Knowing Scripture – Part 2

Phenomenological and Anthropomorphic Language 

From Ligonier Ministries

Yesterday we introduced the grammatico-historical method of biblical interpretation. This method seeks to uncover the author’s original intent to determine a text’s meaning. Once the meaning is determined, we can make an application to the present day. 

One important aspect of the grammatico-historical method is its insistence upon literal interpretation. This means we must read the Bible similar to how we read other books. In the Bible, just like other works of literature, a noun is a noun, and a verb is a verb. We interpret the literary forms we find in the Bible just like we interpret the forms in other works of literature. 

Literal interpretation demands we take different literary forms into account when reading Scripture. For example, we cannot understand metaphors in the same way we understand less colorful depictions of persons and events. The Bible uses many basic literary forms, and today we will look at two of them. 

Phenomenological Language. Much of the Bible comes to us with language that describes the way things appear to the naked eye. The language used is descriptive of the ways things look from our perspective and is not necessarily asserting a precise scientific fact. An example of this is the description of the sun rising. Unless we understand phenomenological language, we might think the Bible teaches the earth is at the center of the universe. When we realize the Bible describes things according to appearance, we see that the Bible is not saying the sun revolves around the earth. Instead, it is merely saying the sun rises because, to our naked eye, it looks like the sun moves and the earth does not. This use of language is still current. The meteorologist gives us the time of sunrise, but nobody assumes he is teaching that the sun revolves around the earth. 

Anthropomorphic Language. A language that ascribes uniquely human characteristics to God. A text that reads “the finger of God” is an example. When the Bible describes things in this way, it is not asserting that God has physical parts like human beings. It is only describing things in ways we can relate to. When we do not take anthropomorphic language seriously, errors like the Mormon teaching that God has a body are the result. 

CORAM DEO Living before the face of God

Modern science and mathematics enable us to speak with great precision at times. Truth, however, does not always demand the kind of precision we find in modern science. Remember that the approximations, estimates, and other uses of language in the Bible also give us an accurate picture of the universe.

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