Immutability of God

J. C. Wenger


God is unchangeable in His character and counsel, that is, as viewed in Himself. Many Scriptures assert that God is the same, that He never changes (Mal. 3:6), that with Him there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jas. 1:17). There is no fickleness in God. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before hint whenever our hearts condemn us, for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows (I John 3:19, 20).

The Biblical teaching on the immutability of God must, of course, not be understood as destroying all that the Word of God has to say about the objectivity and efficiency of prayer and its results. Nevertheless, if we can look at prayer from God's viewpoint, it is not a matter of human beings changing God (who is beneficent by nature and who desires the happiness of His children always), but it is a matter of human beings putting themselves into a position where God is able to bless them and to help them. Thus God told Solomon: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their

It is freely admitted, of course, that the Bible contains many anthropomorphic expressions, such as God being sorry that He had made man on the earth, and being grieved to His heart (Gen. 6:6); that He came down to see whether the race had done according to the outcry which had come to Him or not (Gen. 18:21); that He would destroy Israel or Nineveh, but later did not do so because of prayer and repentance, (Jon. 3:10), etc. These expressions must be interpreted in the light of all the Scripture, rather than contrary to the plain didactic statements of the Bible. For example, Jeremiah speaks of God rising up early to send His prophets on their way (Jer. 44:4), but this Scripture must be interpreted in the light of that Psalm which says that God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4).
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J. Kenneth Grider comments on the two so-called immutable passages of the Bible.

The two so-called immutable passages of the Bible teach that God is dependable, that He is faithful, not that He is immutable. The writer to the Hebrews is exhorting Christians to maintain their faith in Christ and not to take up with new and strange doc trines about Him. In 13:7 he says, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; . . . imitate their faith" (NASB). The next words are, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever" (v. 8, NASB). His next words are, "Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings" (v. 9, NASB). This has nothing to do with the Deity's being immutable or with Christ's being immutable. The writer is saying that the correct teachings about Christ and the redemption He provided for are unchanging, so that the readers should not take up with new and strange teachings.

The other so-called immutability passage reads, "For I, the Lord, do not change" (Mal. 3:6 NASB). Yahweh declares that He is going to send His "messenger" to "clear the way" (3:1, NASB) before Christ; and that he intends to "purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold" (v. 3, NASB), a probable reference to Pentecost. Then he says that God will judge "sorcerers" and "adulterers" and "those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan," and others (v. 5, NASB). Then he says that the readers can expect both this coming redemption and this judgment because "I, the Lord, do not change." This statement has nothing to do with God's being immutable in His nature or impersonal in His relationship with His people. It means that He will not change His intention to redeem people and to judge those who will not allow themselves to be redeemed.

Hendrikus Berkhof properly speaks of "the unchangeableness of God's faithfulness." 17 Yet he believes that God changes." 18 He writes, "From the time of creation God was changed." He soon adds, "And when he created man he changed again." And he says, (Mal. 3 Christ he again experienced a profound change when the Word became flesh." All the while, though, God is unchangeable in His faithfulness. Berkhof writes, "Not in spite of but precisely in his change God follows a straight line."

Grider, J. Kenneth, A Wesleyan Holiness Theology, pp. 118, 119, 1994 by Beacon Press of Kansas City.

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Immutability by H. Ray Dunning

Changelessness is an attribute traditionally referred to God by both popular piety and classical theology. Biblical support for this quality presents us with an ambiguous picture, however. There is a strong movement in the positive direction; for example, "For I the Lord do not change" (Mal. 3:6). But there are balancing tendencies in the other direction. God is frequently pictured as changing His mind in response to human repentance or other behavior, that is, as dynamic in character. Identifying God's essential nature as holy love provides a way of holding on to both of these scriptural emphases. God's love, His intention for good, never changes, although His response is an interaction with human freedom. Perhaps an even more satisfactory way of de scribing this attribute is in terms of faithfulness, the faithfulness of love to promises made.

H. Ray. Dunning, Grace, Faith & Holiness, Beacon Hill Press: Kansas City, Mo. 1988, p. 202

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Immutability by J. Orton Wiley

By the immutability of God is meant His changelessness in essence or attribute, purpose or consciousness. Dr. Dickie thinks that this attribute should be included under eternity, and Dr. Mac Pherson points out, also, that eternity is generally associated with unchangeableness. The two are related in much the same manner as omnipresence is related to immensity. When viewed ad intra immutability excludes all development, the process of becoming, any change or possibility of change; when viewed ad extra, God is the same after creation as before, the fullness of life and light and love, undiminished by the free outflow in creation. It is opposed, therefore, to pantheism, or to any other form of emanation. "God is immutable," says Rothe, "because His being, in all its changes and modifications, remains constantly true to its own conception . . . . Seeing that God, at all times and in all His relations with the world, perfectly corresponds to His own idea. He is at all times like Himself, and consequently immutable" (Rothe, Still Hours, p. 102). But there are some limitations. The divine unchangeableness must not be so interpreted as to preclude any movement in the divine life. Immutability is not a rigid sameness of being, but a characteristic of free intelligence. It refers to the essence or attributes of God, and not to His operations in creation and providence, only in so far as these are always in harmony with the immutability of the divine nature. He loves righteousness and hates iniquity. Consequently His moral government is always in harmony with His nature as holy love. He regards a person now with displeasure and now with complacency, according as that person is disobedient or righteous. The Divine immutability is therefore vital to both morality and religion.

The scriptural references to the immutability of God are peculiarly rich and satisfying. The psalmist declares, Thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end (Psalm 102: 27) and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews restates it in the words, But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail (Heb. 1: 12). In the last book of the Old Testament the Prophet Malachi voices this attribute in the words, For I the Lord change not (Mal. 3: 6). Every good gift, says St. James, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1: 17). In Hebrews it is again stated that, Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us (Heb. 6: 17, 18). "This is the perfection," says Dr. Blair, "which perhaps more than any other distinguishes the divine nature from the human, gives complete energy to all its attributes, and entitles it to the highest adoration. From hence are derived the regular order of nature and the steadfastness of the universe." The Eternal God who revealed Himself as the I AM to Moses, is the I AM of today, "infinite, eternal, unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."

Most closely connected with this eternity of the Divine Being is the unchangeableness, in virtue of which every idea of modification in His form of existence is utterly excluded (Mal. 3:6, James 1:17), since He dwells in eternity; so that His perfection just as little admits of increase or diminution. In so far then, it is less accurate to speak of God's nature, since this word, by virtue of its derivation (nature from "nasci") necessarily suggests the idea of a growing or becoming. It is better to speak of the Being of God, as indicating that which in itself from eternity to eternity IS. (Exod. 3:14). What strong consolation flows from a believing acknowledgment thereof, can here only be indicated. Compare the 90th PSa1m.-Van Oostaezee, Chr. Dogm., pp. 257, 258.

The consideration of the Immanent attributes is, therefore, properly concluded with an account of that truth, love, and holiness, which render God entirely sufficient to himself.- STRONG, Syst. Th., I, p. 260. he divine intelligence is immutable, in the sense that it is an eternal, perfect knowledge of all things; but evidently a perfect knowledge of all things is a knowledge of them as they are: possible, as possible; actual, as actual; past, as past; present, as present; and future, as future; necessary events as necessary, and contingent events, as contingent. The phenomena of the divine moral and esthetic nature are immutably the same, in the sense that they eternally correspond with the inherent nature of their object. God loves invariably that which is excellent, and ever feels aversion to that which is unlovely. He loves righteousness and hates iniquity and punishes the wicked. He is immutable in the principles of His government and is as variable in the application of those principles as are the ever varying objects to which they apply.-Raymond Strong, Systematic Theology, , I, p. 318.

The importance of this attribute is found in its use as a reverent defense of the adorable nature from all that would dishonor it in our thoughts or theological systems. If we sacrifice any one attribute to any other we derogate from the perfection of God who is the Being in whom every attribute has its supreme existence and manifestation. As it belongs essentially to God in Himself, so it impresses its stamp on all the divine works, and must give the law to all our theological views of His character.-P0PE, Compend. Christian Theology., I, p. 304.

Strong relates perfection to the moral attributes, making it not quantitative completeness but qualitative excellence. Right action among men presupposes a perfect moral organization, a normal state of intellect, affection and will. So God's activity presupposes a principle of intelligence, of affection, of volition, in His inmost being, and the existence of a worthy object for each of these powers of his nature. But In eternity past there is nothing existing outside or apart from God. He must find, as He does find, the sufficient object of intellect, affection and will, in himself. There is a self-knowing, a self-loving, a self-willing which constitute His absolute perfection. The consideration of the immanent attributes is, therefore, properly concluded with an account of that truth, love, and holiness, which render God sufficient to himself. - Strong, Systematic Theology. , I, p. 260.

J. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press, 1940, Vol. I, p. 340-342

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Scriptures on Immutability (Unchangeability);

God changes His mind: Exodus 32:14; Numbers 14:11; Deuteronomy. 9:1314, 1 Samuel 2:29-30; 2 Kings 20:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Jeremiah 18:711; Jeremiah 26:3; Jeremiah. 26:19; Ezekiel 33:1315; Ezekiel 20:2122; Amos 7:16; Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 410; Joel 2:1314

God repented He made ... : Genesis 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:10-11; Ezekiel 22:2931

God is surprised: Isaiah 5:37; Jeremiah 3:6-7; 1920

God did not know what people would do: Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35

God tests people to learn what they will do: Genesis 22:12; Exodus 16:4; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 13:13; Judges 2:21-22; 2 Chronicles 32:31.

God shows uncertainty about the future: Exodus 4:9; Exodus 13:17; Numbers 14:11; Hosea 8:5; Jeremiah 38:1718,20; Ezekiel. 12:13

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From J. C. Wenger's Introduction to Theology, pages 47, 48. Copyright 1954, renewal 1980 by Herald Press. Published by Biblical Viewpoints. For information how to order this book visit bibleviews.com/Books.html or email books@bibleviews.com .

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March 5, 2004

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