How great is God–beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.
God Is Beyond Human Understanding
July 20, 2011 by disciplestudies
Bible Reading: Genesis 1:26-27 – “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
These two verses of Genesis in the English translation gives the observant reader the first hint of a puzzle, although the original Hebrew text hints at the same thing back in the first verse of the Bible. The terms verses 26 and 27 apply to God shift back and forth between singular and plural nouns and pronouns (“his”, “us” and “our”). Note also the parallel usages in the nouns and pronouns related to mankind (“man” and “him” – singular, in parallel with “them” as well as “male and female” – plural). Previous mentions of “God”, back to the first verse in Genesis, appear to be clearly in the singular form according to English usage – but this is not so clear in the original Hebrew text. The Hebrew word we translate as “God” (transliterated in our alphabet as ‘elohim’) is actually a plural noun. ‘El‘ or ‘elah‘ are the general terms for ‘god’ (singular) in the original language, and the ‘im‘ ending makes the plural form of nouns. ‘Elohim‘ is translated as ‘gods’ when used in the Bible in contexts where it is clear that the text refers to the multiple false gods of the nations. Just one example: “Among the gods [‘elohim’] there is none like you, O LORD; no deeds can compare with yours.” (Psalm 86:8) However, when the Bible speaks of the one true God, the Creator, as ‘Elohim’, it is matched with a verb in the singular form rather than the plural. What are we to make of this?
I would suggest that, as is true with many other topics in the Bible, God may touch on a subject in passing that is not the point of the immediate narrative or teaching, but upon which he will elaborate in later passages of Scripture. If all of Scripture is to be consistent in its teaching (as Christians believe), the earlier mentioning of a subject, while completely accurate as stated, will be stated with enough ambiguity in the wording to allow for later information to be added. The full teachings about the nature of deity is not the primary focus of the creation account. The creation account tells us that God (in some manner being both singular and plural) is the one who created all of the heavens and the earth.
Still, the passage does add another hint or two. Genesis 1:26-27 speaks of mankind being created “in the image of God.” Also, verse 27 is constructed in typical Hebrew parallelism. This literary structure, which is also used extensively in the Psalms and other poetic structure, uses two phrases or sentences that are parallel to each other, with the phrases serving to elaborate or help explain each other more fully. In this structure, ‘man’ and ‘him’ in the first part of verse 27 are parallel in meaning with ‘male and female’ and ‘them’ in the second part. Biblically, we cannot understand man (mankind in the full nature of being) without recognizing that both male and female must be included. Two persons with different forms, aspects and roles are necessary to completely express the total nature of humanity. Yet both are fully ‘human’ beings. Although mankind is called the ‘image bearer’ of God, we must be careful not to press comparisons too far. An image (for example, in a mirror, a photograph or a painting) is not necessarily an absolutely complete image, accurate in every detail.
If my speculations and suggestions about the ambiguous language of these two Bible verses is accurate, we would expect to see further statements with more information about God (and perhaps man) in later sections of Scripture. And this does, indeed, prove to be the case.
- One of the most famous statements of the Old Testament is “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). “God” in this verse is again ‘elohim‘, the plural form of the noun. The verse also says he is “one,” translating from the word ‘echod’ in the original Hebrew text. Interestingly, if the writer had intended to express absolute unity or oneness, he could have chosen the Hebrew ‘yachid,’ which means precisely that. Instead, ‘echod’ was used, a word that can have a wider range of the meaning of ‘oneness.’ ‘Echod‘ is used also, for example, in Genesis 2:24, where it is written that a man and his wife become one (‘echod’) flesh. Obviously, they still remain two distinct people, yet in God’s design they are joined together and are one complete mankind/humanity in a way that defies a complete description in human language.
- When we get to the New Testament, we begin to see more explicit statements that again stretch our comprehension. In various passages, we are introduced to three distinct ‘persons’ who are all identified as the (‘One’) God. “The Father” is synonymous with God throughout the gospels, in the eyes of the Jewish people, by Jesus himself and by the writers of the remainder of Scripture. The first chapter of John’s gospel tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3). Note the identification of this “Word” with the Creator of Genesis 1. We are also told in John 1:14 that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” – with the passage going on to tell us that this refers to Jesus. Other passages throughout the New Testament also clearly assign claims and prerogatives to Jesus that only apply to God himself. The third ‘person’ mentioned in Scripture is the Holy Spirit. For example, in Acts 5:3-4, the Apostle Peter states to Ananias “…you have lied to the Holy Spirit…” (v.3) and comments that this means “You have not lied to men but to God.” (v.4)
While this post will not attempt to list and discuss all the Bible verses that support these teachings, I will return to this subject in future posts. For the moment, suffice it to say that the Bible, and Christians down through the centuries since the time of Jesus, have said the same thing: that there is one God, who expresses himself as three distinct persons called the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This is obviously beyond complete expression in human language, and beyond complete understanding using normal human logic. Yet we are left with a clear choice. Will we accept what God has said in the Bible about himself, or will we deny it by saying “I can’t comprehend it, therefore it must be false”?
The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.
okay uhm pay attention to the surf board…..1:29