​​Introduction

The subject of man’s five senses has been one of those subjects on my research back-burner for some time. I am particularly interested in how God’s own physical senses are also described in scripture. So, finally, I have come to put finger to keyboard on this topic. A decent description of the five senses (+ 1) can be found on the following website to set the scene: https://www.livescience.com/60752-human-senses.html

In the Beginning

Much of what we will learn about the senses, as written in the bible, have their roots at the very beginning of mankind’s relationship with Jehovah. Let us have a quick look back at the account of the forbidden fruit:

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
8 And they heard the voice of Jehovah God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Jehovah God amongst the trees of the garden.
9 And Jehovah God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?
10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? (Genesis 3 ASV)

Here we have Satan talking about human eyes being opened in the sense of gaining knowledge rather than the physical sense of sight. This metaphorical sense is inferred or referred to by all four parties involved in this pivotal event. So there is a strong steer here that man’s senses, as well as divine and angelic ones, are attuned to more than merely physical objects. As we shall see, this will be a recurrent theme running throughout the rest of this paper.

As an aside, this account also acknowledges the ability of the man and woman to hear the voice of Jehovah. Now whether this was a physical experience or a spiritual one, I guess we will never know for certain. However, given the physical description of the scene, I favour the physical use of sound waves by our God. After all, He probably needed to run a sound check on His new creation!!

 

Man’s Senses

So, in time-honoured fashion, let us have a look at what scripture tells us about our, and God’s, five senses. First off, we have David requesting that we ‘taste and see’ God’s goodness. Whilst these words would normally literally relate to the physical senses of taste and sight, clearly in this usage, they must have the more spiritual significance of the sampling and experience of trusting in God protection. So, at the very beginning of this piece of research, we can already determine that man is made of something more than a merely physical being:

8 Taste and see that Jehovah [is] good; blessed [is] the man seeking refuge in Him. (Psalms 34 GLT)

In John’s first epistle we have the senses of hearing and touch added. This would seem to be describing a more physical set of experiences than those of David since the apostles were physically with Jesus during his ministry and, therefore, they would have experienced His work in a direct and physical way:

1 That which was from [the] beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have viewed attentively and our hands felt, concerning the word of life, (1 John 1 NWT)

And just to finish off the full set of senses, we then have David’s writing comparing the pagans’ idols’ capabilities with man’s. These verses include the sense of smell to complete the list of five:

4 Their idols [are] silver and gold, the work of man's hands;
5 they [have] mouths, but they do not speak; they [have] eyes, but they do not see;
6 they [have] ears, but they do not hear; they [have] a nose, but they do not smell;
7 their hands do not feel; their feet do not walk; they do not mutter through their throat. (Psalms 115 GLT)

Solomon reminds us that our senses come from God as compared with the insensitive idols which are made by man:

12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye, Jehovah has even made both of them. (Proverbs 20 GLT)

Matthew confirms the physical versus the spiritual senses. In the following two verses he talks about the non-believers literally closing eyes and ears to the Word. However, I think it is clear what he is really saying is that they are not looking or listening spirituality rather than not just physically seeing or hearing. The full use of these senses is subject to their owners’ engaging their spiritual minds to understand the various sensory inputs and not just allowing the light and sound waves merely to enter their sensory organs without some backend processing:

15 For the heart of this people has grown fat, and they heard heavily with the ears, and they have closed their eyes, that they not see with the eyes, or hear with the ears, and understand with the heart, and be converted, and I heal them." [Isa. 6:9, 10]
16 But your eyes [are] blessed because they see; and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13 GLT)

As Green’s translation indicates, this is a reprise from the Prophet Isaiah:

9 And He said, Go and say to this people, Hearing you hear, but do not understand; and seeing you see, but do not know.
10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make his ears heavy, and shut his eyes, that he not see with his eyes, and hear with his ears, and understand with his heart, and turn back, and one heals him. (Isaiah 6 GLT)

This point of listening, rather than just physically hearing, is brought out nicely by looking at two different (but perfectly valid) translations of the following verse from Solomon’s writings. The Hebrew word ‘
ישמע’ is mostly translated as ‘hear’ but the NWT translates it, more correctly in the current context, as ‘listen’:

5 A wise [man] will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: (Proverbs 1 KJV)
5 A wise person will listen and take in more instruction, and a man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction, (Proverbs 1 NWT)
5ישמע חכם ויוסף לקח ונבון תחבלות יקנה  (Proverbs 1 WLC)

Similarly, Elihu’s words to Job and company, intimating the need to listen with knowledge not just hearing the words. Interestingly, he also compares this sense with the sense of taste that can discern good food from bad:

2 Hear my words, O ye wise [men]; and give ear unto me, ye that have knowledge.
3 For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat. (Job 34 KJV)

And then, rather more succinctly from Matthew:

15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11 KJV)

This phrase is repeated numerous times in the scriptures for emphasis, so I guess we really need to make sure that we listen to the Word and not merely hear it without any further consideration:

7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (Revelation 2 KJV)

29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 2 KJV)

So the hearing is a key sense by which we can come to be made aware of the Word of Jehovah and His son Jesus Christ:

1 And Samuel said to Saul, Jehovah sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. And now listen to the voice of the words of Jehovah. (1 Samuel 15 GLT)

28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed [are] they that hear the word of God, and keep it. (Luke 11 KJV)

17 So belief [cometh] of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
18 But I say, Did they not hear? Yea, verily, Their sound went out into all the earth, And their words unto the ends of the world. (Romans 10 ASV)

3 Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand. (Revelation 1 KJV)

As is men’s sight. In the following verses, Christ talks about the spiritual light stemming from His followers’ good deeds which are physically seen by others; an interesting mixing of the spiritual light source with the physical seeing:

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do [men] light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house.
16 Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5 ASV)

And a somewhat greater mixing of metaphors from David who seems to be deliberately confusing the physical senses of sight and/or hearing with that of taste:

103 How sweet are Your Words to my palate! More than honey to my mouth! (Psalms 119 GLT)

It is clear, from Paul’s writing, that God’s design for man’s corporeal existence is that all of man’s senses were essential to God’s purpose. Here Paul is comparing man’s physical faculties with God’s requirements for His spiritual church in the Kingdom. All man's senses are needed:

15 If the foot says, Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body, on account of this, is it not of the body?
16 And if the ear says, Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body, on account of this, is it not of the body?
17 If all the body [were] an eye, where [would be] the hearing? If all hearing, where the smelling?
18 But now God set the members, each one of them, in the body, even as He desired. (1 Corinthians 12 GLT)

The disbelieving Thomas provides an interesting comparison between his two senses of sight and touch. Just to confirm to Thomas that he is not 'seeing things’, Jesus invites Thomas to feel the wounds from His crucifixion. I am not sure if this demonstrates that the sense of touch is more reliable than that of sight, but we are all aware of the power of optical illusions, I think? The last verse of this account is interesting in that it devalues the physical seeing and believing compared with those believing without the opportunity of physically seeing:

24 But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the [one] called Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 Then the other disciples said to him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands, and thrust my finger into the mark of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe, never!
26 And after eight days, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. The door having been locked, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said, Peace to you.
27 Then He said to Thomas, Bring your finger here and see My hands, and bring your hand and thrust into My side, and be not unbelieving, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, My Lord and my God!
29 Jesus said to him, Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed. Blessed [are] the ones not seeing, and believing. (John 20 GLT)

Given that it is not clear from the scripture that Thomas did actually touch Christ's wounds, despite Jesus' invitation to him, it may be that Thomas believed Jesus was the Messiah having just seen Him appear in the locked room.


In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we might seem to have a fully spiritual meaning to the senses. While the following verse starts out by appearing to refer to the sense of taste and, possibly, that of touch through the process of chewing one’s food, it then goes on to refer to one’s experienced ability to determine good from evil. Is this a reference to a sixth sense or the accumulation of all of the input data from one’s senses together with the intelligent combinatorial processing of them?

14 But solid food is for fullgrown men, [even] those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5 ASV)

Then, by comparison, we have Peter’s first letter referring in a similar vein to the taste and goodness of baby food:

2 as new-born babes the word's pure milk desire ye, that in it ye may grow,
3 if so be ye did taste that the Lord {is} gracious, (1 Peter 2 YLT)

Similarly, the physical senses of hunger and thirst are used as a spiritual metaphor by Matthew:

6 Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matthew 5 KJV)

As sophisticated as man’s senses may be, God has nonetheless carefully engineered them and our environment, to ensure that we cannot perceive Him directly with those physical senses. Therefore, we require the act of faith and the senses referred to in the above Hebrews verse to acknowledge His very existence:

8 Behold, I go forward, but he [is] not [there]; and backward, but I cannot perceive him:
9 On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold [him]: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see [him]: (Job 23 KJV)

Faith is required to fully hear and abide by God’s Word:

2 For, indeed, we have had the gospel preached [to us], even as they also; but the Word did not profit those hearing [it], not having been [mixed] with faith in the ones who heard. (Hebrews 4 GLT)

Paul’s second letter to the congregation at Corinth puts this point over very strongly by associating the physical senses with the human body and effectively removing them from the faithful and replacing them with the spiritual senses to gain a knowledge of God:

6 Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord
7 (for we walk by faith, not by sight);
8 we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5 ASV)

And, just in case we need a further definition of faith with regard to the physical senses:

1 Now faith is assurance of [things] hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11 ASV)

I think it can be argued here that the spirit of man, as revealed to by the Holy Spirit, represents our sixth sense, in that it is through that medium that the things of God are truly revealed to those with all their physical and spiritual senses attuned:

9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed [them] unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2 KJV)

 

Touch

The physical sense of touch encompasses several different elements. It can determine smooth or rough surfaces, heat or cold articles applied to the body or the body temperature itself. Also physical pleasurable or painful sensations internal as well as external. So, we might as well begin at the beginning; the first scriptural mention of pain was directed by Jehovah at Eve and the pain that would come with childbirth:

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3 KJV)
16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3 ASV)
16אל-האשה אמר הרבה ארבה עצבונך והרנך בעצב תלדי בנים ואל-אישך תשוקתך והוא ימשל-בך (Genesis 3 WLC)

Now, before we even get started, we can see from the above valid translations that the root Hebrew word ‘
בעצב’ can take the meaning of pain or sorrow. So, as with the previous conclusions we can see that the physical experience of pain is a precursor for the spiritual experience of sorrow. I am left thinking that the classical Hebrew language was deliberately vague to meld the physical with the spiritual. The symbolic woman of Revelation is also described in terms of the pain of childbirth thereby, presumably, confirming this notion:

2 and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered. (Revelation 12 ASV)

Ditto the prophetic and metaphorical writings of Micah about the nation of Israel:

9 Now why dost thou cry out aloud? [is there] no king in thee? is thy counsellor perished? for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail.
10 Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go [even] to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the LORD shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies. (Micah 4 KJV)

It would seem that new life, in all its manifestations, is expected to come with pain. This will certainly be the case for on-coming Kingdom of God (ref.
Signs of the End-Times - Part 2). All our LW understandings keep returning to the overall theme that this physical life, that we are currently living, is preparing us for another different life where the spiritual experiences of that life are mirrored in the physical of this. This is also reflected in same way that God created Adam as the physical image of His divine spiritual Father:

27 And God created the man in His own image; in the image of God He created him. He created them male and female. (Genesis 1 GLT)

So, perhaps, the main conclusion of this paper is to confirm that we have been made the way we have been to graphically demonstrate to those ‘with their eyes wide open’ the very nature of the life to come. To further amplify the commonality between pain and sorrow, i.e. the physical versus the spiritual equivalent, we have a second Hebrew word that can take on both meanings:

29 But I [am] poor and sorrowful: let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high. (Psalms 69 KJV)
29 But I [am] poor and in pain; O God, Your salvation shall set me on high. (Psalms 69 GLT)
29ואני עני וכואב ישועתך אלהים תשגבני (Psalms 69 WLC)

Again, we can see from the two above (perfectly valid) English translations that a second Hebrew word ‘
וכואב’ can also take the meaning of pain or sorrow. I think this must be further confirming the substituting of the physical by the spiritual. In the context of this Psalm, it appears that David is describing spiritual rather than physical suffering thereby verifying the notion that the physical is a precursor to the spiritual.

Finally, we have the good news that our pain in this life will be no more in the next:

4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no longer, nor mourning, nor outcry, nor will [there] be pain [any] more; for the first things passed away. (Revelation 21 GLT)

I think this must refer both to the physical and the spiritual nature of pain. Whilst I expect that the positive nature of pain, i.e., that of warning us of a physical problem, will still be in place in the Kingdom on Earth, I believe that it will be the chronic nature of on-going unrelieved pain and suffering that will disappear.

That is quite enough on pain. If we turn our attention onto the opposite physical sense of touch, that of physical pleasure, I do not think I can add anything more than what is contained in my
Fleshly Desire and Addiction papers together with the implication of the following scriptures. Here we are effectively being told that we have been built to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, but that they come with terms and conditions to put them into the appropriate legal framework:

4 Marriage [is] honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but God will judge fornicators and adulterers. (Hebrews 13 GLT)

2 for [him] no longer to live in [the] lusts of men, but [to live] the remaining time in [the] flesh in [the] will of God.
3 For [the] time of life having passed is sufficient for us to have worked out the will of the nations, having gone on in wantonness, lusts, drunkenness, parties, carousings, and unlawful idolatries; (1 Peter 4 GLT)
 

God’s Senses

We see that the senses are again mentioned at the beginning of creation, as we commented on in the early part of this paper. This time the sense of sight is again referred to but, this time, I think it is solely a literal physical meaning that is to be attributed here. Since this occurred prior to the creation of Adam, I think it must include God’s own pleasure of sight as well as that of His prospective earthly son:

9 And out of the ground Jehovah God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. The Tree of Life [was] also in the middle of the garden; also the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Genesis 2 GLT)

From yet another of David’s writings, it would appear that man was built in God’s image in a physical sense as well as the spiritual. God has the ability to hear and to see man’s exploits. Now what the exact mechanism for this is, clearly we cannot know at this time. However, the point is that mankind reflects some of God’s capabilities at least in the two senses of sight and hearing:

9 He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? (Psalms 94 GLT)

Jonah confirms God’s ability to hear his cries for help and thereby the faculty for mankind to communicate with his God:

1 And Jonah prayed to Jehovah his God out of the belly of the fish.
2 And he said, I cried out to Jehovah from my distress. And He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried for help, [and] You heard my voice. (Jonah 2 GLT)

Similarly, Ezra confirms that God has all-seeing eyes:

9 For the eyes of Jehovah run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly; for from henceforth thou shalt have wars. (2 Chronicles 16 ASV)

Earlier on, in the Book of Genesis, it seems that God also has the equivalent of olfactory organs:

20 And Noah built an altar to Jehovah, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
21 And Jehovah smelled the soothing fragrance, and Jehovah said in His heart, I will never again curse the ground for the sake of man, because the imagination of the heart of man [is] evil from his youth. Yea, I will not again smite every living thing as I have done. (Genesis 8 GLT)

The above odour would seem to be physical to God but Paul’s view of odour to God would seem to be rather more of a spiritual nature:

14 But thanks [be] to God, the [One] always leading us in triumph in Christ, and [the One] revealing through us the odor of the knowledge of Him in every place.
15 For we are a sweet smell to God because of Christ in those being saved, and in those being lost;
16 to the one, an odor of death unto death, and to the other, an odor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2 GLT)

And more succinctly, equating Christ’s sacrifice spiritually to that of Noah’s physical:

2 and walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. (Ephesians 5 GLT)

Now, to finish off this section, it would seem that the Holy Spirit has the ability of hearing but I assume this to be more of a spiritual sense than a physical one:

13 But when that One comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you into all Truth, for He will not speak from Himself, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will announce the coming things to you. (John 16 GLT)

So, unsurprisingly really, God created man with a set of physical senses in one-to-one correspondence to His own spiritually based senses. Those physical senses would appear to have their spiritual counterparts both in this life and the life to come. Amen.


 
Synopsis


  1. Scripture confirms that the senses are attuned to more than just the physical and are used frequently in a spiritual or metaphorical sense.
  2. The senses require backend processing to achieve a full spiritual understanding of the physical inputs to the brain, e.g., listening not just hearing. 
  3. There are several Hebrew words that carry both the spiritual and physical meaning of a sense thereby confirming the dual nature of a sense.
  4. Hearing/listening seems to be the key sense in understanding God's Word.
  5. The full set of man's senses was specifically designed by God as the physical embodiment of His own spiritual senses as symbolically depicting the nature of His church.
  6. Despite those physical senses, we still need to rely on our spiritual senses together with faith to abide by God's wishes for us, since neither God nor Christ are with us physically today.
  7. The physical sense of pain in childbirth starts with Eve in the Book of Genesis and ends with the woman of Revelation, thereby depicting the physical and spiritual nature of birth from the start of Adamic man to the end of Adamic man into the start of the Kingdom of God.

Jewish Lords' Witness

The Five Senses?