by Mike Benson
It is a $100 word. Anthropomorphism. It is difficult to enunciate; it is even more challenging to understand.
The word is a combination of the Greek anothropos, meaning human and morphe, meaning form. Anthropomorphic language represents God having human form or characteristics.
For instance, the Bible says:
- God has feet. – “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool…” (Psalm 99:5). If he possesses a footstool, then obviously he has feet, right?
- God has a heart. – “And I will give you shepherds according to My heart…”(Jeremiah 3:5; cf. 1 Samuel 13:14; Genesis 6:6; 8:21).
- God has arms. – “Ah, lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm…” (Jeremiah 32:17; cf. Exodus 15:16; Deuteronomy 11:2; Psalm 89:10; Isaish 51:9; 62:8).
- God has hands. – “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” (1 Peter 5:6; cf. Exodus 7:5; Psalm 8:6 Jn. 10:28; Acts 4:28, 30).
- God has fingers. – “He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18; cf. Psalm 8:3; Luke 11:20).
- God has a face. – “Their angels do always see the face of My Father…” (Matthew 18:10; cf. Numbers 6:24; Psalm 9:3; 17:2; 27:8; 31:20).
- God has a mouth. – “I speak with him (Moses) face to face…” (Numbers 12:8; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Job 11:5; Psalm 33:6; Matthew 4:4).
- God has a nose. – “And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together…” (Exodus 15:8; cf. Job 4:9; Genesis 8:21).
- God has ears. – “His ears are open to their prayers…”(1 Peter 3:12; cf. Psalm 71:2; 10:17; 31:2; 102:1,2).
- God has eyes. – “His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men” (Psalm 11:4; cf. 34:15; 139:12; Proverbs 5:21; 2 Chrononicles 16:9; Zechariah 2:8; 1 Peter 3:12).
Do these passages tell us that God possesses physical features? No. Jesus said, “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), and as such, he is not a partaker of flesh and blood as we are.
Here are two helpful things to remember whenever you come across anthropomorphic language in your study of the Scriptures:
- 1. Anthropomorphic language typically informs readers of something God has done or is doing.
- 2. Anthropomorphic language speaks of God as though he were a man in order to help us, on some limited level, to comprehend deity (cf. Psalm 50:21; Isaiah 55:9).
Bernard Ramm, in his book, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, observes:
“Holy Scripture is the truth of God accommodated to the human mind so that the human mind can assimilate it. Through such accommodation the truth of God can get through to man and be a meaningful revelation. Stated another way, revelation must have an anthropomorphic character.”
Contemporary writer R.B. Thieme says similarly:
“For the sake of clarity…when describing the character and function of infinite God, the Bible often resorts to language of accommodation. In other words, to make certain that His thoughts, policies, decisions, and actions are lucidly explained, God takes into account our inherent limitations and basic ignorance. He graciously describes Himself as having human feelings, human passions, human thoughts, human anatomy-even human sins-in order to communicate things to us for which otherwise we would have no frame of reference.”