Mormonism and the nature of God/God is a Spirit

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    Does the doctrine that God has a physical body contradict the Bible's statement that "God is a Spirit"?

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Questions


Some Christians object to the LDS position that God has a physical body by quoting John 4:24

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (Italics in KJV original).

Answer


Adopting a critical reading of this verse leads to some strange conclusions if we are consistent. Deuteronomy 4:28 says that our God can see, eat and smell. Can an unembodied spirit do that? Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29 say that God is a consuming fire, 1 Jn 1:5 says God is light, and 1 Jn 4:4,16 says that God is love. Is He just those things? Clearly not, and the LDS conclude that neither is He just a spirit.


Mormons have "picked up" discarded beliefs of early Christians

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[1]

Perhaps the most complicating factor for creedal dialogue with Latterday Saints is that Mormons, unlike other restorationists, were not content to flunder in suspicion of the way the early Church absorbed Greek metaphysics. Instead, Mormons put the Platonization of Christianity at the heart of their critique of the ossifiation and corruption of Christianity. Something went terribly wrong after the age of the Apostles, they argue, and that something has to do with the theological turn toward a metaphysics of immaterialism. Far from ignoring early church history, then, Mormons are committed to an interrogation of the relationship of theology to philosophy that objects to nearly every development that led to the ecumenical creeds. They do not just raise objections, however. It is as if, as they follow the road orthodox theologians took to the creeds, Mormons pause to pick up the detritus that was jettisoned along the way. Thy recycle these discarded beliefs into a shining, novel creation of their own. [2]:86

Sub-articles


  • Lecture of Faith 5 teaches the Father is "a personage of spirit"
    Brief Summary: Lectures on Faith, which used to be part of the Doctrine and Covenants, teach that God is a spirit. Joseph Smith's later teachings contradict this. More generally, some argue that Joseph Smith taught an essentially "trinitarian" view of the Godhead until the mid 1830s, thus proving the Joseph was "making it up" as he went along. (Click here for full article)
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Detailed Analysis

Note that in the KJV cited above, the word “is” is italicized. This is because the King James translators have inserted it on their own—it is not present in the Greek text from which the translation was made.

Secondly, the reader should be aware that the indefinite article (“a”, as in "a dog" or "a spirit") does not exist in Greek. Thus, the addition of the word "a" in English occurs at the discretion of the translators.[3]

This leaves two Greek words: theos pneuma [θεος πνεμα]—“God spirit”. The JST resolves this translational issue by saying “for unto such hath God promised his spirit”. The word pneuma, which is translated spirit, also means ‘life’ or ‘breath’. The King James Version of Revelation 13:15 renders ‘pneuma’ as life. Thus "God is life," or "God is the breath of life" are potential alternative translations of this verse.

Also, if God is a spirit and we have to worship him in spirit, do mortals have to leave our bodies to worship him?

Thus, the Latter-day Saints believe that man is also spirit (DC 93:33-34; Numbers 16:22; Romans 8:16) and is, like God, housed in a physical body. We were, after all, created in the "image" of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

It is interesting that in 1 Corinthians 2:11, Paul wrote about "the spirit of man and the Spirit of God." Elsewhere he spoke of the resurrection of the body and then noted that it is a "spiritual" body (1 Corinthians 15:44-46), though, rising from the grave, it is obviously composed of flesh and bones, as Jesus made clear when he appeared to the apostles after his resurrection ({s||Luke|24|37-39}}).

Paul also told the saints in Rome, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Romans 8:9).

One Commentary insists:

That God is spirit is not meant as a definition of God's being—though this is how the Stoics [a branch of Greek philosophy] would have understood it. It is a metaphor of his mode of operation, as life-giving power, and it is no more to be taken literally than 1 Jn 1:5, "God is light," or Deuteronomy 4:24, "Your God is a devouring fire." It is only those who have received this power through Christ who can offer God a real worship.[4]


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  2. Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011).
  3. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995), 271.
  4. J. N. Sanders, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, edited and completed by B. A. Mastin, (New York, Harper & Row, 1968), 147–148.


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