The Immutability of God

by Nate Wilson

with help from R.C. Sproul’s book The Character of God, as well as Calvin’s Institutes and Berkof’s Systematic Theology


Our context:


References on God’s  immutability:

Exodus 3:14 “I AM that I AM”

Exodus 24:14 “I, Jehovah, have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it: I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent…”

Numbers 23:19 Baalam prophecies, “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?”

I Samuel 15:29 “The Strength of Israel will not lie or repent; for He is not a man, that He should repent.”

Psalm 46: 1-5 “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth do change, And though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, Though the mountains tremble with the swelling thereof. Selah  There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; She shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early.”

Psalm 102:26-28 “Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing you will change them, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will not come to an end.” (also quoted in Heb. 1:11,12)

Psalm 110:4 “Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek.”

Prov. 29:21 “My son, fear Jehovah and the king; And company not with them that are given to change”

Isaiah. 14:27 “The Lord of hosts has purposed, and who shall disannul it? And His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?”

Jeremiah 4:27” For thus saith Jehovah, ‘The whole land shall be a desolation; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and I have not repented, neither will I turn back from it.”

Malachi 3:6 “For I, Jehovah, change not; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Romans 1:23 “…the glory of the incorruptible God…”

James 1:17 “…the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow”


God Repents:

Genesis 6:6 God repents of having made man

Exodus 32:9-14 “And Jehovah said unto Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.’ And Moses besought Jehovah his God, and said, Jehovah, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, that thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘For evil did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said unto them, ‘I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.’ And Jehovah repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.”

Deut. 32:36 “For Jehovah will judge His people, And repent Himself for his servants [when they rebel against Him]”

Judges 2:18 “And when Jehovah raised them up judges, then Jehovah was with the judge, and saved them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented Jehovah [NASV “moved to pity”] because of their groaning by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.”

I Samuel 15:11 God repents for having raised Saul to the kingdom.

II Samuel 24:15-17 “So Jehovah sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed; and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men. And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, Jehovah repented of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of Jehovah was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. And David spake unto Jehovah when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, ‘Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely; but these sheep, what have they done? let thy hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.’”

II Kings 20:15 God was moved by prayer to lighten the punishment for Hezekiah

Psalm 18:26 “To the pure, You show Yourself pure; to the crooked You show Yourself shrewd”

Psalm 106:41-45 “And He gave them into the hand of the nations; And they that hated them ruled over them… Nevertheless He regarded their distress, When He heard their cry: And he remembered for them His covenant, and repented according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses.”

Jeremiah 15: 5-6 “For who will have pity upon thee, O Jerusalem? or who will bemoan thee? or who will turn aside to ask of thy welfare? You have rejected me, saith Jehovah, you have gone backward: therefore have I stretched out my hand against you, and destroyed you; I am weary with repenting.”

Jeremiah 18:8-11 If, after His promise of punishment for sin, God’s people repent, He, in turn, will repent of the evil He had resolved to inflict on them “if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.”

Jeremiah 262-3 “Stand in the court of Jehovah’s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in Jehovah’s house, all the words that I command you to speak unto them; diminish not a word. It may be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way; that I may repent me of the evil which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.”

Jeremiah 42:8-10 “Then called he Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, and all the people from the least even to the greatest, 9 and said unto them, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, unto whom you sent me to present your supplication before Him: ‘If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you.’”

Joel 2:12-13 “Yet even now, saith Jehovah, turn unto me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto Jehovah your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, and repents of the evil.

Amos 7:1-6 “Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me: and, behold, he formed locusts in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. And it came to pass that, when they made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, ‘O Lord Jehovah, forgive, I beseech thee: how shall Jacob stand? for he is small.’ Jehovah repented concerning this: ‘It shall not be, saith Jehovah.’ Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me: and, behold, the Lord Jehovah called to contend by fire; and it devoured the great deep, and would have eaten up the land. Then said I, ‘O Lord Jehovah, cease, I beseech thee: how shall Jacob stand? for he is small.’ Jehovah repented concerning this: ‘this also shall not be, saith the Lord Jehovah.’

Jonah 3:10 – 4:2 “God  saw [Ninevah’s] behavior, that they had turned away from their evil way. And God was made sorry over the evil which He had promised to do to them, so He did not do it. But to Jonah, it was displeasing - a great evil- and it was infuriating to him! So he prayed to Jehovah, and said, ‘Oh please, Jehovah, wasn't this my saying while I was still on my turf? Because of this I went ahead to abscond to Tarshish: for I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate god, slow to anger, and full of kindness, and you are made sorry over the evil…’”

Zechariah 8:14-15 “For thus saith Jehovah of hosts: ‘As I thought to do evil unto you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I repented not; so again have I thought in these days to do good unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear not.’”

No references in the N.T. to repentance or change of God except Phil 2 kenosis passage



Immutability related to God’s other attributes – necessarily flows from his self-existence (aseity), his eternality, His love, etc. There is nothing for the omniscient to learn, no potential for growth or decay in the omnipotent, no change of location for the omnipresent, and nothing new for the immutable. He is always hating sin, always bringing justice, always turning evil to good and always showing redemptive mercy in a billion places on the earth simultaneously at any given point in time. If He is always doing these things, He is not changing when He does them. It is part of God’s eternal, unchanging nature to want to be asked to withhold judgment.


Calvin’s Institutes: “God is described to us humanly. Because our weakness cannot reach His height, any description which we receive of Him must be lowered to our capacity in order to be intelligible. And the mode of lowering is to represent Him … as we conceive of Him… Hence, because every change whatever among men is intended as a correction of what displeases, and the correction proceeds from repentance, the same term applied to God simply means that his procedure is changed. In the mean time, there is no inversion of His counsel or will, no change of His affection. What from eternity he had foreseen, approved, decreed, He prosecutes with unvarying uniformity, how sudden soever to the eye of man the variation may seem to be… [In the case of Nineveh and Hezekiah] threatenings, though they affirm simply, nevertheless contain in them a tacit condition dependent on the result. Why did the Lord send Jonah to the Ninevites to predict the overthrow of their city? Why did He by Isaiah give Hezekiah intimation of his death? He might have destroyed both them and him without a message to announce the disaster… It was because He did not with them destroyed but reformed, and thereby saved from destruction… by threatenings of this kind, God wished to arouse those to repentance whom He terrified that they might escape the judgement with their sins deserved...”


Gal. 4:1 The change in administration between the O.T. and the N.T. is not based upon a change in God but rather a maturing of His people. By changing the administration, He does not repudiate the appropriateness of the former administration. “If a husbandman prescribes one set of duties to his household in winter and another in summer, we do not therefore charge him with fickleness or think he deviates from the rules of good husbandry, which depends on the regular course of nature.”


Jonah: An Exegetical Commentary by Nate Wilson “The verb sxn "be sorry/ repent/ relent" has to do with a sigh of relief for yourself, or a sigh of empathic concern for someone else, or a sigh of remorse for what you've done. The question is, "Does the eternal, all-knowing God change His mind?" Does God really get irrationally angry and need some sense talked into Him? I don't think so, although I believe He does get angry about sin. Sometimes He lets people realize that He's angry and that they deserve punishment so as to bring them to their senses and cause them to do what is right. John Bunyan characterizes this in his book, The Pilgrim's Progress through Christian's fear of the judgement to come over his hometown which drove him to seek for the truth. I think that this is what God is doing to Nineveh. He already knows that they will repent, but, to bring this repentance about, He's letting them know that their evil deeds have angered Him and that they deserve to be the object of His wrath. The Ninevites were concerned with whether or not God would repent, but God was concerned with whether or not they (and Jonah) would repent!


Blair Reynolds []If God is to be considered truly personal, then why is he not seen as a synthesis of consistency and change, as is true of any real personality? True, you can look at any person and then think of what they always do. But that is a very abstract description that does not do justice to the person in the concrete, who is continually changing. Would not the same be true of God, in whose image we are made? … Take, for example, Malachi's "I, the Lord, change not." This is not a blanket statement that God does not change. It is followed by "Return to me, that I might return to you," meaning you change in such-and-such a direction and I will; change in such-and-such a direction. True, the biblical God has a consistency of purpose, but that does not exclude him from changing in the concrete. God can and does change his mind at the intercession of the prophets. And certainly the biblical God can experience varying emotional states, depending on what is happening… God's ultimate revelation, through Christ, occurrs in and through our humanity, not over and against it.”


Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology “no change is possible in God, since a change is either for better or for worse. But in God, as the absolute Perfection, improvement and deterioration are both equally impossible… The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God… God is always in action… There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises… The incarnation brought no change in the Being or perfections of God, nor in His purpose, for it was His eternal good pleasure to send the Son of His love into the world…”


J.I. Packer Knowing God “God does not change. Fellowship with Him, trust in His word, living by faith, ‘standing on the promises of God.’ are essentially the same realities for us today as they were for Old and New Testament believers. This thought brings comfort as we enter into the perplexities of each day: amid all the changes and uncertainties of life in a nuclear age God and His Christ remain the same – almighty to save… It is true that there is a group of texts which speak of God as repenting. The reference in each case is to a reversal of God’s previous treatment of particular men, consequent upon their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was not foreseen, or that it took God by surprise, and was not provided for in His eternal plan. No change in His eternal purpose is implied when He begins to deal with man in a new way.”


Philippians 2: “He emptied Himself.” The word for “emptied” is ekenwsen “emptied/ deprived/ evacuated/ divested Himself of His prerogatives and privileges” (Pershbacher). He “laid aside” his “appearance of divinity” and took the form of a slave (Arndt&Gingrich). The KJV takes a rare paraphrastic excursion from its customary literalness to say he “made Himself of no reputation.” “The emphatic position of eauton points to the humiliation of our Lord as voluntary, self-imposed" (Lightfoot). Earle reminds us that this emptying was not of divinity, but of heavenly glory (John 17:5).

Since the Bible states that God does not change and states that God changed, then we have to embrace one of three positions:
1. One of the two statements is not really true. For instance, saying that God didn't really change His mind but only appeared to do so to relate to human beings.
2. The two statements are only true in part. Here the reconciliation is found by making a dichotomy, saying that in His being or in His purposes, God does not change, but that He does experience change in emotions, relationships, or actions.
3. Both are true. One example being the theory that if change is a necessary product of time and if the divine being is outside of time, then perhaps both can be true of Him.


Sproul The Character of God


Questions for Discussion:


HYMN: Great is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy Faithfulness, Oh God, my Father! There is no shadow of turning with Thee:

Thou changest not; Thy compassions, they fail not - As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.


Great is Thy faithfulness; great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!


Summer and winter and springtime and harvest; sun, moon and starts in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow - blessings all mine with ten thousand beside!

Hymn Text by Thomas Chisholm.


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