The Divine Attributes in John Knox’s Concept of God -- By: Richard Kyle

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 48:1 (Spring 1986)
Article: The Divine Attributes in John Knox’s Concept of God
Author: Richard Kyle

The Divine Attributes in John Knox’s Concept of God

Richard Kyle


An important aspect of John Knox’s thought is his concept of God. Knox’s preception of God did not differ significantly from that maintained by most of the Magisterial Reformers, e.g., Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. The Scottish reformer, however, did emphasize certain divine attributes, which in turn helped to shape his religious and political thought. His concept of God is closely related to his methods of interpreting Scripture. Knox used several techniques to discern the meaning of Scripture, but his theological trademark devolved from two hermeneutical features, namely, an overemphasis on the OT and a pronounced literalness. He focused on the OT at the expense of the NT, often losing sight of the historic process in divine revelation. Though Knox certainly recognized the eternal character of the NT covenant based on the sacrifice of Christ, his immediate objective was the reformation of religion in Scotland. He therefore focused on the corporate aspects of religion most readily found in the OT, namely, the covenant responsibility, the purification of religion, and resistance to idolatrous rulers.1 Furthermore, Knox interpreted Scripture, especially the OT, with a pronounced literalness that went beyond similar methods utilized by Luther and Calvin. In this regard, Knox resembled Zwingli, who also interpreted the Bible as if it were a book of precedents, that is, as containing preceding

instances serving as authoritative examples for future cases that were similar.2 The OT, to be sure, contains more information regarding God’s nature than does the NT. Nevertheless, partially as a consequence of his emphasis on the OT, Knox’s concept of God emphasized the attributes most readily derived from a literal reading of the OT, especially those of divine immutability and sovereignty.

Theologians classify divine attributes in many ways. A common method is to distinguish between the incommunicable and communicable attributes. The former are those in which there is nothing analogous in human beings and which emphasize the absolute being of God, namely his self-existence, immutability, and infinity. The latter category refers to those properties hearing some analogy to the human spirit, though not to the degree that they exist in God, namely, his intellectual attributes, his wisdom, his veracity, his moral characteristics, his holiness and righteousness, and his sovereign power. The communicable attributes also stress the fact that God enters into various relationships with his creatures.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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