Does God Look Like This?


In an earlier post I described the Hebrew Universe. The so-called Bible believing Christians have argued that this is merely the language of appearances, that is, it’s merely figurative language, just like heaven is described as a city in Revelation 21-22, but neither of which are to be taken literally by educated Christians today. [Although, many Christians still believe heaven is exactly as described in Revelation, as is hell.] Are they correct?

The question for me is this one: How do Christians know that the Hebrews didn’t take these verses literally? With what we read in the Bible, the burden of proof is squarely on them.

What did early Christians think about heaven (remember, Jesus supposedly bodily ascended to sit at the right hand of God on a throne and to rule in a heavenly city, with mansions [John 14:1-4])? We must step back in time before the rise of modern astronomy to see the universe as they did. That’s all. Modern Christians try to avoid the conclusions of the literal Biblical statements because they read the Bible after the rise of science. It’s that simple, and it’s bad exegesis. Jesus could only have bodily ascended into heaven if heaven is in the sky, as the ancients believed.

In a like manner, a similar question arises when we ask what the ancient Hebrews thought about God.

The Bible states that man and woman are to have been created in the image/likeness of God in three passages in the early chapters of Genesis (Gen 1:26–28; 5:1–3; 9:6), for instance: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

About this listen to the Anchor Bible Dictionary (“Image of God’) which tells us: “It is clear that a certain ambiguity is associated with the meaning of the terms “image and likeness of God” in these passages in Genesis. It is difficult to know whether the author of the material used expressions from the tradition that his audience would immediately understand in their cultural context, but which we in a vastly different cultural setting lack the contextual clues to understand precisely, or whether the author deliberately presented these ideas in a somewhat ambiguous way. Gen 5:1–2 makes it clear that both male and female are included under the designation adam who was made in God’s image. Gen 5:3 reports that Adam fathered a son “in his likeness, according to his image,” and the verse employs the same nouns used in Gen 1:26–27, though the order of the nouns and the prepositions used with each are reversed in comparison to Gen 1:26. This suggests that the way in which a son resembles his father is in some sense analogous to the way in which the human is like God. Since this passage has made the point that it is both male and female who are in the image of God, it seems clear that the similarity, while not excluding the physical in the broadest sense, focuses on capacities such as personality, self-determination, and rational thought. It is probable that it is the whole person who is in the image of God rather than some specific aspect of that person to the exclusion of others, and this focus on the human being as a whole being is consistent with the way humanity is viewed throughout the Hebrew Bible.”

And read this from the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (“Image Of God”), which is more to the point: “To speak of human beings (‘Adam’) as created in the image of God apparently refers primarily to the bodily form (the Hebrew term for ‘image’ usually denotes a concrete likeness) but also to the spiritual attributes the physical body symbolizes.”

If we want to know just what that image is, we should consider some of these passages that describe God with a human form:

Genesis 2:2: "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made."

But only a physical being needs to rest.

Genesis 3:8: "They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden."

Shouldn't this verse settle the whole debate?

God has arms: Ex. 6:6; Ex. 15:16; Deut. 4:34 Deut. 7:19; 9:29; 26:8; Acts 13:17. Deut. 5:15 Psa. 136:12. Deut. 11:2; Deut. 33:27; 1 Kin. 8:42 2 Chr. 6:32. 2 Kin. 17:36; Psa. 77:15; Psa. 89:10, 13, 21; Psa. 98:1; Song 2:6; Isa. 33:2; Isa. 40:10, 11; Isa. 51:5, 9; Isa. 52:10; Isa. 53:1; Isa. 59:16; Isa. 62:8; Isa. 63:5, 12; Jer. 21:5 Ezek. 20:33. Jer. 27:5 Jer. 32:17. Luke 1:51.

God has ears: Psa. 17:6; Psa. 39:12; Psa. 77:1; Psa. 80:1; Psa. 84:8.

God has eyes: Psa. 33:18, 19; Psa. 34:15 Amos 9:8; 1 Pet. 3:12. Psa. 121:3–5; Isa. 1:15; Isa. 3:8; Hab. 1:13; Matt. 6:22; Luke 11:34.

God has hands: Num. 11:23; is mighty, Josh. 4:24; was heavy, 1 Sam. 5:6; against the Philistines, 1 Sam. 7:13; on Elijah, 1 Kin. 18:46; not shortened, Isa. 59:1; was with the early Christians, Acts 11:21.

God has a footstool: The earth is God’s, Isa. 60:13; 66:1; Lam. 2:1; Acts 7:49.

God has a scepter: Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17; Isa. 9:4.

God sits on a throne: 2 Chr. 18:18; Psa. 9:4, 7; 11:4; 47:8; 89:14; 97:2; 103:19; Isa. 6:1; 66:1; Matt. 5:34; 23:22; Heb. 8:1; 12:2; Rev. 14:3, 5; of Christ, Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Acts 2:30; Rev. 1:4; 3:21; 4:2–10; 7:9–17; 19:4; 21:5; 22:3.

God has a heavenly court: Gen. 1:26; 11;7; Job 1:6.

God even has nostrils: Ex 15:8; Job 4:9; Psalm 18:8, 15; Is. 65:5,

Listen to this passage from 2 Samuel 22:8:

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations of the heavens trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens, and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub, and flew;
he was seen upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness around him a canopy,
thick clouds, a gathering of water.
Out of the brightness before him
coals of fire flamed forth.
The Lord thundered from heaven;
the Most High uttered his voice.
He sent out arrows, and scattered them
—lightning, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
the foundations of the world were laid bare
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.

Can you picture this? Sounds like Zeus to me, and Zeus was pictured with a physical body.

The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics. There is no reason to suppose the Hebrews thought differently about their God from what we read in the OT. The burden of proof is upon the conservative Christian to show why they don’t think of God in a human form. Mormons today take these statements literally and believe God has the shape of a human being, so if modern people like Mormons think this way, then it’s even more likely that ancient Hebrews did.

Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of Adam [above] may actually reflect the ancient Hebrew view of God creating man.

What are some of the implications of these things? 1) The Bible reflects ancient views of God, the universe, and heaven/hell, which slowly evolved into the views Christians have today. 2) The Bible is misinterpreted by conservative Christians today because they do not understand the Bible as it was originally understood. 3) The Bible has nothing to say about how God created the universe (if he exists), and it makes no claim about creation that we should believe today merely because the Bible states it, since it's based upon ancient myths. 4) Christians cannot take every statement in the Bible about God, the universe, heaven/hell as the truth, if properly understood in its context, since those conceptions evolved inside the Bible itself. There are other implications.

11 comments:

Chris said...

I’m not sure what you are saying here because the implications that you itemize do not follow from your post. Is this supposed to be a logical argument against the existence of God? Are you attempting to prove that God does not exist because popular conceptions of God have evolved over time? Even if you successfully answer your own questions, how does it disprove anything?

Are you saying that this so-called misunderstanding that Conservative Christians have over the inspired texts is only relative to prior understandings that the ancients had of those same texts? What do any of those understandings have to do with the truth itself?

And why just Conservative Christians? Why not Agnostics or Athiests or even Liberal Christians?

John W. Loftus said...

Before most conservative Christians can become atheists, they must first become liberals. This post is an attempt to show that the Bible calls for a liberal understanding.

What we have in the Bible is an evolving understanding of the nature of God, so we find later statements to the contrary, i.e, that "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24).

Christians grab on to the final view of God reflected in the Bible, especially the NT, and say that this is what they believed all along. It's called, from their perspective, a progressive view of revelation. Liberals simply say that Christian understandings about God have continued to evolve past the canonical texts.

I argued that the burden of proof is upon the conservative so-called Bible believing Christian, given the nature of the Biblical statements themselves as best interpreted within their cultural Zeigeist.

They have the burden of proof here, to show that ancient Hebrews did not take these verses literally. God walked in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day? Come on. Tell me more. Exegete these passages properly in their cultural setting. The "image of God" in Adam & Eve was also a physical image! To them God had a physical body just like the other gods. Exegete. Exegete. Exegete.

Chris said...

I'm not sure if you realize where the burden of proof actually lies. And by proof, of course, you mean a standard which goes beyond simple faith. The true burden is not on me to convince you. As a Christian, I can put the message in your ear, but your heart condition will ultimately decide whether that truth will take root. I feel no burden. God's commands to preach are not burdensome.

While we debate which proof will satisfy you, disaster looms. It's like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It seems that the only proof that will be satisfying to you is calamity itself. By then its too late.

John W. Loftus said...

From Exodus 33:
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

This is strange if God wasn't viewed as having a body.

John W. Loftus said...

And while you're at it, please explain what God meant when he purportedly said, “There is a place near me.... What would that mean to people who thought God walked in the Garden of Eden and who thought God rested after creation?

John W. Loftus said...

Christians will argue that passages in the Bible about their conceptions of the universe and about God having a body are both phenomenal and anthropomorphic. Where is the word "anthropomorphism" in the Bible such that we'll know how to interpret a passage properly when it is "red flagged" with that word? I don't have such a Bible, do you? The only reason they call these things anthropomorphic (and phenomenal) is because they are misreading the texts in their original setting based upon later or hindsight understandings (i.e.,you're doing eisegesis, not exegesis).

Tell me this. Start reading the canonical Bible from the beginning. Tell me where you read the first statement that clearly specifies that God is a spirit, with no possible meaning oherwise. That should clear the whole thing up.

Dale Callahan said...

God is essentially Spirit but this doesn't mean that He is restricted from taking upon Himself a physical form or body.

In the incarnation God [the eternal Son] became flesh, God became a man, took upon Himself man's physical nature.

In the O.T we see "the angel of the Lord"...pre-incarnate appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We also have many examples where the Bible gives God human attributes to help our understanding of Him...not showing us that He really has an arm or wings.

King Aardvark said...

The whole "triune" god thing really gets me. God has a face, a body, and a backside, but he also has a disembodied spirit and a fully human (yet fully divine) son who is a seperate entity that sits beside him. Yet this is all the same god because Christianity is a monoteistic religion. Yikes, it's enough to make your brain turn to jello.

My favourite depiction of God is in South Park. He has a face, nostrils, eyes, etc, so he fits the bill according to the descriptions you gave in your article.

oli said...

Yeah, that Triune god thing gets me too. To call Jesus fully man and fully divine seems to misunderstand what the word "fully" means.
If Jesus was fully man, how did he do miracles. If he was fully god, then there was no sacrifice on the cross (how can you torture god?).
It would be more accurate if Christians simply said that Christ was part divine, carrying a part of gods divine essence within him. But that of course has nothing to do with scripture and could be contradicted by scripture for all i know.

Actually, that Triune thing goes further. Did Christ have the same knowledge as god? If not, why not, he is supposed to be fully god after all. If yes, why is the crucifixion so significant. He knows he gets out easy (stabbed to death, not dying of thirst like the others), he knows he is only up there for a few hours and he knows that once he gets off the cross he gets to float off to utimate happy land where everything is perfect.

If the crucifixion is significant because of all the sin he takes on from the human race (the explanation my old family priest gave me) then why bother getting up on the cross at all? Why is the crucifixion significant if it is something entirely different happening unrelated to the physical torture that actually has significance?

And how can Jesus be tempted by the devil if he is fully divine? Surely he'd just say "Hey Satan, hows things? You still working to furfill my divine plan? Good good, off with you now."

In the garden of Eden, god is in physical form walking around looking for Adam and Eve (in an ironic sense one would think, like playing hide and seek with children), this then suggest that gods body is physical, like adams. Why? What does god need genitals for? Or an anus for that matter? Or nostrils? Does god need to breath? to poop? to urinate? if so why? what has he been eating? If not, why these organs?

The whole physical god idea is a nonsense, but it is clearly what the bible suggests. What we see is a bronze age mythology being believed by computer age people. God has to then retreat to less ludicrous aspects else the christians get made fun of. So god doesn't now have a backside, he is a mysterious energy force that is (co-incidentally) so vaguely worded that it can't be disproved. And he doesn't do miracles now, unless they happen to be things that chance or science could explain as something else. And the end of the world is about 2000 years late, but thats ok to, because....

It reminds me of that group that keep predicting the end of the world by breaking some kind of bible code, and when the date of the end passes, they "discover" another layer of intricacy to the code and simple move their date a few years later.

Hoop said...

EXACTAMENTO.. well said..

People are cherry picking and interpretatiing and assuming..

Christianity is pure assumption

Anonymous said...

Why debunk it? No seriously. Why? It's a waste of time. When so much of our own crud (which we cause, may I add)needs some debunking itself. 9-11 is but one of such B.S. stories.

This argument (or debate if you so wish) can continue 'till the cows come home, and it won't change a thing. If someone has a belief and has faith in such said belief, let them be. They're happy, and probably have found their comfort zones. The true believers (not those idiots trying to spin a buck) are rather pleasant folk, and they don't do any harm. Now, we're not talking about the nutters that go on Crusades and such like. Just the average Joes.

What I have experienced in life though is this. It's always the good guys that get bullied, ridiculed, scoffed at, etc. Probably because they may have something others don't. Who knows.

I have my reservations about religion, sure. But then again, it's a man made idea. However. Spirituality is another matter.

I seriously doubt this will get posted because it may sound a bit sermony, but it was just a thought anyway, and I had a bit of time to kill, pretty much the same as a debunker would I suppose. :)