“God Has No Body” Part 5.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often refer to multiple scripture references in the Bible which describe God’s body, parts, and passions. God has a human-like form in visions; he has arms, eyes, ears, and hands; and he is moved to anger, sadness, and repentance. Anthropomorphites’ claim that these references, or at least some of these references, are literal. The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. The Biblical verse Psalms 91:4 speaks of God as having “wings” and “feathers”
  2. The passage as a whole also contains references to God as a refuge, a fortress, a shield, a buckler, and a habitation; and references to the speaker as being delivered from the “snare of the fowler,” “noisome pestilence,” and flying arrows
  3. The passage references are clearly metaphorical representations used to describe both various powers of God and various needs of man
  4. Thus, the references to God’s wings and feathers are metaphorical representations of his love and concern (1) (2) (3)
  5. Numerous Biblical passages describe God as having eyes (Ezra 5:51 Samuel 26:21, 24Jeremiah 52:2), or arms (Isaiah 53:151:9), or other parts, etc.
  6. These passages are clearly metaphorical representations used to symbolize God’s power and knowledge
  7. Thus, all descriptions of God found in the Bible that refer to tangible, anthropomorphic qualities are metaphoric (4) (5) (6)
  8. Thus, God does not have any tangible qualities, including a physical body (7)
  9. Thus, God is incorporeal (8)

The Seventh Premise

This argument makes a big jump at the seventh premise, claiming from the existence of some metaphorical passages that all passages must be metaphorical. This is a clear fallacy, or in other words, this argument breaks certain logical rules which render the conclusion invalid. This then becomes a serious problem that is detrimental to this argument’s conclusion (i.e. God is incorporeal).

The fallacy in this argument is one of false emphasis, specifically the fallacy of composition. This fallacy occurs when one infers something is true of the whole when it is true of some of its parts:

  • A spark plug is lightweight, and therefore a car must be lightweight as well.
  • Atoms (which humans are made up of) are invisible, and therefore humans must be invisible as well.

Both cases are clearly ludicrous. Cars are heavy, and humans are visible. We can all see that just because something is true of the parts does not mean that it is true of the whole.

The argument up to the seventh premise is fairly sound. There are many metaphorical references to God in the Bible. And just like a spark plug is not the only lightweight car part, the reference to God’s “wings” is not the only metaphorical reference – God does not have wings, and many of the references to his eyes or arms (including the ones above) are also metaphorical. Yet to conclude that all references to God are metaphorical because some references to God are metaphorical is where the argument turns sour. God may be incorporeal, as most Christians claim, but it cannot be proved or evidenced by this argument.

While we may not be able to know for sure exactly which references are metaphorical and which references are literal, anthropomorphites need only provide one example of a scripture that can reasonably be taken literally to challenge the assumption that all references are metaphorical. I include two examples below which could reasonably be taken literally.

  • In Exodus 33, the Lord invites Moses to behold his glory. For his own purpose, the Lord tells Moses that he will cover his eyes while he passes, but will remove his hand in time for Moses to see his “back parts” (Exodus 33:23). What metaphorical interpretation could Christians give for these”back parts”?
  • Many prophets have seen visions of a corporeal deity other than Jesus Christ. Stephen, for example, saw the Savior standing on the right hand of God before he was martyred by the Jews (Acts 7:55-56). In this case also, there is no metaphorical interpretation. It gives more evidence against Trinitian ideas than for incorporeality.
  • There are other examples of scriptures which can be reasonably interpreted literally here.

Conclusion

Because the argument rises or falls on premise 7, it needs to be adjusted to correct for the fallacy of composition. It can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The Biblical verse Psalms 91:4 speaks of God as having “wings” and “feathers”
  2. The passage as a whole also contains references to God as a refuge, a fortress, a shield and buckler, and a habitation; and references to the speaker as being delivered from a “snare of the fowler,” “noisome pestilence,” and flying arrows
  3. The passage references are clearly metaphorical representations used to describe both various powers of God and various needs of man
  4. Thus, the references to God’s wings and feathers are metaphorical representations of his love and concern (1) (2) (3)
  5. Numerous Biblical passages describe God as having eyes (Ezra 5:5; 1 Samuel 26:21, 24; Jeremiah 52:), or arms (Isaiah 53:1; 51:9), etc.
  6. These passages are clearly metaphorical representations used to symbolize God’s power and knowledge
  7. Thus, while we can safely assume then that many Biblical passages are metaphorical, it would be fallacious to assume from only this evidence that all descriptions of God found in the Bible that refer to tangible, anthropomorphic qualities are metaphoric (4) (5) (6)
  8. Thus, we cannot conclude that God does not have any tangible qualities, including a physical body (7)
  9. Thus, we can conclude that if these scriptures can be taken literally, God is corporeal (7) (8)

It is important to note that this argument is inductive. We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“if…”). Still, this new argument is conditional only because some may argue (however badly) that all scriptures should be considered as metaphorical. Because no argument is set in stone, and others may challenge this new seventh, eighth, and ninth premise, the conclusion is uncertain. Yet, as the conclusion says, if as many as one scripture can be taken literally, then it is certain that God is corporeal.

That is a much stronger conclusion, and a powerful bit of evidence in favor of the anthropomorphites’ claim that God is embodied.

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