1. The Incommunicable Attributes
These emphasize the absolute distinction between God and the creature, and include the following:
a. The independence or self-existence of God
This means that God has the ground of His existence in Himself, and unlike man, does not depend on anything outside of Himself. He is independent in His Being, in His virtues and actions, and causes all His creatures to depend on Him. The idea is embodied in the name Jehovah and finds expression in the following passages, Ps. 33:11; 115:3; Isa. 40:18 ff.; Dan. 4:35; John 5:26; Rom. 11:33-36; Acts 17:25; Rev. 4:11.
b. The immutability of God
Scripture teaches that God is unchangeable. He is forever the same in His divine Being and perfections, and also in His purposes and promises, Num. 23:19; Pa 33:11; 102:27; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:17; Jas. 1:17. This does not mean, however, that there is no movement in God. The Bible speaks of Him as coming and going, hiding and revealing Himself. He is also said to repent, but this is evidently only a human way of speaking of God, Ex. 32:14; Jonah 3:10, and really indicates a change in man’s relation to God.
c. The infinity of God
This means that God is not subject. to limitations. We can speak of His infinity in more than one sense. Viewed in relation to His being, it may be called His absolute perfection. He is unlimited in His knowledge and wisdom, in His goodness and love, in His righteousness and holiness, Job 11:7-10; Psa. 145:3. Seen in relation to time, it is called His eternity. While this is usually represented in Scripture as endless duration, Ps. 90:2; 102:12, it really means that He is above time and therefore not subject to its limitations. For Him there is only an eternal present, and no past or future. Viewed with reference to space, it is called His immensity. He is everywhere present, dwells in all His creatures, filling every point of space, but is in no way bounded by space, I Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Isa. 66;1; Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 17:27, 28.
d. The simplicity of God
By ascribing simplicity to God we mean that He is not composed of various parts, such as the body and soul in man, and for that very reason is not subject to division. The three persons in the Godhead are not so many parts of which the divine essence is composed. The whole being of God belongs to each one of the Persons. Hence we can also say that God and His attributes are one, and that He is life, light, love, righteousness, truth, and so on.
2. The Communicable Attributes
These are the attributes of which we find some resemblance in man. It should be borne in mind, however, that what we see in man is only a finite (limited) and imperfect likeness of that which is infinite (unlimited) and perfect in God. Here we have:
a. The knowledge of God
This is that perfection of God whereby He, in a manner all His own, knows Himself and all things possible and actual. God has this knowledge in Himself, and does not obtain it from without. It is always complete and always present in His mind. And because it is all-comprehensive, it is called omniscience. He knows all things, past, present and future, and not only the things that have real existence, but also those which are merely possible. I Kings 8:29; Ps. 139:1-16; Isa. 46:10; Ezek. 11:5; Acts 15:18; John 21:17; Heb. 4:13.
b. The wisdom of God
God’s wisdom is an aspect of His knowledge. It is the virtue of God which manifest itself in the selection of worthy ends and in the choice of the best means for the realization of those ends. The final end to which He makes all things subservient is His own glory. Rom. 11:33; I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Col. 1:16.
c. The goodness of God
God is good, that is, perfectly holy. in Himself. But this is not the goodness we have in mind here. In this connection we refer to the divine goodness that reveals itself in doing well unto others. It is that perfection which prompts Him to deal kindly and bounteously with all His creatures The Bible refers to it repeatedly, Ps. 36:6; 104:21; 145:8, 9, 16; Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17.
d. The love of God
This is often called the most central attribute of God, but it is doubtful whether it should be regarded as more central than the other perfections of God. In virtue of it He delights in His own perfections and in man as the reflection of His image. It may be considered from various points of view. The unmerited love of God which reveals itself in pardoning sin is called His grace, Eph. 1:6, 7; 2:7-9; Tit. 2:11. That love relieving the misery of those who are bearing the consequences of sin is known as His mercy or tender compassion, Luke 1:64, 72, 78; Rom. 15:9; 9:16, 18; Eph. 2:4. And when it bears with the sinner who does not heed the instructions and warnings of God it is named His longsuffering or forbearance, Rom. 2:4; 9:22; I Pet. 3:20; II Pet. 3:16.
e. The holiness of God
God’s holiness is first of all that divine perfection by which He is absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and exalted above them in infinite majesty. Ex. 15:11; Isa. 57:15. But it denotes in the second place that He is free from all moral impurity or sin, and is therefore morally perfect. In the presence of the holy God man is deeply conscious of his sin, Job 34:10; Isa. 6:5; Hab. 1:13.
f. The righteousness of God
The righteousness of God is that perfection by which He maintains Himself as the Holy One over against every violation of His holiness. In virtue of it He maintains a moral government in the world and imposes a just law on man, rewarding obedience and punishing disobedience, Ps. 99:4; Isa. 33:22; Rom, 1:32. The justice of God which manifests itself in the giving of rewards is called His remunerative justice; and that which reveals itself in meting out punishment is known as His retributive justice. The former is really an expression of His love, and the latter of His wrath.
g. The veracity of God
This is that perfection of God in virtue of which He is true in His inner being, in His revelation, and in His relation to His people. He is the true God over against the idols, knows things as they really are, and is faithful in the fulfillment of His promises. From the last point of view this attribute is also called God’s faithfulness. Num. 23:19; I Cor. 1:9; II Tim. 2:13; Heb. 10:23.
h. The sovereignty of God
This may be considered from two different points of view, namely, His sovereign will, and His sovereign power. The will of God is represented in Scripture as the final cause of all things, Eph. 4:11; Rev. 4:11. On the basis of Deut. 29:29 it is customary to distinguish between the secret and the revealed will of God. The former is the will of God’s decree, which is hidden in God and can be known only from its effects, and the latter is the will of His precept, which is revealed in the law and in the gospel. God’s will respecting His creatures is absolutely free, Job 11:10; 33:13; Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1; Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:15-18; Rev. 4:11. The sinful deeds of man are also under the control of His sovereign will, Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23. The power to execute His will is called his omnipotence. That God is omnipotent does not mean that He can do everything. The Bible teaches us that there are some things which God cannot do. He cannot lie, sin, deny Himself, Num. 23:19; I Sam. 15:29; II Tim. 2:13; Heb. 6:18; Jas. 1:13, 17. It does mean that He can, by the mere exercise of Hie will, bring to pass whatsoever He has decided to accomplish, and that, if He so desired, He could do even more than that, Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 3:9; 26:53.
Passages to prove God’s:
a. Incommunicable attributes:
John 5:26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
- Malachi 3:6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
- James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
- Psalms 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
- Psalms 102:27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
- Psalms 139:7-10 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
- Jeremiah 23:23, 24 “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.
b. Communicable attributes:
- John 21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
- Hebrews 4:13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
- Psalms 104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
- Daniel 2:20; 21 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
- Psalms 86:5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
- Psalms 118:29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
- John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
- 1 John 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
- Nehemiah 9:17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
- Romans 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
- Romans 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
- Ephesians 2:4; 5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved
Longsuffering or forbearance:
- Numbers 14:18 ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’
- Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
- Exodus 15:11 “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
- Isaiah 6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Righteousness or justice:
- Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
- Psalm 145:17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.
- 1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,
Veracity or faithfulness:
- Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
- 2 Timothy 2:13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
- Eph 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
Rev 4:11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Secret and revealed will:
- Deut 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
- Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
- Matt 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
- Luke 1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
For Further Study:
a. Give instances in which the Bible identifies God and His attributes, Jer. 28:6; Heb. 12:29; I John 1:5; 4:16.
b. How can God be just and gracious to the sinner at the same time, Zech. 9:9; Rom. 3:24-26?
c. Prove from Scripture that God’s foreknowledge includes conditional events. I Sam. 23:10-13; II Kings 13:19; Ps. 81:13-15; 48:18; Jer. 38:17-20; Ezek. 3:6; Matt. 11:21.
Questions for Review
- How do we divide the attributes of God?
- Which belong to each one of these classes?
- What is the independence of God?
- What is His immutability?
- How can we explain the fact that the Bible apparently ascribes change to God?
- What is God’s eternity and immensity or omnipresence?
- What is the simplicity of God, and how can we prove it?
- What is the nature and extent of God’s knowledge?
- How is His wisdom related to His knowledge?
- What is the goodness of God? Are any other names used for it?
- Should we speak of love as more central in God than His other attributes?
- How do we distinguish God’s grace, mercy, and longsuffering?
- What is the holiness of God?
- In what does God reveal His righteousness?
- What is included in the veracity of God?
- What distinction do we apply to the will of God?
- Do the secret and the revealed will of God ever conflict?
- Does God’s omnipotence imply that He can do everything?