Q. After the golden calf God was angry with the Israelites and wanted to destroy them. Moses pleaded for them and God changed His mind and spared them. However, my theology class taught that God is immutable and never changes. Who is correct?
A. Both are. Skeptics see this as an example of contradiction in the Bible, which therefore can’t be trusted. But they are wrong. The contradiction is only apparent, as the words are used in a different sense in the two cases. Let me elaborate.
The English word “immutable” translates the Greek word “ametathetos” which lexicon definition is “not transposed, not to be transferred; fixed, unalterable”. The adjective “immutable” and the noun “immutability” do not appear in newer translations of the Bible such as NASB, ESV or NIV, only older versions such as KJV or NKJV, in only two verses:
• Heb 6:17-18 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 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. (NKJV)
In context it means “immovable”, and therefore unalterable. The Oxford Dictionary defines “immutable” as “unchanging over time or unable to be changed”. When theology text books describe God as immutable, they base it on the following supporting scriptures:
• Num 23:19 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? i.e. God always performs what He promised.
• Job 23:13 But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. i.e. No one can persuade Him.
• Ps 33:11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation. i.e. His plans are eternal.
• Ps 102:27 But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end. i.e. He does not change. He lasts forever.
• Ecc 3:14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. i.e. His work is complete, perfect, and everlasting.
• Mal 3:6 For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. i.e. God does not change.
• 1 Co 2:7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory i.e. God foreordained from eternity past.
• Eph 3:11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord i.e. His purpose is eternal.
• Heb 1:12 And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.” i.e. God stays the same and does not change.
• Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. i.e. Jesus never changes.
• Jas 1:17 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. i.e. God does not change.
All of the above relate to His nature, His character, or His purpose, which never changes. Philosophically this must be so, as change occurs either for better or for worse. Since God is perfect, He cannot improve for the better. He can never learn anything to become better, as He is all-knowing. All His work is perfect; therefore He cannot do anything wrong to get worse. He is incapable of sin. He is forever true to His nature, which is perfection. So by definition God never changes. In this sense God is immutable.
So what does it mean when the Bible says “God changed His mind’?
(To be continued)