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In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

A Brief Explanation Of An Ancient Definition Of God

The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life.

In this Essentials of Theology Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as LORD in all areas of life.” In this fifth lesson, our focus is on helping you learn what the Bible teaches about God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes.

In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Explain God’s incommunicable attributes
  • Describe God’s communicable attributes
  • Articulate the definitions of God’s attributes
  • Illustrate the relationship of God’s attributes
  • Summarize why God reveals his attributes
  • Demonstrate how we magnify God’s attributes

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Knowing God’s Attributes

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

The desire to do justice to all the attributes of God revealed in Scripture and maintain a biblical view of God’s transcendence and immanence led the Christian church to do more than emphasize that God’s word reveals him in analogies. This desire also led the Christian church to make a distinction between two groups of attributes of God. These groups of attributes have received different names throughout history. We will use the names incommunicable and communicable attributes.

The primary purpose of the two categories has been to distinguish between the bible’s teaching on God’s transcendence, as his distinction from and elevation above the world, and God’s immanence, as his distinction with and presence in the world. Although the bible does not present these two categories of God’s attributes as standing rigidly against each other in total separation, it is important to affirm “that God possesses all of his incommunicable attributes in an absolute way and to an infinite and therefore incommunicable degree.”

God’s incommunicable attributes are unique to him and cannot even be found in humans or be shared by humans, though humans, made in his image, reflect them in ways appropriate to their created status. These attributes include:

  • God’s absolute independence, he is determined by nothing, and everything else is determined by him (Acts 17:25, Rom 11:36). Humans are relatively independent, in that they can think and act for themselves, but only within the limits of their place in God’s plan.
  • God’s immutability, i.e. God cannot change, he remains the same eternally (James 1:17). Human beings also remain themselves after they are created; but they undergo constant change, from forces within them and outside them.
  • God’s simplicity, i.e. God’s being is free from composition and parts, he is one whole (Ps 36:9, Jn 5:26, 1 Jn 1:5). Human beings think and act as whole persons but they are dependent on the parts of which they are composed.
  • God’s eternality, i.e. God transcends time and yet penetrates every moment of time with his eternity (Ps 90:2). Human beings gain some transcendence over time through their God-given memory, and through their ability to accept God’s revelation of the future. But unlike God they are time-bound.
  • God’s omnipresence, i.e. God’s being transcends all space and yet bears up all space by his omnipotence (Ps 139:7, Acts 17:27-28). Humans gain some transcendence over space by moving here and there, inhabiting widely different parts of creation, and learning to communicate over wide distances. But they are always located in one particular place.

When the historic Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) answers the ancient question, “What is God?,” the answer is: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” After defining God as “a Spirit,” i.e. not having a physical body like humans, God is described as being infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. These are incommunicable attributes of God that we, as humans, do not have the capacity to share with him. But, as God’s image bearers, we do have the capacity to share, in a limited way, God’s communicable attributes of his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

This list of three incommunicable attributes and seven communicable attributes are not meant to be seen as exhaustive but representative. Notice God’s attribute of love is not even listed in this definition, even though we read in Scripture that “…God is love (1 John 4:8b).” This catechism answer reveals how God’s attributes can be seen in relation to each other. God is presented here as a Spirit who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable (incommunicable attributes), in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth (communicable attributes). Practically speaking this means:

  • God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, referring to God’s nature as being without limitation, everywhere, in all of time, and always the same.
  • God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his wisdom, referring to God’s omniscience in knowing all things.
  • God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his power, referring to God’s omnipotence in being all powerful.
  • God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his holiness, referring to God’s transcendence from creation, perfect purity and righteousness.
  • God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his justice, referring to God’s just nature by which he maintains ethical justice and righteousness over against every violation of it.
  • God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his goodness, referring to God’s radical grace, love, and mercy toward fallen humanity in sin.
  • God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his truth, referring to God’s perfection that assures us of the ethical reliability of his revelations and promises.

As divine image-bearers, we can reflect these communicable attributes of God. But we must always remember there is a sense in which even these attributes are uniquely peculiar to God in an absolute way that cannot be shared by us. This means there is a divine being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth that is so absolute, independent, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable with God that humans cannot even share it.

As God’s image-bearers, we are not merely a reflection of God’s attributes, but a reflection of God himself, whose being cannot be separated from all of his attributes. As humans, we can make a distinction between having human attributes and being human. We can lose our attributes of wisdom, power, and holiness and still be human. But this is not possible for God because the bible describes every attribute of God as also a description of God’s personal essence and being.

This is why God’s attributes must not be understood as mere characteristics of God or impersonal forces but as reflections of his being and person. God is not only wise, he is wisdom. God’s power is not only a force but the power of a real person exerting his will. God is not only holy, he is holiness. God is not only just, he is justice. God is not only good, he is goodness. And God is not only truthful, he is truth. So, when you obey Jesus’ command to seek first God’s righteousness this means you are to seek first God himself in Christ who is righteousness.

Because God’s attributes of wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are not composite parts of him that can somehow be separated from the others, this also means that we must not see them as separated from each other. We can summarize this complex integration of God’s attributes by saying that all of God’s divine attributes have divine attributes. Practically speaking this means:

  • God’s wisdom is a powerful wisdom, a holy wisdom, a just wisdom, a good wisdom, and a truthful wisdom.
  • God’s power is a wise power, a holy power, a just power, a good power, and a truthful power.
  • God’s holiness is a wise holiness, a powerful holiness, a just holiness, a good holiness, and truthful holiness.
  • God’s justice is a wise justice, a powerful justice, a holy justice, a good justice, and a truthful justice.
  • God’s goodness is a wise goodness, a powerful goodness, a holy goodness, a just goodness, and a truthful goodness.

God reveals himself to us in Scripture so we might glorify and enjoy him forever. The word glory, from the Latin Gloria, “fame, renown,” is used to describe the beautiful, radiant display of God’s attributes as the most glorious being in existence. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word kabod, translated glory, originally means “weight” or “heaviness.” The New Testament word for glory, doxa, continues to express this meaning of importance, honor, and majesty.

God’s attributes reveal to us that he alone is in a category of greatest importance, honor, and majesty. As God’s image-bearers, we are designed by God to bring him glory by reflecting the beauty of who he is and what he does in all his magnificent works of creation and redemption. We are called to magnify the radiance of his perfections that reveal his infinite, eternal, and unchangeable being in the fullness of his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, etc.

In his treatise, “Concerning the End for which God Created the World,” Jonathan Edwards concludes, “It appears that all that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, “the glory of God.” The Apostle Paul confirms Edward’s conclusion when he writes, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Rom 11:36).”


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Knowing God’s Being

Steve —  January 29, 2021 — Leave a comment

In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

What is God Really Like?

The Bible describes God as a rock, light, fire, eagle, father, king, judge, warrior, and shepherd. How can we have a biblical view of God?

The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life.

In this Essentials Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as LORD in all areas of life.” In this fourth lesson, our focus is on helping you learn what the Bible teaches about God’s transcendent and immanent being.

In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Describe the meaning of God’s transcendent being
  • Explain the concept of God’s revealed immanence
  • Summarize how to reconcile these views of God
  • Recognize how the Bible uses analogies for God
  • Illustrate two major errors in explaining God’s being
  • Contrast limited knowledge with true knowledge of God

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:
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Listen to the Audio
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Knowing God’s Being

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

1. God’s Transcendent and Immanent Being

In our last session we learned one of the ways God chooses to reveal what he is like is through the meaning of the names he gives himself. By referring to himself with the general Hebrew name for God, Elohim, he was revealing his nature as a divine, powerful being whose essence is high and lifted up from humanity and the world he created. Theologians often refer to this revelation of God as his transcendence, emphasizing that God’s being is wholly independent and separate from his creation. But later we saw that God revealed his name to Moses as YHWH, or LORD, whose essence is near to the world he created and present with his people. Theologians often refer to this revelation of God as his immanence, emphasizing that God is also a very personal, faithful, covenant-keeping God of grace who promises to deliver his people by his great power.

To have a biblical understanding of God requires a diligent effort to maintain both a transcendent and an immanent understanding of his attributes revealed in Scripture. It’s been said that “The challenge to theology is to do justice to all the attributes of God revealed in Scripture.”

The Bible clearly presents the fullness of God’s being and attributes as both transcendent and immanent. In fact, one of the great dangers in the history of Christianity is when followers of Christ fall prey to sacrificing the biblical teaching of God’s transcendence on the altar of God’s immanence, or sacrificing the biblical teaching of God’s immanence on the altar of God’s transcendence.

Herman Bavinck writes,

“If God is not held to be independent and unchangeable, eternal and omnipresent, simple and free from composition, he is pulled down to the level of the creature and is identified with the world in its totality or with one of its powers.”

Then he goes on to say,

“What good would it do us to know that God was independent and unchangeable, eternal and omnipresent, if we had to do without the knowledge that he was compassionate and gracious, and very merciful?”

If we deny the absolute transcendence of God’s being above all his creation and humanity, we are at risk of falling into forms of what we’ll study later called Pantheism, believing that everything is God, or Polytheism, believing there are many gods. The opposite is also true. If we deny the immanence and nearness of God’s being to his creation and humanity, we are at risk of falling into forms of what we’ll study later called Deism, believing that God does not intervene in the world, or Atheism, the denial of the existence of God in the world.

We will see that the bible presents God as not only a transcendent, eternal being who is high and lifted up, but also a very immanent being who has somehow mysteriously broken into time and revealed himself in astonishing “figures and images which sparkle with life:”

Bavinck writes,

“It speaks of his eyes and ears, his hands and feet, his mouth and lips, his heart and bowels. It ascribes all kinds of attributes to him—of wisdom and knowledge, will and power, righteousness and mercy, and it ascribes to him also such emotions as joy and grief, fear and vexation, zeal and envy, remorse and wrath, hatred and anger. It speaks of his observing and thinking, his hearing and seeing, his remembering and forgetting, his smelling and tasting, his sitting and rising, his visiting and forsaking, his blessing and chastising, and the like…In short, all that can be found in the whole world in the way of support and shelter and aid is originally and perfectly to be found in overwhelming abundance in God.”

The big idea here is that the same bible that reveals God as incomparable and lifted up in his transcendent greatness and majesty, also speaks of him in all these, sometimes shocking, immanent “figures and images which sparkle with life.”

So, how do we reconcile the bible’s transcendent and imminent images and descriptions of God?

2. God’s Analogical Language

To help us do justice to all the attributes of God revealed in Scripture, theologians often refer to the concept of analogy; our human knowledge of God as being necessarily analogical in character. Calvin describes this adjustment like someone adjusting themselves to the limitations of a baby they’re caring for, talking in baby- talk to be understood. When God reveals himself to humans using human language he has to adjust himself to our limitations as his creatures by using some form of analogy to his creation.

Examples include the bible’s descriptions of God as a rock, a light, a fire, an eagle, a father, a king, a judge, a warrior, a shepherd, and many other analogies. It is good for us to understand God’s being in all these ways. But, in doing so, we must be very careful to realize that all biblical analogies, and descriptions, and words ultimately fall short and that’s because it is not possible to use analogies and words drawn from God’s finite creation to fully reveal the infinite, uncreated God.

Similar to the concepts of God’s transcendence and immanence, there are two common errors to avoid here as well. The first error is the false belief that the biblical descriptions of God mean the exact same thing as biblical descriptions of God’s creation or humanity. As an example, when the bible reveals to us that “God is good,” that is not exactly the same meaning of good as when the bible reveals to us that other aspects of God’s creation are good.

God’s goodness is infinitely greater than any goodness found in his creation or humanity, because his goodness is the source and criterion of all finite goodness. Many fail to understand this important distinction because the same Greek word used in the New Testament to describe God’s goodness, agathos, is also used to describe man (Matt. 5:45), gifts (Matt.7:11), trees (Matt. 7:17), conscience (Acts 23:1), God’s Law (Rom. 7:13), the will of God (Rom. 12:2), and even an unbeliever in authority (Acts 23:26).

A second common error is the false belief that God is so different from his creation and humanity that it is not even possible to understand what he is like. This is the opposite extreme view that there is no similarity between God’s goodness and man’s goodness. If such a view is believed, then meaningful speech about God is actually not even possible. This view is in direct contradiction with the Apostle Paul’s strong declaration that God’s attributes have been clearly understood by humans, when he writes these words, “For his (speaking of God’s) invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, (and then he uses the phrase) have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made (Rom 1:20-21).”

So what’s the solution to this dilemma?

It is to understand that, although the descriptions of God’s being revealed in Scripture are different and infinitely greater than what we mean by them, as mentioned above, there are still strong and true similarities in the meaning.

For example, it is good for you to see God like a father, but not exactly the way you think of a father. God is infinitely greater than that. He is the Father that measures all other fatherhood (Eph. 3:14-15).

And, it is good for you to see God like a judge, but God is more than that. When you see in Scripture that God is joyful, you should know that God’s joy is beyond the realm of human joy. And, when you read in the bible that God is angry you should not think of God’s anger being exactly the same as human anger, it’s not. And when you read in Scripture that God repents or changes his mind, you should not think of God changing his mind like you would.

But just because our knowledge of God is limited does not mean it is not true and good knowledge. Not knowing God as fully as he knows himself, doesn’t mean we can’t know him at all.8 Even though God must condescend to reveal himself to us, using words and analogies drawn from his creation, the good news is that the knowledge of himself that he does reveals to us is true, trustworthy, and perfectly adequate for us to “…proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).”


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In the Applied Theology Project, former seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their more than 90 years of combined teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to real life and ministry.

Knowing God By His Personal Name YHWH (LORD)

The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level courses designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life.

In this Essentials Course, we’re explaining and applying the definition of theology as “a study of God in Scripture to know God as LORD in all areas of life.” In this third lesson, our focus is on helping you learn what the Bible teaches about “Knowing God as YHWH (LORD).”

In this lesson, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Explain why Moses asked God to give him his name
  • Describe God’s three names he revealed to Moses
  • Define the meaning of God’s personal name YHWH
  • Recognize the Bible’s use of God’s name as LORD
  • Illustrate God’s new personal name given by Jesus
  • Explain the Scripture’s confession “Jesus is LORD”

CHOOSE YOUR LEARNING PATHWAY:
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Knowing God as LORD

By Steve Childers and John Frame 

1. God’s Personal Name is YHWH (LORD)

When God appears to Moses in the burning bush, he reveals more about himself than being the Redeemer and Holy God of Israel. God continues his self- revelation by also telling Moses his names, including his personal name.

God told Moses earlier that his plan to deliver Israel was going to be through him. Moses responded by asking God what seems to be an odd question: In Exodus 3:13 we read, “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

Why would Moses ask God for his name? In the ancient Near East, the names people called their gods always had meaning. A god’s name revealed what their god was like. They needed to know their god’s name in order to understand him, pray to him, worship him, and serve him. By asking for God’s name, Moses is asking God who he is and what he is like. God answers Moses, saying:

“…I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ (Exod 3:14- 15).”

This can be a very confusing answer. One reason is because God refers to himself in the third person voice, as he often does throughout Scripture. Another reason is because God is using various forms of the Hebrew verb “to be” for his names. This answer can also be confusing because God reveals three of his names in three difficult Hebrew forms:

The first name of God is in a long Hebrew form in the first part of Exod 3:14 ( “eh- yeh a-ser eh-yeh,”) translated “I AM WHO I AM.”1 The second name of God is a shorter Hebrew form taken from the first (“eh-yeh,”) translated “I AM” at the end of Exod 3:14. And the last name God gives himself is in a very short Hebrew form in verse 15, (YHWH,) often pronounced “Yahweh,” and translated here as “LORD” in all capital letters.

Throughout Scripture, one of the most significant ways God chooses to reveal what he is like is by revealing his many names. Theologians suggest many distinctions between a host of God’s names. But almost all agree that God’s name YHWH, or LORD, is the greatest revelation of God’s name in the Old Testament. This mysterious, personal name of God is meant to point us to God’s very being by using various forms of the Hebrew verb “to be.”

Insights into the meaning of YHWH are not found primarily by studying the etymology of the Hebrew term, but more by understanding the historic contexts in which God reveals his personal name. Although Israel’s forefathers knew the name YHWH for God, they could not understand it’s full meaning because Israel had not yet been in captivity to Egypt in need of YHWH’s deliverance as a display of his faithfulness to keep his covenant promises.

Bavinck writes: “From this point on the name YHWH is the description and guarantee of the fact that God is and remains the God of his people, unchanging in his grace and faithfulness.” From this time on God gives a whole new meaning to his ancient name as describing the God who keeps his covenant promises and delivers his people from their captivity (Hos 12:9, 13:4).

God concludes his answer to Moses’ question regarding his name saying, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations (Exod 3:15). So we should not be surprised to learn that the English name for God, LORD, another Hebrew name, Adon, and the Greek name, Kurios, occur more than 7000 times in the Bible referring to God. Throughout all of history recorded in Scripture, we learn that God acts in the lives of his people so they will know that he is LORD (Exod 6:7).”

2. YHWH (LORD) is Personal

Prior to God’s revelation to Moses of the fullness of his name as YHWH, God was known by more simple, general Hebrew names, like El, Elohim, and El Shaddai. These names emphasized God’s power and might, and that he is high and lifted up. But as YHWH God reveals himself as a personal, faithful, covenant-keeping God of grace who promises to deliver his people by his great power. Bavinck writes, “YHWH is the highest revelation of God in the Old Testament. YHWH is God’s real, personal name.”

In the New Testament we learn that God retains many of these names and translates his personal name YHWH as Lord (kurios). But there is a new personal name for God added by Jesus Christ. It is the name “Father,” that indicates God’s astonishing familial relationship with his people. According to Bavinck, “Father” is thus the supreme revelation of God, and since the Father is made known to us by Jesus through the Spirit, the full, abundant revelation of God’s name is now Trinitarian: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

By giving himself a personal name, God is reveals to us that he is a person and not an impersonal force or higher power. The world God created consists of personal and impersonal beings. Humans are personal beings with names. Impersonal beings include things like matter, space, time, motion, energy, the law of gravity, thunderstorms, oranges, and bicycles.

Many today believe that humans are ultimately just impersonal matter that has come into being through a mysterious and random convergence of mass and energy over billions of years, for no apparent reason and for no purpose. But the bible teaches that all matter, space, time, motion, and energy are designed by God to bring glory to his name by revealing his rule as a holy, personal God over the universe he created and sustains to accomplish his purposes.

3. YHWH (LORD) is One

God’s name as LORD also reveals the oneness of His being. Unlike the nature of pagan idols portrayed as multiple beings, the LORD’S personal nature consists of one being. Theologians refer to the oneness of God’s personal being as one substance or one essence.

The affirmation of the LORD’s oneness is at the heart of the ancient confession of God’s people, Jewish and Christian, throughout every generation since the time of Moses:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut 6:4-5).

4. Jesus is LORD!

This fundamental confession of God’s Lordship is a succinct summary of the main message of the whole Bible. The confession of God’s people in the Old Testament was that “God is LORD!” And the good news is that this same fundamental confession of God’s people continues in the New Testament as “Jesus is LORD!”


We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities

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Give using your credit card or bank draft through our secure online form

Phone
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Mail
Send a check:
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Matching Gift
Your employer may also be able to double your gift.

Give a Gift of Stock
You may give securities either by transfer of the certificate of ownership or through account transfer arranged by your broker. In each case, you avoid the tax on any potential gain and receive a deduction for the full fair market value of securities. To give a gift of stock, email us at staff@pathwaylearning.org, call us at 407-682-6942, or write us at P.O. Box 2062, Winter Park, FL 32790.