In a section of my dissertation critiquing the view that God has no emotions, I wrote the following:
If God is impassible, Zephaniah 3:17 is puzzling: “[The Lord] will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” God would have no reason to pile up these emotional descriptives—rejoice, love, gladness, exult, loud singing—if His emotional life had no correspondence with the one He gave to the human race. He gives explicit indications in Scripture that He has no body, and that descriptions of “His mighty arm” are therefore anthropomorphisms; but there are no such explicit statements to override the straightforward meaning of Zephaniah 3:17.
I inadvertently assumed a position that one of my committee members, Dr. Layton Talbert (author of two excellent books), finds objectionable. I decided to change it, after reading his comment:
[The concept of] anthropomorphism suffers the same deficiencies as anthropopathism. It confuses literalness with physicality. Anthropopathism runs into difficulties when you move from jealousy to love, hate, joy, etc. Anthropomorphism runs into difficulties when you move from arm to mouth, eye, or face. Spirit is not the same as “no body parts” (how would we know?), just no physical body parts. In any case, God does not give explicit indications in Scripture that descriptions of Him are anthropomorphisms. That is a theological construct.
Well. That persuaded me, at the very least, to drop my comment about anthropomorphisms in Scripture. No time to give this full consideration now, and I do wonder what a non-physical body part is. But I can’t deny that such a thing exists. This issue will have to go into the hopper; as I read the Bible it will come up now and again for evaluation.
Is Talbert serious? Or is introducing a foil against your argument?
Ahem. Pardon me. That should read, ‘is he introducing a foil against your argument?’
I do believe he means what he says; it’s not just a foil.
I think I understand Talbert’s point. Of course, the Bible doesn’t explicitly provide us with the theological categories of “anthropomorphism” or “anthropopathism.” Theologians have created those categories.
Ideally, these theological categories or constructs should serve to highlight the analogical nature of divine attributes vis-a-vis human attributes. As visible replicas of God, our body parts and our inner faculties (intellectual, affectional, and volitional) correspond to qualities in God but are not univocal.
When used properly, I don’t see any problem with these theological constructs. Indeed, if I may be excused for broadening a concept, all theological concepts are “anthropomorphic” or “cosmomorphic” in that they employ analogies from creation to describe what God is like.
Unfortunately, some theologians have misused these constructs, in my opinion. In particular, “anthropopathism” is often used to stress discorrespondence between the divine and human emotive faculties. As a result, God’s feelings become so unlike our own that we cannot understand what texts like Zechariah 3:17 are “really” saying about God.
Thanks for the post, Mark. And I’m so much looking forward to reading your dissertation. You should look into having it published through Paternoster or another publisher that specializes in theses and dissertations.