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The Bible does not provide one single, integrated, definition of God, in part because the perception of God changed over the centuries, and the Bible, whose discussions of the subject range from (in Sonsino's words) "vestiges of primitive beliefs" to "remarkable expressions of ethical monotheism", reflects this. Neither the Torah nor the New Testament contain any systematic theology: No attempt is made to give a philosophical or rigorous definition of God, nor of how God acts in the world. There are, however, several aspects of God that scholars have derived from the text of the Bible.[1] Template:Ntnes

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God as immaterial and unrepresentable by any physical object

Lightner,[2] in discussing definitions of God that are most closely supported by Scripture, states that "perhaps the best and most biblical definition of God" is that of chapter 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which defines God as being

infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his won glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

Lightner points out a "serious flaw" in the Westmister Confession, in its reference to God as a "most pure spirit". He states that John 4:24, from which the definition in the Confession comes, should be translated as "God is Spirit", because there is no indefinite article in the Greek language New Testament.[2]

Evans[3] takes "God is Spirit" from John 4:24 to mean that God as defined in the Bible has a spiritual and not a material nature, citing John 4:21, John 4:22, Acts 7:48, Acts 17:25, and 1 Kings 8:27. He cites Luke 24:39 in support of a statement that spirits do not have bodies, or body parts, and are incorporeal and not subject to human physical limitations.

Evans[3] also states that God is never seen by man and invisible, citing 1 Tim 1:17 and John 1:18 and noting that the reason that images were forbidden in Deuteronomy 4:15–23, Isiah 40:25, and Exodus 20:4 was that no-one had ever seen God, and therefore could not represent God by an image, and that there was nothing on Earth that resembles God. Sonsino[1] concurs, stating that even though in Exodus 2:11, Deuteronomy 34:10, and 1 Kings 22:19 there are claims by people to have seen God, there are no descriptions given of what God actually looks like. He points out that in Exodus 33:8 (repeated in Exodus 33:20) there is a clear statement that humans cannot see God and live, and in Deuteronomy 4:12 a statement that the Israelites "perceived no shape".

Evans[3] points out that this is reconciled with the statement that man was made "in the image of God" by Col 3:10 and Ephebians 4:24, which state that the "image" is not a physical identity but an intellectual and moral likeness.

The definition of God as spirit, an incorporeal universal metaphysical cosmic power with the power of judgement and a wrathful or vengeful nature is supported by both the Old and New Testaments. From the text of the New Testament, God is a "Father" who resides in "heaven", but those notions, and the idea of "the kingdom of God" are not clearly defined by the New Testament.[4]

God as unique

A progress in thought can be traced through the Bible, from the polytheism of Genesis 20:13 and Genesis 35:7 (where "Elohim", meaning "gods", is accompanied by a plural verb) through the monolatry of Exodus 15:11 (where God is primus inter pares, but the only god that Israelites are permitted to worship), to monotheism.[1]

God as defined in the Bible is almost entirely free of mythological traits. God has no commerce with other divinities, and is involved in no conflicts between gods. Night and day, the sun and moon, the seasons, and the stars, are simply secular realities, wonders created by God, rather than divinities in their own rights. God has no mythological history. God is not born, and does not die.[5]

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God's gender

The Hebrew language has no sex-neutral gender, therefore all references to God are either masculine or feminine. Primarily in the Torah these are masculine, which Sonsino attributes to being a reflection of the patriarchal nature of society in Biblical Israel. God is described in Exodus 15:3 as a male warrior, and in Psalms 103:13 as a caring father. Yet God is compared in Isaiah 66:13 as a comforting mother. As the supreme being of a monotheistic theology, God has no consorting deity. Where God is described as a consort, such as in Jeremiah 2:2 and Ezekiel 16, it is always as a consort of a human community, not of a deity.[1][5]

God as defined by actions

In many places in the Bible, God is defined by actions. God creates the universe, and is the force behind every historical act. God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), brings the Philistines from Captor and the Israelites from Egypt (Amos 9:7), and is the reason for every battle victory. God "gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Romans 4:17).[1][5]

In many places (such as Exodus 20:2 for example) God is defined by the act of liberation: "the LORD your God who brought you out of [...] the house of slavery". One common Old Testament definition of God is "God the Liberator". Likewise, in the New Testament, such as in Luke 4:18, Jesus is described as being on a mission of liberation.[6]

God as a person

See also: Names of God in Judaism

Lightner asserts,[2] that God as defined in the Bible is a person, not a force, nor an influence, nor "an impersonal something" that is "an unconscious force working in the world". He begins with Exodus 3:14's "I am that I am.", and notes that many of the names given to God in the Bible denote person-hood, including Jevoha-Jirch (Genesis 22:13–14), Jehovah-Nissi (Exodus 1:8–15), Jehovah-Shalom (Judges 6:24), and Jehovah-Ra-ah (Psalms 23:1). He further points out that throughout the Bible God is referred to using personal pronouns.

References

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See also