Some groups, such as the Mormons and some in what is called the “word of faith” movement, teach that God is a being who is composed of a physical, corporeal body – a body made of flesh and bone. This idea is not supported by the Bible. Groups that teach this rely on their interpretation of such passages as Genesis 1:26, in which God says “let us make man in our image.”
They also point to passages in which God or his actions are described in human terms. They take such passages literally rather than in a metaphorical way, thus attributing body parts to God. Exodus 33:11 is one example, where we read that, “The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friends.” Some other examples are Genesis 3:8; Exodus 33:20, 22-23; 34:5; Deuteronomy 23:12-13; Ezekiel 1:27, 8:2; Habakkuk 3:3-4.
Thirdly, anthropomorphites – those who teach that God has a body – make their claim on the basis that the second Person of the Godhead, the Son of God, was a human being during his incarnate state.
As we proceed, we’ll briefly examine each of these ideas to see why they do not teach the idea that God has a body. But first, let us see what the Bible says about God’s nature and being. In John 4:24, we read, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Here Jesus states clearly that God is spirit. Since God is spirit, he does not have a body. By nature, God must be an incorporeal being, and not be limited to existing within a certain size and shape. We should point out that the scripture says God is spirit, not that he has a spirit. Since he is spirit, he lacks parts or a body, entirely.
Jesus himself defined what spirit is – and pointed out that it is different from a human, physical body. After his resurrection, he told his disciples, “Touch me and see; a ghost [Greek, pneuma, “spirit”] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). A spirit does not have flesh and bones. God is spoken of as being invisible, that is, God in his glory does not exist in a body that has shape, as a person who has flesh and bone does. Please see Colossians 1:15, Romans 1:19-20 and 1 Timothy 1:17).
In 1 Timothy 6:15-16 we are told that God “alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” Not only is God invisible, but he exists in pure light, not something that would be possible for a flesh and bone body to do.
It is certainly true that God in Christ became incarnate and came to exist as a human being, with a real body. Also, this body, now in a glorified state, continues to exist. However, this is true only of the Son, and only after his incarnation. Since God has existed eternally, and neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit became incarnate – and since the Son throughout eternity was (and continues to be) spirit, the obvious conclusion is that God does not have a body as part of his nature as God. That is to say, a bodily state is not the state in which God has existed from eternity. God has existed in eternity as pure spirit, even though in the Son, he chose to take on human nature in addition to his non-corporeal nature.
The Son in his incarnate state as Jesus took on the form of a human being. We read in Philippians 2:5-8 that “Jesus Christ: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” He did not have a body in eternity past – he had to take on this form.
The book of John is a confirmation of the fact that Jesus existed as God in a glorified state before his incarnation – before becoming a human being (John 1:1, 14). He became flesh – he was not already flesh. God took on the form of a human being in his Son, Jesus Christ, in order to communicate directly with us and to complete our redemption.
What of those passages that seem to speak of God in human terms? Those are called anthropomorphisms, that is, descriptions of God’s being, actions and emotions put in human terms. Though God is without a body, his acts for his people are said to be by “his mighty arm” (Exodus 15:16). God is also pictured as having a face, hands, fingers and a back (Psalm 27:8; 10:12; 88:5; Deuteronomy 9:10; Exodus 33:23). As well, God is described as talking, walking, laughing, and weeping. Such anthropomorphisms are poetic symbols or metaphors representing that which would otherwise be indescribable, because God in his being is invisible and unknown. Such symbols of God’s being are condescensions to us – put in words that we can understand. We have to have some way of describing God’s relationship to us. The only way this can occur is through symbols that are understandable to our finite minds and experience.
Consider that it would be logically impossible for God to be a six-foot-four inch (or whatever height and weight) individual with a body of flesh and bone. Unless God were a hermaphrodite – having both male and female sexual organs – the scripture that is sometimes cited as “proof” of God having a human-shaped body – would be reduced to an absurdity. Genesis 1:27 has God saying that he created both males and females in his image.
The nature and size of the universe itself tells us that it would be impossible that a God made in the image of humans could create, maintain and control the universe. How could God, as a human-sized being, direct a universe of 10-12 billion light years across? He would be incomprehensibly dwarfed by the universe, as we humans are. Yet, precisely the opposite is said of God – that the universe cannot contain him (2 Chronicles 2:6).
Literal anthropomorphism, as mentioned earlier, makes God in our image and forgets that we are made in his image – which has reference not to shape, size or composition, but to something of his spiritual qualities. Human beings have been given the ability to reason and to express many divine qualities, such as communication, invention and the creation of new things, but only from existing materials. God has also given humanity dominion and stewardship over his creation, which shows humanity’s place as ruler and king, much like God. This is the meaning of God creating us “in his own image,” not that God is like humans in having bodily parts and shape. [For more on “the image of God,” click here.]
Paul explains that literal anthropomorphism is a dangerous and pagan doctrine that we should avoid. He explains what happened in human philosophy and religion: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:21-23).