Tag Archives: Church Fathers

“God Has No Body” Part 6.2

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 6.1, I included the clarification that Latter-day Saints share this belief concerning God’s unchanging nature. I cited the Lectures on Faith and a scripture from the Book of Mormon. This also strengthened the premise that God’s unchanging nature does not include a prohibition against physical change.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, clarify that God being unchangeable does not preclude him from changing physically.  Instead, “unchanging” helps define his interactions with his children.
  4. Thus, physical change is not prohibited by the scriptural meaning of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, God could exist as spirit even though the Son took on human form

Premise 4 and 5

This section is in regards to premise 4 of the original argument, and premise 5 of this new formulation of the argument.

While the responses to anthropomorphites’ objections we’ve looked at in Part 4 and Part 5 have both been inductive, this argument is perhaps the best example (of the three) of the weaknesses born of inductive arguments.

The conclusion can only be formulated as it is in the fifth statement, i.e. conditionally (“could”). The first three premises could very well be true; in fact, most Latter-day Saints would agree with them. The issue is that they do not lead to the conclusion. Because Jesus did not always have a body does not infer that he would immediately shed that body to regain his incorporeality. In fact, he could very well have kept that resurrected body until this very day. The argument that incorporealists should be making is one regarding why the Savior would shed his resurrected body. This argument from unchangeableness is nothing more than a distraction.

Again, this is the big issue with this argument. It’s purpose, I assume, is to dispel attention from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Savior retains his resurrected body, then God must be corporeal. Yet being unchangeable does not have anything to do with having a physical body – that is what is being argued by the third premise, which is supported by Latter-day Saint theology (see Part 6.1).

Conclusion

Because the premises of the argument lead so weakly to the conclusion, the argument should be adjusted to at least clarify the issue described above. It can be adjusted as follows:

  1. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, clarify that God being unchangeable does not preclude him from changing physically.  Instead, “unchanging” helps define his interactions with his children.
  4. Thus, physical change is not prohibited by the scriptural meaning of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, as far as this argument is concerned, it is equally likely that God could exist as spirit or as an embodied deity; no determination can be made since there is no support given regarding why the Son might or might not have shed his physical body after his ascension.

Arguments considering the question raised by this revised conclusion will not be treated here, but may be covered later.

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“God Has No Body” Part 6.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often point to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Savior so diligently endeavored to show that he had been resurrected, why would he so quickly shed that physical body? The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. Many Biblical verses say that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Thus, this body must not be part of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2)
  4. Thus, God could exist as spirit even though the Son took on human form

Being “Unchangeable” is Important

Joseph Smith, the first president and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taught in his Lectures on Faith that it was vital to understand the character of God in order to exercise faith in Him. The third of six characteristics he defined was unchangeableness.  Joseph said,

“From the foregoing testimonies [in scripture] we learn the following things respecting the character of God… that he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.”

Joseph then went on to explain why it was vital for men to believe that God held this characteristic:

“But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long-suffering; for without the idea of unchangeableness in the character of the Deity, doubt would take the place of faith. But with the idea that he changes not, faith lays hold upon the excellencies in his character with unshaken confidence, believing he is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, and that his course is one eternal round.”

Obviously, Latter-day Saints not only believe that God is unchangeable, but that it is essential we know this in order to exercise faith in him.

What is “Unchangeable”?

This argument could benefit from an expansion of what it means to be unchangeable. Physical change is not prohibited, it is claimed, by being unchangeable (premise 3). The evidence provided is the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Yet while this is good evidence, there are many more scriptures in both the Bible and LDS scriptures that teach more about what it means to be unchangeable.

For example, in 2 Nephi 27:23, Nephi quotes (and effectively endorses) Isaiah, who quoted the Lord:

“For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.”

In working with his children, God does not favor some above others.  He is willing to work miracles in all of our lives as long as we have faith in him.

Considering these two sections, the argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God being unchangeable does not preclude him from changing physically, but rather helps define his interactions with his children.
  4. Thus, physical change is not prohibited by the scriptural meaning of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, God could exist as spirit even though the Son took on human form

Continued at Part 6.2.

“God Has No Body” Part 5.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often refer to multiple scripture references in the Bible which describe God’s body, parts, and passions. God has a human-like form in visions; he has arms, eyes, ears, and hands; and he is moved to anger, sadness, and repentance. Anthropomorphites’ claim that these references, or at least some of these references, are literal. The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. The Biblical verse Psalms 91:4 speaks of God as having “wings” and “feathers”
  2. The passage as a whole also contains references to God as a refuge, a fortress, a shield, a buckler, and a habitation; and references to the speaker as being delivered from the “snare of the fowler,” “noisome pestilence,” and flying arrows
  3. The passage references are clearly metaphorical representations used to describe both various powers of God and various needs of man
  4. Thus, the references to God’s wings and feathers are metaphorical representations of his love and concern (1) (2) (3)
  5. Numerous Biblical passages describe God as having eyes (Ezra 5:51 Samuel 26:21, 24Jeremiah 52:2), or arms (Isaiah 53:151:9), or other parts, etc.
  6. These passages are clearly metaphorical representations used to symbolize God’s power and knowledge
  7. Thus, all descriptions of God found in the Bible that refer to tangible, anthropomorphic qualities are metaphoric (4) (5) (6)
  8. Thus, God does not have any tangible qualities, including a physical body (7)
  9. Thus, God is incorporeal (8)

The Seventh Premise

This argument makes a big jump at the seventh premise, claiming from the existence of some metaphorical passages that all passages must be metaphorical. This is a clear fallacy, or in other words, this argument breaks certain logical rules which render the conclusion invalid. This then becomes a serious problem that is detrimental to this argument’s conclusion (i.e. God is incorporeal).

The fallacy in this argument is one of false emphasis, specifically the fallacy of composition. This fallacy occurs when one infers something is true of the whole when it is true of some of its parts:

  • A spark plug is lightweight, and therefore a car must be lightweight as well.
  • Atoms (which humans are made up of) are invisible, and therefore humans must be invisible as well.

Both cases are clearly ludicrous. Cars are heavy, and humans are visible. We can all see that just because something is true of the parts does not mean that it is true of the whole.

The argument up to the seventh premise is fairly sound. There are many metaphorical references to God in the Bible. And just like a spark plug is not the only lightweight car part, the reference to God’s “wings” is not the only metaphorical reference – God does not have wings, and many of the references to his eyes or arms (including the ones above) are also metaphorical. Yet to conclude that all references to God are metaphorical because some references to God are metaphorical is where the argument turns sour. God may be incorporeal, as most Christians claim, but it cannot be proved or evidenced by this argument.

While we may not be able to know for sure exactly which references are metaphorical and which references are literal, anthropomorphites need only provide one example of a scripture that can reasonably be taken literally to challenge the assumption that all references are metaphorical. I include two examples below which could reasonably be taken literally.

  • In Exodus 33, the Lord invites Moses to behold his glory. For his own purpose, the Lord tells Moses that he will cover his eyes while he passes, but will remove his hand in time for Moses to see his “back parts” (Exodus 33:23). What metaphorical interpretation could Christians give for these”back parts”?
  • Many prophets have seen visions of a corporeal deity other than Jesus Christ. Stephen, for example, saw the Savior standing on the right hand of God before he was martyred by the Jews (Acts 7:55-56). In this case also, there is no metaphorical interpretation. It gives more evidence against Trinitian ideas than for incorporeality.
  • There are other examples of scriptures which can be reasonably interpreted literally here.

Conclusion

Because the argument rises or falls on premise 7, it needs to be adjusted to correct for the fallacy of composition. It can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The Biblical verse Psalms 91:4 speaks of God as having “wings” and “feathers”
  2. 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
  3. The passage references are clearly metaphorical representations used to describe both various powers of God and various needs of man
  4. Thus, the references to God’s wings and feathers are metaphorical representations of his love and concern (1) (2) (3)
  5. 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.
  6. These passages are clearly metaphorical representations used to symbolize God’s power and knowledge
  7. Thus, while we can safely assume then that many Biblical passages are metaphorical, it would be fallacious to assume from only this evidence that all descriptions of God found in the Bible that refer to tangible, anthropomorphic qualities are metaphoric (4) (5) (6)
  8. Thus, we cannot conclude that God does not have any tangible qualities, including a physical body (7)
  9. Thus, we can conclude that if these scriptures can be taken literally, God is corporeal (7) (8)

It is important to note that this argument is inductive. We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“if…”). Still, this new argument is conditional only because some may argue (however badly) that all scriptures should be considered as metaphorical. Because no argument is set in stone, and others may challenge this new seventh, eighth, and ninth premise, the conclusion is uncertain. Yet, as the conclusion says, if as many as one scripture can be taken literally, 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.

“God Has No Body” Part 4.4

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 4.1, I challenged the first premise. The premise originally stated that the purpose of Genesis 1 was to differentiate man from the animals. I argued that this was incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. Rather, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is to teach us about the character of God, and Genesis 1 specifically teaches us that he is omnipotent and logical. The consequence is that we should not be looking for implied differences between God and man.

In Part 4.2, I challenged the second premise. The premise originally stated that the difference between man and animal was a rational soul. I argued that the veracity of this claim is more or less irrelevant, for the idea is philosophical, not scriptural. Thus, we should not put faith in it the same way we would put faith in Biblical teachings. As a side note, I showed that this was a good example of how Christianity was influenced by Greek philosophy, or Hellenized.

In Part 4.3, I challenged the third premise. This premise originally concluded that the image of God found in man was a rational soul. It was weakened by the changes made to premises 1 and 2, and was forced to be changed to include the caveat that such ideas were philosophical. I further argued (with the assistance of FAIR when it came to the Hebrew language of the original text) that when looking at the context of the verses, it was clear that it was far more likely that “image” referred to a physical, corporeal body than to a rational soul.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that 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); alternately, scripture suggests that image refers to a physical, corporeal likeness.
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it is unlikely that such a reference is to a rational soul.  Rather, it is much more likely that the reference, while not excluding a rational soul, is to a physical, corporeal body (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, if God’s “image” refers to a physical body, God is corporeal (4)

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 may be 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 still inductive. We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“if…”). Still, it is conditional for a much different reason than the original argument. The original argument was conditional because it was so narrow. Genesis 1:26 could refer to a rational soul, but God could still be corporeal. The scripture didn’t say enough one way or the other.

This new argument is conditional only because some may argue (however badly) that the only similarity between man and God is a rational soul. Because no argument is set in stone, and others may challenge the fourth premise above, the conclusion is uncertain. Yet, as the conclusion says, if God’s “image” truly refers to a physical body, then it is certain that he is corporeal.

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

“God Has No Body” Part 4.3

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 4.1, I challenged the first premise. The premise originally stated that the purpose of Genesis 1 was to differentiate man from the animals. I argued that this was incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. Rather, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is to teach us about the character of God, and Genesis 1 specifically teaches us that he is omnipotent and logical. The consequence is that we should not be looking for implied differences between God and man.

In Part 4.2, I challenged the second premise. The premise originally stated that the difference between man and animal was a rational soul. I argued that the veracity of this claim is more or less irrelevant, for the idea is philosophical, not scriptural. Thus, we should not put faith in it the same way we would put faith in Biblical teachings. As a side note, I showed that this was a good example of how Christianity was influenced by Greek philosophy, or Hellenized.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that 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) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

The Third Premise

Because premise 3 is affected by both premises before it, changing premise 1 and 2 also requires that we adjust premise 3 so that it logically follows. While we can still claim that the “image” of God found in man is a rational soul, and this is the reference made by the author in Genesis 1:26, it must be admitted that this idea is not scriptural. This idea, on the contrary, is philosophical.

This weakens the premise substantially, and consequently weakens the entire argument as well. And yet it is appropriate to challenge this premise in another way. I’ve claimed that the scriptures are silent on this issue of a rational soul. What do the scriptures have to say, then, about this matter of “image”?

For this discussion, because I am no Hebrew scholar, I take my comments from FAIR’s response to this same premise. It is paraphrased, if not mostly copied directly, from them.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image [Hebrew tselem], after our likeness [Hebrew demuth]”. Christians claim that this should be interpreted figuratively, in the sense that humans have “rational souls,” which set us apart from the animals. However, just a few chapters later the author of Genesis repeats “God created man, in the likeness [Hebrew demuth] of God made he him” and then adds some interesting commentary about the birth of Adam’s son Seth: “And Adam lived an hundred thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness [Hebrew demuth], after his image [Hebrew tselem]; and called his name Seth” (Genesis 5:1-3).

Adam was created in God’s image and likeness, and one of Adam’s sons had Adam’s image and likeness. Exactly the same words were used to describe both scenarios by the same prophetic author only one verse apart; thus, the words must have been used in the same way, and to describe the same things. Either Adam looked like God (as Seth looked like Adam), or Seth was the only one of Adam’s sons who possessed a “rational soul,” being the son made in his image.

If there is a good reason to interpret one passage in one way, and the other in another way, the critics must provide it.  As it stands, I can see none.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that 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); alternately, scripture suggests that image refers to a physical, corporeal likeness.
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it is unlikely that such a reference is to a rational soul.  Rather, it is much more likely that (even if a rational soul is included) the reference is to a physical, corporeal body (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, if God’s “image” refers to a physical body, God is corporeal (4)

Continued at Part 4.4.

“God Has No Body” Part 4.2

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 4.1, I challenged the first premise. The premise originally stated that the purpose of Genesis 1 was to differentiate man from the animals. I argued that this was incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. Rather, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is to teach us about the character of God, and Genesis 1 specifically teaches us that he is omnipotent and logical. The consequence is that we should not be looking for implied differences between God and man.

The modified argument is as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. 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) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

The Second Premise

This argument claims that the difference between man and animals is a rational soul. This is a very plausible claim, and I will not be challenging it directly. Rather, my challenge will be first and foremost to it’s source.

This idea of a rational soul originally comes not from the apostles, or even the Church Fathers, but earlier than either of the two. It originally surfaced in the writings of Aristotle, who lived over 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. This idea that a rational soul is the difference between men and animals can be found in his book Nicomachean Ethics [you can find a number of translations in Google Books], in Book 1.

That this is an idea of Greek philosophy shows very clearly two things. First, as intelligent as Aristotle may have been, the fact remains that he was uninspired. His words do not carry the same authority as the words of Jesus Christ, or the apostles, or the prophets.  Though they sound good, his ideas may very well not be true. They are the “philosophies of men,” and should not be considered the same way we consider Biblical teachings.

Second, it shows that Greek ideas were influencing the formation of Christian dogmas. St. Augustine, in his Confessions, wrote of how he was influenced by Greek ideas.  He says,

By having thus read the books of the Platonists, and having been taught by them to search for the incorporeal Truth, I saw how thy invisible things are understood through the things that are made…. I now believe that it was thy pleasure that I should fall upon these books before I studied thy Scriptures, that it might be impressed on my memory how I was affected by them… For had I first been molded in thy Holy Scriptures, and if thou hadst grown sweet to me through my familiar use of them, and if then I had afterward fallen on those volumes, they might have pushed me off the solid ground of godliness” (emphasis added).

Augustine gives credit to philosophical books for keeping him on the solid ground of godliness, but nonetheless it was his understanding first of Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers that effected how he understood the scriptures, that “impressed on [his] memory how [he] was affected by them.” Anyone who has participated in a discussion of a controversial theological subject knows that a person can “teach” just about any personal doctrine from their interpretation of scripture. It was the Hellenization of Christianity that affected the interpretation of the scriptures, and created the idea that what we have in common with God is nothing more than our rational minds.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that 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) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

Continued at Part 4.3.

“God Has No Body” Part 4.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often refer to Genesis 1:26 as evidence for their claim.  It reads,

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. The purpose of Genesis 1 is to differentiate man from God’s other creations, including the animals
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. 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)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

The first thing that should be noted is that this argument is inductive, which carries with it its own problems. The conclusion can only be formulated as it is in the fifth statement, i.e. conditionally (“may”). Even if premise 4 is true, it clearly deals only with Genesis 1:26. It is possible that God has a body even though the image referred to in Genesis 1:26 is a rational soul.

Even as an inductive argument, it weakens the position of anthropomorphites. But it cannot establish deductively that God is incorporeal, only that he may be incorporeal.

Myths

This argument claims that the purpose of Genesis 1 is to differentiate man from the animals. That is not necessarily true. In fact, this tract gives no basis for this claim whatsoever.

The way that men have understood the world has changed dramatically since the beginning of the scientific age. Eos no longer brings dawn with rose-red fingers that creep across the sky; instead, dawn is brought by light that emanates from a burning, godless ball of gas. In the same way that science has changed the way men explain the world, it has also changed the way men understand myths. Rather than dealing with whether or not something is historically accurate, as many believe now, myths have traditionally been used to explain man’s identity and relationship to the world around them. They are not just funny stories, but (in their traditional sense) have deep spiritual and religious importance. As the philosopher Mircea Eliade wrote, a myth

“means a ‘true story’… that is a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, and significant.”

The “Myth” of Genesis

At the risk of sounding heretical, I claim that to fully understand Genesis the way its author intended  it to be understood, we should think of it as a myth. In other words, we should look at it in the way Eliade suggested, and the way that ancients looked at myths – to learn who we are and what exactly is our relationship to God. Again, myths bring mysteries within the mental grasp of mankind, while teaching them important, sacred lessons that help them live life more perfectly. In the myth of Genesis, man gains insight into the being that God is – an all-powerful and all-knowing Creator who is to be respected and honored, while also a personal and compassionate Father whom man may approach.

We get this understanding about God from the Creation story in Genesis. Yet it should be noted that there are two accounts of the Creation, which have very noticeable differences – one in Genesis 1, and another in Genesis 2 and 3. The purpose of each account becomes clear when examining the difference between the two. The primary purpose of Genesis 1 is not to differentiate man from the animals, but rather to demonstrate God’s majesty and power. This is in contrast to the primary purpose of Genesis 2 and 3, which is to demonstrate God as a personal, involved sculptor who is aware of the small details.

The Purpose of Genesis 1

The God of Genesis 1 is a powerful, almighty God. He sees two problems with the universe – it is without form (chaotic), and it is void (empty). He solves the first problem in the first three days. He forms light and dark, the sea and sky, and the earth and plants. Then, he solves the second problem in the next three days.  He fills this creation with lights, then fish and fowl, and then animals and man.

The God of Genesis 1 is a powerful Creator.  Just by speaking he is able to bring all things into being.  He is also pragmatic, logically solving the problems he identified in the beginning. This was a very specific lesson planned by the author of Genesis, and becomes even clearer when we contrast it with the God of Genesis 2 and 3.

The Purpose of Genesis 2 and 3

We see a much different God in Genesis 2 and 3. Rather than a distant, almighty designer, we come to see God as a very personal and involved creator.

After God creates Adam, he teases and plays with him lovingly as they search together for a help meet. Initially, God tells Adam that it is not good for him to be alone, and then parades before him all the animals. Of course, Adam finds no help meet in this group.

When no help meet is found, Adam is presented with Eve. The original term used to describe creating Eve denotes building, or a similar architectural activity. This is in stark contrast to simply speaking something into existence. God is personally involved here, molding humans from the clay, breathing into them the breath of life.

After sinning, Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden. God sets cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life, but then makes them clothing. Was there a needle and thread? Perhaps not. But regardless, God was there, making the clothing for his created children.

This personal, loving, and involved picture of God is a view that you just don’t get from the first chapter of Genesis.

Conclusion

The story of the creation, with both accounts, teaches very vital principles about the character of God.  Both are important, and just one would paint only an incomplete picture. There are differences in the two accounts, but that is done purposefully and should not effect how we view its’ veracity as a whole. The story of Genesis 1-3 was meant to explain the purpose of the Creation and it’s relation to man, and to teach us about the kind of being God is. It’s not necessarily about the historicity.

And when looking at the story, or myth, in context, it’s clear that the purpose of Genesis 1 is much broader than to differentiate man from the animals God created.  Instead, it is to teach us about God, specifically about his almighty power, his omnipotence, and his pragmatic, logical manner.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. 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) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

Continued at Part 4.2.

“God Has No Body” Part 3.2

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 3.1, I challenged the first premise of the Church Fathers argument found in Part 1. The premise originally stated that the Church Fathers are a reliable source from whom we can learn about the doctrine of the Church. I argued that this is incorrect, and it is the apostles, not the Church Fathers, to whom we should turn. The apostles were taught directly by the Savior in person and through revelation, and the Church Fathers were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy (see also my post relating to Greek influence on the Rational Soul argument, Part 4.2)

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
  3. Thus, God may or may not be an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)

The Early Church

The matter of what the Church Fathers believed is not a difficult question to answer.  Clearly, the doctrine of a Trinitian God is evident again and again in their writings.  It is also important to consider, though, what the beliefs of lay church members was in those vital first centuries.  There is plentiful evidence that, as Dr. David Paulsen argues, “ordinary Christians for at least the first three centuries of the current era commonly (and perhaps generally) believed God to be corporeal.”

My shortcoming here is that my knowledge of the writings of early Church Fathers is very basic.  Because of that, I must appeal to others, to whom the reader could profitably turn for further investigation.

In “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Paulsen investigates the claim that the writings of Origen and Augustine show that early Christians often believed in a corporeal deity.  The widespread belief in an anthropomorphic God was the reason Church Fathers had to combat the belief so vigorously.

Kim Paffenroth, of Notre Dame, replied to the paper in his comment “Paulsen on Augustine: An Incorporeal or Non-anthropomorphic God?”  This comment, though, was a spotty attempt at making Paulsen’s argument into a straw man, which Paulsen clarifies in a response to Paffenroth (“Reply to Kim Paffenroth’s Comment”).

Another paper by Paulsen that covers the subject is “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God.”  Substantial portions of the paper were drawn from many others, written by Paulsen, on the subject of divine corporeality and early Christian beliefs.  It thus becomes a good single resource to find valid, and documented-backed claims regarding early Christian beliefs.  It suffices me to point you to that resource rather than citing the many references found therein.

If academic papers are not within your reach, you can also check our FAIR’s article on the same subject.

Regardless of what the Neo-Platonic Church Fathers believed, it can be strongly argued that early members of the Christian church believed in a corporeal God.  This is vital because it was these early members who would have been closest to the unadulterated teachings of the apostles and the Savior himself, and furthest from the corrupting influence of Greek philosophy.  Their beliefs reflect strongly on what the uncorrupted dogma of the Church might very well have been before it was infiltrated by Greek thought and practice.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts, but neither the scriptures nor the apostles necessarily support this idea; on the contrary, this idea originates with pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, who lived over 300 years before Christ.
  3. Evidence suggests that the members of the early Church (i.e. in the first three centuries) believed in a corporeal God.
  4. The beliefs of early church members would have been most directly influenced by the teachings of the apostles and Jesus Christ himself, and least influenced by Greek thinkers.
  5. Thus, it is likely that the apostles taught that God is embodied rather than incorporeal (3) (4)
  6. Thus, it is likely that God is corporeal (1) (5)

It is important to note that this argument is inductive.  We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“it is likely…”).  Still, the condition is based on arguments over what was taught by the original apostles.  If the apostles did in fact teach that God is corporeal (which is likely when considering the beliefs of early Church members who had not been influenced by Greek philosophy), 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.

“God Has No Body” Part 3.1

Find Part 1 here.

One of the primary arguments used by those who claim that God is incorporeal is an appeal to the teachings of the early Church Fathers. Often men like Origen and Augustine are quoted among scores of other early Christian leaders, expounding over and over again variations of the philosophy that God is without body, parts, or passion. The formal argument is relatively simple, and goes something like this:

  1. The Church Fathers are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
  3. Thus, God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)

It is not necessarily important to include each and every quote by Church Fathers regarding the incorporeality of God. For my purposes, it is sufficient to imply them as an appendage to the second premise above.

The First Premise

It may be significant to note that this argument is guilty of the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority. In all fairness, though, this error should be taken completely seriously. Certainly, we cannot say that some secular principle is true for certain just because someone else believes it. In relation to religious principles, though, we often believe things primarily because they were written by prophets or taught by prominent deities (like God or Jesus Christ). While ignoring this fallacy may be unacceptable for non-Christian or non-religious audiences, it would be counter to my purpose to investigate these issues from a completely secular standpoint. Thus, while it may be significant to note the fallacy, it is also significant to note that (in this arena of discourse) that fallacy is not important.

The issue of how reliable the Church Fathers are, though, is still a very important question to consider, for the entire argument hinges on their reliability. If they are not reliable, we cannot consider what they taught (including what they taught about the incorporeality of God) to be of any worth.

There is considerable evidence that they do not carry any substantial authority to direct the Christian Church or make statements of belief, some of which I will discuss below. Perhaps most importantly, they received no authority from Jesus Christ, the head of the Church. A poem illustrates this point. Watching his brother John ordain priests and ministers according to the dictates of his own whims, Charles Wesley wrote the now famous lines:

So easily are bishops made
By men’s or women’s whim?
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid
But who laid hands on him?

The same could be said of the early Church Fathers. They spoke with supposed authority, but where exactly did that authority come from? Who “laid hands” on them? Any quick read of Catholic history will show that doubtful is the claim that any authority was transferred from Peter to any other members of the Catholic Papacy, let alone the Church Fathers. So who gave the Church Fathers this authority?

The answer is no one. When the Savior organized his Church, he ordained the apostles to be the leaders of the Church. Revelation was given through them after the ascension of Christ. They formed, with Christ, the foundation of the Church. It was through this foundation that the Church was guided, and it is evident from the calling of additional apostles like Matthias and Paul that the organization was meant to continue. When it ceased to continue, so did that link between Jesus Christ and the Church. And like any structure without a foundation, the Church began to crumble. Within a short time, it was in a state of apostasy (see also here).

The importance of the apostles was not lost on contemporaries of the early Church. Hegesippus wrote that

“the church continued until then as a pure virgin and uncorrupt virgin: whilst if there were any at all attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combination of impious errors arose by fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth” (emphasis added).

See also FAIR’s article on the Church Father’s recognition of the apostasy that was happening around them.

The bottom line in relation to the Church Fathers is that they had no claim to any authority. Instead, it was the apostles who were able to lead the Church and dictate statements of belief, and that line of authority was broken when they, the highest authoritative body, ceased to exist.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
  3. Thus, God may or may not be an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)

Continued at Part 3.2.

“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).