The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands alone among Christians when it claims that God is corporeal (or embodied). The rest of the Christian world claims that God is incorporeal, or without a body. In this post, I will be looking at the tract “God Has No Body“. I will outline the arguments formally, in premise and conclusion form, and then respond.
The tract under consideration is not exhaustive in covering all the discussion regarding the corporeality of God. Still, it is a fair representation of some of the most common arguments regarding the corporeality of God, and so it will be a helpful springboard for the philosophical conversation regarding divine corporeality as a whole.
This tract makes two formal arguments for the incorporeality of God. The first is using John 4:24, which in part contains the phrase “God is a spirit” (KJV). The second is an appeal to the authority of the Church Fathers, and their teachings concerning the incorporeality of God.
This tract also responds to three objections made by those who believe in an anthropomorphic God. The first is a response to the use of Genesis 1:26 as evidence that God has a corporeal body similar to the body of a human being. The second is a response to the use of anthropomorphic terms in the Bible. The third is a response to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I will include the formal arguments of the tract in this post. I will respond to them individually in subsequent posts. I want to emphasize that I have done my best to formulate these arguments in their strongest possible versions, and staying true to the original source (the tract).
The formal arguments are as follows:
Arguments In Favor of God’s Incorporeality
- The Biblical verse John 4:24 says “God is a spirit” (KJV)
- The Biblical verse Luke 24:39 defines spirit as incorporeal
- Thus, those who are spirits are incorporeal (2)
- The scripture should be understood as “God is a spirit,” as it contains no language such as “God has a spirit”
- Thus, God is incorporeal (3) (4)
- The Church Fathers are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
- The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
- Thus, God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)
Responding to Objections to an Incorporeal God
- The purpose of Genesis 1 is to differentiate man from God’s other creations, including the animals
- The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
- Thus, instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (1) (2)
- Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
- Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)
- The Biblical verse Psalms 91:4 speaks of God as having “wings” and “feathers”
- The passage as a whole also contains references to God as a refuge, a fortress, a shield and buckler, and a habitation; and references to the speaker as being delivered from a “snare of the fowler,” “noisome pestilence,” and flying arrows
- The passage references are clearly metaphorical representations used to describe both various powers of God and various needs of man
- Thus, the references to God’s wings and feathers are metaphorical representations of his love and concern (1) (2) (3)
- Numerous Biblical passages describe God as having eyes (Ezra 5:5; 1 Samuel 26:21, 24; Jeremiah 52:), or arms (Isaiah 53:1; 51:9), etc.
- These passages are clearly metaphorical representations used to symbolize God’s power and knowledge
- Thus, all descriptions of God found in the Bible that refer to tangible, anthropomorphic qualities are metaphoric (4) (5) (6)
- Thus, God does not have any tangible qualities, including a physical body (7)
- Thus, God is incorporeal (8)
- Many Biblical verses say that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
- Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
- Thus, this body must not be part of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2)
- Thus, God could exist as spirit even though the Son took on human form