Hermeneutical Presuppositions And Divine Mutability -- By: Thomas A. Howe

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 02:1 (Spring 1999)
Article: Hermeneutical Presuppositions And Divine Mutability
Author: Thomas A. Howe

Hermeneutical Presuppositions And Divine Mutability

Thomas A. Howe, Ph.D.

Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages Southern Evangelical Seminary

Historical Introduction

The question of the immutability of God is not a new topic of debate. Nor is it a trivial matter. Disputants on all sides believe that they are defending a view of the nature of God that is essential to a coherent theological system, and one that is true to the biblical revelation. J. Pelikan observes, however, that the “early Christian picture of God was controlled by the self-evident axiom, accepted by all, of the absoluteness and the impassibility of the divine nature.”1 Thomas Weinandy points out that the “early Christological controversies and debates were never concerned with the immutability and impassibility of God as such,”2 and Reinhold Seeberg observes that among the early apologists the true Christian doctrines included, “There is One God, the Creator, Adorner, and Preserver of the world.. .. The invisible God is unbegotten, nameless, eternal, incomprehensible, unchangeable Being.”3 Irenaeus himself asserted, “let them learn that God alone, who is Lord of all, is without beginning and without end, being truly and for ever the same, and always remaining the same unchangeable Being.”4

As Thomas G. Weinandy points out, among the early church fathers, “the immutability of God, as philosophically understood, is taken for granted.”5 And according to Etienne Gilson, the question of God’s immutability was for St. Augustine not simply one aspect of his doctrine, but was “perhaps, the most profound and most constant element in his metaphysical thought.”6 As Augustine states in De Trinitate,

For as wisdom is so called from the being wise, and knowledge from knowing; so from being (1) comes that which we call essence. And who is there that is, more than He who said to His servant Moses, “I am that I am;” and, “Thus shall thou say unto the children of Israel, He who is hath sent me unto you?” (2) But other things that are called essences or substances admit of accidents, whereby a change, whether great or small, is produced in them. But there can be no accident of this kind in respect to God; and therefore He who is God is the only

unchangeable substance or essence, to whom certainly BEING itself, whence comes the name of ...

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