[This post is part of How The Trinity Changes Everything series]
Now that we’ve talked about the persons of the Trinity, let’s turn to the attributes for a couple of posts. Here’s the first half:
God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each being fully God, and there is one God. The coherence of this is found in the unity of the divine nature that is shared by each of the persons, as well as the perichoretic structure of the immanent Trinity. While the nature of God may not be known to us in its incomprehensible entirety, we can attempt to apprehend the mystery through particulars we can understand and attempt to explain. The divine nature consists of a simplicity of attributes, which entails that God be immutable. God is maximally perfect in all that He is. Subsisting in this is His is self existence, self sufficiency, and freedom. God is also infinite, which is to say He is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, and eternal.
Because the explanations here are a bit lengthier, I’ve ordered the material under headings instead of bullet point.
There is one God
Definition taken from class notes (J. Scott Horrell, Class Notes ST102 Trinitarianism) attributed to Wayne Grudem and can be found in his systematic theology, 226).
Each of the Persons
It is seen from the following attributes being attributed variously to each member of the Godhead equally that the nature that is composed of said attributes is from our perspective the common denominator that makes the Trinity truly unique among any other conceptions of deity. Lossky conceived of the Father being the source of divinity within the Godhead, conferring upon the Son and Spirit His nature and binding the Godhead into an indivisible three in one, Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 59. This in no way diminishes the Son or the Spirit as that would be of no glory to the Source for one to be begotten or to proceed also be of lesser value (see St. Gregory of Nazianzen, In sanct. bapt. Oratio XL, 43’ P. G., XXXVI, 419 B. cited in Ibid. 63.) See also Horrell, “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity,” 50.
That is to say the mutual indwelling of each member of the Trinity in the other without there being a confusion of the persons. Based on John 17, as well as John 10:30 and other similar passages. Articulated by John ofDamascus and Maximus the Confessor. See also Horrell, “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity,” 51, 58-59.
Or could be phrased ontological Trinity, that is the Trinity in its being as divine fellowship, different than the economic Trinity, or the outworking of the Trinity that we as humans actually experience. They may possibly be one and the same, but from our perspective, we only are able to know of God what He reveals of Himself to us.
It would be foolish to think that one can hope to completely explain the divine mysteries of the Trinity. Even if we assimilate the Biblical data faithfully and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth as we seek to understand ever more fully, this side of heaven we will never fully understand all that God is.
Attempt to Explain
It is then from our perspective that we seek to explain what we can by means of listing divine attributes that can be said to be true of God based on Scripture.
Simplicity of Attributes
Nature by definition is “A complex property that includes all properties essential to an individual’s being a member of a kind; the set of properties which are necessarily coinstantiated in any individual of that kind.” (from DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” 141.) In reference to the divine nature, it is that “universal property or attributes of Godness manifest equally by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Horrell, “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity,” 41.) Combined with the idea of simplicity this is a way of saying that is there is no complexity or contradictions in the divine nature, Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19. What this does not mean however is God is merely identical with His essence (or nature), or that He stands in no real relation to the created order or that He is simply the pure act of being subsisting (see J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003, 524-26. This book contains more refined philosophical discussion of what divine simplicity can mean within Biblical parameters, and what it does mean as it borders on neo-Platonic speculation.)
Malachi 3:6, James 1:17 support this. By saying that divine simplicity entails immutability I am essentially affirming that God is immutable in the sense that He is constant in both His being and His character (Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 527.) That is to say, any intrinsic change (as opposed to extrinsic) would infringe on the simplicity of God’s nature
All that He is
Hab. 1:13; 1 Tim. 4:4; 1 John 1:5. This is the traditional theistic conception of God, articulated by St. Anselm, that in reference to philosophical theology helps set parameters on the explanation of the divine attributes. (Thomas V. Morris, Anselmian Explorations: Essays in Philosophical Theology, (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987), 70ff.) By denoting God to be maximally perfect, one is asserting that God is thought of necessarily exemplifying a maximally compossible collection of great making properties, which thereby necessitates omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, impeccability, and incorporeality (Morris, Anselmian Explorations, 70.)
Job 41:11; Acts 17:24-25; Romans 11:35-36. Again for more philosophical discussion see Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 504-7.
This is entailed by the Anselmian concept of God as the greatest possible being and is broken down into the traditional affirmations of the so called omni-attributes, which each really need their own explanation.
The Biblical basis for this can be found in Psalm 139:7-10; 1 Kings 8:27; Jer 23:23-24, Isa. 57:15, 66:1-2; Acts 17:24,28 but much could be said of just what this means philosophically. That is to say, as with this and other attributes, while the Bible affirms their existence, it does not always communicate exactly what is meant by such attributes. For omnipresence, it could probably be best thought of as God existing in a certain sense spacelessly, but is present everywhere by means of cognizance of and causally activity at every point in space (Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 511.)
The Bible attests to this in Ps. 135:5-6; Isa 43:13, 44:24, 45:7, Jer 32:17; Mt 19:26; Eph. 1:4-11; Rev. 4:11 By omnipotent, what is meant is that God has no independent, externally determined constraints on His power; lacks no possible ability or power it is intrinsically better to have than to lack; and is the sole source and continuous support or all the power there is or could be (Morris, Anselmian Explorations, 71.) In regards to a supposed power or ability to sin, it should be noted that God never uses His perfect power to sin because that would conflict with His character as a perfect divine being (Morris, Anselmian Explorations, 75.) The above definition also empties questions like “can God make a rock to big for Him to lift?” of their force as such a concept as “a rock to big to lift” describes a logically impossible state of affairs that really describes nothing at all and does not acquire meaning simply by being attached to “can God.” (Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 528.)
Support found in Job 11:7-9, 28:20-28, 34:21-22; Ps. 139:1-6,16; Isa. 40:12-14, 41:22-27, 42:9, 46:10. Omniscience is the property of knowing every true proposition and believing no false proposition (Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 532.) Much, much more could be said here, but it entails a discussion of divine foreknowledge and creaturely freedom, something probably not appropriate to this discussion. It should be noted though that the above definition raises the question of fatalism, which a rather philosophically sound solution to can be found in Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 515-24.
Gen. 21:33; Ex 3:14; Job 36:26; Ps 29:10, 48:14, 90:2; Is. 9:6, 40:28; Micah 5:2; John 8:58; Rev 1:8,22:13 support this. There is much that could be said of just what eternal means, but it necessarily entails a lengthy discussion and defense of one’s view of God and time. I lean towards divine timelessness on this issue, but space (a pun, sorry) does not permit explication of all sides of this discussion. It might be succinct to affirm that God has no beginning and no end and is hence over and above time. Just how He relates to time currently could easily be a paper in and of itself though, and have not reached my own definitive stance on this issue yet and so recourse to silence (or at least a shorter footnote).