“God Has No Body” Part 2.5

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 2.1, I challenged three assumptions that are implicit in the argument: first, the fallacy of begging the question; second, the logical weight that John 4:24 is made to bear; and third, the trust in Biblical accuracy. In this response I pointed out the fallacy; argued that the logical weight on John 4:24 is indeed too much for a single scripture; and argued that it is possible that portions of the Bible, including John 4:24, are inaccurate.

In Part 2.2, I challenged the first premise. It claimed that John 4:24 said that “God is a spirit.” When looking at the original Greek, it is clear this phrase could be translated “God is spirit” (as the words “a” and “an” don’t exist in Greek, and this mirrors more closely other statements made by John), “God is life” (as “spirit” could be translated “life”), or “God is the breath of life” (as “spirit” could be translated “breath”).

In Part 2.3, I challenged the second premise. It claimed that the disembodied spirits the Savior referred to in Luke could be compared to the glorified state of God. I argued that this is a weak analogy, for there are vast enough differences between God and man that we cannot necessarily trust that what holds true of one will hold true of another. I exemplified this point by discussing what Paul meant by a “spiritual,” resurrected body, like the body of flesh and bone the Savior showed to his apostles.

In Part 2.4, I challenged the fourth premise. It claimed that John 4:24 should be understood to teach that God is incorporeal. I argued that, when understood in terms of other scriptures written by John, it instead describes only one aspect of God’s fuller nature, and was designed to exhort men to “worship in spirit,” a phrase which in no way implies that we worship in an incorporeal manner.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The Biblical verse John 4:24 has traditionally been translated “God is a spirit” in the KJV, but could also be translated in a number of other ways including “God is spirit” or “God is life.”
  2. The Biblical verse Luke 24:39 defines mortal spirit as incorporeal; yet any analogy which draws similarities between mortal spirits and God is weak because of the vast differences between God and his children.  Further, Biblical scripture makes it clear that resurrected bodies like the tangible body of Jesus Christ are called “spiritual bodies”
  3. Thus, those who are mortal spirits are incorporeal, but glorified spiritual bodies like those of Jesus Christ are corporeal (2)
  4. There is strong evidence that the scripture should be understood in terms of spirit being one aspect of a fuller character that does not prevent an incorporeal deity, and we cannot assume that the scripture should be understood as “God is a spirit” even though it contains no language such as “God has a spirit”
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (3) (4)

The Fifth Premise

Originally, the fifth premise concluded that God was incorporeal. Even though the original conclusion has been significantly altered and weakened, I find it beneficial to show scriptural evidence that opposes it. Still, I find no need to be exhaustive in any manner, and sincere students will gain more benefit from their own dutiful searches.

In Deut. 4:28, Moses describes the gods of the heathens as

“the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell (emphasis added).

This statement is meant to contrast heathen gods to the embodied God of Israel which can see, eat, and smell. All of these activities, certainly not referred to metaphorically here, require a physical body much like ours, the body Latter-day Saints claim God has.

Other references (found in the Cherry Picking image in Part 2.4) include Genesis 1:27Exodus 33:11Acts 7:56, and 2 Corinthians 4:4. Clearly, the references describing a corporeal God are not obscure and strained (see Part 2.1), but found repeatedly throughout the scriptures.

For other scripture references denoting an embodied God, see here.

Early Christians also believed God was corporeal, a fact recognized by many non-LDS historians and Latter-day Saints alike (see Part 3.2 for a deeper discussion of this claim, or this post on a paper by David Paulsen). The reason they stopped believing in a corporeal deity was due to the influence of Greek philosophy (see Part 4.2 and Part 3.1 for a deeper discussion of this claim). J.W.C. Wand, a historian and former Anglican bishop of London, writes that one of the Greek philosophical schools (Neo-Platonism), which was popular in the days of the Roman Empire, exerted a particular influence in this respect.  He says:

“It is easy to see what influence this school of thought [Neo-Platonism] must have had upon Christian leaders. It was from it that they learnt what was involved in a metaphysical sense by calling God a Spirit. They were also helped to free themselves from their primitive eschatology and to get rid of that crude anthropomorphism which made even Tertullian believe that God had a material body” (emphasis added).

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The Biblical verse John 4:24 has traditionally been translated “God is a spirit” in the KJV, but could also be translated in a number of other ways including “God is spirit” or “God is life.”
  2. The Biblical verse Luke 24:39 defines mortal spirit as incorporeal; yet any analogy which draws similarities between mortal spirits and God is weak because of the vast differences between God and his children.  Further, Biblical scripture makes it clear that resurrected bodies like the tangible body of Jesus Christ are called “spiritual bodies”
  3. Thus, those who are mortal spirits are incorporeal, but glorified spiritual bodies like those of Jesus Christ are corporeal (2)
  4. There is strong evidence that the scripture should be understood in terms of spirit being one aspect of a fuller character that does not prevent an incorporeal deity, and we cannot assume that the scripture should be understood as “God is a spirit” even though it contains no language such as “God has a spirit”
  5. Further, there is scriptural evidence that God is corporeal showing that Biblical authors believed in an embodied God.
  6. Thus, it is far more likely that God is corporeal (3) (4) (5)

Conclusion

Having investigated all the claims made in the original argument, it is clear that the foundational statements that led to the conclusion that God is incorporeal were erroneous. This adjusted argument is much more accurate. Consequently (and ironically), it leads instead to a conclusion that God may be corporeal rather than incorporeal.

It is important to note that this argument is inductive. We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“it is far more likely…”). Still, this new argument is conditional only because some may argue (however badly) that the purpose of John 4:24 is to convey the meaning of an incorporeal God. Those that do have to find some way to account for the tangible, physical, “spiritual body” of the resurrected Jesus Christ. As the conclusions says, if John 4:24 is interpreted rationally and the resurrection of Christ is taken into account, then it is certain that God is corporeal.

That is a much stronger conclusion, and a powerful bit of evidence in favor of the anthropomorphites’ claim that God is embodied.

A Tragedy

It is a tragedy that the identity of God was lost in the early days of the Church, when statements like the one in John 4:24 were misconstrued. That mistake is in the past, though, and there is nothing gained by casting judgment on those who were doing their best to find God in a state of apostasy.

Yet we have full control over our own choices and decisions. If we choose to continue to wrest the scriptures, including scriptures like John 4:24, to fit our own mistaken conceptions of what we think God is like, we do so to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).

Larry E. Dahl lamented this loss due to Greek philosophy. He said:

“Thus the subjective creeds of men were given precedence over God’s objective revelation of himself. Thanks to the learned philosophers who chose to ignore the plain teachings of Jesus and Paul,  Athens’ “Unknown God” remains unknown (see Acts 17:22-23; JD 6:318).

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