Orthodox Christianity believes the Bible is God’s self-revelation of who he is and what he desires for humanity. I’m continuing my blog series on the nature of Scripture. My goal in this blog is to inform readers that Scripture is analogical, anthropomorphic, & accommodating. I think it is necessary to flesh out what Scripture is and what it means for our faith. A robust and thoughtful articulation of what Scripture actually is will help Christians better articulate the Gospel message found within the passages of the Bible.
- Scripture is analogical in the sense that there is a similarity between the word and referent when it describes something. It’s not the actual object being described. An example of this is saying the LORD is my Rock. God is not an actual rock…or a shepherd…or a mighty fortress. The Bible describes God as a king. This means that God is like other kings but he is not identically like those kings. We understand this by comparison. There are real points of contact. The things we say are not identical to God but not the opposite of God. To state some truth about God neither means I’ve said everything true about God nor what I’ve said is completely false. To say God is like a Shepherd does not means he’s not a shepherd because he’s not like them in every way. Partial truth is still truth. Language will always be comparative. When Scripture describes God as being certain things, it is creating a real-world analogy to better help the reader understand and comprehend the character, existence, and will of God. Michael Horton said:
“that talk about God was analogical, even in Scripture, where it is not only talk about God, but talk from God. In every analogy (warrior, king, father, good, angry, etc.) God is more unlike than like the human analogue. Does that leave us drowning in relativism? How can we know that God really is good if not even Scripture gives us access to God’s inner being? The answer given by the Reformed has been that these analogies (hence, the ‘analogical’ mode of God’s self-revelation) are selected by God himself as sufficient approximations for weak creatures to understand for their salvation.”
- Scripture is anthropomorphic when it ascribes a human or animal attribute (physical & psychological) to God. God does not have fingers (Exo. 31:18), feathers (Psa. 17:8), or eyes (Num. 12:8).
A.A. Hodge described an Anthropomorphism (anthropos, man; morphe, form) as “a phrase employed to designate any view of God’s nature which conceives of him as possessing or exercising any attributes common to him with mankind.”
- Anthropomorphisms come in two types or categories. How far we press the Anthropomorphic language is a hard issue to address. I’m not sure I have reached an end on that topic just yet.
Face: “Their angels do always behold the face of my Father” (Matt. 18:10); also Psalm 9:3; 17:2; 31:20 Eyes: “His eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men” (Ps. 11:4); also 2 Chr. 16:9; Zech. 2:8 Ears: “Incline thine ear unto me and save me” (Ps. 71:2); also Psalm 10:17; 31:2 Nostrils: “With the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together” (Ex. 15:8); also Job 4:9 Mouth (Lips and Tongue): “With him (Moses) will I speak mouth to mouth” (Num 12:8); also Deut. 8:3; Job 11:5 Voice: “Jehovah shall cause the glory of His voice to be heard” (Isa. 30:30) Arms: “Hast thou an arm like God” (Ex. 15:16); also Deut. 11:2; Isa. 51:9; 62:8 Hand: “Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28); also Ps. 8:6; Acts 4:28; Acts 4:30 Finger: “Two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18); also Ps. 8:3; Lk. 11:20 Heart: “A man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14); also Gen. 6:6; 8:21
Rejoicing: “The Lord shall rejoice in his works” (Ps. 104:31); also Isa. 62:5; Jer. 32:41 Sorrow and Grief: “It grieved him at his heart (Gen. 6:6); also Judges 10:16; Ps. 78:40; Isa. 63:10 Love: “For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:12) Repentance: “It repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth” (Gen. 6:6); Ex. 32:12,14; 2 Sam.24:16; Ps. 106:45 Anger, Hatred and Vengeance: “God is jealous and Jehovah revengeth; the Lord revengeth and is furious: the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries and he reserveth wrath for his enemies” (Nah. 1:2); also Ex. 15:7; Ps. 5:5; Isa. 1:14 Comfort: “And I will be comforted” (Ezek. 5:13); also Isa. 57:6 Jealousy: “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5); also Num 25:11; Deut. 32:16 Zeal: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isa. 9:7) Displeasure: “I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction” (Zech. 1:15) Pity: “Then will Jehovah…pity his people” (Joel 2:18)
- Lastly, Scripture is accommodating when it speaks about God. Describing a transcendent being to finite creatures requires using the language, culture, & capacity that the creature can understand. Divine Accomodation is a hermeneutic concept found within Calvin and many other Protestant theologians.
R. Scott Clark said “In the nature of divine-human relations, God must accommodate himself to his creatures. He has natural, intuitive knowledge & free knowledge & all omniscient. He couldn’t begin to communicate that to us, as it really is, without destroying us, any more than a parent can explain the mysteries of procreation or divorce to a 3 year old without destroying him.”
Bernard Ramm believed that “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.”
R.B. Thieme stated that “For the sake of clarity, therefore, 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.”
Once the reader understands that Scripture is analogical, anthropomorphic, & accommodating, he or she will better be able to interpet and apply passages to his or her life, articulate the Gospel utilizing Scripture faithfully, and understand and seek after God in deeper and more meaningful ways.