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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Omnipotence

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OMNIPOTENCE.—The infinite power that works in and through, or above, all things towards the realizing of Divine ends. It may be viewed either intensively, as the power which makes its way through all finite powers, finding in these no real obstacle to its purpose; or extensively, as the power which gathers within it all finite powers, and so achieves its ends throughout the universe.

1. As attribute of God.—Power is a fundamental attribute of Deity: it has even been called the Divine attribute par excellence, because it is found in all religious conceptions from the lowest to the highest, and forms the basal thought, so to speak, upon which all other conceptions are built. In primitive religion, however, the superhuman power is not yet conceived as infinite: it is not even centred in one being, but distributed among many. It is enough for the worshipper to be able to regard the deity he worships as higher than himself and able to give him what he needs. Even the polytheist, however, often sets logic at defiance by ascribing to the god he is worshipping at the moment an unrestrained power within his own domain, and even a universal sovereignty. A true omnipotence is logically attributable only under a monotheistic scheme, where the one Divine being is invested with all the powers formerly distributed among many deities. Here the conception naturally develops of a Being whose power is universal in space and time, and moulds all things and events irresistibly to its own purposes. So, in the great days of the prophetic period of Israel’s history, all limiting conceptions are withdrawn from the notion of God, and Jehovah stands revealed as the One Being who has all creation in the hollow of His hand, maker and controller of all things in heaven and earth, the supreme power working irresistibly to the accomplishment of His great moral ends (Amos 4:13; Amos 5:8, Isaiah 40:12-26, Psalms 33:9-11; Psalms 115:3). God is not merely conceived as transcendent, the wonder-working God, intervening when and where He will: the higher conception also prevails that the ordinary as well as the extraordinary events of history are ordered by the Divine hand, and made to effect His purposes. Not only the universal movement of human life, but nature in all its forms, pulsates with the energy derived from God, is a channel of His revelation, and conforms absolutely to His will (Psalms 148). In the NT the teaching of the prophets is accepted in its entirety: the advance made concerns only the higher attributes of God, and His spiritual ends. God Is the infinite power working above and within all things: with Him is the power (Matthew 6:13), to Him all things are possible (Mark 10:27; Mark 14:36), He is the Lord God Almighty (Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:17), with no other limits than are set by His own nature (‘He cannot deny himself,’ 2 Timothy 2:13) or by the moral ends He has in view (Mark 14:35-36).

2. As ascribable to Christ.—It is generally admitted that the ascription to Christ of the Divine power has passed through a certain development, which is partly traceable in the Gospels themselves.

(a) In the Synoptie Gospels we have to distinguish between the Divine power attributed to Him in His earthly life, and the fuller power belonging to Him as the risen Lord, and the future Judge of the world. In His earthly life, while He passes through a truly human development, and is subject to natural human weakness, He is clothed with unique power for the fulfilment of His mission. The powers of heaven are at His command (Matthew 26:53); He has power to heal, exerted at will (Matthew 8:3), and apparently resident in Himself, though ultimately derived from God by faith and prayer (Matthew 17:20, Mark 9:29). Sometimes this power is brought into play unwittingly on Christ’s part (Mark 5:27-30, Luke 6:19). His wonder-working power extends over nature: and even the winds and the seas obey Him. The only limits to His power seem to lie in the faith of those who receive blessing (Matthew 13:58) and in the conditions set to His Messianic mission (Matthew 15:24). It is a further extension of this power of doing miracles that He can bestow it also upon His disciples (Mark 3:15, Luke 9:1, Matthew 10:1), to be used within the same limits and under the same inward conditions of faith and prayer—the channels of the Divine omnipotence. As the risen and exalted Christ, He enters into a still wider range of Divine power. He is now clothed with a limitless authority in heaven and earth for the triumphant fulfilment of the Messianic work (Matthew 28:18), and shares in the omnipresent government of God the Father (Matthew 28:20). When He comes again as Messianic King to judge the world, He will come clothed with the full power and glory of God (Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62, Matthew 25:31 ff.)

(b) In the Fourth Gospel the sphere of Christ’s Divine power is still further enlarged. He is the incarnation of the Logos, by whom the world was made; the source, under God the Father, of all light and life. While the marks of human weakness are still found, the Christ of this Gospel is invested more thoroughly with the basal attributes of Divinity—eternity (John 8:58), omniscience (John 1:48; John 6:64; John 11:4), and omnipotence. Thus His miracles are manifestations of Divine glory, and are painted in the most striking colours, as the miracle at Cana and the story of Lazarus. He speaks as if He were already at the right hand of power; for all judgment is already committed to Him, and life, even life eternal, is in His hands (John 5:21-22, John 10:27 f.). His death on the cross is no longer a matter of untoward circumstance, and human violence prevailing over right; Christ permits His seizure only after proving His power to resist (John 18:6); and as He has freely laid down His life, so He freely takes it again (John 2:19; John 10:18). It seems clear, then, that in the Fourth Gospel the conception of Jesus as a man subject to ordinary human limitations of weakness, ignorance, and moral growth is giving place to the thought of a Christ-Logos, who, even while on earth, is invested with all the metaphysical attributes of Divinity. At the same time it must be recognized that the earthly Christ exercises His Divine powers under certain limitations. His power (ἐξουσία is the word preferred) is a delegated power, given Him of the Father; and it is exercised within the definite limits of His saving mission.

(c) Without following in detail the progress of thought in the Apostolic teaching, and the development in later ages, we may notice one or two points in Christology where the question of Christ’s omnipotence comes more prominently into view. The Logos theory developed into the Two-nature conception of Christ’s Person, which last remained as the authoritative doctrine of the Church. The problem of Christ’s Person was not thereby solved; and ever-recurring attempts were made to harmonize the facts of weakness, ignorance, and growth with a Divine φύσις possessed of all Divine powers. Either the human nature was conceived as exalted to the Divine, or the Divine was conceived as limiting itself, and so placing itself on a level with the finite human nature. The boldest attempt in the first direction was that made by the Lutheran theologians of the 16th and 17th cents., who taught that all Divine powers were personally communicated to the human nature of Christ, but that in His earthly state the use of these powers was ordinarily veiled, if not surrendered. The other direction of thought is seen, e.g., in Thomas Aquinas, who strives to bring the Divine omnipotence of Christ into harmony with His human life, by affirming that He shared in the Divine omnipotence only so far as He needed it in His mission, and, further, that He ordinarily limited His own power voluntarily so as to be able to partake of human weakness. A more strenuous attempt in the same direction is to be found in the Kenotic doctrine of last century, which affirms that Christ in becoming man emptied Himself of the attributes of omnipotence, etc., and so became subject to the ordinary conditions of a real human life (see Kenosis). All such attempts to unify inconsistent characters end in depleting the Person of Christ either of His Divinity or of some part of His humanity, and so serve only to show the inadequacy of the Two-nature theory from which they start. The problem is to be solved only by (1) a new conception of what constitutes Divinity, and (2) by pressing back to the historical Christ as presented in the Synoptic Gospels. So long as God is characterized mainly by His basal attributes, the doctrine of the God-man is a simple unintelligibility: it is here that the proposition finitum non capax infiniti verifies itself to our minds. But as religious faith presses on to a recognition of the inner being of God, it comes upon attributes that are at once more central and at the same time essentially communicable to humanity. Holiness, justice, faithfulness, love, are the innermost attributes of God, and they also represent the goal of human life; and in the measure man attains to these, does he attain to union with God. It is through the possession of these qualities that Christ is one with the Father, and approves Himself as the Son of God. This must be the starting-point for a revision of the thought of Christ’s omnipotence. Christ’s power is not coextensive with God’s; it is the power of omnipotent goodness and faith, the omnipotence of One who makes Himself the channel of the Divine will. Even His miraculous power must be subsumed under the same category; it is a power granted to faith (Mark 11:23, Matthew 17:20). If it be said that this spiritual power and sovereignty are not yet omnipotence, we shall not quarrel about words. Christ does not possess absolute omnipotence, any more than He is God simpliciter. But He who lives in fullest fellowship with the Father, who is one with God in heart and purpose, and who consciously makes Himself the instrument of the Divine will in carrying out His work of grace among men, may surely claim to share in the Divine omnipotence.

Literature.—Köstlin, art. ‘Gott’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Schultz, Gottheit Christi and OT Theol. [Clark’s translation ]; Kaftan, Dogmatik, 41–47; A. B. Bruce, Miraculous Element in the Gospels, ch. vii.; Thomas Aquinas, Summa, iii. Qu. 13; B. B. Warfield, The Power of God unto Salvation (1903), 91.

J. Dick Fleming.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Omnipotence'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/o/omnipotence.html. 1906-1918.

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