Terminology Tuesday: Accommodation
ACCOMMODATION or condescension, is a basic principle underlying all of God’s revelation to man. It means that God speaks to us in a form that is suited to the capacity of the hearer, like a father addressing a small child or a teacher with a young pupil. The supreme instance of accommodation is the incarnation, where God speaks to us in the most fitting way possible—as a human being himself. Again, in the Scriptures God’s word comes to us in a human way—through human authors, using human language, addressed to particular human situations. In the ministry of the word and sacraments God speaks to us and communicates himself to us, but in a form that is suited to our present condition—through human agents and through earthly elements such as bread and wine.Accommodation, rightly understood, means not that God communicates falsehood to us but that he communicates truth to us in a manner which is necessarily less than perfect. Ezekiel recognized the limitations of his vision of God: ‘This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD’ (Ezk. 1:28). Paul acknowledged the imperfection of all our present knowledge of God, concluding that ‘Now we see but a poor reflection’ (1 Cor. 13:9–12). The biblical message comes to us in human language and in the thought forms of particular times—not because the writers ‘got it wrong’ but because that was the only way that God’s word could come to such as us. In his condescension God chooses to submit his truth to the limiting process of being reduced to a humanly comprehensible level rather than preserve it pure in heaven.The idea of accommodation was common in the early fathers (e.g. John Chrysostom, c. 344/354–407) and was revived by Calvin and others.
BibliographyF. L. Battles, ‘God was Accommodating Himself to Human Capacity’, Interpretation 31 (1977), pp. 19–38; J. B. Rogers (ed.), Biblical Authority (Waco, TX, 1977), pp. 19–29.
Ferguson, S. B., & Packer, J. I. (2000). In New dictionary of theology (electronic ed., p. 3). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.