Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man that he should lie”

A common criticism of Mormonism, especially from the Evangelical crowd, is to quote Numbers 23:19:

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

The focus of course is on the phrase “God is not a man”, because it appears to contradict the fundamental LDS notion that God is in fact, in some way, a man. Joseph Smith taught that God is an “exalted man” who “sits enthroned in yonder heavens”. Some Evangelical critics of Mormonism think that in Numbers 23:19 they have found indisputable proof that Mormonism is not biblical.

Of course, the actual focus of Num 23:19 is not on God’s nature as a non-man, but rather on God’s nature as a non-liar. The point being made is that God does not lie the way that men do. It is quite obvious that the author has in mind mortal, fallible men. He does not have in mind every single homo sapien or every single person who is a descendant of Adam and Eve. There are at least three obvious exceptions to the assumption that all “men” lie.

The first are little infants. Infants are “men” yet they do not lie.

The second exception are resurrected, saved, men. It is not conceivable that the “men” who are saved in the Kingdom of Heaven, who dwell in the presence of God (our critics presumably believe that this includes themselves), are going to be liars. They will have been cleansed and sanctified; purified of the desire to do evil. It is possible that one might argue that this type of “man” is not really any longer a “man” because their nature has been changed in some way. Latter-day Saints would respond that this is precisely what has taken place with God the Father. He is a “man” only in the most basic sense, but his nature is not like ours. He is an immortal, sinless, exalted “man”.

The third obvious exception is Jesus Christ. By decree of the Council of Chalcedon, Jesus Christ is “perfect in manhood” and “truly man” and yet he is also “without sin”. This is a creed that all mainstream Christians have accepted. Jesus Christ is a “man” who does not lie (in direct contradiction to the underlying premise of our critic’s interpretation of Num 23:19).

In my recent reading of Galatians (in preparation for the Sunday School class that I teach) I came across these passages:

Gal 1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father

Gal 1:11-12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

From these passages it can reasonably be concluded that Jesus Christ is not a man. Yet, our mainstream Christian friends confess that Jesus Christ is a man! The reason I point this particular issue out should be clear. This is the same tactic employed by our critics when they argue that Numbers 23:19 contradicts Mormonism. The key here is to carefully consider what the writer has in mind when he uses the term “man”.

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8 comments on “Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man that he should lie”

  1. adebowale daniel says:

    John 4:24, Bible says; ”God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth .” MY GOD IS NOT A MAN

  2. James says:

    Adebowale,

    Is not Jesus Christ your God, and is not Jesus Christ a man?

  3. andrewimiller says:

    James, this is a fabulous post. Glad I came and read it!

  4. Dr. David M. Ward says:

    The Hebrew states God is not a Man. That is the Truth. Translate the Hebrew not the KJV as your book does. Listed in book and verse Numbers 23:19 Please verify what is in Hebrew before you speak and look unknowing. Why did Joseph Smith translate the “golden plates” into Elizabethan English? People in the US did not speak that language for over 100 years in the US except in small communites. Language changed and even the Constitution was not written in Elizabethan English 60 years before the translation began.

  5. James says:

    Hello Dr. Ward. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I confess to being a bit confused by your rhetoric. I did in fact quote the KJV of Num 23:19, but as far as I can tell it is a generally faithful translation of the Hebrew. The Hebrew states that “god is not a man” and the KJV states that “god is not a man” so I don’t see the problem here.

    Do you believe that this poses some kind of problem for Latter-day Saint theology?

    Regarding the Elizabethan English of the Book of Mormon, that is a rather tangential direction to go in. The short answer is that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into the only form of “scripture language” that he or anybody else knew at the time, which was KJV English. There is no reason that should be seen as evidence against the Book of Mormon.

  6. weshawehu says:

    It iis true that the Holy One of Israel does not lie; so being Yeshua whom every disciple knew as Yshua before the greek ignorantly called him son of zues ( ie- sus ; the ie has the sound y up till the sixteen hundreds there was no actuall j in any alphabet in the world) The truth is Yeshua did not lie and neither did he blaspheme the spirit; that saying it would have been blasphemy for Yeshua to say salvation come from anything other than god and his spirit; therefore he told the truth with out blasphemy , he said salvation is of JEW because that is god his name and spirit. On this same level Yeshua himself would not accuse one of blasphemy of him self as he did not in any scpripture but he would most surely tell some one about blasphemy to the spirit which is exactly what he did in the book called Revelation saying I know the blasphemy of those which say they are Jews but are not. It is plain and simple one can not deny the spirit and still be called by the spirit. Just so happens that the Holy One of Israel ( spirit ) has a name which is JEW. The YHWH is the son of JEW this name is Yahwehu because it is blasphemy to say this name with out spirit that is the E they are one the U follows the YHWH ppronunciation. There is another way to blaspheme YHWH and that is to worship the hosts of heaven ; the two upon the ark bear this name , that is why Yahshua is Yeshua ; from the throne looking to those before his throne the Yh is on that right side while when we look to the throne the Yh is first ( our left). The wilderness shows this name reversed because of rebellion way (Wh) ye ( Yh) qra; remember they where in the wilderness of sin. Wayyedabber and wayyeqra both say the same thing about this ( and he said and he called) it is who was before them because of the sin WHYH , the first will be last and the last first. It is not expected that a lord worshipper would understand this because lord does not follow the truth; lord means baal, which is the prince of demons another way to say baal lord is adoni ; it used to be a people would be called by thier gods names so does this people ring a bell the Adonians whom the army of the living god JEW smote. That brings another blasphemy to the spirit with name name jehovah; some one that did not know the living god JEW took the tetragramatonYHWH and the vowels from baals name adoni and reversed them and made the name jehovah / it is blasphemy to say baal is god and to deny the spirit by calling baal the YHWH by mixxing the Holy name JEW YHWH denying E /by the way this same E is the purpose of U in the refrence to the Messiah EmanUyl( emanuel ) mormons along with most other people who call to lord are baal worshippers, and again it does say the devil baal turned itself to an angel of light.
    More accurate than you think
    JEWSHALOM
    Ps: the city of the great king is the city of peace; the very name Jerusalem means JEWSHALOM ; JEW is peace.

  7. wiscont says:

    I dont quite understand the text of the verse, yet there is always an explaination for God never left His people hanging. On the other hand, it is not the only text of the bible which describe GOd. It says “In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with GOD”. THe word is Jesus Christ. “ANd the WORD was GOD. (John 1:1)

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