By Hank Hanegraaff
The classic King James Version of the Bible says, “It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:6).
Elsewhere, God says, “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” (1 Samuel 15:11 KJV). If God is perfect, how could He repent?
First, the Bible unequivocally teaches that God is perfectly good and thus incapable of doing evil (Psalm 5:4–5; James 1:13; 3 John v. 11). As such, God’s repentance must not be understood as entailing moral guilt. Indeed, the moral perfection of the Creator sets Him apart from His sin-tainted creation (Leviticus 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Peter 1:15–16).
Furthermore, although God does not change, the meaning of the word repent has changed over time. Thus, in place of the word repent, most modern English translations substitute the word regret or grieve (as reflected by the Septuagint). Indeed, as a human father grieves over rebellion on the part of his children, so our heavenly Father grieves over rebellion on the part of His creation.
Finally, God’s repentance must be understood as an anthropomorphism (talking about God in terms we would use to talk about a human being) that communicates the full measure of God’s grief over the horror of sin rather than a change of heart or a change of mind. With respect to the faithlessness of Saul, God said, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king” (1 Samuel 15:11 KJV). Yet the very same chapter says that “the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent” (v. 29 KJV). Apart from an anthropomorphic understanding, such passages would be self-refuting.
“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 NASB
For further study, see Millard J. Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) and Does God know the future?
**Note the preceding text is adapted from a new Revised and Updated version of The Complete Bible Answer Book that is forthcoming. When available we will update this page with corresponding information. Until then you can still purchase or receive for your partnering gift the current version by clicking here for purchase or here for partnering gift. ***