The word anthropomorphism comes from the Greek words anthropos (man) and morphe (form). In theology, the term anthropomorphism includes the idea of referring to God by human characteristics. Though God is Spirit, Scripture sometimes speaks of Him in human terms to describe some of His actions in ways humans can understand.
How does the Bible use anthropomorphism to talk about God?
For example, God is said to have a "face." He sets His face against evil (Leviticus 20:6). Numbers 6:25 refers to God making His face shine upon us.
God is also referred to as having "hands" on many occasions. In Exodus 7:5 God says, "I stretch out my hand against Egypt." In Isaiah 23:11, "He has stretched out his hand over the sea."
The psalmist referred to God having arms: "you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm" (Psalm 89:10b). Deuteronomy 4:34 and 5:15, as well as other passages, mention God's "outstretched arm."
Scripture also refers to God's "eyes." We read that, "The eyes of the Lord" are on the righteous (Psalm 34:15). And God keeps his eyes on the land (Deuteronomy 11:12).
In prayer, those in Scripture sometimes refer to God's ears. For example, 2 Kings 19:16 says, "Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear." Nehemiah 1:6 includes, "let your ear be attentive."
Some passages even refer to God's feet. For example, Isaiah 66:1 says, "Thus says the LORD:'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool …'"
In addition to physical attributes, God is often referred to as having various emotions that are also considered anthropomorphisms. Some of these include God's sorrow (Genesis 6:6), His jealousy (Exodus 20:5), His grief (Isaiah 54:6), and His anger (Psalm 7:11).
Many of these references are used to help readers understand a concept God was attempting to convey. However, it is clear God does not have a physical body like a human. Instead, Jesus Christ came to earth as God in human form (John 1:1) in order to both identify with humanity and to die as a sacrifice for the sins of people on their behalf.
While anthropomorphism can serve in helpful ways to better understand God's attributes, it is important not to interpret these human characteristics to mean God the Father exists in human form. As Isaiah 55:8-9 notes, "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"
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