“God hates sinners”: John Piper does believe this

Pam BG has brought up again an issue which was discussed here several months ago, that some Christians are preaching that “God hates sinners”. She has mentioned this initially, I think, in some comments on John Meunier’s blog, and has also brought it up in a comment on her own blog and in several comments on mine. I will dignify this important issue by giving it a post of its own.

This is what Pam originally wrote on John’s blog:

I’ve recently done some research into atonement theory and there is definitely a divide in the current on-going debates.

It’s a divide between those who say that God’s primary characteristic is love and those who say that God’s primary characteristic is holiness. The former is, in my view, much more biblical.

Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is love believe that God hates sin and loves sinners (e.g. Steve Chalke and Tom Wright). Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is his holiness believe that God hates sin and hates sinners too (e.g. John Piper and books written by various individuals at Oak Hill College in the UK).

Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is love see the Gospel message as ‘The Kingdom of God is coming. God’s justice will reign in his kingdom.’ Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is holiness think that the Gospel message is ‘The sins of individual people are expiated through the propitiating work of Christ.’

I think that these views are almost irreconcilably different. I also think that ‘God loves sinners and hates sin and calls his disciples to a life of justice in the Kingdom’ is both a biblical message and a message that is historically in line with Methodism.

Here is my reply, edited with my later clarification:

Pam, is it possible to believe that both holiness and love are God’s primary characteristics? In fact holiness is certainly primary in the sense of having been revealed first, in the Hebrew Bible, and repeated in the New Testament.

But I certainly believe that God loves sinners. Anyone who denies that is denying John 3:16 and, I would judge, denying an essential point of the Christian faith. So basically I agree with you here – although we may not fully agree on which particular types of activity count as sin, i.e. what God hates.

Pam also made a claim that

Piper and the authors of ‘Pierced for Our Transgressions’ – as examples – do explicitly state that God hates sinners. ‘PFOT’ also states that it is God who damns people and who creates their punishment. These concepts were stated in so many words in their books, but you do have to dig for them!

I questioned, in comments my own blog, whether Piper has in fact stated this explicitly. An anonymous commenter on Pam’s blog took this further:

I have read John Pipers books and he has NEVER said God hates sinners as well as sin.

Has this person in fact read every word Piper has ever written, and listened to every one of his sermons? Clearly not – see below. The only person who could say such a dogmatic “NEVER” is Piper himself. But I think that when Pam actually did the digging she referred to she could not find evidence for her claim, as later she largely withdrew it, on her own blog and on mine, although not as yet on John Meunier’s. On her own blog she wrote:

To be transparent, Piper said that the work of the cross is to change God’s attitude from ‘completely against us’ to ‘completely for us’. On p. 184 [which book, Pam?], Piper writes that the purpose of the atonement is that God, as our Father, might be completely for us and not against us forever.

In reply to this I wrote that, even if Piper may not say “God hates sinners”, his friend Mark Driscoll certainly did, as I discussed here a few months ago. As reported by Alastair Roberts (see also Adrian Warnock’s report of the same sermon), Driscoll said

Here is what propitiation is: GOD HATES SINNERS. You’ve been told that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. No he doesn’t: Ghandi says that, just so you know, he’s on a totally different team than us.

What would Piper say to that, I wonder? Would he still “not have .001 seconds hesitation in having Mark Driscoll come back tomorrow to our church or our conference”?

But in fact if Pam digs a bit deeper she will find what she is looking for. Michael Bräutigam from Germany, commenting on Justin Taylor’s blog, offered this quote from John Piper, which in fact comes from a 1985 sermon on Piper’s own website:

Yes, I think we need to go the full Biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. But Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.

Michael also quotes Calvin, but finds in him a much more carefully nuanced message:

Before we were reconciled to God, he both hated and loved us.

Maybe that is a better way to say it. But better still, in my opinion, is the way it is put in words misattributed to Gandhi, who apparently did not use the word “love”:

Hate the sin, and love the sinner.

Driscoll may have been unaware of this, but in fact these words apparently come from the great Christian writer Augustine, centuries earlier, who, according to Wikipedia with a citation from Migne’s authoritative Patrilogiae Latinae, wrote:

“Love the sinner and hate the sin” (Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum) (Opera Omnia, vol II. col. 962, letter 211.), literally “With love for mankind and hatred of sins “

Yes, “love the sinner and hate the sin” should be our attitude because it is also God’s attitude as demonstrated to us by Jesus.

72 thoughts on ““God hates sinners”: John Piper does believe this

  1. Here is a longer quote from Calvin:

    “For it was not after we were reconciled to him by the blood of his Son that he began to love us, but he loved us before the foundation of the world, that with his only begotten Son we too might be sons of God before we were any thing at all. Our being reconciled by the death of Christ must not be understood as if the Son reconciled us, in order that the Father, then hating, might begin to love us, but that we were reconciled to him already, loving, though at enmity with us because of sin. To the truth of both propositions we have the attestation of the Apostle, ‘God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,’ (Rom. 5:8). Therefore he had this love 437towards us even when, exercising enmity towards him, we were the workers of iniquity. Accordingly in a manner wondrous and divine, he loved even when he hated us. For he hated us when we were such as he had not made us, and yet because our iniquity had not destroyed his work in every respect, he knew in regard to each one of us, both to hate what we had made, and love what he had made.” Such are the words of Augustine (Tract in Jo. 110).”

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.xvii.html

  2. Here is a longer quote from Calvin:

    “But to give additional assurance to those who require the authority of the ancient Church, I will quote a passage of Augustine to the same effect: “Incomprehensible and immutable is the love of God. For it was not after we were reconciled to him by the blood of his Son that he began to love us, but he loved us before the foundation of the world, that with his only begotten Son we too might be sons of God before we were any thing at all. Our being reconciled by the death of Christ must not be understood as if the Son reconciled us, in order that the Father, then hating, might begin to love us, but that we were reconciled to him already, loving, though at enmity with us because of sin. To the truth of both propositions we have the attestation of the Apostle, ‘God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,’ (Rom. 5:8). Therefore he had this love 437towards us even when, exercising enmity towards him, we were the workers of iniquity. Accordingly in a manner wondrous and divine, he loved even when he hated us. For he hated us when we were such as he had not made us, and yet because our iniquity had not destroyed his work in every respect, he knew in regard to each one of us, both to hate what we had made, and love what he had made.” Such are the words of Augustine (Tract in Jo. 110).”

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.xvii.html

  3. So because Piper is Driscoll’s “friend” he has to be in 100% agreement with everything Driscoll says?

    Would it be out of the realm of possibility that Piper would be more “nuanced” now, 23 years later? Or maybe he still wouldn’t soften what he sees in Scripture.

    Pam, is it possible to believe that both holiness and love are God’s primary characteristics?

    I like your point but I wouldn’t even use the word primary. God is love. God is holy. God is Spirit. God is good. God is a God of wrath. God is a lot of things.

    On another front I don’t understand why the term holy is used as apparently synonymous with hate for sinners.

    On yet another front, C.J. Mahaney and Piper (I think) took Mark Driscoll aside at a conference and gave him a good rebuking. Mr. Driscoll is apparently repentant and as D.A. Carson has said is on a good trajectory. Give him a chance. We can quote anybody including ourselves from two or twenty years ago and be embarrassed.
    Jeff

  4. It’s not a matter of friendship, Scripture Zealot. If Driscoll is preaching and emphasising a doctrine which Piper does not hold, then surely he should have a few seconds, or at least milliseconds, hesitation before inviting him to preach. Of course Piper may have changed his views, but I have seen no evidence for this, and if he continues to endorse Driscoll that suggests that he hasn’t.

    The “not have .001 seconds hesitation” quote above is from after Piper rebuked Driscoll, but from before the occasion Alastair and Adrian heard Driscoll say “God hates sinners”.

    I entirely agree that God’s holiness does not imply that he hates sinners. It does imply that he hates sin, and that although he loves sinners he cannot allow them into his presence before they have repented of their sin.

  5. I think .78 milliseconds hesitation would be a good amount of time.

    Seriously, how would you respond to the Scripture Piper stated (Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5)?

    Also, how about the term wrath as applied to God in the newer covenant times?

    John 3:36
    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

    Romans 2:8
    but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

    Romans 9:22-23
    What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–

    Jeff

  6. Remember though, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil, for everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

    This indicates that condemnation is the result of unbelief in the sense that it is self-inflicted.

  7. Jeff, I accept that the wrath of God is a New Testament concept – although I don’t accept Romans 9:22-23 introduced by “what if” as a definite statement of doctrine. What it would appear to mean, as Stamati suggests, is the inevitable consequence of refusing to turn away from the sin which God hates. God does not hate sinners, but cannot accept them into his kingdom if they won’t let go of their sin. For God is holiness as well as love.

    As for Psalm 5:5 and 11:5, I suggest you read something John MacArthur wrote on this issue, an extract I found when searching for the quotation.

    By the way, I found another alleged Augustine quote here:

    a man who lives according to God … should hate the sin but love the sinner.

    This is supposed to be from City of God. But I could not find this or anything like it in the definitive NPNF edition of City of God, so I wonder if this is a poor translation or taken from editorial material.

  8. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » According to Piper, does God love anyone at all?

  9. Pingback: God’s Love and John Piper - great posts not on this blog « The Church of Jesus Christ

  10. Ben, thanks for your comments from 8th April, which for some reason were treated as spam so I have only just retrieved them.

    I like this from Calvin quoting Augustine:

    loving, though at enmity with us because of sin. … in a manner wondrous and divine, he loved even when he hated us.

    This is the balance which gets lost when preachers speak about God hating us.

    But I am confused by the Calvin reference you give. In my edition of Calvin’s Institutes, the Battles translation, this is book II chapter XVI section 5. Incidentally I found in the margin a note I must have written 20 years ago: “In this sense “he hated us” is OK”.

  11. What about when David said that God hates sinners?

    “The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity. You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
    Psalm 5

    Doesn’t the text mean what it says?

  12. Yes, Adiel, this psalm does have to be taken into account, and indeed it is mentioned in the post. But it is the poetry of one man which should not be taken as doctrinally definitive. Would you take the same approach to Psalm 137:9 as teaching that infants should be dashed against rocks? Anyway, this is something from the Old Covenant and even there is an almost unique example among the many places where we read that God loves even sinners.

  13. Very interesting discussion. Thank you to all involved. I would add my input as follows: Sin consists of a wrong attitude or action, i.e. transgression of God’s moral law. It does not exist independently of a person, as only a person can have a wrong attitude or do something wrong. It is therefore impossible for God to “love the sinner but hate the sin”, since sin is inextricably linked to and part of the sinner. I believe that the correct view is that God, once, loved the world due to His own sovereign choice and gave His Son (the word for God’s love is “agape” and means a decision of the will to help someone in their need and is not based on any feelings of affection or worth in that person). He extends mercy to his enemies now, but his hatred of them / their sin (same thing) abides on them and, unless they repent before they die, the mercy will end when they die and all that is left is God’s wrath. Note that it is mercy that is being extended to sinners now, not love. He only loves us once we have repented and been forgiven (no such thing then as “unconditional love” – it is conditional upon repentance) So he actually hates sinners now but is at the same time extending mercy to them, whereby they could become loved. But He does not love them in their unrepentant state. There are as many references in the Bible to God loving people as hating them. Also, when the Bible speaks of God hating sin, more than half of the time it speaks of hating the persons who do the sin. One thing God is not is all mushy and sentimental towards sinners. “God loves you” is NOT the gospel. Romans says that the gospel reveals the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God (not His love). Trust this adds some value to the discussion. God bless.

  14. Timothy, thank you for your clear exposition of the view which I consider totally wrong and anti-Christian. This is the view which Piper used to hold, but perhaps no longer. This is the view which is clearly and explicitly contradicted by for example Romans 5:8, even if you insist on making John 3:16 apply only to the ancient past. It is also clearly disavowed by Calvin who wrote “both hated and loved us”. Your view is not orthodox Christianity but something as different from it as is Gandhi’s Hinduism.

  15. Psa 5:5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

    Pro 6:16 These six [things] doth the LORD hate: yea, seven [are] an abomination unto him:……
    Pro 6:19 A false witness [that] speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

    Can God hate people knowing that we are told that “God is Love”? The above scriptures would seem to indicate this.

    The question must be asked, therefore, “What is the nature of God’s love.” “How does God love?”

    Is God’s love measured by His feelings, or by His actions? Or do God’s feelings come into play at all with regards to His actions?

    Jhn 14:21 “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him?”

    Do Jesus’s words here not indicate that he that does NOT love the Son shall NOT be loved of the Father and, therefore, Christ will not love him, nor manifest Himself to him?

    I always ask people, “What reason does God have to love you?” I will quote to them the scriptures in Proverbs and add, “Knowing what things and the kind of people God hates!”

    We cannot offer anyone Hope whilst they remain in their sin. Whilst they do not have God they cannot have hope.(Eph 2:12) We should not allow people to harbour any illusions about the Love of God and the possiblity of salvation outside of what Christ accomplished for us at Calvary.

    What does God see when He looks into the heart of man? Something desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. (Jer 17:9)

    What does God see when He looks at our righteousness?
    “Filthy rags” (Is 64:6) Let us consider what these “filthy rags” refer to in the hebrew text. the translteration of the Hebrew is “Ed Beged” This literally means, “Menstrual rags.” So now we can appreciate exactly what God thinks about human righteousness–He finds it repulsive and vile.

    Now we can have some incling into how God sees humanity. There is absolutely nothing about us that God could possibly love, everything about us revolting, filthy and a rotten stench in His nostrils.

    Now we come to appreciate God’s love! That inspite of our miserable state, and despite God’s abhorrence of all that we are, He was capable of sending the Son into the world to become one of us in order to redeem us through His death!

    The Father took the initiative first, those that believe He receives, those that reject His salvation remain under His wrath and will be lost for eternity!

    This is the power of God unto salvation for those that believe, but for the unbelievers it is to their continual and utter rejection by God!

  16. Indeed, John, God loved us despite there being nothing in us worthy of love. But I note that nowhere in your comment do you use this word “love” of God’s attitude towards sinners, despite its use in John 3:16, Romans 5:8 and a host of other places in both Testaments. Why are you so reluctant to admit to this scriptural truth?

  17. hey on the last quote you used “With love for mankind and hatred of sins “ i agree god has a love for every thing he has created in this case humanity. still god Hates sinners and people with in humanity without Jesus are hated and gods wrath stands over them if they remain unrepentant. but he loves those sinners by giving them the opportunity in this period before the second coming because his loving nature towards his creation either is patient with is wrath but ultimately they are hated by god if they remain unrepentant. we cannot go around saying they are safe because god loves sinners but that he is angry with them and they need jesus to take their sin and take gods wrath.

  18. Why do we usually or normally hate someone?

    Is it because God’s hatred of sinners is not like our hatred of sinners?

    Why do we hate someone?

    • They have hurt us in some way

    • They have hurt someone else we love in some way

    • They have hurt someone, we believe should not have been hurt in the way in which they had been hurt

    • They have in our opinion gone beyond the scope of their “rights” and invaded the “rights” of others and impacted us/them in a negative way

    • They have transgressed, violated, and/or abused our standards of decorum

    • Our hatred is ego-centric, we hate because someone affected or impacted us in a manner in which we determine to be incorrect

    • Our hatred is never redemptive or restorative but always punitive

    Why does God hate someone, such as a sinner, a worker of iniquity, or a wicked person ?

    • A sinner has transgressed God’s righteous standards

    • A sinner is an affront to God’s utter holiness

    • God’s holy character is compelled to hate someone who violates or transgresses His holy standards

    • God’s hatred is instructive, it shows us that we have violated His righteous and holy standard; it is redemptive, because it leads us to repentance and restoration

    None of these things are personal to God like the above reasons are personal to us.

    Our hatred for someone is about us – God’s hatred is about Him and the sinner. If God did not hate the sinner then He would be condoning sin in the sinner and what the sinner does. God must hate the sinner in order to extend a loving relationship with the sinner through unconditional election prior to the creation of the world in order to redeem and restore the sinner to God.

    Some one once wrote, “Everything in the universe that does not reflect God’s perfections is loathsome and hateful in His eyes. He detests ungodliness so much that He took it upon Himself to bring everything back to perfection through the shedding of His blood.

    Every human being that is not under the blood of Christ will never be perfected. Therefore, he or she will be burned up in everlasting torment, while the old universe shall likewise be cast to the flames, to make way for the new heavens and new earth.”

  19. I agree re: “Love the sinner, hate the sin” but I would be cautious that we don’t pick and choose which parts of scripture we are going to consider valid.

    Yes, Psalm 5:5 and 11:5 both say that God hates sinners (at least a certain kind, anyway), but Romans 5:8 says that God loved us even while we were sinners.

    I think the simplest way to reconcile these passages is to consider that God hates the willful sinner, the sinner who rejects Him (and by implication, also rejects His love). In other words, God doesn’t love the person who doesn’t want to be loved by God.

    Of course, this raises questions of election, free will, etc that I’m not going to get into. ;)

  20. Thanks, Andy. I take your point but would be reluctant to say, especially under the New Covenant, that there is anyone whom God hates in a way which puts them outside his love – although I do agree that there are those who reject his love and so do not benefit from it.

  21. The thing is if God hates sinners, are we all not sinners? It clearly states that we have all sinned, and before we are born-again, we are the same as all the other sinners. So to say that God hates sinners is to say that He hates everyone. I do not believe that God hates people, I think He hates the acts of sin. Just my point of view and I do not claim to understand it all, by no means.

  22. Justin, actually I don’t agree that as Christians we are sinners. Yes, we still sin, but in Christ our identity is righteous, not sinners. But your logic still applies because I do not believe that God hates unbelievers – in fact the Bible explicitly states the opposite in John 3:16.

  23. Hi, enjoyed your article.

    just want to mention. God’s holiness has been twisted in the middle age to mean a status of great virtues. But in the Bible age, God’s holiness is God’s covenant goodness toward His people, His character of faithfulness and mercy in relationship with humans.

    However, people who don’t care about better researches just take the twisted version.

  24. Timothy is right in his reply.
    Kirk You ignore scriptures that clearly teach that God hates the sinner. Without the person there is no sin.
    Can you put sin in a bottle or paint a picture of sin?
    No! you cannot, but i can see a murder because it is a person. No person, no murder.

  25. What God hates He will never accept.
    When God hates sinners He lets them go their way. He made it possible for us to enter into His love through Christ.
    God is angry and hates the sinner not the sin.
    It is sad that you waste so much tome on this brain dead subject.People will go to hell because they do not believe in Christ and remain under God wrath.
    The Psalms are inspired and carry just as much authority as the words Jesus spoke.

  26. Noel, I agree with most of what you wrote, including that the Psalms are inspired. But I dispute that they carry just as much authority as the words of Jesus. Jesus claimed authority to set aside the immediate applicability of some parts of the Old Testament, such as the food laws. Also we must remember that Psalms are human responses to God, not propositional truths about God.

  27. I agree with Peter that “God hates sinners” is an unchristian statement.

    However, “God loves sinners” in isolation can be misleading too, if not juxtaposed with the fact that God hates sin. (Augustine’s original phrase has it better, since God does not love sinners in particular, he loves all human beings and all his creatures great and small.)

    This love of God for mankind despite sin is a cornerstone of Christianity and clearly present in many parts of the Bible, New and Old Testament. (I don’t think a valid argument to point out that something is in the Old Testament. The OT is just as valid part of scripture as the NT. But not all parts (books or parts thereof) make equal claim to authority.)

    The psalms are part of the Bible and therefore are inspired but they are also prayers of the faithful to God in specific situations, written in a specific language. One shouldn’t expect them to give the whole picture (in contrast to Christ’s teachings).

    Might it be that when David says “God hates all evil doers” he is expressing simply what Augustine has expressed as “God hates sin”?

    Sure sinning cannot occur idependently of a person committing it but if sin and sinner cannot ever be separated, mankind is simply lost. And that includes the one wrote the one that made that point.

    God loves every human being. This love is the basis for our salvation. That doesn’t mean that every human being will be saved.

    PS. Being not a Calvinist (which probably is obvious from the last paragraph), I will not go into Calvin this, Calvin that.

  28. So here are my two cents worth. I don’t believe that we can… Dissect God’s attributes into one or two words… Love & hate. God behaves in a way that all of His attributes are present at the same time… Love, wrath, kindness, holiness, compassion, Beauty, patience, mercy, freedom, beauty, etc.

    Furthermore, we know that even now Holy God is pouring out his wrath on mankind, even still while being kind, merciful, patient, & Gracious… I think it’s not an either love/hate… I think it’s those things plus another 50 attributes of God that we haven’t even mentioned. My analogy would be arguing over a few threads (love& hate) when instead it is an entire coat that we are looking at (more attributes & more threads).

    A couple more thoughts… C.S. Lewis Argues ( & some other scholars) that the opposite of love Is not hate… It’s apathy… What are your thoughts on that? I think philosophically it may make sense… Maybe not Biblically.

    Also my bias is that only 1 word is used three Times to describe God 3 times… Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God almighty. Nowhere does it say Loving, Loving, Loving, is the Lord God. For that reason I lean towards Holiness being the crowning attitude of God, or for all his attributes to be “equal” but I don’t think there is any case for love to be the crowning attribute of God. When people encountered God throughout the Bible the overwhelming feeling was an overwhelming sense of sin, & God’s holiness, (Isaiah, Israelites exodus telling Moses don’t let God speak to us, less we die. Etc.).

    So I guess in conclusion I think there are a ton of attributes going on at the same time. god pours out his wrath, kindness, love, judgment, patience, mercy, etc. all at the same time. To be fair it is more accurate to proclaim “God is love & God loves you” than “God hates you” to sinners because there are countless ways that God is showing His love to sinners. At the same time God is also pouring out His wrath, but desires that none should perish but all to be brought to repentance.

    Whoah… That was long, but I hope it’s a different angle that at least makes some sense and is brain food & truthful to God.

  29. Mark, thank you for your comments. I can agree with you that God has many attributes and shows all of them at the same time. But I can’t agree that wrath and hate are among those attributes. Nowhere does the Bible say that God is wrath or God is hate, but it does say that God is love. Yes, God does on occasions demonstrate wrath or hate, or at least that is how it appears to the biblical authors, but these are never stated to be among his defining attributes.

    I see the point that the opposite of love is apathy. And that is something that God never shows. At times he appears to show hate, but that is hatred of deeds while still loving the sinners and wanting to restore them.

    As for “Holiness being the crowning attitude of God”, you are right that the word “holy” is used of God just three times, ONLY those three times in that one verse you quote, that is in the New Testament and outside quotations from the Old. Well, that is a slight over-simplification. So the verse you quote is just a single witness to God being described as holy, and it is in an acclamation of spontaneous praise, not in a passage of theological teaching.

    By contrast, it is in theological teaching, and in two separate statements in the same passage, 1 John 4, that we read that God is love. Now I don’t really think we should judge these matters by counting statements, but if you are doing that, I think “God is love” has the edge, as far as the New Testament is concerned. But, as I asked in the post above, “is it possible to believe that both holiness and love are God’s primary characteristics?”

  30. Hey bro,

    We must both admit when the Bible says “God is love” that means God is the definition of of love. We don’t define love by things outside of God. Humanity is not the measure of love or the defined of love… God is both the measurement & definer of love. God is also the definition/measure of Patience, Mercy, Goodness, Holiness ect.

    & I don’t think we can give love the edge in either the new testament or the old testament & I don’t think it is Hermaneutically right or just to dismiss it as a spontaneous giving of praise Rev 4:8 “And the four living creatures each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they *never ceases to say*

    Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty,
    Who was and is and is to come.

    So we have Creaturesin heaven who never cease praise God day & night forever that he is Holy. We have The only attribute in the Bible repeated three times to describe God which carries more weight than I think you are giving it.

    Now her Hermaneutically this verse, as well as the rest of the council of God but in my view this verse destroys love as being the crowning attribute of God. When a word is repeated twice it carries emphasis in the Bible. The threefold holy, holy, holy dives down into his perfect holiness. This is said of God in this text day and night forever & ever. I mean if the opposite were true… Loving, loving, loving, is the lord god Almighty… It would destroy holiness being the crowning attribute… But I must recognize that You’re right when it comes to those being teaching sections of the Bible on God is love. But again, I don’t think a case can be made for Love being the crowning attribute… Maybe holiness or equality.

    As far as love & holiness being the two primary attributes… I think it’d be more accurate to call them equal because they are so intertwined with the other attributes. Maybe Holy & Loving would be the two words that most easily describe God.I feel like I am rambling now.

    Regardless… Holiness I would define as God’s perfect hatred towards sin/everything sinful & love for everything just. So I’d agree that wrath & hate aren’t attributes, but we can’t talk about God’s holiness without talking about his wrath & hatred of sin/sinners.

    I guess the reason that I’m hesitant to call love the crowning attribute of God is also that it makes me nervous. It makes me nervous when people call love the crowning attribute of God because in my view it opens the door to universalism & a low view of a Holy God. Angels not defiled by sin are awestruck by God’s holiness & love. How much more can sinful man be awestruck over a Holy God who even died for us to show His love.

    Maybe some more thoughts later, enjoying the discussion. God bless.

  31. No, Mark, we mustn’t both admit your initial statement. It may be correct, but it needs to be argued. It seems clear to me that the author, John, considered love to be the fundamental defining characteristic of God. Do you have any evidence for this reinterpretation of the plain words of Scripture, except perhaps that it is inconvenient for your theological system?

    I don’t mean to imply any contradiction between love and holiness as fundamental divine characteristics. But both need to be defined in the light of one another. So maybe our disagreement is not really a deep one.

    Sorry, no time to go into this in more depth now.

  32. Hey man, I think we still disagree & neither of us will be able to find a passage of scripture that states a crowning attribute of God.

    But in response 1 John 5:13 states the purpose of the book, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life.

    1 John is one of my favorite books of the Bible as as the book identifies several evidences of genuine evidences of Christianity & evidences of well, being unsaved.

    Christians walk in the light J1:7
    Others walk in darkness
    Christians admit sin
    Others deny having sin.
    Christians keep His commandments
    Others break them
    Christians love his brother
    Others hate their bro
    Others love the world
    Christians love doing God’s will
    Others Practice lawlessness
    Christians practice righteousness

    So 1 John goes through all these evidences & it goes to the point where it talks about sacrificial love. Jesus gave his life for us so when we see others in need we ought to love them sacrificially. Then 1 John 4:7&8 Beloved let us love one another, whoever does not love does not know God for God is love… i would argue is not stating love as a crowning attribute… But by this we know we abide with Him, that we love.

    So, the passage as a whole, or even book is an argument of Genuine Christian Faith. It speaks of God being love & if we are a child of God we must also love. He who hates his brother & continues sinning is of the devil… God came to destroy the works of the devil. Ect.
    T

  33. Mark, sorry to be slow replying. I was waiting until I had a chance to give some proper thought to my answer. I still don’t really have time. I will just say don’t forget 1 John 4:16, where “God is love” is the main clause and the central point. But I don’t disagree with what you are saying in your comment.

    But I am not trying to define a single “crowning attribute of God”. For John, arguably love was this crowning attribute. But other passages of Scripture have different emphases. My point was rather to dispute your claim that holiness is the crowning attribute. If we can agree that there is no one crowning attribute, again I don’t see much difference between us.

  34. This concept that God hates sinners is a new one to me. I was very disturbed that a Christian friend of mine disagreed with a post that I put on Facebook that shared the phrase “God hates sin, but loves the sinner.” He replied:” I like and agree with everything you said except your first sentence…”God hates sin but loves the sinner.” In fact, God hates sin and He also hates the sinner! It is only through His son, Jesus Christ, that God can see us as being sinless. All others who do not accept His Son, He hates…they will be cast in to a lake of fire! So…if your pastor, or any pastor is preaching this…he is preaching false gospel, and should be seriously reprimanded!” There was actually more to my post but the point he was trying to make is that GOD HATES SINNERS ! Immediately a flood of scripture that seemed to contradict his statement came to mind which I shared with him. John 3:16 for example certainly doesn’t say “For God so hated the world that he gave his only begotten son…” It said he LOVED the world ! Plenty of other scriptures that say the same thing, or tell of God loving us so much and it was even while we were yet sinners !( before we were saved). Things got ugly and the guy basically started saying stuff to mean I was out there in the twilight zone for believing the way I do ! He got pretty obnoxious. Then he posted something on my wall that I am sorry I cannot give word detail of because I deleted it, but it basically was putting his belief that GOD HATES SINNERS on my wall and I told him that I deleted that and I asked him to respect my beliefs and I would respect his, but I did not want him putting stuff like that on my wall, because it looked like I agreed with that concept that God hates everybody ( because we all are sinners ) and I totally disagree that God hates the world. There seems to me to be a more missed concept here: That being that I believe that the over-all theme of the bible is God’s LOVE for mankind, and how he went as far as sending his only son to die in our place so we could be forgiven of our sins ! God most certainly didn’t do that because he hated us ! That simply doesn’t make sense! I believe SATAN is behind this concept of telling people that GOD HATES THEM! I cannot put my finger on the exact reason for that except that it’s simply NOT TRUE and I figure it would definitely turn unsaved people away from the desire to hear about the God that hates them, and at the least it causes division and friction between Christians. Does anyone agree with my thoughts that this concept could be the work of Satan? Also telling me that you cannot take John 3:16 out of context seems like a lame defense, because some scriptures such as John 3:16 CAN be taken out of context and can stand alone without changing the meaning of the chapter that it comes from. Your thoughts? Thanks !

  35. Gary, thank you for sharing that. I have had similar experiences on this blog. I respect those like John Piper who teach that God both hates and loves sinners, although I would not put it that way myself. But it seems to me that some who insist that primarily God hates sinners, and try to deny that he loves them, do so because they themselves hate sinners, and try to make God fit their own image. 1 John 5:8. Yes, surely the work of Satan stands behind this somewhere.

  36. Thanks for your reply and comments! It was the first time in 54 years that I have ever run across someone that took the position that God hates us. While I can understand he can find some scriptures that may lend some consideration to that concept, the over-all theme that I get from the bible is that God loves us and it grieves him that anyone should perish and end up in Hell. That’s what I get from the bible. I also get that he loves us so much that he sent his son to pay our debt, and that we can have that payment applied to our account by believing on him! I believe!
    I would think if I tried to tell people that God hates us so much that he sent his son to die for us in order for us to receive all that(forgiveness, salvation) , they’d surely look at me as though I was some kind of nut…because that surely doesn’t make any sense at all ! I know there’s no way I’d give up my son for anyone ! But God did…and I sure can’t see that as hate !

  37. Thank you for this site.
    I have just returned from church where the minister preached “God hates sinners.”
    I am so shocked by this belief. I agree it is not Christian.
    Why don’t we hear “repent so God will love you” or “do you want God to go from loving you to hating you come to Jesus.”
    We are warned there will be false doctrines in end times.

  38. Thank you, “giftofthegab”. Sadly and shockingly, there really are “Christian” preachers who teach that God hates sinners. We don’t need to repent for God to love us, as he loves us when we are still sinners, but of course we do need to repent before we can be made worthy to come into his presence.

  39. Thank you Peter for your response.
    I put my faith & trust in Jesus when I was 4 & turn 51 in a week (haha!) so I am so troubled by the concept of God hating sinners.

    I have another issue I would love your thoughts on!
    In high school I would share my faith with a friend who didn’t believe in Jesus. Thirty years after leaving school she tracked me down & told me she had become a Christian! I was completely blown away with how the Lord worked in her heart! Woohoo!
    Recently, she shared with me she is considering the doctrine about an eternal hell & that God is a loving God & wouldn’t condemn people to everlasting suffering. I’m sure you’ve heard this before so where does this come from? I told her Jesus didn’t teach this & Paul didn’t preach it! To me it waters down Christ’s death & the need for His death.
    What are your thoughts?
    In Jesus,
    Gabrielle.

  40. Please help me, I’m really confused. If God loves sinners, how can he send someone to hell? Or is there really hell? I just can’t reconcile God saying he loves sinners then send them to hell later. If hell is real, then God must have hated sinners enough to send them to eternal damnation? Please help me understand this pls…

  41. Stacy, sorry to be slow replying to you. I needed some time to think about how to answer your good but difficult question.

    To me the answer is all about the nature of “hell”. We all have in our minds images of burning pits and demons with pitchforks. But most of these images come from medieval speculations, not from biblical teaching.

    As I wrote in the previous comment, I think I am an annihilationist. That is the belief that hell is simply the place where some people, after death, are destroyed. This is the default destiny of humans, who are not immortal by nature (1 Timothy 6:15-16), but only if they receive immortality through Christ (2 Timothy 1:10).

    So I prefer to think of it like this. God loves everyone, and invites everyone to join him in his kingdom. But he doesn’t force them to accept his invitation. Some choose not to accept, but to receive the alternative destiny which is theirs by default. That default is not pleasant, but it is annihilation rather than everlasting torment. It is “eternal” because it has eternal consequences.

    That’s not quite the whole story. Sin has consequences. It disqualifies one from God’s kingdom and so leads the sinner to destruction in hell. But there is forgiveness of sin, in Jesus Christ, so this is a barrier to the kingdom only for those who refuse to accept forgiveness.

    Don’t expect John Piper to agree with this way of explaining things!

  42. Thank you so much for replying. If you could spare me more time can I ask for more clarification about hell? I hope you’re really right about the nature of hell but didn’t Jesus talked about it as everlasting fire? I don’t know much about the bible but thanks to biblegateway because when I typed everlasting fire using the King James Version, Jesus mentioned it twice in Matthew. Was Jesus talking about hell or another thing? Then I tried the words fire and brimstone and one of the verses that caught my attention was Revelations 21:8. Is this talking about sinners going to hell? Sorry I have many questions. I don’t know if I’m understanding the verses right or maybe there’s another interpretation that I’m not aware of. Please help me understand. I don’t want to misinterpret the bible.
    And oh, don’t worry about John Piper I don’t know him. (sorry to those who like Mr. Piper)

  43. Oppps I just googled John Piper and found out that he’s a pastor. Sorry to have addressed him as Mr not Pastor. My apologies. I meant no disrespect.
    On the same note, should I address you in a particular manner Peter? I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

  44. Sorry, but I don’t believe Hell is just a place where we are destroyed and then it’s over. Plenty of scripture backing the concept up that it is a place with flames , burning , and torment, as well as separation from God forever. If forever is abbreviated with a end of suffering because the person is totally destroyed then how could that be eternal? I mean I know some people think that when you die it’s just OVER. That would seem to contradict the “eternal suffering” described in Hell. In my opinion, from what I get from the scriptures. I mean, what does “forever and ever ” mean if it doesn’t mean what it says? Revelation 20:10
    “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Sorry to disagree, but I don’t want to take a the “eternal suffering” out of Hell when it seems important to God that we are warned like it last forever. Eternal separation would seem to lose it’s grip if one finally was consumed and was “no more” . He wouldn’t know he was separated anymore if he didn’t exist. Thanks! Gary

  45. Stacy, just Peter is fine to address me. I am not a pastor or a doctor, but I have theological training to master’s level.

    The word Jesus used for “hell” was “Gehenna”, the name of a place outside Jerusalem where garbage was burned. The fire there never went out because there was a continual supply of garbage. But any one piece of garbage was quickly burned up and destroyed. That is the image Jesus used to describe the fate of the wicked. Similarly in Revelation 21:8 and 20:10 the “lake of burning sulfur” is a place of destruction, a place where no living being can survive.

    Gary, I would suggest that a person who has been destroyed has been separated from God for ever. It is irrelevant whether the person is conscious of that separation. I accept that Revelation 20:10 speaks of eternal torment, although not for wicked people in general but only for the devil, the beast and the false prophet. Apart from that where exactly do you find “Plenty of scripture” to support the idea of everlasting conscious torment?

  46. Peter – I am sorry to be a pain – but the ‘annihilationist ‘ position gives ‘carte blanche’ to the sinner.

    You are saying – it doesn’t matter how bad you are on a scale of 1-10 – all that will happen is that …..er……nothing !

    The alternative might just as well be the 77 virgins promised to the Islamic ‘Martyr’ …….

    Even Scripture acknowledges that there is pleasure in sin for a season …….and if the consequences for that is ultimate oblivion …then you might as well ‘go for it’ now !

    So …..Congratulations – the only gospel message you leave us with ..is that if those who have nothing on this planet, accept Christ – then it will all come to them in the hereafter – but if you’ve got shedloads – enjoy it now – because later you will feel nothing !

    You appear to have overlooked the experience of Lazarus perched in (or on) Abrahams bosom (mentioned as I recall by Jesus ) – or perhaps Jesus had it wrong ?

  47. As a postscript to the above – I am categorically NOT saying God hates sinners – According to scripture he “created their innermost being….he knit them together in their mothers womb”. Mission is an attribute of God – the Son of Man came to seek and to save …etc ….

    Save from what ….?

  48. Thank you, David. Let me clarify: I am not at all saying that sinners will not be punished for their sin. Being burned up in a fire is surely very painful. I am suggesting that that punishment will be limited in time as was the sin, not lasting for ever which would be disproportionate to sin which is committed within the limited time of a human life. But I would also suggest that the greatest punishment for a sinner is not torment but being excluded from the presence of God in his kingdom.

    As for the story of Lazarus, I accept that that needs some explanation, but I would see it as referring to the intermediate state before the final judgment.

  49. Peter, I know this is not the thread for this, but how would you explain from Mat 25:46 that Jesus referred to the granting of life and punishment as being both “eternal”? (And if you’re not really sure how to simply explain this one, especially at first glance, I think most people would prefer you admit this from the outset.)

    We would also do well to realize that, while imagery is very powerful, it can also be easily misused. The significance of Gehenna may not be linked to the concept of duration any more than Jesus was talking about duration when he said that the righteous will shine forth as the sun. Yes, the sun will eventually cease to shine (unlike the righteous).

  50. Peter, You wrote: “I would suggest that a person who has been destroyed has been separated from God for ever. It is irrelevant whether the person is conscious of that separation.”
    That would seem very relevant to a person burning in torment. If the person is not conscious of that torment, then the pain stops. Why would you think that the devil would be tormented forever, but a person that rejected God’s only begotten son get a “get out of Hell” free pass…you’ve undoubtedly seen shows where a person was dying or being tortured begging to be finished off, so that the pain would end. Why would the pain of Hell be any shorter for those that reject so great a salvation? Doesn’t make sense to me and I’d rather err on the side of what it seems to say in the bible than to give the lost “false hope” that he, it won’t be that bad…you’ll just suffer for so long and then you will cease to exist…you won’t even know anything so it will be done. Seems bad to say if it’s not so. Just my opinion. Just saying if it last forever, the torment and we tell people it doesn’t…doesn’t that seem like a bad mislead? Imagine folks burning forever and forever saying: “but Peter said it was just for so long and then it would stop, I wouldn’t be conscious any more !!!! ” I wouldn’t want that on me !!!! Just saying. I think you are wrong. Thanks! Gary

  51. Robert, yes, I will admit that I don’t have a full answer to your question. And I don’t want to attempt one here. But I would suggest that the primary meaning of “eternal” is not lasting for ever in time, but about eternal quality.

    Gary, I didn’t actually say the devil would be tormented for ever. It is the book of Revelation that says that. But doesn’t it make sense that the ringleader of the great rebellion against God gets punished more than the ordinary people that he has deceived into following him? Anyway I see the biblical focus, at least in the New Testament, as less on the punishment in store for those who reject God and more on the great blessing laid up for those who accept him through Jesus Christ.

  52. I’ve been reading a lot of this discussion and I definitely do feel sad for all those people who believe that God hates sinners. Sure some verses in Psalms seem to imply God hates sinners, but what about all the other verses that speak about God’s love for us while we were still sinners? Why toss them out? Why do we want to believe a harsher view of God?

    I know some people may be drawn to Jesus out of fear, but I know of others who are drawn to Jesus because His love for them is revealed. This love He shows for sinners seems to fit very well with how He responded and interacted with sinners in the gospels. The “God hates sinners view” doesn’t seem to hold up to a literal reading of the gospels. How could Jesus even stand being near the woman caught in adultery let alone help her. Is He just that good at concealing his extreme hatred. I don’t think so. I think it’s safe to assume He loved her even as a sinner.

    Most importantly, in Matthew 5:44, Jesus told us to love our enemies, which I’m pretty sure can be equated with sinners. How can Jesus (God) expect more out of us than He does for Himself? How can God expect us to love our enemies when He doesn’t? Moreover, how are we to love our enemies, which is humanly impossible, if God doesn’t give us love for them? We can’t. Yet if God doesn’t love sinners, He wouldn’t give us love for them would he? That would be sort of weird.

    In conclusion, I’m sure what views people will hold about God, but I choose to hold the one that gives him the most glory. To say that God hates sinners and sin is an easy thing to say, and really doesn’t seem very amazing. I mean, once we turn to God and we’re His children, it doesn’t seem to hard to believe He would love us. However, believing God loves us in spite of our sins is far more awesome, especially considering how wicked we are. I hope this all made sense.

  53. Thank you Peter for your replies. You have been most kind and patient with everyone writing here.
    I’m just amazed with the wisdom everyone has put here on different subjects. I feel honored to have written here as well despite my little understanding of the bible compared to everyone.
    If I may, and I know I stand before men who are a lot better than I am, I want to say a little reminder that even if we may not agree on certain subjects and interpretations, I hope that the love of Jesus would continually motivate us in what we say and how we say them. After all this is what Jesus prayed for – that we love one another. John 13:34-35. I hope that our disagreements won’t divide the body of Christ because that would be a shame. I haven’t heard of Islamic church splits (again I’m no expert and I could be wrong) but splits among Christians are very prevalent. Why? We value wisdom more than love. We feel we need to defend God and the bible as if He can’t do it Himself offending other Christians and being offended ourselves instead of answering His call to love one another including our enemies. Let us not forget that it is love that God used to reach out to us not His wisdom or His knowledge of things and we should do the same.
    Enough said.
    Again thank you my brothers for inspiring me.

    John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

  54. I just removed two comments from last year from this post at the commenter’s request. I also removed some replies because they mentioned the name and made no sense apart from the original comments.

  55. Thank you Peter for this site.
    We have now left the church where the minister believes “God hates sinners.”
    When people are taught wrong doctrine the out-workings of that belief continue to be un-biblical. For example, we have Christian friends who believe God hates them when they sin. Someone else believes we should be teaching children God hates them.
    I was told the reason God will judge people is because of His hatred of them. I tried to explain His judgement comes from His justice but to no avail. It has been very distressing.
    To believe God hates sinners opposes other Scriptures. For example, If God hates sinners, why does He ask us to love our enemies? Also, we are to hate our mothers & fathers otherwise we are not worthy of the Gospel. Is that really what Jesus is meaning? I don’t think so.
    If someone says ” I hate Shakespeare” we know it’s not him personally but his works. This type of writing is called linguistic hyperbole. I believe this is the style of writing used in the Psalms.
    Some wonderful conversations have come from this with my non-Christian friends! I have shared with them why we have changed churches & have been able to tell them about God’s unconditional love.
    Love, Gab.

  56. Gab, you’re welcome, and thank you for the comment. I think you were wise to leave that church. I am glad you are now able to witness to God’s unconditional love.

    That’s an interesting point about “I hate Shakespeare”. That may be an important part of what is going on in the few biblical statements that God hates people.

  57. I wasn’t able to read all of the comments, so this may have been discussed. I submit the following possibility for your comments. I have met in my lifetime people who have a strange conflict within them. People who have been hurt and abused at the hands of others. One woman abused by her father hated him for the things he did to her. She couldn’t understand how she could hate him and at the same time love him. I would ask her, “Why do you love him?” She would say, “Because he is my father.” I believe it is possible that there is a part of us that God does hates. He wants this part of us to die. This is why is calls for us to put to death the misdeeds of the body. This is why that which has not been put to death will be “burned up” at the judgment seat. God hates that part of us that needs to die. That part that is indifferent, loves or practices sin and is outside of His will and truth and desire for us. God however loves us at the same time. He loves that which has been sanctified and made holy. He especially loves us because we are his children. In our western thinking we tend to categorize things as one or the other, but could this just be another one of the biblical paradoxes that the Bible presents to us. Both seem to be in opposition to each other, but at the same time, the possibility that both may be true is possible.

  58. Anthony, thank you for your interesting comment. I can understand why a person can both love and hate another person at another time. I’m not sure that that is a good model for God’s love and hate. But perhaps it is if the point is that, while the woman in your example may at times say she hates her father, what she really hates is his wrong behavior, and if he stopped doing that she would continue to love him. That is, her hate is conditional, but her love is unconditional because it is based on a family relationship – not a bad reflection of God’s attitude to us.

  59. God is Holy Love! His love is pure and without flaw. His love transforms the unclean into the clean. Only Holy Love can give everything perfectly, the cross. The blood of God cleanses the sinner from all sin. It’s not love or holiness that steals, kills and destroys a sinner. It’s sin that brings death, destruction and heaps judgement on the lives of those who are enslaved by it. He, God in Flesh, came to set us from from the power of sin and death.

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