Is God Spirit, Anthropomorphic, or Both?

This week we digress from the main story of Moses to address how God appears in different formats in the Old Testament. Here’s what we mean:

  • Spirit or Man-like? Genesis 1 describes God as omniscient and omnipresent when he creates the universe. But Genesis 2 (i.e. Adam & Eve) describes God as an anthropomorphic being who forms Adam out of mud and wanders around the Garden of Eden looking for A&E. 
  • Anthropomorphic examples. Most of the memorable God-events in the Old Testament come when God appears either as an angel or as an earthly being.
    • God wrestles with Jacob and actually breaks a thigh bone during the tussle.
    • God (and two other angels) eat dinner with Abraham in his tent one night.  
    • God speaks to Moses out of a burning bush.
    • And just last week we described an altercation between Moses and God, leading to an emergency circumcision and a creepy verse about what happened to the foreskin. So there’s that.

So which is it? Is God the omnipresent ephemeral being ‘out there’ someplace? Or does God regularly appear in the form of angels and human-like beings? 

  • Different authors; different time periods.Part of the confusions is because  there were multiple authors for the Old Testament. (The books were not written by Moses.) Most biblical scholars think that Genesis 1 (which portrays God as an amorphous being), and all the Old Testament stories that describe God more akin to a spirit, were written by some guy in around 500 BCE. Genesis 2, with the anthropomorphic God who wrestles with people, gets mad, gets jealous, and does all kinds of human stuff, was written around 1,000 BCE.

You’ve got to have a lot of time (and several interns) to comb through the Old Testament to figure who wrote which verses. But that’s what biblical scholars … and their grad students …  do. And we are grateful to Professor Bart Ehrman and his grad students for that fine work.

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