“God Has No Body” Part 4.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often refer to Genesis 1:26 as evidence for their claim.  It reads,

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. The purpose of Genesis 1 is to differentiate man from God’s other creations, including the animals
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. Thus, instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (1) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

The first thing that should be noted is that this argument is inductive, which carries with it its own problems. The conclusion can only be formulated as it is in the fifth statement, i.e. conditionally (“may”). Even if premise 4 is true, it clearly deals only with Genesis 1:26. It is possible that God has a body even though the image referred to in Genesis 1:26 is a rational soul.

Even as an inductive argument, it weakens the position of anthropomorphites. But it cannot establish deductively that God is incorporeal, only that he may be incorporeal.

Myths

This argument claims that the purpose of Genesis 1 is to differentiate man from the animals. That is not necessarily true. In fact, this tract gives no basis for this claim whatsoever.

The way that men have understood the world has changed dramatically since the beginning of the scientific age. Eos no longer brings dawn with rose-red fingers that creep across the sky; instead, dawn is brought by light that emanates from a burning, godless ball of gas. In the same way that science has changed the way men explain the world, it has also changed the way men understand myths. Rather than dealing with whether or not something is historically accurate, as many believe now, myths have traditionally been used to explain man’s identity and relationship to the world around them. They are not just funny stories, but (in their traditional sense) have deep spiritual and religious importance. As the philosopher Mircea Eliade wrote, a myth

“means a ‘true story’… that is a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, and significant.”

The “Myth” of Genesis

At the risk of sounding heretical, I claim that to fully understand Genesis the way its author intended  it to be understood, we should think of it as a myth. In other words, we should look at it in the way Eliade suggested, and the way that ancients looked at myths – to learn who we are and what exactly is our relationship to God. Again, myths bring mysteries within the mental grasp of mankind, while teaching them important, sacred lessons that help them live life more perfectly. In the myth of Genesis, man gains insight into the being that God is – an all-powerful and all-knowing Creator who is to be respected and honored, while also a personal and compassionate Father whom man may approach.

We get this understanding about God from the Creation story in Genesis. Yet it should be noted that there are two accounts of the Creation, which have very noticeable differences – one in Genesis 1, and another in Genesis 2 and 3. The purpose of each account becomes clear when examining the difference between the two. The primary purpose of Genesis 1 is not to differentiate man from the animals, but rather to demonstrate God’s majesty and power. This is in contrast to the primary purpose of Genesis 2 and 3, which is to demonstrate God as a personal, involved sculptor who is aware of the small details.

The Purpose of Genesis 1

The God of Genesis 1 is a powerful, almighty God. He sees two problems with the universe – it is without form (chaotic), and it is void (empty). He solves the first problem in the first three days. He forms light and dark, the sea and sky, and the earth and plants. Then, he solves the second problem in the next three days.  He fills this creation with lights, then fish and fowl, and then animals and man.

The God of Genesis 1 is a powerful Creator.  Just by speaking he is able to bring all things into being.  He is also pragmatic, logically solving the problems he identified in the beginning. This was a very specific lesson planned by the author of Genesis, and becomes even clearer when we contrast it with the God of Genesis 2 and 3.

The Purpose of Genesis 2 and 3

We see a much different God in Genesis 2 and 3. Rather than a distant, almighty designer, we come to see God as a very personal and involved creator.

After God creates Adam, he teases and plays with him lovingly as they search together for a help meet. Initially, God tells Adam that it is not good for him to be alone, and then parades before him all the animals. Of course, Adam finds no help meet in this group.

When no help meet is found, Adam is presented with Eve. The original term used to describe creating Eve denotes building, or a similar architectural activity. This is in stark contrast to simply speaking something into existence. God is personally involved here, molding humans from the clay, breathing into them the breath of life.

After sinning, Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden. God sets cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life, but then makes them clothing. Was there a needle and thread? Perhaps not. But regardless, God was there, making the clothing for his created children.

This personal, loving, and involved picture of God is a view that you just don’t get from the first chapter of Genesis.

Conclusion

The story of the creation, with both accounts, teaches very vital principles about the character of God.  Both are important, and just one would paint only an incomplete picture. There are differences in the two accounts, but that is done purposefully and should not effect how we view its’ veracity as a whole. The story of Genesis 1-3 was meant to explain the purpose of the Creation and it’s relation to man, and to teach us about the kind of being God is. It’s not necessarily about the historicity.

And when looking at the story, or myth, in context, it’s clear that the purpose of Genesis 1 is much broader than to differentiate man from the animals God created.  Instead, it is to teach us about God, specifically about his almighty power, his omnipotence, and his pragmatic, logical manner.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. Thus, instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

Continued at Part 4.2.

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7 thoughts on ““God Has No Body” Part 4.1”

  1. Hello,

    There are places where scripture seems to take a break from reality,
    like who wrote Job? It takes place in somewhere far from Canaan. The whole drama of Job is wholly poetic, I doubt people in that day sat around chanting poems back and forth like that.

    That said, I interpret the words and attitudes of Job and his friends, and God who answers in the end, to be correct and pointing toward correct attitudes about God, but I believe Job may have been fictitious.

    Later on, God says Ezekiel 14:14 “even if these three men–Noah, Daniel and Job–were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

    He’s not saying that Job is real, not necessarily. This notion is uncomfortable for me to say.

    Still, the 6 days of creation, I understand the word ‘day’ translated from the Hebrew also can be interpreted as ‘a period of time’. That the order of species creation tracks with the evolutionary timeline of species. this implies evolution was a guided process, rather than random chance and ‘natural selection’. God does not owe us answers.

    There are parts of the Bible which contain truth as their point, but the words are hyperbole. Still, I’m a bit scared to say parts of it aren’t literal.

    Sometimes we have no answers for stuff, and Psalm 131 is a good place to be – I am not concerned with matters too wonderful for me.
    This is evident in the lack of explanations and open ends in the scripture. The whole scripture says ‘trust God’.

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