How is God Described in the Bible?
The 7 Special Qualities of God
Many people wonder, ‘how is God described in the bible?”, and while we may not know everything about the nature of God, there are some things we can know about who God is. Throughout Scripture, God is defined as Spirit, a person, life, self-existent, unchanging, unlimited by time and space, and a unity. To understand God better, it is important to understand these seven aspects of His nature.
God is a Spirit
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Even though the King James Version uses the article “a” with Spirit, God should not be referred to as a Spirit, which means “one of many.” The original languages should be interpreted to read “God is spirit,” which describes his nature.
As Spirit, God is not limited by a physical body. “Spirit” means incorporeal being. God is a real Being who does not exist in or through a physical body (Luke 24:39). Although God is said to have hands (Isa. 65:2), feet (Ps. 8:6), eyes (1 Kings 8:29) and fingers (Exod. 8:19), he is not to be understood as having a physical body. God attributes human form and personality to himself in order to relate to humanity in terms meaningful to us. In some passages God is also said to have wings (Ps. 17:8; 36:7) and feathers (Ps. 91:4), but this figurative language, depicting God as a protecting mother bird, does not imply that God has a physical body.
A spirit is also invisible. Though God was in the pillar of fire that led Israel through the wilderness, he was never visible to the nation (Deut. 4:15). There are some passages in Scripture where it seems that men actually saw God (Gen. 32:30; Exod. 3:6; 34:9, 10; Num. 12:6-8; Deut. 34:10; Isa. 6:1). Actually, it would be more correct to say these men saw a reflection of God, but did not see him directly. The only ones who have seen God are those who saw Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Because God is invisible Spirit, no one has ever seen him (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:17).
The second commandment is a ban on the making of idols. It prevents the use of idols in religious service. God prohibits idols for many reasons but one of them was because God is Spirit.
When we acknowledge that God is Spirit (John 4:24), we recognize that God is not limited by a physical body. The word “spirit” means “incorporeal being.” God is sometimes described by metaphors of a physical body (hands, Isa. 65:2; feet, Ps. 8:6; eyes, 1 Kings 8:29; and fingers, Ex. 8:19). These expressions describe aspects of God such as His strength, steadfastness or insight rather than providing a physical description of God’s “body.” Other biblical metaphors describe God as having wings (Ps. 17:8) and feathers (Ps. 91:4), but that does not mean God is a bird. These expressions describe God’s care for us comparing it to a hen’s care for her chicks.
God is a Person
Most of the religions of the world portray God as an impersonal Being or a force. The Bible paints a totally different picture of God. He has all of the characteristics of personality.
A basic characteristic of personality is self-awareness, the ability to know oneself. When God told Moses, “I am that I am” (Exod. 3:14), God was describing himself according to his own perception. He was aware of who he was.
God also has self-determination, the second characteristic of personality. Self-determination implies freedom and God is free to do whatever he chooses. Hence, being a person is equated with freedom. The opposite of freedom is determinism and there is nothing that makes God do or be anything. God is free to follow the direction of his nature. Hence, when man is made in the image of God, man is a free being, responsible to his Maker.
Self-determination involves accepting the responsibility for one’s life. The self-determination of God is seen in that he exists by himself and perpetuates himself by his nature (Job 23:13; Rom. 9:11; Heb. 6:17).
Personality also implies intelligence. God is said to know (Gen. 18:19; Exod. 3:7) and have known (Acts 15:18). The infinite wisdom and omniscience of God is clearly taught in the Bible (Jer. 39:19).
Another characteristic of personality is emotion. Some may not use the word “emotion” relating to God, but rather the word “sensibility.” However, emotions are attributed to God. Note the following feelings that are present in God: Genesis 6:6 (grief; John 3:16 (love); Psalm 103:8-13 (kindness); Exodus 3:7, 8 (empathy); John 11:35 (sorrow); Psalm 7:11 (anger).
Because God is a Person, he also has a will, the volitional aspect of personality. He has the ability to make his own decisions and choose his own actions (John 4:34; Rom. 12:2). The acts of God are not responsive to outside stimulus as ours sometimes are. When God acts, his volition is motivated according to his predetermined will.
If we possessed the infinite understanding as does the will of God, we would find, God’s activities very predictable. Paul urged the Romans, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, . . . that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1, 2).
The Bible describes God as a person, although most of the world’s religions tend to portray God as an impersonal being or force. God is described in Scripture as having the characteristics of personality including self-awareness (Ex. 3:14), self-determination (Job 23:13), intelligence (Gen. 18:19), emotion (Ex. 3:7-8), and volition or will (John 4:34).
God is Life
God is characterized as life in Scripture. One of His many names is “the Living God” (1 Sam. 17:26). He is both the source and sustainer of all life (John 5:26).
Joshua told his people, “Ye shall know that the living God is among you” (Josh. 3:10). Young David recognized that Goliath was defying “the living God” (1 Sam. 17:26) and not just Israel.
Later he wrote, “For with thee is the fountain of life” (Ps. 36:9). Peter called Jesus “the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). The Bible makes frequent reference to the “living God.” He is both the source and sustainer of life (John 5:26). In essence, life comes from the nature of God, because God is life. When God gives life to something, he gives a part of his nature to it. All life comes from “the life” (John 14:6).
God is Self-Existent
One of the primary names of God in the Old Testament, Jehovah, emphasizes the self-existent nature of God. When He described Himself to Moses as “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:13-15), He emphasized the fact that He exists independent of all other things in the universe. Our continued existence depends on the environment which God has placed us in, but God exists without that limitation.
One of the common names for God in the Old Testament is “Jehovah.” The name comes from the verb “I am.” In Exodus 3:13-15, Moses confronted Jehovah in a burning bush. When Moses asked for an identification of God, the answer given was, “I am that I am.” The name implied not only that God always was, is, and will be, but that God is independent of any other thing. “Jehovah,” therefore, means “the self-existent God.” Others interpret the name to mean also “the one who is utterly trustworthy and reliable.”
Man exists in dependence upon food, water, and air, but God exists independently. From before birth man is dependent upon others, but God is dependent only upon himself.
God is Unchanging
God is immutable or unchanging. Changes either improve or corrupt the person or thing being changed. Since God by definition is perfect (Ps. 102:25-27), any changes in His being would make Him less than perfect. The Bible describes God “changing” in a few places (Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11), but in each case the apparent change in God really describes a change in people.
God is consistent in His attitude toward sin. When people change by practicing sin or turning from sin, God’s consistent response to sin may be perceived as a change in His response to changing people.
Never Improving, Already Perfect
By definition, God is perfect and cannot become better (Ps. 102:25-27). If he became less than perfect, he would not be God. God is therefore immutable; he cannot change.
The Bible states, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent” (Num. 23:19). To deny the immutability of God, some have pointed to the biblical accounts of God repenting. A close look at these accounts (Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11) reveals that it was men, not God, that changed. When men sinned, God was consistent in his nature to judge sin. The word “repent” used in these references refers to an expression of sorrow rather than a change of character or nature.
When men sought to live for God, God was still consistent in his nature to reward believers. The changing life-styles of men caused the consistent behavior of God to appear to change, but the change was not in God. God is unchangeable
God is Unlimited By Time and Space
God is not limited by time and space. Another of His names is “the Everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33). When Paul described God to the Athenian philosophers, he noted, “God that made the world and all the things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Bible teachers describe this aspect of God’s nature as the infinity and immensity of God. It is the foundation of our view of God’s sovereignty in the universe.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). There can only be one God. To speak of more than only one supreme, absolute, perfect, and almighty being called God makes about as much sense as talking about a square circle. The meaning of words would become useless and truth would collapse. “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6).
When we talk about the Trinity, we are still talking about one God in three personalities. The idea of God as a Trinity was suggested in Hebrew thought by the name of God, Elohim, which is a plural. Elsewhere in Scripture, God is also spoken of as plural, such as: “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26).
The Bible describes him as the one who “inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15). Paul called him “immortal” (1 Tim. 1:17). Abraham recognized “the everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33). Moses observed “even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Ps. 90:2). The psalmist wrote, “But thou art the same and thy years shall have no end” (Ps. 102:27).
Time is the measurement of events that appear in sequence. Since God created the world, he existed before the first event. God never had a beginning point. He always existed. And God will continue without a terminal point. This is why Christ was called the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
Neither is God limited by space. Space is all the area where there is physical reality and being. Space is the distance between objects. God is independent of space. His existence goes beyond the farthest located object. The presence of God never ends.
Paul told the Athenian philosophers that “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Solomon observed that “the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him [God]” (2 Chron. 2:6).
Both time and space are results of God’s creative act. He himself exists beyond time and space. God is infinite, while time and space are limited. God alone exists in the universe without limitations.
If another God did exist, then God would not be the self-existent, all-powerful, unlimited God. It is axiomatic that two unlimited beings cannot occupy the same space. If another God did exist, then God could not be an unlimited God. The infinity and immensity of God are strong arguments for the sovereignty of God in the universe.
God is a Unity
God is also described as being “one Lord” (Deut. 6:4) – a reflection of His unity. There can only be one God (Isa. 44:6). Our faith in the Trinity is not inconsistent with this aspect of God’s nature because we believe in one God in three personalities, not three separate gods.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). There can only be one God. To speak of more than only one supreme, absolute, perfect, and almighty being called God makes about as much sense as talking about a square circle.
The meaning of words would become useless and truth would collapse. “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6). When we talk about the Trinity, we are still talking about one God in three personalities. The idea of God as a Trinity was suggested in Hebrew thought by the name of God, Elohim, which is a plural.
Elsewhere in Scripture, God is also spoken of as plural, such as: “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26, italics added).