What Is The “Negative Theology?”

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Have you heard of the “Negative Theology?” If not, what is it and is it biblical?

Lots of Negatives

If you looked at the world today, you’d probably say that there is a lot of skepticism, cynicism, and yes, negativism. In other words, it’s hard to find positives in this world and find people who are positive about the present circumstances in which they live. It’s a world that’s in trouble because our world is decaying and dying as a result of sin. Sin has consequences, and they are almost all negative, but even in negative things, good can come from it. Just look at the cross to see how such a great evil can bring about so much good. Joseph is another example. He was treated unfairly, imprisoned unjustly, and left, it would seem, abandoned by God, but God had a plan to use the evil done to Joseph to save millions of lives (Gen 50:20), just as Jesus’ being crucified brought eternal life to billions who have trusted in Him, so some things that are negative bring positive results. Even the positive on a battery terminal uses the negative for much good, so we can’t say all things that are negative bring bad results. For the most part, yes, but not in every case, so what is this negative theology about? Is it all bad?

Negative Theology

Negative theology is sometimes called Apophatic theory which is basically an attempt to describe what God is like by discovering what God is not like. For example, we know that God cannot like as humans do, who are perpetual liars (I include myself) (Rom 3:4), but I am not saying that all people are constant liars. That’s certainly not true, but we can describe God by a negative theology that proves God cannot, and therefore, will not ever lie. Another example is that God is Spirit and not composed of flesh and blood. Yes, Jesus became Man and entered into human flesh, but He is still God and God is a Spirit and not visible to our eyes (John 4:24). Spirit is like the wind. We can see the effects, but we can’t really see the wind. Jesus told Nicodemus, who had come to Him at night, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Since we too will become spirit-born after we enter the kingdom, we too shall have a spirit body but also one of flesh, as Jesus had both after His resurrection.

What God is Like and Not

We know that God cannot lie and that God is Spirit, but we also know that God cannot sin because He is too holy, just, and pure. He can’t even look at sin (Hab 1:13), even though He sees all that takes place. Perhaps this is why 3 hours of darkness overshadowed the cross because the Father had withdrawn and since God is light, where God is not at, there is no light. God can look at sin, but the point is, God doesn’t look favorably (of course) at sin but is offended by it and all who sin. That would include you and me, however, God’s made a way possible to have our sins removed. Jesus took the sins of humanity upon Himself because He was spotless, perfect, holy, and without sin, so God being without sin is another negative theology about what God is not like. It’s easiest for me to look in the mirror and see what God is not like, and yes, there are lots of negatives in the mirror to which I can say, “God’s not like me” (thankfully). Where we humans get in trouble is to remake or refashion God as a god in our own image, but sadly, this god does not exist. The person who says that God is love and will not send anyone to hell doesn’t really understand the holiness of God. Yes, God is love, but God will not tolerate sin, so we must hear the bad news of God’s wrath upon sinners before the good news means anything. To tell someone “God loves you” without telling them that the wrath of God abides on all who reject Jesus (John 3:36b) is to have another god…and speaks of a god that does not exist. That is most certainly negative and the implications of having another god (and surely the wrong God) are more than I can even describe (Rev 20:12-15; 21:8).

God is Light

The fact that God is light should tell us that where there is darkness, there is no God, so that may be why Jesus describes hell as the “outer darkness” (Matt 22:13). Jesus said that “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12), and God will “throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:50), and they are like “wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 1:13), and “it is reserved for “godless men” (Jude 1:14). Most of the world “have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness” (Psalm 82:5a). This is the eternity of those “who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness” (Prov 2:13). Since we are commanded to honor our father and our mother, “If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness” (Prov 20:20), so we know that if someone is breaking God’s commandments, they are not in the light but actually in darkness, no matter what they say.


If you have been brought to a time of repentance and then trusted in Christ, there is nothing negative about your future. It is all so amazing that I can only refer to the Book of Revelation, particularly chapters 21 and 22. It’s fine to have me describe all the positives, but we can’t really know at this time that great glory of God that will be revealed to us someday (Rom 8:18). It’s a matter of what we think, as the Proverbs say, as a person thinks, so they are (Prov 23:7), because we tend to become what we think but it’s not what we think but what God’s Word says, so we are not what we think we are…..what we think, we are! It should be positive for Christians since our future is so glorious, human words can’t describe it, so there is no negative theory but a positive, reaffirmation from the Word of God and that is directly from Jesus, which doesn’t get any better, and He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-26)? If you believe this there is nothing negative about that at all…in fact, it’s all positive and why they call it the good news.

Here is something else that might interest you: What is the Importance of Biblical Doctrine?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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