Three Forms of Unity

The Belgic Confession – Article 9 (Scripture Proofs for the Trinity)

The first part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with the scriptural proofs of the doctrine of the Trinity:

All this we know as well from the testimonies of Holy Writ as from their operations, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves. The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures that teach us to believe this Holy Trinity are written in many places of the Old Testament, which are not so necessary to enumerate as to choose them out with discretion and judgment.

In Genesis, chapter 1:26, 27, God says: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, etc. And God created man in His own image, male and female created he them. And Genesis 3:22, Behold, the man is become as one of us. From this saying, Let us make man in our image, it appears that there are more persons than one in the Godhead; and when He says, God created, He signifies the unity. It is true, that He does not say how many persons there are, but that which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New. For when our Lord was baptized in Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard, saying, This is my beloved Son; the Son was seen in the water, and the Holy Spirit appeared in the shape of a dove. This form is also instituted by Christ in the baptism of all believers: Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel thus addressed Mary, the mother of our Lord: The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. Likewise: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. And (A.V.): There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

In all these places we are fully taught that there are three persons in one only divine essence. And although this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding, nevertheless we now believe it by means of the Word of God, but expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven.

Article 8 of the Confession stated the doctrine of the Trinity. Article 9 here gives the proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity. Those proofs begin first and foremost with Scripture itself (“the testimonies of Holy Writ”). Notice that the Confession says that the Trinity is taught in so many places in the Old Testament, that it is “not so necessary to enumerate as to choose them out with discretion and judgment.” So the Scripture verses listed here are not intended to be exhaustive:

  • “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)
  • “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”” (Genesis 3:22, ESV)

The Confession then states that the number of the persons of the Trinity, “which appears to us somewhat obscure in the Old Testament is very plain in the New.” It then points us to the accounts of the baptism of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:9-11); the Lord Jesus Christ’s command to baptize all believers (Matthew 28:18-20); the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about Jesus (Luke 1:35); and the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, which invokes the names of all three (3) persons of the Godhead; and 1 John 5:7 (part of which is not found in some translations, but which is included in the KJV).

Notice that the Confession plainly states that the doctrine of the Trinity is “fully taught” in the Scriptures, but cannot be fully comprehended in this life. Not only that, but we “expect hereafter to enjoy the perfect knowledge and benefit thereof in heaven.” What a comforting and encouraging thought – that we will understand these things much more fully (even if still not comprehensively) when we are in heaven with the Lord, even as Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

The second part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with the “particular offices and operations” of the persons of the Trinity as proofs thereof. In his book, With Heart and Mouth, Daniel Hyde writes,

“It has been said that theology that does not become biography is wishful thinking. Christian doctrine and Christian living must go hand in hand. We as Calvinists are often reluctant to speak of experience in case we go to the extreme of Pentecostalism. But we must acknowledge that there is an experiential side of the Christian life.”

The Confession points us to the “offices” (or roles) and “operations” of the persons of the Trinity “toward us” (that is, in our creation and redemption). These things are even spoken of in the ancient ecumenical creeds (i.e. the Apostles’ Creed & Nicene Creed), which state (for example) that we believe in “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

God the Father is spoken of as our “Creator,” the Son as “our Savior and Redeemer,” and the Holy Spirit is the “our Sanctifier” who sanctifies us by dwelling in our hearts. These things are plainly taught in Scripture as well. In Ephesians chapter 1 we are told that God the Father chose us and predestined us to salvation in Christ (v.3-6); that Christ Jesus redeemed us by His blood (v.7-12); and that the Holy Spirit seals us and guarantees our inheritance in Christ (v.13-14).

All of this is to affirm and confess that the entire Trinity is actively involved in the work of our salvation, each Person of the Godhead doing what corresponds to His particular office. In other words, we who are saved know the Trinity, not just by Scripture (however primary that may be), but also by personal experience as well!

The third part of Article 9 of the Belgic Confession deals with affirmation and defense of the Trinity all throughout the history of the true church:

Notice that it says that the doctrine of the Trinity “has always been affirmed and maintained by the true church since the time of the apostles to this very day.” This is to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is in no way an innovation, but is in keeping with what the true church has always believed.

Lastly, Article 9 states that in this doctrine of the Trinity “we do willingly receive the three creeds, namely, that of the Apostles, of Nicea, and of Athanasius; likewise that which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.”

It may seem strange that the Definition of Chalcedon is not named here. That is because it is not a creed, but more properly a definition or statement, written to clarify and affirm what was written in the creeds themselves. Chalcedon would fall under the category here of “that which, conformable thereunto, is agreed upon by the ancient fathers.”

Again, as the Confession was in some ways intended to be an apologetic (or defense) of the Reformed faith as being fully in line with the true faith that the true church has always confessed and maintained, it is important to affirm the ancient creeds of the Christian church.

That being the case, we should be careful to avoid the spirit of this age, which has a tendency to reject anything from the past as somehow being irrelevant. God does not change (Malachi 3:6); the Lord Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8); and His Word does not change (Matthew 5:17-18).

Therefore the Christian faith does not change, and so the creeds and confessions are useful to us, not just for teaching and instruction, but also as a safeguard and protection against false teachings and heresies. We neglect the ancient creeds & Reformed Confessions to our own detriment and peril.

THE BELGIC CONFESSION – ARTICLE 8 (THE Trinity)

Article 8 of the Belgic Confession holds forth the biblical doctrine of the Trinity:

According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible; the Son is the word, wisdom, and image of the Father; the Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son. Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each His personality, distinguished by Their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God.

Hence, then, it is evident that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed; for the Father has not assumed the flesh, nor has the Holy Spirit, but the Son only. The Father has never been without His Son, or without His Holy Spirit. For They are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.

The Belgic Confession begins with an article about God (Article 1), followed by a series of articles about Scripture, which is the means by which we come to know God rightly (Articles 2-7). Now here in Article 8 the Confession circles back to deal with the doctrine of God, specifically the doctrine of the Trinity (articles 8-11). Article 8 states the doctrine of the Trinity in some detail, while Article 9 gives the reader the scriptural proofs for that doctrine.

And so Article 8 explicitly points back to the Articles that preceded it, saying that it is, “According to this truth and this Word of God” (i.e. the Scriptures as the inspired, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God as detailed in Articles 2-7) that “we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (i.e. the Trinity). All of that is to say that we believe and confess the doctrine of the Trinity primarily because the Scriptures plainly teach it.

Only One God

The Confession states that “we believe in one only God, who is the one single essence . . . .” So we believe in only one God, “who is the single essence” (or substance). This is also what the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) affirms when it says that the Lord Jesus Christ is “of one substance with the Father.”

That there is only one true & living God is taught throughout Scripture. For instance, Deuteronomy 6:4 says,

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (ESV)

Likewise Isaiah 45:5 says,

“I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;” (ESV)

The New Testament teaches this as well. In James 2:19 says,

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (ESV)

As Christians, we believe and confess that “There is but one only, the living and true God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.5).

One God in Three Distinct Persons

Nevertheless, in this “one only God, who is the one single essence” there are “three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

This too is plainly taught in the Scriptures. For example, the baptismal formula in the Great Commission says,

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

We are to baptize disciples “in the name [singular = not “names”] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (v.19).

Likewise the benediction found in 2 Corinthians 13:14 says,

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (ESV)

That the Persons of the Godhead are “distinct” from each other (while in no way separate) is emphasized by the use of three descriptive terms – “really, truly, and eternally.” In other words, the distinction between the Persons of the Godhead (i.e. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is real and true, and not merely imagined or apparent, as was taught by the heresy of modalism, which holds that there is one God who appears to take turns (so to speak) revealing Himself as being the Father one moment, and as the Son the next, etc.

Not only that, but the Persons of the Trinity are also “eternally” distinct. The one true and living God has always been one God in three Persons. That being the case, we are not to conceive of God as if the Persons of the Trinity were so distinct as to be separate (which would be tri-theism or polytheism). That is why the first paragraph of Article 8 goes on to say:

“God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each His personality, distinguished by Their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism sums this up quite nicely for us when it says,

“Q.6. how many persons are there in the Godhead? A. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”

When the second paragraph of Article 8 says that “these persons thus distinguished are not divided, nor intermixed” it employs similar language to what is found in the Athanasian Creed, which states:

“That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

Article 8 closes with the following statement:

“The Father has never been without His Son, or without His Holy Spirit. For They are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for They are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.”

So the biblical doctrine is that there has never been a time when there was not a Trinity. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not created beings, but are eternally-begotten and eternally-proceeding from God the Father. And, lest that be misunderstood, the Confession goes on to say that “There is neither first nor last.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise affirms this very truth when it states that the three Persons of the Godhead are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (Q.6).

Speaking of the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, which the one true holy, Catholic church has always confessed throughout her history, Daniel R. Hyde writes,

“Catholicity is expressed in no better way than in the confession of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. One of the purposes of the Belgic Confession was to express that the Reformed faith was nothing less than the faith of the ancient Christian church.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.112)

 

“The Most Tender and Comforting Section in All of the Reformed Catechisms and Confessions” (Belgic Confession Article 26)

with-heart-and-mouth

Article 26 of the Belgic Confession is about Christ as our only Mediator, and His intercession on our behalf. This is easily one of the longest articles found in the entire Confession, and much of it consists of an extended polemic against the Roman Catholic doctrine and practice of the veneration of saints.

In Roman Catholicism the saints and even the virgin Mary are viewed as additional mediators (or co-mediators). Worse yet, Mary is even taught to be the mediator (or mediatrix) between believers and Christ Himself! S. Lewis Johnson Jr. writes,

“Since the practice of praying to the saints increased during the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that Mary became especially popular. Jesus came to stand for the stern, forbidding, and unapproachable judge. The faithful were pointed to Mary, the compassionate mother who would act as mediator for them.” (Roman Catholicism, p.126)

And yet the Scriptures clearly teach that it is the Lord Jesus Christ alone who is our only true Mediator. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (ESV).

That the Confession deals with these things at such length might not sound all that noteworthy or relevant to some (especially to those who are not from a Roman Catholic background), but there is abundant assurance and comfort to be found for believers in the great truth of Christ as our only Mediator and His work of intercession on our behalf, as detailed here in this particular article. Daniel Hyde writes,

“Here we find the most tender and comforting section in all of the Reformed catechisms and Confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.353)

What is it about Article 26 that makes it so “tender and comforting”? It is, quite simply, its treatment of the love of Christ for believers. The opening paragraph of this article goes on to assure us of the infinite love and all-sufficiency of Christ our Mediator toward us:

“For there is no creature, either in heaven or on earth, who loves us more than Jesus Christ; who, though existing in the form of God, yet emptied himself, being made in the likeness of men and of a servant for us, and in all things was made like unto his brethren. If, then, we should seek for another mediator who would be favorably inclined towards us, whom could we find who loved us more than He who laid down His life for us, even while we were His enemies? And if we seek for one who has power and majesty, who is there that has so much of both as He who sits at the right hand of God and to whom hath been given all authority in heaven and on earth? And who will sooner be heard than the own well beloved Son of God?”

Here we are given three (3) reasons for confidence in Christ as our only Mediator. The very first of these reasons is the love of Christ. Who could possibly be said to love us “more than Jesus Christ,” who emptied Himself, was made in our likeness, and even “laid down his life for us, even while we were His enemies” (Romans 5:8). If you are a believer, there is no one who loves you more than the Lord Jesus Christ! No one.

And if no one loves you more than the Lord Jesus Christ, why would you ever even dream of seeking out other mediators (i.e. the saints, the Virgin Mary, etc.)? What a comfort it is to know that our Mediator is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2)!

The second reason given is the power and majesty of Christ. Not only does Christ love us more than anyone else could possibly do, but He is even now seated at the right hand of God, having all power and authority. Who could possibly be better-able to help us in our time of need than the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Mediator, and who ever lives to intercede for us at God’s right hand (Hebrews 7:25)?

The third and final reason given is the love of God the Father for His Beloved Son. Whose prayers for us will be sooner heard and answered by the Father than those of Christ, His own well-beloved Son? The saints? Mary herself? By no means! The Lord Jesus Christ Himself prays for us! What could be better than that?

How great a source of assurance and comfort these great truths of Scripture should be to the heart of every believer! No wonder the Confession spends so much time teaching us to believe and confess these things!

 

The Belgic Confession – Article 7 (The Sufficiency of Scripture)

We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul says. For since it is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God, it does thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.

Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all: for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule, as the apostles have taught us, saying, Prove the spirits, whether they are of God. Likewise: if anyone comes unto you, and brings not this teaching, receive him not into your house. (Belgic Confession, Article 7)

The Sufficiency of Scripture for Faith and Practice

Article 7 of the Belgic Confession deals with the sufficiency of Scripture. It states that the Scriptures alone “fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein.”

To say that the Scriptures “fully contain the will of God” is to say that nothing that we need for faith or practice is lacking in it, and so nothing may be added to or taken away from it. The Scriptures themselves teach this:

  • “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3–4, ESV, Italics added)
  • “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18–19, ESV, Italics added)

To say that the Scriptures “fully contain the will of God” is also to say that in the Bible God has revealed to us everything that we need to know about faith (what we are to believe) and practice (how we are to live). Similarly, the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (Q.3). These are the principal or primary aims and ends of Scripture.

  • The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;” (Psalm 19:7, ESV)
  • “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32, ESV)
  • “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)

This, however, does not mean that God has revealed everything that there is to know about everything, much less that the Scriptures are somehow encyclopedic in nature. There are many things that God has not revealed to us in the pages of Scripture:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV)

Even the history (for example) that is contained in the Bible, while true & inerrant, is not exhaustive in nature – it is not intended to be. The Gospels do not tell us everything that we might want to know about Jesus. The Apostle John plainly states that if he were to have included everything that the Lord Jesus did, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). But the Scriptures do tell us everything that we need to know about the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

The Sufficiency of Scripture as Our Infallible Rule (or Standard)

Belgic Confession Article 6 dealt with the right way to view the Apocrypha – as non-canonical, extra-biblical writings that may be read and possibly even learned from, “so far as they agree with the canonical books,” but which are not authoritative, and must be judged according to the testimony of Scripture, which is our sole authority for faith and practice.

Here Article 7 similarly deals with how non-canonical, extra-biblical writings (as well as customs, councils, confessions, etc.) are to be viewed in light of the sufficiency of Scripture in particular. The Confession states:

“Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God . . . .”

All too often even when the authority of Scripture is affirmed, its sufficiency is either implicitly or explicitly denied. And so (to use the phrase from this Article) the Scriptures alone are to be our “infallible rule,” by which we are to test all things.

  • “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20–22, ESV)
  • “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1, ESV)

And so the ancient ecumenical creeds, and the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms (to name just a few examples), however true, useful, and helpful they may be, are not (and should never be) our ultimate standard for faith & practice. That is a place rightfully reserved for the Scriptures alone. They are subordinate standards, and must themselves even be tested by the Word of God.

The Belgic Confession – Article 6 (The Difference Between the Canonical and the Apocryphal Books)

We distinguish those sacred books from the apocryphal, viz: the third and fourth books of Esdras, the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch, the Appendix to the book of Esther, the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace, the History of Susannah, of Bel and the Dragon, the prayer of Manasseh, and the two books of the Maccabees. All of which the Church may read and take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they are far from having such power and efficacy that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less may they be used to detract from the authority of the other, that is, the sacred books. (Belgic Confession, Article 6)

Article 6 of the Belgic Confession deals with the Apocryphal (i.e. non-canonical) books, and so clearly and explicitly distinguishes them from the canonical books.

Many in our day might see any discussion of the Apocrypha as unnecessary, or even as a waste of time, but surely it is significant that the authors of both of the most prominent Reformed confessions of faith that were produced in the 16th and 17th centuries (i.e. the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith) saw fit to include explicit statements on this very subject.

The Background of the Apocrypha

The apocryphal books were so named because the origin and authorship of these books was unknown.1 (The word “apocrypha” means “hidden”.) They were rejected as being non-canonical by the ancient church.

The apocryphal books were included in the Septuagint (LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. The apocryphal books, however, were not included in the Hebrew Canon. When Jerome (347-420 A.D.) later translated the Septuagint into Latin, he then included the apocryphal books as well.

The apocryphal books later came to be accepted as canonical by both the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church. In fact, the Council of Trent (1546) went so far as to declare that anyone who failed to receive the apocryphal books as holy and canonical “as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately condemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema” (i.e. accursed or condemned).

The Rejection of the Apocrypha

The Protestant Reformers, following the lead of the history of the early church, rejected the Apocryphal books, and made a clear distinction between them and the canonical books. The first part of this Article’s statement on the Canon says, “We distinguish those sacred books from the apocryphal . . . .” And for the sake of clarity the Confession lists both the canonical books (Article 4) as well as the apocryphal or non-canonical books (Article 6).

The reasons for the rejection of the Apocrypha are many. First, they were not considered to be a part of the Hebrew canon. Their origin was some time after the writing of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. Not only that, but the apocryphal books were also not accepted as being canonical by the ancient church.

with-heart-and-mouthNot only was the authorship and origin of the apocryphal books in question, but their content was found to contain blatant historical inaccuracies and theological errors that contradicted the teachings of Scripture. Daniel R. Hyde notes:

“Finally, the basis for the doctrine of purgatory is supposedly found in the words of 2 Maccabees 12:43-45, which mentions prayer for the dead (v.44).”2

Seeing that the Roman Catholic church uses these non-canonical books to establish or support unbiblical doctrines and practices serves to show why this issue was found to be important enough to be included as one of the articles of faith in the Belgic Confession (as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith – 1.3).

The Use of the Apocrypha

Article 6 of the Belgic Confession, despite explicitly rejecting the apocryphal books as being non-canonical, nevertheless does not forbid or prohibit the church from using them. It goes on to state:

“All of which the Church may read and take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they are far from having such power and efficacy that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less may they be used to detract from the authority of the other, that is, the sacred books.”

So, according to the Belgic Confession, we may read them and even”take instruction from” them, but only as they are found to be in agreement with the teachings of Scripture. No point of doctrine may be established or confirmed by them (e.g. purgatory), nor are we to view them as authoritative. Whenever their teachings are found to contradict those of Scripture, those teachings of the Apocrypha must be rejected.

Likewise the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” (1.3)

And so it is clear that we are to view the apocryphal books as not being inspired or canonical, but simply as any other merely human (and so fallible) writings. That means that we may certainly read them, and at times may even learn from them. But when all is said and done, they must be carefully weighed and judged according to the Scriptures themselves, which are our only inspired and authoritative rule for faith and practice.

1  See With Heart and Mouth, p.90.

2 Ibid, p.98

The Belgic Confession – Article 5 (The Authority of Scripture)

We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled. (Belgic Confession, Article 5)

bible-808633_1280The Authority of Scripture

Article 5 deals with the Authority of Holy Scripture. Only the canonical books (see Belgic Confession Article 4) are the final standard & authority “for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.” The Westminster Confession of Faith likewise also affirms this, saying that only the canonical books of Scripture “are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (1.2).

The ancient ecumenical creeds (such as the Apostles’ Creed) and Reformed confessions (such as the Belgic Confession) are not our final or ultimate authority for faith and practice. Rather, they are what we would call “subordinate standards.” That is, they are subordinate to Scripture. And that is because the Scriptures alone are the very Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

The Source of the Authority of Scripture

The authority of Scripture is often called the “formative principle” of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, in distinction from its “material principle,” which was justification by faith alone. The surface issue (so to speak) that was debated was justification, while the foundational concern underlying that debate was the issue of the authority of Scripture.

Where does Scripture derive its authority from, and why does it matter? Another way of framing this question would be to ask, which comes first, the church or the canon of Scripture? Does the church create or decide the canon of Scripture, or does the canon of Scripture create the church? The official Roman Catholic position is that the church decided or determined the canon of Scripture. In stark contrast to that, the Reformed faith has instead taught that the church is founded upon the Scriptures, rather than vice-versa.

The Scriptures themselves teach this very thing:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21, ESV, Italics added)

That is why article 5 (above) states that we receive and believe the Scriptures to be holy, canonical, and authoritative, “not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such” (the Roman Catholic position), but rather because she recognizes them as the Word of God.

Of this subject John Calvin writes,

“Many people commit the fatal error of believing that Scripture has only such value as the church agrees to accord it, as if God’s eternal and inviolable truth depended on men’s good pleasure!”1

And again:

“So when the church receives and assents to Scripture, it does not confer authenticity on what was before doubtful or uncertain. Because it acknowledges it to be its Lord’s truth, it at once reveres it, as indeed it should.”2

Likewise the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.” (1.4)

We must reject any teaching that implies, affirms, or otherwise states that it is somehow the church that confers authority upon the Scriptures. This is to get things quite backward.

The Proof of the Authority of the Scriptures

The Belgic Confession specifies two (2) reasons3 or proofs as to why we receive and believe the Scriptures as being the authoritative Word of God:

“ . . . but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”

The first reason given here is the inner witness or testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself. It is the Spirit of God (the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures – 2 Peter 1:20-21) who “witnesses in our hearts that they are from God,” leading us to recognize the voice of God in the Scriptures.

Likewise the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“ . . . yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. ” (1.5)

Ultimately we believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and receive them as such precisely because that is what they, in fact, are, and because the Author of the Scriptures attests to them as being His Word. The Apostle Paul says this very thing in one of his epistles to the church at Thessalonica:

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, ESV, italics added)

The second reason given here is the self-evidencing nature of the Scriptures. The Confession adds that we also receive and believe the Scriptures as the Word of God, not only because of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, but “because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith again likewise states:

“And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God . . . .”

The Scriptures themselves are their own best evidence and self-authentication. The fulfillment of prophecy, the truthfulness of the Scriptures, the “consent of all the parts” – how the Bible not only does not contradict itself, but rather speaks with a united voice, despite being comprised of 66 different books, having been written over a period of over 1,500 years by approximately 40 human authors, in different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), on different continents, and in varying circumstances and cultural settings.

The Bible has been described as ‘an anvil that has worn out many hammers.’ It has withstood the constant attacks of skeptics and atheists alike down through the centuries. God has supernaturally preserved His Word to this very day, and that will never change.

The message of the Bible, primarily being centered on the promise of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27) has saved and transformed an untold multitude of sinners, and will no doubt continue to do so (Revelation 7:9). And that is because it is the Word of God and the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), which never returns to God void, but always accomplishes His will (Isaiah 55:8-11).

The best cure for doubt or skepticism regarding the Bible is to read the Bible. If someone persists in unbelief or skepticism, it is not for a lack of evidence to the truthfulness of Scripture, as the Belgic Confession puts it, “For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”

1 Institutes of the Christian Religion (Translated from the first French edition of 1541), p.18

2 Ibid., p.19

3 Daniel R. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth, p.84

The Belgic Confession – Article 4 (The Canon of Scripture)

“We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and the New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These are thus named in the Church of God.

“The books of the Old Testament are the five books of Moses, to wit: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the book of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the two books of Samuel, the two of the Kings, two books of the Chronicles, commonly called Paralipomenon, the first of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Job, the Psalms of David, the three books of Solomon, namely, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; the four great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; and the twelve lesser prophets, namely, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

“Those of the New Testament are the four evangelists, to wit: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul, namely, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon, and one to the Hebrews; the seven epistles of the other apostles, namely, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.” (The Belgic Confession, Article 4)

The Canon of Scripture

Article 4 of the Belgic Confession deals with a subject that many (perhaps most) of us give little or no thought to – the Canon of Scripture. As Article 3 of the Belgic Confession dealt with the written Word of God and the inspiration of Scripture, the next logical thing to deal with is the canon of Scripture (i.e. which books are included as the inspired Word of God).

The word “canon” means a rule or a standard. (This is also the use or meaning of this term in the “Canons of Dort.”) The canonical books (and only the canonical books) are the inspired Word of God, and so are our only rule for faith and practice.

Both the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith1 include a list of Canonical books. We might be tempted to think that this is superfluous or unnecessary. (If we were to draw up our own confession of faith today, would we even think to include it?) But considering the historical context in which they were written (the 16th century Protestant Reformation), it should not be surprising to see the need for such confessional statements on the canonical books. And we no doubt still need that same clarity regarding the canonical books today.

with-heart-and-mouthIn his book, With Heart and Mouth, Daniel Hyde writes,

“The Confession lists the canonical books in opposition to Roman Catholicism (as well as Greek Orthodoxy), which added the Apocrypha to the Old Testament and regarded the tradition of the church as authoritative.” (p.76)

And so we see that the underlying issue regarding the idea of the Canon is the question of authority. (That subject is dealt with more directly in Article 5.)

The first part of this Article’s statement on the Canon says,

“We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely the Old and the New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These are thus named in the Church of God.”

This is simply affirming that the list of canonical books that are included here is nothing new or controversial, but is the same list and number of books that the church down through the centuries has always held to be the canon of Scripture. Again, the writers of the Confession are seeking to demonstrate commonality and unity with the faith of the church throughout its history, not to innovate.

The Old Testament

Of the Old Testament the Belgic Confession lists the same books, in order, that we have in our Bibles today. When it speaks of “the two books of the Chronicles” as being “commonly called Paralipomenon,” that means that those two books were sometimes known as “Paralipomenon,” which is a Greek term that means “things left over” or “things omitted.” In some sense 1 & 2 Chronicles were thought of as containing details that had been left out of the books of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings.

The book of Psalms is here referred to as “the Psalms of David.” This does not necessarily mean that the Confession teaches that David himself is, in fact, the human author of all the Psalms, but the book itself was commonly associated with his name.

The book of Lamentations is not explicitly listed by name here, but rather is included as part of the writings of Jeremiah. The Confession here lists the names of “the four great prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) themselves, rather than the names of the books written by them.

The New Testament

There is nothing unusual about the list of books included in the New Testament here. The only thing of note that one might find interesting is that the Confession here speaks of the book of Hebrews as being one of the epistles of the Apostle Paul! This was not an uncommon view in the history of the church, although it is far less common today. (Either way, the book of Hebrews has always been held to be canonical, even if anonymously written.)

When the Article 4 speaks of “the other apostles,” and includes James and Jude, it is not mistakenly including them as if they were included among the original 12 apostles & Paul, but rather that the books which were written by them were apostolic in nature, and therefore received as canonical by the church through her history.

The next two (2) Articles in the Confession deal specifically with the authority of the Scriptures (Article 5), as well as how we are to view the non-canonical books (i.e. the Apocrypha – Article 6).

1 The Westminster Confession of Faith lists the books that do (1.2) and don’t (1.3) belong to the Canon of Scripture.

THE BELGIC CONFESSION – ARTICLE 3 (The Written Word of God)

“We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter says; and that afterwards God, from a special care which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.” (The Belgic Confession, Article 3)

Article 3 of the Belgic Confession deals with the written Word of God. It answers the following questions: How are we to view the Scriptures? What is their source – are they from man or from God?

The Inspiration of Scripture

This article expands upon what was said in the previous article about God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture (special revelation). The primary thing that this article affirms and teaches is the inspiration of the Scriptures. Notice that in doing so the writer of the Confession borrows the language of 1 Peter 1:19-21 (specifically v.21):

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (ESV)

The passage in 2 Peter (above) more or less describes the process involved in the inspiration of the Scriptures – it was not the product of “the will of man,” but rather “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (v.21). Men (the prophets and apostles) spoke or even wrote from God as they were moved or “carried along” by the Holy Spirit.

We get the word “inspiration” (or “breathed out”) from 2 Timothy 3:16, where the Apostle Paul writes,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness . . . .” (ESV)

To say that all Scripture is “inspired” (or “given by inspiration of God” – NKJV) does not mean that the writers of Scripture were simply inspired the way an artist might speak of feeling inspired by a sunset or something like that. Rather, to say that the Scriptures are “God-breathed” means that God Himself is ultimately and primarily the one doing the speaking in the Scriptures. In other words, the Scriptures are the very Word of God!

Not only that, but the Apostles clearly viewed each other’s writings as Scripture. For example,  the Apostle Peter writes,

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15-16, ESV)

So the Apostle Peter speaks of the letters of the Apostle Paul being included in the Scriptures. For Peter to say this so early on in the history of the church shows that the apostles were self-aware of what God was doing in speaking & writing through them.

Having established the inspiration of the Scriptures in this Article, the Confession next goes on to deal with the canon of Scripture (Article 4), the authority of the Scriptures (Article 5), the Apocrypha or non-canonical books (Article 6), and the sufficiency of Scripture (Article 7).

Of course, it is the inspiration of the Scriptures that sets them apart from all other writings, gives them divine authority as the very Word of God, and assures us of their sufficiency for our faith and life.

The Belgic Confession – Article 2 (General & Special Revelation)

We know Him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says (Romans 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men and leave them without excuse. Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to His glory and our salvation. (Belgic Confession, Article 2)

How is it possible for us to know God? What must happen in order for us (as creatures and as sinners) to know God?

Article 2 of the Confession speak of two “means” (or ways) by which we know God – the “most elegant book” of nature (i.e. God’s creation & providence), and the book of Scripture. These are often referred to as general and special revelation.

General Revelation

According to the Belgic Confession, there are two “books,” so to speak, by which we know God. The first is what is often referred to as “general revelation.” This consists of the universe itself, including (as the Confession puts it) its “creation, preservation, and government.”

The Confession holds that both Creation (See also Article 12.) and Providence (See also Article 13.) are means by which God reveals Himself to us. These things testify to God’s “everlasting power and divinity.” The Scriptures plainly teach this in both the Old and New Testaments:

  • “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. here is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world . . . .” (Psalm 19:1–4, ESV)
  • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20, ESV)

As Daniel Hyde notes,

“The Confession follows the apostle in saying that this knowledge of God in creation, providence, and governance is of God as our creator. The content, then, of general revelation is not of God as redeemer but simply as the wise, eternal, powerful, and creative God that he is.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.57)

So the knowledge of God that we have in that “most elegant book” of nature is sufficient to render all of mankind “without excuse” (Romans 1:20) for our sin and rebellion against our Creator. But the gospel is not found there. That is where the second book comes in – the Bible. This is often referred to as “special revelation” (as distinct from general revelation).

Special Revelation

Special revelation refers to God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture. The word “special” here is used in the sense of being more specific, clear, and explicit.

Note that the Belgic Confession states that God reveals Himself “more clearly and fully” in Scripture (“His holy and divine Word”), so the Scriptures are primary. The Scriptures are more clear (or perspicuous) and more complete in revealing God to us. Both are true, but Scripture must be primary. Our reading or understanding of God in the “book” of nature must be informed or guided by the book of the Scriptures.

And, most importantly, it is only in the Scriptures that God makes Himself known to us, not just as Creator, but also as Redeemer in Jesus Christ. As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it:

“Q. 2. How does it appear that there is a God? A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.”

The Scriptures, of course, bear this out:

  • “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-21, ESV)
  • “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, ESV)

Belgic Confession Articles 2-7 all basically deal with the doctrine of Scripture (i.e. what Scripture says about itself & how we are to view the Scriptures as the Word of God). Considering the fact that there are only 37 Articles (points of doctrine) in the Confession, we can see how important and foundational a right view of Scripture was thought to be in the life of every believer, and in the life of the church.

Not only that, but the Confession focuses our attention squarely on the doctrine of Scripture even before resuming its handling of the doctrine of God (including the doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the deity of the Holy Spirit, etc.) in Articles 8-13.

Clearly the writer of the Confession held that a firm grasp of the doctrine of Scripture (i.e. having a right view of the Scriptures as being the very Word of God), was (and still is) essential to a proper affirmation and grasp of a great many other doctrines taught in Scripture (such as the Trinity, for example). And so the Confession takes its time firmly establishing the doctrine of Scripture first, before dealing with anything else.

The Belgic Confession – Article 1 (Only One God)

We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that He is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” (Article 1)

The Singularity of God

The Belgic Confession rightly starts with the doctrine of God. And the very first thing that it affirms and teaches us about God is that there is only one true and living God. That there is only one God in many ways is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Consider just a handful of the passages of Scripture that affirm this truth:

  • “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ESV)
  • “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, ESV)
  • “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” (Isaiah 44:6, ESV)
  • “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV)
  • “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thessalonians 1:9, ESV)

The Simplicity of God

The next thing that the Confession affirms and teaches is that God is “simple.” Now when the Confession speaks of God as being “simple,” it is not saying that God is easy to understand, much less that we are able to fully comprehend Him. Rather, this is referring to the doctrine of the simplicity of God. This doctrine is practically unheard of in our day, but has always been a hallmark of Reformed orthodoxy’s doctrine of God.

God’s simplicity basically means that God has no parts and so He is not to be thought of as consisting in the sum of His parts.1  This is what the Westminster Confession of Faith is speaking of when it says that God is “without body, parts, or passions; immutable” (2.1).

Bavinck (Doctrine of God)Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) defined the simplicity of God as follows:

“Whatever God is he is completely and simultaneously. “God has no properties but merely is essence, God’s properties are really the same as his essence: they neither differ from his essence, nor do they differ materially from one another.””2

The simplicity of God also means that God’s various perfections or attributes cannot be pitted against each other3 as if they contradicted each other or even as if one or another were primary or controlling of the rest. In other words, God’s love is a holy love; God holiness is a loving holiness; etc.

The Spirituality of God

The Confession says that God is a “spiritual Being.” This means (among other things) that God is not physical – He does not have a body. Nor is He in and of Himself visible. Daniel Hyde writes,

“The spirituality of God and the simplicity of God go together, as a spirit does not have flesh and bones, and a spirit cannot be cut up into parts.” (With Heart and Mouth, p.42)

The spirituality of God also helps to explain the infinity, immensity, and the omnipresence of God. God could not be fully present everywhere if He were physical.

  • God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, ESV)
  • “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6, ESV)
  • “To make a true image of God is impossible.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, p.60)

The Incommunicable Attributes of God

The “incommunicable” attributes of God are those attributes or perfections of God that we cannot and do not in any way share with or reflect of God. The list of these attributes found here in article 1 is certainly not exhaustive: “ eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty.”

We are creatures (i.e. created beings), and so are not eternal, but rather have beginnings. God has no beginning and no end (Isaiah 57:15; Revelation 1:8; 22:13). His infinity also applies to what we sometimes call the “omni’s” of God (i.e. omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience).

We are creatures, and so are finite (having limits), whereas God is infinite (without limits in His being, wisdom, power, etc.), and so He is incomprehensible to us. In other words, we can know God truly and rightly as He has revealed Himself to us, but we cannot know Him completely or exhaustively.

God’s immutability means that He is unchangeable in all of His perfections. Any change in God would imply a change for the worse, from utterly perfect to imperfect.

The Communicable Attributes of God

The “communicable” attributes of God are those attributes or perfections of God that we in some way share with or reflect of Him. These include (but are not limited to) such things as: “perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.”

We in some way share in or reflect God’s wisdom, justice, goodness, and truth, among other things. This is surely related in some way to mankind being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). These are things that separate us from the animals, who are not made in God’s image.

1 See Mark Jones, God Is, p.31.

2 The Doctrine of God, p.121 (The quotation marks within this quote are in the original and are unattributed.)

3 See Daniel R. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth, p.41.