Open Theism seems to be a term with more than one meaning, so let me define what I mean. I am referring to people who believe in one god, yet, for whatever reason, deny one or more of the traditional or classical attributes that the God of the Bible is said to have. It’s any description of God that doesn’t line up with the Biblical one. As I understand it, this is not any one specific position, but represents a wide range of views on God, from some kind of limited, deistic god all the way to some positively strange formulations (for example, I encountered someone who claims that the Bible only makes sense if understood from the standpoint that ‘God’ represents an entire race of highly-advanced alien beings who built our universe and genetically ‘seeded’ life on Earth).
This gave me food for thought, and I set out to research firstly, what the attributes of God are from a strictly traditional, or “classical” viewpoint, and secondly, what, if any, support there is for these ideas coming from the scriptures themselves. The result is the following material, drawing from what is at least an approximate list of all the references to the nature of God in the Bible.
I originally formulated this material back before Quizlet even existed, so rather than rebuilding it all from scratch, I am simply going to upload the Word document files here.
Before we proceed any further, I think it’s supremely important to say that we should derive our conception of God first and foremost from scripture, and not from elaborate logical argumentation (i.e. philosophy) from a human standpoint. You will see that I use logical argumentation at a few points in this essay, but primarily I want to direct your attention to what the Bible itself says about God. There are many ways that the thoughts of limited, finite human beings could be mistaken, so, when talking about God, let us not stray far beyond what scriptures actually give us liscence to say. In the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5:2, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”
The first step in this inquiry is, of course, to identify what the classical attributes of God are. I’ve found that this list can vary depending on what source you are looking at. The source I’ve chosen to use for this study is located online, at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here.
In their article entitled “Western Concepts of God”, they list the following classical attributes of God:
Incorporeality, Simplicity, Unity, Eternity, Immutability, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Impassibility, and Goodness.
Though inexplicably they left it out of their list, I will also be addressing Omnipresence. Let me first address the attributes that I do believe are supported by scriptural testimony, and then work my way down to the ones that I found lacking in support, or that were even outrightly contradicted by scripture. Throughout, as I quote scriptural passages, I have tried to include references to the most relevant words of the passage in the original language. I want to avoid any accusations of mistranslation, so anyone with doubts can look up the lexicon numbers (I’ve used Strong’s lexicon, easily accessible online), in Hebrew for the Old Testament, and Greek for the New.
The English translation I used is the 21st Century King James Version, which modernizes some archaic vocabulary and spelling, but otherwise keeps the original King James Version intact. [Incidentally, these days I’m partial to the ESV and most of the citations on the rest of this site are in that version. This work was done a while ago.]
According to my source, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the ‘simplicity’ of God means that “God has no parts or real distinctions.” As far as I can tell, the motivation for thinking this does not come from scripture, but from philosophical considerations. Actually, I found no scripture verses that stated or even implied that God is simple. I can understand some of the reasons for thinking this. For example, one might say that to be supremely perfect one must be perfectly simple, because any complexity might leave room for improvement. Or, more convincingly to me, one might say that God must be simple in order not to fall under the same design argument as His creation- if the functional complexity of life is used to show that life must have a designer, then, if one found the same kind of complexity in God, it would follow that God must also have been designed. Another possible reason for this would be that God is a person, and people are indivisible units. You can’t have 63% of Paul. You either have Paul, or someone else, or no one. It would seem that if something is completely indivisible and inseperable, then that thing must be perfectly simple, with no internal ‘parts’. But what about God’s uniplural or trinitarian nature? How can God both have no parts and be made of three parts? It looks like a contradiction, at least on the surface. Lastly, it’s unclear if a non-physical entity can be constructed of parts in the same way that physical entities can. Since such considerations fall completely outside of science, they must remain purely conjecture. The same can be said of this supposed attribute of God.
The roots of the idea that God is impassible- that is, He cannot be affected in any way by things outside Himself- goes back to ancient Greek philosophy, and not the Bible. The Stoic philosophers regarded it a virtue not to be bothered by anything, and so they ascribed this in the extreme to God. This idea, however, is positively unscriptural. Countless times God is described as having emotional reactions to His creation- sometimes good, and too often bad. Furthermore, God even has conversations with people and answers their prayers and pleas, sometimes changing the course of His own action as a result. This is an outright contradiction of ‘divine impassibility’. God is very much affected by what we, His people, choose to do, and it hurts God very much when we reject Him.
In closing, I’d like to show a couple of interesting verses I came across which speak more to God’s character and nature.
“This then is the message which we have heard from Him and declare unto you: that God is light [5457. phós], and in Him is no darkness at all.”
1 John 1:5
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights [5457. phós], with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. “
One could take these passages in a figurative way, and understand them to mean that God is perfectly good. But, while that may be true, I think it’s also literally true. Countless people on their deathbeds have reported “seeing the light”. Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are nearly always accompanied with descriptions of unbelievably brilliant light.
“He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love [26. agapé].”
1 John 4:8
God doesn’t just love us, God is love. In some way, love defines God’s essence. I’ve heard it argued that this supports the Trinity, since love usually describes feelings between people; in order for God to be fundamentally described by love (apart from His creation), God must be continually in a state of love between His members (The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Regardless, this is an interesting and often-quoted verse.
This concludes my study into God’s nature. I hope it will benefit you all in separating truth from lies. Many, many people throughout all time, never less so than today, have taken it upon themselves to speak about God. Cults and false prophets are prolific, each with their own abberant theology and ideas. God’s word, the Bible, is the only way we can discern this. If people claim to believe the Bible, but start telling you things that don’t square with what God revealed about Himself, you will be able to show them their error. Test everything. Hold onto the good.