What are the Attributes of God?

Question
What are the Attributes of God?
Answer

God reveals himself in many ways to his creation; through his Word, power, creation, history, his names, and attributes, or the perfections of his being, etc. When referring to God's Attributes some theologians distinguish between: (1) Incommunicable and (2) Communicable.

When we speak of God's Incommunicable Attributes we speak of those that God essentially does not share with his creatures. On the other hand, when we speak of God's Communicable Attributes we refer to those God to some degree shares with his creatures; though said creatures display them in only a 'limited and imperfect way as compared to that which is unlimited and perfect in God' (Berkhof).

For the most part, though other resources were consulted and used (see below), Louis Berkhof's Systematic was followed, quoted, and paraphrased in the preparation of this answer. Since it has been shared with me that Berkhof can be rather difficult to follow at certain points, some of the language has been changed to assist the modern reader to understand the context more easily. I pray this is more of a help than a hinderance.

The Incommunicable Attributes

1. Self-Existence

Some call this "Aseity." This means that God exists in and of himself or that God has the ground of his existence in himself and does not depend on anything outside of himself. God is independent in his entire being. He is absolutely self-derived, self-sufficient. He is the uncaused Cause; the uncreated Creator. See Exodus 3:14; Psalms 33:11; 115:3; Isaiah 40:18; 44:6; Daniel 4:35; John 5:26; Romans 11:33-36; Acts 17:25; Revelation 1:17; 4:11.

2. Immutability

God is unchangeable. He is forever the same in his divine being, nature, perfections, character, will, purposes, and covenant promises. God is absolutely perfect in his being and thus there is no necessity for change. All change exists in some chronological order, but God exists outside of time (Psa 33:11; 41:13; 90:2-4; John 17:5; 2 Tim 1:9), so God doesn't respond to time as his creature do. When Scripture speaks of God changing his mind (Exod 32:14; Jon 3:10; ), this does not indicate a change in God, but a change man's relation to God. See "Does God Change His Mind?" below. See Numbers 23:19; Psalms 33:11; 102:27; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 6:17; James 1:17.

3. Infinity

God is beyond measure (Psa 147:5). He is omniscient (all-knowing, 1 Kings 8:39; Psa 139:1-4, 15-16; Isa 46:9-10; Matt 10:29-30; 1 John 3:20), omnipotent (all-powerful, Gen 1:1-2:4; Job 42:2; Dan 2:21; John 19:11; Jude 1:24), omnipresent (everywhere present, Psa 139:7-12; Isa 57:15; Jer 23:23-24; Amos 9:2-3), and transcendent (far above all, Psa 97:9; 108:5; Isa 55:8-9; Rom 11:33-36; Heb 1:3), yet immanent (always near, Jer 23:23; Eph 1:11; 4:6; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3). He is eternal, so he is not subject to space and time limitations. In relation to space, we speak of God's immensity; he fills all that can be filled with all of himself all the time, so there is no place where he is not. But though he is present everywhere, he is in no way bounded by space (1 Kings 8:27; Job 34:22; Psa 139:7-10; Isa 66:1; Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:27-28). In regards to his being, knowledge, wisdom, love, mercy, grace, etc. he is absolute perfection (Job 11:7-10; Psa 145:3).

4. Simplicity

God is a spirit (John 4:24) and is not composed of various parts (body and soul) and therefore is not subject to division. God and his attributes are one; he is absolute life (John 1:4), light (1 John 1:5), love (1 John 4:8), etc. However, God is not made up of all his attributes; he "is" all his attributes. Every attribute is identical with his essence. Stephen Charnock assists us with the difficulty of this topic saying:

God is the most simple being; for that which is first in nature, having nothing beyond it, cannot by any means be thought to be compounded; for whatsoever is so, depends upon the parts whereof it is compounded, and so is not the first being: now God being infinitely simple, hath nothing in himself which is not himself, and therefore cannot will any change in himself, he being his own essence and existence.

The Communicable Attributes

1. Knowledge

God is knowledge; his absolute knowledge is complete, always present, and is in himself; he does not obtain it from outside of himself. He knows himself and all things possible and actual. He is omniscient. He knows all things, past, present, and future, both the actual and the merely possible. See 1 Kings 8:29; Psalm 139:1-2; Proverbs 1:7; 2:6; 9:10; Isaiah 46:10; Ezekiel 11:5; John 21:17; Acts 15:18; Romans 1:19-20; 11:33-36; Colossians 2:3; Hebrews 4:13.

2. Wisdom

God's infinite wisdom is related to his absolute knowledge (Jer 10:12; 51:15; Luke 1:17; Rom 11:33-36; 1 Cor 1:24; 2:5; Col 2:3; Rev 5:12; 7:12). His wisdom always manifests itself in the eternal choice of that which is perfect; the final end being his own glory (Rom 11:33-36; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:6, 12, 14, 17-18; Col 1:16). See Job 9:1-4; 12:13; 28:12-28; 36:5; Psalm 147:5; Proverbs 2:6; Isa 31:1-2; 40:28; 55:8-9; Jeremiah 51:15-17; Daniel 2:20; Romans 16:25-27; 1 Timothy 1:17; James 1:5; Jude 1:25.

3. Goodness

While God is good, that is, perfectly holy in and of himself, the divine virtue in view here is that perfection which prompts him to deal gently, compassionately, and generously with all his creatures. See Genesis 1:31; Psalm 16:2; 31:19; 36:6; 84:11; 86:5; 107:1; 145:8-9, 16; 118:29; Nehemiah 9:17; Matthew 5:45; John 3:16; Acts 14:17; Romans 3:24; 9:18; Ephesians 2:4-5; James 1:17; 1 John 4:8.

4. Love

While love is undoubtedly a very great attribute it should not be considered God's greatest attribute, as all his perfections are equal (i.e. holiness, light, life, etc.). To diminish one attribute in light of another is to make God less then the only true and living God that he is (1 Tim 1:17; 6:15-16; Jude 1:25). In light of God being love (1 John 4:8), he delights in his own perfections. He also delights in man as the reflection of his image. In the love of grace, God pardoned the sin of his elect (Eph 1:6-7; 2:8-10; Tit. 2:11). In the love of mercy, he relieves the consequences of the sin of his people (Luke 1:64, 72, 78; Rom 15:9; 9:16, 18; Eph 2:4). For those sinners who have no faith in him, he is longsuffering and patient (Rom 2:4; 9:22; 1 Pet 3:20;). See Exodus 15:11; Numbers 14:18; Isaiah 6:3; Romans 2:4.

5. Holiness

God's absolute, perfect, and complete holiness makes him distinct from all his creatures; exalted above them in infinite majesty (Exod 3:4-5; 15:11; 1 Sam 2:2; Psa 86:8-10; Isa 6:3; 40:25; 57:15; Rev 4:8; 15:4). He is free of all sin, morally perfect, and unimpeachable in his character (Gen 18:25; Psa 24:3-5; Hab 1:13). Holiness is the essence of his "otherness" (transcendence). Consciousness of sin becomes much clearer in God's holy, holy, holy presence (Job 34:10; Psa 99:1-3; Isa 6:5).

6. Righteousness

God is righteous (1 John 2:1). Righteous encompasses everything that God thinks, says, and does. God's actions are always right, just, and fair. It is that divine perfection of God by which he maintains himself as the ever Holy One over against every violation of his holiness. In light of his righteousness, God maintains a just and moral government in his creation and imposes a just law upon man (Psa 19:7-9; Rom 7:12), rewarding obedience and punishing disobedience (Psa 99:4; Isa 33:22; Rom 1:32). Gods' rewards are his remunerative justice (an expression of his love); and his meting out punishment his retributive justice (an expression of his holy and just wrath). See Genesis 18:25; Nehemiah 9:8; Psalm 89:14; 145:17; Jeremiah 9:24; 1 Peter 1:17.

7. Veracity

God is wholly true and faithful in his inner being (cf. Isa 45:23; Jer 44:26; Heb 6:13), his special (Heb 1:1-2; 4:12; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:21) and general (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:19-20) revelation, and in his relation to his people, as God always keeps his covenant(s) (Exod 2:24; Deut 7:9; Psa 103:17; 105:8, 42; 106:45; 111:5; Luke 1:72). He is the true God over against all that is evil and knows things as they really are. See Numbers 23:19; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 10:23.

8. Sovereignty

God's will and power are sovereign. God's will is the final cause of all things (Eph 4:11; Rev 4:11). There are three wills of God: (1) Decretive, (2), Perceptive, and (3) the Will of Disposition. See "What are the Wills of God?" below. Omnipotence is God's sovereign power to do and accomplish all that is according to his nature. See Genesis 18:14; Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 29:29; 1 Samuel 15:29; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:27; Zechariah 8:6; Matthew 3:9; 19:26; 26:52; Luke 1:37; Ephesians 1:11; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18; James 1:13, 17; Revelation 4:11.

Related Topics:

What are the Names of God?
Does God Change His Mind?
What are the Wills of God?

General References:

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Baker Academic (2008).

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Banner of Truth; 6th edition (1959).

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. Editor John McNeill, Westminster John Knox Press (1960).

Charnock, Stephen. The Existence and Attributes of God, 2 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House (1979).

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan (1994).

Hodge, A.A. Outlines of Theology. Banner of Truth (1972).

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, 3 Vol. Hendrickson Publishers; Reprinted 1981 edition (1999).

Reymond, Robert. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Thomas Nelson; 2nd Revised & enlarged edition (1998).

Turretin, Francis .Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 vols. P & R Publishing (1997).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).