that Oord’s proposal makes for a weak God that can achieve little if anything, he works hard to show that this is indeed not the case. In his chapter on providence and miracles, he spends considerable time showing that a non-coercive, non-interventionist God can still be an actor in the world. Miracles, divine agency that is surprising and unusual, special and good, do indeed happen. Oord goes a long way in showing that “[e]ssential kenosis explains how God can act miraculously without controlling others” (216).

Those who are searching for a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil may find The Uncontrolling Love of God a valuable resource.  I am confident that this book will generate fruitful conversation. I am hopeful that Oord’s proposal will provided practical and hopeful possibility for those who are making sense of either their own experience with evil, pain and suffering or the experience of an other.

Oord’s new book is a book of many possibilities – the possibility of answering the problem of evil and the possibility of offering a satisfying explanation for why one can still believe in God, divine agency, and miracles, all while taking seriously contemporary scientific knowledge.  And if one walks away unsatisfied, Oord’s proposal could at the very least provide opportunities to think more deeply about their own position and to ponder its potential.  As I see it, if people can read The Uncontrolling Love of God with an open mind and an open heart, all this can be a real possibility.
Book available December 2015.

Followup video by Oord:

Answered Questions – Boyd Explains Open Theists Belief God Has More Knowledge

From Ask an Open Theist (Greg Boyd)…Response:

From Sonja: So if I’m understanding open theism right, it sounds like it’s similar to–if not the same as–the idea that “omniscience” in God doesn’t mean “knows exactly what will happen” but instead means “knows every single permutation of what could happen.” Is that far off?

Greg. No, it’s not off at all! You’re actually stating a philosophical truth that I believe is extremely important. The next few paragraphs might be a little heavy for some readers because I have to use a little bit of philosophical jargon. But its Sonja’s fault because she asked such an important question! I encourage you to hang in there because I believe the point I’ll be making hits on one of the most fundamental mistakes made in the church tradition regarding the nature of omniscience and offers one of the strongest philosophical arguments for the open view:

Philosophers and theologians have often defined “divine omniscience” as “God’s knowledge of the truth value of all meaningful propositions.” I completely agree with this. Unfortunately, they typically assumed that propositions about what “will” and “will not” occur exhaust the field of meaningful propositions about the future. They thus concluded that God eternal knows all that will and will not take place and that there is nothing else for God to know.

This is a mistake, however, because propositions about what “might and might not” take place are also meaningful, and God must therefore know the truth value of these. Moreover, the opposite of “might” is “will not,” and the opposite of “might not” is “will.” So, if a “might and might not” proposition is true, then the corresponding propositions about what “will” and “will not” take place are both false.

For example, if its true that “Greg might and might not buy a blue Honda in 2016,” then its false that “Greg will (certainly) buy a blue Honda in 2016” and false that “Greg will (certainly) not buy a blue Honda in 2016.” So too, if it ever becomes true that “Greg will (certainly) buy a blue Honda in 2016” or true that “Greg will (certainly) not buy a blue Honda in 2016,” then it will be false that “Greg might and might not buy a blue Honda in 2016.” And since God knows the truth value of all propositions, God would know precisely when it is true that I “might and might not” buy this car and when it becomes true that I either “will” or “will not.” God thus faces a partly open future.

The irony is that, while open theists are constantly accused of limiting God’s knowledge, if my analysis is correct, it was the classical tradition that limited God’s knowledge! They overlooked an entire class of propositions the truth value of which an omniscient God must know. And it was right under their noses, for as I just demonstrated, the truth value of “might and might not” propositions is logically entailed by the true value of “will” and “will not” propositions. Hence, if God knows the truth value of “will” and “will not,” he must also know the truth value of “might and might not” propositions.

Belt on God being the Summum Bonum

Open Theist Tom Belt claims God is the Summum Bonum:

Just thinking out loud. Chime in if you want. God, all theists would agree, is the summum bonum—the greatest good, the highest value. I’m going to assume that here. What I’d like to suggest in addition to this (though it is nothing new) is that this highest value is God’s experience, more precisely his experience of “beatitude” or “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” (to employ Greg’s expression from Trinity & Process). You might be thinking that I’ve said this all before and wonder what’s new here? Just this: God’s experience of his own beatitude is that about God which constitutes God as the summum bonum and that from which all created experiences derive their value.

Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas J Oord

By Christopher Fisher

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For believers, making sense of [evil events] requires belief in God. But the answers that most give to the question of God’s relation to randomness and evil leave me unconvinced and discontented. They don’t make sense. Believers need better responses than the usual fare.
– Thomas Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God

Thomas J Oord is understandably unimpressed with the standard answers to the problem of evil. Evil, it is said, is part of God’s plan. Evil is used by God to teach people. Evil is the result of sinful people and God does not interfere in order to preserve freedom. Christians give all sorts of complicated and incomplete answers to the answer of evil, but evil remains a powerful argument from those wishing to reject God. Former Calvinist Bart Ehrman, a popular scholar and critic of Christianity, cites evil as the main reason he left Christianity. If evil can convert hardcore Calvinists into atheism, then what chance do the rest of us have?

In his first chapter, Oord details three such true stories of heartbreak, suffering, and random happenstance. I will add to it my own:

A day after my 31st birthday, we received a call about my six year old son. We had been trying to diagnose a lump on his neck. The doctors were not certain what it was, but on this day they were informing us about the results of a biopsy. It was cancer: T-Cell leukemia. For the next 6 months we spent week after endless week in the hospital. This six year old was poked and prodded. He lost his hair. They installed a port on his chest and in his stomach. They pumped endless toxins into his spinal column. Although he finally was placed in the medium risk category and fell into remission, his newfound friends at the hospital were not as lucky.

One child, struggling to stay alive, is now given a 20% chance of survival. This strong kid fights day and night, braving horrendous radiation treatments. He desperately clings to life against the odds. Although his odds of survival are slipping, he presses to do anything to live. Often these children die in spite of their pleas for life.

I lay awake at night in the children’s ward listening to the cries from adjacent rooms. The sound is maddening. Children are suffering through no fault of their own, day and night. Some are too young to comprehend what is happening. And this is a first world country. In other places and in other times, there was not medicine to dull the pain. There was no surgery to fix a broken body. There was no hope. Child mortality, until the modern world, hovered at about 50%.

Evil is real and critics of Christianity cannot just be easily dismissed with platitudes on this front. Where was God in all of this? Was this some sort of plan by God to teach some lesson?

Oord responds:

Is the “lesson” they learned in death worth the evil they suffered? Can dead people mature?

Some evils are character destroying rather than character building. Many people have lives that are made far worse because of intense pain. They grow bitter, vengeful and tyrannical, making life hellish for others and themselves. The alleged divine strategy of improving personal character is often counterproductive.

Oord spends the first few chapters talking about randomness. He very well understands that events can be random but aggregates can be predictable. He also spends an appropriate amount of time dispelling the myth that any limitations on choice is a violation of free will. He states the most intuitive position on the matter: “The limited-but-genuine-freedom position says we freely choose among a limited number of options.”

This is what human beings experience. We cannot choose to jump to the moon, but most can choose to jump two feet into the air as opposed to one foot into the air. We choose what position to hold our arms during the jump or whether to allow physics to control their placement. Although our jump is limited by the extent of our strength, I would add that humans have available an infinite number of choices within set limitations. Even with limits, human beings have limitless options.

Oord starts with the common sense notion that whatever we experience should be our default understanding as to how the world works. If our daily experience is free choice (e.g. I choose between a Coke or some Lemonade to drink) then this should be our default metaphysical position. Fatalism should only be accepted if there is strong evidence to overcome our intuition (and claiming “intuition” is a result of fatalism is of no help to anyone). Oord acknowledges that the fatalists will always claim that there are underlying formulas influencing everything that happens (despite evidence of randomness on a subatomic level). If someone is devoted to fatalism, they can always claim that fatalism produces an appearance of randomness. How this is more rational than defaulting to randomness creating an appearance of randomness is anyone’s guess.

On top of this basis, Oord presents a model of providence in which God’s natural attributes inherently limit the extent of God’s abilities. This should be a very familiar concept to anyone familiar with the metaphysics proposed by most modern Christians. Proponents of “omniscience and omnipotence” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability for God to limit His knowledge (e.g. forget events or not see events happen). Proponents of “omnipresence and omnipotence” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability for God to limit His location. Proponents of “omnipotence and immutability” claim that omnipotence does not include the ability of God to change. Even schools of Open Theism limit omniscience to what can rationally be known. Because Negative Attributes are inherently contradictory, something has to give. To Oord, what gives is God’s ability to be coercive (God’s benevolence limits God’s omnipotence).

This proffered metaphysical model, admittedly, is of better fit than most current models although it shares with these other models the reimagining of ancient Jewish theology. In both Reformed metaphysics and in Oord’s metaphysics are God’s thoughts and actions stripped from the Biblical narrative (such as God’s destruction of the Earth to undo His regretted creation, or God’s laments that He has punished Israel continuously in vain). In this respect, Oord is similar to the Calvinist tradition. In other respects, Oord is superior to the Calvinist tradition (by not stripping God of His emotions, relational nature, and love). In both Oord’s metaphysics and Calvinism, God is powerless to stop evil (so there is not a power disparity). For this reason, I would classify Oord as more Theologically Biblical than even a Fundamentalist Calvinist. Both rework the Bible’s picture of God, Oord to a lesser extent.

Oord offers a metaphysics of “essential kenosis”. The idea is that God gives Himself into creation. Because the world is an extension of God’s love, God cannot unilaterally change creation. This would be God changing His own nature, which Oord says is impossible. Evil exists because God cannot stop it. But God can bilaterally change creation (differentiating Oord from Process Theology). This is Oord’s solution to a benevolent God coexisting with an evil world. Oord explains this more thoroughly than a review can do justice.

The book is engaging to read. There are insights on just about every front (from statistics to science to theology). The sources that are cited come from a wide variety of traditions. The flow of the text is, for the most part, smooth. The points are interwoven to make the most of their effect on the audience. Anyone interested in benevolence (or even Christological metaphysics) would do well to pick up this book.

If a reader is looking for a book on Biblical critical scholarship, this is probably not the book for them. If, instead, a reader is interested in a compelling and fair overview of a host of metaphysical models (proffering what it believes is the best metaphysical model which can be then applied to the Bible), this is a book they should not miss.

Book available December 2015.

Followup video by Oord:

Atheists Point Out Contradiction Between Omniscience and Free Will

From Arguing Against Gods:

Another tricky issue is whether or not genuine omniscience is in any way compatible with free will – either ours or the alleged god’s. To start with our free will, it has been observed many times that if a god knows the future with infallible certainty, then what this god knows will necessarily happen – there is no possibility for anything else to occur. We are, then, incapable of altering the future. Although the concept of human “free will” is hotly contested, I’m not aware of any theory of free will which could be considered compatible with a being perfectly knowing the future. If a god knows who will win the next presidential election, then it isn’t possible for anyone else to win. That’s predestination – and some theologians have unflinchingly embraced it, for example John Calvin.

Ware on Immutability

Calvinist Bruce Ware talks about immutability:

Through much of the history of the church, God has also been understood as absolutely immutable in every respect. After all, it was often reasoned , if God can change, then that changeability must indicate a change for the better or a change for the worse. But if for the better, then he was not God before; and if for the worse, then he no longer can rightly be conceived as God.

Ware, Bruce (2008-05-15). Perspectives on the Doctrine of God (p. 90). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Christ the Center Panel on Impassibility

An interesting panel on impassibility by Calvinists:

The audio can be found here.

From the webpage:

The Christ the Center panel meets with Rev. Dr. James Dolezal to discuss the much maligned doctrine of divine impassibility. Beginning with a look at Westminster Confession of Faith 2.1, that “There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions…” the panel looks at the biblical basis and importance of understanding, affirming, and developing a proper use of this doctrine that God does not have passions. Often taken to be a denial of, for instance, God’s love, it is shown that the truth is to the contrary. As simple and as pure act, God is love in the fullest sense without fluctuation or change which is the human lot. This discussion offers much food for thought.

Apologetics Thursday – Psalms 33:11

A Youtube video attempts to prooftext God’s immutability:

It cites:

Psa 33:11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

Does this mean God is immutable? How does someone read this and then come to the conclusion: “this means that God can not change in any respect, ever.”

1. It is about God’s counsel (God’s plans). In the previous verse the text contrasts God’s counsel with the counsel of nations. God is said to overthrow the nation’s counsel. That, in itself, is a change.

2. The contrast is about plans that can be thwarted and plans that cannot be thwarted. How does this imply immutability?

3. Does the text imply that man’s changeablness is what undid their plans? That seems like an absurd reading.

Psalms 33:11 cannot be reasonably claimed as a prooftext for immutability. For people to use it as a prooftext shows that the evidence for immutability is slim.

Hodge on Negative Theology

From Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology:

This principle of classification is perhaps the one most generally adopted. It gives rise, however, really but to two classes, namely, the positive and negative, i.e., those in which something is affirmed, and those in which something is denied concerning God. To the negative class are commonly referred simplicity, infinity, eternity, immutability; to the positive class, power, knowledge, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Instead of calling the one class negative and the other positive, they are often distinguished as absolute and relative. By an absolute attribute is meant one which belongs to God, considered in Himself, and which implies no relation to other beings; by a relative attribute is meant one which implies relation to an object. They are also distinguished as immanent and transient, as communicable and incommunicable. These terms are used interchangeably. They do not express different modes of classification, but are different modes of designating the same classification. Negative, absolute, immanent, and incommunicable, are designations of one class; and positive, relative, transitive, and communicable, are designations of the other class.

Surgeon on the Incarnation

Quoted by Confessing Baptist:

But God is perpetually the same. He is not composed of any substance or material, but is spirit—pure, essential, and ethereal spirit—and therefore he is immutable. He remains everlastingly the same. There are no furrows on his eternal brow. No age hath palsied him; no years have marked him with the mementoes of their flight; he sees ages pass, but with him it is ever now. He is the great I AM—the Great Unchangeable.

Mark you, his essence did not undergo a change when it became united with the manhood. When Christ in past years did gird himself with mortal clay, the essence of his divinity was not changed; flesh did not become God, nor did God become flesh by a real actual change of nature; the two were united in hypostatical union, but the Godhead was still the same. It was the same when he was a babe in the manger, as it was when he stretched the curtains of heaven; it was the same God that hung upon the cross, and whose blood flowed down in a purple river, the self-same God that holds the world upon his everlasting shoulders, and bears in his hands the keys of death and hell.

He never has been changed in his essence, not even by his incarnation; he remains everlastingly, eternally, the one unchanging God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither the shadow of a change.

Grudem on God’s Unchangableness

A Calvinist explains the importance of immutability. From Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:

f. The Importance of God’s Unchangeableness: At first it may not seem very important to us to affirm God’s unchangeableness. The idea is so abstract that we may not immediately realize its significance. But if we stop for a moment to imagine what it would be like if God could change, the importance of this doctrine becomes more clear. For example, if God could change (in his being, perfections, purposes, or promises), then any change would be either for the better or for the worse. But if God changed for the better, then he was not the best possible being when we first trusted him. And how could we be sure that he is the best possible being now? But if God could change for the worse (in his very being), then what kind of God might he become? Might he become, for instance, a little bit evil rather than wholly good? And if he could become a little bit evil, then how do we know he could not change to become largely evil—or wholly evil? And there would be not one thing we could do about it, for he is so much more powerful than we are. Thus, the idea that God could change leads to the horrible possibility that thousands of years from now we might come to live forever in a universe dominated by a wholly evil, omnipotent God. It is hard to imagine any thought more terrifying. How could we ever trust such a God who could change? How could we ever commit our lives to him?

Grudem on God

A Calvinist defines God. From Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:

1. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and
perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable,
immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most
absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most
righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering,
abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the
rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his
judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

Divine Impassibility Talk on Reformed Forum

The full audio can be found on Reformed Forum

A quote from the audio (“God is not free”):

“As soon as you say something like ‘God has the freedom’ you immediate have to qualify… God doesnt stand deliberatively in any passive sense before a range of action.”
An excerpt from the webpage:

The Christ the Center panel meets with Rev. Dr. James Dolezal to discuss the much maligned doctrine of divine impassibility. Beginning with a look at Westminster Confession of Faith 2.1, that “There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions…” the panel looks at the biblical basis and importance of understanding, affirming, and developing a proper use of this doctrine that God does not have passions. Often taken to be a denial of, for instance, God’s love, it is shown that the truth is to the contrary. As simple and as pure act, God is love in the fullest sense without fluctuation or change which is the human lot. This discussion offers much food for thought.

Olson on Unwarrented Timelessness

From Roger Olson’s blog:

Nowhere does the biblical story of God, the biblical narrative that identifies God for us, and upon which classical Christian theology claims to be based, say or even hint that God is “outside of time” or “timeless” or that all times are “simultaneously before the eyes of God.” This view of God’s eternity entered into Christian theology from Greek philosophy which regarded time as imperfection. Greek philosophy was notoriously negative with regard to time. Hebrew thought was not; it regarded time and history as the framework for God’s action.

Answered Questions – Verses on Immutability

Sami Zaatari of Answering Christianity asks:

The Bible says God cannot change (Cf. Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 102:26-27; Malachi 3:6; Romans 11:29; Hebrews 6:17-18; James 1:17), and that he is all-knowing (Cf. Job 37:16; Psalm 147:4-5; 1 John 3:20). But the New Testament teaches that Jesus did change and that he didn’t even know the day or hour of his return (Cf. Mark 13:32; Luke 2:40,52). How can Jesus be God if he doesn’t even have these essential attributes of God?

This post will just deal with the context and meaning of the verses on change. The underlining assumptions in Zaatari’s question are mistaken. Zaatari further states about those verses:

Num 23:19: God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

1 Samuel 15:29: And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

Malachi 3:6: For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.

Those three verses should do. So basically we see making it very clear that he does not change. As Shamoun correctly stated, when God says he does not change, this means he does not change his essence, his attributes, his purpose and his decrees. However, this leaves the Christians with a problem. Sure the Christians say that those verses don’t mean that God cannot become a man, however the verses are still very clear, that God is not LIKE a man to repent or change his mind, God is not LIKE a man to be weak and have no power, God is not LIKE a man to become a servant. That is the main message that God is sending, he not like a man, so we cannot try and compare him with us, and he is not like a man to change his mind, such as his laws and his teachings. However so, if Jesus is indeed God, then God has indeed taken a drastic U-turn and has changed, not because he became a man, or the son of man, but because his attributes and essence have completely CHANGED.

Zaatari would have the reader believe that the verses in question are power verses, but in context they are about repentance only (and limited to the immediate context).

Num 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

The phrasing of this verse is crucial. God will not repent. God has said something and God will do it. This is not about if God has the power to do something or not. No, that is taken for granted. The verse assumes that God can be prevailed upon to change His mind, and in that context can an event not occur. The text is hedging against God doing that in the particular context of the verse (not establishing a general rule). When general rules are established, it is always that God WILL repent if He sees people repent (see Jeremiah 18 and Ezekiel 18).

The context of the verse is about Balaam not being able to undo the blessings of Israel. Balak had hired Balaam to curse Israel, but God “met” with Balaam and told Balaam how to reply to Balak. The reply was that Balaam blessed Israel because God was not going to undo His blessing. In that context, God does not change.

Particularly damning to Zaatari’s reading of the verse is that the context of the verse assumes that if there was a good reason to repent then God would repent. Notice how the prophet “cannot reverse it” because no sin was observed:

Num 23:20 Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.
Num 23:21 “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, Nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him, And the shout of a King is among them.

Numbers 23 is clear: God would repent if there is a reason to repent. Because there is no reason to repent then God will not repent. A man may arbitrarily change his mind. God is not a man to change His mind without adequate reason.

1Sa 15:29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”

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.

Mal 3:6 “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

Does this make sense if the verse was about immutability?

“For I am the Lord, I am immutable, thus you are not destroyed.”

Does immutability lead to the conclusion that God will not destroy a people? The author of Malachi was not offering some sort of immutability prooftext. That would not make any sense. This verse means “I am God, I am not revoking my promises to your forefathers to make a great nation, thus I have not wiped you off the face of the Earth for your sins as I should have done under normal circumstances.” As with the rest of the Bible, the idea is that God will only kill the wicked of Israel and attempt to build the promised nation out of the remnant. In that sense, God maintains judgement while maintaining His promise to Abraham.

The immediate context explains this verse. Needless to say, understanding the context reveals the verse is evidence that God is dynamic and changes.

Mal 3:5 And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien— Because they do not fear Me,” Says the LORD of hosts.
Mal 3:6 “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Mal 3:7 Yet from the days of your fathers You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” Says the LORD of hosts.

The immediate context shows that God is talking about a people who have turned away from him and towards sin. God threatens them into returning to him. While people change their morality and claim that sins are not sins, God’s perspective on morality stays the same. Often not quoted by those who would have Malachi 3:6 mean that “God is immutable” is the following verse “Return to Me, and I will return to you”. The message is consistent with the rest of the Bible establishing that God responds to the actions of people. Interesting enough, Malachi then details the changes God will do based on the repentance of Israel:

Mal 3:10 …Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.
Mal 3:11 “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” Says the LORD of hosts;
Mal 3:12 And all nations will call you blessed, For you will be a delightful land,” Says the LORD of hosts.

So the text which says “God cannot change” is in the context of saying that God changes his curses to blessings based on the actions of his people. That is the message of the Bible: God is judgement, justice, and responds righteously.

Psa 102:26 They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed.
Psa 102:27 But You are the same, And Your years will have no end.

The context of the verse is included in the verse. Obviously this verse is talking about God being everlasting (living forever). People will die and wither away, but God is the same, not growing old or dying. Tho make the phrase “But you are the same” to be a statement on immutability is not natural to the text:

They will die, but God will live. They will grow old, and God will change them, but God is immutable and will live forever.

The verses are just not about general change, but about lifespans, growing old, and dying.

Rom 11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

This verse is a good companion verse to Malachi 3:6. The context is that Paul is attempting to explain to the Gentiles that God has not just abandoned the Jews. In Romans 8-11, Paul sets up an argument as to how God could turn to the Gentiles without abandoning His promises to the Jews. In Romans 11:13, Paul then switches his audience to the Gentiles and starts explaining their roles as it pertains to the Jews. The verse has absolutely nothing to do with general immutability. The fact that Paul uses Romans to set up a complicated reasoning as to how God can fulfill a promise in spite of the rejection of the promise’s recipients is great evidence as to the fact that Paul thought God could change.

Heb 6:17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
Heb 6:18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

This also is not a very good verse to show that God has general immutability. The context is about a specific promise. In order to prove that this particular promise was of special consideration, God performs an oath. God does not perform oaths for all promises, only this one. The text assumes that God can revoke some promises in some contexts. But this one particular promise, God performs special actions to prove His own sincerity. Of course, this promise is the promise to Abraham, the promise referenced by Romans 11:29 and Malachi 3:6. This promise is THE promise in the Bible. Much of the Bible revolves around God attempting to fulfill this promise. In Matthew 3:9, Jesus claims that to fulfill this one promise that God can kill all of Israel and then create a new Israel out of the rocks. This is not a promise that people can easily thwart or that God will easily revoke.

Jas 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

The metaphor used in James is that God is not the Sun or stars. God is the father of lights. Whereas the pagans worshiped the lights, God created the lights. James contrasts God to these lights, in which revolve around the Earth (shadow of turning). The idea is that whereas the Sun and stars come and go from the visible sky, God will never leave. James says every good and perfect gift is from God, and in this context God does not disappear. This verse is not about general immutability, but that God does not hide. God is constant and active.

Examining all the above immutability prooftexts in context paints a much different character of God than the Classical Theists would have their audience believe. Much of the context of the immutability prooftexts is about how God changes in relation to people. In Samuel 1, the context is that God has repented and will not un-repent. The other major theme is that God will not undo His promise to Abraham. The message is consistent and clear.

McCabe on God being Infinite

From Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity:

But to call such an abstract infinity, such a contradictory conception by the name of Deity, leads inevitably into incertitude and inextricable confusion. And it was conceiving of God as an infinity in the abstract that led the great Augustine into such erroneous and dangerous conceptions of the divine nature. The Augustinian conception of Deity was that of a universal infinite, that is, of a being infinite in all respects, and unlimited in all Ills attributes. But if God be infinite in every respect, he can neither be qualified nor conditioned in any respect. And if he cannot be qualified nor conditioned in any respect, he cannot be related; he cannot be a Creator, or a Father, or a Revealer, or an object of love, or a hearer of prayer, or a receiver of adoring worship. For who could worship a power too capricious to be limited by goodness? The distinguishing claims of the Augustinian theology are in reference to its logical consistency. But the very moment Augustinian theology completes its own logical processes it turns flatly against itself, and commits suicide. It is regretfully pronounced a veritable “felo-de-se” by myriad’s rigidly reared in the belief of its dogmas. Attributing to God the mathematical or metaphysical idea of infinity logically annihilates him in His concrete personality.

Hasker on Omniscience

From The Openness of God:

Divine omniscience. Just as God is said to be all-powerful, he is also said to be all-knowing, or omniscient. Here also we need to go beyond the mere word to a careful definition. My proposal is: To say that God is omniscient means that at any time God knows all propositions such that God’s knowing them at that time is logically possible.

Clement of Alexandria on Predestination

In Stromata, Clement claims that God has no sensory perceptions, knows the future as if it were the present, and makes all things happen:

God is not, then, possessed of human form, so as to hear; nor needs He senses, as the Stoics have decided, “especially hearing and sight; for He could never otherwise apprehend.” But the susceptibility of the air, and the intensely keen perception of the angels, and the power which reaches the soul’s consciousness, by ineffable power and without sensible hearing, know all things at the moment of thought. And should any one say that the voice does not reach God, but is rolled downwards in the air, yet the thoughts of the saints cleave not the air only, but the whole world. And the divine power, with the speed of light, sees through the whole soul. Well! Do not also volitions speak to God, uttering their voice? And are they not conveyed by conscience? And what voice shall He wait for, who, according to His purpose, knows the elect already, even before his birth, knows what is to be as already existent? Does not the light of power shine down to the very bottom of the whole soul; “the lamp of knowledge,” as the Scripture says, searching “the recesses”? God is all ear and all eye, if we may be permitted to use these expressions.

Hasker on Timelessness Nonsense

From The Openness of God:

The other main difficulty about divine timelessness is that it is very hard to make clear logical sense of the doctrine. If God is truly timeless, so that temporal determinations of “before” and “after” do not apply to him, then how can God act in time, as the Scriptures say that he does?’ How can he know what is occurring on the changing earthly scene? How can he respond when his children turn to him in prayer and obedience? And above all, if God is timeless and incapable of change, how can God be born, grow up, live with and among people, suffer and die, as we believe he did as incarnated in Jesus? Whether there are good answers to these questions, whether the doctrine of divine timelessness is intelligible and logically coherent, and whether it can be reconciled with central Christian beliefs such as the incarnation remain matters of intense controversy.

Hasker on Perfect Being Theology

From The Openness of God:

The difficulties with perfect being theology do not, in my view, stem from the assumption that God is an absolutely perfect being-that he is “whatever it is better to be than not to be.” Rather, difficulties have arisen because people have been too ready to assume that they can determine, easily and with little effort, what perfection is in the case of God-that is, what attributes a perfect being must possess. Yet it clearly is no simple matter to say what is the best kind of life for a human being or what are the ideal attributes (or virtues) for a human being to possess. So why should we assume that this is simple in the case of God? I do not think it should be taken as obvious, without long and thoughtful consideration, that it is “better” for God to be temporal or timeless, mutable or immutable, passible or impassible. So if we are going to object to Plato’s argument, we need not reject perfect being theology as such; rather, it is the application the argument makes of divine perfection that we must question.

Logical Proof on Perfection

A classical theists attempts to “prove” God’s infinite perfection:

233. Thesis II. God is infinitely perfect.

Explanation. We mean by a perfection any real entity, anything which it is better to have than not to have. A being is infinitely perfect when it has all possible entity in the highest possible degree. It is clear at once that God, being the cause of the world, must have all the perfections that are actually in the world; for there can be no perfection in the effect which is not in the cause. But besides, He must have, we maintain, all perfections that are intrinsically possible, i.e., all that imply no contradiction. We must, however, distinguish between pure perfections — i.e., such as imply no imperfection, e.g., knowledge, goodness, justice, power, etc.; and mixed perfections — i.e., such as imply some imperfection, e.g., reasoning, which implies that some truth was first unknown. Now, we mean that God has all pure perfections formally or as such, and the mixed He possesses eminently, i.e., in a better way, without any imperfections.

Proof. Whatever the necessary Being is, it is that necessarily; but God is the necessary Being; therefore, whatever He is, He is that necessarily. Therefore, if there is any limit to His perfection, that limit is necessary; i.e., further perfection is excluded by the very nature of His physical essence; in other words, the entity or perfection of His being would exclude some further perfection. But no perfection excludes other perfection, or is incompatible with further perfection; there can be no contradiction between good and good, entity and entity, but only between good and not good, entity and non-entity, perfection and imperfection. Therefore no perfection can exclude any other perfection; hence no perfection is excluded either in kind or in degree; therefore God is infinitely perfect.

Hasker on Timelessness

From The Openness of God:

First of all, it is clear that the doctrine of divine timelessness is not taught in the Bible and does not reflect the way the biblical writers understood God. In spite of appeals by defenders of the doctrine to texts such as Exodus 3:14, John 8:58 and 2 Peter 3:8, there simply is no trace in the Scripture of the elaborate metaphysical and conceptual apparatus that is required to make sense of divine timelessness.’ On the positive side, the biblical writers undeniably do present God as living, acting and reacting in time.

Pinnock on Timelessness

From The Openness of God:

However, timelessness presents many difficulties from a theological standpoint. First, it is hard to form any idea of what timelessness might mean, since all of our thinking is temporally conditioned. A timeless being could not make plans and carry them out. Second, it creates problems for biblical history, which portrays God as One who projects plans, experiences the flow of temporal passage and faces the future as not completely settled. How can a timeless God be the Creator of a temporal world? Why is God described as being involved in temporal realities? Third, it seems to undermine our worship of God. Do we not praise God, not because he is beyond time and change but because he works redemptively in time and brings about salvation? Fourth, if God did not experience events as they transpire, he would not experience or know the world as it actually is. If God’s eternity were timeless, God could not be related to our temporal world. In actual fact, though, the biblical symbols do not speak of divine timelessness but of God’s faithfulness over time. Though we wither and die, God abides and is not threatened or undone by time. We need an understanding of God’s eternity that does not cancel or annihilate time but stands in a positive relation to it, which is for us not against us.

Sanders on Impassibility

John Sanders I posted this on the Facebook page Open Theism but thought I would post it here for those who won’t see it:

In 1994 when we wrote OOG we had only one meaning of impassibility in mind. When I revised GWR I was aware that Gavrilyuk noted several definitions of the term in the fathers. Creel analyzed several definitions in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. Hence, a distinction has been made recently between strong and weak versions of both impassibility and immutability. In the revised edition of GWR pages 194, 197 I say that classical theism which developed from Augustine affirmed strong versions of both while freewill theism, which was the view of most of the early fathers, affirmed weak versions of both. Strong impassibility is that God cannot be affected by creatures in any respect and has no changing dispositions. Strong immutability is that God cannot change in any respect. Weak impassibility is that God can have changing emotional states but is not overcome by emotions, etc. Weak immutability is that the divine character does not change but God can have changing mental states. In OOG we definitely affirmed what is now called weak immutability. It seems that the strong version of impassibility develops in the middle Ages, sometime after augustiine. it became standard and latter Middle Ages and in Protestant scholasticism. Hence, when we used the term in OOG it was that definition we had in mind. That is what puzzeled me in the fathers since they talk about changing states in God alongside impassibility. Gavrilyuk’s book helped me see that they were not affirming strong impassibility. For shorthand, I prefer not to use the term weak impassibility and simply say that God is passible. But if someone wants a more precise definition then I would affirm weak impasibility. I don’t see how an open theist can affirm strong impassibility. Have a great rest of Easter!

open theism

Olson on Immutability

Arminian Robert Olson writes of God’s immutability:

In other words, these conservative evangelical theologians told me (through their writings), God-in-himself, God in his divinity, cannot experience anything new or suffer. But God-in-incarnation, the human nature of Jesus, can experience new things and suffer.
I’m not even going to go into all the problems this raises for Christology. I’ll just say I do believe in the hypostatic union, but not for that reason! Not to protect the deity of Christ from change and suffering.

I will also never forget the relief I felt when I first heard that Pascal said “The God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!” And when I read the evangelical theology of Donald Bloesch who rejected the philosophical logic of perfection in favor of what Emil Brunner called “biblical personalism”—that the God of the Bible is personal and therefore capable of experiencing what is outside of himself including new experiences including suffering. Bloesch and Bunner held onto the idea I was taught in Sunday School and church as a child and youth—that God is faithful in every way and that is God’s immutability. But they rejected the philosophical (Platonic and Aristotelian) idea of God as an uncarved, immovable, impervious block of stone.

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