Raphael and Picasso pay attention: God is not a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19)

Here is the most common Jewish objection to Christianity. I see it often and I also get it in the neck; for example, here is a comment from a frequent anonymous visitor to my blog, whom I have come to know more (and like more) than many of my Jewish relatives:

“Christianity, says Anonymous, is a religion built upon facts. Let us never stop telling ourselves that.” (He is cocking a snook at on one of my quotations from J.C. Ryle).

“Actually, continues Anonymous, it’s Judaism that is a religion built upon facts. Fact #1 from the Jewish religion: “G-d is not a man” (Num. 23:19). Alternative “fact” that Christianity is built on: G-d is a man, a guy named Jesus.”

From “God is not a man,” or/and “God is not a son of man,” Jewish critics derive the following conclusion:

Major premise: God is not a man.

Minor premise: Jesus is a man/a son of man

Conclusion: Therefore Jesus is not God.

Logic has to do with how we think (reasoning), not with what we think (about truth/reality). The conclusion to the above syllogism, therefore,  is valid because if the major premise were true (we know that the minor premise is true, namely that Jesus was a man), then it logically follows that the conclusion must be valid, namely that Jesus is not God.

The second objection is that God does not lie. The Jew accuses the Christian of saying God lied to Jews when He said that His commandments to them were eternally binding (ex.: Ex. 31:17, Lev. 10:9, Deut. 5:29). The Jew argues that if Jesus “fulfilled” or “completed” the Law, God would had to have been lying “through His teeth (as another biting Jew – Frank – put it) when He wrote the Jewish Bible.”

“God is not man” and “God does not lie” are, of course, two snippets from Numbers 23:19. Here is the unmutilated verse:

God is not a man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

On several occasions, I’ve responded to my Jewish kith that the conjunction that connects 1. “God is not man,” to 2. “he should lie” in such away that all God is saying is that whereas man is (by nature) a liar, God is not. Numbers 23;19 has nothing to do with the nature of God’s being, namely, whether he has a divine or a human nature, or both. (Later, of course, the New Testament does describe Jesus as fully God and fully man). Therefore, it’s illegitimate to chop the verse into two chunks and present them as two separate arguments. It’s a bit like slicing up Raphael the Ninja Turtle  and ending up with Picasso.

Mankind needs a Saviour, a Saviour to become flesh to save. First to the Jew, and then to rest of humankind. And that is what the New Testament is all about – God took on a body to save bodies and souls from the eternal fire.

15 thoughts on “Raphael and Picasso pay attention: God is not a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19)

  1. First a word about all these “biting Jews” getting you down: stop flattering yourself. You don’t have a following here. It’s just me, “anonymous”. I’m anon@ymous.com, anon@ymous.edu, Frank whatever it was before Joseph couldn’t handle it anymore and froze out that moniker, frick fracken, etc., etc., etc. It’s all just little old biting me, here trying only to throw you a lifeline.

    Now, here again it’s apparent from your usage of deprecating phraseology (“biting Jew”) that you see “the Jew” as the other, and even more so, as the wicked other. This is especially saddening coming from you, a Jew, because the self-hatred you wear on your sleeve of course impacts on all Jews negatively, but you are the only Jew within your grasp that you can actually victimize.

    Let’s take on your self-styled logic with respect to Numbers 23:19, in which G-d explicitly narrated that “G-d is not a man that He should lie”. The Jewish view, which operates on the principal that there are no extra words or errors in the Hebrew scripture, is that there are truths to be derived from each of those clauses: [A] G-d isn’t a man, and [B] G-d doesn’t lie. But your own view operates on a principal inconsistent with the Jewish tradition from Sinai of which the Book of Numbers was a small but important part: you believe G-d was overly wordy in His drafting of the Bible. You accept clause [B] (G-d doesn’t lie) but you reject clause [A] (G-d is not a man). And, with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, you credit your novel interpretation principal with superiority to the tradition from Sinai as you literally throw out G-d’s word as what you deem so much random and valueless excess verbosity on the part of the Creator of the heavens and the earth. You hold, with your tongue in your cheek, that when G-d said “G-d is not a man that He should lie”, He really only meant “G-d does not lie”.

    I’ve emphasized twice already that your operating principal and the conclusion you use it to derive about the meaning of Num. 21:19 is tongue in cheek. I’ve done that for two reasons. First, because there’s no reasonable basis for you to go about parsing G-d’s statements and throwing out those pieces of His message to the Jews which you find disagreeable. It’s obvious from the text that the separate clauses of the sentence contain individual message components, and your misinterpretation of the verse taken as a whole is obviously motivated by an external consideration. That brings us to the second reason your approach to Num. 23:19 is obviously tongue in cheek: your motivated not only to parse 23:19 but also to select with prejudice which clause to accept and which to reject because of your overarching fealty to arrive at a conclusion in consonance with the Jesus storyline from Paul’s heat stroke fantasy. It is because of your commitment to not violating the theology of the “new testament” that you have rejected G-d’s claim that He is not a man. You’ve overridden the text and the meaning that flows from it in the Jewish Bible in order to remain consistent with Christianity! That much is obvious.

    But we “biting Jews” are free from external gentile religious works and simply follow the word of G-d–all of it, in its unadulterated form–and that’s why we know that G-d is not a man. Since Jesus was a man, we “biting Jews” are clear on the fact that Jesus could not have been G-d.

    -Pina Coolada, aka etc.

    • Anon, you said:

      “It’s obvious from the text that the separate clauses of the sentence contain individual message components, and your misinterpretation of the verse taken as a whole is obviously motivated by an external consideration.”
      In linguistics, we distinguish between semantics (the meaning of words – dictionary meaning) and pragmatics (what one means by the words – language use). Clauses in isolation do indeed mean something, as do words in a dictionary. But isolated words, phrases and clauses are “polysemic” (may have several potential meanings). They take on specific meaning only when they are appear in a context of a sentence, and often larger than a sentence.
      In Numbers 21:19, the sentence (consisting of two clauses joined by a “connector”) provides the context (the intended/specific meaning). What happens when you violate the linguistic rules? Your version happens, which you say is universal among the rabbis and sages):

      Bog is not a Jew. (Clause one – transmuted into a sentence and given an independent [pramatic] context)
      that (Connector disconnected and discarded)
      He would (go out of his way to) bite other Jews. (Clause two – transmuted into a sentence and given an independent [pragmatic] context).

      Sometimes a sentence is not enough. For example, say you ask me: “What are you doing?” I reply, “I’m reading.” You would have every right to accuse me of being cheeky, because both of us would know (I’m imagining an appropriate context) that you were not asking me for information, but were rebuking me for – in your judgment – mutilating the Torah. What is more, if we were face to face, the tone in your voice and your pallo(u)r would be enough to tell me that you were definitely not requesting information, and that I’d better bite the bullet or beat it.

      So, Anon, your (and all the rabbis and the sages, and all the oral Torah) “independent clauses” interpretation sounds like throwing a bomb at Raphael (who has his tongue in the right place) and ending up with Picasso (with his tongue in his cheek). And remember my bark is far worse than my bite. But you know that – deep down.

      • Bog, you claim to be a Jew, and you’ve made a career of going out of your way to take backhanded swipes at the rest of Jewry.

        But that aside, you’ve got a problem with G-d Himself. You take your school marm’s red pen to His words. G-d wrote in Num. 23:19 “G-d is not a man, that He should lie” and you cross out the first part and hand it back to Him with only “G-d does not lie”. You have lots of fancy arguments and justifications for your “corrections”, but when we come down to brass tacks, the reality is that you’re editing out those parts of G-d’s word that conflict with Paul’s. As a Jew, one who recognizes G-d’s perfection and the inerrancy of His sole written communique to my ancestors, I have a major problem with your edits to His work.

  2. Shucks Anon, before a person can read a piece of discourse – of any kind, e.g. the newspaper – he needs to know how language works. You haven’t pointed out any flaw in my argument. It’s not the flaw but the straw, the straw man that you’re after.

    I enjoy our rip parties.

    • Hullo!

      G-d wote “I am not a man, that I should lie”, and you turned around and said, “yes, G-d, You are a man. But, at least You don’t lie–that much I’ll give You, but no more.”

      And you will only agree to consider the flaw in your argument if and only if I can find a high falutin’ piece of jargon from the academy of language studies for you first? If so, your problems run deeper than I’d though (though not by much!). 🙂

      • Anon, you should never put a comma before “that” – bad grammar. You could slice the sentence into two sentences and add an exclamation mark to the second to get:

        I am not a man. That I should lie!
        But then it messes up both the cohesion and the coherence. As I said elsewhere:
        Composition writing is much more difficult to mark than grammar items because composition is much more authentic/real-life than grammar. In composition we need to look at things like cohesion and coherence, which has to do with how sentences and parts of sentences come together to create paragraphs and longer stretches of discourse.

  3. You know what’s funny your about linguistic lectures, Professor bography? You’re laboriously defending that which, if you really are a qualified English instructor, you have a professional duty to mark as wrong on your students’ papers!

    If a student turned in an essay about G-d in which he wrote “G-d is not a man, that he should lie” but the paper made it plain that the student really only meant that G-d does not lie, a decent English teacher would deduct points from the student’s grade on two counts:

    First, the compound means employed to communicate the simple thesis is awkward and needlessly lengthy.

    Second, it does not follow from the fact that G-d is not a man that He does not lie. The implied connection between the two clauses is not illustrative of the point the student is attempting to convey. Lots of men do not lie, and some women do. To an objective readers’ mind, “G-d is not a man, that…” could just as easily have substantiated the claim that G-d does not like rap music, or that He lies constantly.

    You insist that our perfect G-d has writing skills equivalent to your worst students’, and that in order to understand His meaning we first have to toss out swaths of His exposition. I would like to posit, respectfully, that the many problematic contradictions inherent in accusing the Perfect of imperfection, which is effectively–though I know you’ll never admit it–what you’re doing, is satisfactory to you specifically because you approach your relationship to the Creator by setting aside the intellect and reason He gave you and instead giving free reign to your desire for permission to do whatever you like. It’s a lot easier to cook up some bacon and other cheap commodities with your gentile wife on a Saturday morning than to invest effort in upholding a code of conduct. You kind of remind me of the guy who wanted to get inserted back into The Matrix, he wanted to forget it all and ignore the fact that the easy living delusion isn’t real. You and he share a common approach to reality, to intellectual integrity, and to subjugating ethical imperatives to short-term gratification. That approach is markedly distinct from the Jewish one.

    • Anon, you’re spilling all over. Please remain focused on the topic. You are, of course, aware that your anonymous status gives you unbridled liberty to vent your spleen. Here is a small excerpt from an article I wrote on the Tower of Babel, which reminds me of you. I’ll quote the excerpt and then move on to the matter at hand.

      “ANONymous is an illegal (s)pillage of sema, an ONANymous and monumental retreat from the tomb.” (sema “meaning” from which we get semantics and semiotics). http://grammargraph.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/babel-can-derridas-tour-surprisingly-translate-us-anywhere/

      Now, let’s return to Numbers 23:19.

      In my interpretion, I focused on the grammar of the verse. Here is the complete verse:
      [18] And Balaam took up his discourse and said,

      “Rise, Balak, and hear;
      give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
      [19] God is not man, that he should lie,
      or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
      Has he said, and will he not do it?
      Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
      (Numbers 23:18-19 ESV).

      According to you, the following imaginative scenario is consistent with your view:

      God speaks: “I’ve noticed that some/many/all of my people have this idea that I have arms and legs. Better put them straight. And while about it, I’ll also tell them that I don’t lie, that I don’t change mind, and that I do what I say; and no one with arms and legs, even Hebrew arms and legs, better tell me otherwise.”

      Let’s resume chewing on our bone of contention, namely, 23:19: “God is not a man that He should lie” יט לֹא אִישׁ אֵל וִיכַזֵּב

      The verb “(vay)cha’zev” וִיכַזֵּב, refers to being unfaithful to one’s commitment.

      Now, why would God inform his people that He doesn’t have arms and legs (“God is not a man…”) . The Israelites were not that dumb to think that the “arm of the Lord” meant to have a physical arm. (Why Rambam, 15 centuries or so later, spent so much effort to hammer this Torah truism home beats me). Besides, it had been drummed into the Israelites for centuries that God was NOT a man. Nor did Israel’s enemies believe that their gods were men, or supermen with very big arms and legs. For example, consider the Babylonians. When the King asked the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers to interpret his dream, they replied: “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is NOT OF FLESH” (Daniel 2:11).

      In numbers 23, Balak is the King of Moab. As you know, the god of Moab was Molech. Although the Moabites had a statue with a big fiery stomach into which they threw children, they didn’t believe that Molech had a human body, or any kind of body. Molech was the sun, or the fire that emanated from it.

      You are mistaken when you say I’m trying use Numbers 23:19 as a proof text for my Christian belief that God took on a human body. I don’t need anything in the Tenach to support my position on that score. You and Judaism, in contrast, milk this text for all its worth to argue that God could never be a man.

      To sum up, both the grammar and the historical context make it clear that God is not trying to prove He has no body. Nothing as outré as that. God is merely saying – contra ANON – that men (all men) and women (all women) lie and go back on their commitments, which is why human beings are not like God – and why they need a Saviour, a Saviour to become flesh to save. And that is what the New Testament is all about – God took on a body to save bodies and souls from the eternal fire. Weird!

      • G-d: “G-d is not a man” (Num. 23:19)


        bography: “they need a Saviour, a Saviour to become flesh to save. And that is what the New Testament is all about – God took on a body to save bodies and souls from the eternal fire” (see above).

        It is precisely because the Jews are committed to the word of G-d, as He expressed Himself in the Jewish Bible that we Jews are on such a different page from you Christians. Whatever god it is that you believe in, that “took on flesh”, that is a man–the one thing we can be sure of, thanks to Num. 23:19, is that your god is not the G-d of Israel.

      • Correct, bography. I am a man. And, in line with Num. 23:19, I am not G-d.

        It is only when we introduce Christianity that we are forced to begin dropping parts of Num. 23:19. And, by “we”, I mean you. 🙂

    • Thanks for leaving me the last word, bography. I’ll take the opportunity to review the starkly different approaches our two religions take with respect to Numbers 23:19. Remember, the subject passage says “G-d is not a man, that He should lie”.

      Judaism maintains that all of those words are true: [A] G-d is not a man and [B] G-d does not lie. Nothing is dropped.

      Christianity maintains that half of those words are true: G-d does not lie (but He is a man).

      As such, your accusation that Jews, rather than Christians, are guilty of dropping information from the text is a classic example of the intellectual indigestion known as Christian apologetics.

  4. Pingback: Milking the teats off the text: the rabbinical interpretation of Numbers 23:19 « OneDaringJew
  5. Pingback: “I am the light” in Hinduism and Christianity, and other matters. « OneDaringJew

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