Hardening of the Heart

burdened heart


Why is it that God died for everyone (1 Tim 2:4-6) yet some still go to hell?  I don’t find that this is a question that the Bible fully answers.  No matter how much we press there are philosophical conflicts unless one is willing to ignore clear passages on the former or the latter.

What does help with understanding this conundrum a little bit is the Biblical doctrine of the hardening of the heart.  Before digging in I will attempt to define this term with scripture.  After that I will attempt to answer the following questions from scripture:

  1. Does God harden the heart of man so that he cannot believe?
  2. Does Man harden his own heart so that he cannot believe?
  3. Or is it a synergism of both of the above?

I have found that different Christian traditions teach one of the above three in line with their other theological or philosophical conclusions.  I am fully aware that Lutherans teach #3, but going into this study I honestly didn’t know what I would find.  Take a look below and tell me what you think in the comments after you’re done.


The Biblical Heart


In Modern English the word heart most often refers to an organ in your chest which pumps blood to the rest of the body.  In the Bible we see a more broad use of the term.  It has more to do with ones intellect, reasoning, judgement, and or desires.


“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1 KJV

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Matt 5:28 KJV

“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” Eph 5:19 KJV

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Gen 6:5 KJV

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Heb 3:12 KJV

“And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?Mark 2:8 KJV

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Rom 10:10 KJV

“For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” Mark 11:23 KJV


What I want to narrow in on is the belief factor of the Heart.  We are Justified by Grace alone through Faith alone.  As demonstrated in my post on Faith, belief in Christ is something we would expect to see present in a heart of one who is Justified by Grace.  For without regeneration the scripture speaks of us as spiritually dead.


“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer 17:9 KJV

“1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world,according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:; 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Eph 2:1-3 KJV

“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” Col 1:13 KJV


As I have demonstrated in other posts, God uses means to give faith to the unbeliever.  This regenerates and creates belief in the heart (Eph 2:8-9) (Rom 10:14:-17).  Can this be hindered though?  Can something prevent this miracle of belief from taking place?  Biblically the answer is yes, in scripture this is referred to as a hardening of the heart.


Hardened by God


One of the more difficult things for me to accept has been that God can and does harden hearts in unbelief.  The most often quoted example of this is with Pharaoh.


“7 And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go……

12 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had spoken unto Moses……

34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. 35 And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, neither would he let the children of Israel go; as the Lord had spoken by Moses.” Exodus 9:7, 12, 34-35 KJV


Above we see that it specifically states that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God, it also says it was hardened in other cases but doesn’t state by whom.  Is this a synergistic hardening where Pharaoh was helping God harden his heart or is this more monergistic?  We don’t know from this passage.  What we do know though is that in some capacity part or whole it was most certainly done to him by God.  This is made more clear by a cross reference in Romans below:


“14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. 17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. 19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” Rom 9:14-24 KJV


What is clear from the above passage is that Pharaoh and all of us are God’s creation.  He has every right to harden or soften the hearts of his creatures as he wills to do so.  In his hands we are the clay of the potter.  He can and does create us for the purposes of his wrath or mercy.


“8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.; 9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” Isaiah 6:8-10 KJV


Above we see a very specific example of where God wants people to hear the word but not believe.  For this purpose their heart is hardened so that they may stumble and fall in faithlessness.  This is indeed a judgment of God, not one they must wait for to receive in hellfire, but one that they receive here and now.


“11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. Matt 13:11-16 KJV


I believe I have at the very least demonstrated from scripture that God can and does harden hearts against faith so that some may never believe.  Or at the very least are withheld for a time.  Another good passage on this is Romans 11, I would recommend reading the whole thing.  I am going to post a few of the key proof-texts below though.


“7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” 8  (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: 10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway…  

…”16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. 19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. 22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”…

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” Rom 11:7-10, 16-22, 25 KJV



Hardened by Man


Another teaching in scripture is that man hardens his own heart to God.  I would argue that there is enough overlap with this teaching in scripture to say this can work either independently or synergistically with a divine judgement of a hardness of heart.


“7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, 8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. 10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways” Psa 95:7-10 KJV

“13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.; 14 Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.” Prov 28:13-14 KJV

“12 Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts. 13 Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts” Zec 7:12-13 KJV

“5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” Rom 2:5 KJV

“7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother” Deu 15:7 KJV

“8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness” Heb 3:8 KJV

“48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” John 12:48 KJV

“22 Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?; 23 But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone.; 24 Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.; 25 Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you.” Jer 5:22-25 KJV

“18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matt 13:3-23 KJV

Notice especially the verb noun association in the above passages

people that do err”

“he that hardeneth”

they made”

thy hardness and impenitent”

thou shalt not harden”

Neither say they”

“Harden not your hearts”

He that rejecteth me”

“[He that] receiveth not my words”

Then Juxtapose against the verb noun associations in the verses related to God hardening the heart previously discussed

“the Lord hardened”

“whom he will he hardeneth”

“Hath not the potter power over the clay”

“vessels of wrath”

“Make the heart of this people fat”

“and the rest were blinded”

“God hath given them the spirit of slumber”

“God spared not the natural branches”

“blindness in part is happened to”


Juxtapose both of those trees above against each other.  Clearly there are two teachings on the source of hardness of heart in the Bible.  One is God hardening the heart of man as a form of judgement and the other is man hardening his own heart.

How do these fit together with the cross?  This is part of what Lutherans call the Crux Theologorum (problem of the cross).  Getting into the details of that is beyond the scope of this post.  My goal is simply to answer the questions at the onset of the post.  I will dig deeper in future studies.  To that end I believe I have demonstrated that the Bible teaches both God and Man can and do harden the heart.




If you didn’t notice this teaching from the scriptures creates some glaring problems with both the Calvinist teaching of Irresistible Grace and the Arminian teaching of Libertarian Free Will.  Not only can man resist Grace (Gratia Universalis) by hardening his heart, but sometimes God for his own reasons imposes that hardening.

This is one of the reasons why I believe Lutherans are correct in confessing Monergism with regards to Justification and Synergism with regards to damnation.  Also, this confession allows one to accept all passages on this teaching as true rather than abrogating one thesis with the other as both Calvinists and Arminians do.

Clearly there are philosophical disputes one can and should have with what I presented above.  I have them myself, but at the end of the day I think it is best we accept a bit of mystery and or paradox rather than try to iron out or hide passages in scripture that conflict with tradition or personal beliefs.






About ACTheologian

I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.
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7 Responses to Hardening of the Heart

  1. Jason Skudlarek says:

    With regards to the example of Pharaoh, it is vitally important to recognize the course of events. As Pastor Fisk (Worldview Everlasting) said in one of his videos (which I cannot recall now), Pharaoh hardened his heart, Pharaoh hardened his heart, Pharaoh hardened his heart, GOD hardened Pharaoh’s heart. An example would be Ex 8:15:

    But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said .

    In other words, God, knowing all things, knows that Pharaoh will never turn to Him in repentance. As such, it is God’s prerogative to USE Pharaoh, by hardening his heart later, to further His work on earth. It’s not like God never gave him a “chance,” that He predestined Pharaoh to Hell. The same goes for all others in the Bible whose hearts are hardened by God. God uses them because of their rejection of Him.

    This topic is so difficult to wrap the human mind around, which is why I always fall back to this Crux Theologorum paper I’ve linked before (http://www.stpaulslutheranchurch.net/cruxtheologorum.html). In summation:

    If a man be saved, it is entirely the work of God. If a man be damned, it is entirely the work of the man.

    God wants no one damned, yet some are. Does God get the blame? No. Does man get the credit when saved? No. To say anything more is stepping beyond scripture, to attempt to “reason” beyond God’s word, which is exactly what Lutheranism is NOT about.

    Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Armchair Theologian says:

      Hey thanks, I am going to review the post and re-word a few things more carefully. I guess my main point is that both God hardening and man hardening are true, I wasn’t trying to be too specific with any extra conclusions drawn from it.


  2. Jason Skudlarek says:

    No worries – it’s a nice post. I’ve never seen anyone draw all of these scriptures together as you have, with this and so many other topics. Good stuff!


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