If God undergoes emotional changes, then does He experience time? Is He then acted upon by creatures and subject to what transpires in the creaturely realm? Is His Being composed of metaphysical complexity? Consider the relationship between God’s impassibility and other incommunicable attributes of the divine nature.

Few doctrines in the contemporary milieu of modern evangelicalism have provoked more ‘passionate’ debate than the topic of God’s impassibility. While it may initially seem to be a doctrine of relatively little theological consequence as to whether it is affirmed or denied, a more conversant understanding of the issues demonstrates that what is at stake is nothing less than the doctrine of God as historically articulated by the church. The denial of divine impassibility cannot be considered in isolation from its immediate theological context; namely, the question of how impassibility is related to other doctrines specific to Theology Proper, and broadly, to the metaphysics of divine ontology in general. It seems to me that the denial of impassibility logically conduces to an undermining of other related divine attributes, opening the door for theological reconstructionism and heterodoxy. This is because there is an inextricable relationship between the impassibility of God and other related attributes of the divine nature. The aim of this article is to argue that the incommunicable attributes of God as understood by classical Christian theism and affirmed by Reformed orthodoxy, especially pure actuality, essential simplicity, and eternality, logically necessitate the concomitant affirmation of divine impassibility.[1]

The Classical Position and its Challengers

The doctrine of divine impassibility, simply put, teaches that God does not experience emotional changes.[2] This is predicated of His ontological being so that God, in His essential nature or ‘substance,’ is not subject to fluctuating moods, affections, or emotional states. It means that God in Himself is free from mutable developments of an emotive or affectional nature. He is free not only from negative, sinful, and bodily passions but also from the inconstancy of any emotional variableness even of a positive kind. His virtues are unchanging even in what Scripture describes as His holy affections.

The following definition proves helpful: “Impassibility is that divine attribute whereby God is said not to experience inner emotional changes of state, whether enacted freely from within or effected by his relationship to and interaction with human beings and the created order.”[3] This definition does not deny that Scripture often ascribes emotive modes of expression to God, but it denies that such modes of emotive experience can be predicated of him ad intra, i.e. in His internal or ontological being (cf. Acts 14:15; 1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). Such emotive mutability cannot be acted upon God so as to subject him to affectional flux, nor is it ever effectuated internally by some kind of determinative operation of God’s will upon himself. The very nature of God as God precludes such a possibility.

This doctrine is the united and overwhelming consensus of classical Christian theism’s confession of God. It can be discerned in the vast corpus of writings of the church fathers.[4] It is confessed by Catholic and Protestant alike. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) summarizes it when it declares that God is “a most pure spirit…without body, parts, or passions, immutable,” and other Reformed confessions agree.[5] God’s impassibility is a catholic doctrine in the true sense of the term, being universally confessed alongside other divine attributes. Part of the reason for this widespread agreement in orthodox Christian theism is due to the necessary affirmation of impassibility as the logical consequence of affirming other incommunicable attributes of the divine nature.

In spite of this widespread agreement, modern scholarship has sought to redefine, reconstruct, and deny God’s impassibility.[6] A.M. Fairbairn declared in the nineteenth century that “theology has no falser idea than that of the impassibility of God.”[7] Karl Barth taught a brand of self-determined passible voluntarism in the being of God, denying that God is subject to changes wrought upon him from without, but asserting that God experiences emotional changes he voluntarily determines to undergo in response to developments in creation.[8]

The motivating factor for these denials, for the most part, seems to have been fueled by human empathy. Understandably, a God that is aloof, unconcerned, stoic, and disinterested in His image-bearing creatures is far from being of any comfort to people who suffer. Many have sought to rescue the doctrine of God from this perceived threat to biblical teaching. During the Holocaust, this endeavor understandably intensified. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an eyewitness to Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews, spoke of God’s “powerlessness and suffering” and said, “only the suffering God can help.”[9]For Bonhoeffer and others, only a God who co-suffers with the victims of such crimes can truly sympathize with them and rescue them by His love.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, it was Jürgen Moltmann who adopted Bonhoeffer’s philosophy of divine suffering and did much to popularize these concepts. In his seminal work, A Crucified God, he teaches that the cross demonstrates that God’s love is authentic because by it, God truly suffers with His people.[10] He argues that such suffering cannot be considered that of the human nature of Christ only, but must include the willing participation of the divine nature. He called it “the active suffering of love” by which God willingly opened himself up and chose to participate in human suffering.[11]

Modern evangelicalism, at large, has not held fast to the ancient doctrine. Rather than maintaining its rootedness in the classical theism of Protestant orthodoxy, it has largely been swayed by the formidable influences that Moltmann and the like—not to mention cultural influences—have had upon the academy. While it is to be expected that open theists like Clark Pinnock would deny and even attack classic impassability since such denial fits so well with their system,[12] what is not so expected (being quite inconsistent) is that modern evangelical Calvinists like J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, John Frame, Wayne Grudem, Robert Reymond, Donald Macleod, Kevin Vanhoozer, Bruce Ware, and Greg Nichols would deny it.[13]

Much has been said in response to their challenges, and much more could be said. Careful exegesis, hermeneutical evaluation, historical analysis, philosophical reflection, and scholarly interaction should all undergird and contribute to our understanding of divine impassibility as we carefully work out its details and implications. For our present purposes, however, we will appeal to an important dogmatic argument in defense of divine impassibility. The motivating presupposition is that fellow Protestant and Reformed evangelicals do not (or at least, should not) desire to depart from the orthodox, historic doctrine of God as taught by the Christian church. If we succeed in validating the truthfulness of our argument, such should cause no uncertain reticence on the part of those who deny divine impassibility to assert their claims and should encourage them to reassess their position.

We will proceed by summarizing several incommunicable attributes of God that are often neglected in contemporary evangelical theology and demonstrate the coherence that impassibility has in the church’s doctrine of God. These several ‘attributes’ serve as unified witnesses; each bears testimony to the impassibility of God in its own right. Divine impassibility is a ‘package deal’—it goes hand in hand with each of these attributes so that to deny impassibility requires the denial of these various attributes, resulting in a wholesale reconstruction of the doctrine of God.

Pure Actuality

The classical tradition, beginning with the scholastics who built on the legacy of patristic and Nicene theology, affirms that God is actus purus, or pure act. This is a proper predication of God’s being ad intra. It means that the living God is in His essence “perfect actualization[14] and pure, spiritual, infinite being. His perfection is infinitely and perfectly realized as the self-existent one and he therefore has no potential for increasing in perfection.[15]

This is distinguished from all creaturely being which consists of both act and passive potency. “A thing in potency is that which has the potential or capacity for further for further perfection or actuality.”[16] There is no passive potentiality in the essential being of God that could result in God being acted upon by an extrinsic stimulus in order to effectuate change in Him. He is the first cause of all things, the independent, absolute being from which everything creaturely is fitted with finite being that is derived and dependent (Acts 17:28). Bavinck said, “God is the real, the true being, the fullness of being, the sum total of all reality and perfection, the totality of being, from which all other being owes its existence. He is an immeasurable and unbounded ocean of being; the absolute being who alone has being in himself.”[17]

The foundational Scriptural text to support this is the “self-contained” God’s preferred title of self-identification.[18] The covenant name of God as the “I AM” highlights not only His redemptive activity but especially His ontological being as the basis of His activity in history (Exod. 3:14; cf. Neh. 9:6; Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:8, 21:6; 22:13). God’s aseity, all-sufficiency, and boundlessly blessed independence are all implied in the divine title “YHWH.”[19]

To confess the aseity of God entails the necessary concomitant confession of the pure actuality of the divine being. If God were not pure act, neither would he be truly a se. God could not be necessarily all-sufficient and independent if there were passive potency in His being that would cause him to derive His mode of existence at least in part from some internal ontological movement (intrinsic actuality) wrought from him by creatures.[20] It does not matter if such internal divine movement is immediately initiated by God’s own will or the creature’s will—either way, passive potency is changed to the active realization of movement, from “is” to “attaining.”[21] This would mean that God is not pure being but becoming. But God is not in any process of becoming, for ‘he is’ eternally all that he is. He is not undergoing change, nor is he shedding one state of actuality in exchange for further realizations of actuality. “Becoming-ness” is an attribute that is creaturely. The distinction between “being” and “becoming” is part of the Creator-creature antithesis that distinguishes the ineffable deity from all that is creaturely.[22]

The reason why this understanding of actus purus requires God’s impassibility is because to undergo changes in emotional state would require previous passive potency that is then actualized in God’s being. Such is impossible if God’s being is in pure, infinite, eternal, essential actuality. Furthermore, such changes would be initiated by creatures. If the creature sins grievously, God would undergo internal grief. This would mean God’s being is subject to creaturely acts. His internal mode of being would be dependent for its actuality on the effects that creatures provoke from him. His aseity would be obliterated by causing His emotions to depend on man’s actions (cf. Job 22:2–3; 25:6–7; 35:7; 41:11; Rom. 11:35–36). How can God be absolutely independent if His state of emotional mind is dependent on what man does?

Does the doctrine of divine impassibility deny the greatness of God’s love? Understood rightly in light of God’s pure actuality, in a sense it is the very opposite of the stoic, indifferent, apathetic caricature often painted.[23] It is not necessary to undergo “passions” for love to be genuine. As pure act, just as God is, God is love (1 John 4:17). His proper attributes are one with His essence and existence. Love is not a mere affection God ‘has’ or ‘possesses,’ properly speaking, for this would imply that love is something possessable outside of God, which God assumes or appropriates to himself. It is His essence. Since His essence is pure and infinite act, His love is also pure and unchangingly infinite.[24]God cannot experience emotional changes that increase or diminish His essential love because His love is already immutably infinite! To diminish in love would imply that it is no longer infinite and perfect, and to increase in love would imply that it was not previously infinite and perfect. Far from diminishing God’s love and His other affectional attributes, the essential infiniteness of these holy “affections” is so great and perfect that it cannot change for better or for worse.[25]

The Simplicity of God

A related attribute of God in tandem with His pure actuality is His simplicity. The Lord our God is one, and His essence is one (Deut. 6:4). Bishop Usher asks in his famed Body of Divinity, “What is Simpleness or Singleness in God?” and defines it thus: “It is an essential Property in God, whereby every thing that is in God is God himself. Therefore without parts, mixture or composition, Invisible, Impassible, all Essence.”[26] When he says it is an essential property in God, he does not mean an accidental property (for that would contradict his own assertion) but rather he is using “property” as a synonym for attribute. God’s simplicity is essential to His nature and underlies each of His attributes along with the Trinity of His persons.

As the Creator, God is transcendent above all created reality (Gen. 1:1). Divine simplicity distinguishes the Creator from the creature. Everything created bears a complexity that consists of both substance and parts or accidents, and the substance always in some way depends upon the parts for the actualization of its being.[27] God is pure spiritual substance without creaturely complexity.

Herman Bavinck, expressly following Irenaeus, Augustine, John of Damascus, the scholastics, and “all Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed theologians” (who themselves were following Scripture!), points out how divine simplicity is a uniquely divine attribute which explicates the essence of the Creator/creature distinction: “In the realm of creatures there are differences between existing, living, knowing, and willing; there are differences of degree among them. There are creatures that only exist; other creatures that also live; still others that also think. But in God everything is one. God is everything he possesses.”[28] Thus the doctrine of divine simplicity strikes at the heart of what constitutes the metaphysical distinction between the Creator and the creature, for “in the case of creatures all this is very different. In their case there is a difference between existing, being, living, knowing, willing, acting, and so on. ‘All that is compounded is created.’ No creature can be completely simple, for every creature is finite.”[29]

Does this mean that God’s attributes are one with His essence? Of course, for there could be no other option if we are to be consistent with this predication of the divine essence. God does not possess holiness and love as a creature would, for He is holy and He is love. Bavinck explains, “The fact of the matter is that Scripture, to denote the fullness of the life of God, uses not only adjectives but also substantives: it tells us not only that God is truthful, righteous, living, illuminating, loving, and wise, but also that he is the truth, righteousness, life, light, love, and wisdom (Jer. 10:10; 23:6; John 1:4–5, 9; 14:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 John 1:5; 4:8). Hence, on account of its absolute perfection, every attribute of God is identical with his essence.”[30] This does not mean that as creatures we cannot make distinctions between the attributes of God as they are revealed to us in an accommodated mode of revelation, and as we come to know them. What Scripture reveals about God’s manifold names and attributes reveals something of the manifold fullness of the divine being, pointing to the infinite, simple, incomprehensible divine essence. Bavinck follows Augustine when he says, “Every name refers to the same full divine being, but each time from a particular angle, the angle from which it reveals itself to us in his works. God is therefore simple in his multiplicity and manifold in his simplicity.”[31] The Bible’s revelation of God is genuine revelation, but that revelation is neither univocal nor equivocal; it is rather accommodated to our finite mode of comprehension and expression. Hence, “all his attributes are divine, hence infinite and one with his being.”[32]

Divine simplicity and other the several other divine attributes—impassibility included—are mutually implied. The affirmation of the one logically necessitates the affirmation of the other while the denial of the one logically necessitates the denial of the other. Bavinck explains,

“This simplicity is of great importance, nevertheless, for our understanding of God. It is not only taught in Scripture (where God is called “light,” “life,” and “love”) but also automatically follows from the idea of God and is necessarily implied in the other attributes. Simplicity here is the antonym of “compounded.” If God is composed of parts, like a body, or composed of genus (class) and differentiae (attributes of differing species belonging to the same genus), substance and accidents, matter and form, potentiality and actuality, essence and existence, then his perfection, oneness, independence, and immutability cannot be maintained.”[33]

It is therefore impossible for there to be composition of substance and accidents in God. There is no accidental property appended to God’s being—much less cohering in His being—that would augment, delimit, contain, or instantiate him into actuality. James Dolezal reasons,

“The essential logic of simplicity is that if God were composed of parts then those parts would account for his essence and existence. A part is anything that is less than the whole and without which the whole would be really different than it is. Parts precede wholes and wholes depend upon their parts. Furthermore, whatever is composed of parts requires a composer—a source of unity—that is ontologically prior to the thing composed. Nothing is before God and his essence cannot be built up out of realities more basic than himself. If this were so he would depend on that which is not God in order to be God. Thus, it must be that all that is in God is God.”[34]

Emotional changes as they exist in human beings are accidental properties. If a man becomes sad, for example, that sadness does not constitute the essence of his being as a human. Such a person was fully a human being prior to getting sad, and after his sadness subsides, he continues to be a human being. The accidental property of sadness is not one with the substance of his being as a creature. There is a distinction between substance and accident within the being of the man himself. However, the accidental property of sadness does add actuality to the man in question. Though the man is fully a human being, he did not necessarily possess sadness in virtue of his being. The sadness was experienced and added actuality to his being. He becomes not only a human being, but a sad human being, only later to become a non-sad human being. As sad, the man came to possess actuality that he did not previously possess. He went from one state of actuality to a new and different state of actuality, and the potential to be sad actualized into a state of sadness. Furthermore, the sadness added actuality to his state of being, causing his mode of existence to be conditioned by such sadness, and resulting in his mode of existence as a human being to be dependent on this sadness for its actuality.[35]

 If we predicate such emotional changes of God, then it becomes obvious that we would have to posit Him as a complex being. In this case, the classical and Reformed understanding of divine simplicity could not be more wrong. God would have to possess both substance and accidents, otherwise there would be no way for him to experience emotional changes that do not completely coinhere in his entire being so as to fully identify with it and make the two one. In the case of the man of our illustration, the reason the sadness does not completely consume his being and become one with the being is because the sadness is an accidental property that is distinguished from the man’s being. If the man’s being is made to be sadness itself, then pure and utter sadness would ensue as far as human nature is capable of experiencing it, and they would be essentially, substantially, metaphysically one. The man would be his sadness and the sadness would be the man! And the man himself would be ontologically identified with the sadness as an instantiated manifestation of existential sadness, as it were. What a sad thought! The only way to avoid this absurdity is to understand sadness as an accidental property that brings the being into states of ongoingly acquired actuality. The same logic applies to every emotional change conceivable.

The affirmation of God’s simplicity necessitates the affirmation of His impassibility. A passible God cannot be simple. Dolezal summarizes the matter well: “God is whatever he is in virtue of his essence as God and thus cannot be conceived as dependent upon anything not perfectly identical with himself. Ergo, God is without passions.”[36] Those who deny divine impassibility also—by inference—deny the biblical and historic doctrine of divine simplicity, regardless of the homage to they may to the doctrine on a superficial level.

The Eternality of God

In addition to God’s pure actuality and simplicity, it is also important to consider the classical doctrine of God’s eternality. The full affirmation of the classical position of divine eternality logically necessitates the affirmation of divine impassibility. Scripture abundantly bears witness to God’s eternality. Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (cf. Isa. 40:28; Job 36:26; Ps. 102:12; 1 Tim. 6:16). He is “the everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33) that “inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15); the one who lives forever (Deut. 32:40); the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending” (Rev. 1:8) to whom a thousand years are as the span of a fleeting day (2 Pet. 3:8); “the King eternal, immortal, invisible” to whom be “honour and glory forever” (1 Tim. 1:17).

These are not the only biblical evidences that we have about God’s eternality, however. We should understand these statements in conjunction with other statements in Scripture that speak of God’s infinity (Job 11:7–9; Ps. 145:3; Isa. 40:12–17), His transcendence over the created order (2 Chron. 2:6; Isa. 55:8–9; 66:1), and His immutability (1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). When we consider all of the biblical data on these divine attributes and combine their testimonies to apply them to our understanding of the one simple God (since every attribute is one with His entire essence, existence, and being), it becomes evident that God is eternal in a way that is infinite, transcendent, and immutable.[37]

What does infinite, transcendent, immutable eternality look like? The way of negation proves helpful at this point. Apophatically, we must divest our thoughts of God’s eternality from all finiteness that characterizes the creature, from all subjection to creaturely limitation, and from the continual ontological change occasioned by the temporal mutability that characterizes the entire created order. God has no finiteness, no limitation, and no mutability. But time is finiteness, limitation, and mutability, because time is in its very essence and by its very definition, movement and measurement. It is transition from one state to another.[38]

As such, time is a created reality. Bavinck says, “the essential nature of time is…that it encompasses a succession of moments… But from this it follows that time—intrinsic time—is the mode of existence that is characteristic of all created and finite beings. One who says ‘time’ says motion, change, measurability, computability, limitation, finiteness, creature.”[39] Without creation, time would not exist. That is why Bavinck and the entire classical tradition insist that God is timeless—supratemporal—as Lord over time.

Time is not some realm which God inhabited before the creation of the world. God did not inhabit some space or sphere subject to time-measurement because before the world was, because God was the only reality that existed. It is important to not think of eternity as an endless succession of moments, entailing endless time as ongoing movement from past to present to future. If eternity as predicated of God’s being is an endless succession of moments, then God would be subject to a higher reality that bears existence as reality outside of His being, even co-extensive with His being. This would result in some co-eternal reality that is co-existent with God, and perhaps result even in an inferiority in God’s being as a being subject to a superior category of temporality. Such is impossible because before the world was, nothing else was except God alone (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1; 17:24).

If God were to experience emotional change, he would have to dwell within the confines of time. This would subject His boundless omni-being to an endless confinement of a necessarily imposed mutability. Dolezal explains, “Passions, which are simply emotions acquired through one’s unfolding experiences, require one to be in time and to undergo successive states of being and thus to be temporal.”[40] God would have to cease to be pure actuality and there would have to be potency in His being that could be acted upon and effected by time in order to bring him into a state of successive actuality whereby he sheds His previous actuality. The God who is simple essence would have to assume properties onto His ontological being that would allow him to be subject to the time He created. To predicate the experience of fluctuating passions of the being of God is to insist that God must be subject to creaturely time—the essence of which is movement (potency rather than act) and measurement (finiteness rather than infinity).


Classical Christian theism, with which the Reformed tradition has stood unified in its full and consistent confession of God’s creator-hood and deity, confesses God’s impassibility as an important and necessary corollary to God’s pure actuality, simplicity, and eternality. If one affirms these incommunicable attributes, it must lead to the confession of impassibility as well. If one were to deny impassibility, such a denial would lead to the necessary modification, reconstruction, and ultimately, to the denial of these three essential attributes. But to deny these attributes would be to occasion the need for the complete reconstruction of the doctrine of God—a reconstruction that would be inconsistent with the rest of the body of Reformed systematic theology.

The contention of many classical and Reformed authors is that to deny these several attributes in their historic, orthodox formulation is to make an affront against the very Godhood of God. Such an affront may not be intentional, but it is to deny of God essential attributes that distinguish His creator-hood from that which is creaturely. And this Creator/creature distinction is the most fundamental premise of classical Christian theism. It is also the foundational premise of the Biblical worldview, for the history of inscripturated revelation begins with the phrase, “In the beginning, God created” (Gen. 1:1)—a declaration that grounds all the self-revelation of God that follows. Whether one predicates passive potency of God (against pure actuality), or accidental complexity of him (against simplicity), or succession of movement (against eternality), the postulate that follows is one that predicates of God properties that are essentially creaturely in nature. And to ascribe to the Godhead by way of proper predication that which is essentially creaturely is the essence of idolatry (Rom. 1:23).

God’s impassibility is not an isolated doctrine that has no bearings on the doctrine of God. It is one and the same with the glory of God’s immutability, and this immutability characterizes all His attributes because these attributes are nothing less than infinite perfections. Stephen Charnock observed, “Immutability is a glory belonging to all the attributes of God.”[41] To deny immutability of God’s holy, burning affectional disposition or of the ineffable love, joy, and zeal of God as actus purus, is not to retrieve genuineness of affection but it is to downgrade the infinite excellence of His inherent perfection.

The classical doctrine of divine impassibility does not teach that God has less than what Scripture reveals to us as His affections but that His affections are infinite perfections free from all the variableness, limitations, impurities, and flaws of our creaturely affections. God is “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). This lack of shifting variableness even in the realm of the affectional and emotive is not an insult to God’s love; it is the glory of God that His love is unchanging. The doctrine of divine impassibility preserves the greatness of God as utterly perfect. He is so perfect that although human language is a capable vehicle of His saving knowledge, it is incapable of exhaustively or univocally comprehending his true greatness in any of his excellencies. God is so perfect that He does not—indeed, cannot—change.



[1] Others have recognized this but here I seek to develop it more fully. Gavrilyuk notes how a number of those who deny divine impassibility tend to treat it as an “isolated concept” and insists that it be treated with other divine attributes that can be arrived at apophatically, such as “immutability, invisibility, incorporeality, indivisibility, incorruptibility, incomprehensibility, and the like.” Paul L. Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 61. Bavinck said, “Those who predicate any change whatsoever of God, whether with respect to his essence, knowledge, or will, diminish all his attributes: independence, simplicity, eternity, omniscience, and omnipotence.” Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 158. Dolezal’s work is closest to the present thesis; he provides a summary of the relationship that the aforementioned attributes bear with God’s impassibility in James Dolezal, “Still Impassible: Confessing God without Passions,” Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (2014), 125-151. This article is heavily indebted to Dolezal’s work and it seeks to develop his insights more fully relative to the present thesis. See also Charles J. Rennie, “A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Impassibility and the Essence and Attributes of God” in Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, eds. Ronald S. Baines, et al (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015), 279-304.

[2] Samuel Renihan, God without Passions, A Primer: A Practical and Pastoral Study of Divine Impassibility (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015), 19.

[3] Thomas G. Weinandy, “Impassibility of God,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., (Detroit; Washington DC: 2003), 357. Quoted in Dolezal, Still Impassible, 127.

[4] See Thomas Wienandy, Does God Suffer? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), 83–112.

[5] God’s impassibility is confessed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1563), the Savoy Declaration of 1658 and the Second London Baptist Confession of 1677/89. For a compilation of primary Reformed and Puritan sources, see Samuel Renihan, ed., God Without Passions: A Reader (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

[6] Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God, 2.

[7] Quoted in Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, 1.

[8] Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Part 1, vol. 2 (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 370.

[9] Bernd Wannenwetsch, “‘Christians and Pagans’: Towards a Trans-Religious Second Naïveté or How to Be a Christological Creature,” in Who Am I?: Bonhoeffer’s Theology through His Poetry, ed. Bernd Wannenwetsch (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2009), 185–186. This was foundational to Bonhoeffer’s existentially based divine-encounter soteriology.

[10] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

[11] Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 194.

[12] Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 55-59, 77-78.

[13] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 109; D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 165; John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 416; Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine(Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan, 2004), 165–166; Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 178-79; Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 50-52; Kevin J. Vanhoozer. First Theology: God, Scripture, & Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 75; Bruce Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 91-92; Greg Nichols, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Volume 1, Doctrine of God, ed. Rob Ventura (Seattle: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017), 369-95.

[14] Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 24.

[15] For more on the definition of actus purus, see Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, 120-27; James E. Dolezal, God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 34-44. The classic scholastic source is Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.); see, e.g., I.9.1.

[16] “Glossary of Technical Terms and Theological Phrases,” in Confessing the Impassible God, 439.

[17] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:123.

[18] “The self-contained God” was a preferred title of Van Til in reference to God. It was (rightly) intended to highlight the Creator-creature distinction and to stress that all revelation of God in this world is anthropomorphic and accommodated. See Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

[19] See the helpful discussion of God’s independence in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Volume 3: The Divine Essence and Attributes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 238-40.

[20] Rennie, Confessing the Impassible God, 295.

[21] Rennie, Confessing the Impassible God, 288-90.

[22] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:152.

[23] Paul Helm, “The Impossibility of Divine Passibility,” in The Power and Weakness of God, ed. Nigel M. de S. Cameron (Edinburgh: Rutherford House Books, 1990), 125.

[24] For an in-depth treatment of the relationship between God’s love and his immutability, see Charles J. Rennie, “A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility,” Confessing the Impassible God, 305-36; Renihan, God without Passions, A Primer, 69-71.

[25] I place “affections” in quotation marks not because what God is/has is not any less than the excellencies implicated in such holy virtues, but because the term itself is used in different manners in the classical tradition. See Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1, Revelation and God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 839-40; Renihan, God without Passions, A Reader, 29-33.

[26] James Usher, A Body of Divinity: Or, the Sum and Substance of Christian Religion, Eighth Edition. (London: R. J.; Jonathan Robinson; A. and J. Churchill; J. Taylor; J. Wyatt, 1702), 90.

[27] Dolezal, Still Impassible, 133. Cf. James E. Dolezal, All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 40.

[28] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:174.

[29] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:176.

[30] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:173.

[31] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:177.

[32] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:176.

[33] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:176.

[34] Dolezal, Still Impassible, 132-33.

[35] This illustration is indebted to Dolezal’s helpful illustration of a farmer with a suntan and the surrounding explanation of it in Still Impassible, 133-34.

[36] Still Impassible, 134.

[37] Paul Helm, Eternal God: A Study of God without Time, Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 18-19.

[38] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I:10; Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 202.

[39] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:163.

[40] Dolezal, Still Impassible, 131.

[41] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 381.

Recommended Reading on Divine Impassibility:


Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004 [pp. 148–177].

***Baines, Ron S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan, eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2015.

Dolezal, James E. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

———. God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011.

Helm, Paul. Eternal God: A Study of God without Time, Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Muller, Richard. Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Volume 3: The Divine Essence and Attributes. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003 [select portions].

Renihan, Samuel. God without Passions, A Primer: A Practical and Pastoral Study of Divine Impassibility. Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015.

Renihan, Samuel, ed., God without Passions: A Reader. Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d. [select portions].

Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Edited by James T. Dennison Jr. Translated by George Musgrave Giger. Vol. 1. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997 [select portions].