Omnipotence, a study in God’s Incommunicable Attributes

Omnipotence, a study in God’s Incommunicable Attributes by Jack Kettler

The incommunicable attributes of God are those that belong to God alone. For example, such attributes as omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are incommunicable. These attributes are distinct from God’s communicable attributes such as knowledge, creativity, love, forgiveness. Man can share in the communicable attributes whereas the incommunicable attributes, he cannot.

In this study we will focus on God’s Omnipotence. How can omnipotence be defined?

That perfection of God whereby he has the power to execute his will; his infinite power by which he has the ability to do everything that is possible except for those acts that are contrary to his nature.*

An attribute of God alone. It is the quality of having all power (Psalms 115:3). He can do all things that do not conflict with His holy nature. God has the power to do anything He wants to. **

From Scripture, God’s Omnipotence is seen in the following verses:

“I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.” (Job 42:2)

“These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.” (Psalms 50:21)

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” (Psalms 90:2)

“For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens.” (Psalms 96:5)

“They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” (Psalms 102:26-27)

“Ah Lord God! Behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee. (Jeremiah 32:17)

“I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter the city.” (Hosea 11:9)

“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

“All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3)

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

The Triune God and Omnipotence:

All three members of the triune God have the attribute of omnipotence. For example, all three are all powerful: the Father in Jeremiah 32:27. The Son in Matthew 28:18 and the Holy Spirit in Romans 15:19.

Digging deeper from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

Omnipotent * For OMNIPOTENT (Revelation 19:6) See Almighty

[1, G3841, pantokrator] almighty, or ruler of all” (pas, “all,” krateo, “to hold, or to have strength”), is used of God only, and is found, in the Epistles, only in 2 Corinthians 6:18, where the title is suggestive in connection with the context; elsewhere only in the Apocalypse, nine times. In one place, Revelation 19:6, the AV has “omnipotent;” RV, “(the Lord our God,) the Almighty.” The word is introduced in the Sept. as a translation of “Lord (or God) of hosts,” e.g., Jeremiah 5:14; Amos 4:13. (1)

Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 4 focuses on God’s power or Omnipotence:

Q: What is God?

A: God is a Spirit, 1 infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, 2 wisdom, 3 power, 4 holiness, 5 justice, 6 goodness, 7 and truth.8

1. John 4:24. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

2. Psalm 90:2. From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God; Malachi 3:6. For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore are ye sons of Jacob not consumed; James 1:17. The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. ; 1 Kings 8:27. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? ; Jeremiah 23:24. Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord. ; Isaiah 40:22. It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.

3. Psalm 147:5. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. ; Romans 16:27. To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.

4. Genesis 17:1. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. ; Revelation 19:6. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

5. Isaiah 57:15. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. ; John 17:11. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me that they may be one, as we are. ; Revelation 4:8. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they werefull of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

6. Deuteronomy 32:4. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

7. Psalm 100:5. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. ; Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

8. Exodus 34:6. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. ; Psalm 117:2. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth forever. Praise ye the Lord.

Point number four is highlighted because it lists the scriptural proof texts for God’s Omnipotence.

Commentary Evidence from an Old Testament passage:

Jeremiah 32:17; from John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

Ah Lord God! Which the Vulgate Latin version repeats three times, “Ah, ah, ah”, as being greatly distressed with the trouble that was coming upon his people; and, it may be, not without some doubts and temptations about their deliverance; or, at least, was pressed in his mind with the difficulties and objections started by the Jews that were with him in the court:

behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm; with great propriety is the making of the heaven and the earth ascribed to the mighty power of God; for nothing short of almighty power could have produced such a stupendous work as the heavens, with all the host of them, sun, moon, and stars, the terraqueous globe, the earth and sea, with all that in them are; and all this produced out of nothing, by the sole command and word of God: and with great pertinency does the prophet begin his prayer with such a description of God; both to encourage and strengthen his faith in him touching the fulfilment of the above prophecy, and to stop the mouths of the Jews, who objected the impossibility of it: wherefore it follows,

and there is nothing too hard for thee; or “hidden from thee” (z); so the Targum; which his wisdom and knowledge did not reach, or his power could not effect: or which is “too wonderful for thee” (a); there is nothing that has so much of the wonderful in it, as to be above the compass of his understanding, and out of the reach of his power, as such things be, which are beyond the power and skill of men; but there is no such thing with God, whose understanding is unsearchable, and his power irresistible; with him nothing is impossible; and who can think there is that observes that the heaven and earth are made by him?

(z) “non est absconditum a te quicquam”, Pagninus; “non potest occultari tibi ulla res”, Junius & Tremellius. (a) “Non mirabile est prae te ullun verbum”, Schmidt; “non est ulla res abscondita a te, sive mirabile”, Calvin; “non mirificabitur a te ullum verbum”, Montanus. (2)

Commentary Evidence from a New Testament passage:

Revelation 1:8; from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

I am Alpha and Omega – These are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, and denote properly the first and the last. So in Revelation 22:13, where the two expressions are united, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” So in Revelation 1:17, the speaker says of himself, “I am the first and the last.” Among the Jewish rabbis it was common to use the first and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet to denote the whole of anything, from beginning to end. Thus, it is said, “Adam transgressed the whole law, from ‘Aleph (א) to Taw (תּ).” “Abraham kept the whole law, from ‘Aleph (א) to Taw (תּ).” The language here is what would properly denote “eternity” in the being to whom it is applied, and could be used in reference to no one but the true God. It means that he is the beginning and the end of all things; that he was at the commencement, and will be at the close; and it is thus equivalent to saying that he has always existed, and that he will always exist. Compare Isaiah 41:4, “I the Lord, the first, and with the last”; Isaiah 44:6, “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God”; Isaiah 48:12, “I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.” There can be no doubt that the language here would be naturally understood as implying divinity, and it could be properly applied to no one but the true God. The obvious interpretation here would be to apply this to the Lord Jesus; for:

(a) it is he who is spoken of in the verses preceding, and

(b) there can be no doubt that the same language is applied to him in Revelation 1:11.

As there is, however, a difference of reading in this place in the Greek text, and as it can. not be absolutely certain that the writer meant to refer to the Lord Jesus specifically here, this cannot be adduced with propriety as a proof-text to demonstrate his divinity. Many mss., instead of “Lord,” κυρίος kurios, read “God,” Θεὸς Theos and this reading is adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, and Hahn, and is now regarded as the correct reading. There is no real incongruity in supposing, also, that the writer here meant to refer to God as such, since the introduction of a reference to him would not be inappropriate to his manifest design. Besides, a portion of the language used here, “which is, and was, and is to come,” is what would more naturally suggest a reference to God as such, than to the Lord Jesus Christ. See Revelation 1:4. The object for which this passage referring to the “first and the last – to him who was, and is, and is to come,” is introduced here evidently is, to show that as he was clothed with omnipotence, and would continue to exist through all ages to come as he had existed in all ages past, there could be no doubt about his ability to execute all which it is said he would execute.

Saith the Lord – Or, saith God, according to what is now regarded as the correct reading.

Which is, and which was, – See the notes on Revelation 1:4.

The Almighty – An appellation often applied to God, meaning that he has all power, and used here to denote that he is able to accomplish what is disclosed in this book. (3)

The Best Gem for last:

OMNIPOTENCE from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

om-nip’-o-tens:

1. Terms and Usage:

The noun “omnipotence” is not found in the English Bible, nor any noun exactly corresponding to it in the original Hebrew or Greek

The adjective “omnipotent” occurs in Revelation 19:6 the King James Version; the Greek for this, pantokrator, occurs also in 2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7,14; 19:15; 21:22 (in all of which the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) render “almighty”). It is also found frequently in the Septuagint, especially in the rendering of the divine names Yahweh tsebha’oth and ‘El Shadday. In pantokrator, the element of “authority,” “sovereignty,” side by side with that of “power,” makes itself more distinctly felt than it does to the modern ear in “omnipotent,” although it is meant to be included in the latter also. Compare further ho dunatos, in Luke 1:49.

2. Inherent in Old Testament Names of God:

The formal conception of omnipotence as worked out in theology does not occur in the Old Testament. The substance of the idea is conveyed in various indirect ways. The notion of “strength” is inherent in the Old Testament conception of God from the beginning, being already represented in one of the two divine names inherited by Israel from ancient Semitic religion, the name ‘El. According to one etymology it is also inherent in the other, the name ‘Elohim, and in this case the plural form, by bringing out the fullness of power in God, would mark an approach to the idea of omnipotence.

See GOD, NAMES OF.

In the patriarchal religion the conception of “might” occupies a prominent place, as is indicated by the name characteristic of this period, ‘El Shadday; compare Genesis 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:24,25; Exodus 6:3. This name, however, designates the divine power as standing in the service of His covenant-relation to the patriarchs, as transcending Nature and overpowering it in the interests of redemption.

Another divine name which signalizes this attribute is Yahweh tsebha’oth, Yahweh of Hosts. This name, characteristic of the prophetic period, describes God as the King surrounded and followed by the angelic hosts, and since the might of an oriental king is measured by the splendor of his retinue, as of great, incomparable power, the King Omnipotent (Psalms 24:10; Isaiah 2:12; 6:3,5; 8:13; Jeremiah 46:18; Malachi 1:14).

Still another name expressive of the same idea is ‘Abhir, “Strong One,” compounded with Jacob or Israel (Genesis 49:24; Psalms 132:2, 5; Isaiah 1:24; 49:26; 60:16). Further, ‘El Gibbor, “God-Hero” (Isaiah 9:6 (of the Messiah); compare for the adjective gibbor, Jeremiah 20:11); and the figurative designation of God as Tsur, “Rock,” occurring especially in the address to God in the Psalter (Isaiah 30:29, the King James Version “Mighty One”). The specific energy with which the divine nature operates finds expression also in the name ‘El Chay, “Living God,” which God bears over against the impotent idols (1 Samuel 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 16; Psalms 18:46; Jeremiah 23:36; Daniel 6:20, 26). An anthropomorphic description of the power of God is in the figures of “hand,” His “arm,” His “finger.”

See GOD.

3. Other Modes of Expression:

Some of the attributes of Yahweh have an intimate connection with His omnipotence. Under this head especially God’s nature as Spirit and His holiness come under consideration. The representation of God as Spirit in the Old Testament does not primarily refer to the incorporealness of the divine nature, but to its inherent energy. The physical element underlying the conception of Spirit is that of air in motion, and in this at first not the invisibility but the force forms the point of comparison. The opposite of “Spirit” in this sense is “flesh,” which expresses the weakness and impotence of the creature over against God (Isaiah 2:22; 31:3).

The holiness of God in its earliest and widest sense (not restricted to the ethical sphere) describes the majestic, specifically divine character of His being that which evokes in man religious awe. It is not a single attribute coordinated with others, but a peculiar aspect under which all the attributes can be viewed, that which renders them distinct from anything analogous in the creature (1 Samuel 2:2; Hosea 11:9). In this way holiness becomes closely associated with the power of God, indeed sometimes becomes synonymous with divine power equals omnipotence (Exodus 15:11; Numbers 20:12), and especially in Ezk, where God’s “holy name” is often equivalent to His renown for power, hence, interchangeable with His “great name” (Ezekiel 36:20-24). The objective Spirit as a distinct hypostasis and the executive of the Godhead on its one side also represents the divine power (Isaiah 32:15; Matthew 12:28; Luke 1:35; 4:14; Acts 10:38; Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 2:4).

4. Unlimited Extent of the Divine Power:

In all these forms of expression a great and specifically divine power is predicated of God. Statements in which the absolutely unlimited extent of this power is explicitly affirmed are rare. The reason, however, lies not in any actual restriction placed on this power, but in the concrete practical form of religious thinking which prevents abstract formulation of the principle. The point to be noticed is that no statement is anywhere made exempting aught from the reach of divine power. Nearest to a general formula come such statements as nothing is “too hard for Yahweh” (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17); or “I know that thou canst do everything?” or “God …. hath done whatever he pleased” (Psalms 115:3; 135:6), or, negatively, no one “can hinder” God, in carrying out His purpose (Isaiah 43:13), or God’s hand is not “waxed short” (Numbers 11:23); in the New Testament:

“With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27); “Nothing is impossible with God” (the Revised Version (British and American) “No word from God shall be void of power,” Luke 1:37). Indirectly the omnipotence of God is implied in the effect ascribed to faith (Matthew 17:20 “Nothing shall be impossible unto you”; Mark 9:23 “All things are possible to him that believeth”), because faith puts the divine power at the disposal of the believer. On its subjective side the principle of inexhaustible power finds expression in Isaiah 40:28: God is not subject to weariness. Because God is conscious of the unlimited extent of His resources nothing is marvelous in His eyes (Zechariah 8:6).

5. Forms of Manifestation:

It is chiefly through its forms of manifestation that the distinctive quality of the divine power which renders it omnipotent becomes apparent. The divine power operates not merely in single concrete acts, but is comprehensively related to the world as such. Both in Nature and history, in creation and in redemption, it produces and controls and directs everything that comes to pass. Nothing in the realm of actual or conceivable things is withdrawn from it (Amos 9:2, 3; Daniel 4:35); even to the minutest and most recondite sequences of cause and effect it extends and masters all details of reality (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7). There is no accident (1 Samuel 6:9; compare with \1Sa 6:12; Pr 16:33\). It need not operate through second causes; it itself underlies all second causes and makes them what they are.

It is creative power producing its effect through a mere word (Genesis 1:3; Deuteronomy 8:3; Psalms 33:9; Romans 4:17; Hebrews 1:3; 11:30). Among the prophets, especially Isaiah emphasizes this manner of the working of the divine power in its immediateness and suddenness (Isaiah 9:8; 17:13; 18:4-6; 29:5). All the processes of nature are ascribed to the causation of Yahweh (Job 5:9; 9:5; 3948/A>; Isaiah 40:12; Amos 4:13; 5:8, 9; 9:5, 6); especially God’s control of the sea is named as illustrative of this (Psalms 65:7; 104:9; Isaiah 50:2; Jeremiah 5:22; 31:35). The Old Testament seldom says “it rains” (Amos 4:7), but usually God causes it to rain (Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 11:17; 1 Samuel 12:17; Job 36:27; 6548/A>; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17).

The same is true of the processes of history. God sovereignly disposes, not merely of Israel, but of all other nations, even of the most powerful, e.g. the Assyrians, as His instruments for the accomplishment of His purpose (Amos 1:1-2:3; 9:7; Isaiah 10:5,15; 28:2; 45:1; Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6; 43:10). The prophets ascribe to Yahweh not merely relatively greater power than to the gods of the nations, but His power extends into the sphere of the nations, and the heathen gods are ignored in the estimate put upon His might (Isaiah 31:3).

Even more than the sphere of Nature and history, that of redemption reveals the divine omnipotence, from the point of view of the supernatural and miraculous. Thus Exodus 15 celebrates the power of Yahweh in the wonders of the exodus. It is God’s exclusive prerogative to do wonders (Job 5:9; 9:10; Psalms 72:18); He alone can make “a new thing” (Numbers 16:30; Isaiah 43:19; Jeremiah 31:22). In the New Testament the great embodiment of this redemptive omnipotence is the resurrection of believers (Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24) and specifically the resurrection of Christ (Romans 4:17, 21, 24; Ephesians 1:19); but it is evidenced in the whole process of redemption (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Romans 8:31; Ephesians 3:7, 20; 1 Peter 1:5; Revelation 11:17).

6. Significance for Biblical Religion:

The significance of the idea may be traced along two distinct lines. On the one hand the divine omnipotence appears as a support of faith. On the other hand it is productive of that specifically religious state of consciousness which Scripture calls “the fear of Yahweh.” Omnipotence in God is that to which human faith addresses itself. In it lies the ground for assurance that He is able to save, as in His love that He is willing to save (Psalms 65:5, 6; 72:18; 118:14-16; Ephesians 3:20).

As to the other aspect of its significance, the divine omnipotence in itself, and not merely for soteriological reasons, evokes a specific religious response. This is true, not only of the Old Testament, where the element of the fear of God stands comparatively in the foreground, but remains true also of the New Testament. Even in our Lord’s teaching the prominence given to the fatherhood and love of God does not preclude that the transcendent majesty of the divine nature, including omnipotence, is kept in full view and made a potent factor in the cultivation of the religious mind (Matthew 6:9). The beauty of Jesus’ teaching on the nature of God consists in this, that He keeps the exaltation of God above every creature and His loving condescension toward the creature in perfect equilibrium and makes them mutually fructified by each other. Religion is more than the inclusion of God in the general altruistic movement of the human mind; it is a devotion at every point colored by the consciousness of that divine uniqueness in which God’s omnipotence occupies a foremost place.

LITERATURE.

Oehler, Theologie des A T (3), 131, 139; Riehm, Alttestamentliche Theologie, 250; Dillmann, Handbuch der alttestamentlichen Theologie, 244; Davidson, Old Testament Theology, 163; Konig, Geschichte der alttestamentlichen Religion, 127, 135, 391, 475.

Geerhardus Vos (4)

In closing:

Surely, man cannot claim to share this attribute:

“They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” (Psalms 102:26-27)

The goal of this study is to help us magnify the Lord God for his marvelous grace that made us children of God through no merit of our own. It is my prayer that this goal has been attained.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Nothing in us caused or merited this supreme act of love on God’s part!

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 40.

2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Jeremiah, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 520.

3. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Revelation, p. 4980-4981.

4. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘OMNIPOTENCE,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 2188-2190.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more study:

* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/

** CARM Theological Dictionary: https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html

Omnipotence by Herman Bavinck https://www.monergism.com/omnipotence

The Omnipotence of God by John Gill https://www.monergism.com/omnipotence-god-1

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