The history of Christian God's omni hat-trick

I’m remembering back to my days spent at a lutheran college and thought about the ideas that the Christian God was omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. I am only vaguely remembering that this was a much later concept than the bible but just really stuck as a construct that God has all three of these abilities. What is the history of this?

Omnipotent=all powerful. Anything he wants to do is without effort…he merely speaks, and Creation springs forth.

Omnipresent= all over the place. There isn’t a spot in the entire Cosmos beyond His reach.

Omniscient= all knowing. two hydrogen atoms don’t bump into each other within the endless void between galaxies without Him knowing about it.

To these three we may also add Transcendent…He can exist both within AND beyond the physical limitations of this universe…the speed of light and the uncertainty principle are no barriers to Him.

Uh, since god is a man made construct you can make omni - whatever you want.

Jeez. Grow up.

Sigh. Can’t anyone answer a question anymore? I’ll repeat StPauler’s questions in words of one syllable so everyone will understand:

“When did folks start to think God is like that?”

Jeez. Wake up.

It is clear that you are new, so I will tell you as gently as possible: GQ is no place for that kind of response. If you wish, you can go to the pit and possibly it is appropriate in great debates (although the preferance there is for a fact-based discussion and not “grow up”)

While I am, unfortunately, unable to answer the OP as such, can I just point out that if an entity possesses any one of these attributes, the other two are necessary corollaries. Therefore, with regard to the OP, if we can dig up info on when any one of these attributes first became attached to the ‘official’ or canonical definition of God then the other two attributes follow as a matter of course.

Whether God exists or not is a) a question for Great Debates, not General Questions and b) wholly irrelevant to the historical question asked by the Original Poster.

Knock it off.

It’s interesting to start with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept of ‘God’ as these religions seemed to of originated these ideas and still have them today.

When this god was originally worshipped he most probably was given an almost entirely different nature to the one he has today. The Bible says that God started with Abraham who brought him from the Babylonian city of Ur (whose remains still stand in modern day Iraq) to Caan (Palestine/Israel). Most legends have their basis in fact and it is not unreasonable to suggest that Abraham was a real person or perhaps a group of people who brought the cult of what may of been the city god of Ur or perhaps an even more minor deity (IIRC in Babylonia even individual households sometimes had their own patron god).

Proto -Judaism was by no means a monotheisitic religion (this can still be seen in the older parts of the bible) and orginally the Jewish God was just the local patron God who was not necessarily more powerful than the gods of the surrounding tribes who the early Jews believed were just as real as their own god. What you then see is that these other gods are started to be seen as malevolent beings by the early Jews while their own God takes on a softer character, eventually these other gods are seen as devils and demons and the Jewish God becomes more powerful.

Eventually the empathise is shifted entirely on the to the God of what by then was the national cult and apart from the earlier rival gods who were assigned the status of demons, other religions that the Jews come into contact with are given no value.

It’s very difficult to ascertain exactly. This represents my best guess without specific research. And please note, I am not talking about changes in the nature of God, but about changes in man’s understanding of the nature of God, which has certainly evolved.

Omniscience: A casual reading of the oldest biblical texts (say before 1000 BC) imply that God doesn’t know what’s going on – He asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” for instance. On the other hand, it can easily be argued that those questions are rhetorical, in each case forcing the human to come to terms with and acknowledge what he/she has done. But certainly the later prophets, at least (after 500 BC) say that God knows everything that’s happening.

Even in the early stories, God is able to predict pregnancies before they start, 400 years of slavery, etc. It’s not clear where the line is drawn about “ominscient” vs “almost omniscient.”

Omnipotence: I suspect that this is a very early development in the way the Judeo-Christian thinks about God. The earliest stories take sleight of hand like turning-sticks-into-snakes as major miracles. However, it is clear from stories such as the Flood or Plagues on Egypt, that God is viewed as all-powerful and creator. He creates the universe and he can un-create the universe. Ancient Hebrew didn’t have a word for ominpotent, but the concept is clearly there.

Omnipresent: This one, I think, is a fairly late development in the way people thought about God. In the earliest stories, God seems to be present in a specific place, and (by implication) not elsewhere. God lives on a mountain or resides in the Tabernacle atop the Ark or in the Temple on Mt Zion in Jerusalem. At the time of the Babylonian Exile, however (say 580 BC), the Jews had to come to terms with God still being with them in exile, in far-away Babylon. So the notion that God was not confined in space probably arose then.

Sorry, I should have added a note: MC’s comments about proto-Judaism refer to the time before the earliest biblical texts were written down, say 1000 to 1200 BC, depending on who you think wrote them. They certainly seem to reflect an earlier tradition that is in line with MC’s comments.My comments are based on the written texts, where we can pinpoint with some accuracy (although not much precision) when the ideas were put to parchment.

I don’t see this at all. While an omnipotent entity could certainly choose to be omniscient and omnipresent, it could as easily choose not to be. Also, being either omniscient or omnipresent doesn’t guarantee omnipotence.

i was wondering about the other gods in history.

for example, was baal regarded as all powerful or just really really powerful?

was zeus regarded as all powerful?.. from my memories, i don’t think he was.

is this all powerful, all knowing, ever present characteristic isolated to God of Christians, Muslims and Judaism?

I may be wrong, but isn’t there also a 4th “omni” usually ascribed to the Christian god:


If there are only 3 omnis (omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence), evidence of any one does not imply either of the other two as a necessary corrollary.

I disagree with you there. If an entity is omnipotent, then -science and -presence are included within its (unlimited) scope of powers.

If knowledge is power, an entity’s infinite knowledge would give it infinite power as well.

But I agree with the omnipresent bit.

Highly doubtful, considering he spent half his time hiding his indescretions from Hera. If he were truly all-powerful, there would have been no need to transform Io into a cow, as he could have just prevented Hera from harming her.

Zev Steinhardt

It’s also rather difficult to conceive of multiple omniscient/potent/present beings. At least if such a thing were possible, I can’t imagine it turning out like the Greek or Ramon pantheon. Most of the mythology wouldn’t make much sense if they were all-powerful or all-knowing.


Yes I am new.

I understand your point. I had no idea that this board was so well-organized until further reading.

Although, I could dispute your criteria for my “grow up” remark. Since to believe in mythology is intellectually immature and fairy tale in nature. Unless his question was one of history - ooops. It was.

Never mind.

In any, case, mrfoi, welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, and it says much for you that you were able to take Khadaji’s comments so well.

Yes, we tend to run a tight ship here. The place for (almost) unfettered mouthing off is the forum called the BBQ Pit. And, as I say, welcome aboard.

I think all this “omni” business was developed by the Chruch.

You sure you don’t mean Chrysler/Dodge?

Certainly, we can see the development of the theological/philosophical understanding of the "omni"s in Christianity within church writings, however, there are similar discussions within both Judaism and Islam, so pointing to the “Church” as the source would seem to be to set an arbitrary boundary on when people began to explore those concepts.