God is all powerful . . . but there are some things he cannot do.
Some of you, I’m sure, nodded in agreement while others might disagree. In one sense, these two ideas—all powerful yet limited abilities—seems contradictory.
However, that opening sentence is biblically true. Where people may push back is in their understanding of “all powerful.” The theological term for that is omnipotent.
In this article, I want to cover three things:
Etymology of Omnipotent/Omnipotence
Omnipotent (and it’s adjectival, or genitive, version, omnipotence, I’ll use these terms interchangeably), is a $10 theological term that means “all powerful.” It comes from the Old French term omnipotent (same spelling, but pronounced with a French accent).
The French term originated from the Latin term omnipotentem. This itself is a combination of two other Latin terms, omnis, which means “all,” and potens (specifically its genitive form, potentis), which means “powerful.” Thus, the Latin term, which was generally attributed to God, meant “all powerful” or “almighty.”
Thus, when people talk about omnipotence, or God being omnipotent, what they are saying is that God is all powerful.
What does that mean, however? More importantly, what does it mean in accordance with Scripture?
A Biblical Definition of Omnipotence
I’ve heard Christians describe to God’s omnipotence using various phrases:
- God can do anything
- God’s power is unlimited
- All things are possible with God
- There’s nothing God can’t do
While there is a biblical basis for each of these, without proper context, they are imprecise and thus inaccurate (the last one is simply unbiblical). Yes, God is all powerful, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing God can’t do.
In order to properly understand God’s omnipotence, we must have a biblical understanding. Scripture teaches that God is all powerful, but it also shows us that his power does have a limit: his nature.
God can do anything he wants or imagines, but only in accordance with who he is, that is, his nature. If it’s contrary to God’s nature, then he can’t do it.
Think about it this way: a bachelor is someone who is not married. One cannot be a bachelor and have a spouse at the same time because that’s contrary to the nature of bachelorhood. Thus, it would be silly and even nonsensical to ask a bachelor how long he’s been married.
Here’s another way of thinking about it: a fish. Fish swim in water. Fish breath underwater. A fish cannot breathe outside of water nor can a fish run through the forest like a deer. It’s not within a fish’s nature to do those things. However, it is well within a fish’s nature to do fish things like swim and breathe under water. A fish can do anything that fish do.
The same applies with God. There are things God cannot do because those things are outside or contrary to God’s nature (I’ll outline seven of them below). However, God can do anything that is within his nature.
This brings us to a biblical definition of omnipotence: God can do anything in accordance with his nature, and he cannot do anything contrary to his nature.
So, now that we have a better understanding of omnipotence, let’s look at seven things God cannot do.
7 Things God Cannot Do
As already stated, there are things God cannot do because doing those things would be contrary to his nature. Below are seven of those things that Scripture tells us God cannot do. Nevertheless, God still remains omnipotent because his power is based on and bound to his nature.
1. God cannot sin
2 Timothy 2:13
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
To sin means to go against or be in opposition to God. Paul reminds us that God cannot go against himself, thus, he cannot sin.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
Because God cannot sin, he cannot tempt others to sin. If he tempted anyone to sin, then he would himself be sinning. Furthermore, the psalmist reminds us that all God does his sinless (that is, righteous):
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
God is righteous – that is holy, perfect, sinless – in all his ways, including in his nature.
Thus, God who is holy and perfect, cannot sin.
2. God cannot cease to exist
See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
For I lift up my hand to heaven
and swear, As I live forever,
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
God himself declares that he is eternal. You and I have a beginning and an end—we are conceived and we die. God, however, is eternal. God is always existing in eternity past, present, and eternity future.
This is reiterated by the Apostle John and by Jesus—God the Son:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John reminds us that Jesus (who is “the Word”) already existed at the beginning with God the Father. Thus, Jesus—and also the entire triune Godhead—existed in eternity past.
and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
In this verse, Jesus reminds us that, although he did, he rose again and will exist forevermore in eternity future.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
The terms “Alpha” and “Omega” refer to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and are used symbolically of the beginning and the end. When Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” his is not saying he has a beginning and an end. Rather, Jesus is telling us that he is the beginning and the end.
Thus, God cannot cease to exist. He always was, always is, and always will be.
3. God cannot lie
in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began
Paul reminds his student, young Pastor Timothy, that God cannot lie. This makes sense since lying is a sin, and as we’ve already seen, God cannot sin. The author of Hebrews is more emphatic:
so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
We’re not merely told that God “never lies,” but that it is “impossible for God to lie.” Thus, whatever God says is trustworthy and true. When it seems that God isn’t trustworthy or truthful, it’s not God who lies, but you and I who misunderstand (or preachers who teach error).
4. God cannot fail to save the faithful
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
This verse is quoted by Peter in his sermon after Pentecost (Acts 2:21) and by Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians (Rom 10:13)
Notice the opening line: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Not some or a few, but every single person who puts their faith in Christ (that is, “calls on the name of the Lord”) will be saved. Jesus reiterates this promise in Joel when teaching his followers about salvation and God’s will:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Jesus makes it clear: every person who repents of their sins through faith in Jesus as the risen Yahweh is saved. Not might be saved, but is saved. Salvation is guaranteed because, as we’ve seen, God cannot lie. Furthermore, salvation is sealed—ensured—by God himself:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Thus, once again, we have something God cannot do: he cannot fail to save those who put their faith in Jesus.
5. God cannot be second to anything
You shall have no other gods before me.
God told Moses that he is God above all and that no other god (lowercase ‘g’) shall come before or be given greater priority or prominence than Yahweh. Although there is but one God—the triune God—it may seem odd for God to reference other “gods.” The reason he does is because at that time (and still today), people create gods of their own desires and ideals; scripture calls these idols. Whatever we may worship or put above ourselves, God is saying the he alone is superior and supreme. God alone is above all.
one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Not only should we never place anything in a place of greater importance than God, Paul reminds us that God is “over all.” That means God is superior to all things in every way. God transcends all things and rules over all things (though he does allow free will, but that’s a whole other conversation).
So here, we learn that God cannot do something else: he cannot be second to anything.
6. God cannot change
A fancy, theological term for this is immutable. God is immutable.
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
God is the same from eternity past to eternity future. The God of the Old Testament is the same God in the New Testament (see my video above for more on this). This is true of all three persons of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Spirit (the Holy Spirit). His person, nature, and word do not change.
Often, when we think God changed, it’s because we’ve encountered only certain aspects of his nature, or God is only revealing specific attributes at that time. That doesn’t mean God changed, only that he is expressing himself in select ways..
So, here is another thing that God cannot do: he cannot change.
7. God cannot limit himself to human reason or logic
I don’t often see this one in lists of things God cannot do, but it should be included: God cannot limit himself to human reason or logic.
Often, people deny the existence of God because he’s illogical or doesn’t make reasonable sense. Basically, if he cannot be proven based on our finite knowledge, logic, reason, and understanding, then he cannot exist. However, that type of argument precludes that God must be subject to and subordinate to our logic and our reasoning and our understanding. Doing so diminishes God, strips him of his deity, and makes him lower than man (which he cannot be, as we’ve seen already).
Furthermore, God tells us in Scripture that he is beyond—transcends—human logic and reasoning:
For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
God is high above all—above all creation, above you and I, and above our logic and understanding. Isaiah makes this even more clear:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God’s way of doing things—God’s thoughts, God’s nature—are not limited to or bound to our logic, reasoning, or understanding. Rather, God is beyond them, transcends them, and surpasses them. Peter reminds us that this is also applies to perspectives:
2 Peter 3:8
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
God doesn’t view time the way we do because he transcends time—including space-time. God can and does operate within time, but he also exists and operates outside of time, a concept that’s beyond our comprehension because we are finite creatures bound to time.
God is infinite and thus is not bound to nor limited to finite human logic, reason, or understanding. So again, here’s one more thing God cannot do: he be restricted to our ways of thinking and comprehending things. God, because he is a holy God, must be and is far beyond us, yet he can relate to us and have a relationship with us, which he does through God the Son, Jesus.
So, here are seven things God cannot do, yet he is omnipotent. That means, God is able to do all things in accordance with his nature.
What other things would you add to this list? Comment below and please share this article!
This Post Has 9 Comments
God cannot change history, what has happened, has happened?
He possibly could change history since doing so wouldn’t necessarily alter his nature or person. It doesn’t cause God to no longer be God.
No, he cannot possibly change an event or anything that has already happened. He can change the “course of history” granted but I repeat he cannot go back in time and change something that has already happened.
What’s the biblical support for that?
For the simple reason there is no account of God doing it.
While it’s an interesting premise, it isn’t a biblical reason, but an argument from silence. Based on that logic, if the Bible doesn’t record it happening, then it never did nor could happen. There’s no biblical account of Jesus or the apostles using the restroom. Therefore, using the same logic, we should assume they never did nor could.
Nick’s statement is fundamentally important to the foundations of our faith. Genesis 6:5-6, the sins of men caused God to be “sorry that He had made man…and He was grieved in His heart.” If He could have un-made man, He would have. Instead He destroyed them with a flood. The marks of the flood history can be seen throughout the earth in geology. Jesus asked His Father if there was any other way, Matthew 26:39, 42, 44 three times indicates its immutability. If there was any way possible to un-do the history of man’s sin, God would have done it. Instead, He bore the agony of Gethsemane and Golgotha because that was the only way He could both save us and remain just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where sin abounded in history, He could not change it, but He could add to that history a demonstration of His love, and His grace abounded much more. And no one can change that. Praise God for His Story. Ezekiel 18:32 and 33:11 He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, yet He must do it because He cannot change their history any other way (2 Thess 2:8). Unchangeable history is in the very nature of the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. What is done is done. Praise God for His salvation history, and He’s coming again in real time, in immutable history, unchangeable fact! Thank you, Nick, for your insight, and thank you too, John, for your very comprehensive study. I’m finding it very helpful for teaching a small class of 10-14 year olds.
God cannot square the circle or say that 1+1=3, meaning, God cannot be illogical or perform illogical operations.
Agreed so long as we’re not limiting God to our finite logic or reasoning. Sometimes what seems illogical to us is not illogical to God (e.g., the Trinity, resurrection of the dead, etc.).