Some today find divine simplicity to be a strange doctrine because it means God can not be made up of a combination of things. So how can God be Father, Son, and Spirit? I find this objection even stranger because those most known to affirm the Trinity such as Athanasius and Augustine found no such problem!
Divine simplicity is the answer to the question, “What is God made out of”? Is he like us, body and spirit? No. Jesus says God is Spirit (John 4:24). Is he matter and form? No. Genesis 1 and John 1 say God made all “matter.” He is not a creature, but the Creator. God is simple.
Despite how basic this doctrine of God is, many today question its truthfulness. Some claim that no Bible verse teaches the doctrine. Others believe simplicity means that God cannot genuinely be Father, Son, and Spirit. Still others simply think divine simplicity does not make sense.
I disagree. Divine simplicity is the second most basic doctrine in Scripture—after the fact that God exists. It is both biblical and simple to understand. And lastly, divine simplicity guarantees that God is Father, Son, and Spirit—that God is one and three.
Let me explain.
Is Divine Simplicity Biblical?
Since Divine Simplicity is the answer to the question “What is God made out of,” it is biblical insofar as the Bible tells us what God is. Everyone agrees that the Bible tells us who he is: Father, Son, and Spirit. But does it say what he is?
Straightforwardly so. Jesus tells us that God is Spirit (John 4:24). By contrast, Jesus says humans have bodies and souls (Matt 10:28). In Paul’s language, we might say we have an inner and outer man (2 Cor 4:16).
And this is why Jesus is so special. Remaining what he was (Spirit), he became what he was not (human). Or in John’s language, “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Or as Hebrews says, Jesus partook of flesh of blood like we have (Heb 2:14). The point is that as God, Jesus has no flesh and blood. God is Spirit (John 4:24).
So by denying that God by nature has flesh and blood, we affirm that he is simple—Spirit.
From here, we can ask all sorts of questions about the revelation of God in Scripture. Is God made up of matter—material things like we are? Well, no. He has no flesh and blood. He has no human body. He has no nerves. He has no eyeballs. Those are created things. But Genesis 1 and John 1 say that all things came into being through God’s creative activity.
If God was made up of material stuff, he’d be a creature. But he is the Creator. So by denying that God has material stuff, we affirm that God is simple.
To me, this has to be one of the most simple doctrines in Scripture. Although, I can understand why some people get confused. Sometimes, divine simplicity doesn’t seem to make sense when we read about it.
Does Divine Simplicity Make Sense?
By asking the question “What is God made up of?”, we might answer: well, he is not made up of quarks and neutrons. That makes sense to us who live in the 21st century. But if you told someone living in AD 1220 that God is simple because he has no quarks and neutrons, they’d think you were out of your mind!
But here is the thing. Christians have affirmed that God is simple for 2,000 years. The combination of things that God can be made up of changes over time, given the language people use and what seems normal to them.
We think quarks and neutrons are normal. Medieval Christians thought potentiality and actuality were normal. They might say, God is pure actuality, and it would make sense like gravity, neutrons, and quarks might make sense to us. It is the language of our day.
Since the doctrine is as old as Christianity (really, it is eternal), people have used language normal in the 500s, 800s, 1200s, and 2000s to speak of God being simple.
We don’t talk about potentiality and actuality, or God being pure act today.