What does Genesis 18:31 mean?
ESV: He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”
NIV: Abraham said, 'Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?' He said, 'For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.'
NASB: And he said, 'Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?' And He said, 'I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.'
CSB: Then he said, "Since I have ventured to speak to my lord, suppose twenty are found there? "He replied, "I will not destroy it on account of twenty."
NLT: Then Abraham said, 'Since I have dared to speak to the Lord, let me continue — suppose there are only twenty?' And the Lord replied, 'Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.'
KJV: And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.
Verse Commentary:
Abraham believes himself to be negotiating with the Lord, likely for the life of his nephew Lot and Lot's family. The Lord has revealed that He will investigate the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah and, by implication, bring judgment upon those cities. Lot lives in Sodom. This is not actually a bargaining process, however. God is playing the role of a patient parent, allowing a child to "talk out" a situation for their own benefit. Abraham is going to set the bar for righteousness in Sodom at a pathetically low level—and it still will not be enough. The purpose of this discussion is for our understanding; while God owes us no explanation, His conversation here gives us insight which proves His actions against Sodom to be entirely justified.

Abraham started by asking if God would spare the city if He found 50 righteous people there. The Lord agreed. Then Abraham said, "What about 45?" The Lord agreed. Then 40. Then 30. Now Abraham asks for 20, while recognizing that he's being incredibly bold to speak this way to God. The Lord, again, agrees.
Verse Context:
Genesis 18:22–33 describes Abraham's negotiation with the Lord for the city of Sodom, where his nephew Lot and his family live. Previously, God spoke from a poetic human perspective, saying that He would judge Sodom and Gomorrah if their sins were as awful as they seemed. Here, Abraham recoils at the idea that the Lord would annihilate righteous people along with the wicked, beginning a sort of negotiation with God. Of course, God does not need to negotiate with man, and already knows how depraved Sodom is. This conversation with Abraham has nothing to do with changing God's mind; it has everything to do with proving, beyond all doubt, that God's actions here are just. God says He will spare Sodom for the sake of just ten righteous people; later passages show the city fails that test.
Chapter Summary:
Abraham hurries to offer respect and hospitality to three men who appear near his tent. Over the course of the chapter, the men reveal themselves to be the Lord and two angels in human form. As He had told Abraham in the previous chapter, the Lord now reveals to Sarah that she will have a son within the year. Later, the Lord poetically says He will investigate the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abraham's nephew Lot lives. Abraham asks, and the Lord agrees, not to destroy Sodom if God finds 10 righteous people there.
Chapter Context:
God appeared to Abraham in the previous chapter revealing, in part, that Sarah would bear Abraham a son within a year's time. Now the Lord appears again, this time in human form and accompanied by two disguised angels. He reveals to Sarah the same promise. She laughs, and the Lord insists that even her age isn't too hard for Him to overcome. Next the Lord reveals to Abraham that He will investigate the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham receives the Lord's promise not to destroy Sodom (where Abraham's nephew lives) if He finds 10 righteous people in the city. Unfortunately, the city is beyond saving, and the next chapter details its utter destruction.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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