The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of the natural numbers. For any such formal system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.
Employing a diagonal argument, Gödel's incompleteness theorems were the first of several closely related theorems on the limitations of formal systems. They were followed by Tarski's undefinability theorem on the formal undefinability of truth, Church's proof that Hilbert's Entscheidungsproblem is unsolvable, and Turing's theorem that there is no algorithm to solve the halting problem.
The incompleteness theorems apply to formal systems that are of sufficient complexity to express the basic arithmetic of the natural numbers and which are consistent, and effectively axiomatized, these concepts being detailed below. Particularly in the context of first-order logic, formal systems are also called formal theories. In general, a formal system is a deductive apparatus that consists of a particular set of axioms along with rules of symbolic manipulation (or rules of inference) that allow for the derivation of new theorems from the axioms. One example of such a system is first-order Peano arithmetic, a system in which all variables are intended to denote natural numbers. In other systems, such as set theory, only some sentences of the formal system express statements about the natural numbers. The incompleteness theorems are about formal provability within these systems, rather than about "provability" in an informal sense.
There are several properties that a formal system may have, including completeness, consistency, and the existence of an effective axiomatization. The incompleteness theorems show that systems which contain a sufficient amount of arithmetic cannot possess all three of these properties.
A formal system is said to be effectively axiomatized (also called effectively generated) if its set of theorems is a recursively enumerable set (Franzén 2004, p. 112).