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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Understanding the God of the Bible

Don Stewart :: What Are the Attributes of God?

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What Are the Attributes of God? How Do We Discover Them? (God’s Perfections)

Understanding the God of the Bible – Question 1

What is the God of the Bible like? What are His attributes? What does the Bible have to say about the character, or nature, of God? This is the first question that we need to address as we attempt to understand what the Scripture teaches about God.

The Word Attribute Defined

To begin with, we need to know what we are talking about when we use the word “attribute.” What do we mean when we speak of His attributes?

An attribute of God can be defined as “an essential and permanent characteristic of His nature.” They are also called God’s “perfections.” Therefore, we use the phrase "the attributes of God," we are referring to the characteristics of God that He has revealed to us.

Where do we learn of God’s attributes? How are we able to determine what God is like? A few important observations need to be made.

1. We Can Know Certain Things about God from Looking at the World He Created

We are able to know certain things about God’s attributes from looking at the world around us. From looking at the natural world we see that He is a loving Creator who makes all things fit perfectly together. We can see that He is a God of perfection when we examine the visible world. From the smallest particle, to the largest star, we see design and purpose everywhere. This tells us something about the Creator.

2. We Need God’s Written Word Tto Know Specifics about Him

However, our knowledge of the attributes of the God of the Bible is mainly found in Scripture. In the Bible, God’s character is specifically revealed to us. Many things about God’s nature, or character, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the nature and extent of God’s knowledge, and God’s intimate involvement with humanity, can only be known from a reading of the Scripture. While the physical world gives us some insight into God’s character, it is the revelation in Scripture that explains who He really is and what He is like.

Consequently, we do not attribute these characteristics to Him He reveals them to us. Therefore, apart from special revelation we would know next to nothing about the character of God. This is why God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible is so important. Without it we would be lost.

3. We Do Not Have to Be Ignorant of Who He Is

Because God has told us what He is like we do not have to be ignorant of His character. Indeed, we can know what He is like. However, without God’s revelation of Himself to us humanity would stumble around in darkness. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the darkness in which the ungodly find themselves.

With the Lord’s authority let me say this: Live no longer as the ungodly do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. (Ephesians 4:17-18 NLT)

Fortunately, we do not have to stumble in the darkness. God has put us into the light as far as His character is concerned.

Jesus also emphasized this truth. He made it clear that we can only know the living God to the degree that He reveals Himself to us. He said the following.

“My Father has turned everything over to me. Only the Father knows the Son. And no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son is willing to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27 God’s Word)

God has been willing to reveal Himself to us so that we can know what He is like as well as what He expects from us.

4. Human Reason Is Inadequate to Know These Things

Consequently, human reason alone is not an adequate way to understand the character of God. When left to our own ideas about the nature or character of God, each of us goes our own way. The Bible informs us that through philosophical reasoning humanity cannot understand God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 NRSV)

Unaided human reason ends up making God into the image that we think He should be. It does not tell us who He truly is.

Divine revelation is the only source that informs us of whom the God of the Bible, in fact, is. Thus, we must go to the Scripture alone if we want to know God’s attributes or His permanent characteristics. There are no other sources.

Summary – Question 1
What Are the Attributes of God? (God’s Perfections)
How Do We Discover Them?

Studying the attributes, or the characteristics, of God is important for each of us to do. An attribute can be defined as a permanent characteristic of God. It is crucial that we know what the God of the Bible is like. The question is how do we discover what God is like? How do we discover these permanent characteristics which He has?

God’s characteristics, or His perfections, can be seen to a limited degree in the world around us. From looking at the universe we note that God is a God of design and perfection. We see this everywhere that we look. Thus, we do discover certain knowledge about God from nature or the world around us.

Although nature tells us something about His character, it does not inform us what He is really like. We know nothing of His knowledge, care, and plan for humanity through what we can observe from nature. Indeed, it is impossible to determine any of these things from observing the natural world. Human reason is also an inadequate means to know God’s permanent characteristics.

Fortunately, we do have a source that tells us about Himself. This is the written Word of God, the Bible. It gives us specific information as to what God is like as well as what He expects from us. From Holy Scripture we learn such things as God is a personal, loving God that He is a Trinity made up of three distinct Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that the human race, created in His image, has fallen from original perfection. These things could only be known from divine revelation. Thus, we must go to the Bible to find out who the God of the Bible is as well as what He requires from us.

Consequently, to know the attributes or characteristics of the God of Scripture we must examine what He has told us about Himself. These truths are not discoverable on our own. A study of Scripture is, therefore, mandatory.

Who He Is and What He Is Like (Introduction) ← Prior Section
What Are Some Important Things to Understand about God and His Attributes? Next Section →
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