Question: Does the Mormon doctrine that God has a physical body contradict the Bible's statement in John 4:24 that "God is a Spirit"?

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Question: Does the Mormon doctrine that God has a physical body contradict the Bible's statement in John 4:24 that "God is a Spirit"?

Deuteronomy 4:28 says that our God can see, eat and smell

Some Christians object to the LDS position that God has a physical body by quoting John 4:24:

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (Italics in KJV original).

Adopting a critical reading of this verse leads to some strange conclusions if we are consistent. Deuteronomy 4:28 says that our God can see, eat and smell. Can an unembodied spirit do that? Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29 say that God is a consuming fire, 1 Jn 1:5 says God is light, and 1 Jn 4:4,16 says that God is love. Is He just those things? Clearly not, and the LDS conclude that neither is He just a spirit.

Note that in the KJV cited above, the word “is” is italicized. This is because the King James translators have inserted it on their own—it is not present in the Greek text from which the translation was made.

Secondly, the reader should be aware that the indefinite article (“a”, as in "a dog" or "a spirit") does not exist in Greek. Thus, the addition of the word "a" in English occurs at the discretion of the translators.[1]

This leaves two Greek words: theos pneuma [θεος πνεμα]—“God spirit”. The JST resolves this translational issue by saying “for unto such hath God promised his spirit”. The word pneuma, which is translated spirit, also means ‘life’ or ‘breath’. The King James Version of Revelation 13:15 renders ‘pneuma’ as life. Thus "God is life," or "God is the breath of life" are potential alternative translations of this verse.

Also, if God is a spirit and we have to worship him in spirit, do mortals have to leave our bodies to worship him?

Latter-day Saints believe that man is also spirit and is, like God, housed in a physical body

Thus, the Latter-day Saints believe that man is also spirit (DC 93:33-34; Numbers 16:22; Romans 8:16) and is, like God, housed in a physical body. We were, after all, created in the "image" of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

It is interesting that in 1 Corinthians 2:11, Paul wrote about "the spirit of man and the Spirit of God." Elsewhere he spoke of the resurrection of the body and then noted that it is a "spiritual" body (1 Corinthians 15:44-46), though, rising from the grave, it is obviously composed of flesh and bones, as Jesus made clear when he appeared to the apostles after his resurrection (Luke 24:37-39).

Paul also told the saints in Rome, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Romans 8:9).

One Commentary insists:

That God is spirit is not meant as a definition of God's being—though this is how the Stoics [a branch of Greek philosophy] would have understood it. It is a metaphor of his mode of operation, as life-giving power, and it is no more to be taken literally than 1 Jn 1:5, "God is light," or Deuteronomy 4:24, "Your God is a devouring fire." It is only those who have received this power through Christ who can offer God a real worship.[2]

Notes

  1. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995), 271.
  2. J. N. Sanders, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, edited and completed by B. A. Mastin, (New York, Harper & Row, 1968), 147–148.