John Frame on “Does God have a fundamental attribute?”

[It] is certainly tempting to say that love is
God’s fundamental attribute, because 1 John 4:8, 16 says that “God is love,” and because a love that imitates God’s loves is central in biblical ethics (John 13:34-35; Phil. 2:1-11; 1 John 3:16; 4:10). But does “God is love” describe anything more fundamental to God than “God is light” (1 John 1:5) or “God is spirit” (John 4:24)? Or does it describe God’s nature more perfectly than the exposition of God’s name (in terms of both love and wrath) in Exodus 34:6-7? What about “the LORD, whose name is Jealous” in Exodus 34:14 (cf. 20:5), or “Holy One of Israel” (Pss. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa. 1:4 and often in Isaiah; cf. Isa. 6:3), or almightiness, the attribute given to God in the patriarchal name ‘el shadday?

Of course, I am tempted to make lordship the fundamental attribute. Certainly, Lord is the fundamental name of God in Scripture, and all biblical revelation expounds it. It is the attribute most often mentioned in the Scriptures, by the constant use of yahweh and kyrios. For pedagogical purposes, and for purposes of edification, it makes good sense to start where Scripture starts and emphasize what Scripture emphasizes, especially since lordship leads so easily to a consideration of other topics. Yet I would not want to say that lordship is metaphysically central to God’s nature in a way that holiness, love, eternity, and righteousness are not. These other concepts can also be central in specific biblical contexts. They can also name God, even define him, as in 1 John 1:5 and 4:8.

So instead of yielding to the temptation to make lordship fundamental, I yield to my other temptation, namely, to make all the attributes perspectival. That is the implication of the doctrine of simplicity… That conclusion is confirmed by the attempts of theologians, often very persuasively, to make this or that attribute fundamental. Perhaps they are all correct in seeing their favorite attribute as the essence of God and trying to derive the others from it. Perhaps all of God’s attributes can be derived from his holiness, aseity, love, jealousy, omnipotence, or any number of others. If all of the attributes describe God’s simple essence from various perspectives, then any of then can be taken as fundamental in a given context. All of them, after all, involve all the others. Ultimately, all of them, identical to God’s simple essence, are identical also to each other.

John Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 392-393

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About cteldridge

A beggar trying to tell other beggars were the Bread is.
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