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How does Christianity define "God" and does it apply to all denominations across Christianity?

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You may want to look at Thomas Aquinas on this subject: newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm –  James Black Sep 5 '11 at 19:25
    
I think that if you could completely define God, He wouldn't be God. Though we can know about Him, we can never truely "define" Him. –  Wikis Dec 31 '11 at 13:45
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7 Answers 7

The Bible takes some things for granted, such as the existence of God. You will not find a chapter in the Bible dedicated to proving the existence of God. It takes for granted that everyone understands and simply declares that those are fools who think anything else (Psalm 53:1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God). Similarly, the Bible doesn't spend a lot of time giving out any strict definition of God. It lists certain attributes here and there, but not a definition per se.

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Exodus 3:14 describes how God defines himself to us, in response to Moses asking what he should say when the Israelites in Egypt ask who sent him:

God said to Moses, "I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, 'I-AM sent me to you.'"

From the Message; emphasis mine.

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The scope of this question is rather wide!

The whole Bible is a history of God's revelation of himself to humankind, so a proper answer to this question would quote the entire book.

You could say that the entire universe is here to answer the question of what God is like, as every aspect of creation was designed to reveal God's nature to us. Although this is a truly marvelous demonstration of God's nature, this web page is too small to contain it!

Most importantly, the Christian view of God is best understood by developing an understanding of Jesus. The Bible records a conversation between Jesus and his disciple Philip. John 14:8 records Philip's words, "Lord, show us the Father". Jesus reply includes the statement, "The person that has seen me has seen the Father too."

These surces of information about God apply to every denomination, but each denomination has a different view of how these three sources of answer to the question.

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I've formulated the following clear, simple definition for some "essentials of the faith" classes I've taught:

God is triune. This is the one true God revealed in three persons--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are eternally distinct yet inseparable. God is one in nature and essence, and three in personality and identity. The full nature of the infinite God cannot be fully understood by the finite human intellect.

We know who God is and what he is like by understanding God's statements about himself, his law, his works, his salvation, and his judgment, as found in the Bible. Particularly, much of the moral law is revealed in Exodus 20 and Matthew 5-7; Romans 1-8 and Galatians both give a clear account of his salvation. God often proclaims himself as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob", indicating that he is the God of his special people Israel, who grew them from nothing and gave them every blessing. He also proclaims himself as the "God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery," indicating his faithful love and kindness and willingness to save.

Some of God's attributes are:

  • Existence
  • Knowability
  • Spirituality / Incorporeality
  • Omniscience
  • Wisdom
  • Truthfulness / Veracity
  • Faithfulness
  • Goodness
  • Impeccability
  • Love
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Patience
  • Holiness / Sanctity
  • Peace / Order
  • Righteousness
  • Justice
  • Jealousy
  • Wrath
  • Will
  • Freedom
  • Omnipotence
  • Perfection
  • Blessedness
  • Beauty
  • Glory
  • Immanent
  • Personality
  • Missionality
  • Invisibility
  • Sovereignty
  • Independence / Aseity
  • Unchangeableness / Immutability
  • Eternality
  • Omnipresence
  • Unity
  • Trinity
  • Inexhaustability
  • Transcendence
  • Simplicity

Let me know (perhaps in a new question?) which of these you'd like elaboration on.

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How do you know those are the "attributes" of "God"? Can you cite biblical references? –  rpeg May 19 at 2:53
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Creeds are statements of theology that Christians believe. A widely accepted Christian creed is the Apostle's Creed, which begins "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth."

From this very brief statement we agree that God reveals Himself as Father - implying an intimate relational Being, not an impersonal or distant force; that He is almighty - or all powerful - able to perform any possible act or cause anything to occur; and that He is the Creator of heaven and earth - He made everything that exists.

Much more can be said of course, but the creed provides a solid basis.

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John 14:8-11 (NKJV):

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

From this we can ascertain that the Father is like the Son. If we know the Son we know the Father. There really isn't any more to say in this matter, and all interpretations of this are the interpolations of men - buyer beware. If I were to define the Son, I would speak of His works and His wisdom ... not the metaphysical nature of His being as this is apparently vague enough to lend itself to all kinds of interpretation resulting in 100's of religions just on that matter alone - a good indication of what God wants us to think is important about "who" he is.

Christ certainly makes this obvious in the above verses. Christ is addressing this very question there, and each of us should read it replacing Philip's name with our own.

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In An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (ἔκδοσις ἀκριβὴς τῆς ὀρθοδόξου πίστεως), Book III, Sec. IV, John of Damascus wrote,

Now we have often said that essence (οὐσία) is one thing and hypostais (ὑπόστασις) another, and that essence (οὐσία) is the common and general species (εἶδος) of hypostases (ὑποστάσεων) of the same species (ὁμοειδῶν), such as "God" (θεός), "man" (ἄνθρωπος), while hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) marks the individual, that is to say, "Father," "Son," "Holy Spirit," "Peter," "Paul." Observe, then, that the nouns of "deity" (τῆς θεότητος) and "humanity" (τῆς ἀνθρωπότητος) denote essences (οὐσιῶν) or natures (φύσεών), while the nouns "God" (θεὸς) and "man" (ἄνθρωπος) are applied both in connection with natures (φύσεως), as when we say that "God is an incomprehensible essence" and that "God is one," and with reference to hypostases (ὑποστάσεων), that which is more specific having the name of the more general applied to it, as when the scripture says (Psa. 45:7), "Therefore O' God, your God anointed you" (for behold, it indicated the Father and the Son), or again (Job 1:1), "There was a certain man in the land of Uz" (for it only indicated Job).

Ὅτι μὲν οὖν ἕτερόν ἐστιν οὐσία καὶ ἕτερον ὑπόστασις, πλειστάκις εἰρήκαμεν, καὶ ὅτι ἡ μὲν οὐσία τὸ κοινὸν καὶ περιεκτικὸν εἶδος τῶν ὁμοειδῶν ὑποστάσεων σημαίνει οἷον θεός, ἄνθρωπος, ἡ δὲ ὑπόστασις ἄτομον δηλοῖ ἤτοι πατέρα, υἱόν, πνεῦμα ἅγιον, Πέτρον, Παῦλον. Ἰστέον τοίνυν, ὅτι τὸ μὲν τῆς θεότητος καὶ τῆς ἀνθρωπότητος ὄνομα τῶν οὐσιῶν ἤτοι φύσεών ἐστι παραστατικόν, τὸ δὲ θεὸς καὶ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς φύσεως τάττεται, ὁπόταν λέγωμεν· Θεός ἐστιν ἀκατάληπτος οὐσία, καὶ ὅτι εἷς ἐστι θεός· λαμβάνεται δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ὑποστάσεων ὡς τοῦ μερικωτέρου δεχομένου τὸ τοῦ καθολικωτέρου ὄνομα, ὡς ὅταν φησὶν ἡ γραφή· «Διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισέ σε ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός σου» (ἰδοὺ γὰρ τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὸν υἱὸν ἐδήλωσε), καὶ ὡς ὅταν λέγῃ· «Ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν ἐν χώρᾳ τῇ Αὐσίτιδι» (τὸν γὰρ Ἰὼβ μόνον ἐδήλωσεν).

To put it simply, "God" can be used to indicate species (εἶδος) and thus, nature (οὐσία) and essence (φύσις). This would be similar to Aristotle's Category of secondary essence (οὐσία).

It can also be used to indicate a hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) of a species, such as God the Father. As you see here, "the Father" indicates a particular hypostasis of the species "God."

Another species is "human" (ἄνθρωπος). As we know, we can say things such as "the (hu)man" (ὁ ἅνθρωπος) and "a certain (hu)man" (ἄνθρωπός τις). These, again, refer to hypostases. But, each hypostasis has an underlying nature or essence, and thus, it may be grouped under a particular species. This nature, essence, or species would be ἄνθρωπος.

The species, nature, and essence describes what something/ someone is.

The hypostasis describes who something/ someone is.

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