Does the Bible Say God Repents From Doing Evil?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Does God Repent?

According to the King James English translation, God "repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." Does this mean that God was thinking about sinning, but turned from that sin? Does God repent from doing evil?

Rich Deem

Repentance is the act of turning away from one's sin to righteous behavior. As some skeptics have pointed out, the Bible says that God has repented from doing evil:

Does this mean that God is a sinner and is in need of repentance? The Bible is quite clear that God is not the author of evil and insists that He is incapable of doing so.1 Is this a contradiction?

Love that King James translation!

Skeptics love the King James Translation so much, one would think that they were still back in medieval England. Use of this translation is problematic these days, since it uses an archaic version of modern English, which doesn't necessarily mean the same things today as when it was translated over 400 years ago. So the phrase "it repented the Lord" does not mean that God repented from doing evil.

Hebrew meanings

All the verses above, and others,2 come from the Hebrew Old Testament. The word translated "repented" is the Hebrew verb nâcham (Strong's H5162). It has a number of meanings, including "to be sorry," "console oneself," "repent," "regret," and "be comforted."3 The actual meaning intended is determined from the context. For example, the King James version translates Genesis 6:6 as "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." The New American Standard translates the verse as "The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart." More comparisons of archaic (King James) versus modern (New American Standard) English translations can be seen in the table below:

Comparison of Translations
Verse King James New American Standard
Genesis 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
Exodus 32:14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
Judges 2:18 And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.
2 Samuel 24:16) And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite. When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, "It is enough! Now relax your hand!" And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
1 Chronicles 21:15 And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, "It is enough; now relax your hand." And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
Jeremiah 26:19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls. "Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and the LORD changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them? But we are committing a great evil against ourselves."
 Jonah 3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

Other Hebrew words

Besides the Hebrew word nâcham, there is another Hebrew verb with one meaning "to repent." This word, shûb (Strong's H7725), has additional meanings of "to return," "to turn back," etc.4 When used with the meaning of turning from sin (i.e., to repent), it is never used in reference to God, but always used with reference to human beings.5 So, in reality, the Bible never says that God repents of doing evil, but, in fact, indicates that God does not repent.1

God's Omniscience?

Even though God never really repented, isn't the assertion that God knows everything (omniscience) brought into question when God feels sorry over some decision He has made or changes His mind? After all, if God was really omniscient, wouldn't He have known what was going to happen, so that He could have chosen another path? God's omniscience does not mean that God changes His character to pretend that everything is fine when human beings sin. For example, in Genesis 6:6, the Lord was sorry because of the rampant sin that mankind had fallen into.6 So, even though God knew what was going to happen, He was sad that human beings were thinking only about how to sin more and more. We basically have the same reaction to our own children. We grieve when they make bad choices, although if we had it to do over, we would still have brought them into the world.

What about instances where God "changed His mind?" Shouldn't one expect that an omniscient God would never have to change His mind? If we examine the verses where God "changes His mind" we find in every instance that either the people themselves or a spokesman for the people repents of the sin that was going on. For example, God sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh to warn them that they were going to fall under His judgment. If God had never intended to "change His mind" He would have never sent the reluctant Jonah to the city. In fact, God had to go to extreme lengths to get Jonah to go, and Jonah was ultimately very unhappy when Assyrians repented and God did not destroy them all.7 So, God really didn't change His mind, but was giving the people a chance to repent of their evil ways in order to avoid judgment. In some instances the people repented and were spared, and in other instances they continued to rebel and were destroyed. So, God's purpose in warning people of impending judgment was get them to change their minds.

Conclusion Top of page

Is God a Moral Monster?The King James English translation uses archaic English that didn't have the same meaning 400 years ago as it does now. So, the archaic translations indicating that God "repented" really indicated that God was sorry or "changed His mind." Since God never sins, He has no need of repentance. Some skeptics have pointed out that an omniscient God should never change His mind, since He always should know what was going to happen. In reality, God never changes His mind, but warns rebellious people to give them the opportunity to change their minds before He judges them.



References Top of page

  1. "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? (Numbers 23:19)
    "For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4:31)
    "For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. (Deuteronomy 10:17)
    "The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He. (Deuteronomy 32:4)
    "Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Samuel 15:29)
    "Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe." (2 Chronicles 19:7)
    "Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, And from the Almighty to do wrong. (Job 34:10)
    "Behold, God is mighty but does not despise any; He is mighty in strength of understanding. (Job 36:5)
    For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You. (Psalm 5:4)
    To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. (Psalm 92:15)
    Thus says the LORD, "What injustice did your fathers find in Me, That they went far from Me And walked after emptiness and became empty? (Jeremiah 2:5)
    in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago (Titus 1:2)
  2. Verses from the King James Translation:
    • And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. (Genesis 6:6)
    • And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. (Exodus 32:14)
    • And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. (Judges 2:18)
    • 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. (1 Samuel 15:35)
    • And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite. (2 Samuel 24:16)
    • And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite. (1 Chronicles 21:15)
    • And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies. (Psalm 106:45)
    • Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls. (Jeremiah 26:19)
    • The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD. (Amos 7:3)
    • The LORD repented for this: This also shall not be, saith the Lord GOD. (Amos 7:6)
    • And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. (Jonah 3:10)
    • For thus saith the LORD of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the LORD of hosts, and I repented not: (Zechariah 8:14)
  3. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    nâcham nâcham (Strong's H5162)
    1. to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted
      1. (Niphal)
        1. to be sorry, be moved to pity, have compassion
        2. to be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent
        3. to comfort oneself, be comforted
        4. to comfort oneself, ease oneself
      2. (Piel) to comfort, console
      3. (Pual) to be comforted, be consoled
      4. (Hithpael)
        1. to be sorry, have compassion
        2. to rue, repent of
        3. to comfort oneself, be comforted
        4. to ease oneself
    Part of Speech: verb
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 1344
  4. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    shûb shûb (Strong's H7725)
    1. to return, turn back
      1. (Qal)
        1. to turn back, return
          1. to turn back
          2. to return, come or go back
          3. to return unto, go back, come back
          4. of dying
          5. of human relations (figuratively)
          6. of spiritual relations (figuratively)
            1. to turn back (from God), apostatise
            2. to turn away (of God)
            3. to turn back (to God), repent
            4. turn back (from evil)
          7. of inanimate things
          8. in repetition
      2. (Polel)
        1. to bring back
        2. to restore, refresh, repair (figuratively)
        3. to lead away (enticingly)
        4. to show turning, apostatise
      3. (Pual) restored (participle)
      4. (Hiphil) to cause to return, bring back
        1. to bring back, allow to return, put back, draw back, give back, restore, relinquish, give in payment
        2. to bring back, refresh, restore
        3. to bring back, report to, answer
        4. to bring back, make requital, pay (as recompense)
        5. to turn back or backward, repel, defeat, repulse, hinder, reject, refuse
        6. to turn away (face), turn toward
        7. to turn against
        8. to bring back to mind
        9. to show a turning away
        10. to reverse, revoke
      5. (Hophal) to be returned, be restored, be brought back
      6. (Pulal) brought back
    Part of Speech: verb
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 2340
  5. Hebrew word shûb (Strong's H7725) used "to repent":
    • if they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, 'We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly'; (1 Kings 8:47)
    • if they take thought in the land where they are taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying, 'We have sinned, we have committed iniquity and have acted wickedly'; (2 Chronicles 6:37)
    • If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. (Psalm 7:12)
    • Zion will be redeemed with justice And her repentant ones with righteousness. (Isaiah 1:27)
    • O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, But they did not weaken; You have consumed them, But they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; They have refused to repent. (Jeremiah 5:3)
    • "You shall say to them, 'Thus says the LORD, "Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away and not repent? (Jeremiah 8:4)
    • "I have listened and heard, They have spoken what is not right; No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turned to his course, Like a horse charging into the battle. (Jeremiah 8:6)
    • "I will winnow them with a winnowing fork At the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy My people; They did not repent of their ways. (Jeremiah 15:7)
    • 'Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.' (Jeremiah 26:3)
    • 'For after I turned back, I repented; And after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh; I was ashamed and also humiliated Because I bore the reproach of my youth.' (Jeremiah 31:19)
    • "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations. (Ezekiel 14:6)
    • "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct," declares the Lord GOD. "Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. (Ezekiel 18:30)
    • "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live." (Ezekiel 18:32)
    • "But did not My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your fathers? Then they repented and said, 'As the LORD of hosts purposed to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.'"'" (Zechariah 1:6)
  6. Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
  7. "Therefore now, O LORD, please take my [Jonah speaking] life from me, for death is better to me than life." The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?"... Then the LORD said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:3-11)

http://godandscience.org/apologetics/does_god_repent.html
Last updated January 9, 2008

 

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