Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Body of God, Tertullian of Carthage and Jehovah's Witnesses

What influenced Tertullian's view of God's corpus? Why did he believe that God (although he is spirit) has a body? Firstly, Tertullian's belief is basically informed by Stoicism but I don't think that it is only Greek philosophy which shapes his view of universal corporeity (i.e. the doctrine which asserts that every existent thing has a body). His view may have been influenced by the notion that existing things must have some kind of tangible substance in order to exist.

It is also true that Tertullian is possibly the only early theologian to argue that God has a body of any kind. I've read that Melito of Sardis affirmed the same doctrine. However, I have yet to come across an explicit mention of this doctrine in the writings of Melito. The early writers of the church tended to view God as incorporeal or bodiless: Origen is explicit on this matter in De Principiis. However, Lactantius and Novatian imply that God is corporeal. But they also were influenced by Stocism.

The Witness position on God's spiritual body is basically inferential. The Bible never explicitly says that God has a body. It does talk about a "spiritual body" in 1 Cor 15:42ff and what the expression in that chapter possibly signifies is a matter of debate.

Witnesses basically reason that in order to see God (1 John 3:1-3) or behold his presence (i.e. face), a divine spiritual body must exist (Hebrews 9:24; Rev 22:5). God must be corporeal in some sense. I guess that one could also reason that since Christ has a body and he is the image of God, then the Father likely has a body too (1 Cor 15:45-49) I ultimately believe the best that one can do is to make a circumstantial case for God's spiritual body since the Bible is silent on the matter. It does not discuss God's body or state that he has one which is not to say that I'm denying God's actual or possible corporeality. I'm just contending that we might have to accept the limits of what can be known about this subject and be content therewith.

Louw and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon says the following about the term PNEUMATIKOS in 1 Cor 15:44:

"pertaining to not being physical-'not physical, not material, spiritual.'" This resource adds the following observation: "In some languages the concept of 'spiritual body' can only be expressed negatively as 'the body will not have flesh and bones' or 'the body will not be a regular body'" (semantic domain 79.3).



Anonymous said...

The bible also mention in Exodus concerning God that he is a manly person of war. It may infer that he has some type of spiritual body. The bible does refer to him as a person, but not people. Daniel says they (the angels) brought some one like a son of man up close to the ancient of days. I am uncertain if this is to be taken literally, but it indicates Jehovah has a centralized location in the heavens. Perhaps he does have a body?

Edgar Foster said...

For the record, I still hold to the belief that God is a spirit with some kind of body. I guess I'm just trying to solidify this notion by finding more explicit biblical proof of the teaching and I believe we have to respect biblical metaphors such as "manly person of war." Additionally, sometimes I wonder if the scriptural "place" language for God should be understood figuratively rather than literally.

Anonymous said...

One other thing concerning a spirit body, Jesus says God is a spirit, not spirit, angels are spirit creatures, are they spirits as well as God.God is a spirit as Jesus indicate does the indefinite article that is added here for the english language indicate a qualitative form, if it does then does it indicate that he is a spirit like other spirits, meaning he has a commonality with other spirit creatures, I guess he made them like himself, indicating a body though spiritual?

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks for your observations. Jn 4:24 could be understood as having a qualitative semantic force when rendered "a spirit" although it could also be translated "spirit." Another Bible text also uses language that could be understood different ways. I believe 2 Cor 3:17 has been translated "Jehovah is the spirit" or "The Lord is the spirit." This verse would set God apart from other spirits. At any rate, I wonder how to formulate an intelligible account of an infinite body.