of course, openness theology hinges on their distinctive interpretation of anthropomorphisms.58 Boyd defines the openness hermeneutic as follows:
First, there are certainly passages in the Bible that are figurative and portray God in human terms. You can recognize them, because what is said about God is either ridiculous if taken literally, or because the genre of the passage is poetic. However, there is nothing ridiculous or poetic about the way the Bible repeatedly speaks about God changing his mind, regretting decisions, or thinking and speaking about the future in terms of possibilities.59
At first glance, the Rabbis seem to agree with Boyd. Rabbi Aibu, for instance, said: "God said, I made a mistake that I created the evil principle in man, for had i not done so, he would not have rebelled against me."60 Another Rabbi describes God as "regretting the evil inclination, and saying, 'What damage have I wrought! I regret that I have created it in my world.'"61 Here at last, the openness advocates perhaps might claim Rabbinic support.
But not quite. First, openness advocates, unlike the Rabbis, artificially distinguish between physical anthropomorphisms and nonphysi-cal anthropomorphisms (anthropopathisms). The openness advocates reject physical depictions of God, understanding them anthropomor-phically, but they accept mental and emotional depictions of God (anthropopathisms), understanding them literally. The Rabbis, however, recognize no such subtlety. in fact, Rabbinic literature, especially Midrash, relishes anthropomorphisms, physical and nonphysical, even to excess: God is the best man in Adam's wedding; he mourns the destruction of the flood, like a father over a son; he negotiates with Abraham over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, telling Abraham to correct him and to teach him, and he will do as Abraham
58 of course, this is not the only exegetical error of the openness view. Bruce Ware cogently demonstrates that openness exegesis, if consistently applied, compromises God's knowledge not only of the future but also of the present and of the past (Bruce A. Ware, God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000], 67, 74-86).
59 Boyd, God of the Possible, 118.
61 Tanna de Be Eliyyahu, 62. These Rabbis, to be sure, have God confessing a mistake, something Boyd tries to dodge and duck; but unmistakably, Boyd all but asserts that God is mistaken about future free actions (Boyd, God of the Possible, 56, 59-62).
says. The Rabbis can even occasionally outwit God. Rabbi Eliezer, for instance, once tried every possible method of convincing his fellow Rabbis of a Halakic rule: he performed miracles, and God even spoke from heaven to confirm Rabbi Eliezer's opinion. But Rabbi Nathan responded: "We pay no attention to a heavenly voice. For already from Sinai the Law said, 'By a majority you are to decide.' (Exod 23:2) Rabbi Nathan [later] met Elijah and asked him what God did in that hour. Elijah replied, 'He [God] laughed and said, "My children have conquered me."'"62 Certainly, the Rabbis did not take such Midrashic statements or anthropomorphisms literally63; the Rabbis clearly teach otherwise—God is incorporeal, immutable, and perfect in all his ways.64 But how, then, should these anthropomorphisms be understood? Modern Rabbinic authorities generally furnish two answers. First, anthropomorphisms are necessary because of the limitations of human language and of human understanding, as Loewe and Montefiore write:
We must remember that many Rabbis, in spite of their learning, were simple folk; it was with simple folk that they had to deal. Anthropomorphisms were unavoidable. But they were often mitigated by such caveats as Kebayakol ('If it be proper to say so'). ... In all such cases, the Rabbis, like most teachers of religion, ascribe human methods of action to the Deity, but, concurrently with such ascription, they always maintain God's unlikeness to man—His omniscience, for example, and His foreknowledge.65
Perhaps Kohler expresses the Rabbinic view best:
We cannot help attributing human qualities and emotions to Him the moment we invest Him with a moral and spiritual nature. When we speak of His punitive justice, His unfailing mercy, or His all-wise providence, we transfer to Him, imperceptibly, our own righteous indignation at the sight of a wicked deed, or our own compassion with the sufferer, or even our own mode of deliberation and decision. Moreover, the prophets and the Torah, in order to make God plain to
62 Baba Mesia 59b.
63 For a fuller discussion of the nature of anthropomorphic language in Scripture, see the essays by A. B. Caneday and Michael Horton in this volume.
64 For God's infinite perfections, see Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God, 148-217; and Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, 1-26.
65 Loewe (xcvi) and Montefiore (36) in A Rabbinic Anthology.
38 beyond the bounds the people, described Him in vivid images of human life, with anger and jealousy as well as compassion and repentance, and also with the organs and functions of the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, speaking, and walking. The Rabbis are all the more emphatic in their assertions that the Torah merely intends to assist the simple-minded, and that unseemly expressions concerning Deity are due to the inadequacy of language, and must not be taken literally. "It is an act of boldness allowed only to the prophets to measure the Creator by the standard of the creature," says the Haggadist. . . .66
Second, these anthropomorphisms reflect the Rabbinic doctrine of the "imitation of God," which portrays God as obeying his own commandments, studying Torah, praying to himself, and wearing phylacteries and prayer-shawls, so that his people can imitate his ways.67 Thus, anthropomorphisms help us to recognize and to follow God, bringing God near to man, and assisting man to become like God.
The Rabbis, in fact, explain their anthropomorphisms. Ishmael ben Elisha states, "We borrow terms from His creatures to apply to Him in order to assist the understanding."68 Moreover, as noted above by Montefiore, the Rabbis frequently temper or soften the bolder anthropomorphisms with the disclaimer, "If it is proper to say so." Rabbi Judah, for example, in commenting on Zechariah 2:8, says: "It does not say 'the apple of the eye,' but 'the apple of His eye,' that is, of God's eye, for, if it is proper to say so, the Scripture refers to Him who is above, only that it paraphrases [to avoid too great an anthropomorphism]."69 The Rabbis also refer to a biblical anthropomorphism, but stress God's unlikeness to man:
A human king goes forth to war, and the provinces by which he passed draw near to him, and tell him their needs, but they are told, "He is
66 Kohler, Jewish Theology, 76.
67 Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, 7-8. As for these seemingly irreverent anthropomorphisms of the Midrash, Montefiore explains: "The naive, but daring, anthropomorphism(s) ... may seem almost flippant to modern readers. The apparent flippancy is not due to any Rabbinic lack of deep reverence for God or of fervent love; it may rather be said that this very reverence and love produced a certain intimate familiarity, which may be compared to the familiarity of a loving son who is on very intimate terms with his father, and can even make jokes about him to his face" (Montefiore, A Rabbinic Anthology, 341).
68 Mekhilta xix 19.
69 Sifre Numbers, Beha'aloteka, 84. Montefiore (A Rabbinic Anthology, 64) supplies the bracketed phrase.
excited, he is going forth to war; when he returns victorious, come then, and ask of him your needs." But God is not like that. The Lord is a man of war, He fights against the Egyptians; but the Lord is his name... .70
Furthermore, the Tiqqune Sopherim and the Targums, with their tendency to remove or to mollify anthropomorphisms, indicate that the Rabbis understood them figuratively.
Accordingly, the Rabbis understand anthropomorphisms, such as God's regretting, figuratively. Commenting on Genesis 6:6, Ramban (Nachmanides), a Rabbinic commentator of the Scriptures, writes: "The Torah speaks in the language of men. The purport is that they rebelled, and grieved his Holy Spirit with their sins." Similarly, Ibn Ezra and Rambam (Maimonides), also Rabbinic commentators, interpret the passage anthropomorphically. The Mishnah relates that God created the rainbow on the eve of the first Sabbath because God foreknew the flood, as Alan J. Avery-Peck states:
For instance, rather than God's surprise at human sinfulness, described at Gen. 6:5-6, which leads God to bring a flood (Gen 6:6), the rabbis understand the rainbow to have been created before the first Sabbath. This means that God already knew that people would sin, that there would be a flood, and that, afterwards, God would promise never again to destroy the earth and would offer the rainbow as a sign of that commitment. In the Rabbinic view, there are no surprises for God.71
Boyd's comment on Genesis 6:6—"Doesn't the fact that God regretted the way things turned out (to the point of starting over) suggest that it wasn't a foregone conclusion at the time God created human beings that they would fall into this state of wickedness?"72—mirrors the argument of a Gentile who denied God's foreknowledge to Rabbi Joshua ben Qorha:
Gentile: Do you not maintain that the Holy One, blessed be he, sees what is going to happen?
Rabbi: Indeed so.
70 Mekhilta (Lauterbach, vol. 2), 32-34.
71 Alan J. Avery-Peck, in Neusner, et al., Encyclopaedia of Judaism, 1:318-319.
72 Boyd, God of the Possible, 55.
40 beyond the bounds
Gentile: But lo it is written, And it grieved him in his heart (Gen Rabbi: Did you ever have a son? Gentile: Yes.
Rabbi: And what did you do?
Gentile: I was happy, and I made everybody happy. Rabbi: But did you not know that in the end he would die?
Gentile: Rejoice in the time of joy, mourn in the time of mourning.
Rabbi: And that is the way things are done before the Holy One, blessed be he. For R Joshua b Levi said, "For seven days the Holy One, blessed be he, went into mourning for his world before he brought the flood, as it is said, And it grieved him in his heart (Gen 6:6), and further it says, For the king grieved for his son (2 Sam 19:3)."73
In short, the Rabbis interpret Genesis 6:6 anthropomorphically, without rejecting God's foreknowledge.74
Certainly, the Rabbis and modern Rabbinic authorities understand human descriptions of God anthropomorphically. They do not distinguish between physical and nonphysical anthropomorphisms. They do not contradict their theology by their exegesis. They simply communicate about God as anyone must, by using human language analogously to communicate divine and spiritual realities.
Clearly, Christians must reject the claims of the openness view: its historical claims are misinformed—the Rabbis follow Moses and Isaiah, not Plato and Aristotle; its theology is misguided—the Rabbis maintain that God foresees and foreordains even future free actions; and its exegesis is
74 The Rabbis interpret other passages, for example, Genesis 22:12—"Because now I know that you fear God"—as God's foreknowledge actualized. Rambam states: "At the beginning Abraham's fear of God was latent; it had not become actualized through such a great deed, but now it was known in actuality, and his merit was perfect, and his reward would be complete from the Eternal, the God of Israel." Rashi and Nachmanides interpret Genesis 22:12 likewise.
mistaken—the Rabbis interpret anthropomorphisms figuratively. In the end, the openness view requires too much. It requires us to believe that Christians and Jews have misunderstood history, theology, and exegesis for thousands of years. It requires a new history and a new exegesis to support its new theology. It then requires a new hymnbook, a new prayer book, and a new liturgy. Next it requires a new Bible, and finally, a new God. It requires too much; it supplies too little. Instead of requiring a new religion, let us reject the claims and the teachings of the openness view, and let us maintain those cherished and precious scriptural truths of God's infinite knowledge and perfections that have always comforted and consoled his saints. Here, we will find rest for our souls.75
75 I would like to thank Bruce Ware and Stephen Wellum, my colleagues, for their helpful suggestions.
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