“God is Spirit”

John 4:24 is often used to argue that God does not have a body.

(NASB) “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

There are many ways to simply dismiss this silly argument, not least of which includes pointing out that the scriptures also say elsewhere that God is “fire”(Deu 4:24, Hbr 12:29) and God is “love”(1Jo 4:8, 1Jo 4:16). Also, it can be pointed out that many ancient Christians regarded this passage as evidence for God’s materiality.

Tertullian said:

“For who will deny that God is a body, although ‘God is a Spirit?’ For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form.” (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 7)

Origen opposed a material God, yet he refers to other Christians who use this passage as evidence for a material God:

I know that some will attempt to say that, even according to the declarations of our own Scriptures, God is a body, because in the writings of Moses they find it said, that “our God is a consuming fire;” and in the Gospel according to John, that “God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Fire and spirit, according to them, are to be regarded as nothing else than a body. (Origen, De Principiis 1:1:1)

Tonight I discovered yet another simple reason for refusing to accept the interpretation of John 4:24 as given by Evangelicals. John 3:5-6 reads:

(5)Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (6)That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Apparently man can be “spirit” yet still retain his body. Why should we demand that God cannot?

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4 comments on ““God is Spirit”

  1. Great post! The ancients saw this verse as problematic because the word for “spirit” is also the word for “wind.” In other words, this verse clearly states that God has physical properties. Christians today, however, have long since disregarded the meaning of the word “spirit” and come to the conclusion that it is immaterial nothingness.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the passage that says “man is spirit” in the D&C as well.

  2. Interesting, this post is dated around the same time I noticed the John 3:3-6 and its application to this issue. Also, Paul told the Roman saints that they were no longer “in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9). Obviously the Romans still had physical bodies.

  3. braudcj says:

    Would you say God has a body contingently or essentially? If contingently I don’t see much of a problem even as an evangelical, but if essentially I think there are some serious problems philosophically. My understanding has been that Mormonism historically makes no claim either way.

    • James says:

      I’d say contingently. Good doesn’t need a body to exist, or even to be great, but he desires one and so has one.

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