By James M. Rochford

The term immutability comes from two Latin root words that mean “not” (in) and “changing” (mutabilis). If something “mutates,” it changes. But to be immutable means to never change.

Thus, when theologians state that God is immutable, they mean that he is “constant and unchangeable in his character”[1] or “unchangeable in His nature.”[2] The creation around God can change, but he never changes: “There is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises.”[3] Erickson offers a nuanced definition:

The biblical view is not that God is static but stable. He is active and dynamic, but in a way that is stable and consistent with his nature. What we are dealing with here is the dependability of God. He will be the same tomorrow as he is today. He will act as he has promised. He will fulfill his commitments. The believer can rely on that.[4]

Likewise, Grudem writes, “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”[5]

Biblical Basis

God’s nature doesn’t change. Even though creation will change, the psalmist prays, “You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end” (Ps. 102:27; cf. Heb. 1:12). The author of Hebrews writes, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Paul describes God as the “incorruptible God” in contrast to the “corruptible” creation (Rom. 1:23).

God’s mind doesn’t change. Samuel said, “The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind” (1 Sam. 15:29). Even though the people of Israel rebelled against God, Malachi writes, “I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). The psalmist writes, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Ps. 33:11).

The evil king Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel. However, God intervened into Balaam’s life. Under the inspiration of God, Balaam said, “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?” (Num. 23:19)

God’s character doesn’t change. James writes, “With [God] there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17). God’s character stands in contrast to the constant changing of creation. The movement of the Earth brings about constant changes in the shadows from morning until noon until sunset. However, God’s character never changes with a “shifting shadow.”

God’s unconditional purposes don’t change. The author of Hebrews writes that God’s oath reflects the “unchangeableness of His purpose” (Heb. 6:17; cf. Ps. 33:1; Isa. 46:9-11).

How can God be immutable when we read about times that he “changed his mind” or “regretted” creation?

(Ex. 32:11-14) Did God change his mind? In Exodus, God intended to destroy the people when they created the Golden Calf. However, after Moses’ petitionary prayer, we read that “the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Ex. 32:14). Yet, several observations should be considered.

First, this passage doesn’t claim that God made an immutable decree. God made a temporary threat—not an immutable decree.[6] While God is immutable, not all of his actions should be considered immutable. God might sovereignly choose to threaten us with what he can do, rather than what he will do.

Second, this narrative is not a case of a mere man changing the mind of God. In fact, Moses doesn’t tell God any new information in this passage. Instead, he remembers the promises that God had already made in the past. Moses recalls the reasons why God rescued the Jews from Egypt in the first place (Ex. 32:12), and he repeats the promises that God had already made, regarding the Abrahamic covenant (Ex. 32:13; c.f. Gen. 12:1-3). In other words, Moses wasn’t telling God anything new. The focus of this passage is not the unknown future, but the known past. Therefore, it would be quite odd to hold that God changed his mind based on widely known past events.

Third, based on this biblical data, God doesn’t change. God’s attitude toward sin is always wrath and anger, and his attitude toward repentance is always love and mercy. Because the circumstances changed (i.e. Moses’ intercession), God appeared to change from Moses’ point of view. But this is “only an anthropopathic way of speaking.” The change is “not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God.”[7]

Think about it like this. From our perspective, the sun appears to rise and set. However, this is man-centered language. The sun doesn’t move around us; we move around it. The same is true with God. From Moses’ perspective, God changed. But if the story had been written from the perspective of God’s divine counsel, it would have stated that Moses’ prayer changed the circumstances. Geisler writes, “God appears to change, when humans actually do, just as the wind appears to change when we turn in the opposite direction. God has unchanging anger at our sin and unchanging pleasure in our repentance. When we repent, we simply move from under one unchanging attribute of God to another.”[8]

Consider Jonah’s ministry to the Ninevites. Jonah told these people, “Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon. 3:4). Yet, because the Ninevites repented, they moved from under God’s justice to under the realm of God’s love. God never stated that Nineveh could repent, but this is implicit in Jonah’s ministry. Otherwise, why send Jonah at all? Thus, “it was humans who had changed, not God’s plan.”[9]

Each one of these examples above “should all be understood as true expressions of God’s present attitude or intention with respect to the situation as it exists at that moment.” Yet what happens if the situation changes? If this occurs, then “God’s attitude or expression of intention will also change. This is just saying that God responds differently to different situations.”[10] As the psalmist writes, “With the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself astute” (Ps. 18:26).

(Gen. 6:6) Did God make a mistake in creating mankind? Genesis states, “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Gen. 6:6 NIV; cf. 1 Sam. 15:10). Yet, the word “regretted” (nāḥam) can be translated as “consoling himself” (Gen. 27:42). The root word reflects the idea of “breathing or sighing, deeply” and it “suggests a physical display of one’s feelings—sorrow, compassion or comfort.”[11] God was tremendously affected by the evil and suffering on Earth. Therefore, this passage is not addressing the intellectual knowledge of God; it is addressing the emotional anguish of God.

How can God be immutable if he clearly has changes in his emotions?

Some theologians hold that God doesn’t have emotions. Indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith states that God is “without… passions.” This is a view called divine impassibility. Yet we agree with theologians like Erickson[12] and Grudem[13] who reject this doctrine. Many passages describe God’s rich emotional life, as well as the deeply personal nature of God:

  • God rejoices (Isa. 62:5)
  • God is grieved (Ps. 78:40; Eph. 4:30)
  • God is angry (Ex. 32:10)
  • God feels pity (Ps. 103:13)

God told the nation of Israel, “My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled” (Hos. 11:8). Yet, here is the key: God possesses and expresses emotions, but he doesn’t allow his emotions to change his nature or his purposes. Human beings regularly allow their emotions to control their thinking and behavior. God feels emotions more than us, but he is never controlled by them.

How can God be immutable if he clearly changed at the Incarnation?

God didn’t cease being God at the incarnation. Jesus continued to possess all of his attributes and his divine nature while on Earth—even if he chose not to use these attributes. While Jesus added a human nature, he didn’t subtract his divine nature.[14] Therefore, no essential change to God’s nature occurred.

If God’s nature could change, what implications would this have for our lives?

If God’s nature could change, we would never know what sort of mood God is going to be in. Perhaps you grew up in a home with a mom or dad who was abusive or mentally unstable. On one day, dad could express genuine tenderness and love, but on another, he could be violent or verbally vicious. This is a confusing environment to grow up in. When dad came home, you probably asked yourself, “Who is going to be walking through the door tonight?”

None of this anxiety hangs over your head with God. When you approach him, you can know that his character of love and compassion has never changed and never will. The one person in the universe you really need to depend on will always be dependable. Everything good about God could someday change if it wasn’t for this attribute of immutability.

If God’s nature could change, we would wonder if God will ever betray us or try to ruin our lives. Have you had someone shatter your trust? Most have. Over time, people change, and quite often, not for the better. Husbands leave their wives; parents abandon their children; friends turn on each other. Sometimes your loved ones even turn into enemies. People can turn bad, but God will always remain the same. You never have to worry that God will someday mutate into a cosmic tyrant in a few thousand years. He will always be loving, patient, forgiving, and kind.

If God’s nature could change, our feelings would supersede God’s promises. If God can change his nature, then you could never know if his promises are reliable. It’s hard enough stepping out in faith when there is pressure all around you. But just imagine if you didn’t know if God was going to come through.

The truth is that we can know this. The immutable God can be counted on. The hope he offers is an “anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19).

[1] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2nd ed., Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 1092.

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 444.

[3] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 59.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 305.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 163.

[6] Master makes the distinction of a decree versus a threat. See Jonathan Master, “Exodus 32 as an Argument for Traditional Theism.” JETS 45/4 (December 2002). 596.

[7] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 59.

[8] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 449.

[9] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 305.

[10] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 165.

[11] Walter Kaiser, More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 40.

[12] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 305.

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 166.

[14] John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p.270.