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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Does God Know Everything?

Don Stewart :: Does God Have Any Passions or Emotions?

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Does God Have Any Passions or Emotions? (The Impassibility of God)

Does God Know Everything? – Question 31

The Bible constantly speaks of God demonstrating His emotions. Indeed, a number of different emotions are attributed to Him. God is spoken of as having a full range of emotions such as love, hatred, and concern though they are not the same as human emotions. He is a personal being who loves, hates, and feels. Of this there is no doubt.

Accusation: Some Believe God Has No Real Emotions

However, there is the perspective that some Christians hold that God does not have any emotions whatsoever. The technical term for such a belief is the “impassibility of God.” The following passage in the Book of Acts is used in support of this belief.

And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein... (Acts 14:11-15 KJV)

The people thought Paul and Barnabas were gods because of the miracles they performed. Paul told the people that they were not gods but rather they had similar, or like, passions with humans. Because of the way in which Paul made the distinction between God and humans, some infer that God must not have similar passions to humans, or any passions whatsoever. Therefore, they embrace the idea of the impassibility of God. What are we to make of this claim?

Response to the Idea That God Does Not Have Emotions

There are a number of responses that can be made to the claim that the God of the Bible does not have any real emotions.

1. The King James Translation Gives the Wrong Idea

First, the Greek word translated “like passions,” in this passage in the Book of Acts, has the idea that they are merely human beings. It is not making any statement about their passions or emotions or lack of them. Thus, the translation in the King James Version gives the wrong idea.

The New King James Version translation renders the verse as follows.

...“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” (Acts 14:15 NKJV)

Here the translation brings out the idea that Paul and Barnabas testified that they were of the same nature as these people. In other words, they were humans, not gods.

Consequently, this passage in the Book of Acts has nothing to say, one way or the other, as to whether or not God has genuine emotions. There are other passages in the Bible do this.

2. God Has Emotions

As we examine the Scripture, we find that it is full of references of God having passions or emotions. He is described as reacting to situations with emotion or passion.

For example, we read the following in the Book of Hebrews.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NRSV)

God can and does sympathize with us. While God’s passions are not sinful passions, they are part of His character. Therefore, the Bible does not teach that God is a passionless God or One who is without genuine emotions or feelings.

3. God Does Not Have Bodily Passions

While the Bible teaches that God has passion, it does not teach that God has bodily passions such as hunger, thirst, or the need for sexual fulfillment. He is also without passions in this sense. This, however, as we have seen, does not mean that He is without feelings. He is a God who cares deeply for His people.

4. He Is Not Subject to Suffering

There is something else which we should mention. There is a sense where God is impassible. Indeed, the Greek word which is translated impassibility means “not subject to suffering.” In this sense, God is certainly impassible. He cannot suffer and there is no outside power which can harm Him. In other words, He is not vulnerable to any thing or any one.

Summary – Question 31
Does God Have Any Passions, or Emotions? (The Impassibility of God)

Based upon a statement found in the Book of Acts found in the King James Bible, there are some who argue that God has no passions or emotions whatsoever. In this episode the Apostle Paul supposedly made the distinction between humans and God by inferring that God is without any human passions or emotions. This has caused some to infer that the God of the Bible does not have genuine passions or emotion. This is one of the distinctions between Him and us.

Yet this is not what the passage is teaching. Paul is not comparing an emotionless God to emotional or passionate human beings. In other words, the people should not assume only humans have passions while God does not.

Indeed, the Bible teaches that God does have passions or emotions. This is clear. Yet they are not the same as human emotions or sinful passions. Therefore, the idea that the God of the Bible is somehow “impassible,” that He is without any passions or emotions, is not found in Scripture. He is a God who love, hates, and feels. He does have these passions and emotions. Yet, He does not possess these emotions in the same way as humans.

Furthermore, since God does not have a body, He does not have bodily passions or needs such as hunger or thirst. Therefore, whatever passions or emotions He does have do not directly correspond with our passions.

There is something else we should note. The literal meaning of the Greek word translated as “impassible” means “not subject to suffering.” Certainly God is impassible in this sense of the word.

In sum, we can conclude that God is like us in His passions and emotions in the some sense. He loves, He hates, and He expresses emotion. Yet there is certainly a mystery here as to how that corresponds with our feelings or passions.

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