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Classification of the attributes of God

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Classifying the attributes of God has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. Reformed theology has historically distinguished between "Incommunicable" and "Communicable" attributes of God. Incommunicable has been understood as attributes that only God has, while Communicable attributes are those that humans possess to a degree.

For example, God's attribute of love can be seen in humanity. Thus, "love" is considered a communicable attribute. Yet, God's eternity is not communicable as we are creatures who had a beginning and live in time and space.


Yet, some have been critical of these distinctions. Donald Macleod notes that,

None of these [classifications] has much to commend it and certainly none is to be regarded as authoritative. Scripture nowhere attempts a classification... All the suggested classifications are artificial and misleading, not least that which has been most favoured by Reformed theologians - the division into communicable and incommunicable attributes. The problem here is that these qualities we refer to as incommunicable adhere unalterably to those we refer to as communicable. For example, God is "infinite, eternal and unchangeable" (The Shorter Catechism, Answer 4) and these are deemed to be incommunicable properties: and God is merciful, which is deemed to be a communicable property. But the mercy itself is "infinite, eternal and unchangeable" and as such is incommunicable. The same is true of all the other so-called communicable attributes such as the love, righteousness and faithfulness of God. One the other hand, to speak of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence as incommunicable is equally unsatisfactory. If we remove the prefix omni we are left simply with power, knowledge and presence, all of which have analogies in our own human existence. (Behold Your God, p. 20-21)

However, Louis Berkhof justified his use of these categories, saying that,

if we... remember that none of the attributes of God are incommunicable in the sense that there is no trace of them in man, and none of them are communicable in the sense that they are found in man as they are found in God, we see no reason why we should depart from the old division which has become so familiar in Reformed theology. (Systematic Theology, p. 55-56).
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