1 Samuel 15:29: The Impassibility of God


  • Definition of impassibility
  • Apparatus of impassibility
  • Application of impassibility


As a Christian I have had to undergo some continental shifts in my thinking about God. From an absence of belief in God to faith upon conversion; from a anthropocentric God to a self-defining God in leaving the Charismatic Church; from a small and reactionary God to a Sovereign God in coming to understand the doctrines of the Reformation. The last major shift has come in recognising the incomprehensible God, the Creator–creature distinction, and the abyss that really exists between God and ourselves. Last week we began looking at 1 Sam 15 and the events of Saul having the kingdom removed from him and it being given to David. But in the midst of that chapter we passed over some very important statements about God. On the one hand we were told that God regretted making Saul king, v11, 35; yet on the other hand we are told that God is not like a man that He should have regrets, v29. So which is it? This is the question we want to confront, and in confronting it dig into some of the deepest waters we can find about our God. We want to talk about what is traditionally called the impassibility of God.

There are a number of verses in the bible that confront us with this issue. Gen. 6:6, ‘And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.’ Numbers 23:19, ‘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 fulfil it?’ Jonah 3:10, ‘When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.’ And of course, 1 Samuel 15:29, ‘And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”’

Christians today have lost their ability to understand these statements. We no longer believe as our fathers did on these matters and have been influenced by modern trends in philosophy. We are feeling the effects of Hegelianism in Christian thought. Hegel influenced various forms of theology of which process theology and open theism are children. In this view God is not being but becoming. He Himself in in process. He does not know the future, he is changing as things develop. Along with time He is one a journey and developing. This form of theology has become very popular since the Holocaust, because in this form of theology we have a God who suffers with us. They claim that instead of God being cold, aloof, unchanging and unaffected, He feels with us and suffers with us and this is proof of His love. On top of that because of the influence of Emmanuel Kant who drove a wedge between faith and reason, much of the metaphysical apparatus that older theologies would use to approach these questions was put disqualified for use by a form of empiricism. Thankfully there is a reviving of these older approaches and Christians are retaking their heritage recognising that the philosophical biases that intimidated Christians away from them are in fact biases. What I would like to do today is to touch upon how we ought to think about these verses. Introducing you to the traditional way in which Christians answered this question for centuries, bringing forward some key tools and then looking at application. So we look then at defining the impassibility of God, the tools necessary in interpreting the scriptures, and how it applies.