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The Attributes of God

The attributes of God may be defined as "the qualities constitutive of His being and character."[1] Although these qualities may be listed and considered separately in order to try and comprehend God's greatness, they are closely associated with each other. They are also not to be regarded as parts of God's being, as his whole being is expressed through each of them, eg. when God says of Himself "I am holy" and the Scriptures describe Him as "God is love," then His whole being is at the same time both infinite holiness and infinite love.

These qualities or attributes describe God's essential being, i.e. they describe what makes God, God. But we, as creatures with finite minds, cannot fully comprehend Him exactly as He is. Therefore it is only through worship, when God reveals Himself by the Spirit to the spirits of His creatures, that we can come to a true appreciation of His being.

Most systems of classifying God's attributes divide them into two groups: 1) the absolute or natural attributes, and 2) the personal or moral attributes.

1. The absolute or natural attributes of God

This is "that which belongs to the nature of a being" i.e. those qualities "that constitute ... (God's) nature and essence."[2] We briefly look at 7 of these attributes: infinity, eternity, spirituality, immutability, transcendence and immanence, omniscience and omnipotence.

1.1 Infinity

Webster defines the word "infinite" as "subject to no limitation or external determination; immeasurably or inconceivably great or extensive."[3] If we regard only the latter part of the definition, i.e. "inconceivably great," then obviously we cannot comprehend it.

But we can begin to form an idea of God's infinity if we think of it as "subject to no limitation," because then we look at attributes like holiness and love from the perspective of quality and not quantity. For example, a love that is free from all limitation and defect can be recognized as being characteristic only of God. Because God is an infinite being, all of His attributes are infinite, eg. eternity is infinite time, omnipotence is infinite power, omniscience is infinite knowledge, etc.

1.2 Eternity

This is defined by Webster as "having infinite duration: timeless."[4] God's eternity is therefore His infinity seen in relation to time. Scripture usually refers to His endless duration,[5] but His eternity actually means that He is above time and therefore not subject to its limitations. God has existed from eternity and will exist to eternity. What we view and experience as past and future, is to Him an eternal present time: now. Hence His name is I AM, and Jesus could say, "before Abraham was, I AM."[6]

1.3 Spirituality

This means that "His existence or substance is immaterial ... possessing properties essentially different from those of matter."[7] Jesus told the Samaritan woman that "God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."[8]

God has a substantial being distinct from the world, and this being is immaterial and invisible. He has none of the properties belonging to matter and He cannot be discerned by the bodily senses. Paul speaks of Him as "the King eternal, immortal, invisible"[9] and as "dwelling in light unapproachable; whom no man hath seen, nor can see."[10]

But God is Spirit with personality; the Bible describes Him as thinking, feeling, speaking, etc. Therefore God manifests Himself in a way that can be understood by man.

1.4 Immutability

God's nature and attributes are constant and unchangeable. He is "the same yesterday and today and forever."[11] Finney comments that, as God's existence depends on no cause, "change in His nature is naturally impossible, as a change in His nature would be an event without a cause."[12] Therefore God's attributes are completely constant, eg. His love is a constant force not a fitful emotion.

1.5 Transcendence and Immanence (or Omnipresence)

God's relation to creation is both transcendent (detached) and immanent (pervasive). As the sovereign Creator and Judge of the world, He is "prior to, above and beyond" the universe.[13] At the same time, however, He is operative within every part of creation, as "in Him all things hold together."[14] The lack of balance between these two concepts has resulted in heresies like deism and pantheism, emphasizing transcendence and immanence respectively.

"Omnipresence," an older term for "immanence" suggests the all-pervading presence of God, so that nothing is beyond or apart from Him. He is not partly but wholly present to every person and in every place, although the meaning attached to the word "presence" will change according to the reason for the presence. For example, God is providentially present in the affairs of man;[15] attentively present to those who seek Him;[16] judicially present to the consciences of the wicked;[17] mystically present in thechurch;[18] bodily present in the Son;[19] etc.

1.6 Omniscience

This can be defined as "the absolute knwledge of all existences, event, and things, actual or possible."[20] God's knowledge is part of His nature, and therefore He has instant knowledge of past, present and future. God's fore-knowledge versus a person's free will can be explained in that God's knowledge of how an individual will use his free will does not force that person's choice, and therefore he is responsible for his own acts.

1.7 Omnipotence

God is almighty and has the power to do anything which is compatible with His nature. He will not act in a way that would be contradictory to any of His attributes, as they are all consistent in themselves and with one another. The only limitation to His power is self-imposed, as He abides by His own laws.

2. The personal or moral attributes of God

God is praise-worthy, not so much because of His natural attributes, but because of the use He makes of them, i.e. His personal (moral) attributes. These can be defined as "disposition(s) ... of the will ... (or) preference(s) of the mind" and thus "are what principally constitute moral character."[21]

2.1 Benevolence (goodness)

God's entire character is benevolent, and His other moral attributes are particular expressions of His benevolence. God's benevolence is evident in His works, His ways and His moral law. The Bible expressly declares that He is good and kind, and in redemption the supreme act of Love is demonstrated. The existence of evil and suffering in the world is not attributable to God's malevolence but to the devil's, and also to man's innate tendency to sin and selfishness.

2.2 Justice (righteousness)

God's justice is manifested by the fact that obedience to His laws is rewarded and disobedience punished, the former being an expression of love and the latter of wrath. While this may not always happen during our earthly lives, the Scriptures make it clear that there will be a future judgement. It was in order to satisfy God's just or righteous nature that Jesus suffered for our sins. The Scriptures testify that "just and right is He" and "Thou art just ... for Thou hast done right."[22]

2.3 Mercy

Whereas justice demands the execution of the penalty for crime, mercy is a disposition to pardon the crime. Yet justice and mercy are equally a part of goodness or benevolence. Two conditions must be met before mercy may be extended without violating justice: 1) the subject of mercy must realize his guilt, repent of and forsake his crime; 2) public justice must be satisfied in that the act of mercy will prevent future crime. The doctrines of the atonement and forgiveness of sin prove that God's "mercy triumphs over judgement."[23]

2.4 Truth and Faithfulness

Truth is a disposition to represent facts and things as they are. God is true in His inner being, in His revelation and in His relation to His people. God's truth is manifested in faithfulness to the fulfillment of His promises. "If we are faithless, He abides faithful; for He cannot deny Himself."[24]

2.5 Wisdom

Wisdom is God's disposition to use His knowledge and power in the most benevolent manner. This means that He exercises His natural attributes for the promotion of the highest good, which is His own glory first and foremost,[25] but secondly also the virtue and happiness of His creatures. [26]

2.6 Holiness

Holiness is absolute moral perfection and the separation from all that is impure. God's holiness is overwhelmingly proved in the work of atonement, which was necessary because of His divine perfection "by which He is absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and exalted above them in infinite majesty."[27] He makes people "holy" or sanctifies them by setting them apart for His service, which obligates them "to consecrate themselves to live according to the law of Holiness."[28]


1. Hammond, p.43

2. Finney, pp.76, 67

3. Webster, p.432

4. Webster, p.285

5. Psalms 90:21

6. John 8:58

7. Finney, p.75

8. John 4:24

9. 1 Timothy 1:17

10. 1 Timothy 6:15-16

11. Hebrews 13:8

12. Finney, p.75

13. Webster p.939

14. Colossians 1:17

15. Psalms 68:7-8

16. Matthew 18:19-20

17. Genesis 3:8

18. Ephesians 2:12-22

19. Colossians 2:9

20. Finney, p.72

21. Finney, pp.76,98

22. Deuteronomy 32:4; Nehemiah 9:33

23. James 2:13

24. 2 Timothy 2:13

25. Psalms 19:1; Ephesians 1:12

26. 1 Corinthians 2:7

27. Berkhof, p.33

28. Pearlman, p.65


1. Berkhof, L. A Summary of Christian Doctrine, London, England: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1938.

2. Douglas, L.D. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Illinois, U.S.A.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1962.

3. Finney, C. The Heart of Truth, Minnesota, U.S.A.: Bethany Fellowship Inc., 1976.

4. Green, J.P. (ed.) The Interlinear Bible, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986.

5. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding be Men, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968.

6. Pearlman, M. The Doctrines of the Bible Part 1, Roodepoort, S.A.: Gospel Publishing House, 1937.

7. Strong, J. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Tennessee, U.S.A.: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1990.

8. Thompson, F.C. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (N.I.V.), Michigan, U.S.A.: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1983.

9. Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Merriam Co., 1961.


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