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Definition

The glory of God is the magnificence, worth, loveliness, and grandeur of his many perfections, which he displays in his creative and redemptive acts in order to make his glory known to those in his presence.

Summary

The glory of God is interwoven throughout the biblical story and forms the origin, content, and goal of the entire cosmic narrative. God’s glory is the magnificence, worth, loveliness, and grandeur of his many perfections. God communicates his glory through his creation, image-bearers, providence, and redemptive acts. God’s people respond by glorifying him. God receives glory and, through uniting his people to Christ, shares his glory with them. And all of this contributes to his glory, as God in his manifold perfections is exhibited, known, rejoiced in, and prized.

The glory of God is a magnificent biblical theme. It is addressed in every major biblical section, related to every major biblical doctrine, and interwoven throughout the biblical story. It is so central to Scripture that the story of the Bible is in some sense the drama of God’s glory.

The Centrality of Glory

Many key turning points in the biblical story stress God’s glory and attest to its varied manifestations. God’s glory is revealed through creation (Gen. 1; Ps. 19:1–2; Rom. 1:18–25); is identified with humans’s creation in the image of God, crowned with glory (Gen. 1–2; Ps. 8:3–5; 1 Cor. 11:7); is linked to the exodus (Exod. 3; 13:31; 16:10; 24:9–18; 34:29), to fire/ shining/bright light (Exod. 3; 13:31; 16:10; 24:9–18; 34:29; Lev. 9:23; Isa. 60:1–3; 60:19; Ezek. 1:28; 10:4; 43:2; Luke 2:9; 2 Cor. 3:7; 4:4–6; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 18:1; 21:11, 23), to a cloud (Exod. 16:7, 10; 24:16; 40:34; Lev. 9:6, 23; Num. 14:21; 16:19, 42; 20:6; Deut. 5:22–24; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chron. 5:14; Luke 9:26–36; Acts 1:8–11), and to the Sabbath (Exod. 19, 24); is revealed to Moses (Exod. 33:18–23); fills the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34; cf. Lev. 9:6, 23; Num. 14:21; 16:19, 42; 20:6); fills the earth (Num. 14:20–23; Ps. 19:1–2; Isa. 6:3); fills the temple (1 Kings 8:11); is above the heavens (Ps. 8:1; 113:4); is revealed in visions to Isaiah (Isa. 6:1–5) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:28; 3:12, 23; 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:22); and is identified with God’s people, Israel (Isa. 40:5; 43:6–7; 60:1).

Glory is also identified with Christ. It is linked to his incarnation (John 1:1–18; Mark 9:2; Heb. 1:3), birth narratives (Luke 2:9, 14, 32), miracles (John 2:11; 11:38–44), transfiguration (Matt. 17:1–13; Mark 9:2–13; Luke 9:28–36; 2 Pet. 1:16–21), suffering and crucifixion (John 7:39; 12:16, 23–28; 13:31–32; 17:1–5; 21:19; Luke 24:26; Rom. 3:25–26; 1 Pet. 1:10–11), resurrection/exaltation (Acts 3:13–15; Rom. 6:4; Phil. 2:5–11; Heb. 2:5–9; 1 Pet. 1:21; Rev. 5:12–13; cf. Acts 2:32–33; 3:13; 1 Tim. 3:16), ascension (Acts 1; 1 Tim. 3:16), session/reign (Stephen’s vision in Acts 7:55–56; Mark 10:37), and coming/victory/judgment (Matt. 16:27; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 10:37; 13:26; Luke 9:26; 21:27; Rom. 8:21; Titus 2:13; 2 Thess. 1:6–9).

Further, glory is identified with the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 4:14; cf. John 16:14; Eph. 1:13–14); is identified with the church (Eph. 1:22–23; 3:20–21; 5:22–29); and is manifested in the new creation (Isa. 66; Rom. 8:18–27; Rev. 21–22). (For more, see Christopher W. Morgan, “Toward a Theology of the Glory of God,” in The Glory of God, 153–56.)

The Meaning of Glory

With such wide-ranging manifestations, glory is virtually impossible to define. In a sense, God’s glory is the magnificence, worth, loveliness, and grandeur of his many perfections. More often, glory communicates God’s special presence, as in the pillars of glory and of fire (Exod. 13:21–22) or the glory that filled the tabernacle (40:34–38).

The primary Hebrew term for glory is kabod. This word stems from a root that means “weight” or “heaviness.” Depending on its form, it could have the sense of “honorable,” “dignified,” “exalted,” or “revered.” C. John Collins explains that it became a “technical term for God’s manifest presence.” It is similar in many respects to the concept of God’s name in the Old Testament (see “kabod” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis).

The primary Greek term for glory is doxa. According to Sverre Aalen, doxa in secular Greek referred to an “opinion,” “conjecture,” “repute,” “praise,” or “fame.” He maintains that the concepts were transformed by the Septuagint. Aalen also maintains that doxa translated kabod and took on the same meaning, referring to God’s manifestation of his person, presence, and/or works, especially his power, judgment, and salvation (see the entry on “doxa” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology).

It is also helpful to notice that the glory of God is sometimes used in the Bible as an adjective, sometimes a noun, and sometimes a verb. God is glorious (adjective), reveals his glory (noun), and is to be glorified (verb).

Further, God’s glory is intrinsic and extrinsic. God’s intrinsic glory refers to the inherent glory that belongs to him alone as God, independent of his works. He is glorious in his perfections; he is magnificent; he is beautiful. God’s extrinsic glory is his intrinsic glory partially communicated in his works of creation, providence, redemption, and consummation.

Even more particularly, the triune God who is glorious displays his glory, largely through his creation, image-bearers, providence, and redemptive acts. God’s people respond by glorifying him. God receives glory and, through uniting his people to Christ, shares his glory with them—all to his glory.

The Senses of Glory

Clearly, then, the Bible uses glory in multiple senses.

First, glory is used as a designation for God himself. For example, Peter refers to God the Father as the “Majestic Glory” (2 Pet. 1:17). This rare phrase seems to be a Hebrew approach to referring to God without stating his name.

Second, glory sometimes refers to an internal characteristic, attribute, or a summary of the attributes of God. This sense would be similar to saying that glory is sometimes used as an adjective. God is intrinsically glorious in the sense of fullness, sufficiency, majesty, beauty, and splendor. Examples of this sense are used throughout Scripture. The Psalms refers to God as the “King of glory” (24:7–10) as well as the “God of glory” (29:3). Stephen refers to the “God of glory” (Acts 7:2), and the apostle Paul prays to the “Father of glory” (Eph. 1:17). James makes reference to Jesus as the “Lord of glory” or the “glorious Lord,” depending on how one renders the Greek. Either way, the point is the same: like the Father, Jesus is characterized by glory. The Spirit, also, is identified with glory (1 Pet. 4:14; cf. John 16:14; Eph. 1:13–14), especially through the language of presence, indwelling, and temple (John 14–16; Rom. 8:9–11; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19–20; 14:24–25; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:11–22; 5:18; 1 Thess. 4:8).

Third, Scripture speaks of glory as God’s presence. This understanding of glory is unmistakable in the events surrounding the exodus. The glory cloud (Exod. 13–14; 16:7; 20; 24; cf. Rev. 15:8), the manifestations to Moses (Exod. 3–4; 32–34), and God’s presence in the tabernacle (Exod. 29:43; 40:34–38) all highlight God’s covenant presence. This connotation of God’s glory also emerges in passages related to the ark of the covenant (1 Samuel 4–5), the temple (1 Kings 8:10–11; 2 Chron 5–7), the eschatological temple in Ezekiel (43:1–5), the person of Christ (John 1:1–18; Col. 1–2; Heb 1), the Holy Spirit (John 14–16), and heaven itself (Rev. 21–22).

Fourth, the Bible often depicts glory as the display of God’s attributes, perfections, or person. John’s Gospel speaks of glory in this way, as Jesus performs “signs” that demonstrate his glory (2:11). The Word uses various terms for this notion, but the idea is clear: God glorifies himself in displaying himself. As God puts his works on display, he glorifies himself. His mercy, grace, justice, and wrath are all revealed through salvation and judgment (cf. Rom. 9:20–23; Eph. 2:4–10).

A fifth sense or concept is of glory as the ultimate goal of the display of God’s attributes, perfections, or person. Exodus and Ezekiel are abounding with passages that unfold God’s actions for the sake of his name, that people will know he is the Lord. Jesus informs that Lazarus’s death and subsequent resurrection had an ultimate purpose: it was for the glory of God (John 11:4; cf. 14:13). Peter’s death also shared this purpose (John 21:19). Paul points out that God chooses, adopts, redeems, and seals believers “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). That is, in saving a people for himself, God displays his grace, and in displaying his grace he brings glory to himself. Further, the whole Trinitarian plan of redemption displays this goal, as seen in the mutual glorification of each person of the Trinity. The glorious Father sends the glorious Son, who voluntarily humbles himself and glorifies the Father through his incarnation, obedient life, and substitutionary death (Phil. 2:5–11; cf. John 6, 10, 17). In response the Father glorifies the Son, resurrecting him from the dead and exalting him to the highest place (Acts 3:13–15; Rom. 6:4; Phil. 2:9–11). The Father sends the glorious Spirit, who glorifies the Son (John 16:14), which all contributes to the glory of the Father (Phil. 2:11).

Sixth, glory sometimes points to heaven, the heavenly, or the eschatological consummation of the full experience of the presence of God. Hebrews 2:10 speaks of “bringing many sons to glory,” and Philippians 4:19 presents the covenant promise, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (cf. Eph. 3:16). The people of God will ultimately receive glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life, which can all be used somewhat synonymously (Rom. 2:7). Such glory was prepared for God’s people in eternity (Rom. 9:23). Jesus is also said to be “taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16), which could be understood as “to heaven,” as “gloriously,” or as a combination of the two. The bodies of believers, too, will be raised “in glory” (1 Cor. 15:43), and faithful elders will receive an unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

Seventh, giving glory to God also may refer to an appropriate response to God in the form of worship, exaltation, or exultation. Psalm 29:2 urges, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” At Jesus’ birth, after God’s glory shines (Luke 2:9), the heavenly host resounds with “glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14), and the shepherds are “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20). Further, the Bible is filled with doxologies, such as Romans 16:27, that accentuate our need to give glory to God: “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Christ Jesus” (cf. Rom. 11:36; Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:20–21; Phil. 4:20; 2 Tim. 4:18; Jude 24–25; Rev. 1:5–6). Some doxologies are directed toward Christ (2 Pet. 3:18; cf. Heb. 13:21). Similarly, other passages instruct God’s people to glory in Christ (2 Cor. 10:17), in his cross (Gal. 6:14), and in suffering by virtue of their union with Christ (2 Cor. 11–12). Glorifying God is an expected and fitting response of God’s people (Matt. 5:13–16; 15:31; Mark 2:12; Luke 4:15; John 15:8). Christians are even commanded to glorify God in their bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), in their food and drink choices along with their corresponding relationships (1 Cor. 10:31), and in the proper exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Pet. 4:11). Romans 14–15 underlines the importance of the church glorifying God with a unified voice and points to the truth that as the church displays unity to the glory of God (15:6–7), the Gentiles will glorify God (15:8–9; cf. Rev 4–5).

So, the triune God who is glorious joyfully and gracious communicates his glory, largely through his creation, image-bearers, providence, and redemptive acts. God’s people respond by glorifying him. God receives glory and, through uniting his people to Christ, shares his glory with them. And all of this contributes to his glory, as God in his manifold perfections is exhibited, known, rejoiced in, and prized.