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Mormonism and the nature of God/"God is a man"
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The Mormon doctrine that God has a physical body and the Holy Bible
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- Question: Does the doctrine that God has a physical body contradict the Bible?
- Gospel Topics on LDS.org, "Becoming Like God"
Question: Does the doctrine that God has a physical body contradict the Bible?
A growing consensus of scholars recognizes that God, as depicted in the Bible, is embodied
The overwhelming academic consensus is that God, as depicted in the Bible, is embodied. Several books that you can read bare this out:
- Kamionkowski, S. Tamar and Wonil Kim, eds. Bodies, Embodiment, and Theology of the Hebrew Bible. New York: T&T Clark International, 2010.
- Halton, Charles. A Human-Shaped God: Theology of an Embodied God. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021.
- Wilson, Brittany E. The Embodied God: Seeing the Divine in Luke-Acts and the Early Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.
- Wagner, Andreas. God's Body: The Anthropomorphic God in the Old Testament. Trans. Marion Salzmann. New York: T&T Clark, 2019.
- Markschies, Christoph. God's Body: Jewish, Christian, and Pagan Images of God. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2019.
- Sommer, Benjamin D. The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
- Stavarakopolou, Francesca. God: An Anatomy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.
This last book, God: An Anatomy, was helpfully reviewed by Latter-day Saint scholar and apologist Daniel C. Peterson. Peterson commends and gives some cautions regarding the book that may apply more generally to the books just listed. We recommend seeing his review cited below.
It is incorrect to imply that God cannot be in human form, since a fundamental doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus is God, made flesh
Mormons believe that God has a physical body and human form. Does scripture which says that "God is not a man" (e.g. Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:9) contradict this idea?
These scriptures read (emphasis added):
- "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man [i.e., a human being], that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" - Numbers 23:19
- "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent." - 1 Samuel 15:29
- I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. - Hosea 11:9
The first passage, in Numbers, not only says that "God is not a man", but it also says that God is not "the son of man." If a Christian were to claim from this passage that God is not a man, they would have to consistently claim that God is also not a "son of man." This of course contradicts many New Testament statements about Jesus (who is God) to the contrary. Though there are many examples, one should suffice. Jesus says, "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:40 Therefore, we know that the passage from Numbers is not suggesting that God is fundamentally not a "son of man", but rather that God is not a "son of man" in the sense that God doesn't have need for repentance. The next logical step requires us to conclude that the passage is not suggesting that God is fundamentally "not a man", but that God is not a man in the sense that God does not lie.
These verses say nothing about the nature or form of God—they merely assert that God is not like man in certain ways
God will not lie or change his declared course, unlike humans. As the NET translation of 1 Samuel says, "The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind.”
It is incorrect to imply that God cannot be in human form—the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus is God, made flesh. One would have to assume that these verses also apply to Jesus, when they clearly do not. Jesus may be in human form, but he will not sin, or change his mind from doing his father's will.
Gospel Topics on LDS.org, "Becoming Like God"Gospel Topics on LDS.org, (February 25, 2014)
Several biblical passages intimate that humans can become like God. The likeness of humans to God is emphasized in the first chapter of Genesis: “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”3 After Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” God said they had “become as one of us,”4 suggesting that a process of approaching godliness was already underway. Later in the Old Testament, a passage in the book of Psalms declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”
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To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- ↑ Daniel C. Peterson, "An Unexpected Case for an Anthropomorphic God," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 50 (2022): vii–xx.