Does the Bible Teach that God is Spirit in John 4:24?

The Bible teaches that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and spirit alone does not have flesh and bone (Luke 24:39), but Mormons are taught that God the Father “has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22).
~ Truth In Love Ministries – The Burden of Confusion ~

Evangelicals are deceived by the consistent misinterpretation of Christ’s words to the Samaritan woman at the well. John 4:24, according to Evangelical Apologists, is interpreted as an ontological argument regarding the nature of God. They fail to consider the immediate context of Christ’s conversation with the woman. Another misappropriation of scripture is hopscotching over to Luke 24:39.

The first article of faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the fundamental Judeo-Christian truth:

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

According to Alma 30:44:

… all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

Therefore, to understand the teachings of the Restored Gospel, we want to be careful to properly interpret scripture.

A single tree in a field with beautiful space background

The Existence of God

The foundation of Judeo-Christian belief constitutes the knowledge of the attributes and character of a Divine, Sovereign, and Supreme Being. This is central to an intelligent exercise in faith.

James E. Talmage remarked, “There is a filial passion within human nature that flames toward heaven.” (Articles of Faith – Chapter 2). Talmage also observes that humanity has a natural propensity toward worshiping:

his soul is unsatisfied until he finds a deity. When men through transgression fell into darkness concerning the true and living God, they established for themselves other deities, and so arose the abominations of idolatry. And yet, even the most revolting of these practices testify to the existence of a God by demonstrating man’s hereditary passion for worship. 

Talmage refers to this as an inborn attribute of mankind that needs demonstration of proof or a question of reasonable logic. The existence of God is proven as evidenced by history and tradition, human reason and intellect, and conclusive evidence through direct revelation (whether ancient or modern).

In Hyrum L. Andrus works – God, Man and the Universe – he remarks on the following observation: “The Father is the ultimate source of all attributes and powers of life, and He is the Supreme Intelligence over all other beings known to man.”

Abraham and the Three Angels. James Tissot 1836-1902 the jewishmuseum.org

The Supreme, Sovereign, and Divine Council

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long held the belief that the Godhead is comprised of three separate and distinct personages. The Father and Son possess resurrected, glorified bodies of flesh and bone. The Holy Spirit is a personage of spirit.

Through Jesus Christ, the only begotten of God in the flesh, we worship the Father as the absolute sovereign and supreme being. We accept Jesus Christ as not only the Savior and redeemer of fallen humanity, we recognize him as mediator and the only means by which salvation is given. It is through the power and gift of the Holy Spirit are we able to find comfort, guidance, inspiration, and personal revelation.

The doctrine of a divine council is nothing new. It is a restored revelation based on ancient origins and theophanies recorded throughout ancient cultures of the Hebraic, Sumarian, and Canaanite peoples. Much scholarly work continues to enlighten us on the nature of this divine and supreme council.

Christ and Heavenly Father in the Pre-Existence

Fatherhood of God

When Mary came to the Tomb, she found it to be empty. Afraid, she turned and spoke to whom she thought was the gardener. Instead, the Savior revealed himself to her. Naturally, she wanted to reach out and touch him. The Savior forbade this, saying:

“Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended to my father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God.(See John 20:17, KJV).

This is the only place in scripture where we read how Christ referred to God as not only His father, but the father of the disciples whom followed him. What did he mean by  my father and your father; and my God and your God?  Through modern revelation, we are taught:

“Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 335).

Joseph Fielding Smith also taught:

God is our Father; he is the being in whose image man is created. He has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s (D&C 130:22), and he is the literal and personal father of the spirits of all men. He is omnipotent and omniscient; he has all power and all wisdom; and his perfections consist in the possession of all knowledge, all faith or power, all justice, all judgment, all mercy, all truth, and the fullness of all godly attributes. … If we are to have that perfect faith by which we can lay hold upon eternal life, we must believe in God as the possessor of the fullness of all these characteristics and attributes. I say also that he is an infinite and eternal being, and as an unchangeable being, he possesses these perfected powers and attributes from everlasting to everlasting, which means from eternity to eternity (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (2013), 35–47)

Through these teachings, we see God as a loving Father who cares for our needs and blesses us accordingly. This is quite important for us to understand.

The Nature of God and Creation of Humanity

The first passage we want to address is that of Genesis 1:26-27. I also want to include the passage of Genesis 2:7, 18-24. There is a difference between Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:7, 18-24. This is because the accounts seem to be from two different sources. 

According to the Jewish Study Bible, the following comments are observed regarding Genesis 1:26-27: 

The plural construction (Let Us…) most likely reflects a setting in the divine council (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isa. 6; Job chs 1-2): God the King announces the proposed course of action to His cabinet of subordinate deities, though He alone retains the power of decision. The midrash manifests considerable uneasiness with God’s proposal to create something so capable of evil as human beings are. Playing on Ps. 1:6, one midrash reports that God told his ministering angels only of “the way of the righteous” and hid them “the way of the wicked” (Gen. Rab. 8:4). Another one reports that while the angels were debating the proposal among themselves, God took the matter in hand. “Why are you debating?” He asked them. “Man has already been created!” (Gen. Rab. 8:5). 

The commentary continues with this observation:

…humankind has a different origin and a different character. In the ancient Near East, the king was often said to be the “image” of the god and thus to act with divine authority. So here, the creation of humanity in God’s image and likeness carries with it a commission to rule over the animal kingdom (1.26b, 28b; cf. PS. 8:4-9). 

The Jewish commentary of Genesis 1:26-27 appears to show that God created both, male and female, after his own image and likeness. However, let us continue the consideration of what aspect image and likeness humanity was created after.

In an extant, and modern discovery of one of the missing texts of the Old Testament, we have a more condensed version of the Genesis account. Taken from R. H. Charles interpretation of the Ethiopic language of Ge’ez, the Book of Jubiless has this to say: And after all this He created MAN, a man and a woman created He them. This passage does not specify image and likeness as that of Genesis 1:26. However, it does reflect that man and woman were created in a collective sense.

It is not until we get to Jubilees 3 that we gain some interesting insights on the nature of man and woman’s creation:

And the Lord said unto us: “It is not good that the man should be alone: let us make a helpmeet for him:” And the Lord our God caused a deep sleep to fall upon him, and he slept, and He took for the woman one rib from amongst his ribs, and this rib was the origin of woman from amongst his ribs, and he built up the flesh in its stead, and built the woman. And He awaked Adam out of his sleep and on awaking he rose on the sixth day, and He brought her to him, and he knew her, and said unto her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; and she will be called my wife [Hebrew ishah] because she was taken from her husband [Hebrew: ish]

Modern Christians may excuse the nature of the Book of Jubilees as not being part of the canonicity of scripture, however, it was well known among first century Christians and very well may have been part of some ancient canon of scripture. It became lost and was only discovered when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

Regardless of one’s view on the Book of Jubiless, it does provide some insight that the Book of Genesis does not provide. Namely that it refers to a marriage ceremony by God himself between man and woman. It also provides insight in that woman was created in the same manner as Adam was from the dust of the ground. With one exception, God took a rib from Adam and created woman around that rib.

The creation of man and woman is solely not a Biblical account. Prior to the creation (as rendered in Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:4-25), we have a more ancient Sumarian creation story that describes the God Enki and the Goddess Ninhursag-ki dwelt in paradise:

‘Enki and Ninhursag’ is perhaps one of the most difficult Mesopotamian myth for Judeo-Christian Westerners to understand, because it stands as the opposite of the myth of Adam and Eve in Paradise found in the Old Testament Bible. Indeed, ‘ the literature created by the Sumerians left its deep imprint on the Hebrews, and one of the thrilling aspects of reconstructing and translating Sumerian belles-lettres consists in tracing resemblances and parallels between Sumerian and Biblical motifs. To be sure, Sumerians could not have influenced the Hebrews directly, for they had ceased to exist long before the Hebrew people came into existence. But there is little doubt that the Sumerians deeply influenced the Canaanites, who preceded the Hebrews in the land later known as Palestine’ (Kramer, 1981:142). Some comparisons with the Bible paradise story: 1) the idea of a divine paradise, the garden of gods, is of Sumerian origin, and it was Dilmun, the land of immortals situated in southwestern Persia. It is the same Dilmun that, later, the Babylonians, the Semitic people who conquered the Sumerians, located their home of the immortals. There is a good indication that the Biblical paradise, which is described as a garden planted eastward in Eden, from whose waters flow the four world rivers including the Tigris and the Euphrates, may have been originally identical with Dilmun; 2) the watering of Dilmun by Enki and the Sun god Utu with fresh water brought up from the earth is suggestive of the Biblical ‘ But there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground’ (Genesis 2:6); 3) the birth of goddesses without pain or travail illuminates the background of the curse against Eve that it shall be her lot to conceive and bear children in sorrow; 4) Enki’s greed to eat the eight sacred plants which gave birth to the Vegetal World resonates the eating of the Forbidden Fruit by Adam and Eve, and 6) most remarkably, this myth provides na explanation for one of the most puzzling motifs in the Biblical paradise story – the famous passage describing the fashioning of Eve, the mother of all living, from the rib of Adam. Why a rib instead of another organ to fashion the woman whose name Eve means according to the Bible, ‘she who makes live’? If we look at the Sumerian myth, we see that when Enki gets ill, cursed by Ninhursag, one of his body parts that start dying is the rib. The Sumerian word for rib is ‘ti’ . To heal each o Enki’s dying body parts, Ninhursag gives birth to eight goddesses. The goddess created for the healing of Enki’s rib is called ‘Nin-ti’, ‘the lady of the rib’. But the Sumerian word ‘ti’ also means ‘to make live’. The name ‘Nin-ti’ may therefore mean ‘the lady who makes live’ as well as ‘the lady of the rib’. Thus, a very ancient literary pun was carried over and perpetuated in the Bible, but without its original meaning, because the Hebrew word for ‘rib’ and that for ‘who makes live’ have nothing in common. Moreover, it is Ninhursag who gives her life essence to heal Enki, who is then reborn from her (Kramer, 1981:143-144).

There is scholarship regarding the commonalities and parallels between the Ancient Near Eastern creation stories and that contained with the Bible. All of these creation stories have variant understandings. Despite the variant’s of the stories, the point is that all creation stories match up with the understanding that God (or Gods) created man from the dust of the ground in His image and likeness, and then realized Man is not meant to be alone and therefore fashioned woman from man and in the image and likeness. 

The question is, what do we mean by image and likeness? The Bible Study Tools has an excellent article that presents varying degrees of thought concerning the understanding of Image and Likeness regarding man’s creation.

In another lost book – the Book of Jasher, we read the same type of account that we find in Genesis 2:4-25, with some slight variations within the text.

And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and God created man in his own image. And God formed man from the ground, and blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul endowed with speech. And the Lord said, it is not good for man to be alone; I will make unto him a helpmeet. And the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept, and he took away one of his ribs, and he built flesh upon it, and formed it and brought it to Adam, and Adam awoke from his sleep, and behold a woman was standing before him. And he said, This is bone of my bones and it shall be called woman, for this has been taken from man; and Adam called her name Eve, for she was the mother of all living. And God blessed them and call their names Adam and Eve in the day that he created them.

Again, while the text of Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 2:4 – 25, and the book of Jubilees and Jasher share the same understanding, both conclude that God created both man and woman. The Hebrew for create is Bara and it means to create, shape, form. This is consistent in reviewing the different variants of the Creation accounts and how men and women were created. In addition, we understand that humanity was fashioned after the image and likeness of God. This is direct correlation to God’s physical, spiritual, and characteristic attributes.

Not only were men and women fashioned after God’s on divine likeness and image, they were brought together under the divine marriage of God. The Bible does clarify that man and woman were created after God’s divine image and likeness.

This brings us to the next point of observation, namely, the understanding of God’s ontological nature as revealed in scripture.

However, it will be remiss if we did not move forward into the New Testament to Paul’s epistle to the Colassae Church. In there, Paul describes the nature of Creation as being completed by Christ himself. We know Christ existed with the Father as the Gospel of John mentions the term Logos and how this Logos became flesh (cf, John Chapter 1). In that passage, it compliments the doctrinal truth that Christ (Logos) made all things through the Power and authority of God the Father. 

The Apostle Paul writes: 

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell…(Colossians 1:15-19). 

While there is much pertaining to our next observation, what we learn in this passage (and that of the Gospel of Joh) is this:

1) Christ pre-existed and was with the Father before the Creation of the Earth and the creation of Humanity. 
And, 
2) Christ is the active person that has created all things – under the direction and will of the Father.

In fact, what we will see in our next point is that Christ will hand over all that he has to the Father. The most significant point is the use of image of the invisible God. We know that Paul encountered the resurrected Christ. We also know that upon Christ’s resurrection, he showed himself unto his disciples. He possessed a body that is resurrected and glorified. This is important to follow because it will set the foundation going into our next main observation regarding the ontological nature of God, the Father.

Since Christ was resurrected with a body of flesh and bones, and that he ascended into heaven with flesh and bones, we conclude that Paul is referring to the nature of Christ’s physical image being in that same image and likeness of the Father.

Elsewhere, we see this in relation to our own resurrected bodies: 

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (cf 1 John 3:2)

In our resurrection (which the Biblical text distinguishes two different resurrections) we will come to see Christ in His Image and Glory and that our own resurrected bodies will be in like manner – when Christ appears, we will see him and be like him – resurrected with a body of flesh and bone.  We will possess a resurrected body of flesh and bone as that of Christ has.

Where this is going is that the pre-incarnate Christ, through the direction of the Father, created all things including humanity – men and women by fashioning them after the image and likeness of – God. Christ was only a spiritual being without a body as tangible as man. So, he had to fashion humanities body after the image and likeness of the Father.

The Ontological Nature of God and Biblical Anthropomorphic Descriptors

One of the most common passages modern Christians utilize to prove that God does not have a physical resurrected body of flesh and bones is based on a grossly misinterpretation of John 4:24.

Like many modern Christians and Evangelical Apologists, they make a false interpretation on this one passage. 

There are two main reasons such an interpretation is wrong. The first one is that it is contextually in error; and the second, it is contradictory toward the many passages relating to Christ’s ontological and anthropomorphic descriptors in comparison to that of the Father.

Let us address the first main issue with how John 4:24 is contextually misinterpreted. We will do this by appealing to the immediate context of the passage where Christ is at the well and a Samaritan woman comes to draw out water. They engage in a conversation regarding the nature of worship and the idea of salvation being from the Jews. In fact, Christ informs the Samaritan woman:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the TRUE worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His true worshipers. (Cf. John 4:22-23, NASB).

Since the context around John 4:24 refers to the nature of Worship as a Spiritual discipline, there is no means to interpret the understanding from an act of spiritual discipline into an ontological argument. To do so will render the context to refer that those who are “TRUE WORSHIPERS” that the Father (GOD) seeks must also have the same ontological nature as that of God – both being of Spirit. 

Since the context of John 4:22-25 does not refer to the ontological nature of the worshipers, we cannot conclude that verse 24 suddenly refers to God’s ontological nature of being Spirit only. The actual rendering that is contextually applicable is that because God seeks true worshipers that will engage in a spiritual discipline renders us to conclude that God is a Spiritual Being. 

Many Bible Commentaries reflect the present mindset that John 4:24 is an ontological descriptor of God being A Spirit and not a Spiritual Being. Take for example Ellicott’s commentary for English Readers:

God is Spirit – better, God is spirit. His will has been expressed in the seeking. But his very nature and essence is spirit, and it follows from this that all true worship must be spiritual

Benson Commentary says this:

As a further answer to the woman’s question, our Lord delivered a doctrine which may justly be called his own, as it exhibits an idea of God, and of the worship which is due to him, far more sublime than the best things said by the philosophers on that subject. Christ came to declare God to us, and this he has declared concerning him, that hi is a Spirit. and he declared it to this poor Samaritan woman

Benson goes further and says this:

God is a spirit, for he is an infinite and eternal mind; an intelligent being, yea, the supreme intelligence, who by one act sees the thoughts of all other intelligence whatever, and so may be worshiped in every place; he is incorporeal, immaterial, invisible, and incorruptible: for it is easier to say what he is not than what he is. If God were not a spirit, he could not be perfect, nor infinite, nor eternal, nor independent, nor the Father of spirits. 

Keep the above statement in mind because what will be revealed is that this idea of God being spirit, and therefore being incomprehensible, incorporeal, immaterial, and invisible is a Gnostic heretical teaching from the Second Century. This heretical Gnostic teaching stems from the Valentinius school of thought on the nature of God: 

Valentinians believed that God is incomprehensible and cannot be known directly. Therefore he defies accurate description. He is infinite, without beginning or end and is the ultimate origin of all things. He encompasses all things without being encompassed. Everything including the world lies within the deity and continues to be part of it. The Godhead manifests itself through a process of self-unfolding in the subsequent multiplicity of being while maintaining its unity.

Notice how this follows the same vein of thought Benson’s commentary provides. Yet, this is recited as Biblical doctrine within the construct of the Trinity. The problem here is that if the present understanding of God’s nature as being a spirit stems from the second Century heretical teaching of Valentinius, then what is the actual Biblical ontological descriptors concerning the nature and being of God?

Part of that is provided in the previous segment on the nature of humanity and our creation from God’s image and likeness. Briefly spoke on the ontological descriptors of Jesus Christ himself. Here, we will explore the relationship between those ontological descriptors as it serves to understand and define Christ’s nature (a Physical being who now possesses a Physical and resurrected body).

We first turn ourselves over to the first statement Christ made in relation to himself and the Father: The Apostle (yet still a disciple of Christ) asked the Savior to show unto them (the disciples) the Father. Christ responds that if they have been with Christ so long, how do they not understand that if he (referring to Philip) has seen Christ, then he certainly has seen the Father (cf. John 14:8-9). 

A careful read through the New Testament (specifically the gospels) reveal that Christ always differentiates himself from the Father. He does this when relating to the disciples, and he does this when relating to the religious leaders.

Peter’s very own confession reveals that there is a very distinct nature between Christ and the Father: Thou art the Son of the LIVING GOD.

More specific, one unique passage stands out and that is in the resurrection account of the Gospel of John. Here, Christ meets a woman who mistakes  him for the gardener. Christ reveals himself to her and admonishes her not to touch him. His reason for her to not touch him? 

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and  your Father and to my God and your God. (cf John 20:17, KJV)

This is further understood when we look at Christ coming to the upper room where the disciples were present. When the disciple Thomas came in, he wanted to see for himself. On both accounts, Christ refers to the fact that He is not a spirit. That he possesses a body of flesh and bone that was resurrected.

Not only does the New Testament show that Christ had a bodily and physical resurrection, it also relates that he ascended into Heaven and that the Disciples were informed that Christ will return with his resurrected glorified body.

Paul describes in detail the nature of our own resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Revelation describes the resurrection of the Righteous and the Resurrection of those whose names were not written in the Book of Life.

Going back to Colossians, Paul writes that Christ is the First born of the Resurrection.

What we conclude here is that Christ possesses a body of flesh and bone. The Bible explicitly states that Christ rose from the dead with a resurrected body of flesh and bone, and that Christ will appear and we will see him as we are – with a glorified and resurrected body of flesh and bone.

Christ consistently differentiated himself from the Father, yet expressed in ways and terminologies that he also is in the express image of his father (if ye seen me, ye have seen the Father). The New Testament also places Christ in position of authority at the right hand of God’s throne.

We also understand and know that when he was challenged, the religious leaders decried blasphemy because Christ either said that he was “I AM” (YHWH) or that he was placing himself Equal to God. When in reality, Biblical teachings and understandings is that Christ is YHWH in the Old Testament and the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac.

What modern day scholarship has revealed is that YHWH was a subordinate God to the Most High God and part of the Divine Counsel. This is evident in passages like Deuteronomy 32: 8 – 9, Psalm 82, Job 1 and 2. 

Therefore, the rendering of God being spirit traces it’s origins back to the heretical teaching of Gnosticism of St. Valentinius where God is incomprehensible, incorporeal, and a Spirit (or essence).

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