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What do condescension and accomodation mean in relation to God?

condescension and accomodation

In theology, accommodation and condescension are two terms that refer to the process by which an infinite and perfect God contextualizes His communication for imperfect and finite people. More simply, condescension is the idea that God chooses to communicate in a way that His audience can understand.

Many eminent theologians throughout history have used the idea of accommodation to explain the way that God relates to His creatures. Anthropomorphisms in the Bible, for example, are often explained in terms of accommodation, since God is Spirit (John 4:24). By the use of anthropomorphism, God accommodates Himself to us, explaining His actions and feelings in a way we can identify with and understand.

Like every theological viewpoint, perspectives of condescension or accommodation exist on a spectrum. Nearly every theologian acknowledges that God condescends to human knowledge in some form. God speaks through human languages, writes through human authors, and manifests Himself through natural phenomena (fire, clouds, etc.).

But some people take the doctrine of accommodation to an extreme, arguing that aspects of the Bible should be discarded because they reflect untrue notions that God simply accommodated for the sake of communicating a broader point. In this way, the doctrine of accommodation sometimes becomes an intellectual cudgel, wielded against biblical statements of morality or reality that make certain audiences uncomfortable. For example, some say that, when Jesus spoke of Moses being the author of the Torah (see Mark 10:5 and John 5:46), He was simply accommodating the prevailing idea of that time. In other words, although Jesus knew that Moses did not write the law, He spoke as if he did for the sake of His hearers and their assumptions. Of course, for Jesus to accommodate a false view would be tantamount to lying and diametrically opposed to His holy nature.

In conclusion, accommodation is a broadly accepted idea with less broadly accepted applications. Some sort of accommodation, or condescension, is necessary—how else can an infinite God communicate to finite humanity? Some theologians refer to this as “adaptation” rather than “accommodation” to distinguish it from the heretical view that Jesus Christ bent the truth.

Gregg Allison defines the right view of accommodation as “God’s act of condescending to human capacity in his revelation of himself. Though affirmed earlier in history, this doctrine is especially associated with John Calvin. He underscored the appropriateness of God, who is infinitely exalted, accommodating himself to human weakness so that his adjusted revelation would be intelligible to its recipients. Indeed, God stoops like a parent communicating with a child. This accommodation is especially seen in Scripture: it is the Word of God written in limited human languages for sinful human beings with limited capacity to understand it, yet it does not participate in human error” (Allison, G., “Accommodation,” The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms, Baker Publishing Group, 2016).

God has chosen to communicate with us in ways we can understand, and for that we are eternally grateful. That condescension or accommodation demonstrates His omniscience and omnipotence, as well as His great love and care for His creatures. Taken too far, the doctrine of accommodation becomes harmful. God never used accommodation to approve of human error, and Jesus never practiced deceit.

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What do condescension and accomodation mean in relation to God?
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This page last updated: March 8, 2022