A Permissive Tense? God Is Love so He Cannot Punish Directly?

I was recently discussing scripture with someone and we happened upon the topic of the judgment of God. It was actually somewhat accidental. We were discussing healing and I referenced my study on the Hebrew word Rapha' . The word is first used in Genesis 20:17Genesis 20:17 (ESV)
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed (Rapha') his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.
where scripture speaks of God's opening up the wombs that the Lord himself had previously closed. Upon giving this commentary on the verse, I was cautioned that it was not really God who closed up the wombs - at least not directly. I was told that in the original language, whether by tense or some other aspects of the original text, whenever scripture says that God does anything that might be read as a judgment or a punishment performed by God, what the original scriptures really say is that God "permitted" the happenstance, but that he did not "do it himself." Now, sometimes this may appear true. God can simply allow the consequences of our actions to play out in our lives, and in these cases it might be said that God "passively" or "permissively" allowed judgment to happen and did not will it or commit it directly. I would argue, however, that when this appears to be the case, we must remember that it was that same "passive" God who set up this world and the order of things and that ultimately he is fully sovereign in everything that happens in our lives. He never sits back simply watching, unable to stop the consequences of our actions. In these cases, he has set and caused the consequences by his very design of this world.

Of course the idea that every time we see a scriptural reference to a judgment or punishment, that what is really being said is that the action is happening only in a passive or permissive sense and not by God directly can not be supported with any valid study of the Hebrew (or Greek). For the very scripture that brought up the idea, the thought is fully debunked by viewing the original texts. However, this idea is not unheard of in Western Christianity, and it is especially popular in the Word of Faith movement. My friend stated that "God is Love" and that as such, it is not possible for him to cause harm, punish, or execute judgment himself. My friend further clarified that God won't send people to hell but instead we'll send ourselves to hell by our choices and actions. It's a subtle difference, but I was told we must be careful not to lay on God anything that contradicts "love." It was stated that God is perfectly personified in Jesus, and Jesus represented perfect love; he condemned no one.

All of these are ideas which are growing popular in large segments of today's "church." As I listened, I thought to myself that the enemy is working to repaint the public image of God so that God's hands will be clean of anything "evil" because love (and God is love) can not do anything that we would perceive as harming another. These thoughts change the very character of God. These are frightening deceptions that nullify the need for the Gospel. If God is love... If, ultimately, God himself is not going to judge... if God himself doesn't send to hell... then what the sinner hears is "If I just ask to go to heaven - even if it's after death because I find out hell is real and then ask for him to save me -  because God is love, then I'm good." Satan knows very well how man thinks, and he has worked hard to craft this ideology in the popular church. It leads people to an unsupported comfort and removes the sense of guilt that is needed for sin to be seen as sin - and for sin to be seen as an affront to a holy God who will strike back against it. It removes the need for present salvation from the coming wrath of God, and it either removes the need for Christ to have gone to the cross or it adds the idea that because Christ went to the cross, everyone will be saved. Yes, God is Love, but that does not mean that God is absolutely forgiving and unwilling or even unable to execute judgment or to punish those who reject him. These ideas are earthly and suggest that God has to adhere to our fleshly standards of what we consider right or wrong or good or evil. God has to follow our definitions of love and hate. It makes the All Powerful powerless to discipline his own children without another to "help" him do it, because he can't do it himself.

I became curious as to where this ideology originated - the idea that God doesn't do anything we would perceive as evil, but instead he simply removes his hand and permits it, and that if we find in the Old Testament that God smote or otherwise caused harm to someone, that what really is being said is that God simply permitted the smiting or harm. While the idea has been around for a long time, in modern history, the idea seems to have become popular via the publishings of Kenneth Hagin. For example, in Hagin's book, Redeemed from Poverty and Sickness, Hagin references Dr. Robert Young (the author of the Young's Literal Translation of the Bible).

From the last paragraph in chapter 16:

Dr. Robert Young, author of Hints to Bible Interpretation, points out that in the original Hebrew, the verb is in the permissive rather than the causative sense. Actually, it should have been translated something like this: "The Lord will allow."

and later in chapter 17:

The original Hebrew of these Scriptures was in the permissive tense, but because the English language has no corresponding permissive tense, the verbs were translated in the causative.1

The problem is, is there is no permissive tense in the Hebrew. Additionally, no one seems to be able to find proof that Robert Young ever really wrote a book called Hints to Bible Interpretation (though many reference it). Young did write The Analytical Concordance of the Holy Bible which contained a two page section called Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation.2 Item 70 from this section lists several ways Young felt active verbs could be considered. These are: express only an attempt to do the action, express a permission of it, express an announcement of it, express giving an occasion for it, express a direction or sanction to it, express a promise to do it, express a continuation of it, and to express what is done by a deputy.2 He gives scriptural examples for each. He offers no Hebrew based evidence of how these differences can be ascertained - these seem to be context-based subjective opinions regarding the verses exampled.

In a different edition of his concordance, Young has a section called Analytical Survey of the Idioms of the Bible. Rule 68 from this section says:

Verbs that signify the simple act or effect may be understood (1) of the power or (2) of the duty and obligation or (3) of the will, choice, or intention or (4) of the design or tendency or (5) of the attempt or endeavor or (6) of the custom or usual way or (7) of the occasion or (8) of the permission - of acting." Regarding number 8, Young specifies the following examples: Job 1:21 - the Lord hath permitted to be taken away. Ps 119:31 - put me not to shame, i.e., permit it not. Isa 63:17 - why hast thou made, i.e., suffered us to err. Jer 4:10 - thou hast greatly deceived this people, i.e., permitted them to be deceived -  15:15 - take me not away, i.e., suffer it not. Matt 6:13 - lead us not, i.e., suffer us not to be led into temptation.3

Again, these are subjective takes on the intentions of the original verbs. No evidence is given, whether from the Hebrew or Greek, to support the claims.

In some cases, Young may be correct, but to imply that in every case where God is reported in scripture to do something that harms another should be interpreted in the nonexistent "Hebrew permissive tense" is, in all reality, foolishness. I would caution to putting too much stock into Young's work anyway. His interpretation of the ten commandments is a prime example of a dangerous and obviously incorrect translation:

From Exodus 20:

verse 3 Thou hast no other Gods before Me.
verse 4 Thou dost not make to thyself a graven image, ...
verse 7 Thou dost not take up the name of Jehovah thy God for a vain thing ...
verse 13 Thou dost not murder.
verse 14 Thou dost not commit adultery.
verse 15 Thou dost not steal.
verse 16 Thou dost not answer against thy neighbour a false testimony.

Young has changed what should be an imperative command and made it somewhat a statement of being or a statement of faith. As one commentator excitedly put it

Note the tense in these verses. They are presented, not so much as commandments, as they are confessions of faith by God about us! These sound very much like the creative statements of God. "let there be light... etc... This is how God intends for the righteous spirit of Christ within you to overcome the flesh. If you find you have particular areas that bother you, speak out of your spirit to those areas and bring them into line.4

But this is not how the Exodus (or Deuteronomy) verses read because this is not how the verses were intended in the original Hebrew. A quick study of Hebrew will clearly show that they were absolute commands (negated imperfect tense) - "You shall never have any other gods before me!" There are many valid and well researched articles online where anyone can confirm this. Here is one.

All this is to say that "the negative actions attributed to God in the Old Testament are really just permissive withdrawings of his protection as intended in the Hebrew" is a theology that was derived from one man's mis-referencing another man's subjective listing of several possible intentions of active verbs in the Hebrew. The mis-reference was then used to create a non-existent Hebrew verb tense which was then applied to ALL instances of negative actions attributed to God in the Old Testament. This is not how Bible study should be done - this is how cults are started! It is sad that an idea sprouted in such flimsy soil has grown such mighty roots. It does give solid evidence that people really do like to run with a happy sounding doctrine.

Before we get into what the Bible actually says about God's character in these matters, I must point out an obvious conclusion to this thinking that few seem to question. If the verbs in the Hebrew regarding God's negatively perceived actions are in a permissive tense, and if the verbs in the Hebrew regarding God's positive doings are crafted the exact same way, why don't proponents of this doctrine also suggest that God requires another to carry out his good acts? If the verb for the first is "permissive," shouldn't the verb of the second be permissive as well? Just as they say it's not really God who gives/does bad things, should it also not really be God who gives/does good things? Unsurprisingly, no one ever seems to addresses this.

I also find it incredulous that Hagan makes the assumption that "because the English language has no corresponding permissive tense, the verbs were translated in the causative."1 Does Hagan truly assume that the many well-studied Bible translators could not figure out how to add the word "permitted" in reference to a verb's action if such a tense truly did exist in the Hebrew? Also, are we truly supposed to believe the translators were indeed baffled about how to translate this supposed permissive tense and therefor simply chose not to do so? The preachers who believe in this tense have no problem translating it - but thousands of disciplined bible scholars couldn't come up with the English word "permitted" and because of this nearly every critically accepted version of the Bible is wrong? Were the translators really stymied at trying to figure out how to say "The Lord will allow"? This explanation of the supposed incorrect rendering of the permissive tense seems... far fetched.

Finally, if God truly did wish to imply that he only permitted or allowed (what we perceived as) his "evil" deeds to occur, then why didn't he just use a word like natash (Strongs H5203), as used in verses such as:

Genesis 31:28 - And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters.

Exodus 23:11 - but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat (a perfect example of backing off and letting what is to happen happen)

Deuteronomy 32:15 - But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; You grew fat, you grew thick, You are obese! Then he forsook God who made him, And scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation.

I Samuel 12:22 - For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you His people.

Used only once in Ezra 3:7Ezra 3:7 (ESV)
So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
, rishyown, from Strong's H7558, speaks of permission: They also gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre to bring cedar logs from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the permission which they had from Cyrus king of Persia.

The word nathan (Strong's H5414) when used in certain ways can also be translated as permit, as in Exodus 12:23:

For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.

While not commonly used in the Old Testament, it is clear that there was language available which correctly gives the concept of permit. God could have used correct language if permission was the concept he wished to convey.

Regarding love, I do want to confirm that God is indeed love. 1 John 4:81 John 4:8 (ESV)
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
says so, and 1 John 4:71 John 4:7 (ESV)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
says that love is from God. The way God has chosen to show his love to us is told in verses 9 and 10:

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him... He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Paul comments in 2 Corinthians 13:112 Corinthians 13:11 (ESV)
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
that God is "the God of love." I would venture that it is safe to say that God is, always has been, and always will be... love (See Malachi 3:6Malachi 3:6 (ESV)
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
, Hebrews 13:8Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
and Revelation 22:13Revelation 22:13 (ESV)
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

But there is more to God than just his love. If we simply say he is love and stop there, we are leaving out a very important aspect of his character, for God is also holy. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29Hebrews 12:29 (ESV)
for our God is a consuming fire.
). And for those without Christ, that fire will consume them. It is not that God is vindictive or hateful, unable to control his anger. He doesn't go off into a rage when people offend him. Quite the opposite - he is longsuffering and patient, always desiring that sinners come to repentance (See Exodus 34:6Exodus 34:6 (ESV)
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
, Romans 2:4Romans 2:4 (ESV)
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
, and 1 Timothy 2:3-41 Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV)
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
). We see this both in the Old and New Testaments. In the old, God would send his prophets to warn of coming destruction, giving entire peoples a chance to repent. Consider Niniva. God sent Jonah to prophesize the city's destruction, and relented when the people repented. In the New Testament, he sent Jesus, who makes the way of salvation for everyone who believes, and he sends us, his servants, to spread his good news to others.

But that good news isn't just that God is love and all is well. That good news is a two part story. The first part is that people are sinful. Our sin offends God and makes us God's enemies, and that sin will lead to death and eternal punishment (see Romans 5:10 and 6:23Romans 5:10 & 6:23 (ESV)
5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
). This is part one of the gospel. It is the ugly truth about ourselves (see Romans 3:10-12Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
). The gospel says that we are not "good people" as the cliché goes. It is offensive to hear and it is a stumbling block to those who don't believe (see 1 Corinthians 1:181 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
). But until people realize that they are indeed sinners destined for hell, then what Jesus did for them at the cross will not have meaning and they won't see the full purpose of it. If we don't realize that in God's eyes we are sinners who deserve punishment, then Jesus having taken our punishment at the cross doesn't really make sense. We must realize our helpless state to realize the amazing gift that has been given to us. Part 2 of the gospel is the "but." But Jesus. When we were lost in our sin, unable and even undesiring to find our way out, Jesus humbled himself and came to earth to live the perfect life we couldn't live and take the punishment for our sins so that we wouldn't have to. All we have to do is accept his sacrifice of himself for us, but unless we understand that his sacrifice was him taking our deserved punishment for sins, then we really haven't understood the gospel and we really haven't met the true Jesus. Jesus asks that we repent of our sins (turn away from our sins) and be saved, but unless we realize we are sinners (and not "good people"), then we won't understand true repentance. The true gospel requires an understanding of part 1 so that we can understand the magnificence of part 2. A part 2 only gospel is not the true gospel. It's merely a "feel good" gospel that seeks not to offend. The Jesus of this gospel is not the Jesus of the Bible.

Before sin, there was no need of the Gospel. God has always been love, but he has also always been perfectly holy and righteous. God's holiness can not stand sin. Once sin came, that sin brought the need for salvation. God couldn't just offer us forgiveness because he is love. His holiness required a sacrifice because sin requires judgment (see Romans 6:23Romans 6:23 (ESV)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
and 2 Corinthians 5:102 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
). Whereas love and righteousness are eternal and fundamental attributes of God, judgment, retribution and punishment are only temporal to this world; they are responses to sin (something outside of God) that come from God's holy character. They did not appear before sin and they will not appear after sin is ultimately dealt with. Wrath and retribution are not eternal attributes of God in the way that his love or righteousness are.

Similarly, without sin we would not see the mercy of God. Just as wrath is the outward expression of God's holiness (when it is violated), mercy is the outward expression of God's love towards sinful people - holding back his wrath and causing him to be forgiving and longsuffering. None of these things would be observed without the presence of sin.

I began this essay exploring the idea that God's judgments and punishments in the Old Testament (and even at the end of this age) are not really God's doing the action due to a supposed "permissive tense" of the Hebrew. Now knowing that such a tense simply does not exist, we can safely say that for the Old Testament, what the Bible says is what it says - there is no permissive tense for which no translator could figure out how to use a form of the English word "permit." If it says "God struck," "God caused" or "God laid upon," then that is what the Bible says happened and we should take it as God wrote it. It really shouldn't matter either. God sometimes does use others and circumstances to carry out his will. Regardless, he is still carrying out his will. Just like we say "guns don't kill people, people kill people," if God uses anything or anyone to carry out his purposes, it is still his sovereign purposes and intentions that are being displayed. If I ran around whacking people with a mallet, no one would blame the mallet or use the mallet as an excuse to support my innocence of the evil deed.

Finally, I want to focus on the New Testament. My friend commented that because Jesus is the perfect representation of God and because Jesus only displayed love, because God is love, then only displays of love can be attributed to God. Everything that we would perceive as evil (or not love) should not be attributed to God, but rather these things are something that God only permits, but does not take part in personally. The logic of this has already been addressed, but I want to add a few points. First, the Bible does say that Jesus is the visible image of God (see Colossians 1:15Colossians 1:15 (ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
and Hebrews 1:3Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
). However, this does not mean that we should only look at the physical acts of Jesus in determining God's character. The Bible goes much further in John 1:1 & 14John 1:1 & 14 (ESV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
when it clarifies that all of the Word (the Old Testament) is God and that God's very word is Jesus. Jesus wasn't just the representation of God in his actions while he was on earth. He was the entirety of God in the flesh come to earth as a man (see John 1:1, 1:14John 1:1 & 14 (ESV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
, and Revelation 19:13Revelation 19:13 (ESV)
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
). In the same vein, God is more than just Jesus' perceivable actions while he was on earth. He, and Jesus (for they are one in a way more mysterious than we can fully understand on this side of eternity) are the entirety of scripture, from the beautiful story of creation to a demonstration of judgment in Genesis 19:24Genesis 19:24 (ESV)
Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.
where it specifies that it was God who rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. All the actions of God in all of scripture are applicable to both God and Jesus, for they both represent the one and only God. Despite common beliefs otherwise, you can't separate out one God of the Old Testament and another God of the New. He is one and the same and we will ultimately see that the entire history of creation has been God's salvation story from the beginning.

We must remember, that when Jesus came, he came to bring salvation for all who would believe. Clearly that was Jesus demonstrating the love of God as the Bible says. We must also remember that Jesus' story doesn't end there. He will come again, and when he comes again, it will be in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:7-82 Thessalonians 1:7-8 (ESV)
and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.


1: https://archive.org/stream/RedeemedFromPovertyAndSickness/38653579-Kenneth-E-Hagin-Redeemed-From-Poverty-Sickness-And-Spiritual-Death-1-eBook-PDF_djvu.txt - retrieved 4/1/2019

2: http://www.archive.org/stream/analyticalconcor00younuoft#page/n11/mode/2up

3: https://books.google.com/books?id=oa0GAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA1-PA46#v=onepage&q&f=false

4: https://www.christianforums.com/threads/robert-youngs-hints-and-helps-to-bible-interpretation.7716912/

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