Theology: The Being of God
"What Is God Like?"

Douglas Gleason,

What Is God Like?
        1.    Introduction to the Doctrine
            a)    Lesson Outline

                III.    What Is God Like
                    A.    Introduction - Lesson 7a
                    B.    Does God Exist? - Lesson 7b
                    C.    What is God Like? - Lesson 8
                        1.    Introduction to the Doctrine
                                a.    Lesson Outline
                                b.    The Problem
                        2.    What the Scriptures Teach
                                a.    The Law
                                b.    The Prophets
                                c.    The Historical Books
                                d.    Poetry and Wisdom
                                e.    Primitive Christianity and Acts
                                f.    Pauline Writings
                                g.    Johannine Writings
                                h.    Other New Testament Writings
                        3.    Systematic Formulation
                                a.    Key Definitions
                                b.    Classification of the Attributes
                                c.    The incommunicable attributes
                                d.    Communicable attributes
                        4.    Defense of the Doctrine
                                a.    Church Fathers
                                b.    Medieval Scholasticism
                                c.    The Reformers
                                d.    Latter Protestantism
                                e.    The Enlightenment
                                f.    The Modern Period
                        5.    Application

b)     The Problem
In Lessons 4 and 5 we learned that God has revealed Himself generally to mankind and specific persons via special revelation.  Furthermore, this special revelation was recorded infallibly and inerrantly in the inspired Scriptures.  But we are left to ask what has He disclosed about His own person?  What is He made of?  What are the qualities of His personality?  What are the qualities of His character?  In this lesson, we will seek to answer these and other related questions.

2.     What the Scriptures Teach
The scriptures everywhere portray God as a personal and active spirit being.  So what do we mean when we say that God is personal?  We mean that God is not some sort of inanimate force, but a being that possesses the characteristics of a personal being.  In other words, He has emotions, a will, and intellect.  This is demonstrated throughout the scriptures in His relations with His creation.  But there is a perverse attitude about God prevalent in modern man.  J. I. Packer says, “Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are— weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic.  But this is not the God of the Bible!” [1]  As we shall see, the Bible reveals that God is so very much more than a personal being such as we are for He is majestic. 

Now, the word majesty comes from the Latin and means greatness.  It is frequently used by the biblical writers to describe God.  When we ascribe majesty to someone, we are acknowledging greatness in that person.  In Great Britain for example, they speak of the Queen as “Her Majesty”.   In the United States, though we apply the term “the Honorable…” to our presidents, senators, congressmen, judges, etc., it is no less rich in meaning than the British usage.  Although we use the term majesty with other persons, we are fully aware of their failings, their weaknesses, their foibles.  In short, we recognize that the great ones are after all people like we are…fallible human beings.  However, as rich in meaning as this usage is, it somehow falls short of the way the Bible uses the term when it speaks of God.   They add the concept of incomparability to majesty.  This is nowhere more graphically seen than in Isaiah’s words,

“‘To whom then will you liken Me
 That I should be his equal?’ says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes on high
 And see who has created these stars,
 The One who leads forth their host by number,
 He calls them all by name;
 Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power
 Not one of them is missing.”  (Isaiah 40:25-26)

Because God is incomparable with His creation, He is majestic!  He is far above any other whom we would call majestic.  They are still weak, failure prone, fallible humans, He is not.  This is what Isaiah is saying. 

But the Biblical knowledge of the majesty of God is knowledge which Christians today largely lack.  Packer concludes, “…that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby.  We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God.” [2] Let us then, turn to the Scriptures to see what they have to say regarding the person of the LORD God.  Hopefully, our small thoughts will turn into great ones.

a)     The Law
From creation to the events surrounding the exodus, we see God revealed as a living and active person. In the creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4) we see a personal God who creates the universe around us.  This is evident from the use of the phrases “And God said…”, “God saw…”, “God called…”, “And God blessed…”  These phrases are descriptive terms of a living, conscious and sentient being albeit a very powerful one.  It is no mere impersonal force that does these things.  They are demonstrative of intellect, of will, and of emotion; all elements of personality.

Looking closer at Moses’ account of the creation of man, we read,

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. 7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:4-9, 15)

Here we see the mighty power of this great and sovereign God who had created the material universe now form man from the dust of the ground and breathe life into him.  Man was now a living being fashioned in the image of his creator.  No mere impersonal force did this work.  Moses continues:

“Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:18-22)

This new man was busy doing the work that God had assigned to him; cultivating and tending the garden, naming the animals… mowing the lawn.  But something else was needed.  Man was not made to be alone, for man, created in the image of his Maker, was, like his maker, a social being.  He needed another being like him for social intercourse.  So God made a woman to be his companion. 

Are we saying here then, that because man needed another of his kind to satisfy a need for social interaction then we can infer that God had a similar need? No, we are not saying that for it would mean that God was less than perfect.  On the contrary, God needs nothing for He is perfect.  He has no need outside of Himself.  He did not create anything or anyone to satisfy some need, social or otherwise. However, there is interpersonal fellowship among the members of the Godhead. [3]  Moreover, not only is there an internal interpersonal or social activity within God, there is an external social activity with the humans He had created.

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"” (Genesis 3:8, 9)

Note here that God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day as was His custom.  It is evident that God expected to encounter Adam and Eve.  He anticipated having a time of fellowship with them.  Instead, they had hidden themselves fearful of what His reaction to their sin would be.  As the sad story unfolds we see that the effect that their sin had was to interrupt their personal fellowship with their Creator.  This effect was to spread to their progeny as well.  It is appropriate the John would later tell us that the only way to re-establish this personal relationship with God was to follow the path of confession. [4] 

This theme (that God is personal and active in His creation) is to be seen throughout the Pentateuch.  It is seen in the covenant relations that God had with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It is seen in the events of the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt.  It is seen most particularly in the sojourn in the Negev at Mount Sinai.  

Likewise this theme is demonstrated by the names that Moses uses for God and the attributes ascribed to His person.  In oriental cultures a person’s name is richly descriptive of his character and significance.  This is no less true of the names of God.  The most common name employed in the Law, indeed the entire Old Testament where it occurs some two thousand times, is elohim.  A common term among Semitic peoples, it probably comes from the root meaning to ‘reverence’ or to ‘fear’.  It thus connotes ‘the Mighty One’.  We will discuss this name more fully in Chapter 9.

On the slopes of Mount Horeb, God introduced Himself to Moses as “…‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’” (Exodus 3:14)  I AM (Hebrew Yahweh) is the imperfect tense of the verb ‘to be’ or ‘to exist’.  This implies that God is the Self-existent One.  He is the God who lives and is always active in the lives of His people.  Furthermore, He is eternal for He said that this was His name forever (3:15).  Finally, the fact that He is the self-existent one means that He is unchanging in His person and purposes.

Finally, certain attributes are ascribed to Him that indicate that He is personal and active.  In the very first statement of the Bible “In the beginning God… we see the suggestion that God possesses an existence that is absolute, vis-à-vis, is not dependent on any other.  This, and, as we have seen above, His name indicate His self-existence (or aseity).   Moses concludes that God is immutable (or unchangeable in His person and purposes) when he said, "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?” (Numbers 23:19) 

All too often we focus on a verse out of the Bible and use that verse in its narrow context to prove a theological point.  While we do this to focus our argumentation and better make our point, we sometimes miss all that the passage has to say.  This next passage is too important to do that.  Not only does Moses expand on the immutability of God but he puts His immutability in context with His relations to unfaithful men.  Look closely and ponder all that he has to say:

“‘For I proclaim the name of the LORD;
Ascribe greatness to our God! 4  The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He. 5  They have acted corruptly toward Him,
They are not His children, because of their defect;
But are a perverse and crooked generation. 6  Do you thus repay the LORD,
O foolish and unwise people?
Is not He your Father who has bought you?
He has made you and established you. 7  Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of all generations.
Ask your father, and he will inform you,
Your elders, and they will tell you. 8  When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
When He separated the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of the sons of Israel. 9  For the LORD'S portion is His people;
Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. 10  He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. 11  Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions. 12  The LORD alone guided him,
And there was no foreign god with him. 13  He made him ride on the high places of the earth,
And he ate the produce of the field;
And He made him suck honey from the rock,
And oil from the flinty rock, 14  Curds of cows, and milk of the flock,
With fat of lambs,
And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats,
With the finest of the wheat--
And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.’”
“‘But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked--
You are grown fat, thick, and sleek--
Then he forsook God who made him,
And scorned the Rock of his salvation. 16  They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger. 17  They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread. 18  You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the God who gave you birth.’” (Deuteronomy 32:3-18)

This immutable God is given the title Rock (vv. 4, 15, 18).  Consider that rock was the foundation material of this world.  The very mountains were made of it.  The great cities and their walls were made of it.  To the Israelite, the name Rock conjured up the ideas of stability, reliability, faithfulness.  This was so because God’s faithfulness, loving-kindness, and unfailing love were all seen in the events of the life of their forefathers. 

These characteristics are especially visible in the miraculous birth of Abraham’s son Isaac at a time when it was physically impossible for this to happen.  They could be seen in the mundane day to day events of raising a family.  That God proved faithful to his promises to Abraham can be seen even in the events of finding a wife for Isaac.  One afternoon, Abraham called the steward of his household before him:

“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, ‘Please place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, 4 but you shall go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.’” (Genesis 24:2-4)

Notice that Abraham made his servant swear by the LORD.  In the ancient world, one would swear by the highest power that one could.  This indicated that the surety for the oath was to be found in the character or power of the one sworn by.  Abraham could swear by none greater than God.  He was saying to the servant, you are to be as trustworthy and as faithful as God is.  The story continues:

“And the servant said to him, ‘Suppose the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?’ 6 Then Abraham said to him, ‘Beware lest you take my son back there! 7  The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me, and who swore to me, saying, “To your descendants I will give this land,” He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. 8 But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.’ 9 So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.” (Genesis 24:5-9)

Abraham made it clear to the servant that he was relying on the LORD, the God of Heaven to keep his promises.  He knew that in order to have descendents to occupy the land as God promised, Isaac needed to have children of his own.  This required a wife.  Abraham made it clear that God had this figured out for He was superintending the search!  Now came the time for the servant to depart:

“Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master's in his hand; and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. 11 And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 And he said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show loving-kindness to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; 14 now may it be that the girl to whom I say, “Please let down your jar so that I may drink,” and who answers, “Drink, and I will water your camels also”;-- may she be the one whom Thou hast appointed for Thy servant Isaac; and by this I shall know that Thou hast shown loving-kindness to my master.’" (Genesis 24:10-14)

Finding himself at his destination after many weeks of travel, the time for him to execute his commission from Abraham had come.  How would he find the one who would be the wife for Isaac his master’s son?  Wisely, the servant relied on nature of the God that he and his master served.  Knowing the nature of God, he expected God to direct his actions in the search for Isaac’s mate.  He expected to be the beneficiary of His loving-kindness.  He was not disappointed:

“And it came about before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. 16 And the girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar, and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar.’ 18 And she said, ‘Drink, my lord’; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. 19 Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.’ 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels.” (Genesis 24:15-20)

A girl of so excellent a character, so striking in beauty, a virgin of the very family of Abraham came seemingly out of nowhere to bring water and comfort to the weary travelers.  While she was bringing the water,

“…the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had made his journey successful or not.” (Genesis 24:21)

Could it be that on the very moment of his arrival, he had found the girl he was seeking?

“Then it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, 23 and said, ‘Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father's house?’ 24 And she said to him, ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.’ 25 Again she said to him, ‘We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.’ 26 Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD. 27 And he said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His loving-kindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master's brothers.’" (Genesis 24:22-27)

The servant could rely on God for He is truly loving and gracious.  His love and grace was on display that day.  Indeed, we can see in the story of these events God’s faithfulness.  He promised Abraham that He would make of him a great nation, that his descendents would be innumerable.  This day saw the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise.  He has the power to move people to His purpose for He is sovereign.  God is truly great! 

We find revealed in this story early evidence of the unchangeableness of God.  Years before, God had made a promise to Abraham.  It was made to suit some plan and purpose of God.  God was, and is even now, executing that plan, step by step, taking it to its fruition.  We of the twenty-first century have the privilege of hindsight and can see that plan and purpose revealed.  We can see God’s unwavering course leading to the redemption of man from the ravages of that first sinful act in Eden at the dawn of creation. 

Some would argue that God is changeable and therefore neither reliable nor trustworthy.  They would point to the events of the flood in Noah’s day for evidence. 

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”  (Genesis 6:5-6) [5] 

“See”, they say, “God has changed his mind because he was sorry that He made man.  If he was omnipotent, if he was unchangeable, He would not have been sorry.”  On the contrary, the fact that God extended or stayed His hand in judgment on the men of Noah’s day (or the Israelites in Moses’ day, or on the men of Nineveh in Jonah’s day) does not in any way invalidate the principle of divine immutability for God’s being, character, and strategic purpose remained the same.  “Rather, God consistently dealt with people on the basis of His changeless character and their moral responses, and these dealings He had omnisciently included in his overall plan.” [6]  What we can see from this passage and those referenced is that God experienced the real emotions of regret and anger.  He is truly a personal God with personal characteristics.

b)     The Historical Books
The Historical books track the development of the nation of Israel and chronicle the involvement of God in the process.  As with the Law, the ancient historians saw God as an active personal Spirit.  After the death of Moses, the Children of Israel were encamped on the east bank of the Jordan River opposite the Canaanite city called Jericho.  The would-be nation was deeply mourning their loss of Moses and was no doubt a little fearful of what lie ahead.  God then moved into action:

“Now the LORD said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. 8 You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant, saying, “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.” 9 Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, ‘Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.’ 10 And Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.’” (Joshua 3:7-10)

His first course of action was to personally fortify Joshua for the task that was before him.  God would make Joshua a man on par with Moses.  He would establish him as the leader of the nation.  God would do this not only privately as it were but publicly as well.  God revealed Himself to the nation with a miraculous sign.

“‘Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan. 12 Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. 13 And it shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above shall stand in one heap.’” (Joshua 3:11-13)

And what a marvelous sign it was that Israel and the people of the region beheld that day.  As soon as the priest’s feet touched the waters of the Jordan they parted and the people crossed over on dry ground. As with the plagues that God rained down upon Egypt, so this was a sign of His active involvement in the events that did and were to subsequently transpire.  Campbell observes, “The promise, the living God is among you, became the watchword of the Conquest, the key to victory over the enemies in the land.  It is a promise that appears on almost every page of this book: ‘I will be with you!’” [7]

There is no more graphic a demonstration of the active involvement of God in the lives of men than in the confrontation of Elijah and the 400 prophets of Baal.  It took place during the reign of Ahab (874-853), the eighth king of Israel.  Now Ahab brought new meaning to the term wicked.  His wickedness even exceeded that of his father Omri who was worse than those that kings that came before him.  Ahab was a man who, with the aid of his pagan wife Jezebel, worked tirelessly to promote the worship of Baal instead of Yahweh as the exclusive religion of Israel. 

These two were on the verge of success when Elijah came on the scene.  God had raised him up as a prophet to demonstrate to all Israel that He alone, and not Baal, was still the only true God.  Confronting Ahab, Elijah declared that God had decided, in the face of Israel’s sin, to withhold the dew and rain from the land.  This drought struck deep into the hearts of Baal worshippers for Baal was the god of rain!  As the drought went on, Elijah was forced to flee from Samaria for his life. Matters came to a head in the third year.  It was time to finish the job.  God directed Elijah to present himself to Ahab.  At this meeting, Elijah issued God’s challenge to assemble the prophets of Baal with him so the nation could see who the true God was.  The eventful day arrived.

“So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel, and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal's prophets are 450 men. 23  Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox, and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘That is a good idea.’”

And the prophets of Baal did their thing.  They prepared their offering and danced, and prayed, and danced, and prayed some more.  As you would expect, Baal was silent.

“And it came about when midday was past, that they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.”

Then Elijah did his thing. 

“Then it came about at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O LORD, art God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again.’ 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.”

The response of the people says it all.

“And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.’” (1 Kings 18:20-39)

This is not the only example of God’s direct involvement in the affairs of men.  From Joshua to Chronicles, the mighty deeds of God in the history of Israel unfold for all to see.  Furthermore, His divine immutability is affirmed.  Saul had been king for some time when he grievously sinned against the LORD.  Sadly, Samuel, as God’s representative, had to deal with it.  After confronting Saul and explaining his sin God’s judgment fell:

“And as Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. 28 So Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you. 29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.’” (1 Samuel 15:28-29) [8]

Verse 29 is the one we want to focus on here.  God is called the ‘Glory of Israel’ (Hebrew nesah yisra’el) is used only here.  The term nesah, glory, connotes constancy or endurance.  Samuel attests that God’s character and will, unlike that of a man, will endure unchanged.  As the story unfolds we discover that “the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:35)  We should not infer that God’s regret means that He changed His mind.  On the contrary, His eternal counsel remained unaltered.  God in wisdom adapted His immediate response to the situation that exited at that time.  Changes in God’s emotional attitudes and tactical responses to any given situation that may arise should never be construed to be changes in God’s fundamental nature. 

Let me further illustrate.  As a parent, I had always purposed to punish the disobedience of my children.  Looking back, it seems to me that in the midst of the happiest of times they uniformly chose those moments to test the household rules.  Invariably, I ‘regretted’ that I had to punish them for their actions.  This was an emotional response to their disobedience.  I knew that they were good kids, that they were learning the rules of life.  I knew all of that.  I regretted the fact that I had to do something that would bring pain and not happiness to them. However, I remained unchanged in my purpose.  God is and remains immutable.

The historical books contain the first overt statement of the omnipresence of God.  It was made at the dedication of the new Temple that Solomon had completed building in Jerusalem.  The people were assembled and the Ark of the Covenant placed in the innermost room called the ‘Most Holy Place’.  The innumerable sacrifices were made and Solomon began his dedicatory prayer.  "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)  Solomon was acknowledging that the infinite God of Israel could not be contained in an earthly building for as a Spirit-being; He transcended creation and was everywhere.

c)      The Prophets
Isaiah is representative of what the prophets revealed concerning the being of God and is entirely consistent with that of Moses.  God is a living and active personal being.  For this reason, the words of Isaiah are all the more instructive for he was an eyewitness of the person of God.  Isaiah was a priest who served in the Temple in Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (ca. 740-701 BC); all kings of Judah.  From death of Solomon and the division of Israel into two separate kingdoms, both Israel and Judah slid down the slippery slope of sin and forgot the instruction of God to love and serve only Him.  By the time Isaiah received the prophetic call, Judah was approaching severe judgment at the hand of God.  One afternoon Isaiah went to the Temple to ponder the state of the nation.  While there he had a vision that he later described:

 “In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 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.’”

“And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said,
‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ 9  And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people:
“keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.”
‘Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Lest they see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.’”  (Isaiah 6:1-5, 8-11)

In the vision, God was on a throne, high and lifted up.  Seraphim (high ranking angelic beings) proclaimed His holiness.  The Temple itself shook to its very foundations. This vision of God’s majesty drove Isaiah to his knees in fear and worship.  Recognizing his own sinfulness, Isaiah cried, “Woe is me!”  Isaiah knew that he was in the presence of an awesome person.  Furthermore, this awesome person spoke with Isaiah.  In this conversation we learn that God is a holy reasoning being, who is powerful beyond measure, and who is personally engaged with His creation.

The prophets have much more to say in their descriptions of God.  He is a God who possesses intelligence, wisdom, and knowledge.   “And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:2)  [9]  Furthermore, God possesses a full range of emotions:

“`So as I live,' declares the Lord GOD, `surely, because you have defiled My sanctuary with all your detestable idols and with all your abominations, therefore I will also withdraw, and My eye shall have no pity and I will not spare.” (Ezekiel 5:11)

“But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.” (Isaiah 62:10)

“A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; the LORD is avenging and wrathful.  The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies.” (Nahum 1:2)

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.’” (Jeremiah 7:20)

Compassion, Kindness
“’For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting loving-kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:7-8)

We come now to Daniel, that great prophet of God who for many long years had served in the Babylonian and, in the Medo-Persian court since the fall of Babylon.  In the first year of the reign of Darius, Daniel observed ‘in the books’ (his way of saying the Holy Scriptures) the number of years of judgment that had been pronounced by God upon the Israeli state.  He saw that these years of judgment were coming to a close, possibly in his lifetime.  Chapter 9 of the book of Daniel records his great prayer of confession.  That prayer, and the circumstances surrounding it, provides insight into the character of God.  Let us consider Daniel’s account of these events:

“So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3)

Daniel prepared himself to meet with God.  Now he did not put on his finest clothes and eat a sumptuous meal.  On the contrary, recognizing that he was a vain and sinful man in comparison to God, he fasted and put on sackcloth and covered himself in ashes.   This was a demonstration of his acknowledgement that he recognized his sinful and unholy state and mourned his condition and that of his people before a holy and exalted God.

“And I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and loving-kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 5 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Thy commandments and ordinances. 6 Moreover, we have not listened to Thy servants the prophets, who spoke in Thy name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land.’” (Daniel 9:4-6)

Daniel began his prayer of confession by acknowledging the majesty of God.  Furthermore, God, unlike His children, is faithful for He keeps to the terms of His covenant.  Daniel is referring to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants.  Daniel reminds himself that in this matter that God’s loving-kindness was conditioned upon their obedience to His law.  He then draws a comparison:     

“‘Righteousness belongs to Thee, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day--to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which Thou hast driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against Thee. 8 Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee.’” (Daniel 9:7-8)

Daniel declares that the fundamental nature of God is one of righteousness.  He alone is the standard for what is right and what is wrong.

“‘To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10 nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11 Indeed all Israel has transgressed Thy law and turned aside, not obeying Thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12 Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Thy truth. 14 Therefore, the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.’” (Daniel 9:9-14)

Daniel calls upon God’s compassion and grace for he recognizes that these too are aspects of God’s character.  The nation was warned at Sinai and again before they crossed the Jordan river that in order to receive the blessings of God they must obey the terms of the covenant.  They were to pursue the paths of obedience and righteousness.  If they did blessings would rain on them from God; if they did not, God’s curse and judgment would befall them.  But God was compassionate and loving by nature.  Daniel appealed to that compassion and love for forgiveness of the nation.  Although He was rightfully angry with them, Daniel implored God to forgive them.

“‘And now, O Lord our God, who hast brought Thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and hast made a name for Thyself, as it is this day--we have sinned, we have been wicked. 16 O Lord, in accordance with all Thy righteous acts, let now Thine anger and Thy wrath turn away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people have become a reproach to all those around us. 17 So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplications, and for Thy sake, O Lord, let Thy face shine on Thy desolate sanctuary. 18 O my God, incline Thine ear and hear! Open Thine eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Thy name; for we are not presenting our supplications before Thee on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Thy great compassion. 19 O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Thine own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name.’” (Daniel 9:15-19)

Daniel had been praying for some time.  He had been pouring out his heart to the Living God of Abraham and Moses.  This living God now responded. 

“‘Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, 21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. 22 And he gave me instruction and talked with me, and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. 23 "At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.”’” (Daniel 9:20-23)

Almost mid-sentence, a messenger from God came to Daniel.  He had been dispatched with God’s response ‘at the beginning’ of his prayer.  God was personally interested in the prayers of Daniel and concerned with the plight of the nation.  He saw in Daniel, as intercessor, the beginnings of true repentance of the nation.  He would actively respond to that repentance.  What followed was the prophecy of the 70 weeks that we will consider later in the lessons on eschatology.   However, we can say that this demonstrates that God is a living person who is actively involved with His creation.

The prophets uniformly use the title LORD (Hebrew adonai) for God.  The plural form with the singular suffix is used in reference to God over three hundred times in the Old Testament.  This form occurs most frequently in the prophets.  ‘adonai signifies God’s sovereign authority, dominion, and rule over persons and nations.   The combined-name is another feature used frequently in the prophets and ‘adonai factors as a major portion of the combination.  For example,

adonai -Yahweh (Lord GOD )

"’I will also cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod,
And him who holds the scepter, from Ashkelon;
I will even unleash My power upon Ekron,
And the remnant of the Philistines will perish,’
Says the Lord GOD.” (Amos 1:8)

Yahweh seba'ot (Lord of Hosts)

“‘Therefore say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Return to Me,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘that I may return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts. 4 ‘Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Return now from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’” But they did not listen or give heed to Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Zech 1:3, 4)

qedos yisra'el (Holy One of Israel)

“ Alas, sinful nation,
People weighed down with iniquity,
Offspring of evildoers,
Sons who act corruptly!
They have abandoned the LORD,
They have despised the Holy One of Israel,
They have turned away from Him.” (Isaiah 1:4)

Finally, we come to the term Father (Hebrew ‘ab).  Isaiah said:

“For Thou art our Father, though Abraham does not know us,
And Israel does not recognize us.
Thou, O LORD, art our Father,
Our Redeemer from of old is Thy name.” (Isaiah 63:16)

Unlike its usage in the New Testament, the term is used infrequently in the Old Testament where it denotes God as the creator of all that is, the founder of the nation of Israel, and He who stands in covenant relationship with His people. [10]

d)     Poetry and Wisdom
The story of Job is one of the best-known examples of undeserved suffering.  Among its many theological lessons it illustrates, from beginning to end, that God is a personal and active spirit being.  The story introduces Job as a prominent wealthy and righteous man.  We are then transported behind the scene into heavenly places and discover there are more participants in Job’s life adventure. 

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 And the LORD said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ Then Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.’ 8 And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.’” (Job 1:6-8)

We discover that the woes that befall Job are the direct result of a battle of wits between God and Satan, which, by the way, Satan looses!  As the story develops, seemingly, in a matter of moments, a series of financial, emotional, and spiritual disasters befall him. It seems that everything and everyone, including the God that he had so faithfully served, was against him.  In the midst of his anguish, three friends come to console and comfort him.  There then ensue three rounds of exchanges between the friends and Job.  The gist of their exchanges boils down to this.  According to the friends, Job must be a sinner because the kinds of things that have befallen you don’t happen to righteous people therefore, Job must repent.

How did Job respond to these accusations on the part of his comforters?  Let’s look at one exchange.  Job asks how a man could plead with God, the majestic Sovereign.

“Then Job answered [Bildad],
‘In truth I know that this is so,
But how can a man be in the right before God? 3 If one wished to dispute with Him, he could not answer Him once in a thousand times. 4 Wise in heart and mighty in strength, who has defied Him without harm?’” (9:1-13)

He realized that he would be overwhelmed by God if he dared confront Him.

“‘God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him crouch the helpers of Rahab.  How then can I answer Him, and choose my words before Him? 15 For though I were right, I could not answer; I would have to implore the mercy of my judge. 16 If I called and He answered me, I could not believe that He was listening to my voice. 17 For He bruises me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds without cause. 18 He will not allow me to get my breath, but saturates me with bitterness. 19 If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one!  And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him?’” (Job 9:13-19)

Why is this so?  Because, said Job bitterly, God destroys people whether they are innocent or not.  Job thought that his case was hopeless:

“‘For He is not a man as I am that I may answer Him, that we may go to court together. 33 There is no umpire between us, who may lay his hand upon us both. 34 Let Him remove His rod from me, and let not dread of Him terrify me. 35 Then I would speak and not fear Him; but I am not like that in myself.’” (Job 9:32-35)

Instead, he would speak up anyway.

“‘I loathe my own life; I will give full vent to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. 2 I will say to God, “Do not condemn me; let me know why Thou dost contend with me.”’” (10:1-2)  

Job then proceeds to challenge God, addressing him by proxy through his friends.  So far this was a one sided conversation, as it was.  Finally, God steps in and speaks to Job out of a whirlwind.  It was time to disabuse him of his grossly incorrect attitudes and understanding about the nature of the God he had so faithfully served.  God begins to ask a series of questions and challenge Job’s knowledge.

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, 2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! 4 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job38:1-4)

In this exchange we see revealed God as Creator. 

“‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell Me, if you have understanding, 5 who set its measurements, since you know?  Or who stretched the line on it? 6 On what were its bases sunk?  Or who laid its cornerstone…?’” (Job 38:4-6)

We have displayed God’s mighty power…

“‘Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place; 16 have you entered into the springs of the sea?  Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you?  Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 18 Have you understood the expanse of the earth?  Tell Me, if you know all this.’” (Job 38:12, 16-18) 

…and God’s eternity.

“‘You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!’” (Job 38:21)

God sums up…

“‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  Let him who reproves God answer it.’” (Job 40:2)

In all of this, please notice that Job was not merely debating with his friends over the nature of God; he was debating with God Himself.  Notice too that God was not a silent onlooker but an active participant.  What was Job’s response to all of this?

“Then Job answered the LORD, and said, 2 ‘I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. 3 “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” ‘Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.’ 4  “Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask Thee, and do Thou instruct me.” 5 ‘I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee; 6 therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.’" (Job 42:1-6)

I like Job’s response.  He fell on his face and recognized the majesty of God and saw his own weakness.  He confesses his sin of presumption, his limited knowledge and power.  He pleads with God for instruction for at last he has seen the greatness of the infinite God with his own eyes.

That God is the living God and is actively involved in the affairs of mankind is plainly seen throughout the Psalms. [11]  They portray in the history of Israel the mighty deeds of a personal and active God on behalf of His people.  "_Toc24844618">Early Christianity and Acts

Throughout the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) God’s exceeding glory is displayed in the person of Christ Jesus.  Glory (Greek doxa) calls to mind the manifest excellence of God and represents the central qualities of His majesty, splendor, and grandeur. 

Late in His ministry, Jesus was with the twelve in the region of Caesarea Philippi in Galilee.   Here He made the first outright announcement that He was to go to Jerusalem to be killed.   The group then traveled toward Capernaum on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee arriving some six days later.  There Mount Miron rises up some 3,900 feet.  Some have plausibly argued that on this mountain the events of the Transfiguration took place.  Matthew described them.

“…Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!’ 6 And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid. 7 And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself alone.” (Matthew 17:1-8) [12]

Mark reported that “He was transfigured before them; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” (Mark 9:2, 3)  Luke said it was “some eight days after these sayings” (the Greek way of saying ‘about a week later’) that the events took place.  Luke reports that while Jesus was praying, “the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.” (Luke 9:28, 29)  What Peter, James and John saw and what the writers reported afterward was Jesus in His glorified state as the God-man.  This brilliant and sparkling appearance, this glory that they say, was not a reflected glory as was Moses’ when he came down from Mount Horeb [13] it was the glory of the source itself, the God of Glory.  This glory was intrinsic to the Son.  Peter, an eyewitness (unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke) affirms this saying,

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’-- 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (1 Peter 1:16-18)

The heart of the message that was proclaimed by the early Church was that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and long awaited Messiah who came into the world from Heaven.  The events of His life demonstrate that the God whose glory the Gospel writers tell about is also as in the Old Testament, a personal, living and active Being.  For instance, Luke tells us about the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, who was prophesied of old [14]. Zacharias, a priest serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, was going quietly about his business one afternoon:

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.’” (Luke 1:11-13)

God is a person who answers prayer.  Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth had been praying for a child.  God sent the angel to Zacharias with His answer.  They were to have a son, but this son would be no ordinary person.  He would be a key person in God’s plan of redemption.  John was to be the promised forerunner of the coming Messiah.  In this narrative we see that God is a person who answers the petitions of His children.  This small action, the granting of Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s request, had far-reaching effects for all mankind that are clearly seen as Luke’s story unfolds.

God is a person who the source of the necessities of life.  Jesus was teaching one afternoon, when,

“… someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’” (Luke 12:13)

Jesus, ever on His guard against ungodliness in men, turned this question into an opportunity for ministry to an individual's underlying need.  He saw behind the man’s question the greed that was in his heart, a greed that was in most men’s hearts. 

“And He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’ (Luke 12:15)

And then He told them a story about a rich man who had barns full from the harvest of his earlier crops.  Where was he to put the next harvest?  “I know!” He said, “I will tear down my old barns and put up larger ones.  What could be easier?”  This was seemingly a nice problem to have.  He had an abundance of produce and another good harvest soon to come with no place to put it.  What more could a man want?  So what was the point of Jesus’ story?  Let’s go on and find out.  His next thought revealed a deeper problem.  He said,

“‘And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' 20 ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” 21 ‘So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’”  (Luke 12:19-21)

Now we come to the crux of the matter that reveals so much about the nature of God.

“And He said to His disciples, ‘For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; and they have no storeroom nor barn; and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? 26 If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why are you anxious about other matters? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. 28 But if God so arrays the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O men of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek for His kingdom, and these things shall be added to you. 32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’” (Luke 12:22-34)

Did you see it?  It is God’s work of sustaining His world that demonstrates His personal involvement in His Creation.  It is He who clothes the fields with beauty.  It is He who is personally aware of mankind’s daily need for sustenance.  It is He who gives it.

e)     Pauline Writings
A survey of Paul’s writings demonstrates that he was never afraid to speak of either the existence or being of God.  He staunchly presented God as a living and active person. 

In the year 53, Paul started the third of his missionary journeys.  By the summer of 56, Paul was in Macedonia (in northern Greece) on his way to Corinth (in Achaia in southern Greece) when he encountered Titus.  He apparently discovered that his first letter to the Corinthian church had done much good, but certain issues remained.  This prompted Paul to write a second letter to pave the way for his arrival in Corinth.  It seems that his main reason for writing was to defend his apostleship. 

There were, of course, other reasons.  For example, he wanted to tell them about the trouble he had while traveling in Asia and ask for their prayer support.  He also wrote to explain changes in his itinerary.  Recalling the individual who had sinned so grievously of whom he had written about in his first letter, Paul wrote to encourage the reaffirmation of their love for this penitent wrongdoer.  Finally, hearing of their continued flirtations with pagan idolatry, he wrote to insist on their complete separation from these activities. [15] 

It is to this latter passage that we now turn for Paul’s argumentation to convince the Corinthians to turn from idolatry is grounded in the nature of the true God they were called to serve.  Paul wrote:

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord.   ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; and I will welcome you. 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me," says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Paul began this section with a command that believers should not be bound together with unbelievers.  In general, this was a prohibition against forming close attachments with non-Christians.  Paul used an agricultural metaphor here.  Where he said ‘bound together’, in the Greek this term is ‘double harnessed’ or ‘double yoked’ Think back to the cowboy movies you may have seen where two horses tied or harnessed (tied) together to pull a wagon or carriage.  Likewise, oxen were often ‘yoked’ or joined together with a large wooden beam across their shoulders so they could combine their strength to pull a plow or other farm implement.  It was important that animals, horses or oxen, be of similar size and strength when they were yoked or harnessed together.  When they were not, the stronger or larger did most of the work.  The smaller animal thus was an added burden to the larger.  When Paul used this metaphor, he was saying that Christians must not form any relationship with an unbeliever, whether temporary or permanent, that would cause them to compromise Christian standards or jeopardize the consistency of their Christian witness.

Why is this so?  Here’s where we come to our point.  Paul asked a series of rhetorical questions that inferred some aspect of God’s nature.  The first comparison is righteousness and lawlessness.  God is the righteous One.  He can have no union with lawlessness.  God is light.  This reminds one of John’s descriptions.  Can light and darkness co-exist?  Belial is another name for Satan.  The comparison is made between the perfections of Christ’s person and the utter corruption of Satan.  Paul then moves from a God focus to a human focus.  What do believers have in common with unbelievers; absolutely nothing!  He explained that since God dwelled in them His nature was a part of theirs because they were His children.  God was personally active in their lives not as some external force but an internal one.  They were the temple of God.

The terms that Paul use to describe God are rich with meaning.  He frequently uses the Greek term theos as a title for God.  The Septuagint uses this term to translate the Hebrew term ‘elohim.  As we learned earlier, this title designates God as the all-powerful, eternal and self-existing One.  Paul also uses kyrios which indicates that God is the Ruler and Sovereign who legally exercises His authority over all of creation.  In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul uses the term soter.  This title depicts God as the One who redeems and delivers His children from the bondage of sin.  Writing to the Romans, Paul declares:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-35)

A brief survey of Paul’s letter to the Romans is in order at this point.  In his opening statement, Paul affirmed the glory and majesty of God.  He explained that man turned his back on God by sinning.  Man then progressed on a downward path to corruption and God’s judgment.  Lest the religious man mistakenly think that he was somehow exempt Paul showed how he too was a corrupt sinner in need of God’s mercy.  Paul concluded in Chapter three that all men everywhere were sinners who were in need of a savior.   By Chapter eight, Paul demonstrated that those who turned in faith to Jesus Christ were saved from the ravages of sin.  From these redeemed individuals God had formed a new company of people called the Church.  In Chapters 9-11 Paul discussed the relationship of the Church to his native Israel and how both fit in God’s plan of salvation.  Complex questions were raised, questions which to this day vex scholars of all theological persuasions.  By the time Paul reached this point in his argumentation he suddenly realizes the intricacy of God’s plan for the redemption of man from his fallen state of sin. 

Paul can only conclude from this that God's thoughts and ways are not those of men.  They are infinitely higher and better. Instead of being vindictive to mankind who had “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of corruptible man”, God’s actions to save fallen men were gracious because God is by nature, infinitely gracious. He had a plan from ages past to redeem fallen mankind; a plan that was beyond the ability of the human mind to understand because it was conceived by the infinite God.  To God be the glory!

f)       Johannine Writings
John, that great apostle and friend of Jesus Christ, uses three metaphors (light, spirit and love) to describe the nature of God.  These three terms stress the immateriality of God and, what some have called, ‘the Godness of God’ or in other words, the essence of God.  In language reminiscent of the opening passage of his gospel, John opened his first letter:

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life— (1 John 1:1)

John was proclaiming that he was an eye witness of the events surrounding the physical manifestation of God in the world.  Observe the wonder in his language.  Speech fails him as he labors to express himself, adding definition to definition.  It was his eyes that saw, his ears that heard, and his hands that touched Jesus Christ, a real person who was more than just a man doing the works of God but was God Himself. [16]

John says that what he witnessed was the ‘Word of Life’ (Greek logou tes zoe).  With this phrase we are directed back to John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2)  In the gospel, John focused on the Word (Greek ho logos) as an eternal Person that came into this world.  In the epistle, John’s message focused on the life that he witnessed and proclaimed.  Here was John’s affidavit describing the facts.  Furthermore, the central fact that he was proclaimed was that eternal life, which was sourced in the Father was manifested to the world in Jesus Christ.  John pointed out that this life came from God because He was the ever living One.  

“and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” (1 John 1:2-4)

Now that eternal life was manifested among men John went on to say that since he was a partaker of eternal life other men could be too.  By having fellowship with him, one would have fellowship with Jesus Christ and the Father.  The result of that fellowship was joy.  Because one had to know certain things about the character of God and their relationship to Him was critical in order to participate in this fellowship, John began by describing the moral character of God.

“And 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 1:5)

This God, who is the source of eternal life because He is Himself eternal, who was manifest in Jesus Christ, is light.  Light emphasizes God’s splendor and glory, His truthfulness, His purity.  John’s concept of the term ‘light’ several implications.  First, light stresses the self communicative nature of God.  Imagine yourself in a dark windowless closet with the door shut and the light turned off.  Now imagine that unknown to you another person is in the closet with you.  This person has his hand on the light switch.  As long as the light is off, you remain unaware of his presence.  But the moment the switch is turned on and the light bursts forth, your awareness is suddenly awakened.  In a similar way, we were in the darkness with regard to our knowledge of God.  He was hidden from us.  However, when He chose to reveal Himself to us it was as if He turned on the light switch in the darkened closet.  Now, we could see Him, we could observe His glory, His person, and His character.

Even more, when in the light we can see the action of God for man and his salvation.  The Psalmist said, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1)  It is the nature of God to communicate the truth of His salvation.

Secondly, light emphasizes God’s work in empowering men to walk in the light.  Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)  This is the second of His great “I am” statements[17].  Here, He claimed to be not only the inexhaustible source of spiritual nourishment (6:35), but He was also the genuine light by which truth and falsehood could be distinguished and by which direction could be established.  John seemed to refer to these words of Jesus when he wrote:

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)

Building on the foundation that light is indicative of God’s nature to communicate the truth of salvation he shows here that God enables men to have fellowship with Him if they walk in the light that He sheds. 

Finally, light defines the manner in which we live.  Jesus said,

“‘And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.’” (John 3:19-21)

The light reveals much.  If we are to be followers of God, we must live in the light that our deeds will be recognized as being godly because God is intrinsically light.

The second of the metaphors that John uses is ‘spirit’.   John recorded Jesus as saying to the Samaritan woman that, “24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:24)  In this description of God, Jesus was instructing the woman that God was not confined to one place (Samaria) or another (Jerusalem).   In fact, He could not be thought of as a material being. Furthermore, He could not be represented adequately by an abstract concept, because an abstract concept was of itself impersonal and God was truly personal.  Finally, no idol could depict his likeness since he was not material.  Only "the Word” who became flesh could represent him adequately. [18]

The third of the metaphors that John uses is ‘love’.  John says,

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (or satisfaction) for our sins.” (1 John 4:8-10)

Two observations can be made concerning these verses.  First, in verse 8, John uses the noun form of love (Greek agape) rather than the verb (Greek agapao).  Thus he indicates that God is not merely one who loves but one whose essential nature is love.    Second, His loving nature is demonstrated by His supreme expression of love toward us (vv. 9-11) He sent His Son, His only begotten Son, into the world to die so that we might be saved from the judgment for sin that we so richly deserved.   

3.      Systematic Formulation

a)     Key Definitions
Theologians often speak of the essence of God and the attributes of God.  The essence of something is the individual, real, or ultimate nature of it as opposed to its existence.  An attribute is an essential element or property that is intrinsic to its subject.  So an attribute is a part of the essence of a being.  We must, however, be careful when we apply these terms to God.  According to Robert Leitner, “An attribute of God is not merely a characteristic of God which simply is attached to His person.  God’s attributes — all of them — are perfections of His being.  They are a part of His very nature.” [19]  So an attribute of God is a divine quality of being.

It is important to distinguish between God’s essence and His attributes.  God is more than any one or all of His attributes.  On the other hand, His attributes cannot be separated from His essence for they are the manifestation of it.  God’s essence is displayed to His creation through His attributes.  His essence then is known through His attributes. 

To illustrate, consider a jigsaw puzzle, a very complicated jigsaw puzzle.  The pieces correspond to the attributes; the assembled puzzle to the essence.  To stretch the illustration a little further, imagine that the puzzle is really a 3D puzzle but we can only see bits and pieces from the three levels.  God’s essence is more than the sum of His attributes.  He has revealed Himself by revealing certain of His attributes.  But how does a finite man comprehend the infinite?  I like the words of Paul, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)   Since, as we said above, His essence is known through His attributes, we will take a look at them.

b)     Classification of the Attributes
As you might expect, there is disagreement about how the various attributes ought to be classified.  This is probably so since it is the divine qualities that are under scrutiny and they defy classification.  We will classify them, however, as His incommunicable attributes and His communicable attributes.   

c)      The incommunicable attributes
The incommunicable attributes are those for which no analogy is found among human beings.  They include His aseity, immutability, infinity, and unity.  We will discuss each in turn.

Aseity simply means that God is self existent.  Jesus said, "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.” (John 5:26, emphasis mine) [20] From this we can see that God is the source of Himself.  In a similar vein, Paul said,

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. (Romans 11:33-36) 

“While this exalted and moving ascription of praise has in view God's plans and operations in the history of salvation affecting the great segments of mankind, Jew and Gentile, the closing verse applies also to the individual life that pleases God. For that life has its source in God, lives by his resources, and returns to him when its course has been run. To God be the glory!” [21] Notice that Paul is careful to say that we have our source in God and not the contrary.  What’s included in the concept of self existence is that God does not depend on anyone or anything external to Himself. 

Immutability means the state or quality of being that is not subject to change, either by increase or decrease, by development or by self-evolution.  God declared, “For I, the LORD, do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)  The Psalmist said "But Thou art the same, and Thy years will not come to an end.” (Psalm 102:27)  Moses wrote that "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?” (Numbers 23:19)  From these and other passages we see that God in His essence and attributes is invariable, unchangeable, and permanent.

Now it may be objected that God has changed his mind.  Certain passages seem to teach that God is subject to change.  For example, Moses speaking of the early history of mankind wrote, “the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” [22]  (Genesis 6:6)  It is sometimes argued that if God knows the future (as we shall see He does), why would He express this disappointment that He had made man.  Surely He foresaw that man would behave like he did?  Why would God seem to change His actions if they had been planned from eternity?

Payne and Spencer reply:

“These texts reveal that God is, by nature, a God of justice and compassion.  He punishes the guilty and unrepentant, but He is merciful to those who trust in Him (Exodus 34:6-7).  Divine justice and grace are particularly evident in biblical narratives—when individuals repent, God responds with a kind of repentance of His own.  He may repent of justice and turn to mercy (Exodus 32:14), or repent of benevolence and turn to justice (Genesis 6:5-6; 1 Samuel 15:11, 23), but His orientation toward people changes when they change their orientation toward Him.” [23]

They quote Louis Berkhof as noting:

“The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God.  It is even customary to speak of God as actus purus, a God who is always in action.  The Bible teaches that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their life with them.  There is change round about Him, change in the relations of man to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purposes, His motives of action, or His promises.” [24]

Infinity is a difficult concept to the finite mind.  So how does one describe it?  Let me offer this.  For God to be infinite means that He is free from all limitations other than self limitation.  Furthermore, He is in no way limited by the finite universe He has created.  He transcends or is larger than all of creation.  Cook says, “The infinity of God is intensive rather than extensive.”  He explains, “God is not boundless extension, for he has no body and thus no extension.  One part of Him is not here and another part there in the universe.”  This is the extensive aspect.  He continues, “Rather He is infinite energy of spiritual life and His reserve is infinite.” [25]  This is the intensive aspect.  He has intensified the energy of spiritual life to the point of infinity.  Let’s go a little further with this difficult topic.  God’s infinity can be seen in three relationships; perfection, eternity and immensity. 

God’s perfection was plainly taught by Jesus.  He said:

“‘You have heard that it was said, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”  (Matthew 5:43-48)  [26]

Let’s focus on verse 48.  Jesus used the word ‘perfect’ (Greek teleios) to describe God.  Teleios usually reflects the Hebrew word tamim (tr. ‘perfect’) in the Old Testament. Tamim can refer to the soundness of sacrificial animals or to one’s total commitment to the Lord and, therefore, one’s moral uprightness.  [27] Teleios can also be translated as ‘mature’ or ‘full-grown’.  We should take particular note that the form of this verse is exactly like that of Leviticus 19:2 where God speaking to Moses said "Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, `You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’”  Jesus has used perfect for holy. 

God is never directly called ‘perfect’ in the Old Testament.  However, ‘perfect’ is used to describe His various attributes.  For example, He is perfect in knowledge or perfect in His way. [28]  This is the first time in all of Scripture that God is called ‘perfect’.  By calling God ‘perfect’ in this manner, Jesus was pointing to all the perfection of God.  He was perfect in all of His being and attributes.  We can conclude then that "_Toc24844648">perfection means that God is complete and finished.  It follows, therefore, that there is no defect in Him.  This term describes the relationship of infinity to God’s being for He is infinitely or limitlessly perfect.  Perfection qualifies the communicable attributes such as His power, holiness, etc. 

Eternity refers to the relationship of infinity to time. Time as a relationship can be graphically seen as follows:




God is outside this relationship.  Moses prayed:

“Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born, Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” (Psalm 90:1, 2)

In this prayer we can see the uniform teaching of scripture is that God is without beginning and without end.  To be eternal is to be free from all succession of time.  God contains within Himself the cause of time.  [29]

Immensity, Omnipresence
Immensity and omnipresence refer to the relationship of infinity to space.  Space as a relationship can be graphically seen as follows:




As Cook said earlier, God is without extension and for this reason He is not subject to spatial limitations.  Immensity, then, emphasizes His transcendence.  The term transcendence describes the quality of one that is beyond the limits of all possible experience or knowledge, who is larger than the universe or material existence.  He exists, then, outside His creation.

Furthermore, God is omnipresent because He fills space with His whole being.  David described this when he said,

“Where can I go from Thy Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.  If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night," even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day.  Darkness and light are alike to Thee.” (Psalm 139:7-12)

Omnipresence emphasizes God’s immanence.  Immanence is the quality of one who remains in or operates within a domain of reality.  This certainly describes God who is actively involved in His creation.  Not only does He transcend creation, He is immanent in it. [30] 

Unity and Simplicity
We see the oneness of God from two different aspects in these two attributes, unity and simplicity. 

Unity says that God is numerically and uniquely one.  This is seen in the words of Jesus,

"I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him.  How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? (John 5:43, 44)

Jesus has declared His relationship to God calling Him ‘My Father’.  He has by this statement asserted His divinity.  As He defended His assertion, He accused the Scribes and Pharisees of seeking their own glory and not that of the one and only God.  Jesus has here stated that God is unique.  There is but one divine Being.  The clear teaching of Moses when he said, "Hear, O Israel, he LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” is that God is numerically one.  The point must be made that this does not mean that there are no other beings that are called gods, for this is what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 8:4-5.  Nor does it exclude the idea of a plurality of persons in the Godhead.  For Jesus said that He and the Father were one. (John 10:30)  It does mean that there is only one divine Being called God.     

Simplicity means that God is qualitatively one.  It is not possible to divide the persons of the Godhead.  This is evident from Jesus’ statement.  Unlike man who is composed of body, soul, and spirit, God is simply spirit.  Man is an amalgamation of body soul and spirit and therefore, is constitutionally divisible.  Hebrews says, “[T]he word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)  God on the other hand is not because He is constitutionally simple.  There are three persons in one indivisible person.

d)     Communicable attributes
The communicable attributes are those for which there is an analogy to be found among human beings.  The incommunicable attributes are more abstract.  We can see the communicable attributes more tangibly.    They include His spirituality, intellectual attributes, moral attributes, and sovereignty.  We will discuss each in turn.

Intellectual Attributes
Intellect in man is the capacity to acquire knowledge.  The intellect of God is an entirely different matter altogether.  The intellectual attributes are knowledge, wisdom, and veracity. 

We will consider the attribute of God’s knowledge first.  There are two aspects of divine knowledge, omniscience and foreknowledge.  Omniscience includes all things concerning Himself and His works.  Omniscience is more than a lot of knowledge about things.  It includes understanding as well.   The omniscience of God comprehends all things — past, present, and future as well as things actual and things possible.  God has arranged events so they follow in chronological order.  However, to God, the things of the past and future are as real as if they were present. “Omniscience brings everything … with equal reality before the mind of God.” [32]  Foreknowledge is generally restricted to things specifically foreordained.  This relationship will be discussed more fully in the lessons on Soteriology.

The extent of divine foreknowledge has been the subject of hot debate among some theologians who view it as necessary or determinative (that God causes to happen what He foreknows will happen).  This has divided them into two opposing camps. It is said by one camp that God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with the free moral action of human beings while the other camp says it is compatible.  The first group tends to subordinate divine foreknowledge to human freedom while the other group makes human freedom the supreme factor.  We can conclude that either one group or the other or both must be incorrect.  The majority of theologians see no conflict between complete foreknowledge and human freedom.  “Divine prescience [foreknowledge] of itself implies no element of necessity or determination, though it does imply certainty.” [33]

Packer has defined wisdom, the second of God’s intellectual attributes, as “the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.” [34]  That God is infinitely wise is proclaimed throughout Scripture. [35]  God’s wisdom fits Packer’s definition exactly.  He has the power to see, He has the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal (His glory), and the best means of attaining it.  Paul indicates that wisdom is different from knowledge when he said, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33)  Wisdom looks at the practical rather than the theoretical side of God’s intellect.  It is the application of His knowledge to the attainment of His ends in ways which will Glorify Him the most. 

Veracity or truth is the third of God’s intellectual attributes.  Truth, truthfulness, and faithfulness fall under this category.  Cook defines truth in God as “the surety that what He has disclosed is according to the nature of things.” [36]  There is, therefore, no deviation from actuality in God.  It infers that what He has disclosed about Himself and His creation may be depended upon with absolute certainty. 

God personifies truth.  This is seen three ways.  First, in a metaphysical sense, the idea of God is perfectly realized in Him.  The Psalmist said, “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” (96:5, 6)  Unlike the gods that exist only in the minds of men, the LORD, the true God, who actually exists, is majestic, strong, beautiful…  Notice the ideas contained in each of the adjectives used to describe Him.  Second, in an ethical sense, God reveals Himself as He really is.  This revelation is absolutely reliable.  The writer to the Hebrews said, “For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute.  In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:16-18)  Because God is by nature truthful we may place our hope and trust in Him.  And finally in a logical sense, He knows things as they really are.  Because of this, He has made us so that we may know the reality of things.  It is the truth of God that is the foundation of knowledge.

Truthfulness, related to the ethical sense above, emphasized the reliability of God’s revelation.  Because He is truthful, His word is truthful.  It is His word that is the final and supreme statement of God’s truth.  This is the cornerstone of the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility. [37]  

Finally, faithfulness refers to the fact that God keeps His promises.  Our confidence that God will do all that He said He would do is rooted in His absolute faithfulness.  We saw that above in the statement of the writer to the Hebrews.  It bears repeating.  “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.”  His faithfulness is not in the least dependent upon our faithfulness toward Him because it is His nature to be so.     

Moral attributes
Included in this group are the attributes of goodness, grace, holiness, and righteousness.

God is good.  “The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works. (Psalm 145:9)  “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44, 45)  He is good, not only to His people, but to all people. 

God’s goodness is rooted in His love.  Love in God is defined as “that by which God is eternally moved to self-communication.  It is deliberate, intelligent and with passion.  Love is the prime motive, together with holiness in all of God’s actions.” [38]  Love is what God is as well as what He does.  Love as an act flows from love as a perfection of being.  As John said, “And 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.” (1 John 4:16)  In John’s view, the love of God is not to be understood as one of His many activities but rather that “His activity is loving activity. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, is--to love". [39]

God’s goodness is seen in His gracious nature and unmerited acts of grace toward men.  The Hebrew term chen (translated as favor, acceptance, grace) and refers to God’s unique favor shown to His people in the light of their covenant relationship with Him. [40]  In the New Testament, the Greek term charis (likewise translated as grace) refers to that favor which issues from an undeserved and genuine love that is tempered by justice and holiness.  Grace is defined as God’s unmerited love in action toward those who don’t deserve it, those who are under a sentence of condemnation.  God acts graciously toward men because He is first of all a God of Grace.  This grace is considered free because it is not prompted by anything outside Himself.  It is sourced from within His nature.  Although it does not arise because of our need it meets it. [41]

Finally, God’s goodness is seen in His merciful acts toward men.  Unlike grace which originates within God, mercy refers to the exercise of God’s goodness on behalf of the need of His creatures.  Although it too is sourced from within His nature, it is in this case prompted outside Himself.  While grace is set apart from need, mercy considers it.

Holiness, while not primarily a moral concept, describes God’s relationship to people.  The term comes from Greek and Hebrew words meaning ‘to separate’.  Holiness is often viewed from two different vantage points. 

First is what theologians call essential or transcendent holiness.  In other words, this is God’s majesty.    The Psalmist coupled the majesty and holiness of the LORD when he said, “The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty.  The LORD on high is mighty. Thy testimonies are fully confirmed; Holiness befits Thy house, O LORD, forevermore.” (93:1, 4-5)  Similarly, Isaiah said,

“In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.  Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory." (Isaiah 6:1-3)

When the Scriptures say that God is on high or in heaven, they are saying that God, as an infinitely holy being, transcends His creation, He is above and separate from us.  Now the thought here is not that He is off in the far reaches of outer space, but that He is far above us in greatness, in majesty.  This should cause us to automatically worship Him.  Moses recognized this clearly when he wrote:

"Who is like Thee among the gods, O LORD?  Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?   Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.  In Thy loving-kindness Thou hast led the people whom Thou hast redeemed; in Thy strength Thou hast guided them to Thy holy habitation.” (Exodus 15:11-13)

Second, stemming from transcendent holiness is ethical holiness.  This is one aspect of God’s personal moral purity.  It describes His relationship to evil and sin; He is separate from it. He is holy in intent as well as action.  It is this aspect of His holiness that forms the basis of His relationship to His children.   “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." (1 Peter 1:14-15)  Moral purity is the requirement; God’s moral purity is the example.

Righteousness is the other aspect of God’s moral purity.  It is His “holiness applied to His relationships to other beings.” [42]  Fundamentally, God’s righteousness has the basic idea of conformity to a standard.  The standard in God’s case is the moral purity (holiness) of His own nature.  “Thus righteousness is descriptive of that which conforms to the norm which is the character of God Himself.” [43] 

Ezra recognized this fact in his intercessory prayer on behalf of Israel.  "O LORD God of Israel, Thou art righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before Thee in our guilt, for no one can stand before Thee because of this." (Ezra 9:15)

Ezra makes several points.  First, he declared that God is personally righteous. Ezra observed that because the nation was guilty, God was righteous.   Of what were they guilty?  They had transgressed the law of God.  Why was this such a big deal?  The answer to that question is to be found in the nature of the law.   David said,

“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:7-9)

In describing the law, David was describing the nature of God.  The law was perfect because God was perfect.  Its precepts were right because He was righteous.  His commandments were pure because He was holy.  We can conclude, then, that the law of God was the true expression of His nature.  When one transgressed the law, one offended the very nature of God.

Second, Ezra also said that while the nation was guilty, God was not.  While He judged the sinners He left a remnant.  In other words, He visited judgment on the sinner and mercy on the innocent.  From this we know that the righteousness of God means that God acts consistently with His own nature. 

In the record of the events of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah we find a statement that further demonstrates this point.  The LORD had come to the Oaks of Mamre with two of His angels to visit with Abraham.  After they shared a meal:

“…the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off.  And the LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?  For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.’  And the LORD said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’" (Genesis 18:16-20)

God told Abraham that He had seen the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and had determined that it was grave.  He intended, therefore, to visit judgment on the citizens of the sister cities.  I can just see Abraham as he stood there, mouth agape, in the presence of God Himself.  He watched, dumbfounded as the two angles turned away and went off down the road toward Sodom.   

“And Abraham came near [to the Lord] and said, "Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?” (Genesis 18:22-24)

It’s not that Abraham was surprised at God’s decision to visit judgment on those in Sodom and Gomorrah who were guilty but that He would judge guilty and innocent alike.  Surprise turned into challenge.  Abraham could safely say:

"Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:25) (emphasis mine)

Abraham knew his God.  How could it be otherwise after years and years of close association with Him?  Abraham’s question was really a statement.  He said in effect, “God, I know that you are righteous and that you will deal righteously with the innocent.  I know that You act consistently with Your nature, in conformance with Your law, and will punish only those who are sinners.”  

If God acts in accordance with His nature He expects us to do likewise (to act in accordance with His nature and not ours).    Henry Thiessen observes, “In virtue of [His righteousness, God] has instituted a moral government in the world, imposed just laws upon the creatures, and attached sanctions thereto.” [44] In other words, God must treat people according to what they deserve.  This is justice.

There are two aspects to the concept of justice, remuneration and retribution. Paul warned us; “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)  Paul is saying that our actions, when judged against the standard of God’s righteousness, have two possible outcomes; retribution (punishment) or remuneration (reward).  David discusses these two aspects of God’s justice:

“Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?  Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?  No, in heart you work unrighteousness; on earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.  The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.  They have venom like the venom of a serpent; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, or a skillful caster of spells.”

David begins by describing the wicked man.  While they might speak of their righteousness, their actions indicate otherwise.  They are likened to cobras; venomous, violent, cunning deceivers.  In other words, they are not ‘righteous’.

“O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth; break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD.  Let them flow away like water that runs off; when he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.  Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along, like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.  Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns, He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.”

David then calls for God to judge them, to meet out punishment for their sinful behavior.  This is retribution or punitive justice.  It is the negative aspect of God’s justice.

“The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.  And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth!’" (Psalm 58)

Finally, David declares that there is surely a reward for the righteous man.  This is remuneration.  This is the positive aspect of God’s justice. 

The Sovereignty of God
How shall we conceive of the sovereignty of God?  By the sovereignty of God we mean that since God is Creator of all things visible and invisible, He is properly the owner of all.  On this basis, He not only has an absolute right to rule over all, He actually does so.  The exercise of His sovereignty is not on the basis of arbitrary will, but on His wise and holy counsel.  There are two aspects to His sovereignty, His sovereign will and His sovereign power, that we will explore here

First let us explore the sovereign will of God.  Will is the faculty of self-determination.  It is God’s will which puts into effect all He has designed.  The sovereign will of God is the subject of the central argument that Paul makes in Romans 9.  After discussing the case of Pharaoh in his dealings with Israel at the exodus, Paul concludes with this observation: "Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden" (v. 18). He is not concerned with Pharaoh’s personal responsibility for his attitudes and actions in this affair.  Rather, he is emphasizing the freedom of God to act in accordance with His sovereign will.   

The will of God is the final cause of all things He has decreed.  This includes such things as the creation and preservation of the universe (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 135:6), human government (Proverbs 21:1), election (Romans 9:15-16), the death of Christ (Acts 2:23), regeneration (James 1:18), man’s life (James 4:15), and apparently even the small things (Matthew 10:29).

In this connection we should note that theologians have identified two distinctions to God’s will; the preceptive will and decretive will (sometimes called permissive and directive respectively).  The preceptive will deals with what we should do.  It offers men various precepts to live by.  This is in effect God’s desired rule of life for His moral creatures.  This may, with His permission, be resisted.  We are careful to add that because we reject the commands of His preceptive will does not mean that our action or its result is approved by Him.  The decretive will of God concerns His purposes. Either directly or indirectly, God originates and executes whatsoever comes to pass.  These two aspects of His will are never in conflict with one another. 

Second, let us explore the sovereign power of God.  The sovereign power of God stems from His omnipotence.  The sovereign power of God is the exercise of His infinite power to bring to fruition all He wills.  This aspect of His sovereignty is irresistible.

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24)  With this bold statement Jesus tells us of God’s essential being.  He did not say ‘a spirit’ but rather ‘spirit’.  His substance is uniquely ‘spirit’ as opposed to ‘material flesh’.  This indicates that God is not made of a ‘substance’ that has the properties belonging to matter.  His is the ‘substance’ of spirit.  It is not dependent upon matter nor can it be discerned with the bodily senses.  God as spirit is ascribed as having life and personality.

It is generally held that there is a life force that is within human beings.  We realize that this life force comes from a source that is somehow external to us.  It is something that is a part of us from our conception until our death.  God, on the other hand, as a spiritual being, possesses life in Himself (John 5:26).   He has, therefore, personal energy.  “He has in His own Being the source of being, both for Himself and others.” [45]

The other aspect of God’s spirituality is personality.  He is no mere spiritual force.  He is a self-conscious and self-determining spiritual being.  As a self-conscious being He is able to objectify (to cause to become an object) Himself.  This means that He is a real.  As a self-determining being, He is able to manifest an inner spontaneity of will.  He decides what He will do or not do, say or not say.  He possesses intellect, sensibility and will.

Looking at His attributes we can see that God is not a mere physical being for no man is infinite or eternal, omniscient, or omnipotent.  Our conclusion is that God is an invisible, personal Spirit being who is actively involved with His creation.

4.      Defense of the Doctrine
From the first days after Pentecost to the end of the first century there was an explosion of evangelistic activity.  In its early days, the church was found largely within the territorial boundaries of Palestine.  The early church members were predominately Jewish.   As a result, the church existed in a predominately monotheistic culture.  As time progressed, the church expanded from Jerusalem and established itself throughout the Mediterranean area.  Through the missionary activities of the Apostles and their successors, by the end of the second Century, there were established churches in every corner of the Roman Empire.  With this expansion, the population of the church had changed from one which was predominately Jewish to one which was predominately Gentile.  It now existed in a world culture that was polytheistic.

To complicate matters, the concept of God in the Mediterranean world was radically different from the concept of God that was predominant in the early Church.  The God that the Church worshipped was the God of ancient Israel.  The god of the Greco-Roman (Mediterranean) world was entirely different.  To complicate matters still further, intellectuals from one corner of the Empire to the other faced a huge dilemma.  Their most profound thoughts about the divine did not match up with their religious traditions. 

To the intelligentsia of the late second Century, the petty jealousies and sexual peccadilloes of the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon as well as the various cults that sacrificed to this or that or the other god or goddess brought an increasing embarrassment.  In fact, sacrificing to these various gods seemed to them to be more bribery than worship.  These intellectuals instead sought to explain the universe and their relationship to it through philosophical thought rather than mythological religion. 

Philosophy (a Greek invention) is the love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.  Through the use of logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology, the philosopher sought to understand the world around him, the nature of reality, the ideal form of government, or how to live a good life by the application of human (by that they meant logical) reasoning rather than through mythology. Greeks had always believed that their laws and morals were the creation of the gods and as such a part of the natural order of things.  They equated the moral laws of Greek society with what we today would call the physical laws of the universe.  Just as a rock naturally fell to the ground when tossed into the air so murder or incest was naturally wrong.

By the second Century AD, there were several schools of philosophical thought, that of Plato (the predominant school), the Stoics, and Aristotle.  We must understand what these schools of thought taught and the effect that had on the culture of the western world to provide the context for what the Church Fathers taught and the battles they fought.

Plato and Platonism
Some four hundred years before the appearance of Jesus Christ into the world, the Greeks had expanded beyond their borders and had conquered most of the surrounding area of the mid- and eastern Mediterranean area.  As they encountered other cultures in that expansion, they were exposed to different values of morality.  As political upheavals lead to changes in their laws, Greeks came to believe that each society invented its own standard of right and wrong.  It was the most powerful or influential group of people in any society that made up the rules for justice, decency, right and wrong.  This created a crisis in Greek culture.

Socrates (one of the earliest of the Greek philosophers) squarely faced this crisis by rejecting its moral relativism.  No matter how large the group was in the society, he reasoned, even if it were comprised of the whole, if it judged that murder was right, that beauty was ugly, that one plus one equaled five, such judgments remained patently false.  Socrates held that there were absolute standards of moral conduct in the world regardless of one’s opinions of them.  Naturally, this view aroused the ire of the ‘democratic’ citizenry around him.  They ordered him to recant his views or take poison.  He chose the latter.

Although Socrates never wrote anything, much of his thinking is known through the writing of his pupil, Plato.  Plato wrote a series of ‘dialogues’ in which Socrates usually appeared as the principle character.  In the earlier dialogues Plato set out a philosophical doctrine that had three main features; the theory of knowledge as recollection, the conception of the tripartite soul, and, most importantly, the theory of Forms.

In Plato’s dialogue Meno, the characters, Socrates and Meno, discussed what the Greeks called virtue, which was a particular ability or skill in some area of life. For example, the virtue of a baker was what enabled him to produce good bread; the virtue of the gardener was what enabled her to grow nice flowers; etc.  In the course of the dialogue between Meno and Socrates, the question was raised, how do we know what virtue was?  After some discussion, Socrates went a step further and asked how could one ever learn what he did not know?  In other words, Socrates’ argument could be stated, “if I was seeking to know virtue, I already know what I am looking for so I don’t need to look further.  On the other hand, if I don’t know what I’m looking for, I won’t recognize it when I find it.”  To answer this seeming paradox, Socrates proposed that the knowledge we needed to know we already had. 

Here’s where the theory of knowledge as recollection comes to play.  It is the belief that we come to know fundamental truths by recalling our acquaintance with their eternal objects (what Plato called Forms) during a previous existence of the soul.  The theory that knowledge is recollection, then, rests on the belief that the soul is not only eternal but also preexistent. 

The theory of recollection was related to Plato’s theory of Forms or Ideas.  In this theory, Plato postulated that beyond the temporal world was a higher spiritual realm of Forms or Ideas.  Each Form was the pattern of a particular category of things in this world. There were Forms of man, stone, shape, color, beauty, and justice. Take justice for example. This form was the absolute concept or idea of justice.  It was perfect.  No matter how the concept would be postulated by corrupt men in the temporal world, the form remained the same. Yet the things of this world were only imperfect copies of these perfect Forms.  Furthermore, the physical world, perceived with the senses, was in a constant state of change.  The knowledge derived from it was, therefore, restricted and variable.  On the other hand, the realm of Forms, since it was spiritual, was capable of being understood in the mind.  These forms were eternal and changeless.

Plato’s conception of a tripartite (three part) soul viewed the soul as reason, appetite, and spirit (or will). While each part of the whole served a particular purpose, reason was its noblest part.  [46]

Stoicism was the school of philosophy founded in the third century BC by Zeno of Citium (in Cyprus).  The first students of this philosophy were called Stoics because they met to hear their master Zeno lecture in the Stoa Poecile (Gr. painted porch), a colonnade near the Agora in Athens.

Zeno, drawing from earlier doctrines and theories of the human person and the universe, built up an ideal of the virtuous, wise man.  As stoic philosophy developed, it was divided into logic, and physics, which formed the foundation for ethics.  Stoic logic formed the first systematic analysis of how the truth value of a compound proposition depended upon the truth values of its components.  The physical theory of Stoicism was materialistic.  Simply stated, only matter had reality.  As to ethics, the Stoics saw virtue as the highest good in life identifying it with happiness.  Only by laying passion, unjust thoughts, and indulgence aside and by doing one’s duty with the right attitude could people attain true freedom and rule as lords over their own lives. Baltzly said:

It is important that we recognize a distinction between Platonic and Stoic thoughts of God.  The Platonists thought that ‘the Ultimate Principle’ (his idea of God) was the source of all that was.  This act of creation was not done according to some preconceived plan, rather the contrary.  Further, this Ultimate Principle was not actively involved in the creative act.  He (or it) merely set in motion the forces necessary to create, much like tipping over the first domino and watching the rest fall!   To the Stoics, God is material and, 

“… is immanent throughout the whole of creation and directs its development down to the smallest detail.  God is identical with one of the two ungenerated and indestructible first principles (archai) of the universe. One principle is matter which they regard as utterly unqualified and inert.  It is that which is acted upon.  God is identified with an eternal reason (logos, Diog. Laert. 44B ) or intelligent designing fire (Aetius, 46A) which structures matter in accordance with Its plan.  This plan is enacted time and time again, beginning from a state in which all is fire, through the generation of the elements, to the creation of the world we are familiar with, and eventually back to fire in a cycle of endless recurrence.  The designing fire of the conflagration is likened to a sperm which contains the principles or stories of all the things which will subsequently develop (Aristocles in Eusebius, 46G).  Under this guise, God is also called ‘fate.’  It is important to realize that the Stoic God does not craft its world in accordance with its plan from the outside, as the demiurge in Plato's Timaeus is described as doing.  Rather, the history of the universe is determined by God's activity internal to it, shaping it with its differentiated characteristics.  The biological conception of God as a kind of living heat or seed from which things grow seems to be fully intended.”  [47]

A third ancient Greek philosopher of that would have great influence in Christian theology was Aristotle.  Aristotle was born at Stagira, a Greek colony and seaport on the coast of Thrace in northern Greece. His father, Nichomachus, was court physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia.  When Aristotle was 17 he was sent to the Academy in Athens to complete his education.   He spent the next twenty years studying under Plato.  He was far and away most notable product of Plato’s educational program.  In the closing years of his time at the Academy, Aristotle became a lecturer on his own account, specializing in the subject of rhetoric. 

When Plato died in 347 BC, it was thought that Aristotle would succeed him to the leadership of the Academy because of his pre-eminent ability.  This was not to be because his divergence from Plato's teaching was too great to make this possible.  Returning instead to his native Macedonia, he joined the court of Philip of Macedon as tutor to his son Alexander (the Great).  In 335, Aristotle returned to Athens and established his own school at the Lyceum where he spent most of the remainder of his life engaged in research, teaching, and writing.  Those of his writings that survive cover an amazing range of subjects, from logic, philosophy, and ethics to physics, biology, psychology, politics, and rhetoric.

Aristotle’s starting point in the work of philosophy was different than that of his mentor Plato.  You will recall that in Plato’s theory of forms, he started from the standpoint of what we know and worked back to the source of all knowledge.  Plato worked in the arena of the idea.  Aristotle went at it from the standpoint of the material.  He worked in the arena of substance or essence.  For example, he would look at a rock and observe certain characteristics.  He would then place those characteristics into different categories of quality, quantity, relation, etc.  He reasoned that these categories existed as qualities of a particular substance. From this Aristotle concluded that in the order of existence, substance was prior to the other categories because a substance existed as a separate entity while the other categories existed only as the qualities of a substance.     

As we said earlier, Aristotle’s definition of Form was radically different than Plato’s.  Plato’s Form was the absolute concept or idea that preceded the idea that existed in the mind of a man.  A chair’s form existed as an eternal idea no matter how it existed in the physical world.  Aristotle thought otherwise.  A chair's form was the structure or shape of the chair and not some eternal idea of ‘chair’.  Furthermore, chair's matter was, for example, wood.  Aristotle made a further observation that ‘matter’ could be divided into form and matter.  All matter was composed of a particular combination of four elements; earth, air, water, and fire.  These four elements had no particular form.  They were what Aristotle called ‘Prime Matter’.  Form described the way matter, wood for example, was combined to make up a particular material.  So, a chair had form and matter on two levels.  It was made of wood in the shape or form of a chair.  At a lower level the wood was made of Prime Matter and was in the shape or form of wood.  To Aristotle, form and matter were seemingly inextricably linked. This raised an interesting question in Aristotle’s mind.  Could a form exist without matter?  He concluded that this form without matter was God.

Aristotle concluded that Prime matter was ‘potential’ because it could become a chair, a rock, a house, a person … anything.  Form was ‘actual’ because the matter was an actual chair, rock, house, or person.  Matter and form were, therefore, ‘causes’ of what came to be.  Kemerling concludes,

Becoming [something], then, is the process in which the potentiality present in one individual substance is actualized through the agency of something else which is already actual.  Thus, for Aristotle, change of any kind requires the actual existence of something which causes the change.[48]

Aristotle defined four kinds of causes; 1) material cause - what something was made of, 2) formal cause - what it was essentially, 3) efficient cause - what brought it into being, and 4) final cause - what its function was. He noted that these causes applied to things and not events.

Writing in the Physics Aristotle postulated that movement (change, either in state or being) was eternal because if there were a first change, there must have existed something that was capable of causing that change.  From this starting point Aristotle reasoned that there was, therefore, an eternal Prime Mover.  This immaterial Prime Mover was the cause of all movement and maintained the eternal life of the universe.  “In the Metaphysics he calls this Prime Mover "God," whose only activity is pure thought. It must think of itself only, since it is the most excellent of all things, and ‘its thinking is a thinking about thinking.’ God causes the movement of the heavens out of love.” [49]

In the 3rd Century AD (the time of the Church Fathers), Plotinus developed a form of Platonism (called Neoplatonism by modern scholars) that came to dominate the Greek philosophical schools and was the prominent teaching of philosophers until the demise of pagan philosophy in the second half of the 6th Century AD.  Plotinus had revived and refined Plato’s original thinking and mixed in elements of Aristotelian and Stoic philosophy with it. Drawing from Plato’s doctrine of Forms, he saw several levels of being.  Each level of being stemmed from the one that preceded it.  Each, then, was an image of its predecessor.  These different levels of were arranged in descending order from the greatest or highest level to the inferior or lowest level.

Plotinus postulated that there was an Ultimate Principle (which he refused to call God) that was above the first or highest level of being that was said to be ‘beyond being’.  It was absolutely free from limitation and transcended any conceivable reality.  He called this principle; ‘the Good’ for it was the source of all perfections.  It was unchanging, removed from the world, and uninvolved with the human beings that occupied it.  The highest level of being had this Ultimate Principle as its source. 

As you can see, the Mediterranean world by the time of the Early Church Fathers was to say the least, a very complex society.  The Fathers tried to reinterpret the Christian faith in terms of this cultural/philosophical milieu that confronted them.  As we said earlier, the church was rooted in the monotheism of Judaism but now existed in the polytheism of the Greco/Roman world around them.  They came to identify these two disparate concepts (the God of the Israelite and ‘god’ the Greek philosophers) as describing the same God.  They portrayed God as the only uncreated, eternal, and unchangeable Being.  This true God, although invisible, was related to His Creation in ways that could be observed.  For example let us consider what several wrote.

a)     Church Fathers
A common thread weaves itself through Orthodox Christianity stretching from the Early Church Fathers to the Reformers.  God is an uncreated living and active spirit being who doesn’t depend on anything or anyone outside of Himself for His existence.   God is eternal, invisible, and present everywhere in His creation.

Theophilus of Antioch
The only example of Theophilus’ writing that exists today is the "Ad Autolychum." It is an apology for Christianity consisting of three books that were probably separate works written at different times.  In Book I, Theophilus writes concerning the nature of God:

You will say, then, to me, "Do you, who see God, explain to me the appearance of God." Hear, O man. The appearance of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen by eyes of flesh. For in glory He is incomprehensible, in greatness unfathomable, in height inconceivable, in power incomparable, in wisdom unrivalled, in goodness inimitable, in kindness unutterable. For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. You will say, then, to me, "Is God angry?" Yes; He is angry with those who act wickedly, but He is good, and kind, and merciful, to those who love and fear Him; for He is a chastener of the godly, and father of the righteous; but he is a judge and punisher of the impious.

And He is without beginning, because He is unbegotten; and He is unchangeable, because He is immortal. And he is called God [Qeos] on account of His having placed [teqeikenai] all things on security afforded by Himself; and on account of [qeein], for qeein means running, and moving, and being active, and nourishing, and foreseeing, and governing, and making all things alive. But he is Lord, because He rules over the universe; Father, because he is before all things; Fashioner and Maker, because He is creator and maker of the universe; the Highest, because of His being above all; and Almighty, because He Himself rules and embraces all. For the heights of heaven, and the depths of the abysses, and the ends of the earth, are in His hand, and there is no place of His rest. For the heavens are His work, the earth is His creation, the sea is His handiwork; man is His formation and His image; sun, moon, and stars are His elements, made for signs, and seasons, and days, and years, that they may serve and be slaves to man; and all things God has made out of things that were not into things that are, in order that through His works His greatness may be known and understood.

Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens (known in church history as Clement of Alexandria to distinguish him from Clement of Rome) was an early Greek theologian and head of the catechetical school of Alexandria.  “From a theological point of view, one of the chief aims of Clement was to determine the relations between faith and reason and to show what philosophy has achieved to prepare the world for Christian Revelation and how it must be used in order to transform the data of this revelation into a scientific theology.”[55]  In the Stromata (The Miscellanies) [56], Clement wrote:

Wherefore also Moses says, " Show Thyself to me," -- intimating most clearly that God is not capable of being taught by man, or expressed in speech, but to be known only by His own power. 

"For both is it a difficult task to discover the Father and Maker of this universe; and having found Him, it is impossible to declare Him to all. For this is by no means capable of expression, like the other subjects of instruction," says the truth-loving Plato. For he that had heard right well that the all-wise Moses, ascending the mount for holy contemplation, to the summit of intellectual objects, necessarily commands that the whole people do not accompany him. And when the Scripture says, "Moses entered into the thick darkness where God was," this shows to those capable of understanding, that God is invisible and beyond expression by words…”  

In 359 AD Athanasius, was Bishop of Alexandria in a time when the Arian controversy was raging.  He was the champion of the fundamental church view that Jesus Christ was God incarnate.  Standing opposite to the orthodox view of the deity of Christ were the followers of the teachings of Arius.  Arians described the Son as a second or inferior God, standing between God (the First Cause) and His creatures.  The main thrust of their dogma considered that Jesus Christ: 1) was made out of nothing, yet made all things other than Himself; 2) existed before the world was made; and 3) possessed all the divine perfections of God except, that God alone was without beginning; the Son was originated.  We will discuss this heresy and Athanasius’ part in it more fully in the next chapter.  However, there is a nugget to be found in the midst of this controversy that is pertinent to our discussion.  In 359 he wrote De Synodis , a treatise against the Arian view of Jesus Christ.  In Book III he said,

“But if, when we hear it said, 'I am that I am,' and, 'In the beginning God
created the heaven and the earth,' and, 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is
one Lord,' and, 'Thus saith the Lord Almighty' (Ex. iii. 14; Gen. i. I; Deut.
vi. 4), we understand nothing else than the very simple, and blessed, and
incomprehensible essence itself of Him that is, (for though we be unable to
master what He is, yet hearing 'Father,' and 'God,' and 'Almighty,' we understand nothing else to be meant than the very essence of Him that is).”

Athanasius’ conception of God was that He was an incomprehensible being or essence. 

Augustine saw God as a simple uncreated living and active spirit being. In describing God, Augustine begins his argumentation by describing the virtues (the Platonic form or idea) in men:

“6. For in like manner the virtues which are in the human mind, although each has its own several and different meaning, yet are in no way mutually separable; so that, for instance, whosoever were equal in courage, are equal also in prudence, and temperance, and justice. For if you say that such and such men are equal in courage, but that one of them is greater in prudence, it follows that the courage of the other is less prudent, and so neither are they equal in courage, since the courage of the former is more prudent. And so you will find it to be the case with the other virtues, if you consider them one by one. For the question is not of the strength of the body, but of the courage of the mind.”

Augustine is arguing that certain of the virtues possessed by the human mind are simple or indivisible.  Take two brave men who are equal in courage.  It follows that that these men will also be equal in prudence, temperance and justice since one who is courageous is temperate and just.  These other virtues are so inter-related with courage as to be in a sense, inseparable.  These virtues are then said to be ‘simple’ because they are inseparable or indivisible from one another.  He continues by drawing a comparison between the human mind and the substance of God:

“How much more therefore is this the case in that unchangeable and eternal substance [i.e., God], which is incomparably more simple than the human mind is? Since, in the human mind, to be is not the same as to be strong, or prudent, or just, or temperate; for a mind can exist, and yet have none of these virtues. But in God to be is the same as to be strong, or to be just, or to be wise, or whatever is said of that simple multiplicity, or multifold simplicity, whereby to signify His substance.” [58]

Augustine contrasts the simplicity of man with that of God.  He begins by asserting that God is infinitely simpler than man is.  A man’s substance is different than his mind.  Just because a man exists does not mean that he is strong or courageous or wise or loving or you choose the virtue.  Man can exist without having any of these virtues.  However, for God, the opposite is true.  To be is the same in God as to be strong, or just, or wise or…..anything.  God is truly simple in substance and attribute. 

In City of God, Augustine observes that God is a Spirit being who is personally active in the affairs of His creation.  In the following passage, Augustine is making the point that the pagan observes the several works of God and believes that they are the works of many different gods.  He said:

“And now, to begin to go over those works of the one true God, on account of which these [pagan philosophers] have made to themselves many and false gods, whilst they attempt to give an honorable interpretation to their many most abominable and most infamous mysteries,

He then enumerates these works of the True God. 

“We [followers of the True God] worship that God who has appointed to the natures created by Him both the beginnings and the end of their existing and moving; who holds, knows, and disposes the causes of things; who hath created the virtue of seeds; who hath given to what creatures He would a rational soul, which is called mind; who hath bestowed the faculty and use of speech; who hath imparted the gift of foretelling future things to whatever spirits it seemed to Him good; who also Himself predicts future things, through whom He pleases, and through whom He will, removes diseases who, when the human race is to be corrected and chastised by wars, regulates also the beginnings, progress, and ends of these wars who hath created and governs the most vehement and most violent fire of this world, in due relation and proportion to the other elements of immense nature; who is the governor of all the waters; who hath made the sun brightest of all material lights, and hath given him suitable power and motion; who hath not withdrawn, even from the inhabitants of the nether world, His dominion and power; who hath appointed to mortal natures their suitable seed and nourishment, dry or liquid; who establishes and makes fruitful the earth; who bountifully bestows its fruits on animals and on men; who knows and ordains, not only principal causes, but also subsequent causes who hath determined for the moon her motion; who affords ways in heaven and on earth for passage from one place to another; who hath granted also to human minds, which He hath created, the knowledge of the various arts for the help of life and nature; who hath appointed the union of male and female for the propagation of offspring; who hath favored the societies of men with the gift of terrestrial fire for the simplest and most familiar purposes, to burn on the hearth and to give light.

Augustine speaks of the omnipotence of God, of His unlimited knowledge, of His tender care of His creation, of His active hand in keeping it all going in accordance with His plan and design.  He returns to his opening statement.

“These [works of the True God] are, then, the things which that most acute and most learned man Varro has labored to distribute among the select gods, by I know not what physical interpretation, which he has got from other sources, and also conjectured for himself.

Augustine now tells us what we should really understand by these marvelous works.  He describes the nature and substance of this True God:

“But these things the one true God makes and does, but as the same God,-that is, as He who is wholly everywhere [omnipresent], included in no space [His essence is not diffused], bound by no chains [supreme], mutable in no part of His being [unchangeable], filling heaven and earth with omnipresent power, not with a needy nature [self-sufficient].” [59] 

b)     Medieval Scholasticism
Continuing on with our historical survey we find ourselves in the late medieval period of history.  This period saw the founding of new schools and universities.  As a result, there was a wider debate among the scholars of the time than ever before.  Aristotle’s scientific and philosophical texts were translated into Latin.  This created a richer intellectual environment for the doing of theology.  This new intellectual environment created enormous tensions in the theological community at large. 

Take Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), the first truly great theologian of the period, for example. After studying under the illustrious Lan Franc at the Abby of Bec in Normandy (France) he joined the Abby and spent the next thirty-three years in the monastic life.  Adhering to Augustine’s motto of “faith seeking understanding”, and holding the forces of faith and reason together, he boldly explored faith’s logic. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum and a generation later we find Peter Abelard (1079-1142). He was born to the Lord of the little village of Pallet, in Brittany, France.  As a young man, he rejected a career as a military man choosing instead to follow a scholarly path.  He left his father's castle and wandering from place to place he sought instruction at the schools of the most renowned teachers of his day.  Finally arriving in Paris, he took up studies at the Cathedral School, the School of St. Geneviève, and that of St. Germain des Pré, the forerunners of the schools that were to combine to form the University of Paris a hundred years later.  In 1108, he set up a school at Mount St. Geneviève and taught rhetoric and dialectical philosophy.  In 1113 he received a long coveted professorial chair at the Cathedral School.  As a noted dialectician, he developed the ‘Sic et Non’ (Yea and nay) method of teaching for the search for truth.  In this method, the reasons both pro and con for a particular viewpoint were placed before the student and discussed with the professor.  Only by discussion of seemingly contradictory arguments could the truth of any matter be discovered. 

Unlike Anselm of Canterbury, who worked in a monastic society that relied heavily on ‘faith’, Peter Abelard worked amid the skeptical give-and-take of the university, where the application of reason seemed inevitably to lead to questions about faith.  This shift from the starting point of faith to the starting point of skepticism was the source much of the tension in the community of Christian scholars.  The wide distribution of Aristotle’s works in Latin among the scholars of the twelfth century further exacerbated these tensions.

Before this, theologians like Anselm had been teaching that the way to truth began by looking inward.  Aristotle, as we discovered above, asserted that knowledge should be pursued by starting with the experiences of the senses.  What did we see, smell, hear, and feel with our hands?  Theologians taught that understanding should begin with the Christian faith; however, they also reasoned that Aristotle seemed to have understood a great deal without being a Christian. 

Thomas Aquinas
Enter Thomas Aquinas.  (Add link to biography)  He was the most influential of all the medieval philosopher/theologians.  Writing millions of words, Aquinas developed in massive detail a synthesis of Christianity and Aristotelian philosophy
.  His use of rational argumentation combined with the metaphysical  and epistemological teachings of Aristotle was a significant departure from the neoplatonic/Augustinian tradition that had dominated so much of the middle ages.  While his work was by and large banned some fifty years after his death, it was later revived and became the official doctrine of Roman Catholic theology in 1879.

Of all that he wrote, ‘Suma Theologica’  [60] was the work that immortalized Aquinas. He modestly considered it simply a manual of Christian doctrine for the use of students. In reality it is a complete scientifically arranged exposition of theology and at the same time a summary of Christian philosophy. We are going to quote some lengthy portions of the Suma to give a better flavor of Aquinas’ thought.

A word warning is in order.  The rigidly formal structure of the Suma articles is often confusing to the modern reader.  Here’s how to decode it.  Aquinas followed the classical model of Socrates in his instruction.  He wrote as if he were having a discussion between himself and an opponent of his viewpoint.  He first announced the area of discussion (in the quotation below, the substance of God).  He then posited a question regarding the subject of the discussion; “Whether God is composed of matter and form?”  He followed the question with “Objections” that would be the response offered by a participant to the discussion.  After listing all objections, Aquinas responded, “I answer that.…”  This was always a direct statement of his position.  With this bit of introduction, let’s take a look at what Aquinas had to say about the being of God.

In Part 1 of Suma Theologica, Aquinas explores the existence, substance and nature of God.  He writes:

On the substance of God:
“Whether God is composed of matter and form?

Remember what Aristotle said about matter and form?  Here is the first respondent’s answer to the question Aquinas asks.

Objection 1.  It seems that God is composed of matter and form. For whatever has a soul is composed of matter and form; since the soul is the form of the body. But Scripture attributes a soul to God; for it is mentioned in Hebrews (Heb. 10:38), where God says: "But My just man liveth by faith; but if he withdraw himself, he shall not please My soul." Therefore God is composed of matter and form.

Objection 2.  Further, anger, joy and the like are passions of the composite. But these are attributed to God in Scripture: "The Lord was exceeding angry with His people" (Ps. 105:40). Therefore God is composed of matter and form.

Objection 3.  Further, matter is the principle of individualization. But God seems to be individual, for He cannot be predicated of many. Therefore He is composed of matter and form.

So the first respondent concludes that God is both form and matter for three reasons.  First, the Scriptures speak of His soul and everyone knows that the soul is the form or idea behind the physical body.  Second, He is a composite being.  A composite being is one that is composed of more than one substance or essence.  Man is a composite being because he is comprised of body, soul, and spirit.  The respondent considers that God is a composite being because passions (emotions) are attributed to Him.  This means that He has a body (physical) and emotions (soul), therefore, He is matter and form.  Third, since matter is what makes a particular form individual, and God seems to be an individual, He is composed of matter and form.  A second respondent objects:

On the contrary, whatever is composed of matter and form is a body; for dimensive quantity [having dimensions, i.e., length, depth, breadth, height, weight, etc.] is the first property of matter. But God is not a body as proved in the preceding Article; therefore He is not composed of matter and form.

Hold on a minute, the second respondent objects.  If we have something with form and matter we have a body because it has dimensions.  We can describe a person saying that he is 5’-6” tall, is slender, weighs 135 pounds, has brown hair and a gap between his two front teeth!  He is dimensional.  God is not dimensional.  He, therefore, is not composed of matter and form.  Aquinas now enters the fray.

I answer that, it is impossible that matter should exist in God. First, because matter is in potentiality. But we have shown that God is pure act, without any potentiality. Hence it is impossible that God should be composed of matter and form.

Remember, according to Aristotle, matter has the potential to become something.  Form is actual because matter has become the form.  Aquinas argues that God is the first act, the first cause and is pure act.  Pure act is not potential in any way so it has no matter.  It is impossible then that God is composed of both matter and form.

Secondly, because everything composed of matter and form owes its perfection and goodness to its form; therefore its goodness is participated, inasmuch as matter participates the form. Now the first good and the best--viz. God--is not a participated good, because the essential good is prior to the participated good. Hence it is impossible that God should be composed of matter and form.

His second point follows the line of reasoning as the first point.  As matter ‘participates’ in the form of something, so do quality traits.  He uses the quality of goodness to illustrate.  If something is composed of matter and form [like the chair we discussed above] it derives its ‘goodness’ from its form.  So it can be said that the chairs goodness ‘participated’ with the goodness of its form.  Since God is the first ‘good’, he reasons, His goodness is not a participated goodness but an original goodness.  Therefore, He cannot be composed of matter and form but form only.

Thirdly, because every agent acts by its form; hence the manner in which it has its form is the manner in which it is an agent. Therefore whatever is primarily and essentially an agent must be primarily and essentially form. Now God is the first agent, since He is the first efficient cause. He is therefore of His essence a form; and not composed of matter and form.

In this third point, Aquinas relies on Aristotle’s concept of causes.  Remember our chair analogy above?  We went from Prime Matter (earth, air, fire, and water) to the form of wood.  This wood was then made into a chair (its final form).  All of this was accomplished through the actions or agency of something that already existed.  Something or Someone (the Agent) caused the Prime Elements to become wood.  Someone fashioned the wood into a chair. Aquinas reasoned backwards to the starting point in the chain.  God is the first agent (or the One that formed Prime Matter into wood) because He is the first efficient cause.  Because He is the first efficient cause, He is pure form because everything potentially has its source in Him.  Since He is pure form, His substance or essence is form and not matter or some combination of matter and form.

In classical medieval , Aquinas now responds directly to his ‘opponents’ in the discussion.

Reply to Objection 1. A soul is attributed to God because His acts resemble the acts of a soul; for, that we will anything, is due to our soul. Hence what is pleasing to His will is said to be pleasing to His soul.

Reply to Objection 2. Anger and the like are attributed to God on account of a similitude of effect. Thus, because to punish is properly the act of an angry man, God's punishment is metaphorically spoken of as His anger.

Reply to Objection 3. Forms which can be received in matter are individualized by matter, which cannot be in another as in a subject since it is the first underlying subject; although form of itself, unless something else prevents it, can be received by many. But that form which cannot be received in matter, but is self-subsisting, is individualized precisely because it cannot be received in a subject; and such a form is God. Hence it does not follow that matter exists in God.

Let’s sum up.  Aquinas posed a question regarding what God is made of.  His first respondents answered that God (to couch it in modern terms) is a complex being that is made of form (spirit) and matter.  Aquinas opposed that viewpoint and argued that God was a simple being composed of pure form (spirit) only.

Suma Contra Gentiles (the complete title: "Summa de veritate catholicae fidei contra gentiles”, in English, “Treatise on the Truth of the Catholic Faith, against Unbelievers”) was written at Rome in 1261-1264.  It is divided into four books: I. Of God as He is in Himself; II. Of God the Origin of Creatures; III. Of God the End of Creatures; IV. Of God in His Revelation.  For our discussions here, we want to look at Book 1 for in it we will find some what Aquinas thought concerning the attributes of God.  We cannot discuss all that he wrote on the subject; however, we will include an example.

That God is Eternal
The beginning of anything and its ceasing to be is brought about by motion or change. But it has been shown that God is altogether unchangeable: He is therefore eternal, without beginning or end.

2. Those things alone are measured by time, which are in motion, inasmuch as time is an enumeration of motion.  But God is altogether without motion, and therefore is not measured by time. Therefore in Him it is impossible to fix any before or after: He has no being after not being, nor can He have any not being after being, nor can any succession be found in His being, because all this is unintelligible without time. He is therefore without beginning and without end, having all His being at once, wherein consists the essence of eternity.

3. If at some time God was not, and afterwards was, He was brought forth by some cause from not being to being. But not by Himself, because what is not cannot do anything. But if by another, that other is prior to Him. But it has been shown that God is the First Cause; therefore He did not begin to be: hence neither will He cease to be; because what always has been has the force of being always.

4. We see in the world some things which are possible to be and not to be. But everything that is possible to be has a cause: for seeing that of itself it is open to two alternatives, being and not being; if being is to be assigned to it, that must be from some cause. But we cannot proceed to infinity in a series of causes: therefore we must posit something that necessarily is. Now everything necessary either has the cause of its necessity from elsewhere, or not from elsewhere, but is of itself necessary. But we cannot proceed to infinity in the enumeration of things necessary that have the cause of their necessity from elsewhere: therefore we must come to some first thing necessary, that is of itself necessary; and that is God. Therefore God is eternal, since everything that is of itself necessary is eternal. [62]

That God is Truth
TRUTH is a perfection of the understanding and of its act. But the understanding of God is His substance; and the very act of understanding, as it is the being of God, is perfect as the being of God is perfect, not by any superadded perfection, but by itself. It remains therefore that the divine substance is truth itself.

4. Though truth is properly not in things but in the mind, nevertheless a thing is sometimes called true, inasmuch as it properly attains the actuality of its proper nature. Hence Avicenna says that the truth of a thing is a property of the fixed and appointed being of each thing, inasmuch as such a thing is naturally apt to create a true impression of itself, and inasmuch as it expresses the proper idea of itself in the divine mind.  But God is His own essence: therefore, whether we speak of truth of the intellect or truth of the object, God is His own truth.

This is also confirmed by the authority of our Lord saying of Himself: I am the way and the truth and the life (John xiv, 6). [63]

That God is Incorporeal

EVERY corporeal thing, being extended, is compound and has parts. But God is not compound: therefore He is not anything corporeal.

5. According to the order of objects is the order and distinction of powers: therefore above all sensible objects there is some intelligible object, existing in the nature of things. But every corporeal thing existing in nature is sensible: therefore there is determinable above all corporeal things something nobler than they. If therefore God is corporeal, He is not the first and greatest Being.  With this demonstrated truth divine authority also agrees. For it is said: God is a spirit (John iv, 24): To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, only God (1 Tim. i, 17): The invisible things of God are understood and discerned by the things that are made (Rom. i, 29). For the things that are discerned, not by sight but by understanding, are incorporeal.

Hereby is destroyed the error of the first natural philosophers, who posited none but material causes. The Gentiles also are refuted, who set up the elements of the world, and the powers therein existing, for gods; also the follies of the Anthropomorphite heretics, who figured God under bodily lineaments; also of the Manicheans, who thought God was an infinite substance of light diffused through infinite space. The occasion of all these errors was that, in thinking of divine things, men came under the influence of the imagination, which can be cognizant only of bodily likeness. And therefore we must transcend imagination in the study of things incorporeal.[64]

c)      The Reformers

We began tracing a common thread of the Orthodox Christian view of God’s being with the Early Church Fathers.  We have arrived at the Reformation.  The coming of the reformation was attended by a whole host of theological problems.  The central issue that occupied the Reformer’s attention was the salvation of man.  One has only to survey the writings of Luther, Calvin and the others to see that much effort was spent exploring the subject.  For all of these men, the nature of God was the foundation for their teaching.  None wrote more exhaustively on the subject of the nature of God than did Stephen Charnock.  His work typifies the thought of the period.

Stephen Charnock, widely regarded as having one of the best minds in the history of Christianity, was an active and prominent Puritan and Nonconformist during the time of the English civil war.  He was born in London in 1628.  His father, Richard Charnock, was a solicitor in the Court of Chancery.  As a young man, Stephen entered Emanuel College, Cambridge, and was placed under the tutelage of the celebrated Dr. William Sancroft (who later became Archbishop of Canterbury).  In 1649, after serving for a time as a minister in Southwark, having obtained a fellowship at New College, he moved to Oxford.  He was to receive a Master of Arts degree shortly thereafter and was elevated to the position of Senior Proctor on the merits of his work alone.  He continued to serve as Proctor until his term expired in 1655.  

Following his work in Oxford, Charnock went to Ireland where he served as chaplain to the lord deputy, Henry Cromwell.  Charnock’s biographer, William Symington wrote:

“During his time in Dublin, he appears to have exercised his ministry with great regularity and zeal.  He preached, we are told, every Lord’s day, with much acceptance, to an audience composed of persons of different religious denominations, and of opposite grades in society.  His Talents and worth attracted the members of other churches, and his connection with the family of the Governor secured the attendance of persons of rank.” [65]

Charnock’s ministry in Ireland ended with the fall of Oliver Cromwell and his government and the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660.  Returning to London, he was not permitted by the new government to hold any pastoral office there.  Instead, he spent the next fifteen years in the study of God’s word.  Finally, in 1675, after the government relaxed its requirements for the Puritans to adhere to the strictures of the Church of England, Charnock was appointed co-pastor of a large Presbyterian congregation in London with the equally skillful Thomas Watson. [66]  This church was the principle scene of his pastoral labors until his death in 1680. 

Charnock’s doctrine, decidedly Calvinistic, was clearly reflected in his master work, “The Existence and Attributes of God”.  Written in the latter period of his life and ministry many consider it the best work ever written on the subject.  It is comprised of fourteen discourses about the person and nature of God.  In the Discourse on the Eternity of God, we can see Charnock’s views about not only this attribute but its relation to the others.  He writes:

“There is no succession in God. God is without succession or chance. It is a quality of eternity; “from everlasting to everlasting he is God,” i.e. the same.   God doth not only always remain in being, but he always remains the same in that being: “thou art the same” (Psalm 102:27). The being of creatures is successive; the being of God is permanent, and remains entire with all its perfections unchanged in an infinite duration. Indeed, the first notion of eternity is to be without beginning and end, which notes to us the duration of a being in regard of its existence; but to have no succession, nothing first or last, notes rather the perfection of a being in regard of its essence.

Charnock uses the term ‘succession’ to negatively describe eternity.  Time is the succession of moments, one second after another, eternity is not.  Time involves change, one moment to another, eternity does not.  Because God is eternal, there is no succession or change in His being.  God exists forever now and His being is forever unchanged.  Charnock uses this negative aspect to describe two aspects of Gods eternity: 

“(1.) There is no succession in the knowledge of God. The variety of successions and changes in the world make not succession, or new objects in the Divine mind; for all things are present to him from eternity in regard of his knowledge, though they are not actually present in the world, in regard of their existence. He doth not know one thing now, and another anon; he sees all things at once; “Known unto God are all things from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18); but in their true order of succession, as they lie in the eternal council of God, to be brought forth in time. Though there be a succession and order of things as they are wrought, there is yet no succession in God in regard of his knowledge of them. God knows the things that shall be wrought, and the order of them in their being brought upon the stage of the world; yet both the things and the order he knows by one act. Though all things be present with God, yet they are present to him in the order of their appearance in the world, and not so present with him as if they should be wrought at once.

The first inference that Charnock draws about the nature of God is that because He is eternal He is omniscient.  God knows all things from eternity even though all things have not existed in time.

“(2.) There is no succession in the decrees of God. He doth not decree this now, which he decreed not before; for as his works were known from the beginning of the world, so his works were decreed from the beginning of the world; as they are known at once, so they are decreed at once; there is a succession in the execution of them; first grace, then glory; but the purpose of God for the bestowing of both, was in one and the same moment of eternity.

What are the ‘decrees of God’?   The Westminster Shorter Catechism mentions that "The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass." In a nutshell, it was God’s plan for His creation.  While we will discuss the divine decree in a later chapter, there are two observations that should be made.  First, in the divine decree we see the attributes of God in terms of divine will in human history.  Second, we see that God knew simultaneously in eternity past everything that would happen in human history and everything in relation to all of the things pertaining to it.  I think Charnock would agree.

“2. God hath life in himself (John 5:26): “The Father hath life in himself;” he is the “living God;” therefore “steadfast forever” (Dan. 6:26). He hath life by his essence, not by participation. He is a sun to give light and life to all creatures, but receives not light or life from anything; and therefore he hath an unlimited life, not a drop of life, but a fountain; not a spark of a limited life, but a life transcending all bounds. He hath life in himself; all creatures have their life in him and from him. He that hath life in himself doth necessarily exist, and could never be made to exist; for then he had not life in himself, but in that which made him to exist, and gave him life. What doth necessarily exist therefore, exists from eternity; what hath being of itself could never be produced in time, could not want being one moment, because it hath being from its essence, without influence of any efficient cause.

We see here the self-existent One who is Himself the source of life for all of Creation.

“3. If God were not eternal, he were not immutable in his nature. It is contrary to the nature of immutability to be without eternity; for whatsoever begins, is changed in its passing from not being to being. It began to be what it was not; and if it ends, it ceaseth to be what it was; it cannot therefore be said to be God, if there were neither beginning or ending, or succession in it (Mal. 3:6): “I am the Lord, I change not;”

Furthermore, this self-existent one is immutable.

“4. God could not be an infinitely perfect Being, if he were not eternal. A finite duration is inconsistent with infinite perfection. Whatsoever is contracted within the limits of time, cannot swallow up all perfections in itself. God hath an unsearchable perfection. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the A1mighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7.) He cannot be found out: he is infinite, because he is incomprehensible. Incomprehensibility ariseth from an infinite perfection, which cannot be fathomed by the short line of man’s understanding. His essence in regard of its diffusion, and in regard of its duration, is incomprehensible, as well as his action: if God, therefore, had beginning, he could not be infinite; if not infinite, he did not possess the highest perfection; because a perfection might be conceived beyond it.

Charnock has keyed the attribute of eternity to the attribute of perfection.  Perfection can only exist with an eternal being.  If God were less than eternal He would be less than perfect. 

“5. God could not be omnipotent, almighty, if he were not eternal. The title of almighty agrees not with a nature that had a beginning; whatsoever hath a beginning was once nothing; and when it was nothing, could act nothing: where there is no being there is no power. Neither doth the title of almighty agree with a perishing nature: he can do nothing to purpose, that cannot preserve himself against the outward force and violence of enemies, or against the inward causes of corruption and dissolution.

Charnock did not stop with the perfection of God’s being; this eternal One is omnipotent.  Were He not so, He could not defend Himself from the ravages of time, of death, of corruption of His being.  Because He is eternal, He is omnipotent.

“6. God would not be the first cause of all if he were not eternal; but he is the first and the last; the first cause of all things, the last end of all things: that which is the first cannot begin to be; it were not then the first; it cannot cease to be: whatsoever is dissolved, is dissolved into that whereof it doth consist, which was before it, and then it was not the first.” [67]

In terms reminiscent of Aquinas; God is the First Cause of all that is.  To sum up, Charnock saw God as the only one who is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, infinitely holy, perfect, and (in the words of Paul) who is blessed forever and ever, Amen.

d)     Post Reformation Philosophy [68]
As the Reformation matured, the world saw an explosion of scientific inquiry into the physical world.  The industrial revolution was going strong.  With all of this activity there arose a philosophical skepticism regarding orthodox understanding of the existence and nature of God. 

The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) postulated an ‘Absolute Spirit’ (his term for God) who was “that immanent reality in the world process that continually unfolds itself through opposing forces in history.”  [69]  What does that mean?  Well, the world worked by some real process.  It was this process that was the Absolute Spirit (or Geist as he termed it) that revealed itself in the history of the physical world.  It was the solitary, uniquely unconditioned, utterly independent and ultimately all-encompassing spiritual being that comprised all of reality.  Hegel believed that only mental entities were real; the physical world existed only because it was perceived in the mind.  This Absolute Spirit was then the ultimate reality.

Unlike the God of the Scriptures who was eternal (with all the meaning that Charnock attached) and immutable, this Geist, this Absolute Spirit, reached completeness through a developing process.  Where the God of Scripture was an active and personal spirit being who was immanent in His creation, Hegel’s was not.

Friedrich Ernst Schleirmacher (1768-1834), influenced by Hegel’s reasoning, saw God as the ‘spirit of the universe’ personified.  Again, like Hegel, this God was nothing like the God of the Bible for Schleirmacher’s god, too, was a god who was ‘becoming’.  He was never complete, but was always growing or changing, moving toward perfection.  He divided the divine attributes into three categories.  First, there were the attributes that arose from the sense of one’s independence, i.e., eternity, omnipotence, omniscience.  If you are any of these you are certainly independent of those around you!  Second, there were moral attributes which were those that arose from the consciousness of sin, i.e., holiness, justice, mercy.  Finally, there were those attributes that arose from a person’s experience of grace, i.e., love and wisdom.  It was Schleirmacher who laid the ground work for Old Liberalism’s explanations of the attributes of God. 

e)     Old Liberalism
Older Liberals rejected the historic metaphysical theology Orthodox Christianity as the product of Greek philosophy.  Remember what we discussed regarding the influence that Plato, Aristotle, and Stoicism had on the teaching of the Fathers and others throughout the history of the Church?  According to these liberal scholar/philosophers, this orthodox god was a remote, self-sufficient despot who cared little for human suffering.  They thought that this despotic god was the product of a despotic and totalitarian state.  Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) thought that modern theology (which had abandoned Biblical orthodoxy for a socio-political one) should democratize its view of God.  He espoused a more human-like Father who cared for and suffered with mankind.  His was the ‘white-haired old man upstairs’ sort of god who cared for his children.  W. A. Brown (1865-1943), who taught at Union Theological Seminary, likewise portrayed God as a loving Father that was displayed for the world to see in Jesus Christ.  His attributes were not what God was in Himself but were descriptive of His relationship with men.

f)       Barthian Neo-Orthodoxy
The Swiss theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968) rejecting the god of Old Liberalism and the humanism of their social theology followed Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) (link to bio) who stressed the infinite difference between God and human beings.  According to Barth, God was ‘wholly Other’.  By this he meant that God was entirely an entirely different being than men.  In a step back toward Biblical orthodoxy, Barth postulated a new or “neo-orthodoxy” that saw God and man as metaphysical opposites.  Man was a physical, finite being while God was an invisible, ineffable Spirit Being who was personal and active in His creation.  There was a vast gulf that separated men from God.

For Barth, the God’s attributes were descriptions of His acts rather than His being.  For example consider the attribute of love.  Historic orthodox Christianity said that this described a fundamental element of God’s nature for as John said “God is love” essentially.  On the other hand, Barth saw love as the perfection in God that sought the creation of fellowship with man without regard to man’s worthiness for such fellowship.  God had the freedom to love or not. 

g)     Neo-liberalism
Old Liberalism had focused on man’s freedom and self determination.  It was this focus that provided a religious basis for modern mans efforts to control his own destiny through reason.  It denied the power of sin and evil.  Man, being inherently good, could improve the social situation of the world.  The Neo-Orthodoxy of Barth and others “suggested that liberals failed to grasp either the actual condition of men or the doctrine of God that could provide a remedy for this.” [70]  By the 1930’s liberalism had virtually died out.  Many adherents broke with Christianity altogether while others turned to secular humanism.

However, liberalism survived in the face of neo-orthodoxy’s challenge.  Pierard observes that:

“A group of ‘evangelical liberals’ in the United States… preached a God who was both immanent and transcendent, that Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity were unique, and that Jesus should be accepted as Lord of one’s life.  A new generation of ‘neo-liberals’ [new liberals] criticized the old modernism for its excessive preoccupation with intellectualism, sentimentality, a watered-down concept of God, and accommodation to the modern world that prevented it from launching a moral attack.” [71]

By the 1960’s these neo-liberals had by-and-large abandoned their dream of an earthly kingdom of God and their humanistic optimism.  However, they did not give up their use of non-literal interpretation of the Bible.  There was a renewed interest in natural theology and the importance of social change.

Neo-Liberals of both Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths have redefined their belief in God along existentialist lines.  What this means is that God is not some supreme being that lives in some far distant heaven independent from the world of men.  “God is said to be the ground and power of being or the infinite horizon of human existence.” [72]  Recent Roman Catholic theologians, rejecting much of classical theology as an alien Greek construct, doubt that God is properly a supreme being.  “If God is not a res (thing), if God has no essence (a scholastic category), then it can be argued that God does not exist.” [73]

5.      Application
So what does all of this mean?  We began this study with a quotation by J. I. Packer that bears repeating.  He said, “Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are— weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic.  But this is not the God of the Bible!”  It is my hope that having seen what the Bible says about God and what has been the classic teaching of the Church regarding God’s person, we will see a truly majestic and awesome Being.  Our short discussion of liberal theology’s concepts, it is hoped, provides sufficient contrast to help you, the student, realize the failure of modern man to appreciate this fact and to see the lengths they will go to to avoid the truth.  God is truly great.  His greatness should drive us to our knees before Him and should cause us to wholeheartedly serve Him.  May it ever do so with you and with me.

[1] James I. Packer, Knowing God, (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1993), p. 83.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cf., John 17:5, 24.  “And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was…for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world.”  From all eternity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit enjoyed unbroken loving relationships.  This fellowship was based in the fact that each of the three persons shared common attributes of existence and functioned in accordance with them.  Because each were God (see chapter 9) and each were perfect beings they each shared interpersonal relationships consistent with their divine nature.

[4] Cf., 1 John 1:6-10

[5] Cf., Exodus 32:12-14; Numbers 11:1, 10)

[6] Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996), Volume 1, p. 186.

[7] Donald K. Campbell, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord & Zuck ed., (Chariot Victor Publishers, Colorado Springs, CO, 1985), Old Testament, p. 334.

[8] Cf., Numbers 23:19; Hosea 11:9)

[9] Cf., Isaiah 40:14, 28; Jeremiah 51:15

[10] Cf., respectively Malachi 2:10; Isaiah 64:48; Jeremiah 3:19, 31:9.

[11] Cf., Psalm 78, 105, 106, 136)

[12] Cf., Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36.

[13] Cf., Exodus 34:29, 35.  In 2 Corinthians 3:12 Paul describes Moses’ glory as fading.  This was because it was not his glory but that God’s.  It was reflected glory.

[14] Long ago, the prophet Malachi recorded the words of the Lord who said, “Behold, I am going to send My Messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.  And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.  Luke identifies John the Baptist as the forerunner whom Malachi said would come.  This forerunner would be the one who would identify the Christ, the incarnate Lord.

[15] Cf., 2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 1:12-2:4; 2:5-11; 6:14-7:1

[16] Cf., John 1:1-18

[17] Cf., 6:35, 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1.  Each represents a particular relationship of Jesus to the spiritual needs of men: their light in darkness, their entrance into security and fellowship, their guide and protector in life, their hope in death, their certainty in perplexity, and their source of vitality for productiveness.

[18] Cf., John 1:1ff.

[19] Robert Leitner, The Death that Christ Died, (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), p. 113

[20] Cf., Psalm 36:9; 94:8ff; Isaiah 40:18ff; Jeremiah 2:13; Daniel 4:35; Romans 9:19; Ephesians 1:5

[21] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, in. loc.

[22] Cf., Exodus 32:9-14; Numbers 11:1-2; 14:12-20; 16:20-35; 23:19; Deuteronomy 9:13-14, 18-20, 25; Judges 10:10-15; 1 Samuel 2:30-31; 13:13-14; 15:11, 29, 35; I Kings21:27-29; 2 Kings 20:1-7; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Ezekiel 33:13-15; Hosea 11:8-9; John 3:10.

[23] Robert A. Pyne, Stephen R. Spencer, “A Critique of Free-Will Theism, Part One”, Bibliotheca Sacra, Dallas Theological Seminary Press, 158:631, July 2001, p. 275.

[24] Louis Berkhof, ibid., p. 276.

[25] W. Robert Cook, Systematic Theology in Outline Form, (Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR), Volume 1, p. 58

[26] Cf., Deuteronomy 32:3, 4; Job 11:7-10; 37:16; Psalm 18:30; 19:7; Romans 12: 2; James 1:17

[27] Cf., Genesis 6:9; Exodus 12:5; Deuteronomy 18:13; 2 Samuel 22:26

[28] Cf., Job 37:16; Psalm 18:30

[29] Cf., Genesis 21:33; Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 90:2, 102:27; Romans 1:20; 2 Peter 3:8

[30] Cf., 1 Kings 8:27, 30; Isaiah 57: 15; Jeremiah 23:23, 24; Acts 17: 27, 28; Ephesians 4:6

[31] Cf., Deuteronomy 6:4; 4:39; Isaiah 44:6; 45:5; Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4; James 2:19

[32] Chafer, op. cit., Volume 1, p. 192

[33] ibid., p. 194

[34] James I. Packer, Knowing God, (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1973), p. 90

[35] Cf., Proverbs 8; Psalm 19:1-7; 33:10, 11; 1 Corinthians 11:30

[36] Cook, op. cit., p. 59

[37] Cf., Romans 3:4; Psalm 12:6

[38] Cook, op. cit., p. 60

[39] Expositors Bible Commentary, in. loc.

[40] This is seen in such passages as Exodus 33:12; 34:9; Numbers 11:11; 2 Samuel 15:25;

[41] Grace from God, cf. Romans 3:24; 11:5, 6; Ephesians 1:6, 7; 2:8, 9.  Grace in God, cf. 1 Peter 5:10; Romans 5:15; 2 Corinthians 8:9

[42] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), p. 313

[43] Cook, op. cit., p. 61

[44] H. C. Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1949), p. 130.

[45] Cook, op. cit., p. 59

[46] “Plato and Platonism”, [On-line], Available: (2004)

[47] Dirk Baltzly, “Stoicism”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, , [On-Line], Available: (2004)

[48] Garth Kemerling, Aristotle, Reality and Knowledge, Available: (2004)

[49] Island of Freedom, Aristotle, [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[50] “Plato and Platonism”, [On-line], Available: (2004)

[51] Dirk Baltzly, “Stoicism”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, , [On-Line], Available: (2004)

[52] Garth Kemerling, Aristotle, Reality and Knowledge, Available: (2004)

[53] Island of Freedom, Aristotle, [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[54] Roberts-Donaldson English Translation: Theophilus to Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter 3, 4. Early Christian Writings [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[55] Handbook of Patrology:  Clement, Early Christian Writings [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[56] Cf., Roberts-Donaldson English Translation: The Stromata, or Miscellanies, Early Christian Writings [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[57] Athanasius, De Synodis, III, 35. New Advent: Church Fathers [On-line].  Available: (2004)

[58] Augustine, On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises, VI, 4.6.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[59] Augustine, City of God, VII, 30, Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Fathers, [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[60] Summæ (plural Suma) are compendiums of theology, philosophy, and canon law which were used both as textbooks in the schools and as books of reference during the middle ages.

[61] Thomas Aquinas, Suma Theologica, Part 1, Question 3, Article, 2. New Advent: Suma, [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[62] Thomas Aquinas, Suma Contra Gentiles, Part 1, Question 15. Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Classics, [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[63] ibid., Part 1, Question 60. Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Classics, [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[64] ibid., Part 1, Question 20. Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Classics, [On-line]. Available: (2004)

[65] William Symington, excerpt from, The Life and Character of Stephen Charnock, Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings, [On-line]. 

Available:  (2004)

[66] Thomas Watson, had been ousted by the infamous Act of Uniformity in 1662.  As a result of this act, some two thousand Puritan pastors refused to abide by the mandates of the State Church and were thus ejected from its government.

[67] Stephen Charnock, Excerpts from: Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, (Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids: MI, 1979), Vol. 2, pp. 86-103.

[68] Cf Lewis and Demarest; op. cit, Volume 1, pp. 178-181; 217-219 for more detailed discussion of this subject matter.

[69] Ibid., Volume 1, p. 178.

[70] R. V. Pierard, Elewell Evangelical Dictionary, cited by, Theological Liberalism, Modernism, BELIEVE Religious Information Source: [On-line]. Available: 2004

[71] Pierard, ibid.

[72] Lewis and Demarest, Op. cit., p. 180.          

[73] Ibid., p. 180.