Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Is God the Author of Sin?

by Danny Wyatt

Over the last year or two I have seen an increasing trend within Reformed circles where God is being named as the author of sin. I must admit that I do not have a great deal of charity in dealing with this proposal, nor do I desire to have such. Nor do I believe that any Christian should be charitable in dealing with this error within our ranks. It is one thing if this cancerous seed has been planted in their minds and they are seeking to vet the truth, it is another consideration entirely if upon having studied and considered this matter they are advocates of it. Some seem to be inclined to treat this as if it is merely a matter of differing opinion and one in which unity can still be found. But I think it has more gravity then that. In fact, this is such a grave offense that I think its proponents may indeed be charged with and found guilty of committing the unforgivable sin. We will get to the consideration of the larger topic at hand, but I want to drive home the point that this is not something to be scoffed at. If, in the end, we agree that God is not the author of sin then I don’t believe there is any way that those who hold to such an opinion are not guilty of the aforementioned sin. We will start this study with an understanding of what the unforgivable sin entails.

“Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” Mk. 3:28-29
(See also, Matt. 12:31-32; Lu. 11:14-23, 12:10)

So what does this mean, how does one know if they are guilty of such a grievous sin? To start with, notice that the entire passage begins with the call to pay attention, as is seen in the word assuredly or verily. This is like an exclamation point at the beginning of the passage making us aware that it is introducing a statement “which not only expresses truth or fact… but an important, a solemn fact, one that in many cases is at variance with popular opinion or expectation or at least comes as a surprise.”[1] So with our hearts awoken and our minds fixed to hear the message what are we told? We are told that there is a sin which even the blood of Christ will not blot out, he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness; not because Christ doesn’t have the power to do so, but because it is the will of God that this especially heinous sin is not forgiven. “Indeed, there is one spot so black that Christ’s blood does not wash it away, and that is the sin against the Holy Spirit; not that there is not enough virtue in Christ’s blood to wash it away; but he who has sinned that sin will not be washed; he condemns Christ’s blood and ‘tramples it underfoot’ (Heb. 10:29).” [2]

The context of the passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is found in the verses immediately preceding the quoted verses. As William Hendriksen tells us, the context shows us that the “scribes are crediting satan with that which the Holy Spirit, through Christ, was achieving. Moreover, they are doing this willfully and deliberately. In spite of all the evidences to the contrary they still affirm that Jesus is expelling demons by the power of Beelzebul. Not only this, but they are making progress in sin… Now to be forgiven implies the sinner be truly penitent. Among the scribes here indicated such genuine sorrow for sin was totally lacking. For penitence they substituted hardening, for confession plotting. Thus by means of their own criminal and completely inexcusable callousness, they were dooming themselves. Their sin is unpardonable because they were unwilling to tread the path that leads to pardon… When a man becomes hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to His pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition.” [1]

Matthew Poole wonders if this specific sin can even still be committed, a fact which I affirm, and one which he does too though through other texts which discuss the sin unto death (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-27; 1 Jn. 5:16), though Poole puts some rather lengthy qualifications in place (not all of which I can agree with). Just the same, he affirms that the sin committed here, later affirmed by him to be of the same nature, at least in part, to the sin unto death, is that they “blaspheme at the highest rate imaginable, ascribing that to the devil which was proper to God alone.” [3]

David Brown agrees as well when he says that, “The Pharisees… in charging Jesus with being in league with hell they were displaying beforehand a malignant determination to shut their eyes to all evidence…, and in spirit committing the unpardonable sin.” [4]

We see plainly then that the unpardonable sin is to assign credit to the devil for the work of the Lord. In the same manner it would be true that we are equally guilty when we assign evil to the Lord. If on the one hand attributing the good works of God to satan is unforgivable then it stands to reason that the converse is also necessarily true. For how could there be less offense when it is, in essence, the same sin; if not truly worse? If it is an unforgivable offense that we are belligerent in attributing good to satan then how much more so when we say that God is the author of evil? That He leads men to sin? Or that He leads men into temptation? How much worse can it be when we then conclude that those works of evil, flowing forth from the Lord, are then used for good? At best I see no difference in reasoning or severity and at worst I see a great deal more that can be attributed to these willfully obstinate hearts.

In the end, this consideration is best summarized not just in a consideration of the actual act of attributing evil to the work of the Spirit; the larger consideration is that one who does so has clearly denied the Lord. I am not necessarily speaking of one who does so in ignorance for there seems to be an obvious qualifier here that it is a knowing and ongoing willful act of defiance which convicts a man of this sin. Their denial of Jesus Christ allows them then to pit themselves against Him and to claim evil in place of His holiness.

Now, we can proceed forward to see what the evidence is that would say God is or is not the author of sin and if, in our conclusion, those that embrace such thought are right to fear for their souls as a result of our previous consideration. We will consider four primary elements of this overall topic: 1) Does God tempt man? 2) What are permissive decrees? 3) Does God cause man to sin? 4) Is God the author of sin?

Does God Tempt Man?

As part of the assault waged with regards to this topic we hear that God leads men into temptation so that they may be blessed to achieve God’s will through those temptations. Of course the statement in and of itself seems rather absurd and illogical. But that not being a sufficient argument against such a statement per se, we may consult the word of God, for the Bible speaks to this matter specifically in Jas. 1:12-16, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.” I had someone recently tell me that this passage proves that God tempts man, but that He does so through secondary causes. My fellow saints, when we look at the plain speech of Scripture and see where it says that God does not tempt man and then interpret it to mean that He actually does, I have no choice but to say that we are standing on shaky ground if such faulty exegesis is allowed to stand unanswered. Do your diligence in reliance on the Spirit to apply the truths of holy writ to your heart and then take the plain evidence provided at face value and embrace it.

There is nothing in this passage that is ultimately difficult to grasp. What would cause the difficulty? That we are told that a man that endures temptation shall receive the crown of life? Does that lead us to assume then that God is tempting man so that we may be blessed to receive our reward from Him? Notice that directly after the statement is made that the natural sinful default of our hearts, which would assign blame to God for temptation, is refuted. No such thing exists. Thomas Watson addresses temptation and puts the consideration under the heading of “The evil of temptation is overruled for good to the godly.” [5] Right away we are given a taste of what is being taught in this passage which we will come back to shortly.

First let us look at what is being refuted through the declarative statement that God does not tempt man. If not from God then where does it stem from? The Bible is clear that temptation is a result of our indwelling sin wherein we lust after wicked desires which eventually finds opportunity to be acted upon and finally ends in sin which leads to death. The accusation against God is from one who has failed in his battle with temptation and looks to shift blame not just to someone else but to God Himself. Adam did this in the Garden (Gen. 3:12). Sure, he veiled his accusation as really filing a complaint against his wife, but it was ultimately an accusation against God. It was God, says Adam, who dared to give the woman to him in the first place, the woman whom thou gavest to be with me. But then, just as now, God did not accept the blame; and then, just as now, there was a just punishment for Adam's sin which is laid at the feet of the guilty party. God answered Adam and made it abundantly clear that the fault was his, he had willfully ignored the command of God and had abused the good thing that God had given him, God said because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. This is the exact same scenario being played out in the book of James. We, as guilty sinners, are so depraved in our hearts that even when we should be stricken with sorrow for the sin we have committed against God we look to blame Him by saying in effect, “Hey, I wouldn’t have sinned had you not put the temptation there in the first place.” But rather than agreeing that the temptation itself proceeds from God, we are told that the temptation didn’t come from Him at all. Simon Kistemaker says, “James is not interested in explaining the origin of evil, for he knows that not God but satan is called the tempter… He [says]… that God, who created all things, is not the cause of evil. In His holiness God stands far above evil and cannot be influenced by it…; it is impossible for God to be tempted. Because of His perfection, God has no contact with evil, and evil is powerless to bring God into temptation. Moreover, God does not tempt anyone. God hates evil and therefore does not lead anyone astray…; He will not do what He hates… [Each] man is responsible for his own sin… [James] deprives man of any excuse to place the blame on someone or something else. He says, in effect, that the cause lies within ourselves… Our desires lead us into temptation, and if we are not controlled by the Spirit of God they lead us into sin.”[6] The responsibility for sin is not only ours as a result of the act but in the very temptation that draws us into sin. Sin, from start to finish is the result of the wicked heart of wicked man acting upon their wicked inclinations. It has nothing to do with God, the blame is entirely ours.

But some will say, “If this is true then why does Christ ask that God not lead us into temptation in the Lord’s Prayer? That is proof enough that God tempts man!” But then this is not saying at all that God ever has or ever will lead us into temptation. When it says in Matt. 6:13, “lead us not into temptation;” it is asking that God would deliver us from our temptations, not that He would cease to lead us into them. Kistemaker says, “of course in this petition Jesus does not say that God is tempting us, because that is impossible. Jesus teaches us that we must ask God to keep us from falling into temptation.” [6] Particularly this point is driven home by the words that end the petition, but deliver us from evil (or the evil one, the meaning and the impact are the same). The words end up being the same as if it had said, prevent us from falling into temptation and restore us when we fail. It is an undeniable truth that Scripture interprets Scripture and that as such there is no possible way to look at the Sixth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer and assume it means that God leads us into temptation when James tells us plainly that He does not. The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 106 sums it up by saying, “In the sixth petition…, we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.” There is no such doctrine to be found in the word of God that man is tempted by God either personally or through any other means.

Now that doesn’t mean that enduring temptation isn’t used by God for the good of His saints, this is abundantly clear in Jas. 1:12. Turning back to Watson he says, “[…] temptations are overruled for good to the children of God. A tree shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted; so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a Christian the more in grace. Temptations are overruled for good in eight ways: (a) Temptation sends the soul to prayer. (b) Temptation to sin is a means to keep from the perpetration of sin. The more a child of God is tempted the more he fights against the temptation. (c) Temptation works for good, as it abates the swelling of pride. (d) Temptation works for good, as it is a touch-stone to try what is in the heart. (e) Temptations work for good, as God makes those who are tempted, fit to comfort others in the same distress. (f) Temptations work for good, as they stir up paternal passion in God to them who are tempted. The child who is sick and bruised is most looked after. (g) Temptations work for good, as they make the saints long more for heaven. (h) Temptations work for good, as they engage the strength of Christ.” [5] So when James tells us there is a benefit to enduring temptation it is not in vain, there a great many ways that God uses to grow us as we endure the Siren of our wicked hearts.

Still, there is more good news. It is not only a great comfort to our hearts that our holy God will never tempt us, it is not only good news that He will use temptation for our good, but the exclamation point is that He will not even allow us to be tempted beyond what it is possible for us to resist. Rather than being the cause of our temptation God is Himself a preventive cure for temptation! See 1 Cor. 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” I have seen some try and use this passage as proof that God places temptation in our lives. But 1 Cor. 10:13 must be seen in light of the passage in James and the entire witness of the word of God. It is not saying that God places temptation in our lives; it is saying that even the temptation in our lives, which is not unique to each man individually, which was brought on by our own sin, is restrained by God so that His children are not given more than they can reasonably bear in their pursuit of pious living. This is, ultimately, an encouragement so that the faithful will not lose heart in trying times and in their battles with sin. Calvin says, “[…] he exhorted them to be of good courage as to the past, in order that he might stir them up to repentance, so he also comforts them as to the future with sure hope, on the ground that God would not suffer them to be tempted beyond their strength. He exhorts them, however, to look to the Lord, because a temptation, however slight it may be, will straightway overcome us, and all will be over with us, if we rely on our own strength. He speaks of the Lord as faithful, not merely as being true to His promises, but as though he had said: The Lord is the sure guardian of His people, under whose protection you are safe, for He [ever] leaves His people safe.” [7]

It is important that we also understand the context here; it is found just a few verses earlier (9-12) where Paul instructs the Corinthians not to tempt (test the patience of) Christ. He is referring to the happening in Num. 21:6-9 where the Jews had risen against God, where they had accused Him of treating them badly, and where the people had lost faith in God and were more content to lean upon themselves rather than Him. Calvin says, “Let us… take notice, that the fountain of that evil against which Paul here warns us is impatience, when we wish to go before God, and do not give ourselves up to be ruled by Him, but rather wish to bind Him to our inclination and laws.” [7] Verse 12 concludes with Paul telling us let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. Again Calvin says, “The Apostle concludes from what goes before, that we must not glory in our beginnings or progress, so as to resign ourselves to carelessness and inactivity. For the Corinthians gloried in their condition in such a way, that, forgetting their weakness, they fell into many crimes.” [7] Once again, the fault for their sin and being led away in their lust is laid at their own feet as it is through the entire Bible. But the great hope we have is that we may lean on God; there is absolutely no cause to lean on our own ability and when we do it only leads us into sin. This is why Paul gives the ultimate encouragement against those sins by pointing us to God. It is God who restrains us from being tempted beyond our ability to withstand it and it is this fact that allows us to have a sure hope that we will indeed be able to withstand the wiles of the devil and our hearts; therein we may successfully mortify sin.

If God tempts man then not only is there no assurance for believers, but we have reason to doubt whether God is even on our side in the whole affair. If God Himself is directing temptation and sin into our lives what hope do we have of deliverance? What chance do we have to withstand temptation if God is the one who is actively working to cause us to fail? We know the answer is that were such a thing true we would have no hope at all. But the sure hope of the Bible is that God does not tempt us and will restrain us from having to face more than we are able to bear. We see this practically applied in the case of Job. Satan came seeking to destroy Job and to bring him down; he came hurling accusations that Job was nothing more than a hireling of God who only gives obedience because the Lord gives him so much in return. Thus God permitted satan to come against Job in order that His faithfulness might be shown in the sustenance of Job. But even when God permitted satan to do this He restrained him every step of the way saying, Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person. Later when satan came back for a second round God said yet again, Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life. (Job 1:12; 2:6) God restrained what satan was able to do in order to lead Job away into sin. Even when that crafty devil thought he had another Adam on his hands, God sustained Job against the wicked invite of his wife to Curse God and die. God was proven faithful in the life of Job and as a result Job himself remained faithful as well. The same principle holds true for us all, we are upheld by the mighty hand of God and through His abundant grace and care for us we are able to withstand temptation and to mature in the faith being ever more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ our Lord.

What are Permissive Decrees?

We start with a wonderful definition from Berkhof, “It is customary to speak of the decree of God respecting moral evil as permissive. By His decree God rendered the sinful actions of man infallibly certain without deciding to effectuate them by acting immediately upon and in the finite will. This means that God does not positively work in man ‘both to will and to do,’ when man goes contrary to His revealed will. It should be carefully noted, however, that this permissive decree does not imply a passive permission of something which is not under the control of the divine will. It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination. Ps. 78:29; 106:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30.” [10]

I have wondered if part of the issue here is that from the perspective of the Reformed faith we have fought the error of free will to such a point that we deny that man has a will at all. I have seen a plethora of Reformed believers fall into this error when discussing soteriology. We are not pre-programmed robots without a will. Adam failed the probationary period in the Garden where he truly had free will having been created purely in the image of God. He failed, and thus through his Original Sin we are all now born in sin, his transgression being passed along through ordinary generation. But that didn’t negate the will. That meant that the will was now depraved and that left to its own devices it would only, indeed could only, choose sin. God is sovereign over whether we sin but the two concepts work together in unity. Boettner explains it this way, “[…] man is constantly commanded in Scripture not to commit [sin], he is, nevertheless, permitted to commit it if he chooses to do so. No compulsion is laid on the person; he is simply left to the free exercise of his own nature, and he alone is responsible. This, however, is never a bare permission, for with full knowledge of the nature of the person and of his tendency to sin, God places him or allows him to be in a certain environment, knowing perfectly well that the particular sin will be committed. But while God permits sin, his connection with it is purely negative and it is the abominable thing which He hates with perfect hatred.” [12]

Calvin recognizes this same thing when he says, “It is abundantly evident that the external temptations…, are sent to us by God. In this way God tempted Abraham, (Gen. 22:1,) and daily tempts us, that is, He tries us as to what we are by laying before us an occasion by which our hearts are made known. But to draw out what is hid in our hearts is a far different thing from inwardly alluring our hearts by wicked lusts.” [11]

God controls the environment and allows things to be placed in our path that try our faith. He knows that we will sin, but it is exclusively the wicked desires of our own heart which lead us to take advantage of the opportunity to sin; God did not compel us to sin by placing the opportunity for sin in our path. In other places in Scripture, especially in dealing with the lost, God totally abandons man as a result of their rejection of Him and their love for sin. We see this in the book of Hosea where God abandons Israel for a time and their entire society reaches deep into the depths of depravity. We see this again in Rom. 1:18-32 which leaves these men accomplishing remarkable amounts of realized sin.

Does God Cause Man to Sin?

There are those within the ranks of professed Christianity that think that God causes man to sin so that good may come of that sin. But I ask those men to consider the plain truth of Scripture. In Rom. 3:8 and 6:1 Paul chastises the Romans for thinking that they should sin so that grace may abound. Literally, the concept being taught here was that we should sin so that God may bless us more. Paul’s reply to such thinking was to tell them emphatically to stop. “The very suggestion that the end justifies the means, that grace may be produced by living in sin, is so thoroughly obnoxious to Paul that he answers it by making use of one of his characteristic, blunt rejection formulas, ‘By no means.’ For a Christian, continuing to live in sin is not only impermissible, it is impossible!” [15] If Paul so vehemently rejects such thinking from men how much more so would he stand opposed to the suggestion that God Himself is guilty of this? But more so, do we think that God is a hypocrite? That He tells us in His infallible word not to think this way ourselves while actively violating that command Himself?

Ah! But of course there is the perennial objection that God hardened Pharaoh and thus caused him to sin (Ex. 7:13-14; 9:16), thus God must make man sin. Everything we have discussed so far works together in one cognitive theme, including the current point under consideration. In the same way that we discussed whether or not God tempts man we can now consider whether or not He makes man sin. In the same way each man was led away by his own lust in the previous consideration we see here too that the same holds true. My friend, Hone Phillips, who was kind enough to help me refine this paper, as were some others, had this to say, “[…] when Calvin speaks of the “external temptation” he is not talking about temptation really but [temptation] being placed by the decree of God into a place where we should obey and where we are expected by God to obey but, because of our sinful rebellion, we choose to do our own thing. Pharaoh is a good example. Commanded of God to let the people go he already determined he would not. By God's permissive decree he was confirmed in his natural desire. Pharaoh sinned; God ordained the result, but Pharaoh takes the blame for his willful rejection of God's command.” We also must consider the sovereign plan that was enacted by God through Pharaoh; even more than just a just an abandonment of Pharaoh as a result of his sin, God had specifically raised Pharaoh up so that when he refused God and was hardened in his heart God would overcome him and thus display His invincible power to all of mankind. Even though God had a purpose for allowing Pharaoh to exist and to obstinately oppose Him, the fault for the sin and the hardness of heart still stood as a witness against, and the sole responsibility of, Pharaoh himself.

But the hardening of the wicked is not just there mentioned, we also see it in God hardening the hearts of the Israelites as is mentioned in Isa. 6:9-10. In both instances the blame is found in the depraved hearts of sinful men achieving their desired end and God has hardened them from grace as a result of their sin. He withholds the good and pure from them and abandons them to achieve their sinful desires. Rather than making them sin so that the charge of evil may be laid at the feet of the Lord it is actually quite the opposite, not only is the sin theirs to bear but the Lord is abandoning them to the true desires of their heart as a just punishment for their obstinate rejection of Him; but that is what they want. Franz Delitzsch says, “It is not only the loving will of God which is good, but also the wrathful will into which His loving will changes, when deliberately and obstinately resisted. There is a self-hardening in evil, which renders a man thoroughly incorrigible, and which, regarded as the fruit of his moral behavior, is no less a judicial punishment inflicted by God, than self-induced guilt on the part of man. The two are bound up in one another, inasmuch as sin from its very nature bears its own punishment, which consists in the wrath of God excited by sin.” [16] They sin as an expression of their hearts in defiance of God and He judiciously hardens their hearts against salvation.

This concept is in perfect harmony with the Reformed doctrine of Double Predestination. In fact, in Rom. 9:14-24, Paul shows us this exact thing and even uses the example of Pharaoh to do so. All of mankind is fallen; we are all totally depraved sinners worthy of God’s wrath. Yet God chose some in mercy, through no merit of their own, for salvation, and others He has justly punished for their sins and sentenced them to eternity in hell. We all deserve the latter but a gracious God has given some the luxury of the former. It is the exact same thing being shown in our current consideration. God did not cause them to sin but He does justly punish them for that sin and an immediate display of that wrath is found in His abandoning them to the wicked desires of their own sinful hearts. But, this is not to be misunderstood as only a bare permission to sin. God justly punishes them for their sin and actually hardens their wicked hearts that they will not repent of their sins and thus displays His wrath against them that they may never taste the sweetness of His mercy. Calvin says, “The word hardens, when applied to God in Scripture, means not only permission, (as some washy moderators would have it,) but also the operation of the wrath of God: for all those external things, which lead to the blinding of the reprobate, are the instruments of His wrath…” [17]

I think it is obvious to us all that we would be in great error is we were to think that the hardening of the wicked was the cause of their sin rather than the just punishment of their sin. To assume that the hardening caused these men to sin is to put the cart before the horse. As a result of their sin, the hardening of their hearts leaves them hopelessly lost in their sins, though for the time they are perfectly content to have it be so. If the opposite were true then the God of the Bible would be a brutal beast that makes man sin and then punishes him for what he neither wanted nor willfully enacted himself; make no mistake about it, this is the sure and undeniable result of any doctrine of God that forgets to include the vital truth of God’s justice. What He exercises in wrath against sinful man is well deserved and long sought after.

Is God the Author of Sin?

It cannot be denied that sin exists in the world. It also cannot be denied that God is sovereign and in control of all things, to include sin. But those two things don’t mean that God is the author of sin. Within the Reformed faith this truth has always been zealously guarded. Yet there is an ever increasing number within our ranks that are arguing that God is indeed the author of sin. John Calvin called men who embrace such heresy “fanatics,” and I tend to agree. I can recall a couple of years ago I was attempting to show a man that God is not the author of sin and being that he attended a PCA church I attempted to persuade him partially through reasoning that the Reformed faith has always embraced such truth. His response was shocking in that he told me his church actually preached that God was the author of sin and that neither he nor they cared whether or not it was a Reformed doctrine. I leave room for the fact that he may have exaggerated or may have even been just plain wrong as to the view of that particular church, but this much remains true: something he has encountered within the Reformed faith has left him to comfortably assume his position and to assume his church does the same. That may be a result of inadequate preaching or it may be the result of willfully skewed doctrine, I don’t know. Whatever the cause this is a problem that we are seeing advance within our ranks and one that for the glory of God and the good of the Church must be stopped dead in its tracks.

To begin with I want to take a moment to consider a specific attribute of God. This attribute is so vital to this consideration that should we refrain from addressing it we will have failed to adequately consider the matter before us. The attribute that must be considered here is God’s holiness. Herman Bavinck says that God’s holiness is “said to consist in ‘moral perfection, purity’… When the word holy is ascribed to God it does not signify one definite attribute. On the contrary, God is called holy in a very general sense: in connection with every revelation which impresses man with God’s exalted majesty. Holiness is synonymous with divinity. Jehovah is God, and not man…, the God or the Holy One of Israel. God’s holiness is revealed in His entire relation to His people, in election, in the covenant, in His special revelation, in His indwelling among them, etc… God is… what His law reveals Him to be… Holiness, which is the very foundation of Jehovah’s peculiar relation to Israel, and which claims Israel’s undivided service, finally culminates most gloriously in the fact that in Christ God gives Himself to the church, which He redeems and purifies from all iniquities.” [8] Holiness isn’t just a base concept that determines one attribute of God; it is a culmination of other attributes as well, such as His goodness and His righteousness. Holiness expresses the relation of God to man and gives us the idea of being set apart; it places His moral perfection in contrast to the depravity of sinful man. He does not partake in sin and as a picture of His holy sinless character He gave us the law. The law showed us that a perfect God expects perfect obedience to a perfect law which displays His perfect character. So important is this attribute of God that it is the only attribute that is mentioned repetitiously three times (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). R.C. Sproul says, “The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.” [9] I have been reading for hours trying to find a way to adequately describe and condense what other men have written on this topic. I must admit that my heart burdens me as I write this and try to accomplish that definition, one that is exceedingly difficult to provide. Yes, we have the base concept within our language that holy means pure, and it does; it just means so much more than that. It is a word that is beyond our finite ability to totally grasp. The nature it expresses in God is not a nature that He shares with man; holiness is a foreign concept to us. We gain a glimpse of it and we gain a partial understanding of it, but we have to admit that in order to comprehend this to any satisfactory degree we have to wait until we reach heaven. It may be altogether impossible to consolidate this into one paltry paragraph; it is just too expansive of a term. But, where we will use this is in relation to the ethical nature of God wherein He is sinless perfection. How does a perfect God, untainted by sin, who provides a perfect law and demands perfect obedience to that law become the author of sin? Keeping this attribute in mind, let us look to the word of God to see what it says.

To say that the proposition that God is the author of sin is ludicrous is to put it nicely, for if we call it what it is then the truth is that it is nothing more than blasphemous heresy. In the history of the Church I do not know of a single reliable Reformed theologian or pastor that asserts such a thing… not one. In fact, I am willing to say that if you come across one that you have thought was so and this is what they claim you may immediately cast them into the other pile. The simple fact is that the entirety of the Reformed faith has always claimed that God is not the author of sin, nor can He be, and have always defended this truth with vigor. Whether we are to look to our Confessions, or read the mountain of books they have left for us, one thing always comes back as true, we do not ascribe to such a debased philosophy of sin and God. For the Reformed mind we have always recognized God’s holy nature as opposed to the sin of man; a reality which leaves man exclusively responsible for his sin and he alone bears the guilt for his transgression.

Louis Berkhof shares the Reformed view as follows, “God’s eternal decree certainly rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain, but this may not be interpreted so as to make God the cause of sin in the sense of being its responsible author. This idea is clearly excluded by Scripture (Job 34:10). He is the holy God, Isa. 6:3, and there is absolutely no unrighteousness in Him, Deut. 32:4; Ps. 92:16. He cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no man, Jas. 1:13. When He created man, he created him good and in His image. He positively hates sin, Deut. 25:16; Ps. 5:4; 11:5; Zech. 8:17; Lu. 16:15, and made provision in Christ for man’s deliverance from sin. In the light of all of this it would be blasphemous to speak of God as the author of sin.” [10]

Calvin says with regards to Jas. 1:16, “This is an argument from what is opposite, for as God is the author of all good, it is absurd to suppose Him to be the author of evil. To do good is what properly belongs to Him, and according to His nature; and from Him all good things come to us. Then, whatever evil He does, is not agreeable to His nature… But if God is in all things and always like Himself, it hence follows that well doing is His perpetual work.” [11]

I could go on indefinitely sharing from reliable Reformed authors that agree with the witness of the word of God and declare the utter impossibility that God is the author of sin. But what is more pressing is that this is now being vehemently attacked from within our ranks; the devil has made his way inside the walls and is slaughtering souls from within. Lorraine Boettner shows how the opponents of Calvinism have always used this argumentation as an attempt to stop the march of the doctrine of Predestination. He says, “The mere fact that sin exists has often been urged by atheists and skeptics as an argument not merely against Calvinism but against theism in general.” In fact, says he, if it was not for the assault of these men we would not even need to be contemplating such a thing. “[…] were it not for the fact that some persons persist in declaring that the doctrine of predestination makes God the author of sin, we could let the matter rest…” [12] What used to be the assault from the lost and Arminian alike is now the assault from those who claim to have the same mind as we. They search the Scriptures over trying to find any scrap of text they may divorce from the rest of the Bible and use to explain their view. Reason does not persuade them, the doctrine of the Church does not persuade them, and the character of God does not persuade them; they have hardened themselves to believe that God is the cause for their sin.

One of the things they claim is that the Bible says nowhere that God is not the author of sin so it must remain a possibility that He actually is. I would argue of course that the Bible does say that precise thing, though not in those exact words. Their vulgar hearts lead them to seek a self-demanded precision where the Scripture isn’t willing to provide it. Nor do I think it odd that the Spirit saw fit to leave such a precise declaration out of the Bible. The entire word of God stands as a witness to the positive doctrine that God is holy, perfect, cannot sin, and that He sanctifies His people. What would be the reason for the negative declaration when the entire thrust of Scripture declares the same by default? Of course there is no reason at all to put such a thing in the Bible because it is already easily understood as the antithesis of biblical truth.

One of the passages that I have recently seen our opponents use is found in Isa. 45:7, after all it does say, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” That then must be proof that God is the author of sin. But you would think with even a marginal understanding of Scripture we would read a passage such as this and realize that if that assessment is true then the rest of Scripture is a liar. If the rest of Scripture is right then such a conclusion must be wrong; Scripture interprets Scripture. We can start with looking at some translational issues first. I think perhaps anyone interested in studying this verse must get their hands on a copy of the Amplified version. Here we will see that the context and the definition are both accurately portrayed in a way that our modern English translations will often miss. It says, “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace [national well-being. Moral evil proceeds from the will of men, but physical evil proceeds from the will of God], and I create [physical] evil – calamity; I am the Lord who does all these things.” That puts a different spin on this altogether. Physical evil, or calamity, is what they are addressing where the KJV leaves off simply at evil. If you go back to the original word which is ra’ah you will see that there are a number of variants which can apply to this word such as trouble, adversity, affliction, or harm, to punish; in fact the root word means to spoil. It is not speaking of evil in the sense of sin but is used more in the sense of a malediction. We see the same word used in the same way by Naomi, even in the same context, in Ruth 1:21, “I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” There the word is translated as afflicted but it is the exact same thing with the exact same application and meaning. You can find the same thing in Num. 11:11 and Mic. 4:6. Calvin explains it by saying, “Fanatics torture this word 'evil' as if God were the author of evil, that is, of sin; but it is very obvious how ridiculously they abuse this passage of the Prophet. This is sufficiently explained by the contrast, the parts of which must agree with each other; for he contrasts 'peace' with 'evil,' that is with afflictions, wars, and other adverse occurrences. If he contrasted 'righteousness' with 'evil,' there would be some plausibility in their reasonings, but this is a manifest contrast of things that are opposite to each other. Consequently we ought not to reject the ordinary distinction, that God is the author of 'evil' punishment, but not of the 'evil' of guilt." [13] It is obvious that Isa. 45:7 is in perfect harmony with the rest of Scripture and in no way declares that God is the author of sin.

It is not as if the word of God doesn’t tell us in plain language that God cannot sin or be associated with sin in any way; in fact, not only is He not the author of sin, but He utterly hates sin. Everything we see from God is perfectly pure, even in creating man we were created good. (See this in passages such as Gen. 1:27, 31; Job 34:10; Ps. 5:4-6; Jas. 1:17-18; I Jn. 1:5.) And this is a truth which the Reformed Confessions are all equally harmonized in attesting to. We will take a look at these now:

WCF 3.1: God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

WCF 5.4: The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

WCF 6.1: Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptations of satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.

Boettner explains, “The Westminster Standards, in treating of the dread mystery of evil, are very careful to guard the character of God from even the suggestion of evil. Sin is referred to the freedom which is given to the agent, and of all sinful acts whatever…” [12]

The Belgic Confession, Art. 13: We believe that… God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment; nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For His power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that He orders and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even then when devils and wicked men act unjustly…

The Canons of Dordt, Art. 5: the cause or guilt of… unbelief, as well as of all other sins, is no wise in God, but in man himself…

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 3, Q. 6: Did God create man so wicked and perverse? By no means; but God created man good, and after His own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him.

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 3, Q. 7: Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature? From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 4, Q. 9: Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform? Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

Zacharias Ursinus explains, “[…] in the first pace…, God created man without sin, and is therefore not the author of sin, or of our corruption and misery… Man, by the instigation of the devil, violated this command of God; and from this proceeded our depravity and misery… But God, by creating man in His own image, gave him the ability to render that obedience which he justly requires from him in His law. Wherefore if man, by his own fault and free will, cast away this ability with which he was endowed, and brought himself into a state in which he can no longer render full obedience to the divine law, God has not for this reason lost His right to exact the obedience which man is duty bound to render Him. God therefore justly punishes us, because we have cast away this good by transgressing His commandments, and because he threatened punishment in case His law were violated.” [14]

It is an unmistakable truth that the entire witness of the Reformed faith attests to the fact that God is not, cannot, and will never be the author of sin. He does not create sin and He does not cause sin. Because He permits sin and has ordained to use it to His glory in spite of its existence, is not the same thing as being responsible for it. Yes, God is sovereign; we all consent to that fact. But that sovereignty doesn’t mean that He so stifles man’s will that they are not themselves guilty for their own sin.


God permits sin to exist, He permits men to willfully commit sin as a direct violation of His declared will, and He justly holds them accountable for doing so. If those that claim that God is the author of sin were right then God would have no claim on justice; He would be the most unjust deity imaginable. Operating under such a false concept, the wicked charge that God fabricates sin, causes man to sin, and then sends them to hell for doing what He has forced them to do. To claim such a thing is to deny the entire nature of God; to claim such a thing is so utterly repugnant to Christianity that there can be no doubt but that we must always defeat such a proposition every time it rears its demonic head.

The evidence is clear regardless of where you seek to find your proof: God is not the author of sin and He neither tempts man nor causes him to sin. It is vital to the health of the Church today that we stand just as staunchly opposed to such claims as godly men have done throughout the history of the Church. But more than that, we are not just making a stand against something; we must realize that what we stand for is the pure and undefiled character of God as He has revealed it to us in His word. If God is not pure, and we are not advocates of that purity, then all of the doctrines we have embraced are for naught.

In the beginning of this study I proposed that if all of the evidence is clearly presented and one were still to embrace such heresy then they were, in my belief, guilty of the unforgivable sin. Such obstinacy would at the very least show that one should fear for the security of their soul. I pray that if you have been struggling with this you will fear for your soul and succumb to the plain truth of Scripture and reason. Cast yourself before the Lord in an utter abandonment of this doctrine and self in hopes that He will have mercy in light of your ignorance. If you see all of the evidence provided and still wish to insist that God is the author of sin then my reply is that your blood be upon your own heads (Acts. 18:6). Now and forever more may God be true, but every man a liar (Rom. 3:4). Soli Deo Gloria!

Works Cited:

[1] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, vol. 2, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp 137 – 140
[2] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2009, pp 35
[3] Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible, vol. 3, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 2010, pp 55 – 57
[4] David Brown, JFB Commentary, vol. 3, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, pp 73 – 74
[5] Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2008, pp 32 – 37
[6] Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, vol. 11, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp 48 – 50
[7] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 20, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 325 – 333
[8] Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1997, pp 209 – 215
9] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, Wheaton, IL, 1998, pp 26
[10] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1968, pp 105; 220
[11] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 22, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 288 – 291
[12] Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, Philipsburg, NJ, pp 228 - 229
[13] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 8, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 402 – 403
[14] Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, Philipsburg, NJ, pp 27 – 67
[15] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, vol. 6, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp 194 – 195
[16] Franz Delitzsch. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 7, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1969, pp 199 – 201
[17] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 19, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 362

Scripture Cited:

Old Testament:
Gen. 1:27, 31; 3:12; 22:1; Ex. 7:13-14; 9:16; Num. 11:11; 21:6-9; Deut. 25:16; 32:4; Ruth 1:21; Job 1:12; 2:6; 34:10; Ps. 5:4-6; 11:5; 78:29; 92:16; 106:15; Isa. 6:3, 9-10; 45:7; Hosea; Mic. 4:6; Zech. 8:17

New Testament:
Matt. 6:13; 12:31-32; Mk. 3:28-29; Lu. 11:14-23, 12:10; 16:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30; 18:6; Rom. 1:18-32; 3:4; 3:8; 6:1; 9:14-24; 1 Cor. 10:9-12, 13; Heb. 10:29; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-27; Jas. 1:12-16, 17-18; 1 Jn. 1:5; 5:16; Rev. 4:8

Danny Wyatt is a Reformed Christian, self-described 5 Point Calvinist, from Clemmons, North Carolina. He is both husband and father, and is the author of the Christian blog, reformedmeditations.blogspot.com.

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