Immutability: God Changes Not

by | Jan 8, 2017

The Incommunicable Attributes of God

Because divine aseity is so often misunderstood, that attribute has been treated separately. In this article, I want to compress the incommunicable attributes of God in one place. To begin with, the incommunicable attributes of God are different from the communicable attributes of God due to the fact that they cannot be shared with anyone or any being that is not God. Hence, they are incommunicable.

The Immutability of God

Proposition/Claim: God does not change

The proposition, “God does not change” follows naturally from the proposition that “God is self-contained” or “God is independent.” Francis Turretin deals with this subject by asking this question: Is God immutable both in essence and will? We affirm.[1] The term immutability means the possibility of change. Is there any possibility of change in the divine being? And the answer is, there is none. In order to demonstrate that Christians know that God cannot change, we must call on the source for that knowledge once again; Christian Scripture. “I am the Lord and I change now.” (Mal. 3:6) But you are the same, and your years have no end. (Ps. 102:27) Christian knowledge about God is revelational in its nature. God reveals himself in divine acts and then works to reveal the interpretation of those acts in Scripture. We come back to Exodus 3:14 where God said to Moses, “I am that I am” is my name. God’s name is being.[2] Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change. James 1:17 tells us that there is no variation or shadow of change in God. The Greek word used by James here is parallage. It means a change or variation in the nature or character of something[3] In fact, James said that even God’s shadow is ever fixed so that it does not move or change even in the slightest degree. Notice that Turretin says that God is immutable both in essence and will.

Proposition/Claim: God’s will does not change.

The word ‘will’ is used in a variety of different ways in Scripture. It can mean a wish, a desire, a plan, etc. The sense in which will is used here is God’s plan, his counsel, or decree. It is not the purpose of this section to discuss divine impassibility. I will come to that subject elsewhere. If God is simple, an attribute discussed below, then it follows that God’s will does not change any more than His being or essence changes. This is disputed by some theologians, especially those who take a more rationalistic approach to theology. God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Num. 23:19) “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done,

saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isa. 46:8-10) The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Ps. 33:11) And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” 1 Sam. 15:29) These texts are very clear. And because they are very clear, they introduce tensions with other verses that will be addressed else. When these tensions are addressed, links will be embedded here. In the meantime, if you want to know how God can hold men responsible for evil behavior if all things are within his decree to begin with, read Paul’s interaction with this thinking in Romans 9:13-20. The objection is raised in this section of Scripture and Paul basically tells the objector to shut up. Paul would not have passed a modern philosophy class for debating in that way, but that doesn’t mean his method was inferior. In fact, God is the one working through Paul to tell us to put a sock in our objection. I suggest you read that section several times.

What are the implications of the Christian doctrine of immutability?

  1. The same God who acted in the Old Testament is the God who acts in the New. Some modern evangelicals and many liberal protestants seem to think that God has changed from the Old to the New. He has not. Our God ordered what we would call in modern terms, Genocide. Our God never prohibited a certain model of slavery. These are issues with which we must come to grips if we are to understand God’s revelation about who He is and what He is like. He does not change. Slavery is immoral. God appears to condone slavery. Therefore, God is immoral. How does the Christian answer this objection to Christianity? This will be dealt with in the apologetics section of this site. However, you can be sure that the answer isn’t that God has changed.
  2. God’s will does not change. Everything that happens, happens by divine decree. Nothing happens outside the divine counsel of God. This is not just saying that God is in control of everything and then attempting to get him off the hook with libertarian free will. That everything happens because God decreed it would happen negates the idea that men act in a way that is contrary to the divine decree. See the argument in Romans mentioned above. When my 2 year-old nephew was tragically hit and killed by a truck, it was an event that God had decreed before He created the first blade of grass. When I was brought to Christ and you were brought to Christ, we were brought to Christ because God decreed he would bring us to Christ.
  3. God’s will does not depend on human freedom. The man in the jungle must hear the gospel if he is to know Christ and avoid eternal damnation. He cannot hear the gospel is someone does not go. And someone cannot go unless God sends him. So the man in the jungle who dies without the gospel suffers eternal judgment, not because no one went to preach to him, but because God did not send anyone to preach to him. But that is not entirely true either. The man in the jungle faces eternal judgment because he rejects the natural knowledge of God that he possesses so that he is without excuse. Nevertheless, in the end, God decreed that he would NOT send this man the gospel of redemption and therefore, the man would fail to avoid eternal judgment. The man is responsible because the man did exactly what he wanted to do. He lived a life of rebellion against God. Now, if you think this is harsh, or unloving, or unfair, then you need to spend several hours studying grace. It is clear that if this is how you feel, you do not understand the Christian doctrine of grace. And if you do not understand grace, it is possible that you do not know Christ. Search your heart and examine your own salvation to make sure that you are in the Way.

[1] François Turrettini, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©1992-©19), 204.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2003- 2008), 154.

[3] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 590.

Further reading: What is the Doctrine of Divine Immutability and Why Does it Matter

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