When Theology and Philosophy Align

Perfect Being Theology (PBT) is the philosophical position that seeks to define God as "a being greater than that which can be conceived", "The greatest conceivable being", or "A maximally great being". In Anselm's Proslogion Anselm constructs and a priori argument for God's existence. I won't look into the worth of that argument in this post. What I am curious to examine is where this belief comes from with in Christian Theology. Paul Helm has developed a fascinating interpretation of Hebrews 6:13-14 in which he shows that something like PBT is operative in the biblical writers. Hebrews 6 quotes the book of Genesis, so it would seem that the roots of this thinking is very old. Here is the full passage of Hebrews 6:13-14:

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 
This passage is pregnant with meaning for information about God's nature. When people took an oath they had to swear by someone greater than themselves. In essence Hebrews is saying that God could not swear by anyone else, because there is no one and nothing in class above God. So, the Lord swears by himself in his promise to Abraham.

So, an argument can be developed. As follows,


  1. A Being that cannot swear by another is the greatest being.
  2. YHWH cannot swear by abother.
  3. YHWH is the greatest being.
Helm gives a more detailed argument:


Necessarily, anyone who swears an oath, swears by someone greater than themselves.Necessarily, had there been a greater than God, then God would have sworn by that greater.He swore by himselfTherefore, there is none greater than GodTherefore, God is the greatest being 
So, when speaking of God we should seek to predicate only things that would be worthy of a great being. An interesting fact about this is that Aquinas comes from a different angle in developing his doctrine of God. However, Aquinas has many of the same attributes that Anselm thought would be true of God. So there is commonality even thought there is a difference of method.

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