This means he is all powerful and sovereign. He is able to do everything according to his holy will and whatever is not a moral or essential contradiction.
That last clause, above, means that God cannot do evil or immoral things, which would contradict his attributes of love and righteousness and holiness.
Some theologians classify this attribute or perfection of God in the incommunicable category; that is, we do not share in it. However, other theologians say that it is communicable or “transferrable” because we humans have power and personal sovereignty—though much more limited than God’s power and sovereignty! We share in it a little because we are made in God’s image and because he has given us the grace and capacity to have it.
After the formal definition in the Introduction, above, let’s now unpack it.
What do theologians say?
The Old Testament is in Hebrew, and the word shaddai constitutes a name of God: God Almighty. Another more common word (200 times) is the noun ṣaba’ (pronounced shaba). The old translations say, “Lord of hosts” (armies), because the word means one who participates in warfare or comprises an army. The term takes on a technical means “Lord Almighty” (Mounce, p. 14).
The New Testament was written in Greek, and the word is pantokratōr, which is a compound word: All (pan-) and Powerful (krator). It is used in the New Testament ten times, once in Paul’s writings (2 Cor. 6:18), and nine times in the book of the Revelation (Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22) (ibid.).
Norman Geisler writes about what God can and cannot do:
Theologically, omnipotent means that God can do whatever is possible to do. Or, God can do what is not impossible to do. His power is unlimited and uninhibited by anything else. Negatively, omnipotence does not mean that God can do what is a contradiction. (p. 487, emphasis original).
Prof. Geisler goes on to say that God cannot contradict his nature: he cannot lie, sin, change, or deny himself (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 6:18; Jas. 1:13, 17).
God does not have to perform this or that act. He is perfectly free. He is free not to use his omnipotence, and he is free to limit it. “But God is not free to limit the extent of his power. God must know all that He knows, but God does not have to do all that He can do” (p. 488).
In other words, God reveals his power to us humans in a limited way. God does not force our free will to act in certain ways (Matt. 23:37). He uses persuasion. But God cannot limit his omnipotence in his very essence, but he is free not to exercise or to exercise it as he interacts with humanity.
And, no, God cannot make a rock so big that he cannot move it. He is too wise and intelligent to do stupid stuff!
Renewal theologian J. Rodman Williams insightfully adds that God’s power is in harmony with his nature:
For the God who is Almighty is the God whose character is holiness, love and truth. Therefore, He does, and will do, only those things that are in harmony with who He is. To say it is impossible for God to do wrong or evil does not limit His omnipotence anymore than, for example, to say it is impossible for God to declare His nonexistence. These are moral and logical contradictions to the very being and nature of Almighty God. (Renewal, vol. 1, p. 71)
Then Prof. Williams offers this nugget:
God’s omnipotence is not to be identified with omnicausality. Because God can do all things does not mean that He does all things, to the exclusion of lesser expressions of power. (ibid. p. 72)
Omnicausality means “all-causing.” In other words, sometimes God withholds his unlimited power and exercises lesser power.
Finally, in my view God allows lesser powers to exist, and he lets them exercise their authority and power jurisdictionally. For example, God does not cause humans governments to act evilly. People have a certain measure of free will, and they choose to do evil, whether individually or corporately in a government (think of the evil Nazi regime and the individuals within it).
This attribute or perfection of God means that he is able to do everything out of his sovereign free will and according to his nature.
What do the Scriptures say?
I use the NIV here. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
Let’s begin with verses that connect God’s creation of the entire universe and his omnipotence.
God manifests his power in creation ex nihilo (out of nothing):
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)
“This is what the Lord says—
your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord,
the Maker of all things,
who stretches out the heavens,
who spreads out the earth by myself, (Is. 44:24)
God made it all from his omnipotence:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
One more verse about creation ex nihilo:
He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Rom. 4:17)
This passage talks about Jesus’s creative power:
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16-17)
The twenty-four elders proclaim:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.” (Rev. 4:11)
On another topic, God’s power extends beyond things that are not yet realized or done:
Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son. (Gen. 18:14)
I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Therefore, this is what the LORD says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who will capture it. (Jer. 32:27-28)
After the Judeans were exiled, just as God predicted in Jer. 32:27-28, God promised to bring them back to Jerusalem, which happened later:
I will bring them back to Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God. (Zech. 8:6)
People were praising God, as Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly. Some Pharisees told him to rebuke his followers.
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out. (Luke 19:40)
Jesus told his disciples to put away their swords:
Do you think I cannot call on my father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53)
Now let’s look at verses with ‘El-Shaddai (God Almighty) in them.
When Abram [later Abraham] was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said: “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and blamelessly.” (Gen. 17:1)
God appeared to Jacob, after he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord, who renamed him Israel:
And God said to him: “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in numbers. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.” (Gen. 35:11)
The above verse also speaks of God’s power over things that were not yet done.
With Moses, God’s revelation shifts to a higher gear, so to speak:
God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD, I did not make myself fully known.” (Ex. 6:2-3)
In the above verse, the LORD is the four sacred letters of God: YHWH. It is translated in all capital letters—LORD. This name appears in Genesis, but it was not fully known.
This verse in the Psalms indicates God omnipotence as our protection:
Who ever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Ps. 91:1)
Moving away from the ‘El-Shaddai name, now let’s look at verses that talk about his sovereign power that puts things in perspective.
In the next verse, God will never be frustrated in his decrees:
Our God is in heaven. He does whatever he pleases. (Ps. 115:3)
If God made everything, is anything else too hard for him?
Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you (Jer. 32:17)
From a human level, many things are impossible, but not for God:
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26)
God manifest his power over nature in miracles. The next verses are too long to quote, so they are referenced, instead:
Jesus calmed the storm: Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 37:41; Luke 8:22-25
Jesus walked on water: Matt. 14:25; Mark 6:48-51
Jesus fed the multitudes with scarce resources: Matt. 14:15-21; Mark 6:35-44); Luke 9:12-17; John 6:6-13
God works his power in the redemption of sinners:
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do. (Is. 46:10-11)
Paul boils down the power of God to the gospel:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Rom. 1:16)
God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead and highly exalted him is given to us:
[A]nd his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 1:19)
Let’s end with this awesome verse that speaks of God’s omnipotence:
God, the blessed and only Ruler [Potentate], the King of kings and Lord of lords .… (1 Tim. 5:16)
Other Scriptures: 1 Kings 18:46; 1 Chron. 29:11; Pss. 20:6; 29:4; 66:3, 7; 68:28; 147:5; Is. 11:2; 63:12; Jer. 10:12; 32:18
How does God’s omnipotence interact with human free will?
That question has been covered in the previous post: Do I Really Know God? He Is Sovereign and Free (scroll down to the section Some Questions). For now, the short answer seen in the section, above, on theologians, is that God is not coercive about freedom. Humans have a significant degree of free will relative to God’s sovereign power, though where to draw the line between the two is so far impossible to work out (for me at least).
Does God directly cause natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes and tsunamis) to judge people?
This great question has been covered in another post: Does God Cause Natural Disasters to Punish People Today? Short answer—no. See my post here:
How can I know God better?
God is omnipotent. He is all powerful. He is omniscient (all knowing). He is also omnibenevolent, which can be translated as “all loving.” He knows what you are going through. Nothing has caught him by surprise. And now he is powerful enough to lift you out of your trials, whether self-inflicted or caused by just living life with other humans and in the natural world of planet earth. Or he is powerful enough to sustain you through your trials. That is his love.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES “DO I REALLY KNOW GOD?”
Do I Really Know God? He Is Omnipotent