How do we know which of God's attributes are communicable?

by Matt Slick

In Christian theology, there is a categorization between the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God. This is a categorization between those attributes that belong to God and which can be communicated to humans and those attributes which cannot. So for example, holiness, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, are attributes that belong to God alone.  Goodness, hate, justice, knowledge, etc. would be attributes that belong to God and that can also be communicated to us. In other words, we are able to participate in those attributes; hence, they are communicable.

But, how do we know which attributes of God are communicable? The answer is twofold. First, we must look to Scripture. Second, we must use logic. In the first case, we look at the self-revelation of God given to us in the Bible.  Within those pages, we see his communication to us through the prophets, apostles, and the person of Christ. When we look at the whole of Scripture, we see how God works, what he says, and what he does. We then categorize certain attributes that belong to him. But to do this, we must use logic when ascertaining which of the attributes of God can be communicated to us and which cannot. Nevertheless, there might be disagreements upon various attributes, but as a whole, we can recognize certain characteristics that belong to God alone and which logically cannot be realized or experienced by us.

For example, logic would tell us that God is non-contingent. This means that he does not depend on anything else for his existence. But we, on the other hand, are contingent upon him for our existence. Therefore the issue of non-contingency is an attribute that belongs to God alone and cannot be communicated to us. He alone possesses this quality.  This would be an incommunicable attribute.

On the other hand, the Bible tells us that God loves (John 3:16). It also tells us that we are to love (Matthew 22: 37, 39). Therefore since God loves and we can also love, then the attribute of God's love is shared by us, though we do not express it perfectly. This would be a communicable attribute.

God is transcendent. This means that he is not dependent or restricted to space and time, but transcends both of them. But we do not possess such transcendence. We are dependent upon and restricted to space and time. Therefore, God's transcendence is incommunicable; it cannot be communicated to us.

God is rational, but so are we. Where God is perfectly rational all the time, we, on the other hand, are not.  Still, we can be rational.  Therefore we would say that his rationality is an attribute of God that is communicated to us.

So, we would know which of God's attributes are communicable (and which are not) by categorizing them logically.  We can recognize that there are attributes that God alone possesses such as omnipresence, omniscience, non-contingency, and transcendence. On the other hand, there are attributes that belong to God that we can participate in such as goodness, love, mercy, rationality, and speech.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.