Q: What Does It Mean When the Bible Says God “Changed His Mind”?

By Adam Lloyd Johnson, Ph.D.

1 Samuel 15:29 says that God “will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” What is strange, then, is that several times the Bible also says, “God changed His mind”! Some say this is a contradiction, and I could see their point if different Biblical authors were always saying these two things in two different books.

However, the writer of 1 Samuel says both of these things in the very same chapter. 1 Samuel 15:11 says God regretted (changed His mind about) making Saul king. Certainly, the author of 1 Samuel would have recognized the contradiction if there was one; no, we must conclude that the writer meant different things while using the same words to communicate them. We do the same thing in English.

Within the same conversation a person could say “I love everyone” and “I don’t love Bill.” It seems contradictory unless you understand the context of what they are saying: in a general sense, they love everyone, as in all of humanity, but in another sense, they don’t love Bill in a romantic way.

Malachi 3:6 says God does not change. Being a perfect being and knowing absolutely everything, God is unable to learn anything (Psalm 147:5). Therefore, we conclude that when the Bible says God changed His mind, that it must be because circumstances have changed that require a different attitude by God. So, if it is the circumstances that have changed, it is not the case that God has literally changed His mind or made a mistake. It simply means that, since the circumstances have changed, God’s relationship to the new circumstances are different because they have changed, not God.

When the Bible says God changed His mind, we take that to mean God is expressing deep emotional sorrow over our failures. If God is angry at me because I sinned but then “changes His mind” when I repent, it is not that God has “changed” per se but that He responded differently because of my change (i.e. the circumstances).

This language is sometimes called anthropomorphic or man-centered language. It helps us understand and better relate to what God is doing.

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