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John 4:24 "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth". N.K J.V.

There is on this site a question regarding this verse which looks at how "Spirit" relates to God and angels. In this question I am interested to see how "Spirit" relates to Christ's body. Has "God is Spirit" anything to do with Christ's body?

"The Lord appeared to Abraham" in Gen 17. Do we see this as taking things from the dressing up box or a permanent feature of who God is? Well "God is Spirit" may or may not help us to answer that question. It depends on how we understand it.

When Jesus "became" flesh did He or His circumstances change? [Bill became an American, he didn't change but his circumstances did and so he was seen in a new way].

  1. J.MacArthur Study Bible footnote for this verse says:" The phrase [God is Spirit] means that God is invisible as opposed to the physical or material nature of man".

However, the person who said "God is Spirit", we may note, was God, visible and man.

  1. An N.I.V. Study Bible footnote for this verse says, "true worship must be in keeping with God's nature, which is spirit".

Is it not God's nature to have a body? "They will see His face". Rev 22:4.

  1. Luke 24:39 Jesus said "Behold my hands and feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have".

Here I think Jesus is not denying that He is Spirit as much as emphasising His body.

  1. Can "God is Spirit" be taken as "God is only Spirit"?

Here are four thoughts which may need clarification when considering what "God is Spirit" means.

It appears to me that "God is Spirit" is often taken out of context to be a statement about what God is like. I would challenge that on the grounds that it is only what God is like vis a vis true worship.

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    How could 'manhood' be 'part of God's nature' . . . 'before Adam was made ? God is Spirit : eternal Spirit. His nature is not human nature : intrinsically, eternally. Jesus Christ is God 'manifest in flesh'. Every attribute of deity and humanity meets . . . in the Person of Jesus Christ. And your last point (4) is asserting that by 'God' Jesus means 'Father' which he does not. Deity is Deity : all Deity. – Nigel J Apr 1 at 13:26
  • Jesus' nature is perfect as He is God. As a man Jesus redefined, or defined, the possible extent of human nature. i.e . with Jesus it is possible for human nature to be perfect. What do we mean by "human nature"? Our answer includes Jesus, containing humanity, where Adam got his from and perfection. – C. Stroud Apr 1 at 13:38
  • @Nigel How does my point 4 assert by "God" Jesus means "Father"? As I wrote it I was thinking of, as you say, "all Deity". – C. Stroud Apr 1 at 17:22
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    Does this answer your question? What is the meaning of John 4:24? – user33515 Apr 1 at 17:38
  • user33515 The question you refer me to does not mention "body" which I mention in my points 2 ans 3. – C. Stroud Apr 1 at 18:21
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Adam did not "image" God by portraying some aspect of his appearance. Adam and Eve (collectively) were created in the image and likeness of God, to rule, relate, and procreate.

The characteristics of God's personality which are reflected in mankind are therefore immaterial: His rulership, relational nature, and creative power. All of these are inherent in the "image" and "likeness" when they were created:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” — Genesis 1:26-28 NKJV

Notice that:

  • rulership: mankind is given dominion over the earth
  • relationship: male and female reflect the plurality (fellowship) in "Let us.." and "our image"
  • procreative: they subdue the earth by multiplying (in a similar way that God is reproducing his image)

A useful analogy here is that of a portrait. Suppose I showed some friends of yours an old portrait of you. They would recognize immediately that it was you, but none would mistakenly believe that the physical potrait WAS YOU. It is an image of you, and so we say "it is you," knowing it is only an image of you.

This is why it can be said of Jesus in Colossians 1:5 "He is the image of the invisible God." God is invisible, but Jesus is able to "image" him by perfectly demonstrating his immaterial nature in material form.

Jesus took this form on, but it was not so from the beginning.

who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. — Philippians 2:6,7 NKJV

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14 NKJV

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, — Hebrews 2:14 NKJV

Jesus, who shared his divine nature with the Father, became a human being (he was begotten of the Father), but it was to share in our physical nature so that we can share in his divine nature.

The meaning of "spirit" holds no mystery here. It means a person that is immaterial.

You can see this whole theme throughout the book of John. Jesus talks about spiritual things and his hearers confuse them for physical or earthly things:

  • The Jewish leaders say "it took forty-six years to build this temple" when Jesus says he will destroy the temple. He understands that he is the actual dwelling place of God, not the physical temple.
  • Nicodemus asks "must I go into my mother's womb a second time?" when Jesus says he must be born again. Jesus is talking about spiritual birth.
  • The woman at the well says "give me this water that I won't have come and draw any more" when Jesus says he will give her the living water, but Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit.
  • Many disciples leave, saying "this is a hard saying" when Jesus says they must eat his body and drink his flesh. Jesus clarifies that he is talking spiritually, not physically.

It is in the midst of this thread that Jesus says: "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." So it should be clear that "worship in spirit" is being contrasted with physical modes of worship such as the temple.

Jesus is divine because he is a spirit, not because he is a human being. This does not deny that he became a human being. But he did so to make us like him in spirit. The destiny of human beings is to be united with God in his spiritual nature. This is why he says:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. — John 16:7 NKJV

It is to our advantage because now God is indwelling us in the Holy Spirit. This is better than being localized in a human body.

Additionally, we can exist without bodies and still be ourselves. So we might say we are spiritual beings live in bodies. Our human bodies are not essential to our nature.

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. — II Corninthians 5:6-8 NKJV

To answer your question, can it be taken to mean "God is only a spirit" the answer is yes. God has and always be a Spirit. That is his essential nature. That fact that a spirit may inhabit a body does not change this.

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  • Is to share in our physical nature so that we can share in his divine nature why the Last Adam became a life-giving Spirit? – Walter S Apr 1 at 20:18
  • @WalterSmetana Good point. He did what the first Adam could not do. – DonJewett Apr 2 at 0:13
  • Made in the image of God is another way of saying was God’s representative acting on behalf of God. Agreed – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 6 at 19:44
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In context, the verse in question is an excerpt from a conversation Jesus had with a woman at a well in Samaria. Here is the part of that conversation which is most relevant to your question:

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 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 worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

To the woman's "dodge," Jesus responds by saying, essentially, people's worship of God cannot be confined to a geographical location (in this case, Mt. Gerazim in Samaria or Jerusalem in Judea), because God transcends our physical realities. True enough, worshipers often come to places of worship, but they can just as easily worship God when they are at home, at work, at school, at play, in a forest, on a mountain top, in a valley, in the wilderness, in a desert, or anywhere at all and at any time.

That is possible because God is a spirit (with a lower-case S, as in the NIV). He seeks worshipers to worship him through their spirits. Our spirits and God's Spirit (with an upper-case S) commune, spirit to Spirit.

God can be seen, but only through the eyes of faith, and that faith has to be informed by truth. Jesus hints at this last point by saying to the woman that God's offer of salvation came first to the Jews, but His plan writ large involves the offer of salvation to all people everywhere, Jew and Gentile alike. In other words, God seeks worshipers in general, not just Jews and not just Gentiles, but both!

While God could appear to Abraham, Moses, and others as a visible, flesh and blood human being, his doing so was an accommodation to them. However, when Moses asked God to see his glory (or goodness) in Exodus 33, God accommodated Moses again by revealing to him his "back". To protect Moses from being annihilated, God put Moses in the cleft of a rock and sheltered him with his hand:

“You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place [i]by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

Does God really have a "hand"? Does he have a "back"? Does he have a "face"? Does he have "nostrils"? No to all four questions. Those descriptions of God are anthropomorphic. They are human projections of human characteristics to God, and obviously God approves of and uses them to describe himself to us in those easy-to-understand terms. God has no ears, but he hears everything. God has no eyes, but he sees everything. God has no nose, but our prayers to him are like sweet-smelling savors to him. God has no physical heart, but he loves, cares for, and has compassion on his image-bearers everywhere.

In conclusion, God expects his true worshipers to commune with and worship him by both aligning their spirits with his spirit, and by having their spirits informed by the truth revealed in Scripture through God's Holy Spirit (see 2 Timothy 3:16, and 2 Peter 1:19-21).

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One must distinguish between hypostatic/personal names in the Godhead and the names that denote God's essence. Now, "God is Spirit" in this saying of the Lord the "Spirit" denotes a generic or essential feature of the God-the Father, for the Father is Spirit in the sense that He is totally devoid of matter, totally devoid of form, totally devoid of temporal succession. In this sense also God the Son is Spirit, and God the Holy Ghost is Spirit, for the Trinitarian Deity is Spirit in this sense.

However Spirit can also be used in a hypostatic/personal sense and then this term will apply only to the Holy Spirit, for only the Holy Spirit has the unique feature of proceeding from the Father, whereas only the Son has the unique feature of being born from the Father (those distinctions being as crucial and not-interchangeable as it is unfathomable for human mind to tell exactly the difference), and the Father has the unique feature of being the only eternal Source of the other Two Hypostases.

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  • If only the Holy Spirit has the unique feature of proceeding from the Father, would you say that the Word doesn't proceed out of the mouth of God? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God. Did the wonderful Son become a source when He breathed into them and said Receive the Holy Spirit? Did the Holy Spirit become a source of the Son when Mary, after she had been engaged to Joseph, before they came together, was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit? Thanks – Walter S Apr 1 at 20:07
  • Good questions! "Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God", here "word" does not mean the Hypostasis of the Son, but His commandments. We can only say that there is an unfathomable difference between the "birth" of the Son from the Father and "proceeding" of the Spirit from the Father. There is only one Source in Godhead - the Father; in eternity Spirit is only from the Father, and the Son is only from the Father; while, in dispensation for and in the temporal realm the Son breathes the Spirit to disciples, and the Spirit provides for the inhumanation of the Son in the holy Virgin Mary. – Levan Gigineishvili Apr 1 at 22:48
  • Thanks so much Levan. The Son is not only the Son, but also the [eternal] Word. Which proceeds from the Father. There is a difference between birth and procession, but Scripturally it appears that the Spirit has no copyright on the word 'proceeds.' As much as Orthodoxy may want to make something of it. Of course the Father is the unique Source of the Divine Trinity, however all Three are both eternal and necessary, and it may either be, or border on, heretical to say that the Spirit of the Son isn't so eternally. – Walter S Apr 1 at 23:29
  • I haven't said that all Three are not necessary, Trinity is one God, and Onnes of this God is as fundamental and necessary as Threeness. Yes, you are right with the "proceed", for it applies to the Son in Gospels (cf John 8:42), but it is excluded that Gospels say that H.Spirit "is born" from the Father; therefore, the ancient theology (and theology is either ancient or not theology) made a sharp and insurmountable distinction between the derivation of the Son from the Father, which it called "birth", and derivation of H.Spirit from the Father, which it called "proceeding". – Levan Gigineishvili Apr 1 at 23:52
  • Thanks brother Levan! That ancient theology could have done better to stick to the more ancient words of Jesus and His apostles in everything, including not so limiting their vocabulary "proceeding." Since the derivation distinction already seemed firm enough, and (you're invited to please help me in this): irrelevant. – Walter S Apr 2 at 0:30
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John 4:24 "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth". N.K J.V.

Looking at BibleHub, I was surprised how many translations capitalize spirit. That's injecting interpretation into the translation, and NIV, ESV, NASB don't capitalize. Typically, translators capitalize spirit when it is preceded by the.

Jesus' point was that God is not material. How could he be, when he created the material Universe?

The Bible tends to anthropomorphize God; that is, it tends to describe him with physical attributes. However, that is due to human limitations, so that humans can comprehend him. "They will see His face" is a good example. When we are freed from our material bodies, we will be in God's presence, but neither God nor we will have physical bodies. How could we describe that?

The Bible is not a legal document. We should not take it so literally that we miss the face-value meaning, forgive the pun.

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Question Re John 4:24: God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. KJV

John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. KJV (My emphasis)

John 1:14: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. KJV (My emphasis)

John 6:63: It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (My emphasis)

John 14:10: Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. (My emphasis)

I guess I have nothing more to add to that.

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