SPECIAL TOPIC: ANTHROPOMORPHIC LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE DEITY

I. This type of language (i.e., deity described in human terms) is very common in the OT (some examples)

A. Physical body parts

1. eyes – Gen. 1:4,31; 6:8; Exod. 33:17; Num. 14:14; Deut. 11:12; Zech. 4:10

 2. hands – Exod. 15:17; Num. 11:23; Deut. 2:15

 3. arm – Exod. 6:6; 15:16; Deut. 4:34; 5:15

 4. ears – Num. 11:18; 1 Sam. 8:21; 2 Kgs. 19:16; Ps. 5:1; 10:17; 18:6 

 5. face – Exod. 33:11; Lev. 20:3,5,6; Num. 6:25; 12:8; Deut. 31:17; 32:20; 34:10

 6. finger – Exod. 8:19; 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ps. 8:3

 7. voice – Gen. 3:9,11,13; Exod. 15:26; 19:19; Deut. 26:17; 27:10

 8. feet – Exod. 24:10; Ezek. 43:7

 9. human form – Exod. 24:9-11; Psalm 47; Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 1:26

 10. the angel of the Lord – Gen. 16:7-13; 22:11-15; 31:11,13; 48:15-16; Exod. 3:4,13-21; 14:19; Jdgs. 2:1; 6:22-23; 13:3-22

B. Physical actions (see examples)

1. speaking as the mechanism of creation – Gen. 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26

2. walking (i.e., sound of) – Gen. 3:8; Lev.26:12; Deut. 23:14; Hab. 23:14

3. closing the door of Noah's ark – Gen. 7:16

4. smelling sacrifices – Gen. 8:21; Lev. 26:31; Amos 5:21

5. coming down – Gen. 11:5; 18:21; Exod. 3:8; 19:11,18,20

6. burying Moses – Deut. 34:6

C. Human emotions (some examples)

1. regret/repent – Gen. 6:6,7; Exod. 32:14; Jdgs. 2:18; 1 Sam. 15:29,35; Amos 7:3,6

 2. anger – Exod. 4:14; 15:7; Num. 11:10; 12:9; 22:22; 25:3,4; 32:10,13,14; Deut. 6:15; 7:4; 29:20

 3. jealousy – Exod. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:16,21; Josh. 24:19

 4. loathe/abhor – Lev. 20:23; 26:30; Deut. 32:19

D. Family terms (some examples)

 1. Father

 a. of Israel – Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; Isa. 1:2; 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1

 b. of the king – 2 Sam. 7:11-16; Ps. 2:7

 c. metaphors of fatherly action – Deut. 1:31; 8:5; 32:6-14; Ps. 27:10; Pro. 3:12; Jer. 3:4,22; 31:20; Hosea 11:1-4; Mal. 3:17

 2. Parent – Hosea 11:1-4

 3. Mother – Isa. 49:15; 66:9-13 (analogy to nursing mother)

 4. Young faithful lover – Hosea 1-3

 

II. Reasons for the use of this type of language

A. It is a necessity for God to reveal Himself to human beings.  There is no other vocabulary than fallen, worldly words. The very pervasive concept of God as male is one example an anthropomorphism because God is spirit!

B. God takes the most meaningful aspects of human life and uses them to reveal Himself to fallen humanity (father, mother, parent, lover).

C. Though necessary at times (i.e., Gen. 3:8), God does not want to be limited to any physical form (cf. Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5)

D. The ultimate anthropomorphism is the incarnation of Jesus!  God became physical, touchable (cf. I John 1:1-3).  The message of God became the Word of God (cf. John 1:1-18).

 

III.  For a good brief discussion, see G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, chapter 10, "Anthropomorphism," in The International Standard Bible     Encyclopaedia, pp. 152-154

 

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