I've been discussing the meaning of God's omnipotence with a friend. I have always understood it to mean that God can do anything, but not things that are outside of His nature (i.e., omnipotence does not mean he can lie, sin, etc). My friend's perspective is that His omnipotence means He can act outside of his nature, but will not. I asked this question about Hebrews 6:18, and am now curious about 2 Timothy 2:13.

2 Timothy 2:13 (ESV)

if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

Every English translation I know of uses some form of inability expression. Is it possible that the Greek could be rendered as "he will not deny himself" or as "he would not deny himself"?

I am asking specifically about the translation of 2 Timothy 2:13, and not the theology of omnipotence (I was only providing background for why I am asking). I have asked a more theologically oriented question at Christianity SE, here.

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    Eric - Any suggestion that Hebrews 6:18 is stating that God "won't lie" rather than "can't lie" - is absolutely rubbish. Please see Hebrews 6:18, (Interlinear). The Greek word here is "ἀδύνατον" which certainly denotes "capacity", "ability", "capability", and "power". "ἀδύνατον" does not denote any sense of "will". In short, God and his "promises / word" are a representation of two unchangeable things, (God, and himself), that constrain each other. God does not have "power" if he restricted himself through promise. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 16:17
  • @elikakohen, thanks for your perspective on that... would you be interested in elaborating in an answer here? hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/30704/474
    – user474
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 16:29
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    Eric - I added a comment/objection to that answer. Numbers 23:13 is nuanced, either saying: "God neither fails nor lies, like a men [do]", or "God is not a man (who fails and lies). The second interpretation suggests the attributes of "man", (fails and lies). Regardless, My objection to this question rests on the presupposition: Is there a Biblical Claim that God is "omnipotent"? If not - then this question is not meaningful if framed like this. Adding that Scriptural basis would greatly improve the question - because all other passages would have to be interpreted in view of it. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 16:54
  • See also Titus 1:2 and 1 John 3:9.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 0:45

4 Answers 4


1. Question Restatement:

If God really is "All Powerful", then why can't he deny himself? Or, is 2 Timothy 2:13 actually saying that God "will/would not" deny himself - even though he can?

ESV, 2 Timothy 2:13 - if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny [contradict] himself.

This question appears to be related to another based on Hebrews 6:18, (Interlinear), suggesting that God "chooses" not to lie, rather than is incapable of lying. That same analysis of the Greek is invalid - for the same reasons it is invalid in this context:


2. Greek Analysis:

2 Timothy 2:13, (Interlinear), does not carry any "subjunctive, (Wikipedia)" sense of "perhaps", "probably", or "may not" - or even some "personal intent".

The text uses the Greek word, "δύναται" which certainly conveys a sense of "ability", "capacity", "capability", "power" - not "will", or "authority".

The "Will" of God is not expressed as "δύναμαι":

NASB, 2 Timothy 1:1 - Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God | διὰ θελήματος Θεοῦ, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus,

3. Explanation - God is not "All Powerful", but is constrained by his own promises:

God's "omnipotence / all powerfulness" is a misrepresentation of Scripture's representation of "The Most High". This makes the question "leading, (legal definition)" and "invalid" in the same sense as a prosecutor trying to trick a defendant into confessing robbery by asking, "When you robbed that store, did you think stealing was wrong?"

The power to keep all promises, to forget sin, to forgive all debts, and even the power to be absent - is actually evidence that God is "The Most High, (Most Powerful)" and cannot be forced by some other authority into breaking a promise, or contradicting himself in some way.

Scripture states that God limited his own power, by "swearing by himself" - because there was no other way to constrain his own power. This actually indicates that God has no choice but to be faithful to his own word, and is therefore trustworthy.

It is a false equivocation to say that "being the Most Powerful" is the same as being "All Powerful": if the only thing in reality that could cause God's power to fail is himself, then it makes him the /most/ powerful - the "Most High" - but when God restrains himself by his own word - he is no longer /all/ powerful.

NASB, Genesis 22:16 - and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son,

NASB, Isaiah 45:23 - “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

NASB, Jeremiah 22:5 - But if you will not obey these words, I swear by Myself,” declares the Lord, “that this house will become a desolation.”’”

NASB, Jeremiah 49:13 - For I have sworn by Myself,” declares the Lord, “that Bozrah will become an object of horror, a reproach, a ruin and a curse; and all its cities will become perpetual ruins.”

Scripture does not at all state that God is all powerful, all loving, and all knowing. Theists immediately recognize the claim as a misrepresentation of who God is - especially in view of so many references, for example:

NASB, Isaiah 43:25 - “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.

NASB, Hosea 4:6 - My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

Actually: Scripture emphatically restates, over and again, that God is 1.) Faithful: That God is true, "The Most High" ensuring that nothing can cause any of his promises to fail - even himself; 2.) Wise: That God is "for us", an advocate, determined, and desperate, to impart life - even when there is so much death. 3.) Just: That God judges people according to their own mercies - or else by their own condemnations;

To parents - it is immediately obvious what these three attributes entail: "love", (the faithful determination for life, and the desperation to advocate for pardon).

Note 1: If God is "True" then as "truth" God cannot contradict himself, any more than a logical syllogism/truth could contradict itself.

  • I didn't mean to get into the weeds of the theology behind this question - I was only intending to provide background. My specific question is whether the Greek in 2 Timothy 2:13 can bear a rendering of "he would not deny himself". Also, I would not interpret God forgetting sins as not knowing about them - but acting as though they they have never happened. I don't think it's correct to interpret forgetting as literal there, but that's a bit outside of my question.
    – user474
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 15:50
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    I think absurdities arise from a literal reading of forgetfulness. For example, Psalm 44:21 says that God knows the secrets of the heart. With your interpretation, if I am in Christ and forgiven, God does not know the secrets of my heart, and I know things God does not know. In any case, I don't think the question I asked is "invalid". I'm simply asking about a translation. Not that it has any impact on the validity of a translation question, but please note that I already hold the view that God cannot act against his nature - I am trying to understand the Biblical basis for that.
    – user474
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 16:24
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    "Scripture does not at all state that God is all powerful, all loving, and all knowing" Actually that's the Platonists you are thinking about, which attributed to God all good characteristics. God is thus defined as "The Greatest Being of Which No Greater Being Can Be Conceived", or the Ontological argument for God's existence. Atheists did not invent that argument. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 19:13
  • @MichaelRyanSoileau - Do you happen to have that reference handy? I would love to add it - or you can. Thanks! Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 21:02
  • St.Anselm, Chapter 2, Proslogium: sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/anselm-proslogium.asp#CHAPTER II 'AND it assuredly exists so truly, that it cannot be conceived not to exist. For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.' Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 23:50

The key phrase you are asking about is ἀρνήσασθαι ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται, translated by the ESV and most other versions as he cannot deny himself.

The phrase being translated here as cannot is οὐ δύναται - ou dynatai. The word οὐ indicates negation. The word δύναται is the present tense of δύναμαι (dynamai), but the voice here could be interpreted as either "middle" or "active". The lexicons assign δύναμαι a meaning of "can", "be able to", "be capable of", "can do", "able to do", "be able", etc.

The voice of the verb may be relevant here. While the active voice indicates that the subject has the function of the actor and the passive voice indicates that the subject is the recipient of the action denoted by the verb, the middle voice - which we don't really have in English - indicates that the subject is both the actor as well as the recipient of the action. The Glossary of Linguistic Terms defines the middle voice:

Middle voice is a voice that indicates that the subject is the actor and acts:

  • upon himself or herself reflexively
  • for his or her own benefit.

In the case of plural subjects, the actors may, perhaps, act upon each other.

Strictly speaking, δύναμαι is referred to as a so-called "deponent" verb that lacks any active voice forms. Sometimes it is explained that deponent verbs have no true middle voice and represent the active voice by what normally would have been the middle voice form. I don't believe that this is exactly correct. One explanation of deponency, specifically as it relates to δύναμαι, reads:

The term and concept of “deponency” is confusing and misleading. Verbs such as ἔρχομαι and  ποκρίνομαι and δύναμαι ought not to be considered in any way irregular or wanting because they have no “active-voice” forms. The Greek-speaker understands these verbs as involved in a kind of relationship to the grammatical subject that properly finds expression in the “middle-passive” morphoparadigm. It may be difficult for non- Greek-speakers to grasp the distinctive notion implicit in these “middle-passive” forms, but one should make the effort to discern their flexibility for expression of notions of entering into a state or condition or action, whether involuntarily or voluntarily, and for notions of undergoing a process or action or being subjected to an action. One ought not to suppose that these verbs, because they may be translated into English by “active-voice” verb-forms, are in any way irregular or accidentally given forms that are not appropriate to them.

In the middle voice sense, one might think of δύναται being understood as God enabling or not enabling Himself to do something.

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    δύναμαι is a DEPONENT verb, and as such it has a form of a medium voice but the meaning of the active voice! So, it has not an "enabling/not enabling" case! This as far as grammar is concerned, but it is also blasphemously counterintuitive to think that Paul implied that "if Jesus would like to, He would be steadfast and not commit sin, if He would not like to, He would not be steadfast and commit sin", then Jesus would not be any different from any of us, but Paul is clearly emphatic that Jesus is not in the same row with us, as elsewhere he asserts the same of the Father (Hebrews 6:18). Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 17:25
  • user33515 - To your point of translating "δύναται" in the middle voice - I think that it is necessary given the context of "two immutable things" - being God + God. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 17:43
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    @LevanGigineishvili - Umm. I think you define blasphemy differently than Jesus did. And Paul is exactly contradictory to your point. He was very adamant that Jesus was tempted similarly as other men. But - this question, and this answer, I think, is speaking about "The Most High", (Jesus' father). So, if you are Unitarian, (all the same) rather than Trinitarian, (three in unity), then I can see where some of your "blasphemy" issues might pop up. But, this question is purely a linguistic / textual issue, not a theology / doctrinal. The implications are being addressed on a different site. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 17:47
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    @LevanGigineishvili - Stones are not analogous to people - who have will and desire. However, the point that "immutability of God's will" means "it is impossible to sin" is valid. What isn't valid is to assume "The Father's immutable will" was also true of Jesus, and therefore he wasn't tempted as other people - IF you fail to account for the direct contradictions to this theology, (Luke 22:44, Hebrews 4:15, Hebrews 12:2, etc.) Following the texts, and under "Trinity" doctrine, there is no issue; issues only rise if it is presumed that Jesus is actually "The Most High", (the Father). Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 18:55
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    This "grammatical analysis" of δύναται is completely off: as noted, it is a deponent verb and has none of the "middle" meanings in the quoted reference.
    – brianpck
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 22:28

As you have asked me to elaborate, so I will: the impossibility both for God to lie (ψεύσασθαι) and God's Son to fall from faithfulness (ἀπιστεύειν) is semantically one and the same ontological impossibility (for the ἀδύνατον Hebrews 6:18 has absolutely the same power as the οὐ δύναται of the 2 Tim. 2:13, thus asserting the same degree of steadfastness (μένει) for Jesus as is asserted of God's word in Isaiah 40:8 "the grass withers, the flowers fade, but God's word remains (μένει) forever", in which quote "grass" and "flowers" symbolize the entire created order of reality.

In the above quote, in the term "word" (ῤῆμα) "God's word" is not necessarily to be understood (but quite possible) as His hypostatized Logos, as in John 1:1, but as His inseparable eternal attribute. And the Logos' word has absolutely the same steadfastness as the Father's word, for as the Incarnate Logos says "the heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (Matt 24:35).

And in the common Kingdom of the Son and the Father, which is established in human hearts the Son remains (μένει) eternally (John 8:35), just as the Father does, for there are no gradations - more and less - in eternity, and, therefore, if the Son remains eternally, so does the Father.

And with them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, for it is impossible to be a true worshiper of God but through the Holy Spirit (John 4:23), and only through Whom, the Spirit of Sonship believers are able and invested with authority to become the children of God (Romans 8:15), eternally becoming the temples of Him (1 Cor. 6:19), for the Holy Spirit bears the same stamp of divine ontological impossibility as do the Son and the Father, for it is impossible for anybody who possesses and is guided by the Holy Spirit not to worship and praise Jesus Christ as Lord and God (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3) in likeness of Thomas (John 20:28).

  • Thanks for elaborating, but I'm not sure I understand from this the key part of my question, which is whether 2 Timothy 2:13 could be rendered "He would not deny himself", and why or why not.
    – user474
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 15:52
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    A, this particular aspect of your question is decided simply by the grammar and lexical matters: δύναμαι is "to be able", "to can", "to have a power to", so, if in English you have a sentence: "Stephen Hawking cannot/is not able to defeat Mohammad Ali in boxing", it means plainly that S.H. is powerless in this bout to succeed, and that it is not that he would rather not defeat, but that any possibility of defeating M.A. for him is excluded. The same is with the Greek word δύναμαι, but I can bring you ample references from Greek texts as well. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 16:53
  • I have written for the first answer (User 33515), that his error is that he thinks that δύναμαι is a medium voice, but in fact it is a deponent verb, that is to say a verb that has medium form but an active meaning. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 17:28
  • There is a missing ) in paragraph 1 that confuses me. Can you fix it? (for the ἀδύνατον ... Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 21:07

God revealed himself to Moses and said 'I am that I am'.

His being is eternal. He is. And he is what he is.

Of the Son of God it is written, Phil 2:6 :

'Who, in form of God subsisting [...] esteemed (such) to be equal God. [EGNT literal]

I have added 'such' where the EGNT ignores the article and I have left out 'with' where the EGNT adds it.

God is whom he is. God esteems whom he is to be what he is.

God is not inconsistent to his own being. God does not act in discord to his own self. He acts consistently with his own nature. He does not act contrary to whom he is and to what he is.

This is what he is and this is what he has revealed himself to be.

We, creatures, have proved ourselves not to be such. We acted contrary to our own human nature in Eden. We were told 'thou dost not eat of that' regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were told we would die.

That is not the way humanity functions, we were told. And the Tree of Life was in the midst of the garden. That was how humanity is to live.

But God is not faithless. He is true to his own self.

And he can be trusted.

  • My question is specifically about the translation of 2 Timothy 2:13
    – user474
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 13:48

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