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FIGURES OF SPEECH IN THE BIBLE (6)
Anthropomorphism & Personification
Victor M. Eskew
A. The Bible says that “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24).
B. Question: “What does a spirit look like?”
1. Does God need air to breathe?
2. Does God need food and water to sustain Himself?
3. Does God have a brain contained within the skull of His head?
4. Does God clothe Himself with a robe and sandals?
C. Yet, the Bible describes God to us in human terms.
1. Some refer to this as personification.
2. Some call it anthropomorphism.
1. The word comes from two Greek terms.
a. Anthropos: man
b. Morph: form
2. “This figure is used of the ascription of human passions, actions, and attributes to God” (Bullinger, 871).
3. There are two other terms that are synonymous with anthropomorphism.
a. Syncatabasis: a going down together with
b. In Latin, it is referred to as Condescensio (Condescension).
B. Examples in the Bible
1. God is said to have a face.
a. Psalm 17:15
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake thy likeness.
b. The “face of God” involves His presence (Matt. 18:10).
…that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of God.
c. The hiding of His face means the withholding of His grace and favor (Ezek. 39:24).
According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions have I done unto them, and hid my face from them.
2. God is said to have eyes (Gen. 6:8).
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
3. God is said to have ears (Ps. 130:2).
Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
4. Others human parts assigned to God.
a. Mouth (Matt. 4:4).
b. Lips (Job 11:5).
c. Arms (Ps. 77:15)
d. Hands (Job 10:8)
e. Finger (Exo. 8:19).
5. Human objects are applied to God.
a. Bow and arrow (Lam 2:4; Ps. 21:12)
b. Sword (Deut. 30:41)
c. Spear (Hab. 3:11)
d. Chariots (Ps. 68:17)
e. Sceptre (Ps. 45:6)
C. The danger: God is so often described in human terms that man may have a tendency to reduce God to just a lofty, powerful, human being. He is not! He is God.
A. Definition: the attribution of human nature or character to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract notions.
1. Wisdom is personified many times in Proverbs 1-9. (See Prov. 9:1)
Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.
a. Wisdom involves ideas, knowledge, and concepts.
b. Wisdom cannot literally build a house or hew out seven pillars.
c. If someone applies wisdom to his life, wisdom aids in the building and hewing process.
2. Death is personified as a rider on a pale horse (Rev. 6:8).
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on his was Death…
3. Abel’s blood was said to be crying from out of the ground (Gen. 4:10).
And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
4. The floods are exhorted to clap their hands and the hills are called upon to be joyful (Ps. 98:8).
Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together.
5. The sun is said to be a bridegroom and a runner (Ps. 19:5).
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber and a rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
a. The bridegroom was the most important part of the marriage ceremony in the first century.
1) All would wait for him to come out of his chamber.
2) He would come out at night and would be surrounded with all kinds of lights to manifest his presence.
b. The psalmist understood that the distance from horizon to horizon was long. He was impressed at how fast the sun could travel from its rising to its setting. It was like a fast runner.
C. The ultimate personification was Jesus. He was the personification of God the Father.
1. Colossians 1:15
Who is the image (1504, likeness, representation) of the invisible God…
2. Hebrews 1:3
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image (5481, engraving, the figure stamped, exact copy) of his person…
3. John 14:7-9
If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have ye not known me Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou, Shew us the Father?
A. Not one of us has ever seen a spirit in spirit form.
B. The Bible clearly says: “No man hath seen God at any time…” (John 1:18).
C. The descriptions we have of God are only intended to aid the understanding of finite man. They are not given to describe the actual figure of God.
D. And, when objects and abstract concepts are described in human terms, it is to bring life and vitality to the Biblical text.