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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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IMMANENCE (Lat. in, ‘in,’ and manere, ‘to remain’) means abiding or dwelling in. In general it denotes the existence and operation of one thing within another. In Philosophy it expresses the identity of the originating and causal principle, involved in the genesis of the universe, with the universe itself in its progressive history. In Theology it denotes the indwelling and operation of God within the entire universe. of which He is the first cause and the abiding ground. It stands in contrast with ‘transcendence,’ which implies that God is prior to, and not limited by, the universe, which depends upon Him for its origin and continued existence. But immanence and transcendence are not exclusive of each other. A correct theistic philosophy gives a place to each of these principles in its exposition of the relations of God to the universe.

The history of the principle of immanence is interesting. It is perhaps first suggested by the νοῦς of Anaxagoras, as the principle of operative intelligence in the universe. In the idealistic system of Plato, according to which the ideas that are supposed to be archetypal in God become ectypal in the universe, and constitute its real essence, order, and intelligibility, the immanence of Deity is involved. The same suggestion is also implied in the eternal forms of Aristotle, according to which the framer of the world moulded it, into a harmonious whole. The Aristotelian distinction between the immanent acts of the soul in forming a purpose and its transient acts in making the purpose effective, illustrates the principle of immanence in a general way.

In the later Platonic philosophy of the School of Alexandria the principle of the λόγος, especially in the hands of Philo the Jew, also suggests the idea of immanence. Philo perhaps borrowed the term from the Wisdom literature, where it was used in the sense of σοφια or ratio, and applied to denote what Plato had called ἱδέαι. This usage of the term λόγος is interesting in itself and on account of its bearing upon the usage of the same term in the Fourth Gospel.

In modern philosophy the dictum of Malebranche, that we know things truly only when we see them in relation to God, and the monadology of Leibnitz, according to which a vital principle is supposed to lie at the heart of all things, both involve the idea of immanence. Spinoza’s pantheism, as, indeed, all pantheism, so emphasizes immanence that transcendence has no place. The absolute idealism of the Hegelian type of philosophy and the Hindu theosophy both make so much of the immanence of the Deity that His transcendence is quite obscured. In the philosophy of our own time there is a tendency towards a fuller recognition of the immanence of God, and this tendency is affecting theology in a wholesome way. The result is a sound theistic philosophy, as the basis for a more vital theology.

This article has to do mainly with the idea of immanence as it appears in the Gospel narratives, and specially as it is exhibited in the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Synoptics do not give as much prominence to the Divine immanence as does the Fourth Gospel. It might be too much to say that transcendence prevails in the former and immanence in the latter; yet it is true that one of the points of difference between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel is the way in which the relations between God and the universe are construed.

1. In the Synoptics there are hints of the Divine immanence in nature which resemble the OT utterances upon this point, e.g. Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:30, Mark 6:51, Luke 21:29. Transcendence is not excluded in these passages. God’s immanence in man is also suggested by Matthew 6:8; Matthew 10:20, Mark 13:11, Luke 1:67; Luke 2:26; Luke 11:17. The fact of the immanence of God in Christ is alluded to in Matthew 3:16; Matthew 4:1; Matthew 12:18; Matthew 27:46, Mark 1:12; Mark 9:2, Luke 4:1. That God is immanent in some sense in the subjects of His Kingdom is implied in Matthew 10:40; Matthew 13:33; Matthew 18:2; Matthew 28:20, Mark 1:15, Luke 13:21. It may he added that demoniacal immanence in men is often expressed in the Synoptics, e.g. Matthew 8:28; Matthew 12:45, Mark 3:22; Mark 9:17, Luke 8:30.

We can scarcely conclude from these and similar passages that special stress is laid upon the idea of immanence in the Synoptics. The fact that God is constantly in vital and operative contact with the entire universe of being is very evident; but God’s being and activity are not necessarily limited by the universe. He is the First Cause of all things, yet second causes have their place and dependent efficiency in the universe. Hence it is that God’s transcendence is clearly recognized.

2. In the Fourth Gospel immanence has a larger place. Some interpreters suppose that St. John borrowed many of his ideas, especially that of the λόγος, from the Platonic philosophy, as represented by Philo of Alexandria, who combined some OT ideas with the philosophy of Plato. But there are differences between the λόγος doctrine of St. John and that of Philo which entirely exclude the supposition that St. John was a mere borrower. The fact that he makes no allusion to Philo or to Alexandria, but rather assumes that he gathered his ideas from the teaching of Jesus, fully justifies thus view.

The immanence of God in nature is implied in John 3:8; John 4:24; John 11:24. His immanence in man is suggested in John 1:1-14, John 8:12, John 14:6. Here God, in some active way, is operative in nature and in the soul of man as its Divine light.

But it is in Jesus Christ that the Fourth Gospel finds the immanence of God in a special manner. For this see John 1:1-14, John 5:26, John 7:33, John 8:38; John 8:43, John 10:30, John 12:24; John 12:45; John 12:50, John 13:32, John 14:11; John 14:16; John 14:26, John 15:23, John 16:27-28, John 17:5; John 17:21; John 17:23. In several 0f these passages the term λόγος is used concerning Jesus Christ. In this term the idea of immanence is involved; but as this topic is fully treated in art. Logos it need not be discussed at length here. Suffice it to say that Jesus Christ, as the eternal Logos, is regarded by many as the Divine principle by whose agency the operative intelligence of God is manifested and made effective in the entire universe. Care is needed here not to give too much of the colour of the Alexandrian philosophy to the teaching of the Fourth Gospel upon this point.

This Gospel also lays stress upon the fact that God is immanent in believers, as the subjects of His spiritual Kingdom. See John 3:27, John 4:14, John 6:53, John 7:37-38, John 11:25, John 15:1-10, John 17:8; John 17:23-24. In passages like these the fact is presented that there is such a union with, and participation in, Christ on the part of believers, that He is said to be the source of a spiritual life which is Divine. In a deep mystical sense God may be regarded as immanent in believers by virtue of this union, and their partaking of the Divine nature thereby.

As against Deism, the Gospels very plainly teach that God is in constant and vital contact with the universe. As against Pantheism, they also teach that God is vaster than the universe, and is in no way conditioned by it. Hence they present a sound Theism, which gives a proper place alike to the immanence and transcendence of God in the relations which He sustains to the universe. It may be added that the fact of this immanent and transcendent relation, rather than the mode of it, is set forth in the Gospels. The Epistles expand some of these things (cf. Romans 1:20; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 8:6, Galatians 1:16; Galatians 4:19, Ephesians 6:10, Philippians 2:13, Colossians 1:19, Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 2:16, 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:15; see also St. Paul in Acts 17:25; Acts 17:28).

Literature.—Plato, Phaedrus; Philo, de Opif. Mundi; Spinoza, Ethica; Hegel, Logic; Caird, The Evolution of Religion; Royce, God and the Individual; Illingworth, Divine Immanence; Thomas à Kempis, Imitatio Christi; Eckhart, Writings; Allan, Continuity of Christian Thought; Flint, Anti-Theistic Theories, p. 339; Agnosticism, p. 592; Martensen, Chr. Dogmatics, pp. 103–106; Orr, Chr. View of God and the World, p. 318.

Francis R. Beattie.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Immanence'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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