God is human in the New Testament
God the Father, which is the divine soul, is non-material, and therefore does not have a physical body made out of physical matter as we do.
God the Son, which is the divine body, did become material and take on a physical body just like us, and rose from the tomb with his entire body.
His resurrection body was not made of matter, because it was able to pass through locked doors (see John 20:19) and could appear and disappear (see Luke 24:31). However, it was not a spirit either, since it could directly interact with matter, such as by eating some fish (see Luke 24:36–43).
When Jesus ascended up to heaven (Luke 24:50–53), he ascended in his familiar human form, visible to his disciples.
And when John later saw him in heaven (see Revelation 1:12–16), he also saw him in fully human form, wearing a robe and a sash, with hair, a head, eyes, feet, a right hand (and presumably also a left hand), a face, and a tongue—though it is described as being like a “sharp, double-edged sword.” That sword-like tongue is the only detail of John’s vision of Christ that is not fully human in appearance.
John also saw Christ in other forms, such as that of a lamb who had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6). However, the common experience of the Apostles, and of people in general right up to today when they have visions of Christ, is to see him as a human being.
God is human in the Old Testament
The Bible’s descriptions of God as human are in no way limited to the New Testament and to descriptions of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament God is described not only as having all different human thoughts and emotions, but also as having all the parts of the human body. God has:
- Hands: Exodus 7:5; Joshua 4:24; 1 Samuel 5:11; Psalm 118:16
- Fingers: Exodus 8:19; Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10
- Arms: Deuteronomy 4:34; Isaiah 51:9; Jeremiah 32:17; Ezekiel 20:33
- Shoulders: Deuteronomy 33:12
- Mouth: Deuteronomy 8:3; 1 Kings 8:15
- Eyes: Deuteronomy 11:12; 2 Samuel 7:19; Judges 18:6
- Eyelids: Psalm 11:4
- Ears: 1 Samuel 8:21; 2 Kings 19:16; Psalm 18:6; Psalm 34:15
- Nostrils: 2 Samuel 22:9; 2 Samuel 22:16
- Feet: Exodus 24:10; Nahum 1:3
- A heart: Genesis 6:6; Genesis 8:21; Deuteronomy 7:7; 1 Kings 9:3
This list could continue. These and many other passages show that in the Old Testament, as in the New Testament, God is described as human, with all of the body parts of a human being.
Yes, all of these body parts of God are commonly interpreted as figurative of God’s thoughts, feelings, and power to act. And yet, the fact remains that all of the body parts that we think of as making up a human being anatomically are also attributed to God in the Bible.
So when God created humankind in his own image (Genesis 1:26–27), it’s clear that even the parts, limbs, and organs of our physical anatomy reflect corresponding parts, limbs, and organs in God.
We are human because God is human
Since God is a divine being rather than a material being, God’s parts are made of divine substance rather than physical matter. But according to the Bible, God does indeed have all of the body parts that we do, even if God may have them in a way and at a level of reality that we cannot fully grasp or conceive of because God is infinite, but our minds are finite.
The primary way that we humans are made in God’s image is that we have finite versions of all the infinite parts and qualities of God’s mind and heart, such as love, wisdom, compassion, understanding, knowledge, and so on.
But even when it comes to the anatomy of our physical body, based on the Bible’s descriptions of God, the answer is yes, even anatomically Adam, Eve, and every other human being are all created in the image and likeness of God.
(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I originally wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)
For further reading:
In Hinduism (Vedic philosophy), this is touched upon and the conclusion is that we humans have theomorphic bodies.
Interesting. As ancient as it is, Hinduism seems to go back to the period that Swedenborg calls “the ancient church,” which stretches from late pre-history to the time of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Ten Commandments in the biblical narrative. Though Hinduism, like other religions, got corrupted over the centuries and millennia, it still does have some relics of that ancient wisdom.
Interesting idea. What do you think are the implications for our physical likeness to God?
As a thought experiment, if God has a form other than the human form, wouldn’t the authors of the Bible still have used terms that they and their audience would understand (ie. human anatomical terms) to describe God?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Good questions!
First and foremost, from the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology, everything in the material universe reflects and expresses, or “corresponds to” something in the spiritual universe, which, in turn, corresponds to something in the nature of God. Another way of saying this is that Creation reflects and expresses the nature of the Creator—and not just in general, but in detail.
This means that our physical likeness to God is not arbitrary. Each part of our physical body reflects and corresponds to something specific in spiritual reality, which, in turn, corresponds to something specific in God. Our arms and hands, for example, are the means by which we get things done, or express power physically. So they correspond to spiritual and divine power. This is the meaning of such biblical phrases as “the arm of the Lord” and “the right hand of God.” Every other part of the body has a similar correspondence to something specific in our spirit, and to something specific in God. In this way we are made “in the image and likeness of God,” as it says is Genesis 1:26–27.
The human form in its divine essence is not arbitrary, so that God would have something other than a human form. The human form is an expression of divine love, wisdom, and power, which are intrinsic and irreducible essentials of God. However, theoretically, if God had some other form, yes, we’d likely put God in our anatomical terms anyway. Similarly, many things in the Bible are expressed in particular cultural terms, but point to greater universals about God and spirit. (See: “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads,” especially the section titled, “Divine tablets vs. human tablets.”)
But as I say in the above article, I believe that we are human because God is human. Yes, sometimes we “create” God in our own image, such as attributing negative human emotions of anger, jealousy, vanity, pettiness, and so on to God. But ultimately, we are created human in God’s image, not the reverse.
Having said that, the human form can encompass many variations, some of which we might not initially recognize as human. I find it fascinating that most science fiction aliens are humanoid in form, regardless of whether they are pictured as evolving from reptiles, birds, mammals, or something else. Is a “humanoid” human? Science fiction generally treats them as human as long as they have what we think of as the basic human psychological characteristics of reason and free will. Even non-humanoid-shaped aliens who are sentient, rational beings with free will are commonly treated as having the same standing as humans.
Among humans on earth, some individuals and groups have unusual features, such as six fingers instead of five. This doesn’t make them any less human than those with more common anatomical features. And of course, males and females have distinct reproductive systems, but are both fully human. I suspect that “the human form” can encompass even more variety than we have encountered or imagined here on earth.
This is a huge subject, which I can’t do justice to in a brief comment. If you want to look further into the spiritual side of human anatomy, here are a couple of books you might enjoy:
Meanwhile, feel free to continue the conversation here if you like.
Thanks for the reply!
I really liked this paragraph, “But as I say in the above article, I believe that we are human because God is human. Yes, sometimes we “create” God in our own image, such as attributing negative human emotions of anger, jealousy, vanity, pettiness, and so on to God. But ultimately, we are created human in God’s image, not the reverse.”
And I think you may be right when you said, “I suspect that “the human form” can encompass even more variety than we have encountered or imagined here on earth.”
I actually teach human anatomy dissection and sure enough, there are many variations that we find during that process. “Patients don’t read the textbook” is used to express that idea when we find arteries branching differently, extra muscles, or other anomalies from the ‘normal’ anatomy found in the textbook.
Thanks for the further reading! I’ll check it out and let you know if I have other questions.
Love the “Patients don’t read the textbook” saying! Reality seems to feel no need to conform to our expectations. And God never creates any two people—or two of anything else—exactly the same.
When I was a teenager, I read through a large chunk of an old collector’s reprint edition of Gray’s Anatomy. (Yeah, I was sort of a weird kid lol.) I was fascinated when I discovered that I have a somewhat unusual, but known, variation on my left hand in which the main artery passes over the top of the big muscle controlling the thumb instead of underneath it. (I forget the names of the artery and muscle now.) As a result, I can check my pulse just by bending the tip of my left (but not my right) middle finger down onto my palm on top of that artery.
And speaking of aliens, when Swedenborg describes the people that he believed lived on the other planets in our solar system, not to mention on five or six planets from other solar systems (See: “Aliens vs. Advent: Swedenborg’s 1758 Book on Extraterrestrial Life.”), though they are fully human overall, he mentions some differences in physiology, such as inhabitants of Earth’s moon being very short; Jupiter’s inhabitants walking in a somewhat apelike way (my words, not his) in which they assist their forward motion with their hands, while still keeping their faces raised up and pointed forward so that they can see the sky as well as the ground; and males of one of the extra-solar planets having black skin instead of a beard on the lower part of their faces. While we now know that no other planet in our solar system is or ever was inhabited by highly evolved life forms, I find it fascinating that Swedenborg’s view of “aliens” was as “theme and variations” on the human form—just like most science fiction aliens.
At any rate, Swedenborg was a skilled anatomist, and wrote a number of books on human anatomy during his scientific period. His knowledge of anatomy sometimes shows up in his theological writings, when he suddenly gets technical about some part of the body. Especially, of course, in his treatment of the spiritual meaning of various parts of the human anatomy.
Muslims claim that “Son of God” is merely a title given to Jesus since Adam is also mentioned as the “Son of God” in Luke. And even angels and Christians are called as “Sons of God”. Please can you differentiate all these? Thank you.
Yes, there is a long tradition, spanning both the Old and New Testaments, of humans or angelic beings being called “sons of God” or “children of God.” In applying that term to Jesus, the New Testament was drawing on that tradition, but distinguished Jesus by saying he was God’s only son. Obviously that does not mean that all of the other “sons of God” are not sons of God, but rather that Jesus was the son of God in a unique way, such that in English translation it is usually distinguished by “son” being capitalized, as “Son of God,” whereas human or angelic “sons of God” are not capitalized. But that is not a distinction made in the original languages. Rather the context of Jesus being presented in the New Testament as God’s only son sets him apart from the others as belonging in a class of his own.
For more on how Jesus was “the Son of God” during his lifetime on earth, and yet how this progressively became something different than a human “son of God,” please see this article:
What Does it Mean that Jesus was “Glorified”?
What does it mean to be a recipient vessel of life from God? How independent or separate from God is our existence?
It seems there are 2 extremes. On the one end are religions like Hindu where only God is real and the goal is to merge back with God, and on the other are Western faiths like Protestantism or LDS where our spirits exist completely independent of God.
In reality, it is an interplay between the two. For more on this, please see these two articles:
First…. THANK YOU, Lee!!! …from this one, single, “nobody” (well, you know what I mean 😉 ) out here in the ocean of humanity. (in fact, the nature OF our each uniquely “feeling/experiencing” our own existence/reality, in relation to the fact that EACH one of us are uniquely having that same “separated experience”, utterly intrigues me!! I need to dive into that matter at some point, if that’s possible!). ANYWAY.. I easily hop down the myriad (actually probably infinite!) bunny trails!… and one other quick aside (well.. there ARE NO “asides”! It’s all one big manifestation of The One… I’m discovering more and more! Wow), thank you as DEEPLY as my heart can thank you, for your extensive and heartFUL article on… (*sigh* dare I utter it?)… homosexuality. My, my… the depths of the actual reality of dealing with that, personally.
OK, I’ve already distressed past the point of my being able to even remember what I was wanting to say initially!! 😛 So I’ll simply expound on that thank you… for all your exceptional, deep heart’s thoughts (and realizations) that you’re sharing. IT MATTERS, in real lives, and real hearts. This heart finds relief in knowing other hearts seek the very same truths of our very reality. Wow. I’m purchasing your available books on Amazon.. and I thank you in advance, on behalf of my heart, for the amazingly wonderful joyous ride!! 🙂 Blessings, brother!! Carry on!! 🙂 ❤
Thanks for stopping by, and for your heartfelt and heartful thoughts, gratitude, and well-wishes, which I appreciate very much! I’m glad the homosexuality article is so helpful to you. It wasn’t an issue I really wanted to tangle with due to all the heat and conflict surrounding it. But that was also exactly the reason I felt compelled to wade into the fray and attempt to bring some light into an area where there is far more heat than light these days. It is good to hear that the light has reached you and others, and given help and comfort.
Thanks also for your book purchases. I do hope you’ll find them enlightening and helpful as well. If you have any thoughts or questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to leave further comments here.
Godspeed on your spiritual journey!
I just remembered my initial question! 😛 No bunny trails this time (other than autospell correcting “distressed” above to “digressed” 😀 )…
As is probably well known by any who dive into the debate, atheists completely base part of their evidence for evolution (complete with the accompanying no-God contention), on the morphological changes of biological entities. In other words, basically every animal (and including humans) have essentially the same “basic constituency” and overall morphology. I’ve never heard any Swedenborgian concern addressing this fundamental existential reality, and how it relates to the essential human body to God relation. Where DOES the fact that nearly all life-forms on earth possess a similarity of “mirror-imaged, limbed bodies” fit into that human-form / God-form description? Thank you, again, Lee!
Interesting question! Several thoughts come to mind in response.
First, about the generally symmetrical, “mirror-imaged” bodies, this, according to Swedenborg, is a reflection of the fundamental love / wisdom duality of God, and of all creation. Specifically, Swedenborg associates the right side with love, and the left side with wisdom. These are paired with one another because love and wisdom, or good and truth, are perfectly united and balanced in God, and they are therefore united and balanced in the things, both spiritual and material, that God creates. Hence the symmetrical bodies of many living creatures, especially those higher up on the chain of life.
Second, because, again according to Swedenborg, God is a human being—meaning especially that God has, and is, infinite love, wisdom, and power, which are the traits that make us human—and because everything in the created universe was created by God and is an expression of God, therefore everything in the universe tends toward a human form. This is somewhat philosophical in concept. But practically speaking, in relation to your question, it results in animals taking forms that are more and more human as evolution proceeds and higher life forms develop from lower ones, finally resulting in actual human beings.
Yes, I have no problem with the concept of evolution as the way in which God brought about the various species. It’s a pretty good theory, and we don’t have another one that works so well, and has so much explanatory power from a physical and biological standpoint. However, I find it highly farfetched and downright unbelievable that life just happened to happen, and continued to develop in highly complex ways, through sheer random chance and mutation, as materialistic evolutionary theory asks us to believe. It gives materialists a way to not believe in God and spirit. However, it is much more rational, I think, to accept the idea that such a stupendously intricate and ordered universe did not come about by blind chance, but had a designer—who, of course, is God.
Third, as with human bodies, animal bodies reflect the nature of the animal. Fierce animals have sharp claws and teeth. Gentle animals do not. Each animal’s form reflects its intrinsic nature. And that nature is a correspondence, or physical manifestation, of some spiritual reality, such as a particular type of love, whether heavenly or hellish. For more on this, please see this book (the link is to its listing on Amazon):
Correspondences of the Bible: The Animals, by John Worcester
And about the symbolism of the human body and its various parts, see:
Correspondences of the Bible: The Human Body, by John Worcester
And just to round out the set:
Correspondences of the Bible: The Plants, by John Worcester
All three are fantastic books, and very readable and understandable, since they grew out of young people’s classes that the Rev. John Worcester taught over a century ago.