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Tuesday
Aug122008

Theological Term of the Week

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So many “im” words, so little time.
 
impassibility1
Used of God, it refers to the teaching that God is “not subject to suffering, pain, or the ebb and flow of involuntary passions.”2
  • From the Bible:
    But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

    The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end… (Lamentations 3:21-22 ESV)
  • From The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, article I:
    There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions…”3
  • J. I. Packer, in Concise Theology : A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs:
    …God’s feelings are not beyond his control, as ours often are. Theologians express this by saying that God is impassable. They mean not that he is impassive and unfeeling but that what he feels, like what he does, is a matter of his own deliberate, voluntary choice and is included in the unity of his infinite being. God is never our victim in the sense that we make him suffer where he had not first chosen to suffer. Scriptures expressing the reality of God’s emotions (joy, sorrow, anger, delight, love, hate, etc.) abound, however, and it is a great mistake to forget that God feels, though in a way of necessity that transcends a finite being’s experience of emotion.
Learn more:
  1.   Paul HelmsDivine Impassibility: Why Is It Suffering? 
  2.   Phil JohnsonGod Without Mood Swings

1 This is a disputed doctrine. Many people object to the idea that God is impassible, but many who object to it don’t really understand what it is exactly that the doctrine of impassiblity teaches. See either of the articles linked under Learn more for more discussion of this.

I admit it; I stole this definition from Phil Johnson in God Without Mood Swings.

3 We must understand “passions” here to refer to emotions which are drawn out from God involuntarily by something that lies outside of himself.

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.
 

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order. 

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Reader Comments (5)

Those are both great resources. One thing that's often forgotten is that one of the two things the Chalcedonian definition was formulated to oppose was the claim that because of the Incarnation God was passible. I suppose it's one more case of having the fight the same theological battle over and over again.

August 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

I didn't know that about the definition of Chalcedon.

August 12, 2008 | Registered Commenterrebecca

It doesn't get discussed much; but in the letter to the Emperor in which we have the Definition, it talks about

"those who are trying to ruin the proclamation of the truth, and through their private heresies they have spawned novel formulas, some by daring to corrupt the mystery of the Lord's economy on our behalf, and refusing to apply the word "God-bearer" to the Virgin; and others by introducing a confusion and mixture, and mindlessly imagining that there is a single nature of the flesh and the divinity, and fantastically supposing that in the confusion the divine nature of the Only-begotten is passible."

The first is Nestorianism; the second is Monophysitism, And then, just before it actually gives the definition, it condemns, among others, "those who dare to say that the divinity of the Only-begotten is passible." The idea is that the only way to conclude from the Incarnation that God is passible is to conflate the divine nature and the human nature.

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

This is a new theological term for me (not the concept, but the word)

I'll be exploring this some more.

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKim from Hiraeth

Thank you for that historical background, Brandon. I'd read that letter before, but the "passible" part hadn't registered, really, until you pointed it out here.

August 13, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

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