The Hardening of The Heart Explained

“By freedom of the will we understand in this connection the power of the human will whereby man can apply to or turn away from that which leads unto eternal salvation.”
– Desiderius Erasmus, On The Freedom of The Will, chapter II, section 13.

What I believe is that human beings have times of free will… but sometimes the Bible seems to indicate that God hardens the hearts of men… And I believe He does this for some good and righteous reasons…

My upcoming book on this subject “The Theory of Temporal Hardening
will cover a lot more on this subject. The book tries to explain the hardening by God of man’s heart and how it can be mixed with responsibility. It might be released soon. The Dutch version is approximately finished (80%). The English translation might take far less time.

For more information on how to order my book (or get a pdf version for free, if you can’t pay it), please visit this link.

The following post by Gregory Boyd, which is not included in the book, might give you a foretaste:


Image by emdot via Flickr

Some argue that passages which speak of God hardening human hearts (Jos 11:19-20; Ex 7:3; 10:1; Rom 9:18) demonstrate that God controls everything, including people resistant to this declared intentions. He hardens whomever he wills, they argue. He could just as easily have softened their hearts, but for his own sovereign reasons he chose not to. Thus even the apparent conflict between God and Satan and rebellious humans is part of his sovereign will.

It’s difficult to reconcile the notion that God hardens people’s hearts so they won’t believe with Jesus unqualified love for the world. When we see Christ—hanging in love on the cross to reconcile us to himself—we see the Father (Jn 14:7-9). This self-sacrificial love is what God looks like. Christ is God’s “exact imprint,” his enfleshed icon (Heb 1:3). How is this revelation compatible with the frightful suggestion that God arbitrarily hardens people’s hearts to keep them from coming to him?

Moreover, how do we reconcile a God who intentionally hardens people in damnable wickedness with the biblical teaching that God “does not willing afflict, or grieve anyone” (Lam 3:33)? Can we reconcile this frightful idea with the consistent biblical teaching that God desires everyone to turn to him (1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pet 3:9) and that evil flows from humans’ own hearts (Matt 15:19)? There is no adequate answer to these questions. Fortunately, there is no reason to suppose that this is what these passages mean.

The root meaning of the Hebrew word translated “to harden” is “to strengthen.” God hardens people by strengthening the resolve they have formed in their own heart. For example, six times Scripture says “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex 9:12; 10:1; 10; 27; 11:10; 14:8). But it also notes that Pharaoh hardened his own heart seven times before the Lord took his action (Ex 7:13-14, 22; 8:15, 19; 32; 9:7). Similarly, centuries before God hardened the Canaanites’ hearts (see Judges 11), he had been tolerating their freely chosen wickedness and hardness toward him (see Gen 15:16). The unsurpassable love of God strives to turn humans toward himself, but there is a point when they become hopeless (Gen 6:3-8; Rom 1:24-32). At this point God’s strategy changes from trying to change them to using them in their wickedness for his own providential purposes.

God justly responds to people’s wickedness by strengthening their resolve against him. In every instance where Scripture speaks of God hardening someone, it’s an act of judgment in response to decisions these people had already made. God simply ensures that these rebels will do what their own evil hearts desire and not alter course for ulterior motives. But it’s altogether unwarranted to suppose that God unilaterally hardens people’s hearts against himself in the first place—all the while pretending to offer them the hope of salvation! When God decides to harden someone’s heart, we can be assured that God wishes it didn’t have to be that way.

—Adapted from Is God To Blame? pages 188-190″

Article taken from reknew
Picture of Greg Boyd taken from thejesusevent

A far deeper explanation of the hardening of the heart can be found in the words of Jesse Morrell:

‘A Calvinist posted this on My Facebook:

John 12:40 says that God hardens some mens hearts, and blinds their eyes so they can’t understand and be converted and healed. John12:39 says that they could not believe because of this. So did these men have a free will to believe in God.

This is my response:

“But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” John 12:37-40

First of all, it needs to be understood that there is a difference between the telic and the ecbatic when it comes to scriptures being fulfilled. When it says “that it might be fulfilled” that does not mean that this specific event was prophesied of by Isaiah, but only that such a scripture is fulfilled by this specific event through applicability or similarity. When a scripture is in the telic sense it refers to a specific prophecy, but when it is used in the ecbatic sense it refers to events that fulfill passages through parallelism.

Albert Barnes said, “Might be fulfilled – That the same effect should occur which occurred in the time of Isaiah. This does not mean that the Pharisees rejected Christ in order that the prophecy of Isaiah should be fulfilled, but that by their rejection of him the same thing had occurred which took place in the time of Isaiah.”

There are many times in the Scriptures when an Old Testament passage is fulfilled by an Old Testament event and yet it is also applied to a New Testament event because of similarity.


Furthermore, interpreting John 12:40 the way that you do makes it sound like these men would have believed but God intervened so that they wouldn’t. Is that what you are saying? Do you believe that sinners are capable of believing without God’s help? That these people were about to believe but God stopped it? If sinners are totally depraved at birth in the Calvinist sense, so that they cannot repent and believe unless God regenerates their constitution and gives them the power to do so, then it is not necessary for God to blind their eyes or harden their hearts. In Calvinism, there would be no possibility of men repenting and believing at the message unless God changes their constitution and enables them to do so, so why would God have to blind their eyes and harden their hearts lest they believe and are converted? It would be unnecessary for God to do this. For a Calvinist to view this passage in the way that you do contradicts your own Calvinist doctrine of the total inability of man. Thus you are creating a systematic contradiction between the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity and the Calvinist doctrine of reprobation.

Essentially, this Calvinistic interpretation of this passage blames God for the impenitence and unbelief of man. Yet God continually blames men for their impenitence and unbelief. Jesus rebuked entire cities for not repenting and even marveled at their unbelief. This implies that men could have repented and could have believed, as God wanted them to, but they chose not to contrary to the will of God.

Furthermore, rather than blaming God for the unbelief of men, the Bible blames the devil:

“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” 2 Co. 4:4
“Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” Lk. 8:12.

Here we see God working to save souls and the devil working to destroy them. Calvinism, however, represents God and the devil as on the same team. In Calvinism, the devil is merely an instrument that God uses to bring about His purposes. To interpret John 12 to mean that it was God’s will for these men not to believe because God doesn’t want them to be saved, is accuse God of doing that which the Bible elsewhere blames the devil for. And if it is blasphemy to credit to the devil the work of God, then it is equally blasphemy to credit to God the work of the devil. It is the devil that exerts energy and influence to keep men from salvation, not God. God is the one who is exerting His energy and influence to save as many as He possibly can, in consistency with the freedom He has granted to the universe.

Proper hermeneutics and sound exegesis requires an intelligent examination of the context of this passage in John 12. The context of verse 38-39 is how men have not believed the Lords report. God prophesied to these men and the result was that these men closed their eyes and hardened their hearts. They closed their eyes and they hardened their hearts in response to the message God gave to them. God only indirectly closed their eyes and hardened their hearts by having the truth preached to them. God blinded them and hardened them only by presenting the truth to their hearts and minds, the truth which they choose to close their eyes and harden their hearts to.

The reason that they could not believe was simply because they would not believe. They had hardened their hearts and closed their eyes and consequently they could not believe.  As Chrysostom said,  “They could not, because they would not” (Chrysostom in loco). And even Augustine, who was often wrong on many theological points, at least correctly said, “If I be asked why they could not believe, I answer without hesitation, because they would not…”

Notice how this verse reads in Matthew:

“And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes THEY HAVE CLOSED; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Matt. 13:14-15.

 Adam Clarke said, “The fault is here totally in the people, and not at all in that God whose name is Mercy and whose nature is love.”

Notice also how this verse reads in Acts:

“For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes HAVE THEY CLOSED; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Acts 28:27

 Whether or not a person hardens their heart to the voice of God is a matter of their own free choice, hence the scriptures command men not to harden their hearts when they hear His voice:

“Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness” Psalms 95:8
“Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness” Heb. 3:8
“While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” Heb. 3:15
“Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Heb. 4:7

Here is a modern analogy: When I preach on campus and sinners reject the message, people often tell me, “You are turning people off.” Now, I am not directly going into their hearts and turning them off to the truth. I do not have direct control over their choices. They are free moral agents. But the result of me preaching the uncompromising truth is that many sinners turn themselves off to it. They don’t like the message and so they close the eye of their mind and harden their heart to it. This is often the result of biblical preaching, so it can be said that the preacher closed their eyes and hardened their hearts.

In indirect sense I am turning them off but in a more direct sense they are turning themselves off. It was not my intention to turn them off, but that is a result for many of them. That was an unintended consequence. So also with God, by sending prophets and preachers God has hardening their hearts and closed their eyes, but in a more direct sense they have closed their own eyes and hardened their own hearts. It was not God’s intention to harden their hearts and close their eyes, but that was a result. He wants them to repent and believe and He blames, rebukes, and punishes them if they don’t. But God sends preachers to declare the truth, even though He knows the result will be that many will close their eyes and harden their hearts, because He wants salvation to be made available to all and without the declaration of the truth salvation would be possible for none.

Albert Barnes said, “He hath blinded their eyes – The expression in Isaiah is, “Go, make the heart of this people fat, and shut their eyes.” That is, go and proclaim truth to them truth that will result in blinding their eyes. Go and proclaim the law and the will of God, and the effect will be, owing to the hardness of their heart, that their eyes will be blinded and their hearts hardened. As God knew that this would be the result – as it was to be the effect of the message, his commanding Isaiah to go and proclaim it was the same in effect, or in the result, as if he had commanded him to blind their eyes and harden their hearts. It is this effect or result to which the evangelist refers in this place. He states that God did it, that is, he did it in the manner mentioned in Isaiah, for we are limited to that in our interpretation of the passage. In that case it is clear that the mode specified is not a direct agency on the part of God in blinding the mind – which we cannot reconcile with any just notions of the divine character…”

Notice that in the original passage, it was the job of the preacher to blind their eyes. It was not something God was directly going to do, but something that He did through the preacher.  The original scripture is, “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” Isa 6:10. The “aspect” in the Hebrew for making their heart fat, ears heavy, and shutting their eyes, is “imperative,” meaning that it is a command or an order. As John Wesley said, “This making of their hearts fat, is here ascribed to the prophet, as it is ascribed to God in the repetition of this prophecy, John 12:40.” So one passage says that it is the preacher who does this, another that says that God does it, and another that says the sinner does it. All three are true. God sends the preacher with the truth that the sinner hardens himself to.

And so God commands His messengers to declare the truth, even if people reject it, and to keep preaching until the point that their hearts are fat, ears are heavy, and their eyes are closed. Why should God give up on trying to persuade and draw men until they have completely reprobated themselves? God commands men to preach the truth, knowing that many will become hardened by it, because it is only by hearing the truth that men can have faith (Rom. 10:17) and because it is by the truth that God draws men unto Himself (Jn. 6:44-45).

Even the Calvinist preacher Charles Spurgeon, borrowing from a quote from Origen, said this, “The same sun which melts wax hardens clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” The same truth that draws one man to God pushes another man further away, as it is not the nature of the truth itself that determines who is saved and who isn’t but it is a matter of man’s own free will or voluntary response to the truth. God commands the truth to be preached, knowing that many will be hardened by it, because He also knows that some will be drawn to Him and saved by it as well.

This understanding of the modus operandi by which God hardens the hearts of sinners helps us to understand the other passages that speak of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, which Calvinists also use as proof-texts for their doctrine that God doesn’t want everyone to repent and be saved. The Scriptures declare that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exo. 7:13, 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10), but the Bible also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exo. 8:15; 32; 9:34; 1 Sam. 6:6). It was by sending Moses with his message and by performing miracles that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In response to the demands of God presented by Moses and the miracles displayed, Pharaoh hardened his heart. In Exodus 7:13 God said that he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but it used the imperfect aspect in Hebrew meaning that it was an action not yet fully complete. After that we see in Exodus 8:15, 32, and 9:34 how Pharaoh hardened his heart. And after Pharaoh hardened his heart in response to Moses’ demands and miracles, the Lord said in the perfect aspect  “I have hardened his heart” (Exodus 10:1), referring to what has already been done or completed in the past.

God, knowing Pharaoh’s character, knew that Pharaoh would harden his heart in light of the demands and miracles. Knowing Pharaoh’s stubborn character, God was able to extrapolate and prophesy this beforehand and even incorporate it into His plans for His glory. Yet God did not necessitate Pharaoh or absolutely cause Pharaoh to harden his heart. Pharaoh did that himself, so Pharaoh is to blame and not God. As John Wesley said, “But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also- Still it is his own act and deed, not God’s.”

Origen said,  “Let us begin, then, with those words which were spoken to Pharaoh, who is said to have been hardened by God, in order that he might not let the people go; and, along with his case, the language of the apostle also will be considered, where he says, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens.” For it is on these passages chiefly that the heretics rely, asserting that salvation is not in our own power, but that souls are of such a nature as must by all means be either lost or saved; and that in no way can a soul which is of an evil nature become good, or one which is of a virtuous nature be made bad? If we can show, e.g., that by one and the same act God has pity upon one individual, but hardens another; not purposing or desiring that he who is hardened should be so, but because, in the manifestation of His goodness and patience, the heart of those who treat His kindness and forbearance with contempt and insolence is hardened by the punishment of their crimes being delayed; while those, on the other hand, who make His goodness and patience the occasion of their repentance and reformation, obtain compassion. Now it is not incorrect to say that the sun, by one and the same power of its heat, melts wax indeed, but dries up and hardens mud: not that its power operates one way upon mud, and in another way upon wax; but that the qualities of mud and wax are different, although according to nature they are one thing, both being from the earth. In this way, then, one and the same working upon the part of God, which was administered by Moses in signs and wonders, made manifest the hardness of Pharaoh, which he had conceived in the intensity of his wickedness but exhibited the obedience of those other Egyptians who were intermingled with the Israelites, and who are recorded to have fled Egypt at the same time with the Hebrews. “Despises the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? but, after your hardness and impenitent heart, treasure up unto yourself wrath on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Such are the words of the apostle to him who is in his sins. Let us apply these very expressions to Pharaoh, and see if they also are not spoken of him with propriety, since, according to his hardness and impenitent heart, he treasured and stored up for himself wrath on the day of wrath, inasmuch as his hardness could never have been declared and manifested, unless signs and wonders of such number and magnificence had been performed.”

Calvinism is inconsistent in representing the case as if Pharaoh was going to obey God but then God used His omnipotent power to just harden his heart, as if Pharaoh was going to obey God on his own without God’s help but God put a stop to it.  By representing the case in this way, they are contradicting their own belief in man’s total depravity or natural inability to obey, and their view that man’s constitution must be enabled by God’s grace in order to obey God. If Pharaoh really was going to obey God but then God hardened His heart in the sense that they mean, than this would contradict their doctrine of total depravity. Thus, Calvinism once again contradicts itself. And their view, of course, puts the blame upon God and not man and essentially makes Him the author of sin.

Adam Clarke said, “To suppose that the text meant that God was unwilling that they should turn unto him, lest he should be obliged to save them, is an insupportable blasphemy.”’

source: Jesse Morrell, “Does God Blind The Eyes and Harden the Hearts of Unbelievers? Is this Predestination?” (biblicaltruthresources).

Read also: ‘The “Hidden Will” of The Father Concerning Predestination

Read also: “Romans 9


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