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On God’s omnipotence

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It has long been accepted that “almighty” refers to God’s omnipotence. This should come as no surprise, since the Vulgate translates the Hebrew word שַׁדַּי to omnipotens.1 I’m not aware of any evidence that the Israelites understood שַׁדַּי to mean “the ability to do anything”, or “the ability to do all that is logically possible”, or even “infinite power”. Oddly enough, the Septuagint says nothing about God’s power in this verse,2 although παντοκράτωρ is used in Job 5:17.3

It might be said that our understanding of omnipotence is biblical, since Jesus himself says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible.”4 Yet, it is also said to the disciples that if they have “faith like of a mustard seed [. . .] nothing will be impossible for” them.5 If it is said this is an exaggeration, then why not the same for God? If it is said because he’s omnipotent, then that’s begging the question. If it’s because he’s God, then so what?

If one is to be consistent, then even verses mustn’t be taken out of context, for I can say that Jesus only was referring to the power of salvation. Furthermore, if we are to take Jesus’ statement prima facie, then there’s no reason to reject the idea that God cannot do the logically impossible. To do so is not to take the statement prima facie, but to interpret the statement in a way to avoid logical absurdities that have been demonstrated throughout history by skeptics.

This correction is acceptable in classical theism insofar as it remains only in classical theism. After all, when there is a contradiction with respect to omnipotence in the Bible, how is one to maintain the classical definition of omnipotence? The language must be cleverly skewed, but skewed nonetheless. This is no issue for those of a more liberal approach, those who accept that the Bible is not a homogeneous work.

While those of the conservative view accept that the Bible is an anthology of books, laws, poems, and letters written in different periods for different audiences by different authors, they still wish to maintain that the Bible is homogeneous. They must needs maintain this view to preserve the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, even if this belief extends only to the original manuscripts. Yet, to believe only that the original manuscripts were so is unfounded.

While I am aware of a classic example of the chariots of iron,6 I won’t bother with this, since neither the Septuagint understands God’s inability to move these chariots of iron.7 Rather, it is ascribed to Judah. As to why God did nothing to resolve this situation is unknown. Still, perhaps instead of translating שַׁדַּי as “almighty”, it may be translated or at least understood to refer to ruling over all, viz., to be sovereign.

While this may be acceptable to classical theists, I find this more appropriate from a biblical standpoint. I don’t see this understanding of God to suffer as much in terms of attempting to resolve the incoherency of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, which burdens classical theism. Although classical theists may disagree with me that there’s a burden at all, even they should admit that skeptics of these attributes of God helped reshape them.

References

  1. Genesis 17:1 – Latin Vulgate
  2. Genesis 17:1 – Septuagint
  3. Job 5:17 – Septuagint; cf. 8:5; 11:7; 15:25; 22:17, 25; 23:16; 27:2, 11, 13; 32:8; 33:4; 34:10, 12; 35:13
  4. Mark 10:27
  5. Matthew 17:20
  6. Judges 1:19
  7. Judges 1:19 – Septuagint
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