What's the deal with Balaam's prophecy?


Numbers 23:19

[quote=""]“Arise, O Balak, and hear;
Give ear to me, O son of Zippor!
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"

We know from later on in Numbers and Revelation that eventually Balaam was killed for teaching king Balak how to cause Israel to stumble in immorality.

So what are we to make of his prophecy that God is not a “son of Man?” Christ, who is God, chose to identify himself by this exact phrase. Was this prophecy also part of Balaam’s treachery? Or would this statement have been true when Balaam uttered it, since it was prior to the Incarnation?


Binary, when you see problems like this the best thing is to go the the Hebrew or the Septuagint Greek. You have a terrible translation. I know even the RSV translates like that, just with that comma after God. Trully does not make sense and your point is valid because it could be read like that before the comma, but not so in the Greek or the Hebrew::tsktsk:

19 οὐχ ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὁ θεὸς διαρτηθῆναι God is not like a man who lies (literal)

or Hebrew
לֹא אִישׁ אֵל וִיכַזֵּב God is not a liying man (pretty litteral)

Do you think this solves your problem? :confused:

In the love of God,



This prophecy indicates that pagans who searched for truth knew that a Messiah was coming to the Israelites. This gives background to the wise men coming from the east to worship Jesus.


Yes, it does seem to be a translation problem. The versions recommended to me by other Catholics are ESV, NIV, NASB (used above), NSRV, and the Douay-Rheims. Here’s a link to this passage in all 5 versions side by side: biblegateway.com/passage/?search=numbers%2023%3A19&version=NASB;ESV;DRA;NRSVCE;NIV

Just now I ran into a “Knox” translation, which renders the verse like so:

[quote=""]It is not for God to gainsay himself, as men do, to alter, like the things of earth; must he not make good his word, fulfil his promise?

Maybe I’ll use this version from now on.


beautiful :thumbsup:. thank God.

God bless


Sorry but the best is to go to the original language: Hebrew for the Masoretic text and the Sptuagint for the Greek text translated direct from the Hebrew (2nd Century) before the Masorets set the pointing (10th Century) already like this giving an interpretation: my post #2.

Knox, you say, translate “to gainsay” which means:
• formal
1 deny or contradict (a fact or statement):

It is so different to say to ‘lie’ that “to deny or contradict” :tsktsk:

I gave you the literal why you want to go around the bushes??:confused:

In the love of the truth,
PS in fact I have been told that the letter ‘vav’, in hebrew, not only has the function of vav versiva (to change the tense of the verb) but also can be translated as “like” as in the Greek of this passage.



I do not speak Hebrew or Greek, which means I am necessarily dependent on some translation. It is my intention to understand scripture, not beat around the bushes. Is there a translation you recommend?


Sorry Binary, I did not want to offend you. :tiphat:

When we want to go into a passage deep, we need to see an interlinear translation. So, if you do not know Hebrew no Greek, is the best way to go about. Then you can compare translations and decide by yourself and the point you want to make, what is best. In this case, I stay with the literal.
The best interlinear for the Sptuagint, ie Old Testament, is here:


When you get the passage that you want you can click in every word and get the meaning and grammar. It is excellent.

Sorry for the rest. I have a RSV interlinear Greek-English, which is the one I use. And for the Hebrew, I do it myself (sometines also Greek) ! :hypno:

In the love of God,



You said nothing offensive, Gloria. Thank you for the reference. I’ll keep it bookmarked.


Gloria has said that the translation you quoted is not a literal translation of the Greek or Hebrew. Maybe so, but it appears to be more or less reflect the Latin.

non est Deus quasi homo, ut mentiatur,
nec ut filius hominis, ut mutetur.
Dixit ergo, et non faciet ?
locutus est, et non implebit ?
(“Clementine” Vulgate, vulsearch.sourceforge.net/html/Nm.html)

Non est Deus quasi homo, ut mentiatur,
nec ut filius hominis, ut mutetur.
Numquid dixit et non faciet?
Locutus est et non implebit?
(Nova Vulgata, www.vatican.va/archive/bible/nova_vulgata/documents/nova-vulgata_vt_numeri_lt.html#23)

The translation in the DRA is

God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor as the son of man, that he should be changed.
Hath he said then, and will he not do?
hath he spoken, and will he not fulfill?

Whatever the translation, it shouldn’t be a problem since, as you said, God had not yet become man at that point in history. The main point of the prophecy is always true as God does not lie and is unchanging.


Before I leave again:

Jesus’ identification of Himself as the “son of man” is in reference to the “one like a son of man” (kə ḇar 'ĕnāsh, i.e. a human-like figure) in Daniel’s vision. “Son of man” (ben 'ēnôsh/bar 'ĕnāsh, ben ’āḏām “son of Adam”) is really just an expression meaning ‘human being’. In other words, the second verse simply repeats the first verse. The sense of the whole passage is pretty much: “God is not like a human being who would lie or turn back on His word.”


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