I was in church recently and the preacher said some things I couldn’t quite agree with. They had to do with prayer and God changing His mind. His text was from Ex 32:14 (NASB)… “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” (NOTE: Sometimes translations are not as accurate as we’d like. While the NASB is a really good translation, here the translators got it wrong {According to my Hebrew professor in seminary}) While the message was “enjoyable,” it was not theologically sound. So I present for consideration the doctrine of The Immutability of God. The next post will examine prayer in relation to the immutability of God.

“The Immutability Of God” or “Does God Ever Change His Mind?” (1998)

One way to simplify the term immutability is to say that God does not change.  The question is posed by people at times by asking, “Does God ever change His mind?”  To be consistent with the Biblical view of God the answer must be no.  Objections to this will be dealt with later.

What Is So Important About Immutability? The argument goes this way, “So what if God changed his mind?  He’s God & can do whatever He wants. I’ve got things I have to deal with that are much more important than some ivory tower theological question.”

Most Christians would agree that anything dealing with eternal matters are important. The best way we obtain peace temporally is to have a security about our eternity. If an eternity in heaven is in doubt, then life will be filled with anxiety until the day of a person’s death. Now, if God changed His mind about anything, He could change his mind about everything. That would include salvation and forgiving people of their sin condition. Thus no person’s salvation is eternally secure which has the effect of invalidating numerous passages of Scripture & several Biblical Truths.

Take these for example (From the Baptist Tradition). If God does change His mind then God could therefore change His mind about his love for His children. His love could turn to hate & wrath. This would have the effect of a person who was once included in His family no longer being one of His children and therefore they return to their lost condition.

God could change his mind about accepting Jesus’ death on the cross as sufficient as a payment for sin. That could have several effects. First, it would mean that everyone would still be in their sin rather than forgiven. It would also mean that another event would have to take place for anyone to be saved that was different from the cross. And that would mean that all the Laws given to Moses become invalid since they are the shadow that pointed to salvation in Christ.

God could change his mind about what He told His prophets He would do in the future. That would invalidate all the prophesies of the Old and New Testaments. Thus making God a liar… yet in the Scripture it is written that God cannot lie.

God could therefore decide that Mohammed is the way of salvation instead of Christ. Thus invalidating the religion & faith of billions through the ages.

The result of all that is that God could no longer be trusted.  All of His promises would be invalidated. Scripture would have no meaning. And therefore life would have no meaning. There would be no hope for anyone. God himself would become a hypocrite saying one thing and doing another.

The immutability of God is only important if matters like faith, hope, love, trust, salvation, forgiveness, and eternity are important.  If those issues are meaningless, then it makes no difference whether or not God changes His mind.

The thesis set forth here is that those matters are of great importance. And for that reason it is imperative that God is immutable.

Biblical Support For Immutability. The place to begin in understanding any thoughts (theology) of God is the Scripture. It is imperative that Scripture guide and determine what is believed.  God’s Words must be the foundation, not our logic or feelings. The arguments of men must not take preeminence over the truth of God. Not only that but all of our thoughts must be supported by a right interpretation of Scripture. Thus it is written in 2 Timothy 2:15-16…

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.[1]

With that being said, the following is presented for consideration on the question regarding whether or not God changes His mind.

OLD TESTAMENT.  There are a couple of words used in the Scriptures which indicate a change of mind. Three representative passages used in relation to man are…

1 Ki 8:47 …and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors

Eze 14:6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Eze 18:30 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

In each of these cases the word used is “SHUUB” (Pronounced “shuuve”) and has the simple meaning to have a change of the mind.  However, this same word in used in reference to God to show that He will NOT change his mind.  This passage is Job 23:13…

But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.

One commentator wrote in reference to the use of this word concerning God the following: “Whatever God does, it is different from what man does when he repents. Man makes a moral turn around. God, on the other hand keeps his same purposes. His will does not change.”[2]

Another word that is popularly translated repent in the Old Testament is the word NACHAM (Pronounced “na-kam”) and means to sigh, groan, or pity.  It is the idea of emotional distress.  It is used in relation to both God and man.  Many of the newer translations note this and translate it more properly.  The verses quoted below are from the King James Version from which many today have obtained their theology of immutability (For a more complete list see footnote #3.[3]):

Gen 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

Num 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good

Jer 4:28 For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.

Amos 7:3 The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD.

In each of these passages the intent in the original language was to communicate the emotion connected to the events recorded in Scripture.  The use of the word cannot indicate that God changes His mind as humans do… for this would contradict other passages of Scripture.

Note the subtle difference of the same passages in some of the newer translations:

Gen 6:6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. NIV

Num 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?  NIV

Jer 4:28 Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back.” NIV

Amos 7:3 So the LORD relented & did not fulfill the vision. “I won’t do it,” he said. NLT

This same word (NACHAM) is also used in the Old Testament in reference to man.  Some representative passages are (For a more complete list see this footnote[4]):

Ex 13:17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt… (In the NLT; “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them on the road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest way from Egypt to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

Judges 21:6 And the children of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said… (In the NLT; “The Israelites felt deep sadness for Benjamin and said, “Today we have lost one of the tribes from our family; it is nearly wiped out.”)

Judges 21:15 And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.(Same verse in the NIV: “The people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a gap in the tribes of Israel.”)

Another word used in the Old Testament that is translated “repent” in the King James which has contributed to a misunderstanding that God changes His mind is NICHUWM (Pronounced “ni-kumm”). This word means to console or to comfort. It is only used in describing God and never in relation to man.

The NASB comes the closest to the proper translation in Hosea 11:8…

KJV How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.

NIV How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.

NASB How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled.

Conclusion From The Old Testament:  The term repent in the Old Testament, referring to a change of the mind, is used to describe man and is never used in reference to God. God is seen taking pity on man because of sin.  God is deeply moved by sin, but neither He nor His will & purpose ever change.

NEW TESTAMENT. As would be expected, the New Testament gives a more clear understanding of the concept as related to the immutability of God in English translations. There are several Greek words which are pertinent to this study.

First is the word METANEO (metaneo), which means “To think differently or to reconsider.”  Every single occurrence of this word is in relation to man in the New Testament. God is never portrayed as changing his mind in any of the New Testament writings. The passages are… Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 11:20, 11:21, 12:41, 12:41; Mark 1:15, 6:12; Luke 10:13, 11:32, 13:3, 13:5, 15:7, 15:10, 16:30, 17:3, 17:4; Acts 2:38, 3:19, 8:22, 17:30, 26:20; 2 Corinthians 12:21; and Revelation 2:5, 2:16, 2:21, 2:22, 3:3, 3:19, 9:20, 9:21, 16:9, 16:11.

A second word is a form of METANEO which is METAMELLOMAI (metamellomai) and the simple meaning of this word is “to change the mind.”  Every occurrence of this word is in relation to man except for one.  That one other usage is to show that God will not change His mind.

The passages where it is used in relation to man are… Matthew 21:29, 21:32, 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8, 10. The one passages where it is used in reference to God is Hebrews 7:21. There is a marked difference between what man does (change his mind) & what God does NOT do (change… period).

Conclusion From The New Testament: Man is called to repentance (change mind, reconsider) but God never is presented as changing or reconsidering. In fact, God is shown to be so stable that he never changes His mind or reconsiders (Heb 7:21 & Ja 1:17).

With the previous thoughts in mind consider these passages of Scripture listed below. Once all the evidence is considered, it seems clear that whatever God does, he is not like man in that He does not change His mind as men do.

Num 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

1 Sam 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for He is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

Job 23:13 “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases.

Ps 33:11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Pr 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

Ecc 3:14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him.

Is 31:2 Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster; He does not take back his words.

Mal 3:6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.

Ro 11:29 for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.

Heb 6:17-19 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.

Ja 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

The immutability of God (Discourse On The Power Of God, Stephen Charnock) . As he is incapable of changing his resolves, because of his infinite wisdom, so he is incapable of being forced to any change, because of his infinite power. Being almighty, he can be no more changed from power to weakness; than, being all wise, he can be changed from wisdom to folly; or, being omniscient, from knowledge to ignorance. He cannot be altered in his purposes, because of his wisdom; nor in the manner and method of his actions, because of his infinite strength. Men, indeed, when their designs are laid deepest, and their purposes stand firmest, yet are forced to stand still, or change the manner of the execution of their resolves, by reason of some outward accidents that obstruct them in their course; for, having not wisdom to foresee future hindrances, they have not power to prevent them, or strength to remove them, when they unexpectedly interpose themselves between their desire and performance; but no created power has strength enough to be a bar against God. By the same act of his will that he resolves a thing, he can puff away any impediments that seem to rise up against him. He that lacks no means to effect his purposes, cannot be checked by anything that riseth up to stand in his way; heaven, earth, sea, the deepest places, are too weak to resist his will (Ps. 135:6). The purity of the angels will not, and the devil’s malice cannot, frustrate his will; the one voluntarily obeys the beck of his hand, and the other is vanquished by the power of it. What can make him change his purposes? Who (if he please) can dash the earth against the heavens in the twinkling of an eye, untying the world from its center, clap the stars and elements together into one mass, and blow the whole creation of men and devils into nothing? Because he is almighty, therefore he is immutable.

Secondary Study Thoughts

The attribute of God which brought about this question is God’s immutability (His unchanging nature).  In order for to answer this question we must observe a couple of introductory points.

Considerations Concerning God Changing His Mind.

First, there is something theologians call “Anthropomorphic Language” in the Scripture. This is an attempt of man to described God in language we can understand. For example: “Voice of many waters”, “Eyes like fire”, “God changed His mind,” etc.

Second, there is the thought of man’s perspective versus God’s perspective. In our limited ability to understand God, we are able to comprehend an event as God “changing His mind,” when in reality that is not what took place. From our perspective God is depicted as changing his mind, when the truth is that from the beginning God’s purpose and will remains unchanged (Is 46:9-10 and Daniel 4:35-36).

Take for example Peter’s denial of Jesus. From Jesus’ (God’s) perspective it WOULD happen. There was absolutely no chance of it not happening. The reason being that either (whichever you are more comfortable with at this point in your theology) only what God foresees can/will happen OR because God ordains what will happen he knows it before hand.

Yet at the same time Peter (From his perspective as a human) did have a choice! No one twisted his arm… no one violated his will… no one made him deny Jesus three times. From Peter’s perspective the outcome of the future was in doubt.  It was only sure once the event had taken place. BUT STILL… Peter’s denial was GOING TO OCCUR… yet Peter had a choice!

Do you see the difficulty and our limited ability to understand the infinite God on a human level yet? If not… think through the previous two paragraphs again!

Conclusion: Does God “change his mind”?  The evidence supports that he does not. The Scripture points to the fact that God does not change and is not a man that he should change. God take pity on man and is grieved by what man does, but he still does not change his will, purpose, or mind. I believe that what takes place in this world is in God’s plan.

[1] See 1 Corinthians 2:6-7; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Hebrews 5:11-14.

[2]Robert L. Cate, “Old Testament Roots For New Testament Faith”, Broadman Press, Nashville, TN., 1982, Page 194.

[3]Of God: Gen 6:6, 7; Ex 32:12, 14; Num 23:19; Dt 32:36; Ju 2:18; 1 Sam 15:11, 29, 35; 2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chron 21:15; Ps 106:45, 110:4, 135:14; Jer 4:28, 15:6, 18:8, 18:10, 20:16, 26:3, 26:19, 42:10; Ezek 24:14; Joel 2:13, 14; Amos 7:3, 7:6; Jonah 3:9, 10, 4:2; Zech 8:14.

[4]Ex 13:17; Judges 21:6, 15; Job 42:6; Jer 8:6, 31:19.