Anthropomorphites, Audius, and Mormons

 In the broader context of the early church there was a group of people called the anthropomorphites who took the Bible “literally” which led them to believe and teach that God has a body.  Since the Bible talks about God’s right hand, his footsteps, his eyes, (etc.) they thought that God was some sort of majestic and divine giant.  Audius was a prominent leader of this group, therefore sometimes the anthropomorphites are called Audians. 

Cyril (d. 444), Jerome (d. 420), and many other early orthodox Christian leaders were quick to condemn the group for this heresy, which opened the door to a host of other heresies.  For example, if God had a body he could not be omnipresent nor could he be simple (simplicitas Dei; without parts or composition) both of which the Bible clearly does teach.  If God had a body, he would be subject to time; he would be contingent and part of creation – all of which the Bible clearly does not teach.  The modern-day Audians include Latter Day Saints (Mormons) who say that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22).  There is nothing new under the sun.

So what do we do we make of the parts of the Bible that speak of God’s eyes, hands, feet, etc.?  Well, we view the Bible for what it is: God’s word to fallen, sinful humans – for us and our salvation.  God doesn’t speak to humans in “God-language,” but in “human-language.”  This means he accommodates himself to us by using our language – words and concepts we can understand.  I like how Herman Bavinck stated this.  He put it in the category of God’s grace towards sinners.

“If God were to speak to us in a divine language, not a creature would understand him.  But what spells out his grace is the fact that from the moment of creation God stoops down to his creatures, speaking and appearing to them in human fashion.  This is why all the names by which God calls himself and allows us to call him are derived from earthly and human relations.” (H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics II.100)

The church fathers realized this too.  Frances Young summarizes Ephrem the Syrian’s (b. 306) views on accommodation.

“It is only because of God’s condescension and accommodation to the human level that we can speak of God at all.  Ephrem offers as an analogy an amusing picture of someone trying to teach a parrot to talk and hiding behind a mirror so that the parrot imagines it is talking to one of its own kind; that is the kind of thing God did, bending down from on high and acquiring our own habits from us.  God clothed the divine self in metaphors: scripture speaks us of God’s ears to teach us that God listens to us, of God’s eyes to show us that God sees us.”  (F. Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon, p. 182)

This is a basic teaching of Christianity: the eternal, infinite, omniscient, and omnipresent invisible God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – graciously adapted his communication to the level of our understanding.  Though we cannot fully comprehend him, we can apprehend him through his word, which is able to give us sufficient knowledge and faith for salvation.

shane lems

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