If Genesis is meant to be taken literally …

Recently I was talking to a Bible Society translator and happened to mention the concept of a literal Genesis. He immediately challenged me with, ‘What about the anthropomorphisms?’

So what are anthropomorphisms? And what do they have to do with a literal Genesis?

God and human characteristics

Anthropomorphisms (from Greek άνθρωπος (anthrōpos) = man/human + μορφή (morphē) = form) are figures of speech which represent God as having human characteristics, form or personality. They are symbolic descriptions, which help to make God’s attributes, powers and activities real to us.

For example, Genesis talks about:

  • God speaking (e.g. Genesis 1:3). But does this mean that God has vocal cords?
  • God seeing (Genesis 1:4). Does God have eyes with pupils and retinas?
  • God walking (Genesis 3:8). Does God have legs?
  • God making clothes for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). Does God have hands?
  • God smelling a sweet savour from Noah’s sacrifice (Genesis 8:21). Does God have a nose and olfactory receptors?

If we say we take Genesis ‘literally’, doesn’t that mean insisting that these descriptions are literal, too? And if not, doesn’t this undermine our claim that Genesis is meant to be taken literally?

The author’s intention

To answer these questions we must first consider the intention of the author—in this case Moses, under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit.1 It is clear that Moses’ purpose is to tell us what God did on these occasions in a way that we can understand, and not to give us any physical pen-pictures of God. Moses does this, in the examples above, by portraying God’s actions in terms of their human counterparts; namely voice, sight, companionship, work and satisfaction….

Continue Reading on creation.com