Latter-day Saint scripture/Critical proof text/John 4:24

John 4:24 is used as a proof-text by critics of the LDS doctrine of the corporeal nature of God

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King James Version

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

John 4:24

Other translation(s)

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (NASB)
God is Spirit, and only by the power of his Spirit can people worship him as he really is." (TEV)
God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth. (CEV)

Answer

Critics read into the passage what is not there. This passage in John does not assert anything about God's corporeal nature or lack thereof. The Latter-day Saint belief that God is an embodied spirit is perfectly consistent with the passage in question and critics are in error to insist that the passage must be interpreted as "God is a disembodied spirit."

Detailed Analysis

Use or misuse by Church critics

This verse is used as a proof-text by critics of the LDS doctrine of the corporeal nature of God. Critics argue that this passage proves that God does not have a physical body.

Commentary

The context of this verse is that Jesus is explaining to a Samaritan woman how one must worship. Jesus teaches that the place of worship, whether Samaria or Jerusalem, is not important, but rather the way one worships. By teaching attributes of God, Jesus teaches how His children can and should relate to Him and worship Him. Latter-day Saints emphatically agree that God is indeed spirit, just as He is love 1 Jn 1:5, light 1 Jn 4:8, and a consuming fire Deuteronomy 4:24, but He is not only spirit, love, light, or fire.

The Greek language has no indefinite article ("a" or "an") and so the translator must decide whether to include that word in the English text. But for Latter-day Saints, the presence or absence of the article makes no difference. Latter-day Saints believe both that God is spirit (as an attribute) and that God is a spirit (as a statement of His nature). Similarly, Latter-day Saints believe that all people are also spirits, but spirits housed within a physical body.

In the chapter immediately preceding this scripture, in John 3:5-6 , Jesus says the following:

John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (NASB)

It is clear from the above verse that Jesus considered it entirely possible for a mortal human with a physical body to be spirit. Likewise, it is not inconsistent to believe that God the Father simultaneously has a physical body and "is spirit."


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims