My question is not about philosophical views but is focused on theological views.

According to Thomas Aquinas, God is a "subsistent being". He explained the Triune Persons as subsistent relations. And this is where the subject becomes more complex.

My basic understanding is that to describe God as a subsistent being means God is a reality that exists of itself. That seems woefully inadequate so I did some research and found some thoughts from a Welsh Reformed Protestant Theologian:

God IS - that is, God is ETERNAL LIFE, the eternally subsisting being: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom” (Isaiah 40:28).

The Bible starts with God – “In the beginning God...” (Genesis 1:1). The knowledge of God is ultimately the sum of all other doctrines. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

The Bible teaches us about the infinity of God. He is an absolute being; He is not derived from something else nor conditioned by anything else – “I AM that I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God told Moses to say “I AM hath sent me unto you”. God is the ultimate, absolute being. God’s infinity suggests to us that He is the cause of everything else; all existence, all being derives from Him. The infinity of God is emphasised throughout the Bible from beginning (Genesis 1:1) to the end – “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).

God is Spirit (John 4:24). He has none of the properties that belong to matter. Because the human mind is too small to span or grasp God or to realise Him, God was made flesh in the incarnation. The revelation of God came in Jesus Christ, the ultimate revelation, the essence of the great act of redemption (Galatians 4:4-5).

Source based on material from ‘God the Father God the Son’ by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published 1996. (Chapter 2, pp 15,20 and Chapter 5, pp 47, 53-56 refer)

Is there is a biblical basis for saying God is a subsistent being and what does this tell us about the being of God?

I am not seeking opinions but evidence from a biblical Trinitarian view.

  • 2
    The Oxford English Dictionary applies different meanings to the word 'subsistent' the 'theological' one (number 2) being labelled 'now rare' and the 'general' one (number 3) being labelled 'chiefly in philosophical contexts'. Definitions will be important. (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 10:16
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    The typical go-to for proving that God is the being which exists of itself is pointing out His name given to Moses in Exodus, "I AM." And, Jesus refers to this as well, saying "before Abraham was, I AM," meaning that He always was.
    – jaredad7
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 15:04
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    @Lesley I'm not sure aseity is exactly the same as the subsistent being idea you're asking about, but it's the common technical term that seems to match closest.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 3, 2022 at 15:20
  • 1
    I understand that arguments from silence don't carry a lot of weight but there is a complete lack, in Scripture, depicting God's existence as derivative of, dependent upon, or resultant from anything. Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 2:19
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    Seems almost like a topic which seeks to explain the interrelatedness of the persons of the trinity "apart from" their economic functions in creation. This link provides some discussion and references in support of it's secondary conclusions: apuritansmind.com/puritan-favorites/william-ames/…
    – ninthamigo
    Commented Jan 5, 2022 at 13:42

2 Answers 2


Thanks to the new tag, 'aeseity', I've learned the definition for this, as representing God as absolutely independent and self-existent by nature. My problem now lies in seeing how 'subsistent' connects, for if Thomas Aquinas "explained the Triune Persons as subsistent relations", was he saying the three Persons are equally self-existent yet all are absolutely independent? I can't see that he was, for that would seem to be a contradiction in terms. However, you don't want philosophical points, but a theological view.

Perhaps the key to use to unlock this is to start with the orthodoxly Christian view that the one God is complex, not simple. The Welsh Reformed Protestant clergyman you quoted expresses that fact beautifully. I consulted the writing of Harold O.J. Brown, remembering he had spoken about 'subsisting' early on in his monumental history of doctrines and heresies in the Church.

In the early 200s A.D., the Trinity was being debated, and language framed to bring clarity. Before the word 'subsits' was used to express the mystery of God in three Persons, thinkers like Origen explained how the words 'Father' and 'Son' referred to a relationship that is eternal, not to an act in time (meaning the Son was always with the Father, an eternal 'begetting'). Origen's imagination was so fertile and his speculation so elaborate that the Eastern Orthodox regard him as a heretic, and great liberals, such as Harnack, embrace him (see page 86 of Brown's book, below). However, Origen's points paved the way for grasping the eternal nature of that relationship within the Godhead. Now here is a quote dealing with the question:

"Later theological language will express the mystery of the Trinity by saying that God subsists in three Persons... By introducing a rare term, 'subsists', theology seeks to show that the Trinity is not to be demystified by resorting to inapplicable comparisons. If one were to say, for example, that God consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, this might appear to suggest that God has three parts. By teaching that the Father eternally begets the Son, and that the Son, eternally begotten before all time, is thus effectively co-eternal with the Father, Origen prepared the way for our present understanding: God does not consist of parts, but subsists in Persons. These Persons are distinguished from one another by means of a relationship - in the case of the Father and the Son, by begetting and being begotten - but not by succession in time." (Heresies and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, p89, Harold O.J. Brown, Hendrickson & Baker Book House Co., 1998)

The point is then made that such theology is not pedantic or meaningless today because such precise language was, and still is, needed to avoid falling prey to misunderstanding, if not actual heresy. Regarding Origen and the doctrine of the trinity, the author adds that it:

"will always remain a mystery, but thanks to Origen, it can at least be expressed in such a way that we can see wherein the mystery lies." (Ibid. p.91)

There is a tendency for those who like to give the impression that they can explain God, to play fast and loose with theology about their comparatively simple God, who can be understood, in what are usually simplistic terms. That charge cannot be leveled at the words used to detail the Trinity doctrine, because the Godhead is complex, not simple. Certainly, words like 'subsists' and 'aseity' are difficult words, and are not found in the Bible, yet the concepts surely are, as those quotes from Martyn Lloyd-Jones show.

You ask for the biblical basis for saying God is a subsistent being, and I see the many scriptures used by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones as providing that basis. Yet there are very many more Bible texts that could be listed to show the eternality of the three Persons, and their utter unitedness as the one God, for example, John 5:26, 4:14; Gal.6:8; Psalm 83:18 in conjunction with Isaiah 63:10 and Exodus 17:6; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Cor.2:10-11; Psalm 139:7-10; 1 Cor.3:16 in conjunction with 2 Cor.6:16; Romans 5:2 in conjunction with Ephesians 2:18; Isaiah 40:13-14 in conjunction with 48:16. (Note now many of those verses deal with the Holy Spirit as God.)


A self-subsisting being means that its essence (what it intrinsically is) is "to exist" (existence) itself.

The best biblical evidence is Exodus 3:14, "I am Who am." (אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה), the most proper name of God because "the existence of God is His essence itself, which can be said of no other (q. 3 a. 4 ["Whether essence and existence are the same in God?"])" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I q. 13 a. 11 co.).

See, e.g., Thomistic Thesis #3 (of 24). Also: Pohle, God: His Knowability, Essence, and Attributes, pt. 3, ch. 3, §2 on how aseity (aseitas, from ens a se, "being from itself") is the fundamental attribute of God.

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