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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You Are Gods: Does the Bible Teach Polytheism?

If you ask some religions, the OT/NT teaches a plurality of gods.  In fact, said Joseph Smith, the gods created the heavens and the earth.  Other religions also teach a plurality of gods, more popularly known as polytheism.  What is the Christian to do when he or she runs across passages in the Bible like Psalm 82.6 and John 10.34-36 (I said, you are gods, sons of the Most High)?  Well, first of, we should not set our mad heads above Scripture, as Luther said.  Second, we allow clear passages help interpret the less clear passages.  Third, we have to understand – as Scripture presents itself – that the Bible is accommodated to humans.  God has “bent over” to speak “baby talk” to dim and sinful humans.  With these three things in mind, consider again the “gods” language in the Bible.

Scripture teaches a vast distinction between Creator and creature.  For example, in Isaiah 44.6, Yahweh says, I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god (cf. Jn 17.3, 1 Cor 8.6, Eph 4.6, etc).  In no uncertain terms, the Bible tells us that Yahweh is the creator and sustainer of all things; he is not subject to time or space or physical laws as are creatures.  One only has to read Job 38-42 and Isaiah 40-50 to see that God is neither contained nor constrained by the created and contingent world.  In other words, the gulf between Creator and creature is sharply defined: he is God and not a man (Hos 11.9; cf. Num 23.19, Is 55.8); his ways are beyond tracing and his mind is past finding out (Rom 11.33).

Taking these things in mind, when we see “gods” language in Scripture, the first thing we do is affirm that these “gods” are part of the created order.  Gods are not the Creator, but part of the creation.  These gods did not help Yahweh create, for he alone created all things by himself (Is 44.24).  These gods were not in existence before God spoke all things into being.  “Gods” in Scripture refers to angels, magistrates, and even to false gods (Ex 20.3, Ps 82.1, Is 37.19, 1 Cor 8.5, etc.).  Scripture never refers to these gods as having any of the essential (incommunicable) attributes of Yahweh – none of them are without beginning or end, none of them are simple (not made up of parts), none of them are immutable, none of them are omniscient or omnipresent or all-hearing.  Yahweh Elohim alone has the essential attributes of the true God; the other elohim do not. This is the theological side of this question/answer.

The grammatical/linguistic side is also helpful.  In human terms, it shouldn’t puzzle us too much to say that there is one true God but other gods who are less, not divine, and even sometimes non-existent, a figment of our idol-imagination.  For example, we say there is one President of the U.S.; there are other presidents (of the P.T.A., Country Club, etc.) and there are imposters (people who make themselves president of something), but only one real president, the president.  Again, this has to do with analogy and accommodation.  Or, in the language of the Reformed scholastics, “Jehovah alone designates God himself and no other, while Elohim is applied analogically to other beings” (Muller, PRRD, III.266).  Scripture uses language this way often: God alone is King, but there are other kings.  God alone is Lord, but there are other lords.  God alone is our Father, while there are other fathers.

Next time the Mormon missionary knocks on your door, and reacts violently to you saying “I am no polytheist like Joseph Smith,” lovingly press him on the Creator/creature distinction.  This is really the heart of the matter: the Mormon doctrine of God is really Mormon doctrine of Gods because they do not affirm a Creator/creature distinction as the OT/NT teach. “I said you are gods,” (Ps. 82.6) does not mean humans are or will be gods that transcend the created order and attain godhood; it does not mean that humans will ever have any essential (incommunicable) attributes of Yahweh.  It does mean that in the “creaturely” and “contingently” way, humans are/can be gods (i.e. rulers, authorities, etc.), as Ps. 82.7 clearly notes.

shane lems

sunnyside wa