What are the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God?
by Matt Slick
The incommunicable attributes of God are those that belong to God alone (omniscience, transcendence, etc.,) where the communicable attributes of God are those that we can also possess (knowledge, love, mercy, etc.,). However, we have to realize that all of our discussions about God's attributes are going to ultimately be inadequate. God is, after all, infinite in his perfections. Though we can understand the concept of omnipresence, we cannot experience it. We can understand the concept of transcendence, but we cannot experience it. Therefore, our understanding of God and his attributes is woefully insufficient. But that doesn't mean we can't know things about Him. Still, we are seeking to fathom the depths of the knowability of God, and this can obviously be problematic. He is infinite; we are finite. Furthermore, many theologians have disagreed on what is and is not proper categorization of the attributes of God and whether or not such categorization make sense in the first place. The debates on this will continue. Nevertheless, let's take a look at some of the standard attributes of God that have been categorized as communicable and incommunicable.
Incommunicable Attributes of God--belong to God alone
- Holiness is God's perfection of character and without flaw and without sin but with complete goodness, justice, mercy, love, etc. (Psalm 71:22; Isaiah 6:3; 1 Peter 1:16).
- God’s nature does not change in any way. His essence has always been and will always be exactly the same (Psalm 90:2; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).
- God is without measure or limit in scope or duration. There are no constraints upon him from outside of himself that would restrict him in his scope or duration (Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 90:2).
- God is capable of performing anything he desires. (Psalm 33:9; Isaiah 40:28; 46:10).
- God is in all places and in all dimensions simultaneously. Nothing in the universe exists outside the presence of God (Psalm 139:7-12; Jeremiah 23:24).
- God has perfect, complete knowledge. He never learns, nor does he forget. He knows all things that exist and all things that could have existed. God cannot grow in knowledge, understanding, or wisdom (Romans 16:27; Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20).
- Self-existence, Non-contingency
- God is not dependent upon anything else for his existence. He is uncaused--the infinite Being who has always existed (Psalm 90:2; 93:2; Hebrews 13:8; 1 Tim. 6:15; Revelation 1:8).
- God needs nothing outside of himself to maintain his existence; therefore, he does not need us to fill a void (Psalm 102:24–27).
- God is the supreme being who answers to no one and who has the absolute right to do with his creation as he desires (1 Timothy 6:15; Isaiah 46:10).
- God exists completely and sufficiently as an immaterial being--without physical characteristics (John 4:24; Luke 24:39).
- God's transcendence is the product of the relationship between God's essence and creation. God transcends space and time in that he is not dependent on them nor affected by them (Psalm 139:7-10).
- God alone is God. There is no one like him. He is completely "other" than all things that exist (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-7).
Communicable Attributes of God--can be possessed by people
- Being good can only be understood in relationship to God and his character. Humans can be good in relation to one another, but their standard is subjective. Therefore, true goodness is understood in light of the revelation of God in his Word. We can emulate the goodness of God, but we can never be perfectly good.
- God hates (Psalm 5:5; 11:5), and he does so righteously and with perfect judgment and knowledge. However, we often hate unrighteously and in ignorance.
- Where God always does what is perfectly right according to the law, we do not behave perfectly. We can be lawful, and in so doing we emulate the perfect justice of God.
- Where God knows all things (1 John 3:20), we only know partially. Our knowledge is incomplete and always will be incomplete.
- God is love (1 John 4:8) and expresses his love perfectly through Jesus. Because we are touched by sin, our expression of love towards others will always be tainted. But we are still able to express it.
- God's mind is perfectly rational since all that God possesses in knowledge and wisdom necessitates his perfect thought. We, on the other hand, are imperfectly rational. Our conclusions and deductions are not always correct. They cannot be since we are affected by sin and do not have all knowledge.
- Mercy is not getting what we deserve. We can exhibit mercy to others though we do not always do it properly and perfectly.
- We can speak and communicate. This is an attribute we possess, but our communications are never perfect. An attribute of God is his speech. He said "let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), and it was so. God always speaks truth, and it contains power. Our speech is not always true, nor does it contain the same creative power as God's speech.
- Truth is a quality where statements properly reflect actuality, but it is also a quality of character possessed by God. We can be truthful, but our ability to be truthful is damaged in part because of our lack of all knowledge and also because of our sin.
- People are capable of expressing wisdom, which is the proper use of knowledge. But this is best done in light of scriptural revelation. We can possess wisdom but not perfectly. God, however, possesses wisdom perfectly and always makes the right decisions as well as the best ways to accomplish his decisions.
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