Anthropomorphism (Subject)


National Association of Christian Ministers Summary Series: Theology

Anthropomorphism is a theological and philosophical concept that involves attributing human characteristics, traits, emotions, or behaviors to non-human entities, often to describe or understand the divine or the supernatural. This term is commonly used in the context of discussions about religious beliefs and the way humans relate to and conceptualize gods, deities, or spiritual beings.

  1. Humanization of the Divine: Anthropomorphism involves depicting gods or the divine in ways that make them more relatable to human experiences. This can include ascribing human emotions like love, anger, or jealousy to deities.


  1. Symbolic Communication: It serves as a tool for humans to communicate and understand abstract or complex theological ideas. By depicting the divine in familiar human terms, it aids in conveying religious teachings and values.


  1. Controversy: Anthropomorphism has been a subject of debate within religious and philosophical circles. Some argue that it simplifies the divine, while others believe it helps people connect with and relate to the divine on a more personal level.


  1. Art and Iconography: In religious art and iconography, anthropomorphism is often evident in the representation of deities with human-like forms and features, which can help believers connect with the divine visually.


  1. Metaphorical and Symbolic: Many theologians and philosophers view anthropomorphism as a metaphorical or symbolic approach rather than a literal description of the divine. They argue that it provides a way for humans to grasp the incomprehensible.


  1. Cultural Variations: Anthropomorphism can vary across cultures and religions. Different faiths may have distinct interpretations of how the divine is anthropomorphized, depending on their beliefs and traditions.


In the Bible

Anthropomorphism is a common literary and theological device used in the Bible to help humans relate to and understand the nature of God. It involves describing God or divine beings in human terms or using human-like qualities to convey deeper spiritual or moral messages. Here are a few Bible verses that depict anthropomorphism:

    1. Psalm 91:4 (NIV): “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings, you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”This verse uses the image of God as a protective bird, spreading its wings over those who seek refuge in Him.
    2. Exodus 33:11 (NIV): “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”Here, God is described as speaking to Moses in a way that suggests a close, personal relationship.
    3. Psalm 18:2 (NIV): “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”God is metaphorically described as a rock and a fortress, providing security and protection.
    4. Psalm 78:65 (NIV): “Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine.”This verse portrays God with human-like qualities of waking from sleep, emphasizing His readiness to act.
    5. Genesis 3:8 (NIV): “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”This verse depicts God in human terms, walking in the garden, implying a close presence.
    6. Isaiah 59:1-2 (NIV): “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.”This verse speaks of God’s “arm” and “ear” to emphasize His ability to act and listen, using human body parts metaphorically.
    7. Exodus 24:9-10 (NIV): “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.”This passage describes the elders of Israel seeing God and even mentioning His feet, though it’s understood to be a symbolic or visionary experience.

These verses showcase how anthropomorphism is used in the Bible to convey complex theological ideas in human terms, making the divine more relatable and understandable to the readers. It’s important to remember that these descriptions are metaphorical and symbolic, as God transcends human form and characteristics in theological understanding.