Does God Have Feelings? Does God Have a Body?

by May 26, 2011Dissertation4 comments

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.

Read More 

Edwards on Church Music, the Ordinances, and our Affections

The “sacraments” or “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are, in part, little pieces of art: miniature dramas that highlight precious truths. They are parallel in a significant way to church music, as Jonathan Edwards explains in his classic book, The...

Save the Date: May 5, 2012—PhD Graduation

As I announced previously, I successfully defended my dissertation for a PhD in New Testament on May 2. I have some corrections to make, but I'm basically done. I'm a doctor—though not the kind that anyone really cares about! Finishing five days before the 2011...

Dissertations Completed: 1

"I don’t like anything here at all." said Frodo, "step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid." "Yes, that’s so," said Sam. "And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started." My wife and...

Agape Love

One of the most popular linguistic and exegetical fallacies in modern times is that the Greek word for love, agapao, carries in it the implication of a divine love that is unconditional and comes to us in spite of our sin. That is not true. Context must decide if...

Leave a comment.

  1. RJM

    Is Talbert serious? Or is introducing a foil against your argument?

  2. RJM

    Ahem. Pardon me. That should read, ‘is he introducing a foil against your argument?’

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      I do believe he means what he says; it’s not just a foil.

  3. Bob Gonzales

    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.