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Examining the Physical Nature of the Imago

Dei
Part 2 – The Plausibility of the Physicality of Bearing God’s
Image

Part 2b – The Form of YHWH

“Let us make man in our image, according to our


likeness...”

In Part 1 – The Words God Used, it was demonstrated that the


consistent – and therefore, natural – meaning of the Hebrew word
translated “image” is that of a visual representation. Exegetically, we
have to start with an understanding that our bodies (the only visible
part of us) is crafted to “look like” God.

But is this understanding plausible?

At first, it would seem implausible that a spirit being could have any
form at all. However, in Part 2a – God as Spirit, it was demonstrated
that scripturally, spirit beings evidently do have spatial dimensions
(form) for they are constrained by both time and space. Consequently,
it must be concluded that the clear declaration that “God is Spirit” in
John 4 does not by itself preclude the possibility that God has a form
which could be represented by the physical human body.

God is not bound by space or time, so we cannot assume that God has
form simply because other spirits evidently do. At the same time, it
seems clear enough from Scripture that God chooses to operate within
both time and space. Therefore the next logical step in examining this
plausibility is to see if God is portrayed in Scripture as having form.

The Form of God

To start with, it is worth saying that the descriptions of God in “human


form” are so numerous in the Scriptures that we have several
theological terms for them:

• Theophany – The temporary appearance of God in some sort of


human or other visible manifestation.

• Christophany – The pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus as a man.

• Anthropomorphism – The usage of human terminology to


reference the expression of an attribute or action of God.
The scriptural reality of what these terms describe is not in dispute.
However, the blanket application of these terms to any and all
instances of God’s appearances has two undesirable consequences: 1.
It has the potential of dismissing revealed truth without honest
examination of the text; and 2. It assumes that God has no form at all,
the very assertion that we are seeking to test. This assumption must
be reexamined.

A safer strategy would be to take each scripture passage at face value,


then apply these theological terms only when the context demands
that we should.

The general understanding regarding theophanies and


anthropomorphisms is that God used them in order to be more
“tangible” to man. Because man is physical, it is taught, God describes
Himself in physical terms.

It would be impossible to step through every instance in the Scriptures


where theophanies occurred. What follows now is a sampling of
passages where God is portrayed with some sort of form. I will present
what the natural meaning of the text would lead us to understand,
then I will demonstrate how the assumption that it is only a theophany
or anthropomorphism seems to be contrary to the Scriptural context.

• Genesis 3:8-10 – “They heard the sound of the LORD God


walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his
wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among
the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to the man,
and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ 10 He said, ‘I heard the sound
of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I
hid myself.’”

o Again, the plain reading of this account is that God was not
with Adam and Eve, but then He approached. This
approach is described as “walking.” Naturally, walking
requires legs. This would then suggest that God
approached them in some sort of tangible form, and that
form included legs.

o This “form” of God was tangible enough in the Garden that


He was approaching Adam by walking, and that walking
actually generated an audible sound… possibly by foot-fall,
or by brushing against trees and shrubs.

o Furthermore, Adam immediately recognized the sound as


God approaching. This implies that this was not the first
time he had heard God make this sound while “walking.”
o If this is true, then it means that before the fall, it was
probably customary for God to “walk” this way in the
Garden; perhaps God visited with Adam in the Garden “in
the cool of the day” every day. Therefore, the sound would
not have been unusual to Adam, and perhaps not at all
unexpected.

o Admittedly, some of this is speculation, but none of it is


beyond reason. They are nothing more than the reasonable
implications of the Scriptural facts which are not
speculative at all.

o As to the suggestion that this was only a Theophany, it


doesn’t seem to fit the context. Before the fall, God would
have no reason at all to “appear” to Adam and Eve in any
form other than He is, for there was no sin in man to
darken his ability to respond to God exactly as He is. In his
sinless state, Adam would not have needed to “see” God in
order to adequately “relate” to Him or perceive His
presence. Yet, according to the theology of the Theophany,
this is precisely the reason that it is “required.” If God did
not appear to and walk with Adam in some sort of tangible
form before the fall, then there is no reasonable
explanation for how Adam knew the sound he heard was
actually God approaching.

• Numbers 12:5-8a – “Then the LORD came down in a pillar of


cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron
and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6 He said, ‘Hear
now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD,
shall make Myself known to him in a vision I shall speak with him
in a dream. 7 Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all
My household; 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly,
and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of [YHWH].’”

o God is speaking directly to Aaron and Miriam. While doing


so, He manifests Himself in the pillar of cloud. In His
rebuke, He describes in His own words how He meets with
Moses.

o God acknowledged that with other prophets, He revealed


Himself only in visions and dreams. This is in direct
contrast with how God declared that He met with Moses,
for with him He met and spoke directly “mouth to mouth”
(“face to face” – NIV). Clearly Moses’ experience with God
was unique, even as compared to other prophets.
o By God’s own declaration, Moses actually saw the LORD’s
form. God is saying very clearly that He does have form.

 The word translated “form” here is tĕmuwnah


(H4327).

 Wherever this Hebrew word is used in the OT, it


always refers to a visible shape.

o God interacted with Moses in some sort of visible form, and


God said that form was His own. It simply cannot be
claimed that God has no form at all or else we risk
suggesting that God misrepresented the truth. For this
reason, to discount the reality of God’s literal form by
calling this nothing more than a Theophany is to contradict
the testimony of God Himself.

• Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not despise one of these little
ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see
the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

o These are the words of Jesus. He is telling His disciples that


the angels continually see the face of God. All of the beings
Jesus is speaking about are spirits. Yet Jesus still says that
the angels see God’s face. This means that angels can see,
and that God has a face that can be seen.

o Since Jesus is speaking about what happens in the spirit


realm, there is no “need” to describe it in “human” terms.
Jesus could have just as easily said “the angels in heaven
continually serve in the presence of My Father…” and the
meaning of His words to the disciples would not have
diminished at all. Therefore, we must take Jesus’ words at
face value, and understand that it happens exactly as He
described it.

o Because what Jesus is describing is not at all a matter of


God “appearing” to man, it cannot at all be considered a
“theophany,” and Jesus had no cause to invoke an
anthropomorphism. It must be read and understood
according to the plain meaning.

• John 5:37 – “And the Father who sent me has himself testified
concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his
form.” (KJV – “shape”)

o Again, these are the words of Jesus. He speaks of God’s


form in the same way as He speaks of His voice.
o To deny that God has “form” would also deny that God has
a voice. Scripturally, it is impossible to deny God’s voice.
Therefore, we cannot deny that He has form either, else we
invalidate the words of Christ.

These are certainly not the only passages where God is portrayed in
human terms or human form, but these all have unique characteristics
which make it unreasonable to dismiss the idea of God having “form”
by invoking the label of “theophany” or “anthropomorphism.”

The next example is, however, the most compelling of them all. It is
also the most extensive passage.

• Exodus 33:18-21 – 18 “Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me


Your glory!’ 19 And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness
pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before
you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will
show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ 20 But He
said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’
21 Then the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you
shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while
My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock
and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 ‘Then I
will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face
shall not be seen.’”

o Clearly this is a “Theophany” in that it is an appearance of


God to a man, but if we claim that that means God was
appearing to Moses in some sort of visible “form” that is
not actually the reality that is God, then we render God’s
words in this passage as empty and meaningless, if not
outright deceptive.

o To demonstrate the truth of that point, I will quote each


phrase from this text, then comment on why it must be
taken as God’s revelation of His true reality or else we risk
blaspheming Him by calling the truth of His words into
question.
Scripture: How the belief that Comments
God has no form
must understand it

18 Then Moses said, N/A This beautiful prayer of Moses comes from
‘I pray You, show me one who already knew God well. He was
Your glory!’ not asking God for an “approximation” of
His glory in some form that he as a man
could comprehend, he was asking to be
shown the true glory of God. If he was
shown anything different than God’s true
glory, it would not be a real answer to his
prayer.

19 And He [God] Since God is Here and in the verses that follow, if we
said, ‘I Myself will omnipresent, He cannot deny that God really did what He said He
make all My literally make “all His would do, we are calling His words untrue.
goodness pass goodness” to pass If our theology requires us to explain
before you… before Moses, for God is away the plain meaning of God’s words
not localized anywhere. about Himself, it is time to reevaluate our
theology.

20 But He said, ‘You This is only This would make the words of God
cannot see My face, metaphorical because meaningless. If God has no face, then
for no man can see God has no form and what possible purpose could there be in
Me and live!’ therefore does not have declaring that if a man were to see a face
a face which actually God does not have, that man could not
could be seen by human live? If we claim that it was simply the
eyes. “appearance” of a face that God would
call His own, but actually was not, then
we are suggesting that God is only putting
on a display of a human idea about what
He is like but which in truth is not who He
is. Furthermore, we would be claiming
that God fabricated a “face” for Himself
which He then told Moses that he could
not see.

22 and it will come This again is only Can we really be so sure that we have
about, while My metaphorical insight to say which words of God in this
glory is passing by, description of God not passage are literal and which are not? In
that I will put you in allowing Moses to see all the Scriptures, there are countless
the cleft of the rock His face, since God does passages which reference the “hand of
and cover you with not have a “hand” per God,” yet never once are we ever told
My hand until I have se. The “cleft of the that God does not have hands! It is only
passed by…’ rock” however, can be the presumption of our traditional
literally understood as theological understanding which requires
exactly that, but the us to do so. And when we apply it to a
obscuring of Moses view passage like this, we are forced into the
within the cleft of the duplicity of declaring parts of it as literal
rock by God’s “hand” and parts as non-literal with absolutely no
cannot be literal. justification within the text to do so!

‘Then I will take My God allows Moses to see Here again, the traditional theology forces
hand away and you the “afterglow” of His us into treating God’s words as
shall see My back, presence. Because God disingenuous since they cannot be taken
but My face shall not is only spirit, God does literally. God speaks of His face as if it is
be seen.’ not really have a face, real. God speaks of His hand as if it is
nor a “front”… nor a real. God even speaks of His back as if it
back. is real! Dare we suggest that these words
of God are mere pretense?
Our hermeneutics tell us that the Scriptures mean today what they
meant to the people to whom they were originally written. By the same
token, we have to conclude that God’s words here to Moses in this very
private and personal revelation actually mean what they would have
meant to Moses.

Must we assume that Moses prayed to see God’s glory, but then was
fully “aware” that God’s words about seeing His face were not literal;
God’s description of how He would use His hand were only
metaphorical; and that the “back” of God was only a visual display of
something not God’s back, but an “afterglow” of God’s pretending to
“pass by”? Was this what Moses had to accept as the answer to His
prayer to see God’s glory?

Moses had already seen the glory of God through His many
supernatural works… starting at the burning bush, the leprous hand,
and the rod that became a serpent. God’s glorious works continued
and Moses watched YHWH humiliate the gods of Egypt and embarrass
Pharaoh into submission. God’s glorious deliverance was visibly seen in
a fearful pillar of fire behind Israel and in the walls of water on either
side as they traversed the dry floor of the Red Sea. God’s glorious
provision came in the form of daily manna, a flock of birds, and water
that flowed out of the rock which followed them in the desert.

Moses was not asking God for one more private “light show.” Moses
knew that all of those miracles displayed the glory of God’s power, but
they were not themselves God’s Glory. His prayer was to see God
Himself!

And that is the prayer that God answered.

This is why God had to say – in essence – “I will grant your request, but
there is a limit to how much you can see.”

Moses understood that God’s words meant exactly what they sounded
like. And that’s what they must mean to us today. God literally showed
Himself to Moses because there really is something of God that can be
seen by human eyes. God literally prevented Moses from seeing His
face because He really has a face which cannot be literally seen by a
living man. But God did show Himself to Moses and God does have
form. Moses saw it.

Significantly, the words that described what Moses was going to see –
before he saw it – were directly from God’s mouth; Moses only
recorded what God said. These words are not the feeble attempt of a
man to describe an indescribable experience (Moses doesn’t even
record his own response to the experience!); they are God’s own
descriptions of Himself and His own actions.
Conclusion

Yes, God has form. But we have no need to wonder what form God has,
for the words of Scripture in Gen. 1:26-27 tell us precisely what the
form is… it is the form which is physically visible in the bodies of
mankind – male and female. While this is certainly hard to fully
comprehend, we have absolutely no biblical basis to interpret these
words any other way.

How have we as Bible-believing Christians allowed ourselves to reject


God’s image as literally portrayed in the human body? For reasons that
are biblically indefensible and with high-sounding but utterly man-
made words, we have written it into our systematic theology that God
has no form. Therefore, we have concluded, our bodies cannot possibly
represent him visually. In so doing, we have rejected this very personal
self-revelation of our God: His very image stamped on our bodies.

As a result, we have devalued the human body and subtly descended


into the Gnostic heresy, for we have counted the body as an
impediment to righteousness while only truly valuing the soul and
spirit of man.

What’s more, we have redefined the viewing of God’s image in the


human form as a sexual experience. Seeing the human body is
evaluated solely by its impact on the human libido and its supposedly
inescapable enticement to sensual indulgence.

This perspective is deeply insulting to the One whose image we bear.

Of all the people in the world who should know and understand this,
Bible-believing Christians should be at the top of the list. We have
God’s clear revelation in the Bible. We have a dependable hermeneutic
by which we can reliably understand it.

We should know the truth, but instead we’ve embraced and promoted
the lie.

That lie has had a profoundly damaging impact on our understanding


of our Creator, ourselves, our nature, and our purpose as human
beings. Embracing the truth instead will free us from its bondage and
lead us to healing, purpose, and a deeper and richer understanding of
God.

Correcting this error can and will have a profound impact on how we
understand the rest of Scripture. In fact, this reordered understanding
will unlock insights into God’s purpose for mankind as fully integrated
body-spirit (or body-soul-spirit) beings that we’ve never seen before.

Amen. Lord, may it be.