Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (God the Father: The Attributes (Perfections) of God)

Method of Identification

Relation to God’s Essence


The Incommunicable Perfections

The Communicable Perfections

In considering the names and titles of God, we have already noted many of God’s attributes, or perfections (e.g., eternity, omnipotence). The following discussion considers them more fully in order to describe the indescribable (Isa. 40:28; Rom. 11:33) in basic terms that humans can understand.

The attributes of God are his characteristics, the various aspects of his essence or nature. The term perfections, derived from the Greek term aretas (“excellencies”) in 1 Peter 2:9, works better than attributes because perfections specifies that the characteristics of God are each perfect and inherently characterize the God who is perfect. The term attributes does not inherently specify perfect characteristics and might hint that these originate in someone’s concept of God rather than in God himself.

A general definition of perfections is as follows: God’s perfections are the essential characteristics of his nature. Because these characteristics are necessary to his nature, all his attributes are absolutely perfect and thus rightly called perfections. Further, since these perfections are essential to God’s nature, if any one of them were denied, God would no longer be God.

Method of Identification


Since these perfections characterize God, they cannot be discovered and defined by man, especially in his depravity, for man by himself cannot know God completely. Rather, God must reveal himself for man to assuredly know anything about God, including his perfections. God has revealed himself in nature, but humanity corrupts that knowledge. Only the Bible gives accurate information about God and his perfections. Even this information is not exhaustive, but it is true because it is written in the inspired text of Scripture.


People have tried human-based methods of discovering God’s perfections. Louis Berkhof outlines methods attempted in the Middle Ages and in modern times.

Scholastic Methods. In the Middle Ages, Scholastic theologians sought to derive knowledge of the perfections of God from observations about the creation:

       1.    The way of causality (four of Aquinas’s five ways): Looking at the natural and moral order of creation and inducing an all-powerful, absolutely moral First Cause and ruler of creation

       2.    The way of negation: Discerning the imperfections of creatures, denying those as characteristic of God, and ascribing to God that which is perfectly opposite to the imperfections of the creatures (e.g., independent, infinite, incorporeal)

       3.    The way of eminence: Ascribing to God the good characteristics of man except in the most eminent way, based on the assumption that man’s more limited good characteristics have their origin in a perfect cause

Modern Methods. Modern theologians have tried their own ways to know the perfections of God from observations based on human reasoning:

       1.    The way of intuition: Starting with unreasoned certainties in personal experience and inducing God’s characteristics from those experiences

       2.    The way of need: Starting with man’s needs and inducing the characteristics of God from those needs, based on the assumption that God is absolutely sufficient and dependable to meet man’s needs

       3.    The way of action: Perceiving God’s characteristics from his actions in the natural order

       4.    The way of love (Albrecht Ritschl [1822–1899]): Starting with the assumption that God is love and inducing that God is personal, has sovereign will, is the omnipotent Creator, and is eternal

Problems of Faulty Methods. All the Scholastic and modern methods summarized above are inadequate, because rather than beginning with God’s self-revelation in Scripture, they begin with their own ideas. In short, they practice “theology from below.” They build their concept of God from human observation and reasoning, which are finite at best and blighted by sin at worst. Theology from below assumes that what is in man is also in God and makes man the standard of measuring God, suggesting that man can discover God without God’s initiated help. These methods often rely on faulty human presuppositions about God, even while they might describe them with biblical terminology (regularly stressing God’s immanence at the expense of his transcendence). When derived from Scripture and employed by believers whose minds have been redeemed by the work of Christ, these Scholastic methods may serve to confirm what Scripture teaches about God. But ultimately, Scripture alone is the sole infallible authority for discovering who God is and what he is like.

Relation to God’s Essence

Before turning to define each of God’s perfections, it is necessary to ask what relationship God’s perfections have to his essence, or nature. Do God’s attributes constitute the parts of God’s essence? Are they distinct from God’s essence or identical to it? Does one perfection stand out as that which defines all the others? We turn to explore these questions.


Perfections: Parts of or Distinct from God’s Essence. Medieval realists asserted that God’s perfections are parts of God’s essence, since each has a distinct name, indicating corresponding distinct realities. A similar thought is that God’s perfections are distinct from his essence. Herman Bavinck has noted several problems with these views:

       1.    If righteousness, power, or love were only parts of God’s essence, it could not be said that God was fully righteous, powerful, or loving but only partially so.

       2.    If righteousness, power, or love were only parts of God’s essence, it could not be said that God was absolutely righteous, powerful, or loving but only relatively so.

       3.    God would then be mutable in his essence, since the various attributes that make up his nature would fluctuate. At times he would emphasize his justice, while at other times he might emphasize his love. He would not be perfectly and absolutely both loving and just at every moment in time.

Perfections: All the Same Thing. Medieval nominalists said that all the perfections are the same thing, since the names of the perfections are distinct only in names, not in corresponding realities. For example, these teachers would say that God’s love is his justice, which is his power, which is his mercy, and so on. Some early Lutheran and Reformed theologians—and, in a pantheistic way, liberal theologians (e.g., Baruch Spinoza [1632–1677] and Friedrich Schleiermacher [1768–1834])—similarly maintained that because God is simple (uncompounded) and therefore cannot have any components, there can be no actual distinction between the perfections, nor between God’s acts. The variety of the effects of God on a diverse array of creatures was said to be the basis for the diversity of the perfections. However, Bavinck has responded with several observations:

       1.    God has revealed his names to man. Man did not invent these names, and these names do indicate his attributes.

       2.    God’s essence is not an abstract reality devoid of properties, relations, and characteristics; rather, it is “absolute fulness of life” and “infinitely rich.” So it cannot be “seen at a glance” but must be “revealed to us in this, then in another relation, now from this then from another angle.”

       3.    There are real distinctions in “thought” between the various perfections of God, even though they are the one simple unity of God’s essence.

       4.    The many names and attributes of God create an impression of his “all-transcending majesty.”

One Central Perfection as God’s Essence While Others Derived. Open theists hold that only love is God’s essence and that all other attributes are derived from and subordinate to his love (after all, they say, God is not just loving, but he is love itself, 1 John 4:8). Open theists also believe that God has chosen not to know the future acts of humanity because such knowledge would determine people’s actions, thereby overriding their free will. They further believe that God would never determine man’s actions since to do so would compromise any genuine relationship with man; God would not be able to respond in love to man’s free choice to love God. Open theism’s view that love is God’s one superior perfection is faulty for the following reasons:

       1.    Scripture says not only that God is love (1 John 4:8), but also that he is light (1 John 1:5), thereby emphasizing his holiness as much as his love (cf. Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

       2.    This view tends to make God’s other perfections less necessary.

       3.    Historically—for example, among nineteenth-century liberals—this view has tended to diminish God’s justice, resulting in a rejection of Christ’s atonement as a substitutionary, forensic, and sacrificial punishment.


God’s essence is identical to his perfections. There is no essential distinction between God’s essence and his perfections, and there is no essential difference between God’s perfections to one another. Each perfection characterizes God’s complete essence simply and eternally. That is to say, God is what he has. He does not merely possess love, justice, and goodness; he is love and justice, eternally, fully, and completely. God is eternally all-powerful, all-holy, and all-loving.

Rationale. If God’s perfections were not identified with his essence but were rather conceived as parts or properties that compose God’s essence, the simplicity of God would be undermined. Then the perfections themselves would be not divine but only parts that make up the divine. Yet this is out of accord with the teaching of Scripture. Also, Scripture never discusses God’s essence (being) in the abstract but always in connection with his perfections. Even God’s assertion of his self-existence in Exodus 3:14 is in the context of his personal visitation to remember his covenant and redeem his people from bondage. Further, such terms as “deity” (Col. 2:9–10), “divine nature” (Rom. 1:20; 2 Pet. 1:4), and “form of God” (Phil. 2:6) speak of God’s essence in connection with his perfections, such as “authority” (Col. 2:10), “power” (Rom. 1:20), “glory” (2 Pet. 1:3), and “love” (Phil. 2:2). Scripture also mentions certain perfections with a verb of being, indicating that God is totally that perfection; for example, 1 John 4:8 and 16 state that “God is love,” and 1 John 1:5 declares that “God is light,” signifying his holiness. Scripture also specifies some perfections adjectivally (e.g., “the living God,” “the eternal God,” “the Holy One”).

Ramifications. This understanding of God’s perfections leads to several ramifications:

God is fully each of his perfections. Whatever God is, he is totally in his essence. If God is not fully and absolutely love, or fully and absolutely holy, or fully and absolutely good, then he is not fully and absolutely God. God’s perfections must characterize him totally, eternally, and infinitely, because if they do not, God would be neither immutable nor simple. His nature would change with the passage of time, because he would have to switch from being “loving” one moment to “holy” the next. Neither could his essence be regarded as uncompounded and simple, since he would be only partly love, partly justice, partly mercy, and so on. No, God is what he possesses; he is all his perfections, fully and completely.

God’s perfections qualify each other. Because God is each of his perfections in all his essence, then each of his perfections complements and qualifies each of his other perfections. For example, his justice is a holy justice, and his love is a righteous love.

God’s perfections are active. Each of God’s perfections is fully active in his essence. God is never passive or inactive in any aspect of his essence. If all of God’s perfections are not continuously and completely active in his essence, God is not actively God in any aspect, because some aspect of his entire essence is not active and his other perfections are without a necessary divine complement and qualifier. Whatever God is, he must be perfectly active in his essence.

God’s perfections should be studied in concert with one another. Since God is totally each of his perfections, one should not study a single perfection of God in isolation from all his other perfections. Each perfection should be studied as complemented and qualified by (i.e., integrated with) all the other perfections and vice versa. All of God’s perfections should be studied as influencing each other.

God’s perfections are reflexive. Another ramification of the total identity of God’s perfections with his essence is that God’s perfections are reflexive. That is, they are focused on him; each of the perfections is active toward God as their perfect object. What God is, he is to and for himself before his perfections are directed toward anything or anyone else.

Clarification. While God is eternally and infinitely and completely all his perfections, humans consciously focus on only one attribute in a moment of time in Scripture. This single focus is because God condescends to reveal himself in Scripture to finite people. But whenever he reveals himself in time as one of his perfections, he is still fully and actively all his perfections. So whenever God reveals a particular perfection in any event or statement of Scripture, he is emphasizing that perfection in that specific context, not excluding the other perfections.


One other issue should be considered before specifically defining God’s perfections. Throughout the years, theologians have sought to categorize the divine perfections. The Bible does not explicitly establish categories, so these are devised by theologians. That fact should caution the student of Scripture against uncritically accepting any categorization. Yet because various kinds of categories have been proposed in the history of theology, it is necessary to consider whether they have merit.


Following Scholasticism’s three ways of knowing God (causality, negation, and eminence), this classification (negative and positive) is based on (1) negative perfections, or those that are the opposite of creature limitations (e.g., infinite, incorporeal), and (2) positive perfections, or those that are present in man but are characteristic of God in an infinitely perfect way (e.g., goodness, holiness, righteousness, justice).

The problem with these categories is that they overlap. When one makes a negative assertion about God, he has a positive concept in mind, even though he might not be able to articulate it. For example, to say that God is immutable (negative) entails that one consciously knows that God is constant and faithful (positive). The reverse is true as well. When one makes a positive assertion about God, he also implies a negative assertion. For example, to say that God is omnipresent (positive) is to say that he is infinite (negative; i.e., not finite) with respect to space.


Natural perfections are those belonging to God’s constitution (e.g., self-existence, simplicity, infinity), whereas moral perfections are those belonging to his will and therefore make him a moral being (e.g., goodness, truth, love, holiness).

The problem with this classification is that moral attributes are just as much aspects of God’s essence as natural attributes. Perfections of goodness are also perfections of God’s greatness (Psalm 145), and perfections of personality are also perfections of God’s constitution.


The absolute perfections characterize God’s essence considered in and of itself (e.g., self-existence, infinity, spirituality), whereas the relative perfections characterize God’s essence considered in God’s relation to his creation (e.g., omniscience, omnipresence).

The problem in this instance is that this classification assumes that man can know about God in his essence, but the truth is that all of God’s perfections are relative, revealed in relation to his creation. Even the so-called relative perfections are absolute, because they are eternally active in the relationships between the members of the Trinity, in God’s essential existence.


In explaining this classification, it is important to first define the following terms:

immanent: existing or remaining within; inherent

emanant: originating within but producing external results

intransitive: not requiring a direct object to complete its action or meaning

quiescent: inactive

According to this classification, the former are perfections that function outside the divine essence but remain immanent in God (e.g., immensity, eternity, simplicity), whereas the latter are perfections that produce things external to God (e.g., omnipotence, goodness, justice).

Contrary to this classification, man cannot know any characteristic of God as it is in his essence but only as his character is revealed in his works. Further, the operative and causative perfections must also be immanent and intransitive in God; otherwise, God would need something outside himself to be complete. Also, no perfection of God can be inactive; otherwise, God would not be constantly and actively all his being/essence.


The best categorization is that which distinguishes between incommunicable and communicable perfections. The incommunicable perfections are those characteristics unique to God (e.g., self-existence, simplicity, immensity), whereas the communicable perfections are those characteristics transferable in part to humans (e.g., goodness, righteousness, love).

A problem with the incommunicable versus communicable categorization is that since man cannot know God in his essence apart from his relations to his creation, it is impossible to know any characteristic of God apart from those relations. Even the incommunicable perfections are at least somewhat like human characteristics, or no one could understand anything about God’s perfections. Also, God’s communicable perfections are not completely like human characteristics, or God would not be greater than man in every characteristic.

For example, with respect to God’s incommunicable perfection of immutability (unchangeableness), one can have a limited understanding because he or she knows what it is for another human to have consistent thoughts, principles, and behavior over a long period of time. But such an understanding is limited because no human knows what it is for someone to be without the ability to change in nature and character. Concerning the communicable perfection of love, people have a partial picture because they know what God has revealed in Scripture about his love in his relations to humans, but they do not know what God’s love is for himself in the Trinity, nor do they know exhaustively what God’s love is for people.

The incommunicable versus communicable classification is employed here for the following reasons:

       1.    A classification can be a useful tool in studying God’s perfections, as it can help people focus on how God is unique compared to mankind.

       2.    This classification has endured throughout the years among theologians of various traditions.

       3.    This classification stresses both the transcendence and the immanence of God, denying both pantheism and deism.

       4.    This classification is most helpful if one does not strictly divide the two groups of perfections but sees the incommunicable attributes as qualifying the communicable attributes and vice versa.


Even the incommunicable versus communicable classification is a human observation, so no classification should be accepted uncritically. All classifications must be accompanied by the following cautions.

Dividing God in Two. All classifications of God’s perfections seem to divide God in two, leaving no harmony between the perfections and thus no apparent unity in God. This weakness can be overcome by seeing the first class of perfections (incommunicable) as qualifying the second class (communicable) and vice versa, “so that it can be said that God is one, absolute, unchangeable and infinite in His knowledge and wisdom, His goodness and love, His grace and mercy, His righteousness and holiness.”

Dividing Negatives from Positives. Every classification tends to separate negative descriptions of God from positive descriptions of him, even though when thinking about one, people have the other in mind. Bavinck explains,

If they were completely incommunicable, they would also be absolutely unknowable. The very fact that we are able to name them proves that in one way or another they were revealed by God in creation. Hence, the negative attributes have a positive content: though we need the idea of time in order to obtain a conception of God’s eternity, and that of space in order to form an idea of his omnipresence, and that of finite, changeable creatures in order to become aware of his infinitude and immutability; nevertheless, these negative attributes furnish us with a very important positive knowledge concerning God. Thus, even though we cannot comprehend eternity in any positive sense, nevertheless, to know that God is exalted above the limitations of time is very important.

Describing God Essentially. All the classifications seem to imply that we can know God in his essence, considered apart from his relations to his creatures. But God cannot be known by people in this way. No person, other than Jesus Christ, can know any divine characteristic in its perfection. This weakness must be overcome by seeing even the first class of perfections as, at least in some way, being like human characteristics and being active in relation to creatures.

The Incommunicable Perfections

With these preliminary observations about the divine perfections and how to study them, we can now define them based on Scripture. In light of the fact that God’s perfections are identical to his essence, and especially based on the implications of this fact, we must not consider these perfections without consciously thinking about how they actively integrate with (i.e., complement and qualify) each other. One must also remember that these perfections are directed first toward God before anything or anyone outside him. The following definitions of divine perfections are accompanied by biblical truths on which these definitions are based.22


God is independent of all things. He is perfectly self-sufficient, not depending on anything outside himself for anything, and is therefore the eternal, foundational being, the source of life and sustenance for all other beings.

The following list presents scriptural evidence for God’s aseity:

       1.    As Yahweh, God is self-existent, having life in and of himself (Ex. 3:14; John 5:26).

       2.    God existed before all things, and through him alone all things exist (Ps. 90:2; 1 Cor. 8:6; Rev. 4:11).

       3.    God is Lord of all (Deut. 10:17; Josh. 3:13).

       4.    He depends on nothing; all things depend on him (Rom. 11:36).

       5.    He is the source of everything (Deut. 32:39; Isa. 45:5–7; 54:16; John 5:26; 1 Cor. 8:6).

       6.    He does as he wills (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 46:10–11; 64:8; Jer. 18:6; Dan. 4:35; Rom. 9:19–21; Eph. 1:5; Rev. 4:11).

       7.    His counsel is the basis of everything (Ps. 33:10–11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 46:10; Matt. 11:25–26; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28; Eph. 1:5, 9, 11).

       8.    He does everything for his own sake (Josh. 7:9; 1 Sam. 12:22; Pss. 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 106:8; 109:21; 143:11; Prov. 16:4; Isa. 48:9; Jer. 14:7, 21; Ezek. 20:9, 14, 22, 44; Dan. 9:19).

       9.    He needs nothing, being all-sufficient (Job 22:2–3; Acts 17:25).

     10.    He is the first and the last (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).

     11.    He is independent in his mind (Rom. 11:33–35), his will (Dan. 4:35; Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:5; Rev. 4:11), his counsel (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:10), his love (Hos. 14:4), and his power (Ps. 115:3).


God’s immutability is his perfect unchangeability in his essence, character, purpose, and promises.

Scriptural Evidence. The following list summarizes the biblical teaching about God’s immutability:

       1.    He is eternally the same (Ps. 102:25–27).

       2.    He is the first and the last (Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12).

       3.    He is what he is (Ex. 3:14).

       4.    He is incorruptible, alone having immortality, always remaining the same (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15–16; Heb. 1:11–12).

       5.    His thought, purpose, will, and decrees are unchangeable:

a.    He executes his threats and promises (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29).

b.    He does not repent of his gifts and calling (Rom. 11:29).

c.    He does not cast off people with whom he has made a unilateral covenant (Rom. 11:1).

d.    He glorifies those whom he foreknows (Rom. 8:29–30).

e.    He perfects what he starts (Ps. 138:8; Phil. 1:6).

f.     His faithfulness never lessens (Lam. 3:22–23).

       6.    He does not change (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17).

Questions concerning God’s Immutability. Tensions are apparent to people when they read passages asserting God’s unchangeability alongside passages stating that God repents (Gen. 6:6; Ex. 32:12; 1 Sam. 15:11, 35; Jer. 18:10; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9–10; 4:2), changes his purpose (Gen. 18:23–32; Ex. 32:10–14; Jonah 3:10), gets angry (Ex. 4:14; Num. 11:1, 10; Ps. 106:40; Zech. 10:3), turns from his anger (Ex. 32:14; Deut. 13:17; 2 Chron. 12:12; 30:8; Jer. 18:8, 10; 26:3), relates differently to the unbeliever than to the believer (Prov. 11:20; 12:22), is pure to the pure but opposes the wicked (Ps. 18:25–26), is incarnated in time (Gal. 4:4), indwells the church (1 Cor. 3:16–17; Eph. 2:19–22; Col. 1:27), rejects Israel (Rom. 11:15), receives the Gentiles after having rejected them for years (Acts 11:18; Rom. 11:11–15), is wrathful at one time and forgiving at another (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Psalm 78), and is close at one time and far off at another (Jer. 23:23).

To resolve this tension, many, such as open theists, have said that God really does change his mind, purposes, and promises in response to what humans do. They contend that one cannot justly harmonize God’s “changes” in Scripture with the traditional doctrine that God is unchangeable. They claim that if sinners turn from sin and respond in faith and love toward God, he will turn from (repent of, change his mind about) the judgment he intended and give them blessing instead. Correspondingly, if they turn from trusting in him, he will revoke any promises of blessing. According to open theists, God does not know how people will respond to him, and he waits to see what they will do in each moment before he chooses his response to them.

There are many errors in open theism and other such false teachings that deny God’s immutability, each of which is refuted by viewing God’s immutability in proper biblical perspective. Immutability does not mean that God is static or inert, nor does it mean that he does not act distinctly in time or possess true affections. God is impassible—not in the sense that he is devoid of true feeling or has no affections but in the sense that his emotions are active and deliberate expressions of his holy dispositions, not (as is often the case with human emotions) involuntary passions by which he is driven.

A good way to understand God’s apparent changes in Scripture is to consider that God reveals himself in his relations to people. They perceive only one aspect of God at a time. God never changes, but creatures do change, and they perceive God’s perfections and actions according to their current state. Thus, God’s actions do not imply a change of essence or purpose.

For example, the language of God “repenting” or “changing” in any way is anthropopathic language—figurative expressions that communicate to man on his level of understanding about changes of dispositions or actions. Thus, God’s perceived “changes” are always in the context of his eternal omniscience and will, so they are never because God is surprised and has to adjust. They are done in harmony with his truth and faithfulness (see 1 Sam. 15:29). All his acts that might be perceived as changes are eternally foreknown and predetermined.


God’s infinity describes his nature as perfectly transcending (existing and acting beyond) all limitations of time and space. God’s infinitude with regard to time is called his eternity or omnitemporality, and his infinitude with regard to space is called his immensity or omnipresence.


God perfectly transcends all limitations of time, so that he is without beginning, without ending, and without succession of moments in the experience of his being and in his consciousness of all other reality. In other words, in his experience of himself and all reality outside himself, God is not limited by the moments of time.

Scriptural Evidence. The following list presents scriptural evidence for God’s eternity:

       1.    He is the first and the last at once (Isa. 41:4; Rev. 1:8).

       2.    He existed before creation (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1; 17:5, 24).

       3.    He will endure forever (Ps. 102:26–27).

       4.    He is God from everlasting to everlasting (Pss. 90:2; 93:2).

       5.    The number of his years cannot be discovered (Job 36:26).

       6.    One thousand years in his sight are as a day, due to his immediate experience of all time (Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8).

       7.    He is God eternal (Isa. 40:28).

       8.    He inhabits eternity (Isa. 57:15).

       9.    He lives forever (Deut. 32:40; Rev. 10:6; 15:7).

     10.    He is incorruptible and immortal (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 6:16).

     11.    He was, is, and is to come all at once (Ex. 3:14; Rev. 1:4, 8).

     12.    His purpose is eternal (Eph. 3:11).

     13.    He is the eternal King (1 Tim. 1:17).

     14.    He existed and acted “before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2).

God’s Essence as “Timeless.” An important issue concerning God’s perfection of eternity is whether God exists only in the passing moments of time or also exists outside the succession of the moments of time. Is God “timeless,” atemporal in his inner life, or is his existence temporal, only within the moments of time?

God is in time, since he interacts with his creation and his creatures from moment to moment. But God must transcend time, or he is limited by another entity: time. In other words, God’s eternity means that he is distinct from time. Nevertheless, he is not completely separate from it; rather, he is present (immanent) in every moment, controlling every moment for his purposes and glory. The biblical statement “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) indicates that God existed before “the beginning,” which commenced “the first day” (Gen. 1:5). God existed before the first moment of “the first day” of all reality outside himself. Therefore, God’s existence is outside the bounds of time. Indeed, since God began “the beginning” by his creating action, God created time and upholds its totality and each of its moments by his power. God is fully present with every moment of time, and he knows its entirety and its succession of moments. But God is never subject to time. Rather, he uses it as his servant to reveal his perfections.

In his essence, God exists in an eternal “present.” He always is with “the first” of time and with “the last” of time (Isa. 41:4; cf. 44:6). God purposed to give saving grace to his elect people “before the ages” (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2), so he acted before the first moment of the ages. God self-consciously exists outside the moments of time.

God is not confined or conditioned by limits or lengths of time (see Ps. 90:1–4; 2 Pet. 3:8). God is both the beginning and the end and remains so after the beginning has ended and before the ending has begun. In his essence, he encompasses both the beginning and the end, and both are consciously experienced and “present” realities. And since the expression “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6; 22:13) is probably a merism (a literary device expressing a complete set of items by mentioning only the items marking the opposite limits of the set), God controls every moment as consciously experienced, “present” realities. God is. And he is before time began, before the first moment of “the ages.” God in his essence never begins to be. He never becomes.

Argument from God’s omniscience. All of God’s perfections are consistent with the assertion that God is without succession of moments in his experience of his being and of his consciousness of all other reality. For example, God is omniscient, or all-knowing, so his knowledge embraces all events as equally real. Therefore, since his perfections are his essence, in his experience of his essence in itself, there is no past, present, or future. Although God experiences the succession of time (both because he created that succession and because God the Son experiences it especially through the incarnation), and although his thought has logical structure (including premises and conclusions), yet his experience of succession does not control, confine, or condition his existence and life so that he exists only in the moments of time. Everything is perceived and experienced as an “eternal now.”

Argument from God’s immensity and omnipresence. God transcends all limitations of space. He exists outside physical space and yet exists with every point of space and experiences every point of space with his entire being. Therefore, he must exist outside the moments of time, or else he is confined to being present within space as it exists in only one moment of time.

Argument from God’s immutability. Since God’s essence cannot change, he must not be conditioned by changing time. If God exists in only each moment, he must begin to exist in each succeeding moment—a conclusion that contradicts his immutability.

Argument from God’s independence. Since God’s essence depends on nothing for its existence but rather is the fount of all existence, he cannot be dependent on the moments of time for his existence. For if God exists only moment to moment, he is dependent on the existence of each moment.

Argument from God’s omnipotence. Since God has active power over all things, he must exercise power in the future and the past in order to be omnipotent. If he exists only in the current moment, he does not actually have power in past and future moments.

God’s immensity, immutability, independence, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience are compromised by the “successive moments” view. If God exists only from moment to moment, his existence actually ends in one moment and begins in the next. He also has no control over the change of moments but rather is conditioned by their changing. Furthermore, he does not transcend space and time since he is confined to the current moment and to acting in space only as it exists in the current moment. Finally, although he may still govern current events to move inflexibly toward the final consummation of his plan, he does not in the present actually control events in the future, since the future moments have not yet arrived. Thus, given the various considerations above, it is necessary to view God as existing both inside and outside time. The “successive” view falls far short of God’s scriptural self-revelation.


God is perfectly present with himself, transcending all limitation of space, and yet present with every point of space with all that he is. Transcendance means that God is greater than and independent of the creation. Immensity refers to the fact that God transcends and fills all space. And omnipresence indicates that God is present with every point of space in his entire being.

Scriptural Evidence. Biblical evidence for God’s immensity and omnipresence is visible in the following observations:

       1.    He is the Creator and possessor of all things (Gen. 14:19, 22; Deut. 10:14; Col. 1:16; Rev. 10:6).

       2.    Heaven and earth cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron. 2:6; Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:48–49).

       3.    He fills heaven and earth, so nothing is hidden from his presence, and he is both close and far off (Ps. 139:7–10; Jer. 23:23–24; Acts 17:27–28).

       4.    He manifests himself variously in various places:

a.    He dwells and has his throne in heaven (Deut. 26:15; 2 Sam. 22:7; 1 Kings 8:32; Pss. 11:4; 33:13; 115:3, 16; Isa. 63:15; Matt. 5:34; 6:9; John 14:2; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 1:4–5).

b.    He descends from heaven (Gen. 3:8; 11:5, 7; 12:7; 15:1; 18:1; Ex. 3:7–8; 19:9, 11, 18, 20; Deut. 33:2; Judg. 5:4).

c.    He dwells in the midst of his people (Ex. 20:24; 25:8; 40:34–35; Deut. 12:11; 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 1 Kings 8:10–11; 2 Kings 19:15).

d.    He is far (relationally) from the wicked (Pss. 11:5; 50:16–21; 145:20).

e.    He is close (relationally) to the righteous (Pss. 11:7; 51:19; Isa. 57:15).

f.     Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9).

g.    God indwells the church (John 14:23; Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Eph. 2:22; 3:17).

Specifics of Immensity and Omnipresence. God transcends space. He is inherently immense and omnipresent, regardless of the existence of time and matter—that is, he is always present with himself. He is also immense and omnipresent with relation to the creation. Space is an aspect of creation, so it is not part of God. These perfections mean that God is not diffused through space so that only part of him is in each place. Also, God is not bound to one place. God is fully present in every place, but he is also sustaining space by his immensity. His immensity does not mean he is separate from creation in a deistic sense, even though it does mean he is distinct from and greater than creation. God upholds the created order by being entirely present with every point of space. This is true, for example, in both heaven and hell (e.g., Rev. 14:9–10) and in the righteous and the wicked. Actually, it is better to say that God is with time and space, rather than being in time and space (against nineteenth-century liberalism’s concept of God as only immanent). But both are correct, provided that one does not see God as of or bound by time.


God’s unity is his perfect uniqueness of essence, so that neither is he more than one essence nor is there more than one divine essence.

The following list presents scriptural evidence for the unity of God:

       1.    God is only one essence (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29).

       2.    God is unique; there is only one God (Deut. 4:35; 32:39; Ps. 18:31; Isa. 40:18; 43:10–11; 44:6; 45:5).

       3.    Idols are vain and empty (Deut. 32:21; Ps. 96:5; Isa. 41:29; 44:9–20; Jer. 2:5, 11; 10:14–15; 16:18; 51:17–18; Dan. 5:23; Hab. 2:19).

       4.    In the New Testament, God’s unity is revealed in Jesus Christ (John 17:3; Acts 17:24; Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; Eph. 4:5–6; 1 Tim. 2:5).


God’s simplicity is his indivisibility, his perfect lack of composition. This means that each of and all his perfections are his essence.

Scriptural Evidence. This perfection is intended by statements that God is truth, righteousness, wisdom, spirit, light, life, love, and holiness (Jer. 10:10; 23:6; John 1:4–5, 9; 4:24; 14:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 John 1:5; 4:8, 16). Such passages reveal God as the complete fullness of each respective quality.

Compatibility with the Doctrine of the Trinity. God’s simplicity does not contradict the doctrine of the Trinity. God’s essence is not composed of three persons. Rather, the uncompounded, undivided divine essence exists in each of the three persons. The various personal properties unique to each person are not things added to the divine essence but are only distinctions of personal subsistence and of relationship. In all the external works of the Trinity, each person acts without dividing the divine essence.


God’s omniscience is his perfect knowing of himself, all actual things outside himself, and all things that do not become reality in one eternal and simple (not having any parts but having distinctions) act (exertion of energy). One should note that this definition does not say that God knows things that are “possible,” because in God’s eternal mind and plan there are only actual things, not possible things. He does know what would have occurred if circumstances had been different, but since in his mind and plan they never would occur, they are not “possibilities.” Only what is in God’s plan is “possible,” because only that could ever become reality in time.

Scriptural Evidence. The following list shows the objects of God’s knowledge from Scripture:

       1.    Himself as triune (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 10:15; 1 Cor. 2:10)

       2.    All things (2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 40:13; Rom. 11:34; Heb. 4:13; 1 John 3:20)

       3.    All needs (Matt. 6:8, 32)

       4.    Even the smallest physical things (Matt. 10:30)

       5.    The heart of man (1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 7:9; Prov. 15:11; Jer. 11:20; 17:9–10; 20:12; Luke 16:15; Rom. 8:27; 1 Thess. 2:4; 1 John 3:20)

       6.    The thoughts and meditations of man (Ps. 139:2; Ezek. 11:5; 1 Cor. 3:20)

       7.    Man in the totality of his being and acts (Psalm 139)

       8.    Sheol and Abaddon (Prov. 15:11)

       9.    Man’s sin and wickedness (Ps. 69:5; Jer. 16:17; 18:23; 32:19)

     10.    Things that are contingent from a human perspective (1 Sam. 23:10–13; 2 Kings 13:19; Ps. 81:12–16; Jer. 26:2–7; 38:17–20; Ezek. 3:4–6; Matt. 11:21)

     11.    People before they are conceived (Ps. 139:13–16; Jer. 1:5; Rom. 8:28–30; Rev. 13:8; 17:8)

     12.    Future things (Isa. 41:22–26; 42:8–9; 43:9–12; 44:6–8; 46:9–11)

     13.    The days and geographical limits ordained for each person (Pss. 31:15; 39:4–5; 139:7–16; Job 14:5; Acts 17:26)

The Eternal Priority of God’s Knowledge. God’s knowledge is eternal and a priori (“from the previous,” i.e., proceeding from a known or assumed cause to a necessarily related effect), not a posteriori (“from the subsequent,” i.e., from particulars to principles, from effects to causes). God’s knowledge precedes all things outside God, never being derived from reality outside himself (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4–5; 2 Tim. 1:9). God’s knowledge is also perfect, never increasing (Isa. 40:13–14; Rom. 11:34). It is definite—clearly defined, precise, certain, sure, and comprehensive (Ps. 139:1–3; Heb. 4:13). And God’s knowledge is eternally active, never passive, because God’s essence is eternally active.

The Effects of God’s Knowledge. Because God’s knowledge is active, it produces effects. These are transitory in man’s experience yet are an ever-present reality to God—“present” not in the sense of time, since he is without succession of moments, but in the sense of God consciously and eternally perceiving them. The major effects of God’s knowledge in time include the creation of the physical realm (Pss. 104:24; 136:5); the formation of the church (Eph. 3:10); all of God’s actions in time, including the application of salvation (Rom. 11:33); and worship from man (Job 11:7–9; Ps. 139:17–18; Rom. 11:33).

The Nature of God’s Knowledge. There are two aspects of God’s knowledge. God’s natural knowledge is his self-conscious knowledge of himself. His free knowledge is his knowledge of (1) all things that become actual in time by his free, sovereign will based on his decree, (2) all things that do not become reality, and (3) how he is manifested and not manifested by all things outside himself.

It is necessary to distinguish between God’s natural knowledge and his free knowledge. To fail to do so would lead to pantheism, since it would make God’s knowledge of himself contingent upon his knowledge of creation. However, God is able to know himself perfectly, independent of his creation.

Nevertheless, his natural and free knowledge must not be so sharply separated so as to make his decree arbitrary. God did not arbitrarily select some of his ideas to make actual things; rather, his natural knowledge resulted in his free knowledge; that is to say, God’s perfect knowledge of himself includes his knowledge of how to reveal himself to creatures unto his greatest glory. Guided by this principle to glorify himself to the utmost, God’s natural knowledge issues in his eternal and exhaustive decree, whereby he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. Because God is who he is, he does what he does.

People can know God through his free knowledge as it is manifested in the created order. But people cannot know God through his natural knowledge, since this knowing would involve knowing God as God knows himself. Man can, to a limited extent, possess God’s free knowledge, but God’s possession of his free knowledge is perfect, since his knowledge is infinite.

God’s knowledge is also archetypal. It is the original pattern for all things outside himself. God knows the universe in its eternal idea, logically prior to its finite existence in time and space. God’s knowledge is from himself, independent of any outside source, and so prior to all things outside himself.

The knowledge God has is intuitive, inherent, and immediate, not resulting from observing and reasoning in successive moments of time. At the same time, it does have logical structure. God’s knowledge refers to his activity, not merely to content, and it is simple and simultaneous in its exertion. He knows everything totally at once, not one thing only before he knows another thing. Yet he also knows the differences and order existing between all things.

God’s knowledge is comprehensive and completely conscious. Man’s knowledge is partial and mostly unconscious. God’s knowledge is “pure act,” never passive (knowledge based on learning) like man’s, but rather is eternally willed by him. And it is immediate, not deistic. That is, God is not removed from the things he knows. He always has direct, immediate perception of all that he knows.

God’s Foreknowledge in the New Testament. From the history of the Greek verb proginōskō (the word behind the New Testament concept of God’s foreknowledge) and the biblical evidence of God’s omniscience, theologians extend the concept of foreknowledge to cover his intimate and intentional knowledge of all things before they become actual in time and space. As proof of this more general foreknowledge, one could point to predictive prophecy (e.g., Isa. 41:22–26; 42:9; 43:9–12; 44:7; 46:10).

However, when used to depict God’s foreknowledge, the verb proginōskō and the noun prognōsis are used of God’s perfectly purposed relational knowledge of everyone who is in his redemptive plan before they exist in time and space. Understood in this way, especially from the New Testament, God’s foreknowledge is soteriological. God foreknew elect Israelites as his covenant people (Rom. 11:2); Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected (Acts 2:23–24; 1 Pet. 1:18–20); and all Christians as predestined, chosen, called, believing, sanctified, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2). God’s foreknowledge is not passive, dependent on foresight of what humans would do. Rather, it is eternally purposed by God. Paul asserted that God “foreknew” (Gk. proginōskō) only those whom he also “predestined,” “called,” “justified,” and “glorified” (Rom. 8:29–30). It is important to note that in Romans 8:28, these people were “called according to his purpose.” In this context, God’s foreknowing is divinely purposed, foreknowing only those who would be effectually called in time to saving faith in Christ. When the New Testament speaks of God foreknowing, the object is always people rather than facts, and these people are always objects of his redemption.


God’s omnipotence describes his ability to do anything consistent with his nature.

Scriptural Evidence. Biblical evidence for God’s omnipotence is visible in the following observations:

       1.    God’s names and titles display his power: el, elohim (God), el shaddai (“God Almighty”), adonai, Yahweh, Yahweh-tsabaoth (“Lord of hosts”), “the Mighty One of Israel” (Isa. 1:24), “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 19:16), “the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18; cf. Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17), and “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Tim. 6:15).

       2.    Nothing is too hard for God; nothing is impossible (Gen. 18:14; Job 42:2; Jer. 32:27; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 3:9; 19:26; 26:53; Luke 1:37; 18:27; Eph. 3:20).

       3.    God does whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 14:24, 27; 46:10; 55:11; Dan. 4:35).

       4.    God’s works reveal his omnipotence (Psalms 8; 18; 19; 24; 29; 33; 104): creation (Genesis 1; Ps. 8:3; Isa. 42:5; 44:24; 45:12, 18; 48:13; Zech. 12:1; Rom. 1:20), providence (Heb. 1:3), and redemption (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:24).

       5.    Power belongs to God (Pss. 62:11; 96:7; Rev. 4:11; 5:12; 7:12; 19:1).

What God Cannot Do. There are things that Scripture says God is unable to do because they would contradict his character or revealed will: repent (like a man) or lie (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Heb. 6:18); deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13); be tempted (so that he succumbs) (James 1:13); or change in his essence, purposes, or promises (James 1:17; Mal. 3:6).

Correct Distinctions in God’s Power. While recognizing distinctions in God’s power, one must distinguish between faulty and biblical ways of describing them.

Faulty distinction. In the history of thought, many have contended that God has absolute power in the sense that he is able to do anything, including sinning, suffering, dying, changing himself into a stone or animal, changing bread into the body of Christ, making contradictory things, changing the past, and making the true false or the false true. Others have said that God can do only what he wills (ordinate power).

Biblical distinction. Scripture reveals that God in his power is (technically) able to do more than what actually occurs but that his power operates within the context of his will and all his other perfections (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 3:9; 19:26; 26:53; Luke 1:37; 18:27; Eph. 3:20). So the correct distinction in God’s power is that he has a theoretically absolute power to do more than what he actually does but not anything inconsistent with his essence. The only real divine power is God’s “ordinate power,” that is, his ability to do everything that he has decreed he will do. Since God’s decree is the result of all his perfections, then he would only do what he has decreed he will do. Therefore, his ability is confined to what he eternally wills to do.


The perfection of God speaks not only of his moral perfection—that is, that he is perfectly holy, just, and good—but also that God is the sum total of all conceivable perfections.

The following list presents scriptural evidence for God’s perfection:

       1.    God’s greatness in its totality is beyond human discovery (Ps. 145:3; Isa. 40:28).

       2.    God’s mercy toward those who fear him is greater than man’s perception (Ps. 103:11).

       3.    God’s work is perfect in that his acts are perfectly truthful and just (Deut. 32:4).

       4.    God’s way is perfect, so his Word is perfectly true (2 Sam. 22:31).

       5.    God is morally perfect (Matt. 5:48).

Herman Bavinck helpfully illustrates what it means for God to be perfect: “A creature is perfect … in its kind and in its creaturely finite way, when the idea that is its norm is fully realized in it. Similarly, God is perfect inasmuch as the idea of God fully corresponds to his being and nature.” God is absolutely perfect, disturbed by nothing within himself and encumbered by nothing outside himself. He is perfectly self-sufficient. Bavinck later summarizes that God is “the sum of all conceivable perfections, the highest perfection in person, infinitely far removed from all defects and limitations.”30 Because of his absolute perfection and self-sufficiency, God is the happiest being that can be conceived. Thus, the doctrine of divine perfection implies the doctrine of divine blessedness (see “Blessedness” [p. 188]).

The Communicable Perfections


God’s spirituality and invisibility describe his perfect lack of material in the divine essence, so that his essence cannot be perceived by the physical senses.

Scriptural Evidence. The following list summarizes the biblical teaching about God’s spirituality and invisibility:

       1.    God is eternal (Ps. 90:1–2), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–12), and invisible (Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:15–16; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27; see also Ex. 33:20).

       2.    Though God has an essential form (Phil. 2:6), his form is not seen (Deut. 4:12, 15; John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12, 20) because it is not physical.

       3.    God is present in his creation in a spiritual manner (Gen. 2:7; Job 33:4; Pss. 33:5–6; 104:30; 139:7).

       4.    Jesus Christ said that God is spirit (John 4:24).

What about the Hope of Seeing God? The invisibility of God seems to contradict the hope that believers have of seeing God after the resurrection (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4). Past Christians have called this sight “the beatific vision.” How is it that humans, even after receiving their resurrection bodies, will “see” God’s “face”? The answer should take into account that, even in their resurrection bodies, people will still be human and therefore will still have finite form and capacities. Yet in heaven and in the eternal state, believers will not have any corruption caused by indwelling sin, so they will have a greater perception of God, because their spiritual vision will be greater. The statements about seeing God and his face in the future should be interpreted as relating to a comparatively greater spiritual vision of God’s revelation of himself, not as a physical vision of his essence. In the eternal state, the believer’s spiritual perception of God will reach beyond what physical senses can see. (On this, see John 14:7–9, where Jesus describes how one can see God in a mediated way without seeing every aspect of him; cf. 1 John 3:2.) In Scripture, God’s “face” (e.g., Matt. 18:10) is an anthropomorphism for God’s external mediation of his presence. God’s “face” is not his essence.


God’s wisdom is his perfect knowledge of how to act skillfully so that he will accomplish all his good pleasure—to glorify himself. This definition is based on the Hebrew word for “wisdom,” hokmah, which can mean “skill.”

The scriptural evidence for this attribute is visible in that God created by his wisdom (Job 9:4; 37–38; Pss. 19:1–7; 104:1–34; Prov. 8:22–31; Isa. 40:28; Jer. 10:12) and that God redeems by his wisdom (Deut. 4:6–8; Rom. 11:25–33 [esp. 11:33]; 16:25–27 [esp. 16:27]; 1 Cor. 2:6–13; Eph. 3:10–11; Rev. 5:12). God is the very source of wisdom itself (Prov. 2:6; 9:10; James 1:5). Moreover, he is omnisapient, meaning that he is all-wise (Job 12:13; Ps. 147:5; Isa. 40:28; Rom. 11:33; 16:27).


God’s truth and faithfulness are the perfect correspondence of God’s nature with what God should be, with the reliability of his words and deeds, and with the accuracy of his knowledge, thoughts, and words.

The following list presents scriptural evidence for this attribute:

       1.    He is the only real God; thus, he is true, in contrast to the false gods (Deut. 32:21; Pss. 96:5; 97:7; 115:4–8; Isa. 44:9–10; John 14:6; 17:3; 1 John 5:20).

       2.    He cannot lie or repent like a man, that is, in such a way that his word is untrue (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29).

       3.    He is the God of khesed (Heb. for “loyal love”) and truth (2 Sam. 2:6; 15:20; Ps. 40:11).

       4.    All of God’s words are true and faithful (2 Sam. 7:28; Pss. 19:9; 25:10; 33:4; 111:7; 119:86, 142, 151; Dan. 4:37; John 17:17; Eph. 1:13).

       5.    God is abounding in truth (Ex. 34:6 NASB).

       6.    God’s faithfulness extends to the clouds (Ps. 36:5).

       7.    God is a rock of refuge, because of his dependable firmness (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 37; Pss. 18:2–3; 31:6; 36:5; 43:2–3; 54:7; 57:3; 71:22; 96:13; 143:1; 146:6; Isa. 26:4).

       8.    God keeps his covenants (Deut. 4:31; 7:9; Neh. 1:5; Ps. 40:11; Dan. 9:4).

       9.    God is faithful to give a full salvation (1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 1 Thess. 5:24; 2 Thess. 3:3; Heb. 10:23; 11:11; 1 John 1:9).

     10.    All of God’s promises in Christ are responded to by “Yes” and “Amen” (2 Cor. 1:18–20).

God is true metaphysically. He is what God should be. He is not like the false gods, which are vanities and lies (Pss. 96:5; 97:7; 115:4–8; Isa. 44:9–10).

God is true ethically. His revelation of himself is perfectly reliable (Ex. 34:6; Num. 23:19; Deut. 32:4; Pss. 25:10; 31:6; Jer. 10:8, 10; John 14:6; 17:3; Rom. 3:4; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18; 1 John 5:20–21). This means that God is absolutely faithful (Deut. 7:9; Ps. 89:33; Isa. 49:7; Lam. 3:22–23; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 6:17–18; 10:23).

God is true logically. He knows everything as it really is.


God’s goodness is that he is the perfect sum, source, and standard (for himself and his creatures) of that which is wholesome (conducive to well-being), virtuous, beneficial, and beautiful.

Scriptural Evidence. The goodness of God is visible in the following evidence from the Bible:

       1.    There is no one good except God (Matt. 5:48; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19).

       2.    All creatures are called to praise his goodness (1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron. 5:13; Pss. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1; 136:1; Jer. 33:11).

       3.    People are urged to trust in the Lord and discover that he is good (Ps. 34:8).

Explanation of God’s Goodness. God is the absolute good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). As such he cannot be pleased with anything short of absolute perfection. Hence, in an ultimate sense he can be pleased with only himself. Consequently, when he loves his creatures, he loves them with a chief regard to himself. He is absolutely perfect good.

God is the source of all his creatures’ blessings (James 1:17). He is the highest good (Lat. summum bonum) for his creatures—the proper goal of all who strive for true goodness.


God’s perfect love is his determination to give of himself to himself and to others, and is his affection for himself and his people. This definition affirms that God has affections or emotions, but once again, it is necessary to note that God’s affections are not passions by which he is driven but active principles by which God expresses his holy dispositions. God is not unfeeling or incapable of compassion; however, it is a subbiblical understanding of God’s affections that conceives of God as being surprised by emotional fluctuations.

The following list presents the biblical testimony concerning God’s love:

       1.    The Old Testament testifies abundantly to God’s love (Deut. 4:37; 7:8, 13; 10:15; 23:5; 2 Chron. 2:11; Isa. 43:4; 48:14; 63:9; Jer. 31:3; Hos. 11:1, 4; 14:4; Zeph. 3:17; Mal. 1:2).

       2.    God loves not only people (Deut. 4:37; 7:8, 13; 23:5; Pss. 78:68; 146:8; Prov. 3:12; 2 Chron. 2:11; Jer. 31:3; Mal. 1:2) but also virtues (as imaged in people), like justice and righteousness (Pss. 11:7; 33:5; 37:28; 45:7).

       3.    God’s love is ultimately between the three persons of the Trinity (John 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 14:31; 15:9; 17:24, 26). That this love includes affection is seen by the use of the Greek verb phileō for the love that the Father has for the Son (John 5:20).

       4.    God’s love is manifested in Christ’s sacrifice for sin (John 15:13), for the world and the church (John 3:16; Rom. 5:7–8; 8:37; 1 John 4:9–10), and for individuals (John 14:23; 16:27; 17:23; Rom. 9:13; Gal. 2:20). In John 16:27, God the Father’s love for believers includes affection, as attested by the use of the verb phileō for the Father’s love.

       5.    God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8, 16).


God’s grace describes God as perfectly bestowing favor on those who cannot merit it because they have forsaken it and are under the sentence of divine condemnation. Grace is simply “favor” (Heb. khen; Gk. charis), so in itself it does not include any basis in merit or lack of merit. God always favors himself before anything or anyone else.

The following list summarizes the biblical teaching on the grace of God:

       1.    Its object is mainly God’s people (Gen. 6:8; Ex. 33:12, 17; 34:9; Prov. 3:34).

       2.    Israel was chosen and blessed by God due only to God’s grace (Ex. 15:13, 16; 19:4; 34:6–7; Deut. 4:37; 7:7–8; 8:14, 17–18; 9:5, 27; 33:3; Isa. 35:10; 43:1, 15, 21; 54:5; 63:9; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9, 20; Ezek. 16:60–63; Hos. 8:14; 11:1).

       3.    God’s grace is abundant (Ex. 34:6; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 116:5; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13; Zech. 12:10).

       4.    In the New Testament, God’s grace is especially his free, unmerited favor toward sinners in giving them salvation from sin (Rom. 3:24; 5:15; 6:23; Eph. 1:6–7; 2:5, 7–8; 2 Thess. 2:16; Titus 3:7; 1 Pet. 5:10). This is special, effectual, saving grace, in distinction to common grace, which is God’s general care for his creation. And it is favor given by God’s sovereign will without any consideration of merit or lack of merit. God always gives grace because he wills to do so.

       5.    God’s grace is manifested in Jesus Christ (John 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:13).

       6.    God’s gifts of spiritual and earthly blessings are called “grace” (Rom. 6:1; 12:6–8; Eph. 4:7–12; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; James 4:6).

       7.    God’s grace is unmerited; it does not allow for works of merit (John 1:17; Rom. 4:4, 16; 6:14, 23; 11:5–6; Gal. 5:3–4; Eph. 2:7–9).


God’s mercy describes him as perfectly having deep compassion for creatures (people), such that he demonstrates benevolent goodness to those in a pitiable or miserable condition, even though they do not deserve it. This definition is partly based on the words used in the original text of the Bible for “mercy” (Heb. rakhamim; Gk. eleos, oiktirmos). As with grace, this perfection does not consider the merit or lack of merit of the people to whom God gives mercy.

The following list presents scriptural evidence for the mercy of God:

       1.    It is a perfection or attribute of God (Ex. 34:6; Deut. 4:31; 2 Chron. 30:9; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8).

       2.    It is manifold (Ex. 20:6; Deut. 5:10; 2 Sam. 24:14; Neh. 9:19; Pss. 51:1–2; 57:10; 86:5; Dan. 9:9, 18).

       3.    It does not fail (Lam. 3:22).

       4.    It is an aspect of God’s paternal affection and care (Ps. 103:13).

       5.    It is given to sinners after divine chastening (Isa. 14:1; 49:13–18; 54:8; 55:7; 60:10; Jer. 12:15; 30:18; 31:20; Hos. 2:21–23; Mic. 7:19).

       6.    God is called the “Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3).

       7.    God showed his mercy in Christ (Luke 1:50–54).

       8.    Christ showed the mercy of God in his life on earth and as the Great High Priest in heaven (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 20:34; Heb. 2:17).

       9.    God gives mercy by providing salvation in all its aspects, including sustenance in the Christian life and final salvation at Christ’s return (Rom. 9:23; 11:30; 1 Cor. 7:25; 2 Cor. 4:1; Eph. 2:4; Phil. 2:27; 1 Tim. 1:2, 13, 16; 2 Tim. 1:2, 16, 18; Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:10; 2 John 3; Jude 2, 21).


God’s longsuffering speaks of his being perfectly placid in himself and toward sinners in spite of their continual disobedience and disregard for his warnings. God does not “lose his temper” but rather acts calmly with proper affection according to his eternal sovereign plan. Tranquility implies not that God lacks affections but rather that God’s affections do not overwhelm him or cause him to act against his nature.

Scriptural evidence for God’s longsuffering is visible in the following observations:

       1.    God is patient with those deserving divine punishment (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8–9; 145:8; Jer. 15:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nah. 1:3).

       2.    God was longsuffering before the time of Christ (Rom. 3:25; 1 Pet. 3:20).

       3.    God’s longsuffering is shown to sinners now, especially through Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:4; 9:22–23; 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:9, 15).

       4.    God is patient in not immediately responding to cries for justified vengeance (Rev. 6:9–11).


God’s holiness is his inherent and absolute greatness, in which he is perfectly distinct above everything outside himself and is absolutely morally separate from sin. This definition is centered on the concept of separation, which is signified by the Hebrew and Greek words for “holy” (Heb. qadosh; Gk. hosios, hagios). There are two aspects of God’s holiness in the evidence found in Scripture:

Majestic Holiness. This speaks to the fact that God is inherently great and resists all compromises of his character and therefore is transcendently distinct from all his creatures in infinite majesty. He is majestically unique. This sense of God’s holiness qualifies all his other attributes, and all these qualify his holiness. This transcendent distinction is asserted by both the Old Testament (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Chron. 30:27; Pss. 5:7; 22:3; 48:1; 71:22; 89:18; 97:12; 98:1; 99:3, 5, 9; 103:1; 105:3; 145:21; Prov. 30:3; Isa. 5:16; 6:3; 10:20; 29:23; 43:14–15; 49:7; 54:5; 57:15; Jer. 51:5; Hos. 11:9; Hab. 1:12) and the New Testament (Mark 1:24; Luke 1:49; 4:34; John 17:11; Rev. 4:8; 6:10; 15:4).

Ethical, Moral Holiness. Since God is inherently great and therefore transcendently distinct from everything outside himself, he is most certainly separate from sin, being morally and ethically perfect, abhorring sin and demanding purity in his moral creatures (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:26; 22:32; Josh. 24:19; Job 34:10; Pss. 5:5; 7:11; Isa. 1:12–17; Ezek. 39:7; Amos 2:7; 5:21–23; Hab. 1:13; Zech. 8:17; 1 Pet. 1:15–16).


God’s righteousness is his perfect absolute justice in and toward himself, his prevention of any violation of the justice of his character, and his revelation of himself in acts of justice. Both the Old Testament Hebrew term (tsedeqah) and the New Testament Greek term (dikaiosynē) for “righteousness” carry the sense of conformity to a standard.

Categorization and Scriptural Evidence. The Bible describes two kinds of justice:

Rectoral justice. This is God’s rectitude (from the Lat. rectus, “straight”) as the moral Ruler, Lawgiver, and Judge of the world—imposing law with promises of reward and punishment (Deut. 4:8; 2 Sam. 23:3; Pss. 9:4; 99:4; 119:7, 62, 75, 106; Isa. 33:22; Luke 1:6; Rom. 1:32; 2:26; 7:12; 8:4; 9:31; James 4:12).

Distributive justice. This aspect of God’s righteousness is his rectitude in the execution of law, in distributing reward and punishment (1 Kings 8:32; 2 Chron. 6:23; Ps. 7:11; Isa. 3:10–11; 11:4; 16:5; 31:1; Rom. 2:6; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 1:17). Two categories within God’s distributive justice are his retributive justice and his remunerative justice. Retributive justice is God’s inflicting of punishment for disobeying his law (2 Chron. 12:6; Ezra 9:15; Neh. 9:26–30; Ps. 129:4; Isa. 5:15–16; Jer. 11:20; Ezek. 28:22; 36:23; 38:16–23; 39:27; 43:8; Dan. 9:14; Hos. 10:2; Zeph. 3:5; Rom. 1:32; 2:9; 12:19; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 15:3; 16:5, 7; 19:2, 11). Remunerative justice is God’s distributing of rewards for obeying his law (Deut. 7:9, 12–13; 2 Chron. 6:14–15; Ps. 58:11; Mic. 7:20; Matt. 25:21, 34; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 11:26). God is not required to give rewards for obedience, since man is required to obey God. But he graciously gives them (Job 41:11; Luke 17:10; 1 Cor. 4:7).

God’s Holiness and Righteousness in Salvation. A holy and righteous God demands holiness and righteousness of people who would be rightly related to him (Lev. 11:44; Ps. 29:2; 1 Pet. 1:15–16). God stands in absolute, essential opposition to sin, so he must judge and punish sin. In the salvation of sinners, the holiness and righteousness of God are revealed, because in salvation God effectively judges sin and imputes righteousness to people so that he can accept them as holy without compromising his essential holiness and righteousness.

God manifested his holiness and righteousness in his past salvation of Israel and will do so in his future salvation of his people. For example, in Ezekiel 39:21–29, God judges and restores Israel in order to maintain and manifest his holiness. Many passages similarly show that God manifests his holiness and righteousness by separating from, judging, and saving Israel (holiness: Lev. 20:26; Pss. 98:1; 99:9; 105:3; 106:47; 108:7; 111:9; Isa. 10:20; 12:6; 41:14, 20; 43:3, 14; 45:11; 47:4; 49:7; 52:10; 55:5; Ezek. 36:21–23; Hos. 11:9; righteousness: Neh. 9:8; Pss. 72:2; 85:13; 116:5; Isa. 45:21–25; Jer. 33:15; Mal. 4:2). God’s holiness and righteousness are especially manifested in salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21–22, 24, 26, 30; 4:6, 25; 5:1, 9; 8:30, 33; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16–17; 3:24).


God’s jealousy is his zealous protectiveness of all that belongs to him (himself, his name, his glory, his people, his sole right to receive worship and ultimate obedience, his land, and his city).

The jealousy of God is visible in the following teachings from Scripture:

       1.    God’s name is “Jealous” (Ex. 34:14).

       2.    God is jealous to be the only God worshiped and served (Ex. 20:5; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 29:18–20; 32:16, 21; 1 Kings 14:22; Pss. 78:58–59; 79:1–7; 1 Cor. 10:22).

       3.    God is jealous to be served as the holy God (Josh. 24:19; James 4:5).

       4.    God jealously chastens his sinning people (Ps. 79:1–7; Ezek. 16:42; 23:25).

       5.    God restores his people by his jealousy (2 Kings 19:31; Isa. 37:32; 63:15).

       6.    God is jealous for his holy name and glory (Ezek. 39:25).

       7.    God by his jealousy will establish the Messiah’s Davidic kingdom (Isa. 9:6–7).

       8.    God jealously takes vengeance on his enemies (Isa. 42:13; 59:16–20; Ezek. 5:13; 36:5; 38:19; Nah. 1:2; Zeph. 3:8).

       9.    God is jealous for the land of Canaan and Jerusalem (Ezek. 36:5–38; Zech. 1:14).


God’s will is his perfect determination and sovereign ordination of all things, pertaining both to himself (including his decrees and actions) and to his creation (including the events of history and the thoughts and actions of people), all unto the magnification of his utmost glory.

Scriptural Evidence. Everything depends on the will of God:

       1.    Creation and preservation (Ps. 135:6; Jer. 18:6; Rev. 4:11)

       2.    Government (Prov. 21:1; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32, 35)

       3.    Election and reprobation (Rom. 9:15–16, 18; Eph. 1:11–12)

       4.    Suffering of Christ (Luke 22:42; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28)

       5.    Regeneration (John 1:13; James 1:18)

       6.    Sanctification (Phil. 2:13)

       7.    Sufferings of believers (1 Pet. 3:17)

       8.    Man’s life and destiny (Isa. 45:9; Acts 18:21; Rom. 15:32; James 4:15)

       9.    The smallest things (Matt. 10:29)

God’s will is sovereignly independent of everything outside himself:

       1.    He acts according to his own pleasure (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1; Dan. 4:35).

       2.    He does not give account to anyone (Job 33:13; Isa. 46:10; Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:19–20).

       3.    He is pictured as the potter, his creatures as clay (Job 10:9; 33:6; Isa. 29:16; 64:8; Jer. 18:1–10; Rom. 9:19–24).

       4.    The nations are “less than nothing” before him (Isa. 40:15–17).

       5.    No one can prevent him from doing as he pleases (Job 9:2–13; 11:10; Isa. 10:15; Dan. 4:35).

       6.    He shows mercy or hardens solely according to his will (Rom. 9:15–18).

       7.    The Holy Spirit divides spiritual gifts as he wills (1 Cor. 12:11).

       8.    Man does not have the right to demand that God express his will in particular ways (Matt. 20:13–16; Rom. 9:20–21).

Question. Does the Bible’s teaching present a problem with apparent contradictions within the will of God?

       1.    God wills what man should do (Matt. 7:21; 12:50; John 4:34; 7:17; Rom. 12:2), but God also wills what man does (Ps. 115:3; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32, 35; Rom. 9:18–19; Eph. 1:5, 9, 11; Rev. 4:11). At times it seems that God’s will for man conflicts with his will in his own actions. For instance, he wills man to obey, but he hardens man in disobedience and unbelief (Ex. 4:21; 7:3–5; Rom. 9:17–19).

       2.    God wills that Abraham sacrifice his son, and then God prevents Abraham from slaying his son (Gen. 22:1–14).

       3.    God wills that Hezekiah die, but then extends his life fifteen years (2 Kings 20:1–11; Isa. 38:1, 5).

       4.    God wills that the righteous not be condemned, but Jesus was delivered up for crucifixion by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God—and God held Israel responsible for the murder of the Messiah (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27–28).

       5.    God hates sin, not willing that it exist, according to his precepts, but nevertheless ordaining that it exist and controlling it by his meticulous providence (Ex. 4:21; Josh. 11:20; 1 Sam. 2:25; 2 Sam. 16:10; Habakkuk 1; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; 2 Thess. 2:11). He even ordained Adam and Eve to disobey in the garden and Satan to afflict Job (Job 42:11; cf. Eph. 1:11).

       6.    God wills the salvation of everyone in one sense (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11) but in another sense wills that some have saving mercy and that some be hardened.

The solution to these apparent contradictions is found in the distinction between two aspects of God’s will: his decretive and preceptive will.

Decretive will. Some have called this God’s “secret will,” and yet while its full extent is hidden, aspects of it are revealed (e.g., predictive prophecy).

This is God’s good pleasure, his eternal, unchangeable counsel or decree in which he has foreordained all things. God’s decretive will characterizes all of God’s essence, so it is eternal, immutable, independent, and omnipotent (Pss. 33:11; 115:3; Isa. 36:10; Dan. 4:25, 35; Matt. 11:25–26; Rom. 9:18; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 4:11). This does not mean that he is the immediate or efficient cause of all things but that all things exist or occur by his eternal sovereign decree. God’s decretive will makes everything certain, but he does not coerce his creatures to do anything. He ordains the free choices of men. As the Westminster Confession (3.1) states, “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

Thus, sin is in God’s overall plan. He does not condone his creatures’ disobedience, nor is he the immediate or efficient cause of sin (James 1:13). He does not delight in the existence of sin in itself, but he ordains it by his decree in order to accomplish the most wise and holy end of bringing ultimate glory to himself (Rom. 5:20–21; 9:17–24).

One should bear in mind two cautions about God’s decretive will. First, whenever God’s decretive will includes sin, that sin is certain to occur, but it will be initiated by the volition of the sinner. And second, God’s meticulous providence includes him upholding the various natural processes and even crafting (without compromising his holiness) the circumstances of an individual’s decision to sin.

Preceptive will. This consists of God’s precepts in the law and in the gospel for man’s conduct (Matt. 7:21; 12:50; John 7:17; Rom. 12:2; 1 Thess. 4:3–8; 5:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 John 2:17). It is often called God’s “revealed” or “signified” will. At times the decretive will and the preceptive will coincide, but often as part of his decretive will, God ordains that the creature disobey his preceptive will. God reveals his preceptive will by means of Scripture’s commands, prohibitions, warnings, chastenings, and judgments. God’s preceptive will is God’s will only in a prescriptive sense. His decretive will is the perfection that results in actual occurrences. The preceptive will reveals not what God will do but what he demands of people.

God has included sin in his plan, forbidding man to sin yet using sin as a means of bringing the greatest amount of glory to himself (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23). In both his decretive will and his preceptive will, God does not take pleasure in sin, nor does he absolutely determine to save all people (e.g., Ezek. 33:11 should be classed under God’s preceptive will). God’s decretive will is executed by means of his preceptive will.

God’s decretive will and preceptive will must be held in tension. To deny his preceptive will is to commit injustice against God’s holiness and to ignore the gravity of sin, but to deny God’s decretive will is to deny his omniscience, wisdom, omnipotence, and sovereignty.


God’s blessedness speaks of God as being perfectly delighted with himself. This definition reflects the Greek word makarios, which has the meaning of happiness due to a sense of great privilege. These words are represented by the Latin beatus, which is the word from which we derive the English words beatify, beatitude, and blessed. Since God is absolutely perfect, sovereign, and unhindered in all his purposes and works to glorify his name, he is supremely happy—the happiest being conceivable. (For more on this theme, see “Perfection” above [p. 178].)

The scriptural evidence is visible in 1 Timothy, which describes God as “the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11) and “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Tim. 6:15).


God’s glory refers to the consummate beauty of the totality of his perfections. It is his supreme significance and splendor. This definition reflects the Hebrew words for “glory,” kabod, hod, and hadar. The word kabod has the sense of “weight” and, in figurative extension, “significance.” The words hod and hadar have the sense of “splendor.” The Greek word for “glory,” doxa, also has the primary meaning of “splendor” or “brightness.”

As for scriptural evidence, most passages referring to God’s glory speak of his manifested glory. Such manifestation is sourced in the glory of God’s essence (Eph. 3:16; Phil. 4:19; Rev. 15:8). God manifested his glory to creation (1 Chron. 16:26–29; Pss. 29:3; 96:6; 104:1–5; 111:4; 113:4) and to Israel (Ex. 16:7, 10; 24:16; 33:18–23; Lev. 9:6, 23; Num. 14:10; 16:19; Deut. 5:24). God’s glory filled the tabernacle and the temple (Ex. 29:43; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11). God’s “splendor” was given to Israel (Ezek. 16:14). In heaven, God’s manifested glory was associated with God’s holiness (Isa. 6:3). On earth, God’s glory was seen as a cloud (1 Kings 8:10–11; Isa. 6:4) and a consuming fire (Ex. 24:17; Lev. 9:24). God later manifested his glory in Christ (John 1:14; 2 Cor. 4:4–6) and in the church (Rom. 15:7; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 5:27).

In summary, God’s perfections constitute his essence, or character, which far transcends all created things in greatness. God’s essence is one indivisible whole, so that each and all of his perfections actively characterize God’s entire being. God’s perfections must be thought of as always actively present together and mutually influencing each other without any hierarchy, even when they are not all mentioned in a given passage of Scripture. God in his essential nature is truly beyond human understanding, and the only appropriate responses to studying even the fringes of his ways (cf. Job 26:14) are awe-filled reverence, worship, adoration, trust, and service.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 160–188). Crossway.