What Does “Contrary” Mean in the Bible?


The word “contrary” appears over 50 times in the Bible, primarily in the King James Version. It conveys the idea of opposition, resisting, or acting against something or someone. Understanding the various usages of “contrary” in Scripture provides insight into God’s standards and how He expects us to live.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Contrary” often describes opposing God’s commands or going against His will
  • We are warned not to walk or act contrary to God’s ways
  • Jesus frequently healed those with infirmities described as “contrary to nature”
  • The Holy Spirit empowers believers to live contrary to their old sinful nature
  • God can make things work out for good even when circumstances seem contrary

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What Does "Contrary" Mean in the Bible?

Old Testament Usages

In the Old Testament, “contrary” most often describes disobedience or rebellion against God. For example:

“Walk not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt. Yet ye have not hearkened unto me, saith the Lord; that ye might provoke me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” (Jeremiah 25:6-7)

Here God accuses His people of deliberately acting to provoke Him to anger by worshipping idols. Their actions were directly contrary to His commands against idolatry.

The book of Leviticus in particular uses “contrary” to describe disobedience to God’s laws:

“Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.” (Leviticus 19:19)

“Ye shall therefore keep all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: that the land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, spue you not out. And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.” (Leviticus 20:22-23)

These verses forbid mixing different materials and adopting the customs of pagan nations. Acting contrary to these commands would make the Israelites morally indistinguishable from other nations, leading to their exile.

Contrary to Nature

The New Testament continues the Old Testament usage of “contrary” to describe opposing God’s will. But another notable pattern emerges – Jesus and the apostles use “contrary to nature” to describe certain infirmities.

For example:

“And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” (Matthew 8:5-6)

Palsy refers to paralysis, an impairment of the body’s nervous system. The effects of this illness would have been viewed as contrary to the intended design and functioning of the human body.

After this, Jesus heals a woman:

“And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.” (Matthew 8:14-15)

A high fever can damage organs and be life-threatening if untreated. So again, the fever is described as contrary to the body’s natural healthy state.

The apostle Paul also uses this phrase to describe a physical ailment:

“And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked. The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.” (Acts 14:8-10)

This man who was lame from birth had a condition contrary to the natural design of legs and feet made for walking. After Paul heals him, his body functions as intended.

So “contrary to nature” emphasizes illnesses as perversions of God’s original perfect design. Christ’s miracles of healing restore people to the natural state from which sin and disease have drawn them away from.

Contrary Winds

In Acts 27, the apostle Paul is traveling by ship to Rome when they encounter stormy “contrary winds.”

“And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.” (Acts 27:13-15)

Because the winds blew from the opposite direction the ship needed to go, they were forced to let the ship be driven by the storm. Here, circumstances beyond human control seemed contrary to the desired goal.

But Paul assures them that despite opposition, God’s will would prevail:

“For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” (Acts 27:23-25)

Indeed, Paul’s hope in God’s faithfulness proves well-founded. After being shipwrecked, all onboard survive safely (Acts 27:44).

Through God’s power, the “contrary” circumstances work out for ultimate good, accomplishing God’s rescue mission.

Contrary to Sound Doctrine

Paul also uses “contrary” when warning Timothy to beware false teachers promoting unbiblical ideas:

“As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.” (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

False teachers often introduce speculative myths and controversial disputes that are contrary to sound doctrine. Paul urges Timothy to reject these in favor of simple biblical truth.

Likewise, Paul charges Titus to “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Elders must turn away from those with “subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not” (Titus 1:11).

Contrary teachings contradict Scripture. They cannot coexist with the true Gospel message.

Walking Contrary to God

One of the Bible’s strongest warnings uses “contrary” to describe those acting against the Lord:

“But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments…I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.” (Leviticus 26:14, 16-18)

To “set one’s face against” another means to show disapproval or opposition. God warns that acting contrary to His laws will bring His correction in escalating severity. Chastisement comes so His people will return to walking in His ways.

In Jeremiah 44, God reminds Judah how He brought judgment because:

“your fathers remembered not the evil of their doings…But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not…to walk in my ways, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, to do according to all my commandments…Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts…Behold, I will set my face against you for evil, and to cut off all Judah.” (Jeremiah 44:2-11)

However, God promises blessings for those who turn from disobedience:

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

These verses warn believers not to go “contrary” to God’s commands. But they also offer hope – if God’s people repent, He stands ready to forgive and restore.

The Holy Spirit Empowers Us to Live Counter to the Flesh

Paul explains an internal battle between flesh and spirit takes place in believers:

“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Galatians 5:17)

Before salvation, our fleshly nature controlled us. But the Holy Spirit now empowers us to live differently:

“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

By walking in the Spirit, we can bear fruit contrary to the sinful tendencies of the flesh:

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23)

The Spirit changes our hearts so we can live uprightly in a sin-corrupted world.

Contrary Outworkings of Providence

Romans 8:28 contains one of the Bible’s most hope-filled promises:

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

On the surface, many situations seem anything but good. Circumstances often appear contrary to our expectations of how God should work.

Joseph likely felt this way when sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (Genesis 37:28). Yet later he understood God supernaturally used this injustice to make him second-ruler of Egypt and a lifeline for his family during famine (Genesis 45:5-8).

From the crucifixion of Christ to the imprisonments of Paul, believers throughout history have experienced the outworking of Romans 8:28 during trials. What first seems contrary to our desires or perceptions of good quite often turns out to work for God’s glory and our ultimate blessing if we trust in Him.


In summary, “contrary” in Scripture describes:

  • Opposing God’s commands and ways
  • Diseased conditions unlike God’s natural design
  • Circumstances seemingly contradictory to goals or expectations
  • Teachings incompatible with sound biblical doctrine
  • The ongoing tension between flesh and spirit
  • God working through situations that appear adverse to bring about good

By studying how “contrary” is used throughout the Bible, we gain a richer understanding of God’s standards. We are warned not to stubbornly rebel against His loving instructions lest we incur discipline.

But we are also reassured that through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can live righteously. And despite confusing trials, we can trust God to work out all difficulties for our ultimate blessing because He causes “all things” to cooperatively align for our good according to His perfect plan.

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