The Bible tells a story about God and his creation. Throughout its pages, Scripture reveals God through story, poetry, and prophecy. And although Scripture reveals God, we sometimes misunderstand and misreflect on what the Bible says about God (whether intentional or not).
To correct these twin errors, we need to define what we can know about God by crisp definitions. For example, the Apostle John pithily spoke of God in 1 John by saying “God is love” and “God is light.” And while we can never know God fully, we can say true things about him.
We can follow John’s example by using concise definitions to clarify who God is, to avoid error, and ultimately to grow in our knowledge of God. For those reasons, consider this short dictionary of God words.
God Words That Describe Who He Is
Eternal. God created everything. So he has no beginning. As Moses explains, “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps 90:2). As the creator, God has no beginning. He also has no end. Paul calls God “the King of the ages” and “incorruptible” (1 Tim 1:17). So no corruption touches him, he does deteriorate. He remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.
All-mighty. Having created the universe, God has no equal in power. God can do anything that accords with his nature. He does whatever he pleases.
Unchanging. Created things begin and so change. When the universe was formless and void, God formed it and filled it. It changed. Having a beginning, things in the universe change over time. People age. Radiation radiates. Everything moves. God does not work like that. He always remains the same because he has no capacity for change.
Invisible. God has no created body. Jesus says, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Paul extols God as “invisible” (1 Tim 4:17). The point here is that God is unlike us. We have created bodies, exist in time, and change. God is spirit and has no created body that has the capacity for change (whether of loss or gain).
Uncircumscribed. Since God is Spirit, he has no spatial limit. Solomon said, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you” (1 Kings 8:27).
Simple. God is holy (Isa 6:3). God is light (1 John 1:5). God is love (1 John 4:8). God is gracious, righteous, and merciful (Ps 116:5). God is all these things eternally. He cannot change in these things. He is not darkness one day; then light the next. He cannot become more righteous because he is righteous—he is the standard of righteousness.
God is all these things fully and without change. Put differently, God (unlike us) is not made of parts. He is fully light, love, and grace. The apostle John says it best, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God is all light; no darkness whatsoever.
This biblical teaching is called simplicity. God is simple because he has no complex parts. Every attribute of God (love, grace, holy, etc.) fully subsists in God. And every attribute of God is God. He cannot have more love than grace. He is both.
Since God is eternal, unchanging, and invisible, then he always and changelessly has been love, holy, and grace. He is identical to each and all of these attributes. All that is in God is God.
God Words That Describe His Oneness and Threeness
One. God is one. “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4).
Unity. Sometimes God seems to be more than one. Genesis 19:24 narrates YHWH on earth raining fire and sulfur “from the LORD out of heaven.” Elsewhere, God speaks from heaven (e.g., at Sinai). He also walks with Israel through his angel. YHWH’s name is in the angel who can forgive sins as only God can (Exod 23:21).
Moses later recounts that God spoke “out of the midst of the fire” (Deut 4:33) and “Out of heaven he let you hear his voice” (Deut 4:36). He concludes “the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deut 4:39).
This moreness to God also pertains to God’s Spirit. David uniquely claims to have God’s Spirit in his mouth: “The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Sam 23:2). The servant makes that claim that “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me” (Isa 61:1). The Spirit of God like the YHWH on earth identifies closely with YHWH in heaven.
Despite this, God remains one because God is a unity—a tri-unity. The doctrine of the Trinity spells this out with more clarity.
Trinity. What finds only hints in the Old Testament becomes clear in the New Testament. God is one unity; a tri-unity, or a trinity. The Logos (Word) of God is God. Like our thoughts belong to us, yet flow from us, so also does the Word of God identify with God yet flow from him. The Spirit does too.
The only way people have successfully described the Trinity is through the doctrine of simplicity. Without simplicity, we have no classical doctrine of the Trinity. We would have to rebuild our whole way of thinking about God to conceive of God’s triunity apart from him being simple. Remember all that is in God is God. The same logic applies for each triune person. The Father, the Word, and the Spirit subsist in God simply.
Person (Hypostasis, Persona). “The word hypostasis is a Greek word meaning a concrete instance of a nature— For example, Peter (hypostasis) is a concrete instance of humanity (nature). In the Latin Church, theologians used the word persona to mean something similar to hypostasis. Boethius (AD 477–524) defined person as “an individual substance of a rational nature.” In English, we use the word person” (Quoted from here).
Applied to the Trinity, God is three persons—three concrete instances of one divine nature. Yet since God is simple, each hypostasis is identified with God’s nature.
Nature. “In theology, the word nature means the essence of a thing. It is a general category or genus. Humanity is a nature; Peter is a specific person with a human nature. Samantha also has a human nature. Samantha and Peter both share a human nature, but they are also individuals of that human nature that they share.
The theological word nature does not mean what the modern word “nature” does today. This is because the word nature meant something different centuries ago. Words change their meaning over time. So we need to learn what words meant when they were used to understand them” (Quoted from here).
Applied to the Trinity, God has one undivided nature that subsists in three hypostases (or persons). God does not have three natures. He has one nature in three persons.
Life (aseity). God’s inner-life is life. The Father always gives life to the Son and to the Spirit. Hence, God created the world to give it life. He sent his Son to the world to give it life, eternal life. Life and life-giving marks the inner life of God (see more here). The traditional word to describe God’s inner life is aseity.
God Words That Misdescribe Him
Arianism. Arius (250–c. 336) claimed that Christ had a beginning. God created him. Besides complicating the essential salvific truth that Christ unites us to God in his own person (being the union of divinity and humanity), Arius also denied a basic biblical teaching: Jesus is divine. And divinity is eternal, unchanging, and simple. Divinity cannot have a beginning. So Christ cannot.
Adoptionism. Recent scholarship has retrieved the ancient and rejected teaching that God has adopted Christ. So Christ partook of divinity through adoption. But Jesus pre-existed with the Father before creation as the Logos (John 17:24; 1:1). So this cannot be true.
Tritheism. Some speak of God as if he was three gods: Father, Son, and Spirit. But the Bible clearly teaches that God is one.
Pantheism. Some have taught that all things are divine. This misunderstands how signs and realities interact. God created by a Word (“let there be light”) and creation voicelessly proclaims God’s glory (“the heavens declare the glory of God”). Creation points to God. It is not God.
How to Use God Words
Eternal life means knowing God and Christ (John 17:3). Since have united to Christ by faith, we have access to that eternal life (Christ has eternal life according to his divinity). This life vivifies us by the Spirit’s work in us to unite to Jesus.
At the resurrection, we will have new bodies that are incorruptible, sinless, and perfect. God will see us; and we will see him.
But that reality starts now. Our spiritual vision may have an eschatological fullness. But the end has come to the beginning as the final Adam, Jesus, came to recapitulate the first Adam. Jesus brought with him the end of all things. This is why we have eternal into eternal life—Christians participate in the new age.
As Paul says, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). And being new creations in Christ means that we can overcome our old sinful ways. We can change from angry people to joyous people; we can overcome self-harm and instead serve others in need.
By knowing God in Christ by the Spirit, we can change. And we can experience God. Knowing these words about God matters. It will by the power of an incorruptible life (Jesus’) change you from new birth to ages without end.
So get to know God. That is eternal life.