Religion of Monday, 17 February 2014
Source: Joseph Annor
Surprising, many Christians believe that God does not have a form or shape. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to discuss whether God has a form or not.
Man created in the image of God
Firstly, those who believe that God does not have a shape advocate that in Gen 1:26, when God stated that he was creating man in his image and after his likeness, he did not refer to the physical body of a man but the soul of a man.
However, this interpretation does not seem valid because in Genesis 5:1, when Moses was recounting the descendants of Adam, he started with a passage similar to the one in Gen 1:26 that is “God created mankind … in the likeness of God.” Moses continued in Gen 5:3 that “when Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.”
It is significant to mention that not only did Moses reiterate the fact that man was created in the image and likeness of God, but also Seth was born in the image and likeness of Adam, the exact phrase that had been used to describe the similarity of man to God. I believe that when Moses stated that Seth was born in the image and likeness of Adam, Moses referred to their outward appearances and not their inner soul, and therefore, the same thing applies to Gen 1:26.
According the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (cited by the United Church of God (“UCG”)) the word image “suggests reproduction in form and substance, physical or spiritual” and likeness “gives the idea of resemblance and outward similarity." Furthermore, the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (cited by the United Church of God) suggests that “Man's resemblance to God is analogous to Seth's resemblance to his father Adam. This makes it certain that physical resemblance must not be excluded" (p. 683).
God is Spirit
It has also been suggested that a spirit is an incorporeal being (i.e. without a body) because in Luke 24:39 Jesus stated that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. And since Jesus also stated in John 4:24 that God is spirit, it means God does not have a body. However, there are problems with the above interpretation. Firstly, it is suggested that the statement “God is Spirit” is comparable to other passages by John such as ‘God is light’ [1 John 1:5] and ‘God is love’ [1 John 4:8].
It appears therefore that Jesus discussed with the Samaritan woman nothing more than the intrinsic attribute of God similar to him being light and love. Further, it is argued that the ancient Greek language did not have indefinite articles (“a” and “an”), therefore, John 4:24 can be translated as either “God is Spirit” or “God is a Spirit”, and most modern translations have chosen the former, implying that Jesus did not necessarily referred to the “Being” of God.
Further, those who interpret John 4:24 to mean the “Being” of God ignore a vital aspect of the passage that “the true worshipers must worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.” If Jesus meant that God is incorporeal being because Jesus had referred to God as spirit, this will also mean that we have to become bodiless when worshiping him because Jesus also said we have to worship him in spirit and truth. It appears obvious that Jesus referred to the intrinsic attribute of God and not his “Being”. 1Timothy 1:17
It is further stipulated that according to 1 Timothy 1:17 and other passages such as 1Timothy 6:16, God is said to be invisible and therefore, he should not have a body. However, this argument is flawed in the sense that the invisibility of God does not mean that he does not have a form. In fact, 1Timothy 6:16 explains why he is invisible, and this is because he resides in a light that cannot be approached. Again, this fact rebuts the presumption that God is spread over the whole universe as the passage implies that he is located at a specific place; this place will be explained later.
1 Kings 8:27, Isaiah 66:1, Jeremiah 23:24 and etc.
• Solomon stated in 1 Kings 8:27 (2 Chronicles 6:18) that the heavens, even the highest heaven cannot contain God.
• In Isaiah 66:1, the LORD says: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?
• Jeremiah 23:24 asks, who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? declares the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. Unfortunately, many people have taken the above passages to mean that God does not have a specific place where he dwells and that he is spread over the whole universe because for instance, according to Solomon the heavens and even the highest heaven cannot contain God. However, this argument is flawed for the following reasons:
Firstly, in 1 Kings 8:27, Solomon definitely did not refer to the place where God lives (which according to 1 Timothy 6:16, is surrounded by an unapproachable light); rather Solomon was only talking in the context of our universe excluding the dwelling place of God. This is so because Solomon in the same prayer emphatically stated that God dwells in a place called heaven (see verses 30, 32, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49 and 54).
The only difference is that when Solomon talked about the dwelling place of God, he used a singular noun (heaven), while in reference to the universe¬—the sun, planets, stars and other heavenly bodies, he spoke in plural. This is particularly evident in verse 35, where he referred to the shutting up of the heavens to mean when rain is not falling, while in the next verse he uses the singular noun—heaven to denote the dwelling place of God.
In short, Solomon did not mean that God’s dwelling place—the heaven cannot contain him, instead it is our universe that cannot contain him. The saliency of understanding this distinction cannot be overempasised. David affirms this by stating that “God has set his throne in heaven; he rules over us all…” (Psalm 103:19). Clearly, David mean that God has his throne in a specific place but from there he controls the whole universe, hence Jeremiah’s statements that God fills heaven and earth.
This does not however means that he is physically present all over the universe [at the same time], but his power permeates everywhere, thus making him omnipresent and omniscient. In fact, to a considerable degree, Jesus as a man demonstrated this attribute, as he was able to identify that Nathanael was under a fig tree far away when Jesus had never had any contact with nor heard about Nathanael before (John 1:43-51).
In addition, the Bible clearly and surprisingly identifies three different levels of heavens. The first heaven is considered as any place above the ground including where the birds and the aeroplanes fly. In Amos 9:1-3, the author used interchangeably the terms “heaven” and “the top of Mount Carmel”, where people will flee to at the time of judgement. Further, like Solomon in I Kings 18:35, Deut 33:28, Gen 8:2, 27:28, Daniel 4:15; 5:21, Rev 11:6 and Amos 9:6, refer to this heaven as where the rain (dew) comes from. In Gen 1:20, God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”
In addition, in 2 Samuel 18:9, when Absalom was on his way to fight his father David and his army, his head got caught in an oak tree, and he was said to be “hanging between heaven and earth.” Obviously, the writer was not referring to the heaven where God lives, but the sky.
The second heaven is the universe—where the stars, comets, moons and planets are. David stated in Psalm 8:3-4, when I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them.
Clearly, David was discussing the planets and other bodies in the outer space. See also Genesis 15:5; 22:17; Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3; Jeremiah 8:2). It appears clearly that this was the heavens and highest of heavens that Solomon referred to (see Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27, Nehemiah 9:6, Psalms 148:4). Psalm 148:4, praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
The third heaven, in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul stated “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven ... paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” Surely, this third heaven, the paradise is the place where God's throne exists. It is for this reason that Psalms 103:19 states ‘’The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” And 1 Kings 8:39 states categorically that God can hear from heaven, where he resides.
It therefore appears absurd for any person to postulate that God does not dwell in a specific place but spread all over the universe. Against this background, Pope Francis statement on 18 April 2013, that God is “concrete and tangible, not some misty, diffused god-like, god-spray, that's a little bit everywhere but who knows what it is" appears to support the view that God has a form and dwells in a particular place.
Science does not support that God can be a six feet person
It is argued that the nature of universe makes the idea of a human-looking God virtually impossible, as science indicates that the universe originally existed as nine tightly curled dimension of space. Therefore, the creator of the universe must be at least one extra dimension above that of the universe in order to have created and sustain it. And that a human like man God will be totally dwarfed by the universe. Well, the proponent of this view fails to understand that in the first case, God does not operate within the confines of scientific principles and therefore, this argument is not valid. Further, it is the power of God which makes him God and not whether he is 6 feet or 1 billion feet.
Appearance of God to people
In several places in the Old Testament, the Lord (God) is said to have appeared physically to several people. While those passages appear to contradict the passages in John 1:18, 3:13, 4:12, 5:37, 6:46 and 1Timothy 6:16 that no one has ever seen or can see God, that is not the case at all. This is so because in the Old Testament it was Jesus who always acted as God as I will explain shortly, however, many people assume that the God the Father was always acting but that was not the case, as the Father has never dealt directly with any human being before. However, it is important to mention that Jesus is described as “the exact likeness of his [God’s] being [nature] (Heb 1:1-3 John 14:9, Col 1:15). In other words, Jesus looks like the Father.
Appearance to Abraham
In Gen 18:1ff, the Lord appeared with two angels to Abraham on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. In v.17, the Lord disclosed to Abraham what he and the angels were going to do in Sodom and Abraham pleaded with the Lord to consider not destroying the place, even if 10 righteous people were found.
Surely, Abraham had his kinsman Lot in mind. The story tells us that the angels went away and the Lord continued to negotiate with Abraham. Further, we note from the chapter that Abraham served the Lord and the angels food, so this was a real physical encounter and not a vision or dream. Further, the story makes clear distinction between the two angels on one hand and the third person (the Lord) on the other hand. Jesus confirmed later that he was the one who appeared to Abraham by informing the Pharisees in John 8: 56 that "your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad". There is no doubt that Jesus referred to the incident Gen 18.
Appearances to Moses
Another passage used to support the view that God does not have a body is Deuteronomy 4:15, where Moses told the Israelites that they saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to them [the Israelites] at Horeb out of the fire. I believe people get it completely wrong when they rely on the above passage to advocate that God does not have a form. In fact, the underlying story of the passage indicates the opposite. Firstly, Moses did not state that God does not have a form, he simply stated that the Israelites did not see any form of God. Thus, not seeing something does not mean that the thing does not exist.
Further, it is imperative to understand the context under which Moses made his statement. In Deuteronomy 4: 10-25, Moses was advising the Israelites against idol worship and told them that they should not make any image to represent God because they did not even see the form of God when God spoke to them at Hebron.
However, the detail story of God speaking to Israelites at Hebron (or Mount Sanai) found in Exodus 19: 10-25 indicates plainly that God allowed Moses and Aaron to come and see him on the top of the mountain where he spoke from, while he had directed Moses to set a boundary that the other Israelites should not proceed beyond in attempt to look at God, or he would destroy them. He however, allowed Moses and Aaron to come to the top of the mountain to see him while the rest of the people remained at the base of the mountain and only heard the voice of God. It is against this context that Moses stated in Deuteronomy 4:12, 15 that the Israelites only heard the voice of God but did not see his from. Thus, it is very misleading for anyone to selectively use Deuteronomy 4:15 to support the view that God does not have form, while in fact the whole story points to the contrary.
It appears even strange that some people use the passage in Exodus 33:20, where God informed Moses, "You cannot see my face; for no man shall see me, and live”, to argue that God does not have a form. Does this passage mean that God does not have a form? Not at all, for God did not state that he does not have a form, instead people cannot see his face (him) and live. In any case, the whole story tells us that Moses had requested God to show him his glory (verse 18).
Interesting though, God understood Moses to mean that Moses wanted to see God appearing physically but in this instance, in His full brilliance; (after all, both God and Moses knew that Moses had seen God before as I explained before in relation to the story in Exodus 19). God informed Moses that no one could see his radiating face and live.
To cut matters short, God used his hands to push Moses into a cave, passed by and allowed Moses to see his back, and this is a real story not a vision. So, how does one even dare use this same passage to support the view that God does not have a form? If he does not have a form, how does he have face, hand, back and etc. as indicated in the passage?
Further, according to Exodus 33:9-11, the Lord came down in a cloud and stood at the door of the tabernacle and spoke with Moses "face to face as a man speaks to his friend". While this passage itself does not necessarily indicate what form the Lord appeared to Moses at the tent, it complements the passage in Number 12:1-8 to demonstrate that the Lord used to appear to Moses in a physical form. According to Numbers 12, Moses married an Ethiopian, Aaron and Miriam criticised Moses for that. God became furious with the two and came down to the entrance of the tent in a pillar of cloud and spoke to them and Moses.
According to verses 6 – 8, the Lord stated “Hear my words: if there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” When the Lord departed, Miriam became leprous. While some have interpreted the passage coming directly from God in every ridiculous way, it is pretty clear here that according to God himself, he had not only appeared to Moses, but Moses actually saw (beheld) his form. Despite the clarity of the words from the Lord, many have sought to misinterpret in order to support their belief that God does not have form.
Again the Lord (God) who appeared to Moses was definitely Jesus and not the Father. This view is supported by 1 Cor 10:4, where Paul states "and they all drank from the spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ". Paul's revelation tells us that it was Jesus who followed the Israelites during their journey from Egypt to Canaan.
Therefore, we can firmly conclude that it was the same person (Christ) who appeared to Moses. It is not Paul alone that has referred to Jesus as rock, as Deuteronomy 32:4 also refer to Jesus as the Rock and a faithful God who works are perfect and does no wrong.
Also, Exodus 24:9-11 states that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 of the elders of Israel "saw" God and the passage gives a partial description of God's appearance (as He was standing on a pavement of bright sapphire stone described as being under His feet).
Appearance to Joshua
According to Joshua 5:13-15, a man holding a sword appeared suddenly to Joshua near Jericho. The man disclosed that he was the commander of the army of the LORD. Joshua fell prostrate to the ground to worship the man. The man asked Joshua, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy” (the same direction given to Moses at the burning bush). It is generally accepted that it was Jesus who appeared to Joshua, as angels do not accept worship.
Appearance to Adam
In Genesis 3:8-10, Adam and Eve went to hide from God when they "heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day". The story continues further that the Lord God used animal skin to make a cloth for Adam and his wife (Genesis 3:21). There are two implication of the passage. First it was the Lord not an angel that was involved here. Second, Adam and Eve could only have heard the LORD God walking if the Lord God had appeared in some form. From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that Jesus having the exact representation of God’s image has on several occasions revealed his form to humans. Therefore just as Jesus has shown his form the Father may also have a form.
The implication of John 5:37ff
Further, in John 5, the Jews had an argument with Jesus because Jesus had healed a man on Sabbath. In course of their exchange, Jesus informed them in verse 37 that they had never heard the voice or seen the form of His Father (God). Jesus’ statement is in reminiscent of Moses’ statement that the Israelites did not see any form of God at Hebron, already explained above. In any case, the implication of Jesus’ statement is pretty obvious. Either Jesus meant that the Father:
1. does not have both voice and form (that is why the Jews had not heard his voice and/or seen the form of God); or
2. has both voice and form but the Jews had not had the privilege to hear and see him,
in other words, Jesus did not mean that the Father has a voice but not a form or vice versa, because he referred to both in a mutually exclusive. Several passages in the Bible indicate that the Father has a voice. For instance, in Genesis 1:26, "God said, Let us make man in our image and after our likeness."
There is no doubt that it was the Father who spoke here because the Bible consistently reveals that that the Father is the source and the Son the agent of creation. Therefore, it makes sense to believe that the initiative to create humans would come from the Father and not the Son. This is further supported by Jesus’ own statement in John 5:19 that, "The Son cannot do anything at his own pleasure, he can only do what he sees his Father doing" (see also John 8:26, 28-29, 42, 6:38, 7:16, 28, 14:28). Again in Psalm 110:1, David through inspiration stated that The LORD [God] said to my Lord [Jesus]: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." Jesus himself affirmed this statement in Matt 22:43-44. It is pretty clear now that the Father has a voice, and in that regard, Jesus implied in the passage above that the Father has a form.
Appearance of God in a vision
Several prophets and apostles saw God the Father in visions having a body and few illustrations here will suffice to explain the point. In Daniel chapter 7:9, Daniel in a vision identified God the Father (described as the Ancient of Days) taking his seat. In fact, Daniel even describes his cloth and hair. Daniel subsequently identified the son of man (Jesus), who went to the presence of the Ancient of Days (the Father) to receive authority, glory and sovereign power from the Father (verses 13-14).
In Acts 7:55, 56, when Stephen was being stoned, he plainly saw heaven opened and "Jesus standing at God's right hand".
In Revelation chapters 4, 5, 21 and 22, John was caught up in heaven in a vision and identified God and Jesus each sitting on his throne or Jesus standing by God, while God sitting on his throne. Interestingly, among all the twelve apostles of Jesus, he is the only one to have such experience. It is also interesting that this is the same apostle that Jesus said concerning him to the other apostles that “If I want him to remain until I come [return], what is that to you? You follow Me”.
Off course, he did not live to the return of Jesus, however he saw Jesus on his throne in a vision. Further, in Isaiah 6:1, the prophet reports that in the year that King Uzziah died, he saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. According John 12:41, it was Jesus that Isaiah saw [his glory].
In addition, John states plainly that after 1,000 years of Jesus rule in his second coming, the God Father himself will come and dwell among men in the new Jerusalem that he will send down from heaven (Rev 21:1-3). Clearly, the righteous human will be able to see the Father physically from this time onwards.
The views of some scholars
Above all, some scholars support the view that God has form. For instance, Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier of Trinity College states:
“In short, to use the forbidden word, the biblical God is clearly anthropomorphic (i.e. “in the form of man”)—not apologetically so, but proudly, even militantly.”
Similarly, Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School postulates that: “The Hebrews…pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures.”
From the foregoing discussion, it appears obvious that several prophets and patriarchs saw Jesus in his physical form, as the God of the Old Testament.
Further, some of them as well as Stephen and John through revelation saw both God and Jesus sitting in their thrones in heaven. Interesting though, in all these cases, no one has ever identified the Holy Spirit in a similar manner, this speaks volumes about whether the Holy Spirit is a person or not. In addition, as explained above it appears that in John 5:37ff, Jesus implied that God has a form. It appears therefore that God has a concrete form and not spread over everywhere as some people assume.
Catholicnews.com; ( http://news.peacefmonline.com/religion/201304/161790.php) http://www.ucg.org/bible-study-lesson/bible-study-course-lesson-3-why-did-god-create-mankind/man-image-god/
Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier, "In Defense of Anthropomorphism," in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 162, compare G.E. Wright, God Who Acts (London: SCM Press, 1952), 49–50. ISBN 0884943585. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.
Author: Joseph Annor, Bachelor of Arts majoring in Religious Studies (U.G.), Master of Accounting (UTS), CPA