In Alma, the reference is to Jesus Christ, who before His birth did not have a physical body.
John 4:24 does not say God is “a” spirit, but says “God is spirit.” There is no “a” in the Greek. The Bible also says “God is truth” or “God is light.” Those things are true, but we don’t presume God is JUST truth, or JUST light—or JUST spirit.
As one non-LDS commentary puts it:
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 1John 1:5, “God is light,” or Deut. 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.
- 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.
To learn more: God is a Spirit
FAIR needs to do some better work on their biblical scholarship. They have shown, in this response, that they have not studied the Greek of John 4:24. Let us look at the Greek of this verse:
πνευμα ό θεος
pneuma ho Theos
This sentence, πνευμα ό θεος (pneuma ho Theos), “God is spirit,” is constructed in a way similar to the last part of John 1:1, when John writes θεος ην ό λογος (Theos hn ho logos), “the Word was God.”
πνευμα ό θεος–“God is spirit”
θεος ην ό λογος–“the Word was God”
The word πνευμα (pneuma) is in the nominative case. However, this is actually the predicate of the sentence. And since there is no definite article it should be read “spirit.” Now, let’s look at ό θεος (ho Theos). The definite article ό is attached to θεος. This literally means “the God.” So what we get is “The God is spirit.” Or, in English, “God is spirit.”
So what is Jesus trying to tell us in this statement? Is He simply declaring the form and essence of the Father? Basically what He was saying was that all those who worshipped some kind of visible idol, or looked to some thing or some place or some person as their object of worship had missed it by an eternity. God (the Father) is everywhere. As the Psalmist said, Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10). If God is not a spirit, why does the Psalmist say, “Where can I go from Your Spirit…If I ascend into heaven, You are there? Now, before anyone says, “Well, what about ‘Your hand shall lead me?‘” Many times the Hebrew of the Old Testament used different parts of the body to symbolize different things. The arm symbolized power, the head symbolized rule, the feet symbolized actions. Here, “Your hand” symbolizes power. And as far as “Your right hand“–if God had a body, could His “right hand” (if we think of “right hand” in strictly human terms) hold all those who call for Him at the same time? Are we to believe that at any given time only one person is ever needing God to uphold and strengthen them? Absolutely not! God is everywhere, at all times, since He is not limited by a body of flesh and bone.
Now, what about FAIR’s assertion that “The Bible also says “God is truth” or “God is light.” Those things are true, but we don’t presume God is JUST truth, or JUST light—or JUST spirit“? Frankly, I really don’t see what they’re getting at. God is all those things. He is also a strong tower, a refuge, a shield, a buckler, a rock, a defender…
Well, we can see in other places that God the Father does not have a physical body. Colossians 1:15–And He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God. If God has a tangible, touchable body of flesh and bone, how can Paul declare Him to be “invisible?” We also must consider Hebrews 1:3–[Jesus] being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power… The word “person” is not the best way to render ύποστάσεως (hupostaseos). “Essence” is closer to the actual meaning, a fact which dampens the LDS argument that Jesus being the “image of His person” refers to the Father having a corporeal body.
Of course, saying that God has a body presents other problems as well. In the Old Testament, it is written many times that God “dwells between the cherubim” (1st Samuel 4:4; 2nd Samuel 6:2; 2nd Kings 19:15; 1st Chronicles 13:6; Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 37:16). So, if the Father has a body, and dwells on his home planet near Kolob (No, He does not live ON Kolob. Kolob is the nearest start to where God the Father dwells. Or so they say), and He is confined to a body, how can He “dwell between the cherubim”–a reference to His dwelling between the angels atop the Ark of the Covenant?
If you click on FAIR’s link that says, “God is spirit,” you will find this gem:
Deut. 4:28 says that our God can see, eat and smell.
WRONG!! Deuteronomy 4:28 says And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. [Emphasis mine] All this says is that the “gods” which men make cannot hear or eat or smell. And a link at that link tries to use the fact that God told Moses He would hide him in the rock and cover it with His hand. So, did He have to leave wherever He was to do it? And if God’s body is like our body, it must be pretty big for Him to cover a cleft with His hand.
There is much overwhelming evidence that God the Father does NOT have a body, that He is spirit, and that Christ is the only member of the Trinity to have ever taken on human flesh.