The Finger of God
Skeptics have railed against the Bible on account of its allusions to God’s body parts. For example, the Bible speaks of the arm of God (Job 40:9), the hand of God (Job 19:21), the face of God (Job 13:24), the eyes of God (Deuteronomy 11:12), the ears of God (Psalm 130:2), the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3), the voice of God (Job 40:9), and even the “finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Attentive Bible students are aware that all such references are simply accommodative language—anthropomorphisms (man forms)—in which the Scriptures provide humans with a reference point for relating to God’s activity. The Bible clearly teaches that God is spirit—not physical (John 4:24). He does not possess physical mass. Jesus Himself stated, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50). It is difficult for humans to conceptualize an infinite, eternal Being Who is not composed of physical matter, since humans are subject to space and time, and experience existence in a setting that is preeminently material. Nevertheless, while we may have difficulty fully understanding the nature of a nonphysical Being, the concept itself is neither self-contradictory nor incoherent.
For example, when Moses and Aaron unleashed the plagues by the power of God upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian population, Pharaoh’s magicians concluded: “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). They simply meant that the plague was God’s doing—that the affliction was the result of God’s power. In like manner, the Bible states that the original Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on two tablets of stone were “written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18; cf. Deuteronomy 9:10). In other words, God authored them and supernaturally placed them in writing on the stone tablets. Another sample of this type of figurative speech is seen in the declaration of the psalmist regarding God’s creative activity: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:3-4, emp. added). Obviously, God does not have fleshly fingers, nor would He find it necessary to use them if He had them. Being the ultimate Mind, He can bring into existence ex nihilo (out of nothing) whatever He chooses by simply willing it into existence.
This same figure of speech is seen in the New Testament as well. Jesus stated: “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20, emp. added). He simply meant that His actions were by divine agency. Observe the alternate wording of a parallel passage where, in place of the “finger of God,” the text has the “Spirit of God”: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). It is evident that “finger” simply refers to deity (whether the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit) manifesting His presence and power in a time-space continuum.
Those scholars who have devoted their lives to studying dead languages, discovering their linguistic intricacies, figurative features, and idiomatic expressions, have long recognized this particular figure. For example, E.W. Bullinger, who published a monumental volume in the nineteenth century titled Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (1898), labeled this linguistic attribute “anthropopatheia” or “condescension,” which he identified as “the ascription of human passions, actions, or attributes to God” (p. 871). He devoted several pages to illustrating this figure of speech (pp. 871-897). In his specific remarks regarding the “finger” of God, he wrote: “A Finger is attributed to God, to denote the putting forth of His formative power, and the direct and immediate act of God” (p. 881). John Haley, who in 1874 produced the respected and scholarly reference work Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, defended the “immateriality” of God on the grounds that all such anthropomorphic passages “are simply bold figures and startling hyperboles in which the Orientals are wont to indulge” (p. 63). He identified the expression “finger of God” as referring to God’s “direct agency.”
The Bible has been the target of a myriad of attacks by skeptics for over 2,000 years. It will undoubtedly continue to be so. No other book in all of human history has been the object of such sustained, frenzied, and antagonistic scrutiny. For the honest, unbiased investigator, the Bible’s supernatural attributes continue to validate its authenticity.
Bullinger, E.W. (1898), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1968 reprint).
Haley, John W. (1977 reprint), Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).