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 (Psalms 33:11; 115:3; Isaiah 40:18ff; Daniel 4:35; John 5:26; Romans 11:33-36; Acts 17:25; Revelation 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 (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 33:11; 102:27; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 6:17; James 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 (Exodus 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; Psalm 145:3. Seen in relation to time, it is called His eternity. While this is usually represented in Scripture as endless duration, Psalms 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. (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7-10; Isaiah 66:1; Jeremiah 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. (1 Kings 8:29; Psalm 139:1-16; Isaiah 46:10; Ezekiel 11:5; Acts 15:18; John 21:17; Hebrews 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. (Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; Colossians 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. (Psalms 36:6; 104:21; 145:8-9, 16; Matthew 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. (Ephesians 1:6, 7; 2:7-9; Titus 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; Romans 15:9; 9:16, 18; Ephesians 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. (Romans 2:4; 9:22; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 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. (Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 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; Isaiah 6:5; Habakkuk 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. (Psalm 99:4; Isaiah 33:22; Romans 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. (Numbers 23:19; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 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. (Ephesians 4:11; Revelation 4:11) On the basis of Deuteronomy 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; Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 21:1; Matthew 20:15; Romans 9:15-18; Revelation 4:11) The sinful deeds of man are also under the control of His sovereign will. (Genesis 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. (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18; James 1:13, 17) It does mean that He can, by the mere exercise of His will, bring to pass whatsoever He has decided to accomplish, and that, if He so desired, He could do even more than that. (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:27; Zechariah 8:6; Matthew 3:9; 26:53)
Passages to prove God’s:
a. Incommunicable attributes:
John 5:26 – “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to 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.
- Psalm 90:2 – Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
- Psalm 102:27 – “But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.
- Psalm 139:7-10 – Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
- Jeremiah 23:23-24 – “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. “Do I not fill the heavens and the 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 all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.
- Hebrews 4:13 – And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
- Psalm 104:24 – O LORD, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions.
- Daniel 2:20-21 – Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.
- Psalm 86:5 – For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
- Psalm 118:29 – Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
- John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
- 1 John 4:8 – The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
- Nehemiah 9:17 – “They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.
- Romans 3:24 – being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
- Romans 9:18 – So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
- Ephesians 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 abundant in lovingkindness, 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 [generations.]’
- Romans 2:4 – Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
- Exodus 15:11 – “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?
- Isaiah 6:3 – And one called out 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; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.
- Psalm 145:17 – The LORD is righteous in all His ways And kind in all His deeds.
- 1 Peter 1:17 – If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay [on earth;]
Veracity or faithfulness:
- Numbers 23:19 – “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?
- 2 Timothy 2:13 – If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
- Ephesians 1:11 – also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
- Revelation 4:11 – “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
Secret and revealed will:
- Deuteronomy 29:29 – “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe 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.
- Matthew 19:26 – And looking at [them] Jesus said to them, “With people 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.
- Jeremiah 28:6 – and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD confirm your words which you have prophesied to bring back the vessels of the LORD’S house and all the exiles, from Babylon to this place.
- Hebrews 12:29 – for our God is a consuming fire.
- 1 John 1:5 – This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
- 1 John 4:16 – We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
b. How can God be just and gracious to the sinner at the same time?
- Zechariah 9:9 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout [in triumph,] O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
- Romans 3:24-26 – being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. [This was] to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, [I say,] of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
c. Prove from Scripture that God’s foreknowledge includes conditional events.
- 1 Samuel 23:10-13 – Then David said, “O LORD God of Israel, Your servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit.
- 2 Kings 13:19 – So the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed [it.] But now you shall strike Aram [only] three times.”
- Psalm 81:13-15 – “Oh that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways! “I would quickly subdue their enemies And turn My hand against their adversaries. “Those who hate the LORD would pretend obedience to Him, And their time [of punishment] would be forever.
- Isaiah 48:18 – “If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
- Jeremiah 38:17-20 – Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘If you will indeed go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, then you will live, this city will not be burned with fire, and you and your household will survive. ‘But if you will not go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, then this city will be given over to the hand of the Chaldeans; and they will burn it with fire, and you yourself will not escape from their hand.'” Then King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I dread the Jews who have gone over to the Chaldeans, for they may give me over into their hand and they will abuse me.” But Jeremiah said, “They will not give you over. Please obey the LORD in what I am saying to you, that it may go well with you and you may live.
- Ezekiel 3:6 – nor to many peoples of unintelligible speech or difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. But I have sent you to them who should listen to you;
- Matthew 11:21 – “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
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?