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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Personal Attributes of God

Don Stewart :: What Do We Say to People Who Interpret All Descriptions of God in a Literal Manner?

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What Do We Say to People Who Interpret All Descriptions of God in a Literal Manner?

The Personal Attributes of God – Question 18

The Bible attributes a number of human characteristics to God. Among other things, Scripture says that God has hands, feet, eyes, and a hair. Many people understand these references in a literally manner.

However, if one wishes to take the various references to God in Scripture in a literal manner then they will wind up with a very interesting-looking being. Consider some other verses that describe God.

1. Does God Have Feathers and Wings?

The psalmist speaks of the feathers and wings of God.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91:4 NIV)

Are we to assume His form has feathers?

2. Does He Have a Sword for a Tongue?

In the Book of Revelation, John wrote about how God’s tongue is like a sword.

He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was as bright as the sun in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:16 NLT)

Does this mean God has a literal sword for a tongue?

3. Is He an Actual Door?

Jesus said that He was a door. In John’s gospel we read,

I am the door. (John 10:9a KJV)

Is Jesus a literal door made of wood and hinges?

4. Is God Fire?

The writer to the Hebrews stated that God is fire. He put it this way.

For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29 KJV)

Is God made of fire?

They Are Not to Be Understood Literally

By taking these verses literally, God would look like a bird, have a sword for a tongue, would be made of wood, and would function as a furnace! Obviously, these descriptions are not intended to be understood literally. They are pictorial images that describe the character of God; they are not actual descriptions of what He looks like.

Since God’s nature is unlike anything in creation, humans need something to think about when we consider the Person of God. Consequently, God has given us analogies of Himself with the human body. All of these analogies point to some aspect of His character. They help us better understand the nature, and actions, of the invisible God.

While we cannot see God, we are fortunate that He has given us many reference points to understand Him. Every description reflects a part of His character; no particular analogy describes His entire character.

Summary – Question 18
What Do We Say to People Who Interpret All Descriptions of God in a Literal Manner?

There are some people who interpret all of the descriptions of God in a literal manner. In other words, they believe God actually has eyes, a nose, hair, and feet. This, they assume, is the most consistent way to understand the biblical references to God.

Yet this cannot be consistently done. The Bible also speaks of God having feathers. Understanding this literally would not make any sense.

In addition, Scripture says that God’s tongue is like a sword. Again, this is not to be interpreted literally.

Jesus said He was the door. Yet nobody understands this to be a literal description of Him.

Finally, the Bible says that God is a consuming fire. Of course, God is not a literal fire.

Therefore, for those who say that any physical description of the Lord is to be understood in a literal manner, such as having eyes, nose, or feet, must deal with these other passages. They make it abundantly clear that these images are not to be understood literally.

Why Do Certain Passages Seem to Teach That God Has a Body? ← Prior Section
Why Is God Compared to Animals? Next Section →
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