Greek accretions to the concept of God

Submitted by jhwierenga on Mon, 07/30/2018 - 08:16

The problem with perfection

Christianity contains many accretions to the Christian concept of God which derive, not from the Bible, but from Greek philosophy. Foremost is the notion that God is perfect in the philosophical sense of not being subject to any limitations. This concept of perfection is unsound. It can therefore not be used in arguments in order to reach sound conclusions. We cannot argue “God is perfect, therefore such and such is the case” in order to demonstrate that some tenet of our belief is necessarily true, because the same argument structure can be used to demonstrate the ‘truth’ of tenets which we all know to be false. For example, a God who creates a universe like ours, but without evil, is more perfect than the God who created our universe inclusive of the evil we observe, and therefore the ‘God is perfect’ argument structure leads to the conclusion that there is no evil. The Bible does not apply this notion of 'perfection' to God, nor to anything He created. Even the account of creation in Genesis chapter 1 goes no further than to say that the creation was 'very good', meaning it was superbly fitted to the purpose for which it was made. And nothing we observe is perfect in the sense of not being subject to any limitations.


Similar considerations apply to the notion that God is infinite. We cannot argue from the premise that God is infinite in order to reach meaningful conclusions. Even if the concept of infinity could make sense, it has never been observed – reason enough for us to thoroughly distrust it. As far as we know, the universe is finite. To accept the existence of the infinite in the absence of any direct evidence that it exists is to make a leap of faith that leads nowhere. The Bible does not present God as being infinite, so why should we think that He is?

Unknowable means

Neither does the Bible present God as a magician, operating in the world by unknowable, transcendent means on the basis of whims. Unknowability is a characteristic of God Himself, not of the means that He uses. God upholds the entire universe, not just the things we don’t understand. All natural order stems from God. For example, that each and every electron behaves as an electron is due to God’s upholding will, because there is the form ‘electron’ which issues from Him. A 'miracle' is a special purpose of God, not a special means. God’s special purposes are accomplished like our special purposes are. If God wants to bring a kettle of water to the boil, He applies heat. The idea that God achieves his ends by transcendental means, entirely separate from natural means and in principle unknowable, is not based on scripture. 

The God of the gospel

Fortunately for Christians, the concepts of perfection, infinity and unknowable means can be dispensed with, without any damage to faith in either God or the Bible. These ideas have been added to the Christian faith by the Church Fathers in an attempt to make Christianity palatable to pagans steeped in Greek philosophy. A God who is subject to limitations fits in with the Bible, the creeds and the day to day practice of Christian belief very much better than a God who is beyond all limitations. Especially for orthodox believers, there is every reason to dispense with Greek philosophical accretions to the gospel. In fact, there is a strong case for the contention that to maintain that God is perfect and/or infinite is a sin against the ten commandments, both by creating an image of God and by attaching the name of God  to a human construction. Surely, no good can come of that. It has nothing to do with faith, and certainly not superior faith. Faith does not create stumbling blocks for other believers in the name of God, by demanding belief in nonsensical constructions that distort Him. To do that is to take God's name in vain. Faith, if it is real faith, accepts that God has told us all we need to know about him, and does not feel the need to expand, consolidate or deepen that which is revealed. When we nevertheless do so, we invariably end up distorting God.