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Friday
Jul042008

Theological Term of the Week

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anthropomorphism
Narrowly, the attribution of human form to God. More broadly, a description of God using human categories; language that speaks of God in human terms, ascribing human features and qualities to him. 

  • An example of anthropomorphism in the narrower sense from Exodus 7:5:
    The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them. (ESV)
  • An example of anthropomorphism in the broader sense from Genesis 9:
    And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,  I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
  • From A. B. Caneday in Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure, an essay included in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity:
    …God’s Word does not simply contain anthropomorphism as one figure of speech alongside metaphor, simile, synecdoche, and others. Rather, God’s word is intrinsically anthropomorphic, for the Bible is God’s speech to humans in human language. God’s speaking to humans is anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is a description of God’s revelation; anthropomorphism is not a description of our interpretation of Scripture. The fact that God revealed himself anthropomorphically does not warrant us to subscribe to “anthropomorphic interpretation.” We are not to read the Bible anthropomorphically. Rather, we are to recognize that the Bible is anthropomorphic in character. Therefore, I propose the following definition of anthropomorphism, a definition that emerges from the soil of Scripture: Because God formed Adam from the “dust of the earth” and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, making him in his own image and likeness, God makes himself known to his creatures in their likeness, as if he wears both their form and qualities, when in fact they wear his likeness. (pages 160-161)
  • From D. A. Carson, in a lecture on Openness of God Theology:
    It turns out that almost everything we say about God…is in terms of categories that we’re familiar with. …We don’t have access to “infinite talk”; we have access to human talk. And through human talk we are talking about the infinite, the holy. So much of what scripture says in that regard, about God’s knowing, seeing, acting—whether it’s riding upon the wings of the dawn, or the winds of the storm, or putting a muzzle on the leviathan …—or speaking and the world was formed, is, in some sense, metaphorical language. That is to say, it’s a figure of speech whereby we speak of one thing in terms which are seen to be suggestive of another. And “the other,” here, is us. It’s human speaking….

    …We know that the language has to be metaphorical because the Bible keeps stressing that God is other. He is not a human being; he is not a man. He is not created; he is not dependent. He is the God of aseity. He is transcendent. He was there before we were. He speaks and brings all things into existence. He is Spirit. He doesn’t have a body. We are forced to recognize that this is the way we must think about God.

    So to come at this question, then, of anthropomorphism….and uphold the view that by refusing to see them as anthropomorphisms we are interpreting Scripture more simply and directly is, I would want to argue, not an appeal to a simpler biblicism, but to a massive and even grotesque reductionism.
Learn more:
  1. CARM: Anthropomorphism: God Relates to Us in Human Terms
  2. Theopedia: Anthropomorphism
  3. Steve Hays: Neotheism and anthropomorphism (Added June, 2010)

Related term (Added June, 2010):

This week’s theological term was suggested by David Kjos of The Thirsty Theologian.
 
Have you come across a theological term that you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.
 
Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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Reader Comments (2)

See, this is how I get others to do my work for me.

July 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kjos

Ha!

July 4, 2008 | Registered Commenterrebecca

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