Friday, December 3, 2010

Berkhof's Systematic Theology (Part One Chapter Six): The Incommunicable Attributes

Part One
The Doctrine of God (The Being of God)
VI. The Incommunicable Attributes (God as the Absolute Being)
A. The Self-Existence of God
B. The Immutability of God
C. The Infinity of God
D. The Unity of God

"It has been quite common in theology to speak of God as the absolute Being" (p.57), though the term "absolute" is more common to philosophy than theology. In philosophy, the Absolute is "regarded as that which is free from all conditions (the Unconditioned or Self-Existent)...When the Absolute is defined as the First Cause of all existing things, or as the ultimate ground of all reality, or as the self-existent Being, it can be considered as identical with the God of theology. He is the Infinite One, who does not exist in any necessary relations, because he is self-sufficient, but at the same time can freely enter into various relations with his creation as a whole and with his creatures. While the incommunicable attributes emphasize the absolute Being of God, the communicable attributes stress the fact that he enters into various relations with his creatures" (p.57-58).

A. The Self-Existence of God
"God is self-existent, that is, that he has the ground of his existence in himself...As the self-existent God, he is not only independent in himself, but also causes everything to depend on him" (p.58).

"Additional indications of it are found in the assertion in John 5:26 'For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself'; in the declaration that he is independent of all things and that all things exist only through him, Ps. 94:8 ff.; Isa. 40:18 ff.; Acts 7:25; and in statements implying that he is independent in his thought, Rom. 11:33,34, and in his will, Dan. 4:35; Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:5; Rev. 4:11, in his power, Ps. 115:3, and in his counsel, Ps. 33:11" (p.58).

B. The Immutability of God
Berkhof defines God's immutability as "that perfection of God by which he is devoid of all change, not only in his Being, but also in his perfections, and in his purposes and promises" (p.58). This divine immutability is clearly taught in Scripture, but the question naturally arises concerning the incarnation and God's apparent changes of mind toward his creation in certain passages of Scripture. To give an answer Berkhof says "The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God" (p.59). He argues that the incarnation brought no change in God's Being, perfections, or purposes and when Scripture speaks of God changing in some way (repenting, relation to creatures, intention) he reminds us "this is only anthropopathic way of speaking. In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man's relations to God" (p.59).

C. The Infinity of God.
To say that God is infinite is to say that he is free from all limitations. When we ascribe to God infinity we deny that he can be limited, though Berkhof says it should not "be regarded as a merely negative concept" (p.59) though he admits "that we cannot form a positive idea of it" (p.59). "The infinity of God must be conceived as intensive rather than extensive, and should not be confused with boundless extension, as if God were spread out through the entire universe, one part being here and another there, for God has no body and therefore no extension"(59).

1. His Absolute Perfection. 
"This is the infinity of the Divine Being considered in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God...In this sense of the word the infinity of God is simply identical with the perfection of his Divine Being"(p.60).

2. His Eternity.
God's infinity in relation to time is called his eternity. The Bible represents God's eternity in a way that is a duration through endless ages. This is the way we often conceive of eternity. "But this is only a popular and symbolic way of representing that which in reality transcends time and differs from it essentially. Eternity in the strict sense of the word is abscribed to that which transcends all temporal limitations...He is the eternal 'I am.' His eternity may be defined as that perfection of God whereby he is elevated above all temporal limits and all succession of moments, and possesses the whole of his existence in one indivisible present"(p.60).

3. His Immensity.
God's immensity is is defined as "that perfection of the Divine Being by which he transcends all spatial limitations, and yet is present in every point of space with his whole Being"(p.60). He adds the last words to avoid the idea that God's being is diffused through space. He says that though sometimes immensity and omnipresence are used synonymously, the two terms should be understood as distinct. Immensity points to God's transcendence while his omnipresence points to his immanence.

D. The Unity of God.
There is a distinction to be made in God's unity quantitatively and qualitatively.

1. The Unitas Singularitatis.
In this we understand that God is single, that there is one God and no other beside him. "This excludes all polytheistic conceptions of God"(p.62). See I Kings 8:60; I Cor. 8:6; I Tim. 2:5; Deut. 6:4.

2. The Unitas Simplicitatis.
This refers to the simplicity of God, meaning that God is free from division into parts. Berkhof says that "in recent works on theology the simplicity of God is seldom mentioned"(p.62). "This implies that among other things that the three Persons in the Godhead are not so many parts of which the Divine essence is composed, that God's essence and perfections are not distinct, and that the attributes are not superadded to his essence...Scripture does not explicitly assert it, but it implies it where it speaks of God as righteousness, truth, wisdom, light, life, love, and so on..."(62).