God is the sole creator and ruler of the Universe. Conceptions of God can vary widely among various religions, though the Bible has about the only definition that can be completely defended logically. (Not including certain liberalistic and/or allegorical interpretations.)

Theologians and philosophers have studied countless conceptions of God since the dawn of civilization. The question of the existence of God classically falls under the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, but is also one of the key discussions taking place within the field of the philosophy of religion.


The word God continues Old English god (guþ, gudis in Gothic, gud in modern Scandinavian and Gott in modern German), from Proto-Germanic *ǥuđan. The original meaning and etymology of the Germanic word god has been hotly disputed, though most agree to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form *khutóm, which is the neuter passive perfect participle of the root *khu-, which likely meant "libation", "sacrifice". It has also been said that the origin of the the word God comes from the Pesian Language in the form of khoda or khuda, which was then used by Hebrew and Indo-European tribes in the form of gudda.


The connection between these meanings is likely via the meaning "pour a libation". Another possible meaning of *khutóm is "invocation", related to Sanskrit hūta.

The same root appears in the names of three related Germanic tribes, the Geats, the Goths and the Gutar. These names may be derived from an eponymous chieftain Gaut who was subsequently deified, who sometimes appears in early Medieval sagas as a name of Odin or one of his descendants, a former king of the Geats (Gaut(i)), an ancestor of the Gutar (Guti), of the Goths (Gothus) and of the royal line of Wessex (Geats) and as a previous hero of the Goths (Gapt). The Lombardic form of Odin, Godan, may derive from cognate Proto-Germanic *ǥuđánaz.

The word God was used to represent Greek Theos, Latin Deus in Bible translations, first in the Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. For the etymology of deus, see *dyeus. Greek theos is possibly unrelated, and of uncertain origin. De Saussure tentatively connected Baltic and Germanic words for "spook", ultimately cognate with Latin fumus "smoke". See El (god) and YHWH for discussions of the Hebrew names for God.


The development of English orthography was dominated by Christian texts. Capitalized "God" was first used to refer to the Judeo-Christian concept, and may now signify any monotheistic conception of God.

In early English bibles, the Tetragrammaton was rendered in capitals: "IEHOUAH" in William Tyndale's version of 1525. The King James Version of 1611 renders

  • YHWH as "The Lord", also as "Jehovah", see Psalms 83:18; Exodus 6:3.
  • Elohim as "God"
  • Adonay YHWH as "Lord God"
  • YHWH Elohim as "Lord God"
  • κυριος ο θεος as "Lord God" (in the New Testament)

The use of capitalization, as for a proper noun, has persisted to disambiguate the concept of a singular God from pagan deities for which lower case god has continued to be applied, mirroring the use of Latin deus. Pronouns referring to God are also often capitalized and are traditionally in the masculine gender, i.e. "He", "His" etc. However, in more recent times, some people have referred to God in feminine terms, such as "She" and "Her".

Names of God

  • Yahweh Hebrew: 'YHVH' (יהוה), and Jehovah are some of the names used for God in various translations of the Bible (all translating the same four letters - YHVH). El, and the plural/majestic form Elohim, is another term used frequently, though El can also simply mean god in reference to deities of other religions. Others include El Shaddai, Adonai, Amanuel, and Amen. When Moses asked "What is your name?" he was given the answer Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, which literally means, "I am that I am," as a parallel to the tetragrammaton YHWH. See The name of God in Judaism for Jewish names of God. Most Orthodox Jews, and many Jews of other denominations, believe it wrong to write the word "God" on any substance which can be destroyed. Therefore, they will write "G-d" as what they consider a more respectful symbolic representation. Others consider this unnecessary because English is not the "Holy Language" (ie, Hebrew), but still will not speak the Hebrew representation written in the Torah, "yih-yah", aloud, and will instead use other names such as Adonai (my lord).
  • The Holy Trinity (meaning the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit/"Holy Ghost") denotes God in almost all mainstream Christianity. Arab Christians will often also use Allah to refer to God.
  • God is called Igzi'abihier (lit. "Lord of the Universe") in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
  • Jah is the name of God in the Rastafari movement.
  • Some churches (United Church of Canada, Religious Science) are using "the One" alongside "God" as a more gender-neutral way of referring to God (See also Oneness).

History of monotheism

See also monotheism, Abrahamic religion.

The religions that are monotheistic today are often thought of as having been of relatively recent historical origin—although efforts at comparison are usually beset by claims of most religions to being very ancient or eternal. Eastern religions, especially in China and India, that have concepts of panentheism, are notably difficult to classify along Western notions of monotheism vs. polytheism. Attempting to compare the two is much like asking how many sides a circle has when comparing to a square, in that it makes no sense.

In the Ancient Orient, many cities had their own local god, though this henotheistic worship of a single god did not imply denial of the existence of other gods. The Hebrew Ark of the Covenant is supposed (by some scholars) to have adapted this practice to a nomadic lifestyle, paving their way for a singular God. Yet, many scholars now believe that it may have been the Zoroasterian religion of the Persian Empire that was the first monotheistic religion, and the Jews were influenced by such notions (this controversy is still in debate)[1].

The iconoclastic cult of the Egyptian solar god Aten was promoted by the pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenophis IV), who ruled between 1358 and 1340 BC. The Aten cult is often cited as the earliest known example of monotheism, and is sometimes claimed to have been a formative influence on early Judaism, due to the presence of Hebrew slaves in Egypt. But even though Akhenaten's hymn to Aten offers strong evidence that Akhenaten considered Aten to be the sole, omnipotent creator, Akhenaten's program to enforce this monotheistic world-view ended with his death; the worship of other gods beside Aten never ceased outside his court, and the older polytheistic cults soon regained precedence.

Other early examples of monotheism include two late rigvedic hymns (10.129,130) to a Panentheistic creator god, Shri Rudram, a Vedic hymn to Rudra, an earlier aspect of Shiva often referred to by the ancient Brahmans as Stiva, a masculine fertility god, which expressed monistic theism, and is still chanted today; the Zoroastrian Ahuramazda and Chinese Shang Ti. The worship of polytheistic gods, on the other hand, is seen by many to predate monotheism, reaching back as far as the Paleolithic. Today, monotheistic religions are dominant, though other systems of belief still exist.


Theologians attempt to explicate (and in some cases systematize) beliefs; some express their own experience of the divine. Theologians ask questions such as, 'What is the nature of God?' 'What does it mean for God to be singular?' 'If people believe in God as a duality or trinity, what do these terms signify?' 'Is God transcendent, immanent, or some mix of the two?' 'What is the relationship between God and the universe, and God and humankind?'

  • Theism holds that God exists realistically, objectively, and independently of human thought; that God created and sustains everything; that God is omnipotent and eternal, and is personal, interested and answers prayer. It holds that God is both transcendent and immanent; thus, God is simultaneously infinite and in some way present in the affairs of the world. Catholic theology holds that God is infinitely simple and is not involuntarily subject to time. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, although this belief raises questions about God's responsibility for evil and suffering in the world. Some theists ascribe to God a self-conscious or purposeful limiting of omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Open Theism, by contrast, asserts that, due to the nature of time, God's omniscience does not mean he can predict the future. "Theism" is sometimes used to refer in general to any belief in a god or gods, i.e., monotheism or polytheism.
  • Deism holds that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world beyond what was necessary for God to create it. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and does not literally answer prayers or cause miracles to occur. Common in Deism is a belief that God has no interest in humanity and may not even be aware of humanity.
  • Monotheism holds that there is only one God, and/or that the one true God is worshipped in different religions under different names. It is important to note, however, that monotheists of one religion can, and often do, consider the monotheistic god of a different religion to be a false god. For instance, many Christian fundamentalists consider the God of Islam (Allah) to be a false god or demon. However, theologians and linguists argue that "Allah" is merely the Arabic word for "God," and not the literal name of a specifically Muslim God (this is more clearly shown by the fact that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews refer to God as "Allah" with no problem whatsoever). To Muslims, the Bible is a holy scripture and Jesus is a Holy Prophet, so Islam is considered a continuation of Christianity. Many Jews consider the messiah of Christianity (Jesus) to be a false god and some monotheists (notably fundamentalist Christians) hold that there is one triune God, and that all gods of other religions are actually demons in disguise (as in 2nd Corinthians 11 verse 14). Eastern religious believers and Liberal Christians are more likely to assume those of other faiths worship the same God as they, just under a different name and / or form. Muslims believe that Jesus, although the Messiah and one of the holy Prophets, is not the son of God, because relating God to any partners or spouses or offspring is considered blasphemy and apostasy.
  • Pantheism holds that God is the universe and the universe is God. Panentheism holds that God contains, but is not identical to, the Universe. The distinctions between the two are subtle, and some consider them unhelpful. It is also the view of the Liberal Catholic Church, Theosophy, Hinduism, Ayyavazhi some divisions of Buddhism, and Taoism, along with many varying denominations and individuals within denominations. Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, paints a pantheistic/panentheistic view of God - which has wide acceptance in Hasidic Judaism, particularly from their founder The Baal Shem Tov - but only as an addition to the Jewish view of a personal god, not in the original pantheistic sense that denies or limits persona to God.
  • Dystheism is a form of theism which holds that God is malevolent as a consequence of the problem of evil. Dystheistic speculation is common in theology, but there is no known church of practicing dystheists. See also Satanism.
  • Nontheism holds that the universe can be explained without any reference to the supernatural, or to a supernatural being. Some non-theists avoid the concept of God, whilst accepting that it is significant to many; other non-theists understand God as a symbol of human values and aspirations.

Most believers allow for the existence of other, less powerful spiritual beings, and give them names such as angels, saints, Djinni, demons, and devas.

Conceptions of God

Abrahamic conceptions

The Creation of Adam

16th century Christian view of Genesis: God creates Adam (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel)

Judaism, Christianity and Islam see God as a being who created the world and who rules over the universe. God is usually held to have the properties of holiness (separate from sin and incorruptible), justice (fair, right, and true in all His judgments), sovereignty (unthwartable in His will), omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), omni benevolence (all-loving), omnipresence (present everywhere at the same time), and immortality (eternal and everlasting). He is also believed to be transcendent, meaning that He is outside space and outside time, and therefore eternal and unable to be changed by earthly forces or anything else within His creation.

Jews, Christians and Muslims often conceive of God as a personal God, with a will and personality. However, many rationalist philosophers felt that one should not view God as personal, and that such personal descriptions of God are only meant as metaphors, as it was widely viewed that God's transcendence meant that He could not act in the lives of ordinary people.

In Eastern Christianity, it remains essential that God be personal; hence it speaks of the three persons of the Trinity. It also emphasizes that God has a will, and that God the Son has two wills, divine and human, though these are never in conflict. However, this point is disputed by Oriental Orthodox Christians, who hold that God the Son has only one will of unified divinity and humanity (see Miaphysitism). The personhood of God and of all human people is essential to the concept of theosis or deification.

Biblical definition of God

God according to the Bible is characterized not just as Creator, but also as the "Heavenly Father". God "defines" himself several times in the Bible.

The Torah (which would later be incorporated into the Christian Old Testament) characterizes God by these attributes: "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:6-7)

Even earlier in that same book, God reveals what is to become his people's intimate name for him, Yahweh, YHWH or Jehovah, meaning "I am who I am", "I will be what I will be". Moses asks God in Exodus 3:13 who he should say has sent him, if the Egyptians ask for God's name. This self-definition expresses God's dependable nature, faithfulness and worthiness of trust of his people. It is shortened to "I Am"; this name is probably the derivative for the name Lord Almighty (often written LORD), the Hebrew sounding similar. Jesus was nearly stoned for blasphemy in John 8:58-59, for applying this phrase to himself, and therefore claiming to be God.

The Torah contains no systematic theology: No attempt is made to give a philosophical or rigorous definition of God, nor of how God acts in the world. It does not explicitly describe God's nature, exemplified by God's assertion in Exodus that "you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live". Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible are the words omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent used to define God in a systematic sense.

Although Scripture does not describe God systematically, it does provide a poetic depiction of God and His relationship with people. According to the Biblical historian Yehezkal Kaufmann, the essential innovation of Biblical theology was to posit a God that cares about people, and that cares about whether people care about Him. Some people believe that the Bible should be viewed as humanity's view of God, but theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel described the Biblical God as "anthropopathic", which means that one should read the Bible as God's view of humanity, and not as humanity's view of God.

Similarly, the New Testament contains little systematic theology: little or no philosophical or rigorous definition of God is given, nor of how God acts in the world; however John's gospel states: "God is light" (John 1:5), before he states: "God is love" (John 4:8) and: "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews presents a more grim side of the deity when he states: "For our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29).

The New Testament provides an implicit theology as it teaches that God interacted directly with people, in the person of Jesus, and that he subsequently sent the Holy Spirit. In this view, God becomes someone that can be seen and touched, and may speak and act in a manner easily perceived by humans, while also remaining transcendent and invisible. This may appear to be a radical departure from the concepts of God found in Hebrew Bible. The New Testament's statements regarding the nature of God can be dirrectly codified into the doctrine of the Trinity.

Kabbalistic definition of God

Mainstream Orthodox Judaism teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. They teach that God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. But if God is so different from his creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted early Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God who created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another, similar to a creation inside a persons mind.

This view has been developed further in Hasidic and anti-nomian circles, however. Kabbalah teaches that in order to create the universe, God "withdrew," and created the universe within the space from which "He" contracted. It is taught in the Zohar that God, at the beginning of creation, shattered ten ספירות ("sephiroth") or כלים ("kaylim" or "vessels") scattering their fragments throughout the universe. (Physicist-theologian Gerald Schroeder makes a correlation between this view and Big Bang theory in Genesis & The Big Bang.) The sephiroth — represented by the so-called עץ חיים ("Etz Hayim" or "Tree of Life") — are comprised of different vessels embodying various emanations of God's being.

With this in mind, the Kabbalist Isaac Luria, explained that all creation contained ניצוץ ("nitzutz" or "holy sparks") — the remnants and shards of the sephiroth/kaylim which God had shattered — and offered a theological purpose known as תיקון עולם ("Tikkun Olam" or "rectifying the world") which states that humanity's duty is to recognize the holy sparks inherent in all creation and to elevate them by performing מצוות ("mitzvot"), otherwise regarded as the fulfilment of Biblical obligations. This view gave rise to the concept of panentheism in Judaism: The notion that God is inherent in all things, and is corroborated by the Jewish principle בצלם אלוהים ("b'tzelem Elohim" or "in the image of God"), inferring that all humanity is created with God inherent. The concept derives from Genesis 9:6 (serving as a Biblical proof-text for the position), "For in the image of God He made man." Thus, suggested Luria, by doing mitzvoth directed towards our fellow human being, we recognize the nitzutz within them, and thus sanctify and elevate their inherent Godliness.

This notion is exemplified rather well by a Jewish nursery school song

Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere. Up, up, down, down, right, left, and all around. Here, there, and everywhere, Hashem is truly there.
Over time, this view evolved into the belief that all of creation and all of existence was in fact God itself, and that we as humanity are unaware of our own inherent Godliness and are grappling to come to terms with it. The standing view in neo-Hasidism, currently, is that there is nothing in existence other than God. I.e., all being is God. As it is stated in the ancient Kabbalistic incantation, אין עוד מילבדו ("Ain od milvado") — "There is nothing but God." Thus, it has become understood that God used God's self to form the universe. Rather than a contraction and the creation of something "other" in the void which God created, it is as though God punched a doughnut-hole in God's self and used the remaining "munchkin" to form all of creation.

This paradigm shift is well documented by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi and founder of Jewish Renewal and its neo-Hasidic progeny, in his book Wrapped In A Holy Flame:

I'd like to say we are in the shift to the place where everything is God, pantheism. The understanding that has come from mysticism and from people on the cusp of periods moving from past to present, people talking about primary experience, is that the body and the soul cannot be separated. It shouldn't be that they should be fighting one another, that you have too get rid of one in order to get the other. We want Wholeness, a holistic understanding, now. I believe that people are moving from theism to pantheism. There are some who don't like the word pantheism, the idea that God is everything. They prefer the word panentheism, which means that God is in everything. I, however, don't think that the distinction is real. What was the objection that people had to pantheism, God is everything? "Are you going to tell me that the excrement of a dog is also God?" And the answer to this would be —"Yes." What is wrong with that? It is only from the human perspective that we see a difference between that and challah. On the sub molecular level, on the atomic level, they all look the same. And if you look from a galactic perspective, what difference is there between one and the other? So if "God is everything," why are you and I here? Because we are the appearance of God in this particular form. And God likes to appear in countless forms and experience countless lives.

If you would have mentioned this point of view when theism was dominant, you might have been killed. The theists would complain, "What you are saying is that there are no differences anymore? Does that mean that everything is right, everything is kosher? Where are the differences?" And those are good questions. We are not so far advanced yet that we can explain all these things, but deep down, the deepest level of the pattern is that God is everything. So it's not that God created the world but that God became the world.

Another progenitor of neo-Hasidism, Rabbi Arthur Green, further describes the evolution of pantheistic thought in the Hasidic world, as well, in his book Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology

Negative theology

Main article: Negative theology.

Some Jewish, Christian and Muslim Medieval philosophers, including Moses Maimonides and Pseudo-Dionysius, as well as many sages of other religions, developed what is termed as Apophatic Theology or the Via Negativa, the idea that one cannot posit attributes to God and can only be discussed by what God is not. For example, we cannot say that God "exists" in the usual sense of the term, because that term is human defined and God's qualities such as existence may not be accurately characterized by it. What we can safely say is that God is not non-existent. Likewise God's "wisdom" is of a fundamentally different kind from limited human perception. So we cannot use the word "wise" to describe God, because this implies he is wise in the way we usually describe humans being wise. However we can safely say that God is not ignorant. We should not say that God is One, because we may not truly understand his nature, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being.

The reason that this theology was developed was because it was felt that ascribing positive characteristics to God would imply that God could be accurately described with terms that were used to describe human qualities and perceptions. As humans cannot truly comprehend what kind of wisdom an eternal transcendent being might have, or what infinity might be like, we cannot in fact know or characterize His true nature. It is beyond human ability and would only mislead people.

The same path is known in Hindu tradition as Neti neti, literally "not this nor that".

The proponents of this theory often experienced meditation which they viewed as one of the only effective ways of having a personal relationship with God. It involved trying to reach beyond the words commonly used to describe Him and His more ineffable characteristics, and to comprehend in a mystical manner the truths about Him which could not be achieved through religious language. Thus many sages and saints of both monotheistic and other traditions experienced mystical trances, or raptures and stated they were unable to describe God or their visions fully.

God as Unity or Trinity

  • Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and a small fraction of other nominal Christians are unitarian monotheists. The vast majority of Christians have been and still are Trinitarian monotheists.
  • Unitarian monotheists hold that there is only one "person" (so to speak), or one basic substance, in God. Some adherents of this position consider Trinitarianism to be a form of polytheism.
  • Trinitarian monotheists believe in one God that exists as three interdependent persons who share the same substance/essence; the Christian version of this is called the Trinity. Trinitarians hold that the three persons of God have the same purpose, holiness, and sovereignty, and therefore each can be worshipped as God, without violating the idea that there is only truly one God to which worship belongs.
  • Mormons believe that there are three separate divine personages (i.e., beings). One of these personages is a spirit without a body referred to as the "Holy Ghost". The other two personages are beings with perfected or glorified (often called celestial) bodies referred to as Heavenly Father (or less commonly "Elohim") and his son, Jesus Christ. They believe that through the mercy of Jesus Christ and by following their religion's teachings, humans are eligible to become gods (sometimes phrased as "become like Heavenly Father") at some point after death and resurrection; this is also called Exaltation.
  • Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie is both God the Father and God the Son, made manifest in human flesh as the reincarnation of Jesus, while the Holy Spirit is seen to dwell within all believers (of Rastafari), and within all people (believed by some).
  • Hasidic Jews hold that there are ten Sefirot (emanations) of God. Each of these are more distinct than a characteristic, but less distinct than a separate personage.


Binitarianism: A view within Christianity that there were originally two beings in the Godhead, the Father and the Word that became the Son (Jesus the Christ). Binitarians normally believe that God is a family, currently consisting of the Father and the Son. Some binitarians believe that others will ultimately be born into that divine family. Hence, binitarians are nontrinitarian, but they are also not unitarian. Binitarians, like most unitarians and trinitarians, claim their views were held by the original New Testament Church. Unlike most unitarians and trinitarians who tend to identify themselves by those terms, binitarians normally do not refer to their belief in the duality of the Godhead, with the Son subordinate to the Father; they simply teach the Godhead in a manner that has been termed as binitarianism.

"The word “binitarian” is typically used by scholars and theologians as a contrast to a trinitarian theology: a theology of “two” in God rather than a theology of “three”... it is accurate to offer the judgment that most commonly when someone speaks of a Christian “binitarian” theology the “two” in God are the Father and the Son...A substantial amount of recent scholarship has been devoted to exploring the implications of the fact that Jesus was worshipped by those first Jewish Christians, since in Judaism "worship" was limited to the worship of God" (Barnes M. Early Christian Binitarianism: the Father and the Holy Spirit. Early Christian Binitarianism—as read at NAPS 2001). Much of this recent scholarship has been the result of the translations of the Nag Hammadi and other ancient manuscripts which were not available when older scholarly texts (such as W. Bousset's Kyrios Christos, 1913) were written.

Although some critics prefer to use the term ditheist or dualist instead of binitarian, those terms suggests that God is not one, yet binitarians believe that God is one family.

Christian Monism

Within the body of Christian belief, the only well-known developed system of monism is found within the recently developed (1975) teachings of the book known as A Course In Miracles (ACIM). The philosophical system of ACIM presents what appears to be a unique synthesis of Hindu monistic Advaita Vedanta teachings, blended with the early Christian teaching of the universal-fatherhood-of-God belief. In this philosophy God retains the traditional Christian role of an All loving, all forgiving Father, as portrayed in the Christian allegory of the Prodigal Son, yet God is also attributed with the qualities of complete oneness with all of mankind. The apparent contrast between the existence of this oneness with God, and the common belief in human separation from God, is explained by the belief that man's apparent separation from God is a mere illusion, an illusion that can be overcome by gaining a full understanding of, and by adopting an unfailing practice of, the dynamics of Christian forgiveness.

See also

External links

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