Understanding The Bible
BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
Theism - the doctrine of an extra-mundane, personal God, Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the universe. (Chafer)
Trinitarianism - the consideration of the threefold personality of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
Arguments for the existence of God
This argument contends that the existence of God is proved by the fact that man universally has a religious instinct. No race or tribe of people has ever been found which had no religious worship. No one is an atheist unless someone has "tampered" with him.
The argument is based on the inevitable law of cause and effect. If it is agreed that the universe had a beginning, then it must be admitted that there was a sufficient cause to produce it. That cause must be God.
The present harmony and design of the universe (both telescopically and microscopically) demand the existence of an intelligence and will adequate to its contrivance. The causative power (proved by the cosmological argument) must be an intelligent power; hence, a personal God.
Because the human mind possesses the idea of a perfect and absolute Being, such a Being exists. Existence, according to this argument, is necessary to perfection. Our mental constitution will not allow us to think otherwise.
anthropological or moral argument
Man as an intelligent and moral being must have had as an Author an intelligent and moral Being. Conscience recognizes the existence of a moral law which has supreme authority. "Man's emotional and voluntary nature proves the existence of a Being who may furnish in Himself a satisfying object of human affection and an end which will call forth man's highest activities and assure his highest progress. Such a Being must exist, otherwise belief in a lie is more productive of virtue than belief in the truth. "
argument from congruity (Thiessen)
This argument is based on the belief that the postulate which best explains the related facts is probably true. The belief in the existence of God best explains the facts of man's mental, moral, and religious nature, as well as the facts of the material universe. Hence, God exists.
"The universe presents an overwhelming demand for the belief in the existence of God. Postulate His Person, Character, and Power as set forth in the Scriptures, and all things are reasonable. Postulate the absence of God, though endeavoring to recognize some blind force, the universe becomes an unsolvable problem of infinite proportions. " (Chafer)
"In evaluating these rational arguments it should be pointed out first of all that believers do not need them.. .Moreover, in using these arguments in an attempt to convince unbelievers, it will be well to bear in mind that none of them can be said to carry absolute conviction.. .While they do not prove the existence of God beyond the possibility of doubt, so as to compel assent, they can be so construed as to establish a strong probability and thereby silence many unbelievers. " (Berkhof)
The great presupposition of theology is the existence of God. This the Christian accepts by faith. This faith is not a blind faith, but one built on evidence. The evidence is found mainly in the Scriptures and, secondarily, in nature. ".. .for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" ... "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God" (Heb. 11:6,3).
Anti-theistic philosophies and beliefs
Atheism - the belief that there is no God.
Agnosticism - the belief that no one can be sure that there is a God.
Pantheism - God and the universe are one. From the Greek words pan (all) and theos (God). God is chained to His universe.
Polytheism - the belief in many gods.
Materialism - only matter exists; therefore the existence of God is denied, since we declare God is immaterial.
Deism - the belief that if there is a God who is personal, infinite, holy, and the Creator of the universe. He purposely abandoned His creation when He created it.
- the theory that the cosmos has been developed from crude, homogeneous
material to its present advanced and heterogeneous status by means
of resident, inherent forces. Evolution may be either theistic or
atheistic. Theistic evolution recognizes God as the Creator of the
original materials, but contends that evolution is the method by
which all development from a supposed primordial state to the present
completeness has been wrought. Atheistic evolution rejects the Person
of God, denies His work in creation, and contends that matter is
We at PCB reject all of these as false philosophies and beliefs.
Two important things to remember in approaching revealed theism:
We cannot fully comprehend God. Our knowledge concerning Him and His ways is necessarily incomplete. Our finite minds are unable to grasp His fulness. We can only apprehend Him.
Our knowledge of Him can and should, however, go beyond the limits of human reason. This is made possible by the exact and explicit terms of Scripture through which He has revealed Himself to us.
Outline (after Thiessen)
The essence of God
He is immaterial and incorporeal
He is invisible
He is alive
He is a Person
Self-existence and unity
The moral attributes of God
Righteousness and justice
The love of God
The benevolence of God
The mercy of God
The grace of God
The non-moral attributes of God
The essence of God
is immaterial and incorporeal
"God is spirit" (Jn. 4:24). There is no article in the Greek. He is "spirit" in His essence; hence, not corporeal or material. This is His nature. Cp. the second commandment.
The symbolic representations of God's being, such as "eyes, " "ears, " "feet, " etc., are adaptations to the way we humans think and speak; the infinite is described in terms of the finite. They are called anthropomorphic expressions (i.e., in the form of man).
"No man hath seen God at any time" (Ex. 33:20; Jn. 1:18). He is "the invisible God" (Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16).
Men saw the manifestation of His glory, but not God in His essence (Ex. 3:6; 24:10-11). Cp. no man has seen the sun; only the glow of the flames shooting from the sun.
But God can assume or manifest Himself in human form (on a temporary basis) if He desires to do so, particularly as the Angel of Jehovah (e.g., Gen. 18:13-33).
"The idea of spirit not only excludes the idea of material substance, but also the idea of inanimate substance. It implies God is alive." (Thiessen) See 1 Thes. 1:9; Mt. 16:16.
Life implies feeling, power, activity; He is the source of all life: animal, plant, human, spiritual, and eternal (Jn. 5:26). Contra, dead idols (false gods), Ps. 115:3-9.
God does not possess life. He is life!
is a Person
Personality denotes the power of self-consciousness and of self-determination.
"The God of the Bible is a Person. He spoke to Adam. He revealed Himself to Noah. He entered into covenant with Abraham. He conversed with Moses, as a friend with friend. He everywhere used the personal pronouns. " (Hodge)
He is infinite personality, i.e., to an absolute degree He is all that constitutes personality (Ex. 3:14).
God is represented as possessing the psychological characteristics of personality: intellect (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 3:7; Acts 15:18); sensibility (Ps. 103:8-13); and volition (Ps. 115:3; Jn. 6:38). He is represented as speaking (Gen. 1:3); seeing (Gen. 11:5); hearing (Ps. 94:9); etc
God is not dependent for His existence on anything outside of Himself. "I am that I am" (Ex. 3:14). He is the only "Uncaused Being. " He is one in nature and no attributes of His nature are contradictory. He is one God; the only God (Dt. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; 1 Tim. 1:17).
Immensity is infinity in its relation to space. God is not subject to the limitations of space. He could not be more nor less than He is. Omnipresence is the term descriptive of space in relation to God. Immensity is a term descriptive of God's relation to space. If space were defined by boundaries. God would exceed it to infinity.
God is free from all limitations. He is absolutely complete apart from anything external to Himself (Ps. 145; 3; Job 11:7-9; 1 Ki. 8:27)
Because God is infinite, He can love each believer as much as if that soul were the only one for whom He had to care. " (Strong)
"A thing may be infinite in its own nature v/ithout precluding the possibility of the existence of things of a different nature. " (Hodge)
"Infinity characterizes all that God does, His Word of Truth, His Love, and His Holiness." (Chafer)
Eternity is infinity in relation to time. It implies that God has always existed and always will exist. He is not subject to time. God sees the past and the future as well as He sees the present (Dt. 32:40; Ps. 90:2; 102:27; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4; 1 Tim. 6:16).
The moral attributes of God
God's perfection is denoted in all that He is. It is the foremost attribute of God, the one by which He especially desired to be known (Lev. 11:44-45; Ps. 22:3; Isa. 40:23; Ezk. 39:7; Hab. 1:12; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).
"Holy, " "sanctify, " and "saint" all have the same root meaning, namely, to separate. Holiness indicates the fact that God is unchangeably and unalterably opposed to and diverse from evil in any conceivable sense. At the same time, He is the source and standard of right. Holiness is primarily a positive, not a negative, attribute.
and justice (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 97:2; 111:3)
By this we mean that phase of the holiness of God which is seen in His treatment of the creature. He has instituted a moral government of the world, imposed just laws upon the creatures, and attached sanctions thereto. In virtue of the latter He executes His laws, punishing wickedness and rewarding righteousness. Repeatedly these qualities are ascribed to God (2 Chr. 12:6; Ezra 9:15; Ps. 89:14; Isa. 45:21; 2 Tim. 4:8).
The goodness of God, in the larger sense, includes all the qualities that answer to our conception of an ideal personage (Mk. 10:18). In the narrower sense, it is limited to the four qualities below:
love of God
A special emphasis of the divine nature (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). It is His nature to love. He is in contrast with the gods of the heathen who hate and are angry. He is the God of love (2 Cor. 13:11). The Father and Son love each other (Mt. 3:16; Jn. 14:31); God loves the world (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8), Israel (Dt. 7:6-8), His true children (Jn. 14:23; 1 Jn. 3:1).
"The love of God is that perfection of God by which He is eternally moved to self-communication. Since God is absolutely good in Himself, His love cannot find complete satisfaction in any object that falls short of absolute perfection. He loves His rational creatures for His own sake, or to express it otherwise, He loves in them Himself, His virtues, His work, His gifts. He does not even withdraw His love completely from the sinner in his present sinful state, though the latter's sin is an abomination to Him, since He recognizes even in the sinner His image-bearer." (Berkhof)
"Something like this work of grace was a moral necessity with God. So long as we conceive God as sitting apart in supreme ease and self-satisfaction, He is not love at all, but only a reflection of our selfishness and vulgarity." (Brown)
The cross was not an accident in the plan of God. It was an eternal necessity because of the perfect love of God. Love demands sacrifice. Because God is love. He is capable of suffering.
benevolence of God
The affection He feels and manifests toward His sentient creatures. He cannot hate anything He has made (Job 14:5), but only that which, like sin, is added to His work. He is "good to all; and his tender mercies are over all His works. .. Thou openest thy hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing" (Ps. 145:9,15-16; see Job 38:41; Ps. 36:3; Mt. 6:23; 5:45).
mercy of God
By this we mean His goodness manifested towards those who are in misery and distress. Compassion, pity, and loving kindness are other Scriptural terms. Mercy is never a matter of debt, but an expression of God's volition. He is "rich in mercy" (Eph. 2:4; Jas. 5:11). He is merciful toward Israel (Ps. 102:13); Gentiles (Rom. 11:30-31); toward all that seek salvation (Isa. 55:7; Lk. 1:72); and toward them that fear Him (Ex. 20:2; Lk. 1:50).
The grace of God
By this we mean the goodness of God toward the ill-deserving. The exercise of grace, like that of mercy, is optional with God. There is common grace toward all men (Ex. 34:6; 2 Pet. 3:9; Tit. 2:11). There is special grace toward believers (e.g., Eph. 1:4-6; Acts 18:27; Rom. 5:21; Tit. 2:11-12; 2 Cor. 12:9; 1 Pet. 1:13; Heb. 12:28).
the blending of justice and mercy, we have grace. Grace is mercy
that I do not deserve, and help that I cannot do without. "Mercy
and truth ... have kissed each other" (Ps. 85:10). "Deserved"
is written over the gate of hell, but over the gate of heaven is
written "all of grace."
Both our nature and the Scriptures teach us God is true and genuine.
"Truth is that perfection of His Being by virtue of which He fully answers to the idea of the Godhead, is perfectly reliable in His revelation, and sees things as they really are." (Berkhof) He is the source of all truth. God is truth, not only in the sense that He is the Being who truly knows, but also in the sense that He is the truth that is known. This attribute guarantees revelation (]n. 17:3; 1 Jn. 5:20; Jn. 14:6).
Veracity and faithfulness correspond to transitive truth (Rom. 3:4; Lam. 3:23).
"This faithfulness of God is of the utmost practical significance to the people of God. It is the ground of their confidence, the foundation of their hope, and the cause of their rejoicing. It saves them from the despair to which their own unfaithfulness might easily lead, gives them courage to carry on in spite of their failures, and fills their hearts with joyful anticipations, even when they are deeply conscious of the fact that they have forfeited all the blessings of God. " (Berkhof)
"Great is Thy faithfulness, 0 God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou has been. Thou forever wilt be.
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love." (T. 0. Chisholm)
The non-moral attributes of God
God is personally present everywhere (Ps. 139:7-12; Jer. 23:23-24; Acts 17:27-28; Heb. 4:13). The thought is a comfort to the saint and a warning and deterrent to the sinner (e.g., Amos 9:1-4).
God knows all things, whether actual or possible, whether past, present, or future. He knows them perfectly and from all eternity (Ps. 147:4-5; Mt. 10:29-30; Acts 15:8; Prov. 15:3; Jer. 23:23-25; Heb. 4:13). God's knowledge is not subject to development, reasoning, regretting, or foreboding.
God is all-powerful; able to do all His holy will. He is not able to sin or lie or make untruth truth. But He can do all things consistent with His character Job 42:2; Jer. 32:17,27: Mt. 19:26; Lk. 1:37; Rev. 19:6; Gen. 17:1; Isa. 44:24; Heb. 1:3; Eph. 1:19; 3:20).
God is unchanging and unchangeable. Since God is absolute perfection, no change to the better is possible. A change for the worse would be inconceivable and inconsistent (Ps. 102:27; Mat. 3:6; Jas. 1:17).
"As an infinite and absolute Being, self-existent and absolutely independent, God is exalted above all the causes of and even above the possibility of change. . .So God is absolutely immutable in His essence and attributes. He can neither increase nor decrease. He is subject to no process of development, or of self-evolution. His knowledge and power can never be greater or less. He can never be wiser or holier, or more righteous or more merciful than He ever has been and ever must be. He is no less immutable in His plans and purposes. Infinite in wisdom, there can be no error in their conception; infinite in power, there can be no failure in their accomplishment." (Hodge)
Immutability is consistent with perfect freedom. God acts always according to His perfect nature. Note the oft repeated phrase "And it repented Jehovah. . ." When man changes, God appears to change. Cp. the sun which hardens the clay while at the same time softening wax. The change is in that which God contacts, not in God. The change is a "seeming" change, as in the mercury in a thermometer. The same amount of mercury is there when it goes up or down. It is the weather that changes!
[NOTE: The character and attributes of God as revealed in the Names of God are studied in another course by that name: E121 DOCTRINE I - The Names of God.]
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