Gnostic Doctrine

Monday, 27 August 2018

God is Spirit John 4:24

God is Spirit John 4:24





John 4:24  "God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (RSV) 

PROBLEM: This verse is quoted to show that God is not tangible.

Most people misunderstand this verse and assume or declare that Spiritual beings are immaterial.

SOLUTION: Jesus is not saying that God is immaterial1

Jesus is concerned with redemption and worship that is acceptable not with a description of whether God is tangible or not. cf. v.7 - 23.

Heracleon understands this verse to refer to the nature of worship and not the nature of God:

Fragment 24, on John 4:24 (In John 4:24a, it says,) “God is spirit.” Undefiled, pure, and invisible is his divine nature. (In John 4:24b, it says,) “Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." Worthily of the one who is worshipped, in a spiritual, not a fleshly fashion. For those who have the same nature as the Father are themselves spirit, and they worship in truth, not in error, as the Apostle teaches when he calls this kind of piety “ a rational service.” (Romans 12:2) (Heracleon: Fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John)


Also for early Christians like Origen, Heracleon, and Theodotus understood God to be Corporeal:

14 The demons are said to be incorporeal, not because they have no bodies (for they have even shape and are, therefore, capable of feeling punishment), but they are said to be incorporeal because, in comparison with the spiritual bodies which are saved, they are a shade. And the angels are bodies; at any rate they are seen. Why even the soul is a body, for the Apostle says, “It is sown a body of soul, it is raised a body of spirit.” And how can the souls which are being punished be sensible of it, if they are not bodies? Certainly he says, “Fear him who, after death, is able to cast soul and body into hell.” Now that which is visible is not purged by fire, but is dissolved into dust. But, from the story of Lazarus and Dives, the soul is directly shown by its possession of bodily limbs to be a body. (Extracts from the Works of Theodotus)

The phrase "God is Spirit" is sometimes offered as evidence that He is immaterial but Jesus (whom we know to be a corporeal being) is called the Lord the Spirit in 2 Cor. 3:17,18. "He is now no longer flesh and blood; but Holy Spirit Nature a flesh and bones embodiment of Spirit."

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27).

"And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish,....and he (Jesus) took it, and did eat before them" (Luke 24:43).


"The spiritual body is constituted of flesh and bones energized by the spirit. This appears from the testimony concerning Jesus. On a certain occasion, he unexpectedly stood in the midst of his disciples, at which they were exceedingly alarmed, supposing they beheld a spirit, or ghost, as at a former time. But, that they might be assured that it was really he himself, he invited them to handle him, and examine his hands and feet: "For", said he, "a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have". He gave them further proof by eating a piece of fish and. Thomas placed his hand into his side, and was convinced that he was the same who had been crucified. What stronger proof can we need of this that the spiritual body is corporeal and tangible in nature? It is the animal body purified, not evaporated into gas, or vapour. It is a bloodless body; for in the case of Jesus he had poured out his blood on the cross. The life of the animal body is in the blood: but not so that of the spiritual body: the life of this resides with the Father." (Elpis Israel)

Since Jesus has flesh and bones it seems inconsistent that his Father would not. The writer to the Hebrews says that Christ was "the very image of his substance"

The angels are "ministering spirits" but they were seen by men many times.

Many passages in scripture show that God is corporeal and shares emotions that we do:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Gen. l:26).

"God created man, in the likeness10 of God made he him" (Gen. 5:1, 3).

"He that sitteth in the heaven shall laugh" (Psa. 2:4).

"Hide not thy face . . . incline thine ear unto me" (Psa. 102:2).

"He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary" (Psa. 102:19).

" ... sat on the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19).

"Man... is the image ... of God" (1 Cor. 11:7).

"Christ, who is the image of God"11 (2 Cor. 4:4).

"Men, which are after the similitude of God" (James 3:9).


nor is Jesus just referring to the nature of God, Jesus is concerned with redemption and worship that is acceptable not with a description of whether God is tangible or not. cf. v.7 - 23.

but is stating that God is acting in a specific manner for the redemption of man, as he once acted in the past3.

3) We should continually remember that to Israel God was Spirit, an Angel bearing His Name. This statement can be verified by an analysis of Isaiah 48:16, 17, 20.
"The Lord Yahweh, and his Spirit hath sent me. Thus saith Yahweh, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am Yahweh thy God ... which leadeth thee the way that thou shouldest go."

Note that the Spirit is "the Holy One of Israel".

In this Spirit activity of redemption, there was to be corresponding spirit in their worship.

It is in the framework of this purpose that men must worship the Father4. Jesus was teaching the woman that in the redemption he had brought, he had living waters5 to offer so that they could worship God "in spirit".

4 "To be spiritually minded is life". (Rom. 8:6).

5 the teaching of the Spirit (i.e. Word of God) (cf. v.14).


The verse does not say that we must have received some divine effluent from God into our hearts before we can worship correctly.

So if God is spirit - and the Bible emphatically declares this truth - it does not mean that he does not have material form! It is consistent to say that God, *in the sense of an individual person* has a body of spirit

The context shows that:
correct knowledge ("in truth") is one necessity, "salvation is of the Jews". (v. 22).
attitude of mind ("in spirit" i.e. sincerity, Josh. 24:14) is the other necessity6.

6) It was not where the worship occurred (empty tradition or letter) that mattered but the attitude of the worshipper that mattered i.e. a positive response showing love and zeal for the truth. cf. 2 Cor. 3:5, 6.

The fact that Israel believed God has a human form is quite clear from Gen 1:26 where God makes man in their image (demut), and their likeness (tselem). That this image and likeness refers to *genetic* resemblance is made clear from Gen 5:1,3 where Adam begets a son after his own likeness (tselem) after his image (demut) and called his name Seth.



"Ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." (v. 21).

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