the origin of impeccability

Impeccability is the doctrine that God (and/or) Jesus “could not” sin, as opposed to “did not” sin. There is a distinction. In one model God and Jesus are incapable of sinning and in the other model God and Jesus choose not to sin. In one model, God and Jesus are good because they cannot choose otherwise and in the other model, God and Jesus are good because they choose goodness. In one model, “good” is an impersonal force and in the other “good” is defined as choosing righteousness. As the Latin origins of the term suggest, “impeccability” is a pagan concept.

The Platonists claimed that god was good. Here is Plato:

the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him.

Plato’s teaching was that god is good and there is no evil in him. Plato’s later successors built a systematic theology around this concept. By the time of Plotinus, “good” was morphed into an impersonal concept. To Plotinus, god was not just “good”, god “was” good. In fact, if “good” was a dependent concept then god was not good at all. “The One” was above predicates. Plotinus interchanges the terms “the good” and “the one” to refer to his concept of god:

It cannot be, itself, The Good, since then it would not need to see or to perform any other Act; for The Good is the centre of all else, and it is by means of The Good that every thing has Act, while the
Good is in need of nothing and therefore possesses nothing beyond itself.

Once you have uttered “The Good,” add no further thought: by any addition, and in proportion to that addition, you introduce a deficiency.

Do not even say that it has Intellection; you would be dividing it; it would become a duality…

Because any positive attributes would create god into a “duality” (note that Norman Geisler defines the God of the Bible as “simple”), god can only be known through negative attributes. Frederick Copleston writes in his History of Philosophy:

Since God is one, without any multiplicity or division, there can be in the One no duality of substance and accident, and Plotinus is accordingly unwilling to ascribe to God any positive attributes.

Plotinus then describes god only by negative attributes. Here is a sample of negative attributes:

Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, infinite, eternal, immutable, simple, indefinable, unknowable, without form. Negative attributes are those which place God as “incomparable” to created beings: in itself, that is a Platonic concept.

It was from Plotinus that Augustine received all his theology. Remember his confession in his book Confessions:

By reading these books of Platonists I had been prompted to look for truth as something incorporeal, and I caught sight of your [God’s] invisible nature, as it is known through your creatures… I was certain both that you are and you are infinite, though without extent in terms of space either limited or unlimited… (Conf. vii.20)

Augustine understood God as negative. It was from Plotinus, that Augustine derived his concept of Impeccability. To Augustine, “good” was an impersonal force. If “good” was an action, then God could not be good. Like the Platonists, Augustine saw matter as evil, and the goal of life was to return from unperfected matter to perfect being. This intangible state was “the good”. Evil, was a departure from “the good”. Augustine brought this definition of “good” and “evil” into the heart of Christianity. In The City of God:

This I do know, that the nature of God can never, nowhere, nowise be defective, and that natures made of nothing can…

Notice Augustine is contrasting created “natures” with God’s nature. He continues a few sentences later:

There is, then, no natural efficient cause or, if I may be allowed the expression, no essential cause, of the evil will, since itself is the origin of evil in mutable spirits, by which the good of their nature is diminished and corrupted; and the will is made evil by nothing else than defection from God—a defection of which the cause, too, is certainly deficient… And this will was not made evil by their good nature, unless by its voluntary defection from good; for good is not the cause of evil, but a defection from good is.

Augustine is describing the clearly Platonic belief that created things are a diminished nature of “the good”. Creation, a departing from “the good”, creates evil.

In On Genesis:

Evil, you see, is not a nature of any kind, but the loss of the good has been given this name.

The unchangeable good, of course, is God, whereas human beings, as far as the nature is concerned in which God made them, are indeed a good, but not an unchangeable one like God. Now the changeable good, which comes after the unchangeable good, becomes a better good, when it clings to the unchangeable good by loving and serving it with its own rational will. This is indeed the nature of a great good, that it also received the ability to cling to the nature of the highest good. (viii:31)

So the perfect “good”, to Augustine, was static and was from which created beings departed. It was the goal of created beings to attain the immutable good of God. Anyone familiar with Platonism will notice that this is exactly the neo-Platonistic teaching. Augustine was not lying when he stated he received his theology from the Platonists.

Impeccability is the Latin term for this Platonic concept. God is defined not as “good”, but God IS “good”. Calvinists take the term “good”, turn it from the voluntary goodness found in the Bible, create it into an impersonal concept (as if “good” can exist without actors to whom to be good). They then reshape the God of the Bible into the impersonal “good” of Plotinus, reinterpreting the whole of the Bible to fit this concept.

The Bible rails against impeccability. God swears by his own name to prove that he is not going to lie to Abraham:

Gen 22:16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—
Gen 22:17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.

Why would God do this if lying is impossible for him? Hebrews expounds upon this passage:

Heb 6:17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
Heb 6:18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

The Calvinists tweak this verse to mean “it is impossible for God to lie”, as opposed to the clear text “in which it is impossible for God to lie”, referring to God’s oath (that it is a strong oath that God would never violate). If the text means the later, then the implication is that God is able to (if he so wants) to lie. In fact, God uses deception and lies throughout the Bible to destroy his enemies.

When Paul declares to Titus that God “cannot lie” (Tit 1:2), the word he uses is a simple negation of “pseudo” meaning “false”, Paul is actually declaring that God is not false. Paul is implying that God chooses truth over falsehood. Calvinist translators have morphed a declaration of God’s righteousness into a Platonic concept. In fact, every time the Bible declares Jesus was without sin or that God is good, implicit is the fact that this was a choice. Why would the authors point out that Jesus did not sin or lie if the alternative was not even possible?

And how was Jesus tested in all ways like man, if he could not sin:

Heb 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

If Jesus could not sin, the temptations were meaningless. Why would Satan even tempt Jesus if he believed Jesus “could not” sin? If Calvinists and Open Theists were to agree on one thing, it should be that Satan did not believe Jesus was impeccable.

The concept of impeccability is rooted in neo-Platonic thought. It is the outgrowth of a pagan cosmology, and has no place in Biblical studies.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Augustine, Bible, Calvinism, God, Morality, Open Theism, People, Plato, Plotinus, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to the origin of impeccability

  1. Pingback: negative theology | reality is not optional

  2. Tom Torbeyns says:

    Great article Chris! :-)

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