Can God “repent”?
Genesis 6:6 KJB - "And it REPENTED the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart."
ESV- "And the LORD REGRETTED that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart."
NKJV - "And the LORD WAS SORRY that He made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart."
There are many Bible Correctors out there today who try to tell us that the King James Bible is in error for translating the Hebrew Scriptures in such a way as to suggest that God can “repent”.
First of all, it should be pointed out that "repent" is exactly what the Hebrew word nah-gham # 5162 means. The Hebrew word itself has basically two very different meanings. It can mean "repent" (which itself has two different meanings) and is so translated in the KJB and many others some 40 times. But the same Hebrew word can also mean "to comfort" as in "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." Isaiah 40:1, and in Genesis 24:67 as "and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." Some 65 times the KJB translates this same Hebrew word as "to comfort".
The English word "repent" has two basic yet very different meanings. One meaning is "to feel sorrow or regret" and the other is "to change one's mind or course of action". Both meanings are used in the King James Bible and many others, as we shall soon see.
Secondly, it be noted that not only does the King James Bible say that God “REPENTED”, as in Genesis 6:6 “And it REPENTED the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” but so also do the following Bible translations: Wycliffe 1395, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew's Bible 1549, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Douay-Rheims Bible 1610, the Geneva Bible 1599, The Bill Bible 1671, Webster's Bible 1833, The Longman Version 1841, The Boothroyd Bible 1853, the Lesser Bible 1853, The Wellbeloved Scriptures 1862, The Jewish Family Bible 1864, the Revised Version 1881, The Sharpe Bible 1883, American Standard Version 1901 - "And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth", Darby 1890, Young's 1898, The Ancient Hebrew Bible 1907, The Improved Bible 1913, the Jewish translations of JPS (Jewish Publication Society) 1917 and 1936 Hebrew Publishing Company Bible, the Revised Standard Version 1952, the Hebrew Names Version, The Word of Yah Bible 1993, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, Third Millennium Bible 1998, God's First Truth 1999, The Yah Sacred Scriptures 2001, the Updated Bible Version 2003, J.P. Green’s Literal Translation 2005, The Revised Geneva Bible 2005, The Jubilee Bible 2010, the Knox Bible of 2012 - "he REPENTED of having made men on the earth", The Bond Slave Version 2012.
Foreign Language Bibles
Among foreign language Bibles that also say that God "repented" are the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1569, the Spanish Reina Valera 1909, 1960, 1995 (se arrepintió), the 2010 Spanish Reina Valera Gómez Bible AND the NIV 1999 Spanish edition Nueva Versión Internacional - "Y se arrepintió Jehová de haber hecho hombre en la tierra", the Italian Diodati 1649, the New Diodati 1991 and the Italian Riveduta of 2006 - "si pentì di aver fatto l'uomo sulla terra, the French Martin 1744, French Bovet Bonnet 1900 and the French Louis Segond 1910 and the French Ostervald 1991 - "Se repentit d'avoir fait l'homme sur la terre”, and the Portuguese Almeida, the Portuguese A Sagrada Biblia em Portugues AND the NIV Portuguese edition 1999 Nova Versão Internacional - "Entäo arrependeu-se o SENHOR de haver feito o homem sobre a terra.", the Romanian Cornilescu Bible -"I -a părut rău Domnului că a făcut pe om pe pămînt, şi S'a mîhnit în inima Lui." = "It REPENTED the Lord that he had made man on the earth".
Other foreign language Bible that read this way are: the Russian Synodal Bible - "и раскаялся Господь, что создал человека на земле" = "And it REPENTED the Lord that he had made man on the earth", the Chinese Union Traditional Bible - "耶 和 華 就 後 悔 造 人 在 地 上" = "Jehovah REPENTED that he had made man on the earth", the Norwegian Det Norsk Bibelselskap 1930 - "Da angret Herren at han hadde skapt mennesket på jorden" = "it REPENTED the Lord...", and Luther's German Bible 1545 - "da reute es ihn, daß er die Menschen gemacht hatte aug Erden" = "because he REPENTED that he had made man on the earth", the Modern Greek Bible - Και μετεμεληθη ο Κυριος οτι εποιησε τον ανθρωπον επι της γης. και ελυπηθη εν τη καρδια αυτου. = “And the Lord REPENTED that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” AND the Modern Hebew Bible - וינחם יהוה כי עשה את האדם בארץ ויתעצב אל לבו׃ = "And it REPENTED the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his hear."
The 1987 Amplified bible, put out by the Lockman Foundation, also uses the word 'repent" in the same way in 1 Samuel 15:35 saying: "And the Lord REPENTED that He had made Saul king over Israel."
The World English Bible says in Exodus 32:14 "Yahweh REPENTED of the evil which he said he would do to his people."
Young's literal version has God saying in Genesis 6:7 - "And Jehovah saith, `I wipe away man whom I have prepared from off the face of the ground, from man unto beast, unto creeping thing, and unto fowl of the heavens, for I have REPENTED that I have made them." And in 1 Samuel 15:11 - "I have REPENTED that I caused Saul to reign for king, for he hath turned back from after Me, and My words he hath not performed"
The Jewish Publication Society 1917 translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the English language often shows God "repenting" including Genesis 6:6 -"And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart." and Joel 2:14 - "Who knoweth whether He will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him, even a meal-offering and a drink-offering unto the LORD your God?" and Jonah 3:9 -"Who knoweth whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?'"
Even the Revised Standard Version of 1952 has God “repenting” in such verses as Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Amos 7:3, 6; and Johan 3:10.
The NASB has God repenting in Jeremiah 26:3 saying: “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.”
People who claim the Hebrew word is incorrectly translated in the King James Bible when it shows God “repenting” of some action are merely revealing their own ignorance of both the Hebrew and English languages. Many, many other Bible translators both before and after the King James Bible disagree with their peculiar views because they too have translated the Hebrew words in the same way as the King James Bible.
Webster's online dictionary 10th edition - Main Entry: re·pent
1 : to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life
2 a : TO FEEL REGRET OR CONTRITION, b : to change one's mind
1 : to cause TO FEEL REGRET or contrition
2 : TO FEEL SORROW, REGRET, or contrition for
Webster's 1913 dictionary actually uses Genesis 6:6 in one of its references to the meaning of the word repent, saying: "To cause to have sorrow or regret; -- used impersonally. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth." Genesis vi. 6."
1(intransitive) To FEEL PAIN, SORROW, OR REGRET for what one has done or omitted to do.
2(intransitive) To change one's mind, or the course of conduct, on account of regret or dissatisfaction.
3(transitive) To feel pain on account of; to remember with sorrow.
4(transitive) To cause to have sorrow or regret.
I have run into several of these men who criticize the King James Bible reading of "it repented the Lord that..." and have had opportunity to discuss the Bible version issue with some of them.
What I have found without exception is that not one of these men believes that ANY Bible in ANY language found in print today IS now the complete and inerrant words of God.
One such man is Dr. Jason Gastrich who likes to list some 50 places where he thinks the King James Bible (and ALL bibles out there) are in error. Many of Dr. Gastrich’s “errors” are shared by even the NKJV, NIV, NASB, RSV, ESV, Holman and ALL bible versions in existence. What he has done is what all others do who do not believe The Book - they each make themselves their own final authority and don’t agree with anybody else 100% of the time.
Dr. Gastrich writes: “God cannot repent because He cannot do evil. The KJV problem: The KJV says that God repented in 1 Samuel 15:35. The non-KJV solution: The Hebrew word "nawkham" means regret. Therefore, God regretted making Saul king, but He did not repent.” - Jason Gastrich
Here again we see how the Bible Corrector’s fertile imagination works. Brother Jason should learn a bit more about his own English language. Words frequently have several meanings, and the word “repent” does not always have to do with “repenting from sin”.
The word “repent” can also carry the simple meaning of “to change one’s mind” when it refers to man and his sins, or "to feel sorrow, regret or sorrow" when referring to God. Again, this is what Bible teachers refer to as an Anthropomorphism.
Does God know everything? Of course He does. Yet all Bible versions use the literary device called anthropomorphism in such expressions as when God comes to Adam in the garden after he had eaten from the tree of knowledge and He says: “Where art thou?” Didn’t God know? Of course He did.
Other examples of this very common way of using Biblical language are Genesis 3:11 where God asks: “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”
Genesis 4:9 “And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?”
Genesis 18:21 “I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me: and if not, I will know.”
Numbers 22:9 “And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?.”
Some modern versions like the NKJV, NIV, ESV and NASB tell us that God either “regretted” or “was sorry”, but these renderings end up having the same “problem”. If God is unchangeable and immutable, then theologically speaking He could not possibly regret or be sorry for anything He does. Clearly the terms “repent” or “was sorry” or “regretted” are examples of what is called either anthropopathy or anthropomorphism, that is, the attributing of human characteristics to the divine, like when the Bible tells us that God has a nose, ears, feet and arms.
Modern bible versions like the NKJV, ESV, NIV and NASB, which frequently translate this Hebrew word as something other than "repent" end up with a very real contradiction that does not exist in the King James Bible.
For example, in 1 Samuel 15:29 the NKJV says: "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor RELENT. For He is not a man, that He should RELENT." The NASB, NIV tell us that "He is not a man that He SHOULD CHANGE HIS MIND." The ESV says "will NOT HAVE REGRET."
However the NJKV, ESV, NIV and NASB type versions are then faced with a direct contradiction when they tell us in Exodus 32:12-14 that Moses asks God to RELENT (NASB - change Your mind) and then relate that God indeed "RELENTED from the harm which He said He would do" - NKJV (CHANGED HIS MIND - NASB).
In 1 Samuel 15 the ESV tells us in verse 29 "the Glory of Israel WILL NOT LIE OR HAVE REGRET, for he is not a man that he should REGRET." Yet in this same chapter in verse 11 the ESV tells us "The word of the LORD came to Samuel. "I REGRET that I have made Saul king" and in verse 15:35 again says: "And the LORD REGRETTED that he had made Saul king over Israel."
Did God lie in the ESV when He says He will NOT REGRET and then tells us in the same chapter, not once but twice, that He REGRETTED making Saul king? The ESV has made it worse. It has a very real contradiction because "to regret" only has one meaning.
But the KJB is right, and it not a contradiction, because one use of "repent" means "to feel sorrow or regret", and the other use means "to change one's mind or course of action".
Many commentators who are far from being King James Bible only believers have no problem correctly understanding what it means when the Bible says that God repented of certain things.
John Gill comments on Genesis 6:6 “and it repented the LORD” saying: “This is speaking by an anthropopathy, after the manner of men, because God determined to do, and did something similar to men, when they repent of anything: as a potter, when he has formed a vessel that does not please him, and he repents that he has made it, he takes it and breaks it in pieces; and so God, because of man's wickedness, and to show his aversion to it, and displicency at it, repented of his making him; that is, he resolved within himself to destroy him.”
Jamieson, Faussett and Brown remark: “God saw it . . . repented . . . grieved--God cannot change (Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17); but, by language suited to our nature and experience, He is described as about to alter His visible procedure towards mankind.”
John Wesley comments on this verse saying: “And it repented the Lord that he had made man upon the earth -That he had made a creature of such noble powers, and had put him on this earth, which he built and furnished on purpose to be a comfortable habitation for him; and it grieved him at his heart - These are expressions after the manner of men, and must be understood so as not to reflect upon God's immutability or felicity. It doth not speak any passion or uneasiness in God, nothing can create disturbance to the eternal mind; but it speaks his just and holy displeasure against sin and sinners: neither doth it speak any change of God's mind; for with him there is no variableness; but it speaks a change of his way.”
Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Bible - “Properly God cannot repent, Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:11, 15:29, because he is unchangeable in his nature and counsels, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, and perfectly wise, and constantly happy, and therefore not liable to any grief or disappointment. But this is spoken of God after the manner of man, by a common figure called anthropopathia, whereby also eyes, ears, hands, nose, &c. are ascribed to God; and it signifies an alienation of God’s heart and affections from men for their wickedness, whereby God carries himself towards them like one that is truly penitent and grieved, destroying the work of his own hands.”
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary - “The language used of God in relation to this universal corruption strikes every one as remarkable. "It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart." This is what is usually termed anthropomorphism, i.e., the presenting of God in terms applicable only to man; it is an instance of the same mode of speaking as is used when we speak of God’s hand or eye or heart. These expressions are not absolutely true, but they are useful and convey to us a meaning which could scarcely otherwise be expressed.”
John Piper, certainly no King James Bible promoter writes: God Does Not Repent Like a Man, November 11, 1998. “After Saul disobeys Samuel, God says, "I regret [= repent] that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands" (1 Samuel 15:11). Some have argued that since God "repents" of things he has done, therefore he could not have foreseen what was coming. Else why would he repent or regret, if he knew in advance the consequence of his decision?
However, this is not a compelling argument against God's foreknowledge. First of all, the argument assumes that God could not, or would not, lament over a state of affairs he himself chose to bring about. That not true to human experience; and more importantly, God's heart is capable of complex combinations of emotions infinitely more remarkable that ours. He may well be capable of lamenting over something he chose to bring about.
Not only that, God may also be capable of looking back on the very act of bringing something about and lamenting that act in one regard, while affirming it as best in another regard. For example, if I spank my son for blatant disobedience and he runs away from home because I spanked him, I may feel some remorse over the spanking - not in the sense that I disapprove of what I did, but in the sense that I feel some sorrow that spanking was a necessary part of a wise way of dealing with this situation, and that it led to his running away. If I had it to do over again, I would still spank him. It was the right thing to do. Even knowing that one consequence would be alienation for a season, I approve the spanking, and at the same time regret the spanking. If such a combination of emotions can accompany my own decisions, it is not hard to imagine that God's infinite mind may be capable of something similar.
Now the question is: Does the Bible teach that God laments some of his decisions in the sense that I have described above (which does not imply that He is ignorant of their future consequences), or does the Bible teach that God laments some of his decisions because he did not see what was coming?
The answer is given later in 1 Samuel 15. After God says in verse 11, "I repent that I have made Saul king," Samuel says in verse 29, as if to clarify, "The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent" (KJV). The point of this verse seems to be that, even though there is a sense in which God does repent (verse 11), there is another sense in which he does not repent (verse 29). The difference would naturally be that God's repentance happens in spite of perfect foreknowledge, while most human repentance happens because we lack foreknowledge. God's way of "repenting" is unique to God: "God is not a man that he should repent" (the way a man repents in his ignorance of the future).
For God to say, "I feel sorrow that I made Saul king," is not the same as saying, "I would not make him king if I had it to do over." God is able to feel sorrow for an act in view of foreknown evil and pain, and yet go ahead and will to do it for wise reasons. And so later, when he looks back on the act, he can feel the sorrow for the act that was leading to the sad conditions, such as Saul's disobedience.
Hence we have our precious fighter verse in Numbers 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 say it is precious, because here God's commitment to his promises hangs on his not repenting like a man. In other words, God's promises are not in jeopardy, because God can foresee all circumstances, he knows that nothing will occur that will cause him to take them back. Resting in the confidence of God's all-knowing promises, - Pastor John Piper.”
The King James Bible is right, as always.
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