The Unity of God

by Louis Berkhof

A distinction is made between the unitas singularitatis and the unitas simplicitatis.

1. THE UNITAS SINGULARITATIS. This attribute stresses both the oneness and the unicity of God, the fact that He is numerically one and that as such He is unique. It implies that there is but one Divine Being, that from the nature of the case there can be but one, and that all other beings exist of and through and unto Him. The Bible teaches us in several passages that there is but one true God. Solomon pleaded with God to maintain the cause of His people, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that Jehovah, He is God; there is none else,” I Kings 8:60. And Paul writes to the Corinthians, “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we in Him,” I Cor. 8:6. Similarly he writes to Timothy, “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” I Tim. 2:5. Other passages do not stress the numerical unity of God as much as they do His uniqueness. This is the case in the well known words of Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel; Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” The Hebrew word ’echad, translated by “one” may also be rendered “an only,” the equivalent of the German “einig” and the Dutch “eenig.” And this would seem to be a better translation. Keil stresses that fact that this passage does not teach the numerical unity of God, but rather that Jehovah is the only God that is entitled to the name Jehovah. This is also the meaning of the term in Zech. 14:9. The same idea is beautifully expressed in the rhetorical question of Ex. 15:11, “Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” This excludes all polytheistic conceptions of God.

2. THE UNITAS SIMPLICITATIS. While the unity discussed in the preceding sets God apart from other beings, the perfection now under consideration is expressive of the inner and qualitative unity of the Divine Being. When we speak of the simplicity of God, we use the term to describe the state or quality of being simple, the condition of being free from division into parts, and therefore from compositeness. It means that God is not composite and is not susceptible of division in any sense of the word. This implies among other things that the three Persons in the Godhead are not so many parts of which the Divine essence is composed, that God’s essence and perfections are not distinct, and that the attributes are not superadded to His essence. Since the two are one, the Bible can speak of God as light and life, as righteousness and love, thus identifying Him with His perfections. The simplicity of God follows from some of His other perfections; from His Self-existence, which excludes the idea that something preceded Him, as in the case of compounds; and from His immutability, which could not be predicated of His nature, if it were made up of parts. This perfection was disputed during the Middle Ages, and was denied by Socinians and Arminians. Scripture does not explicitly assert it, but implies it where it speaks of God as righteousness, truth, wisdom, light, life, love, and so on, and thus indicates that each of these properties, because of their absolute perfection, is identical with His Being. In recent works on theology the simplicity of God is seldom mentioned. Many theologians positively deny it, either because it is regarded as a purely metaphysical abstraction, or because, in their estimation, it conflicts with the doctrine of the Trinity. Dabney believes that there is no composition in the substance of God, but denies that in Him substance and attributes are one and the same. He claims that God is no more simple in that respect than finite spirits.[Syst. and Polem. Theol., p. 43f.]

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY. What different conceptions of the Absolute do we meet with in philosophy? Can the Absolute of philosophy always be identified with the God of theology? How does Bradley distinguish between the two? How is the finite God of James, Schiller, Ward, Wells and others, related to the Absolute? How do the incommunicable attributes of God link up with the Absolute? Does the immutability of God exclude all movement in God? In how far does it exclude changes of action and relations? Should the absolute perfection of God be regarded as an attribute? Why does the Bible represent God’s eternity as endless duration? Is it possible to harmonize the transcendence and the immanence of God? How is transcendence frequently interpreted in modern theology? What is implied in the simplicity of God?

LITERATURE: Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. II, pp. 137-171; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., Deo I, pp. 287-318; Hodge, Syst. Theol. I, pp. 380-393; Shedd, Dogm. Theol. I, pp. 338-353; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol., pp. 151-154; Thornwell, Collected Works I, pp. 189-205; Strong, Syst. Theol., pp. 254-260, 275-279; Pieper, Christl. Dogm. I, pp. 536-543, 547-549; Knudson, The Doct. of God, pp. 242-284; Steenstra, God as Unity and Trinity, pp. 112-139; Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God. pp. 276-405.


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