God’s attribute of beauty flows out of his goodness, glory and light, and shines on all of his creation and his highest creation—us.
This attribute is considered a “summary” perfection or attribute because it complements and is even comprehensive of all the other attributes. It is the capstone.
It is communicable or “shareable” or “transferrable” to us because we are made in God’s image and he has graced us with the capacity to shine with it.
Let’s now define his beauty based on Scripture.
What do scholars and theologians say?
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and in this study we limit beauty to the following Hebrew words:
The first one is the noun ṣebi (18 times) (pronounced tsebi, the ts- sounding like ts- in bits), and its synonyms are “ornament” and “glory.”
The second is the noun noam (7 times) (pronounced no-am), and its synonyms are pleasantness, pleasing, and favor.
The third one is the adjective yaqar (34 times), and its synonyms are precious, valuable, quality, items that are rare, beloved, splendid, precious, costly, high grade, good quality, honored, quality, priceless.
The fourth one is the noun yopi (19 times) (pronounced yoh-pee), and it usually translated as beauty or beautiful.
(Howard W. Goodrick and John R. Kohlenberger, The Strongest: NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan, 1990, 1999).
The New Testament was written in Greek. The authors used the noun kalos 100 times, and it is closely related to good (agathos), used about 102 times. Physical beauty on its own or for its own sake is not in view. It has a moral quality to it. For example, Jesus is the good (kalos) shepherd (John 10:11, 14), However, in one instance Jesus commented that the temple in Jerusalem was built with “beautiful” stones (NIDNTT, pp. 286-87; Mounce, p. 57).
The adjective kalos means the “quality of an object or action that is beautiful, ordered, or virtuous and may be translated as ‘beautiful, good.’ It denotes something as being good in terms of its outward appearance or in the sense of useful or excellent.” (Mounce, p. 301)
Nearly all the passages where those words are found are related to ordinary people and things, except a few, which are about God or Jesus. So how do the theologians define this attribute of the God, using Scripture and Scripture-based logic?
Philosopher and theologian Norman Geisler connects God’s beauty to his goodness; that is, beauty flows out of his goodness, and then we humans delight in it. He writes: “As applied to God, beauty is the essential attribute of goodness that produces in the beholder a sense of overwhelming pleasure and delight” (p. 526).
To comment on his definition, as noted, in the New Testament kalos (beauty) is connected to agathos (good), so Geisler comes up with the right definition. His definition does not, however, take into account the Old Testament words.
Wayne Grudem says God’s attribute of beauty is the perfection or sum-total of “all desirable qualities” (p. 219).
Here is another definition, combining those two and the Scriptures studied in the next two sections.
God’s attribute of beauty is the perfection and summation of his goodness and all desirable qualities in him, and it shines through his glory and light, producing awe and delight and inner beauty in the beholder.
God’s beauty transforms everything it touches or claims, for the better. It makes a human morally good.
Those definitions explain why beauty is considered a summary attribute.
What do the Scriptures say?
In this short section, we cannot cover all those Hebrew and Greek words, but at least we know some choice synonyms for beauty.
I use the NIV here. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations or in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
Here the Lord himself is proclaimed to have beauty (noam), and what God has he is:
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)
And in this passage, the Branch of the Lord has beauty. And this is ultimately a prophecy about the Messiah, King Jesus:
In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (Is. 4:2)
And everything the Lord commands and touches becomes beautiful, even the garments for the priests. Here another word for beauty is used, which is synonymous with “glory” (tip’aret), whose synonym is kabod or “glory”):
You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. (Ex. 28:2; cf. v. 40, NASB)
His holy city is the perfection of beauty, and God shines forth from its beauty:
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. (Ps. 50:2)
So how do I come to know God better?
The attribute of beauty is communicable—he shares it with us. God does not hide what he is behind an impervious wall. He shares his beauty with his people. And as we saw, God’s glory and light are related to his beauty. Now he shines his beauty on us through his light and glory.
The verb shine is related to light, and it is wonderful to think God’s beauty comes through and with his light shining on us.
Here is the blessing that is pronounced on all of God’s people:
24 The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. (Num. 6:24-26)
Psalm 45 is about preserving the memory of the king, who is ultimately King Jesus.
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention; forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty [yopi]; honor him, for he is your Lord. (Ps. 45:10-11)
Jesus calls us to be willing to leave everything, even family, if necessary, to follow him (Matt. 10:36, 16:24, 19:21). Let Jesus be enthralled by and develop your beauty, and if you do not believe you are beautiful, then let his face shine on you and make you so.
Next, this Psalm repeats God’s approval of his people by shining his face on them, reflecting his beauty:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us. (Ps. 67:1)
In Hebrew, the word glory is chabod (pronounced kha-BODE), and fundamentally means “weight.” It is sometimes tangible, and it is used here. As noted, beauty and glory are closely related. We are now called to rise up, but only because God’s glory has risen on us first:
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. (Is. 60:1)
The same is true of the next verse. God’s glory and light and beauty will be so powerful that we won’t need the sun and moon. It is not a physical beauty, but a heavenly one, a gift from the Father.
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. (Is. 60:19)
Finally, the culmination of beauty is on the Messiah, King Jesus. God’s glory is displayed on the face of Christ, and it then shines in our heart. We can know Christ.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
In all of those verses. God shines his glory and light on you. They flow from his attribute of beauty. He calls you beautiful.
Now rise and shine his beauty—your God-given beauty—on your neighbor!
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN “DO I REALLY KNOW GOD?” SERIES