What's an Attribute?
Can we know what God looks like? Can we get a complete picture of God? We may not be able to know all things of Him, but through Jesus Christ we can know Him and through His Word the Bible we can learn much of Him.
Before we begin our study on His attributes let’s make an attempt to come up with a “working definition” of God. See The Westminster Confession of Faith.
The shorter catechism sates, "God is a Spirit infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. He is eternal infinite, and immutable in His Being, in all that belongs to His intelligence, knowledge, wisdom; in all that belongs to His will, which includes power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."
I do not think it is possible to know all there is to know about God. Therefore all definitions of God are partial at best, but we can and do know something/s about God because true knowledge of God can only come by revelation and He has seen fit to provide revelation of Himself to us (cf. this post. We can grow closer to our Father as we learn more about Him and His attributes.
What is an attribute?
Here are some definitions theologians have given of divine attributes:
1. They are . . . an analytical and closer description of essence. (Shedd)
Essence of God- is the divine nature comprised of those qualities that makes God the Divine Being that He is.
2. The attributes of God are those distinguishing characteristics of divine nature which are inseparable from the idea of God and which constitute the basis and ground for His various manifestations to His creatures. (Strong)
3. A divine attribute is an essential property of God. A property is essential to some being if and only if the loss of that property entails that that being ceases to exist. A divine attribute is a property which God could not lose and continue to be God. (Nash)
4. An attribute is a property which is intrinsic to its subject by which it is distinguished or identified. (Chafer)
5. Perfections that constitute the nature of God, these are essential, permanent, and characteristics which can be affirmed of His Being. (Fruchtenbaum)
God and His Attributes Are One
These are not to be viewed as parts that enter into the composition of God (i.e. make up who He is), they are not to be considered as something added to the being of God. Not He has these things, but He is these things. An attribute therefore describes the essence of God.
-The whole essence is in each individual attribute.
-A knowledge of the attribute carries with it a knowledge of the divine essence.
-The essential qualities of God which are inherent in His very own being and coexist with it.
-The essential quality of each one reveals some aspect of the Being of God.
-Each attribute describes God as He is, not just parts of His Being or simply what He does.
-Attributes have objective existence, not just more names for the human conception of God.
-Attributes are inherent in the divine essence, they are not separate existences, attributes belong to the divine essence as such.
-Attributes manifest the divine essence, the essence is only revealed through the attributes, the attributes describe the very essence of God.
No attribute is higher than the other. The Scriptures in their totality give equal space to each one. All attributes apply equally to each member of the Trinity. Putting it another way, every member of the trinity has each of these attributes. All characteristics of the divine essence are resident in God at all times, but not all are manifested at one time, or at the same time. The attributes are the characteristics of the divine nature which are inseparable from the idea of God and which constitute the basis and ground for His various manifestations to His creatures.
There are two main classifications of attributes. The basis of the two classifications are that some of the attributes are true of God alone, while some are found to be in a limited way in man also. The following are classifications used by differing theologians.
Berkhof finds the incommunicable and communicable attributes of God. He says the incommunicable attributes admit no extension or degrees, and there is nothing analogous to them in all of creation, but the communicable are found in a limited degree in creation, and they are analogous in creation.
Theissen and Baker see the natural or non-moral,that which is constitutional in God; and Moral which is a function by virtue of the divine will.
Strong defines God's attributes in two classes too. Imminent or Intransitive and Eminent or Transitive. The imminent or intransitive are within Gods Being. The eminent or transitive reach out from God and produce certain effects.
Another view sees absolute and relative. The absolute concerns God's relationship to Himself. The relative concerns God's relationship to others.
Finally Chafer contributes two classes also, personality and constitutional. Personality is related to intellect, emotion, and will. Constitutional is related to the being of God.
There are a few others such as negative and positive; passive and active; greatness and goodness; metaphysically, intellectually, ethically, emotionally, existentially, and relationally, etc...
I don't think so many definitions will be considered in this study, but they may be helpful to some. I made mention of the last classifications for the purpose of becoming aware of there existence only (it wont be on the test). :-)
The best way for me to understand the two cassifications or categorize the attributes in a clear-cut way is to simply say some of the attributes are true of God only, and some are found to be (in a limited way) in man also.