Language and Bible Study


As we have been studying the attributes of God in our “Knowing God” series, we have had the occasion to talk about some important principles for interpreting the Bible and the limitation of human language.

I wanted to share a passage I read this week, from an author by the name of Samuel Renihan that addresses these topics. I found it to be helpful.

"There are two sides to the equation here. And we can end up in two ditches if we are not careful. On the one side, we have to wrestle with the fact that verses that describe God in human form or emotion cannot be taken as one-to-one depictions of God. God is not like us. But in negating such things of God, we have to be careful to make sure we don’t forget that these passages are still telling us something. God is speaking to us in our language, and we can’t equate him with our language, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing for us to learn. It is quite the opposite, in fact…

When Scripture speaks of God repenting, regretting, or relenting, why does it say that? The point of connection is not between the emotional state of a human that repents and some emotional state in God, but in the action taken. When someone repents, they stop doing what they were doing, and they begin to do something else. So also, God created man, then he destroyed man, God made Saul king then he removed him, and God threatened judgment on Nineveh, then he removed the sentence of judgment.

You can call that repentance because of the analogy between God's action and human actions, without taking along with it the baggage of human emotional turmoil. When we repent, it is because something confronts us and we are changed. Spiritually speaking, we turn from sin to righteousness. Generally speaking, we encounter some problem, we regret a decision, and we redo something or start over, or do something else. God's existence is not bound by time. Quite to the contrary, God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and he accomplishes all his holy will. So can a simple spiritual God who has decreed all things and cannot be hindered, can that God repent? Not in the sense that we do. But did he decree from all eternity both to create man, and to destroy him, to make Saul king, and then to remove him, to threaten Nineveh, and then to deliver it? Absolutely. And those actions are described to us in human language.”

When we interpret the Bible we must remember, that depictions in the Bible, carry with them different connotations when applied to God as opposed to when they are applied to his creation. This is simply true because God’s existence transcends the existence of anything in creation.

This quote is found in “God Without Passions: A Primer” by Samuel Renihan