Doctrine of Anthropopathism

February 17, 2014


A.  Definition and Description.
1.  An anthropopathism ascribes to God a human characteristic which God does not actually possess, but is used to reveal and explain God’s policy toward mankind in terms of human frame of reference by the use of language of accommodation.
2.  Accommodation means that human modus operandi is ascribed to God, such as human affection or human sins, so that man can understand divine policy and attitude in terms of his own frame of reference.
3.  Unless this doctrine is understood, the believer is going to be in a state of confusion about the doctrine of divine essence.
a. For example, in Ps 106:45 we are told that God changed His mind or repented, but God is immutable and cannot change His mind.  But 1 Sam 15:29 says, “The glory of Israel [Jesus Christ] will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”
b. In Ps 110:4 it says, “The Lord [God the Father] has made a solemn promise and will not change His mind.  You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
4.  In order to explain divine policy in terms of human frame of reference, human characteristics are ascribed to God to explain His policy to human beings.  An anthropopathism is a human characteristic such as:  love, hate, wrath, change of mind, scorn, compassion, longsuffering, remembering.  The Greek word ANTHRO means man; “pathism” means a function of the soul with outward manifestation.  Hence, an anthropopathism ascribes a human characteristic to God which God does not possess and which is not a divine attribute.
5.  The purpose of the anthropopathism is to explain to us in language we can understand the divine attitude, policy, or modus operandi toward a person or persons, so that mankind can adapt to the divine policy or understand the divine policy.  We are accommodated so that we can understand divine modus operandi.  The anthropopathism is designed for human adjustment, by which a person understands God’s policy, God’s grace related to that policy, or God’s judgment related to that policy.

B.  The Classification of Anthropopathisms.
1.  Non-sinful anthropopathisms.
a. Love.  Mal 1:2; 2 Cor 9:7, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  Rom 9:13, “Just as it stands written, ‘I have loved Jacob but I hate Esau.’”
(1)  The anthropopathism of love is an expression of divine motivation, approval, and acceptance.  This is not the same as the divine attribute of love–God is love.  Love and hate explain God’s approbation on Israel and disapprobation of the Arabic peoples.
(2)  God does not hate.  Hatred is a sin.  God “hated” Esau because he did not and would not believe in Christ, Heb 12:17, “For you know that even afterwards, when he [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.”  When the scar tissue of the soul equals the garbage in the subconscious, you have reached the point of no return regarding believing in Christ for salvation.  Therefore, all you can turn to is emotion.
b. Compassion, Ps 103:13; 119:77; Lam 3:32; Rom 9:15; Jam 5:11.  God does not have this human characteristic but it helps to explain His grace policies.  Ps 78:38, 111:4, 112:4, 145:8.
c. Longsuffering and Patience, Ex 34:6; Num 14:18; Ps 86:15; 2 Pet 3:9.
2.  Sinful anthropopathisms.
a. Hatred, Ps 5:4-6; Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:13.  God does not sin, therefore, He does not hate.  This only explains divine policy–why God is doing what He is doing.  Hatred is a sin but is ascribed to God merely to express divine disapproval of Esau in terms mankind can understand.  Since man understands hatred as disapproval, he understands divine policy in terms of human frame of reference.
b. Anger and wrath, Num 22:22; Ps 88:16; Jn 3:36; Rom 1:18, 9:22; Eph 2:3; Rev 19:15; Ps 5:4, 7:11, 90:11, 103:8, 106:40.  These characteristics describe God’s holiness and justice directed toward unbelievers.
c. Scorn, Prov 1:26; Ps 2:4, 59:8, 37:13.  To scorn means to ridicule someone.  It is unkind and thoughtless, a sinful function.  Scorn involves mental attitude sins.  Again, these passages use human frame of reference to explain divine policy.
d. Vengeance, Deut 32:35; Ps 94:1, 99:8; Isa 34:8, 61:2; Jer 51:6; Rom 12:19. We are to leave our court case in the hands of the Supreme Court of Heaven.  Vengeance is language of accommodation to express God’s policy of perfect justice.
e. Repentance in which God is the subject.  Repentance means a change of mind, which in humans is a sign of instability.  God is immutable and decreed everything, and therefore, cannot change His mind.  So the anthropopathism of repentance of God describes the policy of divine discipline and judgment in Gen 6:6; Ex 32:14; 1 Sam 15:35; Ps 90:1113; Jer 15:6, 26:3, 13; Ezek 24:14; Amos 7:3-6; Jon 3:910; Zech 8:14.
f. Jealousy, Ex 20:5; 34:14; Num 25:11; Dt 5:9; 6:15; 32:16, 21; Josh 24:19.

C.  The Attribute of Divine Love Versus the Anthropopathism of Divine Love.
1.  To rightly divide the Word of Truth, the believer must distinguish between the divine attribute of love and the anthropopathism of love.  This is just as important as distinguishing between dispensations.
2.  Love is complete and total from eternity past as a part of God’s infinite being.
3.  This means God cannot, will not, and never did fall in love, nor does He maintain love, nor is His love sustained by emotion.  God is totally without emotion.  God is not a sucker for tears.  God is only impressed by what He does for you, not by what you do for Him.
4.  Like all divine attributes, God’s love belongs to God’s being.  God is love regardless of having any object of love.  Man must always have an object.  But there has never been a time when God needed an object for His love.
5.  There are two objects of divine love.
a. Subjective love toward His own holiness or integrity (justice and righteousness).  This is God’s subjective love.  There never was a time when God did not love His righteousness.  When we believe in Christ, the justice of God imputes His righteousness to us and God loves that imputed righteousness in us.  So the believer is actually the object of divine love as an attribute rather than as an anthropopathism, but justice is still his pointof contact with God.  Justice imputes blessing at the Judgment Seat of Christ in eternity just as it does in time at the point of spiritual maturity.
b. Objective love toward the other members of the Trinity.
6.  While God is love (1 Jn 4:8), the love of God as a divine and infinite attribute is not understood by the finite mind of man.
7.  All creatures are excluded from the attribute of divine love except where divine righteousness has been imputed.
8.  The justice of God and faith in Christ is the issue.  God loves His own righteousness.  Therefore, when it is imputed at the moment of salvation, God’s attribute of love is directed wherever divine righteousness goes.  You have become the object of God’s infinite and eternal love.
9.  Because the love of God is perfect, it is totally devoid of human emotion, Jer 31:3; Rom 8:39.
10.  The divine attribute of love does not need an object for love; this is in contrast to human love which must always have an object.  Divine love is an absolute, while human love is progressive or retrogressive.

D.  The Anthropopathism of Divine Love.
1.  The classical illustration is Rom 9:13, “I have loved Jacob, but I hate Esau.”
2.  God neither loves nor hates in terms of human modus vivendi, but in order to explain the spiritual status of the twins, the anthropopathism of love and hate are ascribed to God.  God is neither humanly noble nor humanly sinful.  This is only language of accommodation.
3.  The anthropopathisms of love and hate simply indicate that the omniscience of God knew in eternity past that the free will of Esau would reject Christ as savior and the free will of Jacob would believe in Christ.
a. The anthropopathism of love explains in human terms the fact of Jacob’s salvation adjustment to the justice of God through faith in Christ.  Esau’s failure to believe in Christ is explained by hatred from God.  Human characteristics are used so the dumbest of dummies can understand.  In the case of Esau, human volition acted independently of the sovereignty of God.  In the case of Jacob, he complied with the sovereignty of God.
b. The anthropopathism of hate explains in human frame of reference the fact of Esau’s rejection of Christ as Savior or his maladjustment to the justice of God and consequent judgment.
4.  The love and hate anthropopathisms express the supreme court of heaven’s two judgments in the case of two different people, one a believer and one an unbeliever.  God has exercised His right of judgment on the basis of knowing simultaneously in eternity past all the facts of every person in history.  The righteousness of God is expressed in the anthropopathism of hatred, i.e., in terms of human frame of reference.
5.  While love as an anthropopathism explains divine motivation in terms of human frame of reference, love is not the direct source of blessing from God.  The direct source of blessing is the justice of God.  God doesn’t bless man from human sentimentality or emotional attraction.
6.  Man erroneously concludes in his own selfrighteousness that he must do something or say something to please God and receive blessing.  Therefore, man builds up a system of working and striving, which eliminates grace and rejects divine integrity.
7.  The integrity of God is always the issue.  Man’s point of reference in time as well as in eternity is always justice.  God found a way to bring man into relationship with Himself and bless mankind without compromising any divine attribute.
a. The key is justification, which is a function of divine justice, never a function of divine love.  Because we deal with divine justice, the most repulsive member of the human race can have the most marvelous blessing.
b. Through justification, God is free to bring sinful man into an eternal relationship with Himself and impute blessing to him in time and eternity.  Perfect God has a perfect plan designed for sinful, selfrighteous, and full of human good and evil people.
c. God loves His own righteousness with an infinite and perfect love.  In perfect righteousness, divine love for holiness is revealed.  Righteousness demands righteousness and justice demands justice.  What righteousness demands, justice executes.  This is the basis for divine blessing to man; divine love is never the basis.  To explain this principle to mankind, language of accommodation ascribes to God human love as an anthropopathism.
d. The anthropopathisms of love and hate in Rom 9:13 do not imply that God is prejudice, for God has perfect, eternal, immutable integrity.  God’s perfect integrity is maintained by His sovereign will.  Therefore, it is a part of His unchangeable or immutable self.
e. God is fair.  It is impossible for God to be unfair.  No greater demonstration of divine justice exists than was demonstrated at the Cross.  Rom 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died as a substitute for us.”  The anthropopathisms of love and hate do not imply any lack of integrity on the part of God, Rom 9:14, “Therefore, to what conclusion are we forced?  There is no injustice with God, is there?  Definitely not!”  Anthropopathisms do not represent the character of God; they represent the policy of God.
8.  Principles.
a. Esau rejected Christ.  Therefore, he did not possess divine righteousness or regeneration (eternal life).
b. Jacob believed in Christ as his Savior.  Therefore, he possessed imputed righteousness, resulting in his justification.  At the same time, he received through regeneration eternal life.
c. In the language of accommodation, justification and the possession of eternal life is expressed by the anthropopathism of love.
d. In the language of accommodation, condemnation is expressed in the anthropopathism of hate.
e. Since the righteousness of God demands equivalent righteousness and eternal life, the justice of God must condemn the lack of divine righteousness and the lack of eternal life, therefore, the anthropopathism of hate.  This explains to human beings through language of accommodation the attitude of God toward those who reject Christ as Savior.
f. In grace, God provided all that His perfect righteousness demanded from the human race.
g. At the moment of faith in Christ, God provides through imputation His very own righteousness.  Since Jacob had God’s very own righteousness, God said, “I love Jacob, but I hate Esau.”
(1)  If Esau had been accepted through the primogeniture principle of physical birth, then the perfect righteousness of God would have been compromised.  But the integrity of God can and does condemn the self-righteousness and unrighteousness of mankind.  This condemnation is expressed in the case of Esau, who stood on his own righteousness, as God’s hatred of him.
(2)  It is impossible for God to compromise His righteousness.  Therefore, God cannot be unrighteous in dealing with any person, and He expresses it, not in terms of his character or essence, but in terms of language of accommodation.
h. The fact that Esau rejected Christ and chose the way of condemnation does not reflect on the perfect justice of God, but on the wrong decision of Esau.  The condemnation of Esau as an unbeliever vindicates the justice of God, being totally consistent with His perfect divine integrity.  The issue is obvious:  Is God, who inflicts condemnation and judgment on the unbeliever, unrighteous, unfair, or unjust?  No!  On the contrary, the function of divine justice in condemnation confirms and strengthens divine integrity.  There can be no blessing to mankind apart from the integrity or holiness of God.

E.  Conclusion.
1.  The complexity of a doctrine such as anthropopathisms is not going to be understood unless other doctrines are understood first.  Understanding the doctrine of Divine Essence must precede a consideration of the doctrine of anthropopathisms.  When both are mastered, the believer is forced to a biblical conclusion: in human history, the sovereignty of God and the free will of man coexist by divine decree.  In fact, mankind was created to resolve the prehistoric angelic conflict, where creature volition and the sovereignty of God was also an issue.
a. Human volition duplicates the same free will which angels possessed in eternity past.  To duplicate the prehistoric angelic conflict, man was created to resolve it.  Therefore, mankind had to be tested in the perfect environment of the Garden with only one divine prohibition.  Just as there was only one way that Satan could sin, so Adam and the woman could only sin in one way–disobedience to one divine prohibition.
(1)  Satan violated the divine prohibition when he said, “I will make myself like the Most High God.”  Isa 14:14.
(2)  When in Gen 3:5, Satan said to the woman, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you too will be like God, knowing good and evil,” Satan tempted the woman with the idea that God was holding out on her and did not want her to be as smart as He was.  So we have an exact duplication, in principle, of the original fall of Satan.
b. Human volition was tested in the perfect environment of the Garden, which duplicated the perfect environment of the holy mountain of God, mentioned in Ezek 28:14, 16.  Perfect mankind in the Garden could only sin through the function of his own free will in opposition to the sovereignty of God.  This duplicates Satan’s original sin through the function of his own angelic volition in opposition to the sovereignty of God.
c. When man’s negative volition originated the first sin and the sin nature in the human race in the Garden, this resulted in instant spiritual death.  Therefore, God provided another tree for mankind for his positive volition.  That tree is the Cross.
2.  In eternity past, the omniscience of God programmed the computer of divine decrees with such facts as who in history would believe in Christ and who in history would reject Christ.  God’s knowledge of this fact does not predetermine what man’s decision will be.  God has declared each person a free agent to make his or her own decision.  This is why Jesus Christ is declared to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Mt 22:32; Mk 12:26; Lk 20:37; Acts 3:13, 7:32.
3.  Even though the sins of Esau were imputed to Christ on the Cross and judged, Esau rejected Christ as Savior and lost his eternal inheritance.  Esau’s function of free will to repeatedly reject the gospel placed him outside the Abrahamic covenant.  When salvation through faith in Christ is rejected, the sovereignty and justice of God has the right to condemn, the right to judge.  When a person like Jacob believes in Christ, the sovereignty of God has the right to make him a true Jew, the heir of the unconditional covenants.  When his brother Esau rejects Christ, the sovereignty of God has the right to keep him in the status of an unbeliever.  The sovereignty of God and the justice of God have a right to deal in any way with one person in grace and another in condemnation.  When grace is rejected, there is nothing left but judgment from the integrity of God.
4.  The failure of certain human beings to respond to the gospel by believing in Christ does not abrogate the integrity of God.  God does not cancel His faithfulness or abrogate His integrity because of human failure.
5.  Believers do not relate to God on the basis of anthropopathisms like love and hate, but on the basis of actual divine attributes.  For example:
a. The imputation of divine righteousness at salvation is through faith in Christ.  It results in instant justification.  We become the objects of God’s personal love because we possess His righteousness.  This is the basis for logistical grace.
b. At the moment of faith in Christ, God the Holy Spirit creates a human spirit and God the Father imputes eternal life to that human spirit.  It was the grace of God to which we responded.