Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST002/8 God`s Attributes.


The Classification of the attributes.

A simple, straightforward, proper classification of the Divine attributes is both useful and helpful to our understanding of the nature and character of God. This classification has been carricd out in a great variety of ways by various theologians and none is probably completely satisfactory.

One method is a two-fold division of the attributes into natural and moral. The natural attributes are those which are essential to God's nature and do not involve the exercise of His will e.g. spirituality, eternity, immensity.

The moral attributes are qualities of His character and involve the exercise of His will e.g. justice, mercy etc.. The weakness of this classification is that it makes no distinction between those attributes which apply to God`s relationship to His creation and those which apply to Him apart from this relationship.

Borkhof likewise has a twofold division which he terms incommunicable and communicable. In this case the incommunicable attributes are those which relate to God`s mode of existence within Himself quite apart from creation, whereas the communicable attributes have to do with Godts relationship with His creation.

An interesting classification is that given by Dr.W.H.Strong in his ''systematic Theology', the basis of which is again two-fold. It is as follows: "Theme: God is ;

(A) Spirit         (B) Infinite  (C) Perfect.
(A) The Source (B) Support (C) End of all things.

Absolute or Immanent Attributes

A.Spirituality, involving : a. Life b. Personality.
B. Infinity, involving : a. Self-existence, b. Immutability. c. Unity.
C. Perfection, involving : a. Truth. b. Love. c. Holiness.

Relative or Transitive Attributes.

A. Related to time and space :a. Eternity. b. Immensity.
B. Related to Creation : a. Omnipotence b. Omnipresence c. Omniscience.
C. Related to Moral Beings :

     a. Veracity and Faithfulness - Transitive Truth.
     b. Mercy and Goodness - Transitive Love.
     c. Justice and Righteousness .- Transitive Holiness. (p.248) .

The classification of Wiley, however, seems to be the simplest and this will be the one followed here. It is:-

  1. Absolute Attributes, or those qualities which belong to God in His essence and apart from His creative work.
  2. Relative Attributes or those arising out of the relation existing between the Creator and the created, and which of necessity require the creature for their manifestations.
  3. Moral Attributes, or those which belong to the relation existing between God and the moral beings under His government, especially man.

The Absolute Attributes.

The absolute attributes are those which relate to God`s mode of existence within Himself apart from creation. They would be just as much attributes of God if there were no creation at all. They refer to His mode of existence rather than to His mode of operation. "They are absolute in that they are unlimited by time or space, are independent of all other existence, and defect in themselves."

Wiley names these attributes as spirituality, infinity, eternity, immensity, immutability and perfection. While those are not exactly the same as those given by other theologians, they do include all that other theologians mention, e.g. spirituality, as will be seen, includes the ideas of personality, unity and self-existence.


Objections have been raised to including spirituality among the attributes. It is maintained that it is not an attribute but the very essence of the being of God. But the statement "God is love" is a parallel one and if we can make the statement that He is love, we can likewise say that He is spirit.

On the other hand it is true that when considering spirituality as an attribute, it is rather the effects of pure spirit that is meant than pure spirit itself. It is not easy, however, to differentiate between the two. Other theologians deal with personality and unity separately but we shall follow Wiley in including these under spirituality. Four points there-fore need to be noted.

1. There is a negative implication in the term spirituality. God is " immaterial, i.e. He is not material. He is not dependent upon, nor is He conditioned by the laws of space and time. Matter is dependent on spirit, not spirit on matter; thus all matter is dependent on the one, infinite Spirit, God. God is not material and therefore has no bodily parts.

Anthropomorphism, are only used in the Scriptures in two ways; firstly, as depicting actual theophanies, or manifestations of God in human form; these occur in the Old Testament and were temporary foreshadowings of the great miracle of the incarnation; secondly, the Scripture gives bodily parts to God only as an accommodation to human finite comprehension, human terms being the only way by which God can express Himself and His character to mankind.

To sum up we quote Paley as saying concerning spirituality that it "expresses an idea made up of negative and positive parts; the negative part consists in the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially solidity, inertia., divisibility and gravitation. The positive part comprises perceptive thought, will power and action, or the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter  which cannot move unless it is moved, and cannot but move when impolled."

2. Man cannot adequately conceive of pure spirit. We have no purely spiritual consciousness. Miss Bowie brings out two significant thoughts suggested in Scripture concerning spirit. One is invisible energy. Jesus used the idea of wind to explain this to Nicodemus.

If modern science is true, and matter is continual motion, we do not seem so far wrong in thinking of spirit as energy. The other is life. Breath and spirit are interchangeable in both the languages of the Bible and are closely connected with life. The thought of human life leads us to the idea of personality.

3. Spirituality implies personality. God is completely distinct from what He has created and is a self—conscious, self—determining, intelligent, voluntary agent. He is self—subsistent, or self—existent, i.e.He possesses life in Himself, the sources of all His life., power and personality are within and from Himself (cf.Acts 17:24,25). "He is the one sole, self—originated, independent, unconditioned and absolute Being." (Pope)

It has been maintained that attributing personality to God limits Him,  but this is only because human thought has too closely connected personality with body, which is a false assumption. Personality enclosed in body is limited, but personality in infinite spirit is itself infinite.

"Personality in God is not an outgrown anthropomorphism. The representation of God as a Father, emphasised by Christ, implies personality as distinctly as any of the earlier anthropomorphisms, and far more richly. Probably the truth is that complete personality exists in God alone.

He is the one perfect and typical person, and man, as yet, possesses personality only in a rudimentary and imperfect way, as a growing gift which is gradually coming toward perfection. We are compelled to define personality from ourselves, and yet we can thus obtain only a partial definition. God alone is fully personal." (Clarke, Outlines of Christian theology p.38).

After all, as Miss Bowie says, human personality is incomplete and onesided. The more we grow into the likeness of God, the more poised and symmetrical we become.
There is abundant evidence in Scripture to support the fact of the personality of God. One sure sign of personality is self-consciousness and this is manifest all through the Bible. God stands over against His creation and pronounces it good; He enters into covenants with men; He represents Himself as determining on a course of action and then pursuing it. (Cf.Amos l:JJ l3; Jer.25:8,14).

4. Unity. The scripture testifies clearly to the unity of God. The following are the main passages of fcripture in this connection - Deut. 6:4; Ps.86:1O; Isa.14:8, 45;22; Mark 12:29; John 17:3; 1 Cor.8:6; Eph.4:6; & 1 Tim.2:5. The doctrine is not a denial of the Trinity for God is not one as a book or an animal is one, i.e. one of a kind. He is one in the sense of uniqueness. "Beside Me there is no God".(Isa.44:6). Also the Hebrew word "ole" has within its scope the idea of a composite oneness.

Polytheism robs deity of its infiniteness. It arises as a result of man`s difficulty in conceiving of a God great enough to be all in all. Only one God could be responsible for sustaining a universe such as we see. The conflict and jealousy amid the pantheon of the polytheistic religions could never have produced and sustained the universe. Dr.Strong says, "Polytheism is man`s attempt to rid himself of the notion of responsibility to one moral Lawgiver and Judge by dividing up His manifestations and attributing them to separate wills." Paul's words in Romans 1:23 & 28 are relevant here.

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