This quarter I have been teaching a class on the nature of God. One of the questions we tackled this quarter is whether God changes his mind. Over the next few posts I want to share some thoughts on this question. And it is a really interesting question! It involves all sorts of intriguing puzzles, such as God’s relationship to time, the relationship of divine foreknowledge to human freedom, and the purpose and power of prayer.
To set the stage for the future posts, here are some relevant biblical texts.
First, some passages in the Bible seem to say that God does not change his mind, or change – period. Some examples (and various translations):
- ESV 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 fulfill it
- NASB95 God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
- KJV 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?
1 Samuel 15:29
- ESV And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.
- NASB95 Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.
- KJV And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.
- NKJV And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.
- ESV For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
- NASB95 For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.
- NKJV For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
- ESV Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
- NASB95 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
- NIV Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
On the other hand, there are passages that seem to say that God does change his mind, such as:
- ESV And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
- NASB95 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
- KJV And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
- ESV And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
- NASB95 So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
- KJV And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
- ESV “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.
- KJV It repenteth me that I have
set up Saul to be king : for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments . And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
- ESV And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
- KJV And Samuel
came no more to see Saul until the day of his death : nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul : and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
So, what do we make of these different perspectives (some of which, in the case of the passages in 1 Samuel 15, occur within just a few verses of one another!)? In the next post, I will take the first steps in offering my thoughts about this conundrum by looking more closely at the nature of God.