Thursday, August 3, 2023

Post #2 The Doctrine of God - God's Existence, Power and Nature Revealed By His Names


    In our last post we started exploring the doctrine of God by offering a map that helps readers see at a glance what such a study would look like here Doctrine of God (also called "Theology Proper") studies, expounds, and puts in order God and His acts revealed generally in the creation and particularly in the Bible. Typically, theology in general includes the doctrines of God, Creation, Providence, Miracles, Humanity, Christ, Salvation, Christian Life, The Church, and Eschatology (or last things). 

    The Doctrine of God is at the head and center of all other doctrines, which is why theologians refer to the doctrine of God as "Theology Proper".

God's existence is assumed in the Bible

    As one reads the Bible, the overall sense is that God's existence is a given. We never find, as such, the Biblical authors going out of their way to prove God's existence. With that said, we nonetheless also find that the Biblical authors do engage in the task of Apologetics. "Apologetics" is that discipline that defends the truth claims of the Biblical worldview and offers reasons for why the follower of Christ believes what they believe. 

    So why did the Biblical authors aim to offer a defense of Biblical truth claims? In the Old and New Testaments, pagan worldviews and religions were all around the Jews and the Christians. Idolatry or worldliness was a constant temptation. A God-centered view of life was necessary to ground Biblical faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

    The Biblical authors had the task of announcing the reality of the true and living God over against the other supposed deities worshipped by the nations. For example, the prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 41:21-23,

“Present your case,” the Lord says. 'Bring forward your strong arguments,' The King of Jacob says. 22 Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; 23 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together."

    The LORD's "double-dog-dare-you" to the pagan nations does two things. First, the existence of God is presupposed. Second, the non-reality of the pagan deities is presupposed. The inability of the foreign deities and their religions to correctly describe the history of world and human origins, as well as to accurately predict future events via fulfilled prophecy, proved that the God of the Bible alone exists.

How the names of God give us clues into His power, nature, and identity.

    To say "God exists" expresses what is most fundamental in the very nature of God Himself, namely that by nature and definition, God must be real because of what He alone can do and by the kind of God He is in His being. When we consider the two most common names for God in the Old Testament, "Elohim" and "Yahweh", we are struck by the reality and non-negotiable truth of the existence of God.

    The name "Elohim" is plural in the Hebrew, with the "im" suffix signifying God's majestic power. Providing the name "Elohim" is attached to a singular verb (as we see in Genesis 1:1), the power of God is conveyed. Hebrew dictionaries define the Hebrew singular name "El" as meaning "Mighty One" or "Strong One". Thus God alone has the power to create something from nothing, bring forth life from death, and forgive sin - none of which any creature can perform.

    But there is a second point to note of this phrase "God exists", and that is in the name God reveals to be His Personal name - "Yahweh" or "Jehovah". In Exodus 3:14, we read of the following encounter between God and Moses,

"God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

    This unusual name is capitalized in our English Bibles as "LORD". The phrase "I AM WHO I AM" is one word in Hebrew - "Yahweh". The name "Yahweh" and the attending English translation "I AM WHO I AM" derive from the verb "hawa" which means "to be, to exist". 

    The way God expresses His name is by taking this verb and making it into a first person singular imperfect, which conveys a continual action, unending, as performed by the subject. The beauty of the imperfect verbal pattern in Hebrew is that in can often refer to ongoing action in the past, present, or future. In other words, God is saying that "I AM He who is, who always has been, and who will always be". The latter part of Revelation 1:8 gives us the best unpacking of this name "Yahweh", attributing all it means to the Son, Jesus Christ, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 

    Yahweh presents the self-existing, self-sustaining nature of Almighty God. Therefore we can tell from these two common names that we have clues to the power (Elohim) and nature (Yahweh) of God.

    When we come to the New Testament, we find similar thoughts conveyed by the two leading names for God revealed there. In addition to similar ideas about God's power and nature, we get an introduction into considerations of His identity as the Triune God. In the next post we will dive into this point.


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