The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment

Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives (Intro)



*This article was footnoted in an expanded Gospel Topic on the Church’s website.

When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves. . . . The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. (D&C 130:1, 22)1

So Joseph Smith definitively declared on April 2, 1843. The doctrine that God the Father and God the Son are embodied persons, humanlike in form, has rich implications for both philosophical anthropology and theology,2 and it is one of the most distinctive teachings of the Restoration. While believers find the doctrine elevating and inspiring, critics have challenged it as being non-Christian and philosophically incoherent. I believe the critics are mistaken on both counts.

In this paper, I trace the restoration of the doctrine of divine embodiment, showing that the doctrine was clearly articulated from the beginning of the Restoration. Then, I argue that the earliest Christians widely believed that God is embodied,3 and finally, I examine major philosophical objections to the idea of God having a body of any kind, showing them to be uncompelling.4

Throughout this discussion, it is important to keep certain usages in mind. In the western theistic tradition, spirit is primarily equated with immateriality. As I show in this paper, however, in all LDS discourse (as well as in early Judaic and Christian sources), spirits are not understood to be immaterial but rather to be composed of refined matter,5 and thus they are bodies (see Ether 3:16). Accordingly, I use the term corporeal to mean having a body of any kind, including those comprised of spirit matter as well as flesh and bone. Likewise, I use the term embodied to mean having any sort of body, whether spirit, mortal, or exalted. Conversely, I use the terms incorporeal, immaterial, and unembodied to signify being without a body of any kind. Although the term anthropomorphism is often used to refer to any ascription of humanlike characteristics to God (for example, passions), I use it primarily in reference to God having a body, humanlike in form.

Part I
Restoration of the Doctrine of Divine Embodiment

One of the most distinctive insights consistently taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith is that the members of the Godhead are embodied persons.

The understanding that the Father and the Son are fully embodied persons was clearly stated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his 1843 declaration of that doctrine. This declaration was first included in Doctrine and Covenants 130 in 1876, and it was part of the 1880 edition, which was officially accepted by Church members in the October 1880 general conference as revelation “from God, and binding upon us as a people and as a Church.”6 On these points, there is consensus. But what Joseph Smith and fellow Church members believed about divine embodiment in the 1830s is a matter that requires close examination. In this section, I trace the origin and development of the doctrine of divine embodiment in the revelations and reflections of Joseph Smith, showing that the doctrine was both explicit and implicit in these and other data from the beginning of his ministry. Only the doctrinal clarification that the Father’s humanlike body is composed of exalted flesh and bones cannot be clearly shown to have been understood prior to the Nauvoo period. I draw my evidence primarily from the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s inspired revision of the Bible, his several accounts of the First Vision, and the Lectures on Faith, with brief mention of some of the external evidence and the historical context.

My reading of the evidence leads me to reject two propositions: (1) that the doctrine of divine embodiment was articulated for the first time in 1838, and (2) that prior to 1838 Latter-day Saints understood God to be an immaterial being. I call the first conjecture the late development theory and the second the immaterialist theory.

Although LDS historians have not spoken in exactly these terms, some of their statements may be understood as espousing one or both of these theories. Three factors drive this understanding (or possible misunderstanding).

First, some writers have tended to diminish any differences between LDS teachings and other Christian doctrines in the 1830s. For example, James B. Allen asks:

What did the Mormons believe about the nature and character of God in the 1830’s? . . . Perhaps the most significant observation to be made about the pre-Nauvoo concept of God held by ordinary Mormons is that it was not radically different from some other Christian perceptions.7

In what respects were LDS and other Christian teachings “not radically different”? Allen explains:

Many ordinary Christians . . . probably thought of God and Christ as separate entities, though they may not have thought of the Father as having corporeal existence (i.e., a tangible body of flesh). Some, at least, emphasized the idea that God was a person, though . . . this did not imply physical shape, form, or place.8

This does not mean that Allen understood early Mormon ideas to be identical to these Christian teachings, especially to those that denied that God had a body of any kind. He is silent on that point.

Second, authors have not been careful to define clearly what they mean by such terms as spirit, absolute spirit, material, materialistic, corporeal, body, person, personage, or personal being. Allen, for instance, states that the fifth Lecture on Faith

specifically separated the persons of the Father and the Son, though in terms that did not impute corporeality to the Father. The lecture implied quite the opposite. . . . The distinction between the Father as a “personage of spirit” and the Son as a “personage of tabernacle” certainly suggests that the Father was not thought of as having a physical, material body.9

But then Allen does not clarify whether the early Saints thought of God as being an immaterial person, having no body at all, or as having a nonphysical body, albeit still material. Without careful definition of the critical terms, Allen may be easily construed as espousing the immaterialist theory.

Third, some writers affirm the late development theory quite explicitly, apparently overlooking contrary data. For instance, the claim that “the first printed description in Mormon sources of an anthropomorphic corporeal God”10 appeared in 1838, apparently overlooks the fact that the idea of divine embodiment was already present in many respects in the Book of Mormon.

These three factors surface particularly in Thomas G. Alexander’s article, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine,” which states:

The doctrine of God preached and believed [in the LDS Church] before 1835 was essentially trinitarian. . . . The Lectures on Faith . . . did not define a materialistic, tritheistic Godhead. . . . [Methodists, Disciples of Christ, and Latter-day Saints at that time] believed in an absolute spiritual Father. . . . Certain ideas which developed between 1832 and 1844 were internalized after 1835 and accepted by the Latter-day Saints. This was particularly true of the material anthropomorphism of God and Jesus Christ.11

Such statements allow little room for an early LDS belief in an embodied God of any kind.

That the immaterialist and late development theories have enjoyed some currency is evidenced in Grant Underwood’s review of Milton Backman’s The Heavens Resound:

Those who have kept abreast of developments in the field of doctrinal history will wonder, for example, why Backman retains the older view that Kirtland Saints understood God the Father to have a material body, when James Allen, Thomas Alexander, and others have persuasively demonstrated that they certainly regarded God as a personage of spirit.12

Similarly, Underwood takes another historian, David Brion Davis, to task for not thinking “that the Saints in the 1830s held views of the Godhead much closer to those of their neighbors.”13

Yet what evidence is there for the late development and immaterialist theories? Surprisingly, given the weight these theories have been accorded, I find not one piece of direct evidence that the Prophet Joseph Smith ever asserted that God is nonembodied. From the literature, I have been able to extract only two arguments, which I call (a) the argument from God-as-spirit, and (b) the argument from creedal terminology. The first argument starts with the premise that Joseph and his LDS contemporaries referred to God (or, at least, to God the Father) as a spirit. If so, they must have understood him to be an immaterial or unembodied being.14 The second argument is a much broader version of argument (a). It begins with the premise that until at least 1835, Mormons often referred to God (or at least God the Father) in language reminiscent of classical Christian creeds. Therefore, they must have understood him to be an immaterial or unembodied being.15

Before proceeding further, it will be worthwhile to clarify the logic of these arguments. First, construed as deductive arguments, both are nonsequiturs—their conclusions do not follow logically from their respective premises. Second, understood as inductive arguments, (a) and (b) are weak, and both depend on a third argument (c), which is only implicit. It asserts that in the first several years of the Restoration, there is no record that Joseph taught or Mormons believed that God is embodied. Therefore, no such teaching or belief existed. This argument, which is an argument from silence, is critical to the claim that before 1838 Church members believed God to be immaterial. Only if there were no (or maybe very scant) direct evidence of early belief in an embodied God would a weak inductive inference to a belief in nonembodiment have any credibility. Conversely, if there were considerable direct evidence for early Mormon belief—especially on the part of Joseph Smith—in an embodied deity, the arguments from God-as-spirit, from creedal terminology, and from silence would all be refuted.16 What, then, does the record show?

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon, translated by Joseph Smith in 1829 and first published in 1830, provides early revelatory data affirming divine embodiment.17 While some 283 passages in the Book of Mormon text refer directly to either God’s body or his body parts,18 three passages recording divine appearances are especially explicit. The first two confirm that God the Son (or Jesus Christ) was embodied in humanlike form in both his premortal and his postmortal (resurrected) states, and the third apparently affirms that the Holy Ghost is also embodied. The Book of Mormon is seemingly silent on whether God the Father is also embodied.19

1. The account in 3 Nephi 11 of the visit of the resurrected Christ to the Nephite and Lamanite survivors in Bountiful shows the postmortal Lord to be a humanlike, embodied being. His first appearance was announced by God the Father: “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him” (3 Ne. 11:7). In response to the Father’s announcement, the survivors

cast their eyes up . . . toward heaven . . . [and] saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them. . . . [And] he stretched forth his hand and spoke unto the people saying: Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. . . . Come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet. . . . And . . . the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet. (3 Ne. 11:8–10, 14–15)20

A popular (though unorthodox) Christian notion exists that Christ was resurrected with a body of flesh and bones (which is certainly the clear witness of the New Testament record)21 but disembodied himself when he ascended into heaven after his forty-day ministry.22 The Book of Mormon, however, affirms that the postascension Christ has a body: “And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, . . . after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them—Showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them” (3 Ne. 10:18–19).23 The Book of Mormon thus shows that God the Son is embodied, even after his ascension.

2. The book of Ether tells of the appearance of the Lord in his spirit body to the brother of Jared long before the Incarnation (Ether 3:6–18). The brother of Jared presented the Lord with several stones and asked him to make them luminous (Ether 3:1–4). In response,

the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood. (Ether 3:6)

Indeed, so striking was the finger’s resemblance to flesh and blood that the brother of Jared mistook it for the same. The Lord then revealed himself more fully to the brother of Jared, specifically identifying himself as Jesus Christ (Ether 3:14). He declared:

Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image. Behold this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh. (Ether 3:15–16)

Moroni editorially commented that “Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites” (Ether 3:17).

From this text, the following points seem evident: (1) Jesus Christ is God (Ether 3:18); (2) as a spirit, prior to his incarnation, he was nonetheless embodied; (3) his body, though not yet composed of flesh and bones, was strikingly similar in both form and appearance to a human body; and (4) our bodies of flesh and bones are created in the very image of his premortal spirit body, which is thus humanlike in form. From these points, a very significant conclusion can be drawn: both Moroni anciently and presumably Joseph Smith in 1829 as the translator of Moroni’s account understood a spirit to be an embodied person, humanlike in form, even if less tangible than one of flesh and bones. This understanding also finds support in Joseph’s cultural context, as will be shown below. Thus, one would be mistaken to infer that, early on, Joseph (and his LDS contemporaries) must have believed that God is a nonembodied being simply because they referred to him as a spirit. Unlike classical Christians generally, Latter-day Saints did not equate spirit with immateriality.

3. In a third notable passage, the Book of Mormon tells of Nephi’s encounter with “the Spirit of the Lord” and explicitly describes “the Spirit” as being embodied in humanlike form, thus further refuting argument (a)’s equation of “spirit” with nonembodiment in early Mormon doctrine. Somewhat problematic, however, is the question of referent. Whom does the phrase “the Spirit of the Lord” denote? While it might refer to the premortal Christ24 or a spirit messenger from the Lord, Sidney Sperry has argued that it refers to the Holy Ghost.25 In considering Sperry’s arguments, let us first note the context in which the reported encounter is set. The encounter ensued when Nephi sought personal confirmation of his father’s spiritual manifestations.

I . . . was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost. . . . As I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away . . . into an exceedingly high mountain. . . . And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy Father saw the tree of which he hath spoken? And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father. And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God. . . . And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God. . . . And . . . thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God. (1 Ne. 10:17; 11:1, 4–7)

Observe that the Spirit shouts “Hosanna to . . . the most high God” and commands Nephi to witness and to bear record of “the Son of the most High God,” referring in the third person to each of these members of the Godhead.

When the Spirit showed Nephi the tree of life, Nephi asked

to know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another. (1 Ne. 11:11; italics added)

Nephi reports that while the Spirit of the Lord “was in the form of a man,” he was a divine being and therefore not a mere man. That he was in “the form of a man” indicates that the Spirit of the Lord was embodied. Thus it seems that Nephi saw the spirit body of the Holy Ghost just as the Brother of Jared had seen the spirit body of Christ.

To support his conclusion that “the Spirit of the Lord” who appeared to Nephi is the Holy Ghost, Sperry gives four arguments—all of which are internal to the text. First, Nephi specifically sought personal confirmation of Lehi’s manifestation “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (1 Ne 10:17); he seemed to have meditated upon the powers and functions of the Holy Ghost at considerable length before the desired manifestation was given him (1 Ne 10:17–22). Second, Nephi said he was caught away “in the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Ne 11:1). The same expression with the phrase “of the Lord” deleted is used in the chapter in relation to Mary and to the Twelve Apostles.26 In both instances, the references to the Spirit seem obviously to point to the Holy Ghost, not to the premortal Christ (compare 1 Ne. 11:19 with Matt. 1:18). Third, the phrase “Spirit of the Lord” occurs some forty times in the Book of Mormon, and in no passage where it occurs does it clearly represent the premortal Christ instead of the Holy Ghost. On the other hand, many occurrences seem to refer only to the Holy Ghost.27 Fourth, whenever Nephi unquestionably refers to the premortal Christ, he never calls him the “Spirit of the Lord.”28 Sperry concludes that “inasmuch as there is no single instance in the Book of Mormon where the term, ‘Spirit of the Lord,’ can be unequivocally equated with the pre-existent Christ,” we may reasonably believe that it refers to the Holy Ghost.29 If Sperry is correct, then written revelatory data from as early as 1829 suggests the embodiment of the Holy Ghost.30 But, however this matter is resolved, the Book of Mormon apparently affirms that the Holy Ghost has a body and unequivocally affirms that God the Son is an embodied being in both his preincarnational and postascensional states.

Joseph Smith’s Inspired Revision of the Bible

That Joseph understood the doctrine of divine embodiment at least as early as 1830 is strongly corroborated by passages from his inspired revision of the Bible, the Joseph Smith Translation (hereafter JST).31 Work on the revision was underway in June 1830, when Joseph recorded the visions of Moses, which now constitute Moses chapter 1 in the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph’s report of Moses’ visions begins:

The words of God, which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses: therefore Moses could endure his presence. (Moses 1:1–2)32

In his revision of Genesis chapter 1, completed between June and October 1830,33 Joseph changed the King James translation (hereafter KJV) of Genesis 1:26–27 to read:

And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. . . . And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. (Moses 2:26–27)34

Two important points, the second dependent on the first, emerge from Joseph’s revision. First, while the KJV also indicates a plurality of creators, the JST identifies who they are—God the Father and God the Son.35 Second, the JST discloses that man was created in the image and likeness of God the Father as well as that of God the Son, thus implying that the Father is also an embodied being, humanlike in form.

One could object, of course, that biblical passages telling of Moses seeing God “face to face” and of man’s being created in God’s own image have long been construed so as to avoid any implication of divine embodiment. As discussed below, for example, Origen argued that it is not our body, but only our inner man or spirit that is created in God’s image and that biblical references to God’s body must all be understood metaphorically. Joseph Smith repudiated these de-anthropomorphizing biblical constructions, however, in his very significant emendation of Genesis 5:1–2, which was completed on November 30, 1830. In these verses, Moses says, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; in the image of his own body, male and female, created he them” (Moses 6:8–9; italics added).36 Evidently, Joseph added the clarifying phrase, “of his own body,” to distinguish his understanding of the text from any incorporealist construction. From Joseph’s revision of these biblical texts, it appears clear that in 1830 he understood that both the Father and Son are embodied and that man’s body was made in their image. Moreover, Joseph’s revisions cohere tightly with the passages from the Book of Mormon already discussed. Taken together, they show that Joseph understood the doctrine of divine embodiment at least as early as 1830. He may well have learned it some ten years earlier when the Father and the Son appeared to him in the grove near Palmyra, New York—the starting point of the Restoration.

The First Vision

Joseph Smith’s account of the appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ to him in the spring of 1820 near Palmyra, New York (the First Vision) has long been understood as initially grounding his belief that both the Father and the Son are embodied.37 Indeed, Joseph’s official account of the visitation, first dictated in 1838,38 makes that understanding very plausible.

Just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS–H 1:16–17)

Joseph saw two personages—the Father and the Son—standing above him in the air. For one accepting on faith both Joseph’s veracity as a witness and the reliability of his memory of such an epochal event, perhaps no more is needed.

But some have challenged the historicity of this account, claiming it to be inconsistent with Joseph’s earlier accounts and nothing more than a pragmatic reconstruction, deliberate or otherwise, designed to serve Joseph’s ever-enlarging theological views.39 Whatever credence might be given to such a conjecture, it is irrelevant here. On the issue of divine embodiment of separate deities there would be no need for reconstruction, for, as already shown, this doctrine is clearly evidenced in 1829 and 1830. Any ambiguities in documents later than 1830 should then, reasonably, be resolved in light of these earlier statements.

According to Joseph’s 1838 account, he saw the Father and the Son in 1820. Though he reportedly told some of his acquaintances of the vision soon after it occurred,40 no contemporaneous record exists of the descriptions he gave. Indeed, Allen argues that the vision was not widely known until after it was reported in several publications in the 1840s.41 Nonetheless, Joseph’s two known pre-1838 accounts of the vision, while not so explicit or detailed as the official version, do reflect his understanding that God is embodied.

The earliest known account was written in 1832 by Joseph Smith.42 The other is a journal-style entry in Joseph’s history. The entry, written by Warren A. Cowdery, bears the date of Monday, November 9, 1835.43 These accounts differ somewhat in the details they mention, but both are compatible as partial descriptions of the same event. The 1832 account (with original spellings but not typographical sigla) reads:

A pillar of light above the brightness of the Sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the Spirit of God and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I Saw the Lord and he Spake unto me Saying Joseph my Son thy Sins are forgiven thee. go thy way walk in my Statutes and keep my commandmants behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world.44

While this account does not explicitly assert the Lord’s spatiality or embodiment, both are reasonably implied. For Joseph “saw” the Lord, apparently within a pillar of light, and the Lord “spake” to him. Though traditional exegetes have long construed similar biblical passages figuratively,45 there is no reason to think that Joseph meant them other than literally, for in 1832 he already understood the Father and the Son to be embodied.

Joseph’s 1835 account of the First Vision reads:

A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with unspeakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee.46

Although in this report, Joseph does not explicitly identify the two personages by name, the second personage’s declaration, “thy sins are forgiven thee,” apparently identifies him with the Lord of the 1832 account. The Lord (or Jesus) appears after the first personage, and both personages appear spatially “in the midst of this pillar of flame.”

It is significant that Joseph refers to the Father and the Son by the term personage, as opposed to the more generic terms being, or even person, for Joseph and his contemporaries apparently understood personage to specifically signify an embodied person. This accepted meaning is corroborated by examining, in context, contemporaneous uses of the term and by consulting dictionaries of the period. The following instances are especially enlightening in helping us see how the term was used.

[June 24, 1834; recorded between 1842 and 1844] I left Rush Creek the same day in company with David Whitmer and two other brethren, for the western part of Clay county. While traveling, we called at the house of Mr. Moss for a drink of water. The woman of the house shouted from the door, that they had “no water for Mormons,” that they were “afraid of the cholera,” etc., at the same time throwing out her arms as if defending herself from the cholera in the form of personage. (Smith, History of the Church, 2:115; italics added) [By virtue of being a personage, something has a specific form, impliedly humanlike.] [October 2, 1841] The angel that appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos was a translated or resurrected body [i.e., personage], Jesus Christ went in body after His resurrection, to minister to resurrected bodies. (Smith, History of the Church, 4:425; italics added; brackets and bracketed language in original text.) [By virtue of being or having a body, impliedly humanlike in form, one is a personage.] [January 29, 1843]. . . The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of the dove, but in sign of the dove. (Smith, History of the Church, 5: 261; first italics added) [By virtue of being a personage, one has a specific bodily form, not dovelike but impliedly humanlike.]

[Recorded in 1839]. . . A personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. . . . His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. (Smith, History of the Church, 1:11; italics added) [A human-like embodied being is a personage.]

In an Infobases™ search of Church historical documents for the period 1830 to 1844,47 I found 103 distinct occurrences of the term personage. In every instance, the term was used to denote what was explicitly, or in context impliedly, an embodied being. Personage was used to describe a distinguished man or woman 28 times, a member of the Godhead 28 times, a resurrected being or angel 21 times, a body 17 times, and an embodied being but not one having flesh 9 times.

Joseph’s and his fellows’ employment of the term apparently reflected contemporary usage. For example, Noah Webster’s 1828 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language provides the following as the first two entries under personage: “1. A man or woman of distinction; as an illustrious personage”; and “2. Exterior appearance; stature; air; as a tall personage; a stately personage.48

By way of contrast, in his 1838 account of the First Vision Joseph did not describe Satan as a personage. Rather, he referred to him as “some actual being from the unseen world,” “some power,” and the “enemy” (JS–H 1:15–16). None of these expressions connote a visible, bodily being, though Joseph’s descriptions of Satan’s actions, such as, “seized upon” and “influence over me as to bind my tongue” sound very tactile (JS–H 1:16). Immediately after his description of his encounter with this unseen actual being, Joseph told of seeing “two personages.” It does not appear that Joseph called them personages for lack of a better word. Rather, the contrast in descriptions indicates that in this vision Joseph experienced the beings differently—the Father and the Son as visible, fully embodied beings (and, hence, as personages) and Satan as an unseen but actual being.49

Other recorded accounts of the First Vision in the 1840s clearly show, of course, that in those years Joseph understood God to be embodied. For example, in his Wentworth Letter, written for non-Mormons, Joseph attests: “I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day.”50 Compare Orson Pratt’s 1840 version, the first known published account of the First Vision, “[Joseph] saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness.”51 The words features and likeness are unintelligible as references to formless beings. These must be taken as direct indications that the Father and the Son are embodied.

This conclusion no longer need rest on inference when we examine other accounts of the First Vision. Consider, for example, the description of the vision given by Alexander Neibaur, a teacher who instructed Joseph Smith in German and Hebrew. He recorded in his personal journal, dated May 24, 1844, the following account as related to him by Joseph:

[Joseph Smith] went into the Wood to pray kneelt himself down . . . saw a fire towards heaven come near and nearer saw a personage in the fire light complexion blue eyes a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders his right arm bear after a wile a other person came to the side of the first.52

While the later first- and second-hand accounts of Joseph’s first vision differ in the details they provide, all of them are plausibly read as consistent with Joseph’s very early understanding that the Father and the Son are embodied persons.

The Lectures on Faith

The Lectures on Faith were prepared in the fall of 1834; presented to the School of the Elders in Kirtland, Ohio, in November and December 1834; edited in 1835; and published in the fall of that year.53 The published lectures, especially Lecture 5, show that the idea of an embodied God, introduced at least as early as 1829–30, continued to be affirmed in the mid-1830s.

The lectures were initially prepared by a committee of presiding Church officers, which included Joseph Smith. While authorship issues are not fully resolvable now, research to date indicates that Joseph Smith, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, or Parley P. Pratt may have contributed as authors to lecture 5.54 Regardless of actual authorship, Joseph prepared the lectures for publication, and they were published in 1835 with his sanction and approval in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph, along with the other committee members, signed his name to a preface published with that edition, which states:

We have, therefore, endeavored to present, though in few words, our belief and when we say this, humbly trust, the faith and principles of this society as a body.

We do not present this little volume with any other expectation than that we are to be called to answer to every principle advanced. [Italics in original]

That said, for present purposes I will refer to the ideas in the lectures as if they were advanced by Joseph. The Lectures on Faith were retained in subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants until 1921, when they were removed by the First Presidency.55

As evidence of Joseph’s 1834–35 understanding of divine embodiment, lecture 5, paragraph 2, asserts:

There are two56 personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son—the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son, . . . a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or rather man was formed after His likeness and in His image; He is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father.

The meaning seems clear: both the Father and the Son have humanlike bodies,57 for both are referred to as personages. And just as man “was formed after [the Son’s] likeness and in His image,” so also is the Son “the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father.” As already shown, the JST and book of Moses indicate Joseph understood image to signify bodily image.

This conclusion is further reinforced by a still closer analysis of the text, for Joseph not only refers to the Father and the Son as personages, but he also asserts that the Son is in the express image of “the personage of the Father.” How should the phrase, “personage of the Father” be understood where personage does not refer to the Father but apparently to something that can be predicated of the Father? Here, I believe, the term refers directly to the Father’s body. Compare the second entry under personage in The Oxford English Dictionary:

2. The body of a person; chiefly with reference to appearance, stature, etc; bodily frame, figure; personal appearance. . . .

1559 R. Hall Life Fisher in Fisher’s Wks. (E.E.T.S.) II. p. lxiij, Doctor Ridley (who was a man of verie little and small personage).

1606 Bryskett Civ. Life 32 Well borne, vertuous, chaste, of tall and comely personage, and well spoken. . . .

1785. Cowper Let. to Lady Hesketh 20–24 Dec., Half a dozen flannel waistcoats . . . to be worn . . . next to my personage.58

Consistent with Joseph’s 1830 revisions of Genesis 1:26–27 and Genesis 5:1–2, the Lectures on Faith reaffirmed in 1834 that man is created in the image of the body of both the Father and the Son.59

What, then, shall be made of the lecture’s referring contrastingly to the Father as “a personage of spirit” and to the Son as “a personage of tabernacle”? Again, Webster’s 1828 dictionary is helpful. It lists “our natural body” as one use of the term tabernacle.60 Our natural body, I take it, is a body of flesh and bones. If so, the lectures affirm that God the Son has a flesh-and-bones body, humanlike in form, while God the Father has a spirit body, also humanlike in form.61 As mentioned, Joseph later knew that the Father, as well as the Son, has a glorious, incorruptible body of flesh and bone.62 No doubt, his understanding of the mode of the Father’s embodiment was enlarged and refined as he continued to receive and reflect on revelation.

External Corroborative Evidence

That the members of the Godhead are embodied persons and that Joseph Smith understood this fact are clearly indicated in the earliest recorded evidence of Mormon discourse. Yet for the pre-1838 period, questions still remain. Was this understanding merely confined to Joseph and other Church leaders or merely embedded in the revelatory discourse awaiting later extraction and explicit articulation? How widely and fully did the membership at large understand the doctrine? The answers to these questions are not so clearly indicated in available documents. However, there is some significant evidence that the doctrine was communicated and accepted within Church circles generally.63 I summarize that evidence here.

1. Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the Prophet, in an 1830 conversation with a group of three delegates from a council that was determined to stop the further publication of the Book of Mormon, acknowledged that Mormon belief in an embodied God had already provoked Methodist attack. In her history, she recounted, “the different denominations are very much opposed to us. . . . The Methodists also come, and they rage, for they worship a God without body or parts, and they know that our faith comes in contact with this principle.”64

2. Truman Coe, a Presbyterian minister who had lived among the Saints in Kirtland for four years (1832–1836), confirms Lucy’s statement. In a letter that was published in the Ohio Observer on August 11, 1836, he wrote:

[The Mormons] contend that the God worshipped by the Presbyterians and all other sectarians is no better than a wooden god. They believe that the true God is a material being, composed of body and parts; and that when the Creator formed Adam in his own image, he made him about the size and shape of God himself.65

Both Truman Coe and Lucy Mack Smith refer to what they take to be the beliefs of the community (“they believe”; “our faith”) as contrasted with views held by individual Mormons only.

3. John Murdock and Zebedee Coltrin, two members closely associated with Joseph in Kirtland, both claim to have witnessed appearances of deity in the winter of 1832–33, and their descriptions are decidedly anthropomorphic. Coltrin related a divine manifestation, which occurred in Kirtland in February or March 1833.66 He reported:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling . . . a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him. . . .

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: “Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages.”67

Murdock was in the first group to be ordained high priests by Joseph Smith in 1831.68 While in Kirtland, Murdock’s wife died shortly after giving birth to twin boys. These were the twins that Joseph and Emma took into their home to raise. Murdock claimed to see the Lord sometime during the winter of 1832–33 while living in Joseph’s home. In his abridged history taken from his journal, he wrote:

During the winter that I boarded with Bro[ther] Joseph . . . we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber. . . . In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.69

The direct evidence supporting the claim that from Restoration beginnings Mormons generally understood God to be embodied is corroborated by an examination of the historical context in which the Restoration unfolded. This examination controverts any claim that Joseph’s cultural contemporaries, both in and out of the Church, were largely immaterialists. As Phillip L. Barlow has persuasively argued, Joseph read the Bible literally, even before the organization of the Church.70 And so did many other Christians. In his sociological study of Mormonism, Thomas F. O’Dea found that “i[n] the Book of Mormon itself there is already a concrete conception of God somewhat anthropomorphic in implication. Yet this was little more than the literalness of evangelical Protestantism.”71 Even Joseph’s later explicit teaching that all spirit is material (D&C 131:7–8) was evidently widely believed in the early nineteenth century. Ronald W. Walker writes that “Mormonism was . . . born within an upstate New York matrix that combined New England folk culture with traditional religion.”72 The “traditional religion” component of Joseph Smith’s environmental “matrix” was far from the idealism and immaterialism of classical Platonism. In fact, O’Dea informs us:

The culture of New York may have imparted an extreme literalness and materiality to Joseph’s reports of his visions. Yet anthropomorphism in the conception of God and especially in imagining what God might be like was certainly widespread and hardly seems to have been restricted to one sect or group. The same may be said with regard to a literal understanding of the Bible, which tended to support such human representations of God.73

Many participants in this folk culture “longed for tangible experience with the supernatural” and “yearned for a religion that they could experience physically.”74 In this context, the distinction between spirit and matter was only one of degree, not of kind.

Thus it seems the cultural matrix of upstate New York in the 1820s reinforces the direct evidence cited that many of Joseph Smith’s earliest Mormon contemporaries generally also understood that God is embodied. This is not to say that the doctrine of divine embodiment was derived from Joseph Smith’s environment. As Richard Bushman reminds us, “Joseph learned early to trust his own experiences above the influence of established authorities and institutions. His vision, instead of bringing him into the evangelical mainstream like most conversations, set him on a course of his own.”75

While the evidence is quite compelling that the doctrine of divine embodiment was articulated in the earliest revelatory discourse and was understood by Joseph and his fellow Latter-day Saints, the doctrine was apparently not strongly emphasized at that time.76 On the other hand, by 1838, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had privately and publicly taught divine embodiment as a doctrine of the Church.77 From the early forties onward, the idea was vigorously publicized and promoted not only by Joseph but by Mormon missionaries, including Orson and Parley Pratt, as a most distinctive and attractive doctrine of the Restoration.78

To the staunch immaterialist, it may seem strange that the doctrine of divine embodiment would be an attractive one. However, in January of 1841, Joseph Smith not only taught that God is embodied but that his body, far from demeaning him, is a crucial aspect of his glory: “That which is without body, parts and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones. . . . All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not.”79 Hence, God’s having a body of flesh and bones is crucial to his having power over all beings. Likewise, Joseph denies that spirit is immaterial:

The body is supposed to be organized matter, and the spirit, by many, is thought to be immaterial, without substance. With this latter statement we should beg leave to differ, and state the spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection, be again united with it.80

Having a body is also crucial to our happiness: “Spirit and element, inseparably connected receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33).

We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none.81

So critical is a body to the happiness of a person that Satan, an unembodied spirit, envies even the bodies of swine. This concept of the body as a glorious and empowering prize, not a wretched prison, is essential to understanding the teaching that God is embodied.

Part II
Early Christian Belief in an Embodied God

Ample evidence, especially that from early Christian immaterialists, shows that biblical peoples, Jews, and early Christians understood God to be an embodied person.

The view that God is incorporeal, without body or parts, has been the hallmark of Christian orthodoxy for centuries, yet Joseph Smith claimed that he restored the doctrine of divine embodiment found in the primitive Christian understanding.82 In this section, I argue that Joseph is correct; that is, not only did the very earliest Christians believe God to be embodied in humanlike form, but this belief continued to be widely held by Christians for at least the first four centuries after the death of Jesus Christ. The belief was gradually abandoned as Platonism became more and more entrenched as the dominant metaphysical world view of Christian thinkers.83

Some of the evidence I cite is indirect and circumstantial, but when all is considered cumulatively, it seems quite convincing. Ironically, much of this evidence is drawn from the writings of two of the most uncompromising incorporealists, Origen and Augustine. Given their strong opposition to the doctrine of divine embodiment, the evidence they provide is particularly persuasive.

Primitive Christian Belief in an Embodied Deity

That the earliest Christians believed God to be embodied is admitted by the noted Church historian Adolph Harnack, though he buries this admission in two footnotes in his seven-volume work, History of Dogma. Writing about first-century believers, he explains:

God was naturally conceived and represented as corporeal by uncultured Christians, though not by these alone, as the later controversies prove (e.g., Orig. contra Melito; see also Tertull. De anima). In the case of the cultured, the idea of a corporeality of God may be traced back to Stoic influences; in the case of the uncultured, popular ideas co-operated with the sayings of the Old Testament literally understood, and the impression of the Apocalyptic images.84

He further concedes, “In the second century . . . realistic eschatological ideas no doubt continued to foster in wide circles the popular idea that God had a form and a kind of corporeal existence.”85

Harnack identifies several possible sources of primitive86 Christian belief in an embodied deity including popular religious ideas, Stoic metaphysics, and Old Testament scripture, literally construed. It is common knowledge that ordinary persons, including the early Greeks,87 have always (as Harnack suggests) naturally conceived God (or the gods) to be embodied. Further, Harnack proposes that Christians influenced by Stoic views could have reached the same conclusion on metaphysical grounds. From the Stoic beliefs that only matter is real and that God is real, it follows that God is a material being.88

Whatever the impact of popular belief and Stoic metaphysics on the primitive Christian understanding of God, perhaps a more significant influence was the Hebrew Bible. J. N. D. Kelly informs us, “from the apostolic age to the middle of the second century . . . there was as yet no officially sanctioned New Testament canon.”89 Indeed, “for the first hundred years, at least, of its history the Church’s Scriptures, in the precise sense of the word, consisted exclusively of the Old Testament.”90 And as Harnack has reminded us, the Old Testament literally construed describes God in decidedly anthropomorphic terms. For example, Edmond Cherbonnier has shown that the God of biblical revelation, in contrast with the deity of Platonist metaphysics, was personal, not abstract; invisible as a matter of choice, not inherently; everlasting or enduring through time, not timeless; and ethically constant, not metaphysically immutable. He concludes that in many respects, the God of the Bible has more in common with the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon than with Plato’s idea of ultimate Being or Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover.91

More to the point, many biblical passages straightforwardly describe God as embodied. For instance, Genesis 1:26 records that God made man “in our own image, after our likeness.”92 Even more explicit are the many references to God’s body parts, such as “I [Jacob] have seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:30); “they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet” (Ex. 24:10); “the Lord spake unto Moses face to face” (Ex. 33:11); and “I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen” (Ex. 33:23). God also appears embodied in New Testament accounts of divine appearances. For instance, Acts 7:56 tells of Stephen seeing God and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.93 It is hard to imagine a being with a face, feet, hands, and back parts but without a body.

Though on the basis of scriptures such as these, early Christians no doubt simply took it for granted that God has a body similar to man’s, this belief does not mean they thought of God as similar to man in all respects. Unlike man, for example, God is holy, as Hosea 11:9 states: “For I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee.” Cherbonnier acknowledges that a considerable variety exists in scripture and that this and similar passages do point away from an overly simple anthropomorphism. However, these passages do not indicate that the later biblical prophets gave up the ideas that God has a body and that man’s body was created in his image. To the contrary, Cherbonnier claims that modern scholarship, “by restoring these [anthropomorphic] passages to their context and so recovering their original meaning, reverses such an interpretation.”94

Only after divine embodiment was rejected on philosophical (primarily Platonist) grounds was the image of God identified with the soul or the rational aspect of the soul, and biblical passages referring to God’s body or bodily parts were explicitly given figurative interpretations. While the philosophical critique of anthropomorphic conceptions of deity has its roots in ancient Greece and while there is evidence that anthropomorphism was an issue for the translators of the Septuagint,95 a Jewish Platonist educated in Alexandria named Philo Judaeus (20 B.C.–A.D. 40) appears to be the first who applied allegorical interpretations to the anthropomorphic passages in the Old Testament. Philo’s views were not generally accepted by his mainstream Jewish contemporaries. However, Albinus, a second-century non-Christian and middle-Platonist, did follow Philo’s lead and, in turn, greatly influenced Origen and later Christian thinkers.96

Aside from direct revelation as a source for the primitive Christian belief that God is embodied, Harnack fails to mention another, no doubt powerful, influence—the understanding of God within the first-century, Jewish communities out of which Christianity first emerged. According to J. N. D. Kelly,

Judaism was the cradle in which Christianity was nurtured, the source to which it was uniquely indebted. It left a deep imprint, as is generally agreed, on the Church’s liturgy and ministry, and an even deeper one on its teaching. In evaluating this impact, we must take account both of Palestinian Judaism and of the Hellenized version current at Alexandria. The former can be dealt with quite briefly, for the heyday of its influence falls outside this book in the apostolic age, when it moulded the thought of all New Testament writers. Yet, in spite of the early rupture between Christians and Jews, it would be a grave error to dismiss it as a negligible force in our period. Until the middle of the second century, when Hellenistic ideas began to come to the fore, Christian theology was taking shape in predominantly Judaistic moulds, and the categories of thought used by almost all Christian writers before the Apologists were largely Jewish.97

Those early Jewish (and subsequently Christian) categories, based as they were upon a literal reading of the Hebrew scriptures, were unabashedly anthropomorphic.98 For instance, James Drummond admits that even as the Jews advanced theologically to a higher conception of God, “we can hardly doubt that the mass of the people would be satisfied with [the scriptures’] literal meaning, and that their idea of God was the purest anthropomorphism.”99 Similarly, George Foot Moore claims that Palestinian Judaism was “innocent . . . of an ‘abstract’ or ‘transcendent’—or any other sort of a philosophical—idea of God.”100 Indeed, he asserts, “the philosophical horror of ‘anthropomorphisms’ which Philo . . . entertained was unknown to the Palestinian schools. They endeavored to think of God worthily and to speak of him reverently; but their criterion was the Scripture and the instinct of piety, not an alien metaphysics.”101 Thoroughly influencing the basic concepts of formative Judaism was, indeed, the understanding of God’s “incarnation,” which Jacob Neusner describes “as a commonplace for Judaisms from the formation of Scripture forward.”102 By incarnation, Neusner means “the representation of God in the flesh, as corporeal, consubstantial in emotion and virtue with human beings, and sharing in the modes and means of action carried out by mortals, . . . doing deeds that women and men do in the way in which they do them.”103 So powerful and natural was Judaism’s “rich legacy of anthropomorphism”104 that Rabbi Hoshaiah could tell a story about the time when God came to create man and how the ministering angels mistook Adam for God: “What did the Holy One, blessed be he, do? He put him to sleep, so everyone knew that he was a mere man.”105 Of course, in this portrayal of divinity the purpose was never to confuse God with man but rather to teach an understanding “that draws humanity upward and does not bring God downward.”106

Nowhere is this Jewish anthropomorphism more evident than in the teachings of several classical rabbis. For instance, in his recently published study, Alon Goshen Gottstein claims:

In all of rabbinic literature [covering both the tannaitic (70–200 A.D.) and amoraic (220–500 A.D.) periods] there is not a single statement that categorically denies that God has body or form. In my understanding, the question of whether the rabbis believed in a God who has form is one that needs little discussion. . . . Instead of asking, “Does God have a body?” we should inquire, “What kind of body does God have?”107

Gottstein further contends, “The bodily meaning is the only meaning of zelem [image] in rabbinic literature. This suggestion is borne out in all tannaitic and amoraic sources.”108

The rabbinic interpretation of the image of God as referring to the body is clearly shown in this representative selection, a story about Rabbi Hillel:

His disciples asked him: “Master, whither are you bound?” He answered them: “To perform a religious duty.” “What,” they asked, “is this religious duty?” He said to them, “To wash in the bath-house.” Said they: “Is this a religious duty?” “Yes,” he replied, “if the statues of kings, which are erected in theatres and circuses, are scoured and washed by the man who is appointed to look after them, and who thereby obtains his maintenance through them—nay more, he is exalted in the company of the great of the kingdom—how much more I, who have been created in the Image and Likeness.”109

Rabbinic anthropomorphism so strikingly contrasts with later (third century on) Christian immaterialism and so closely parallels Joseph Smith’s understanding of God that it will be helpful to summarize Gottstein’s account of the rabbinic concepts in some detail.

First, Gottstein shows that rabbinic anthropomorphism was not a crude notion in which God’s body (or even Adam’s body created in its image) was seen as identical or very similar to our present fallen human bodies.110 For example, one rabbinic account describes Adam’s body as one of great beauty and light:

Resh Lakish, in the name of R. Simen the son of Menasya, said: “The apple of Adam’s heel outshone the globe of the sun; how much more so the brightness of his face! Nor need you wonder. In the ordinary way if a person makes salvers [servants], one for himself and one for his household, whose will he make more beautiful? Not his own? Similarly, Adam was created for the service of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the globe of the sun for the service of mankind.”111

Thus Adam’s original body was more radiant than the sun, but God’s body, in whose image Adam’s was made, is still more brilliant and beautiful;112 though it resembles the human body in form, it differs from it in function. Gottstein quotes a passage from Peter in the Jewish-Christian Pseudo-Clementine Homilies that parallels notions found in Sefer Yezira:

He has the most beautiful Form for the sake of man, in order that the pure in heart shall be able to see Him, that they shall rejoice on account of whatever they have endured. For He has stamped man as it were with the greatest seal, with His own Form, in order that he shall rule and be lord over all things, and that all things shall serve him. For this reason, he who having judged that He is the All and man His image (eikon)—He being invisible and His image, man, visible—will honor the image, which is man.113

Next, Gottstein proposes a model for reconciling apparently contradictory rabbinic passages pertaining to the issue of whether man, as the result of sin, lost the image of God:

As we have seen, Adam’s zelem is his luminous body. In other sources, such as the story of Hillel washing his body, the zelem referred to the physical body. Zelem can thus refer to various levels, or aspects, all of which bear a resemblance to the physical body. I would propose that these various levels, or various bodies, reflect one another. The physical body is a reflection of the body of light. . . . [A] kind of graded devolutionary process . . . may be a model for two ways of talking about zelem. The zelem in its original form may be lost, but the dimmer reflection of this form is extant in the physical body, which may still be spoken of as zelem.114

Finally, Gottstein ventures a partial explanation of why the rabbinic interpretation of image is exclusively bodily compared with the subsequent nonbodily interpretations given by Christian immaterialists. Rabbinic anthropology did not consider the soul to be immaterial or radically distinct from the body, as Platonists held it to be. He elaborates:

Rabbinic anthropology differs . . . from Hellenistic and later Christian anthropology. The distinction between Spirit and matter is not known in Rabbinic literature115. . . . metaphysically soul and body form a whole, rather than a polarity. Crudely put, the soul is like the battery that operates an electronic gadget. It may be different and originally external to the gadget, but the difference is not one of essence. . . . More significantly, the gadget and its power source ultimately belong together, rather than apart. Thus, the soul is the vitalizing agent, whose proper place is in the body, not out of it.116

Consistently, then, in rabbinic eschatology “the future life takes the form of resurrection of the dead, rather than the eternal life of the soul.”117

Even in first-century Alexandria, where Hellenistic ideas were already firmly entrenched, Jewish incorporealism was a minority position. For example, Harry Austryn Wolfson, author of the standard biography of Philo, tells us that in his writings Philo often opposed a traditional school of Alexandrian Judaism, which interpreted the scriptures literally. In Wolfson’s words, these traditionalists “display a self-confidence and self-contentment which flow from . . . a faith in the loyalty of their adherents among the great masses of Alexandrian Jews.”118 Later, he adds:

The great mass of believers who will have not felt the impact of the foreign philosophy will see no need of any reconciliation between them. This great mass of believers will either remain indifferent to the innovations of the philosophic reconcilers, or will superciliously look upon them as mere triflers, or, if given provocation, will militantly oppose them as disturbers of the religious peace.119

In the end, Wolfson admits that despite Philo’s effort to synthesize Jewish belief and Greek thought, “Alexandrian Judaism at the time of Philo was of the same stock as Pharisaic Judaism, which flourished in Palestine at that time.”120 Thus apparently in the first century the Jews in Alexandria, as well as in Palestine, almost universally believed in an embodied God.121 And, as Kelly has reminded us, first-century Jewish thought was the mold in which primitive Christian theology took shape.

Though data pertaining to Christian belief during the earliest period of Christian history is meager, that data strongly supports the thesis that the earliest Christians generally believed God to be embodied. Thus Joseph’s claim that his doctrine of divine embodiment was a restoration of primitive Christian understanding seems well corroborated.

Second and Third Century Belief in an Embodied God

Immaterialism was introduced into Christian theology at least as early as the mid-to-late second century, with Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 150–213) being perhaps the first to unequivocally refer to God as immaterial.122 Immaterialists ultimately triumphed, but not without a three-century-long struggle with Christians who held tenaciously to the primitive doctrine of divine embodiment.

Origen as Witness. The writings of Origen (about A.D. 185–253) provide substantial evidence that Christians in the second and third centuries continued to widely believe in God’s embodiment—despite the efforts of Platonists both within and without the church to persuade them otherwise. Origen, himself a Christian Platonist, was one of the most influential thinkers of the early Church, second perhaps only to Augustine. Like Philo, he was born and enculturated in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. The city was founded in 331 B.C. by Alexander the Great, and up through Origen’s time it continued to be a center of Hellenistic intellectual culture.

The first of nine children of Christian parents, Origen received first a literary education, which consisted of studying the Greek classics. He later studied philosophy under the renowned middle-Platonist Ammonius Saccas, who later taught Plotinus, the thinker usually credited with founding Neoplatonism. Origen also knew and respected the works of a number of second-century non-Christian middle-Platonists, including Numenius, whose most important contribution to the tradition was his Platonic doctrine of God. Numenius taught that a first God exists who is ineffable, incorporeal, unmoved, and utterly separated from sensible reality. This first God, through the mediation of a second God, communicates eternal order to the sensible world.

Origen found Numenius’ doctrine of God helpful in his attempts to describe the Father and his relationship both to his son Jesus and to the created world. Origen adopted the Platonistic metaphysics of his culture. He then devoted his life to the exegesis of biblical texts in an effort to construct and clarify Christian doctrine to fit his incorporealistic concept of God.123 His devotion to this task gives great significance to his reluctant admissions, explicit and tacit, that his Christian contemporaries widely believed in an embodied God. In at least six ways, Origen’s writings support the thesis that his contemporaries believed in a corporeal God.

1. In his most important theological work, De Principiis (On First Principles), Origen enumerated the doctrines that he claims were delivered to the Church by the Apostles. Significantly, he did not include the doctrine of divine incorporeality on the list.124

2. Origen explicitly acknowledged that when he wrote (around the middle of the third century A.D.), the issue of divine embodiment had yet to be settled in the Church: “How God himself is to be understood,—whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies”—is “a point which is not clearly indicated in our teachings.” He thus proposed to make the issue a matter of rational and scriptural investigation with a view to formulating a coherent body of doctrine “by means of illustrations and arguments,—either those . . . discovered in holy Scripture, or . . . deduced by closely tracing out the consequences and following a correct method.”125

3. Origen discussed certain first- and second-century word usages, ignorance of which had contributed to misunderstanding of some biblical and other early texts. For example, he pointed out that nowhere in the Bible is God explicitly described as incorporeal; the Greek term for incorporeal, asomatos, does not appear there. Even where that term does appear in early nonscriptural Christian writings, Origen claimed that it does not have the same meaning that Greek and Gentile philosophers assigned to it. Rather, he asserted, Christian writers simply used the term to refer to a material body that is much finer and less palpable than those perceivable through the senses. For example, he explained that in the treatise called The Doctrine of Peter, where the resurrected Jesus is quoted as saying to his disciples, “I am not an incorporeal demon,” this statement

must be understood to mean that He had not such a body as demons have, which is naturally fine, and thin as if formed of air (and for this reason is either considered or called by many incorporeal), but that He had a solid and palpable body. Now, according to human custom, everything which is not of that nature is called by the simple or ignorant incorporeal; as if one were to say that the air which we breathe was incorporeal, because it is not a body of such a nature as can be grasped and held, or can offer resistance to pressure.126

Among the early Christian writers who described God as asomatos, Origen was the first (with the possible exception of Clement of Alexandria) to consistently use the term in its technical Platonist sense. In doing so, Origen followed the lead of second-century non-Christian middle-Platonists such as Albinus.127

More unexpectedly, Origen informs us that the New Testament passage “God is a spirit” (John 4:24)—the proof text now most frequently cited in support of the doctrine of incorporeality—was initially understood as evidence against it:

I know that some will attempt to say that, even according to the declarations of our own Scriptures, God is a body, because . . . they find it said . . . in the Gospel according to John, that “God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” . . . Spirit, according to them, [is] to be regarded as nothing else than a body.128

This surprising statement is easily explained: (1) pneuma (translated “spirit”) literally meant air or breath—thus implying that spirit is composed of a material substance, one of the four basic elements, and (2) since Christian Stoics believed that existence was confined to material bodies, God (being spirit) was only the purest of all bodies.129

4. Origen engaged in sustained polemics against those who affirmed God’s humanlike embodiment. His argument has two parts. First, he tried to show that corporeality is logically incompatible with philosophical (Platonist) conceptions of the divine nature. Second, by means of painstaking exegesis and allegorical interpretation, he labored to convince his fellow Christians that the scriptures, notwithstanding their literal import, do not disprove divine incorporeality. It is instructive to consider some instances of the latter argument because they indicate the popular Christian understanding of the scriptures that Origen inveighed against.130

Origen argued that if scriptural passages that describe God as spirit, light, fire, and so forth were literally understood, they would erroneously suggest that God is corporeal. Consequently, he advocated a metaphorical interpretation.131 For example, Origen argued that Genesis 1:26, properly interpreted, does not show God to be corporeal:

We do not understand, however, this man indeed whom Scripture says was made “according to the image of God” to be corporeal. For the form of the body does not contain the image of God, nor is the corporeal man said to be “made,” but “formed,” as is written in the words that follow. For the text says: “And God formed man,” that is fashioned, “from the slime of the earth.”

But it is our inner man, invisible, incorporeal, incorruptible, and immortal which is made “according to the image of God.” For it is in such qualities as these that the image of God is more correctly understood. But if anyone suppose that this man who is made “according to the image and likeness of God” is made of flesh, he will appear to represent God himself as made of flesh and in human form. It is most clearly impious to think this about God.132

Origen also made light of an anthropomorphic interpretation of Genesis 1:26 by showing the absurdity that results from interpreting other passages the same way:

In brief, those carnal men who have no understanding of the meaning of divinity suppose, if they read anywhere in the Scriptures of God that “heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool,” that God has so large a body that they think he sits in heaven and stretches out his feet to the earth.133

Origen acknowledged that “the Jews indeed, but also some of our people supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance,” because in many scriptural passages God is described as speaking to men. But since, as Origen maintained, “the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions,” he attempted to show how God can speak to men without the physical ability to perform the function of speaking:

But in this manner God is said to have spoken to man: he either inspires the heart of each of the saints or causes the sound of a voice to reach his ears. So also when he makes known that what each one says or does is known to him the Scriptures says that he “has heard”; and when he makes known that we have done something unjust, it says that he “is angry”; when he censures us as ungrateful for his benefits, it says he “repents,” making known indeed these things by these dispositions which are common to men, but not performing them by these members which belong to corporeal nature.134

Origen suggested that just as a human voice can be understood because the tongue repels the air, so the voice of God might be understood as air being reverberated by the will of God. However, God often communicates his word to prophets without the sound of a voice. In this case, the mind of the prophet, which has been illuminated by the Spirit, is directed to words.

Origen’s criticism of his fellow-Christians’ belief in divine embodiment was no doubt connected with his Platonistic low estimation of matter and the body. He considered it “most clearly impious” to “represent God himself as made of flesh and in human form.”135 His choice, as a young man, to castrate himself testified of his contempt for the body, although it seems he later judged this action rash.136 Origen believed that the body was a humiliation—a punishment for the fall from the presence of God. Nonetheless, it served as a means of training whereby we may return to God’s presence.137 Thus, in Origen’s view, the body had an instrumental value, but the spiritual life after the body’s death was much to be preferred:

I think that they love God with all their soul who with a great desire to be in union with God withdraw and separate their soul not only from the earthly body but also from everything material. Such men accept the putting away of the body of humiliation without distress or emotion when the time come[s] for them to put off the body of death by what is commonly regarded as death.138

Since Origen saw even human embodiment as a humiliation, he vigorously contested divine embodiment.

5. Origen specifically included Melito as among the prominent second-century Christians who taught that God is embodied. Not much is known about Melito’s life. Neither his date or place of birth nor his date of death are known, although he was probably dead by A.D. 197. He was active during the imperial reigns of Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138–161) and Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161–180). Though he apparently spent some of his earlier life in Syria, he was made bishop of Sardis in Lydia in about 168 or 169. As bishop, he was polemically engaged as a Quartodeciman in the controversy concerning Easter.139 The only complete text that remains from Melito, Peri Pascha, deals with Easter.

Melito was a prolific writer, authoring some eighteen to twenty works. Of these, only five or six are definitely known to us, and these are mostly in fragments.140 The extant fragments provide no affirmation of divine corporeality. However, Origen’s testimony, recorded about fifty years after Melito’s death, explicitly identified Melito as among the Christians who taught that God has a humanlike body.141

Some have suggested that Origen was mistaken in attributing a corporealist view to Melito. They claim that Origen had no basis for this attribution other than a very weak inference from the title of a treatise, On the Corporeality of God,142 which Eusebius included in his enumeration of Melito’s works. The title of this work could also be translated as On God Incarnate. Thus one commentator, while admitting that “it is not at all impossible that a writer as orthodox as Melito . . . held the opinions which Origen imputes to him,” nonetheless questions Origen’s claim:

Here occurs the doubt: Had Origen himself read the treatise of Melito, or did he know nothing but the title, and rashly jump to the conclusion that Melito held views akin to those which he was at the moment combating? If Melito be the author of the Syriac apology no fault can be found with the spirituality of his conceptions of God. It does not seem possible now absolutely to determine the question. We are ourselves inclined to believe that Origen made a mistake, and that the subject of Melito’s treatise was the Incarnation.143

Such speculation appears unwarranted. Given Origen’s vigorous efforts to persuade his fellow Christians to give up their corporealism, it seems totally incongruous that he, without having read Melito’s book and without any further evidence, would have attributed this view to a respected bishop of the Church. Moreover, Origen’s testimony is further corroborated by Gennadius who, writing in about A.D. 425, affirmed that Melito was responsible for a sect of Christians who followed him in the belief that the body of man is made in the image of God.144 Further, since the doctrine of divine incorporeality eventually became entrenched as Christian orthodoxy, the fact that Melito taught God’s corporeality could help to explain the otherwise mysterious disappearance of this work and other writings.145

6. Finally, it was Origen who has preserved the testimony of Celsus, a second-century middle-Platonist and non-Christian. Celsus wrote a comprehensive critique of Christianity (about A.D. 178) entitled Alethes Logos (True Doctrine), which was later suppressed or destroyed. It is known only through quotations in Origen’s work, Contra Celsum, composed seventy years later. Celsus attempted to demonstrate the inadequacy of Christian doctrine, especially the doctrine of God, on the basis of assumptions drawn from Platonist philosophical theology.146

According to Origen, Celsus argued “at length” against what he understood to be the Christian belief that God “is corporeal by nature and has a body like the human form.” In his discussion of Celsus—wishing to give to the idea of divine corporeality as little credibility as possible—Origen did not spell out Celsus’s sustained anticorporeality arguments, explaining that if Celsus

invents out of his own head ideas which he heard from nobody, or, to grant that he heard them from somebody, notions which he derived from some simple and naïve folk who do not know the meaning of the Bible, there is no need for us to concern ourselves with unnecessary argument.147

Interestingly, in responding to Celsus—a fellow Platonist whose objections to divine corporeality he shared—Origen feigned ignorance of any Christians actually teaching the doctrine. But as already shown above, Origen elsewhere reckoned the learned bishop Melito among the Christian teachers of the doctrine, and throughout his writings he engaged in sustained polemics against his fellow Christians who believed the doctrine. Thus, it seems clear from the evidence in Origen’s own writings that Celsus was neither misinformed nor did he misrepresent second-century Christians’ belief that God is embodied. From Origen’s testimony, it is clear that this belief continued to be widely held in the third century as well.

Tertullian as Witness. Origen’s implication that contemporary Christians who believed God to be embodied were confined to simple and naïve folk is contradicted by one of the most cultured of all his Christian contemporaries—Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (about A.D. 150–220). Tertullian stoutly maintained his belief that God is embodied and passionately resisted attempts by immaterialists to platonize Christian doctrine. Tertullian not only believed in an embodied God, but he wrote profusely on this and related doctrines. Moreover, he claimed to express the views of the churches of his day, which were derived from the original apostolic churches. He articulated in rich detail a unified corporealist understanding of Christianity.

Tertullian was a lawyer who converted to Christianity in about 197.148 According to Jerome, Tertullian became an ordained priest. He was born in Carthage and apparently spent most of his life there, though he had more than a passing acquaintance with Rome. Tertullian was well educated in literature as well as law;149 his writings show an impressive familiarity with the philosophical and literary classics of his time. He was a genius with language and wrote prolifically and fluently in both Greek and Latin.150 Many have considered him the father of ecclesiastical Latin—though this claim is disputed.151 As far as is known, Tertullian was the first to coin the Latin trinitas.152 His genius with language allowed him to craft brilliant polemical theological treatises, which contributed profoundly to the clarification of Christian doctrine on topics such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the Sacraments.153

Tertullian was active in a Christian movement known at the time as the New Prophecy.154 This movement attempted to recover the prophetic revelation and spiritual gifts characteristic of the apostolic age, to preserve pristine Christian doctrine against philosophical intrusions, and to prepare a people for Christ’s second coming, which was believed to be imminent. The movement apparently began about A.D. 170 in Mysia, a remote village in Phrygia, when a man named Montanus began to prophesy, claiming revelation through the Paraclete (or Holy Ghost). Soon after, he was joined by two prophetesses, Prisca (or Priscillia) and Maximillia:

All three spoke as the mouthpieces of God himself: their possession was truly divine, not the doing of a mere angel or messenger from heaven. In them God spoke, the Almighty, The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The prophets played a consciously passive role as God’s instruments: they were the lyre which the Spirit plucked like a plectrum. Through them God spoke directly to the world, and especially to the humble, in order to give them the courage to die as martyrs. The end of the world was approaching, and the New Jerusalem (Rev. 2I.I ff.) would descend on Pepuza in Phrygia. In a word, Montanism was a millenarian movement.155

Despite opposition from some Asian churches who declared Montanus’ prophecies “to be inspired by the Devil, excommunicated adherents, and vilified them in slanderous pamphlets,”156 the movement spread rapidly to Rome, to Alexandria, and even to Gaul. It achieved its greatest success in Carthage, where Tertullian became a partisan, as Timothy Barnes explains:

Since Christianity was a revealed religion, [Tertullian] was unwilling to believe that revelation had ceased in the Apostolic age. Inexorably, therefore, he was led on to espouse the Montanist cause. The issues were simple in his eyes. Recognition of the Paraclete, whom God has promised to send (Jn 14.16), severed him from the ‘psychici.’ The Paraclete, the ‘deductor omnis veritatis’ (Jn 16.13), gave necessary counsel to every Christian. Its promptings preserved doctrinal orthodoxy from the assaults of heresy.157

Tertullian himself sought to preserve original Christian doctrine, as founded on revelation, against the encroachments of Platonistic immaterialism. His understanding of Christianity included at least six points that support divine embodiment. He argued that (1) God, like all that is, is embodied, (2) beings of spirit may take on solid bodily form, (3) Christ in the Incarnation specifically took on flesh that was unqualifiedly human, (4) human flesh is a sacred and glorious substance, (5) the same fleshy body that falls in human death rises in the Resurrection, and (6) Christ’s resurrected body is an everlasting and crucial attribute of the Godhead.158 These complementary points form part of Tertullian’s unified explication of his corporealist Christian faith.

1. Tertullian believed that God is and has always been a material body.159 He also believed that all things that exist are material,160 though not all material is the rough stuff we interact with in daily life. In an apologetic work addressed to pagans hostile to Christianity, Tertullian expressed approval of Zeno’s model, which “separates the matter of world from God . . . [in which] the latter has percolated through the former, like honey through the comb.”161 Addressing heretics who taught that the Word was immaterial (A.D. 210),162 Tertullian defined God’s materiality as a more fluid or subtle mode of matter than that which comprises the world. He is also “a body, although ‘God is a Spirit,’” for Spirit “has a bodily substance of its own kind.”163

To support his claim that the creator of the material earth must be a body, Tertullian presented an argument reminiscent of modern versions of the so-called mind-body problem.

How could it be, that He Himself is nothing, without whom nothing was made? How would He who is empty have made things which are solid, and He who is void have made things which are full, and He who is incorporeal have made things which have body? For although a thing may sometimes be made different from him by whom it is made, yet nothing can be made by that which is a void and empty thing. 164

This argument attempts to show that the Word, by whom the worlds were made (Heb. 1:2), must be a material body. The same argument applies to the Father, thus supporting Tertullian’s understanding of the Father as Spirit and therefore materially embodied, although in the original text, Tertullian presented the Father’s corporeality as needless of argumentative support; he gave the Father’s corporeality as another reason to believe in the Son’s corporeality.165

Tertullian’s notion of material Spirit included attributes of location, extension, shape, texture, rarity, and density. In arguing against Hermogenes and others misled by Plato and the Stoics (in A.D. 206),166 he described how God’s breath, which is a portion of his Spirit,167 condensed and became Adam’s soul:

After God hath breathed upon the face of man the breath of life, and man had consequently become a living soul, surely that breath must have passed through the face at once into the interior structure, and have spread itself throughout all the spaces of the body; and as soon as by the divine inspiration it had become condensed, it must have impressed itself on each internal feature, which the condensation had filled it, and so have been, as it were, congealed in shape (or stereotyped). Hence, by this densifying process, there arose a fixing of the soul’s corporeity; and by the impression its figure was formed and molded. Thus is the inner man, different from the outer, but yet one in the twofold condition. It, too, has eyes and ears of its own.168

Thus before its impression in the body, the Spirit of God apparently has no fixed shape, but it has extension and position so that it can pass through Adam’s face and flow through his body before condensing and transforming into soul.

Even in his earliest writings (between A.D. 198 and 203), Tertullian represented the Spirit of God explicitly as “subtlely” material, having location and form, although its shape may not be fixed. He described the Spirit of God as corporeal, although not human in form:

The Spirit of God, who since the beginning was borne upon the waters, would as baptizer abide upon waters. A holy thing in fact was carried upon a holy thing—or rather, that which carried acquired holiness from that which was carried upon it. Any matter placed beneath another is bound to take to itself the quality of that which is suspended over it: and especially must corporeal matter take up spiritual quality, which because of the subtlety of the substance it belongs to finds it easy to penetrate and inhere.169

2. Tertullian thought it nothing strange that a being of subtle spirit should take more solid bodily form. He considered the human spirit to be one of the inseparable faculties of the human soul,170 which has the same form as the body of flesh it inhabits. He used reason, religious experience, and biblical revelation to support this belief.

Criticizing Plato, Tertullian argued rationally that the soul must be corporeal in order (1) to sympathize and interact with the body, (2) to move the body, and (3) to be described as departing the body at the time of death.171 Then he reasoned that since the soul is corporeal,

We shall not be at all inconsistent if we declare that the more usual characteristics of a body, such as invariably accrue to the corporeal condition, belong also to the soul—such as form and limitation; and that triad of dimensions. . . . What now remains but for us to give the soul a figure [effigiem]?172

To his rational argument that a soul must have humanlike form, Tertullian added evidence drawn from the religious experiences of a contemporary Christian woman associated with New Prophecy. She claimed:

There has been shown to me a soul in bodily shape, and a spirit has been in the habit of appearing to me; not, however, a void and empty illusion, but such as would offer itself to be even grasped by the hand, soft and transparent and of an etherial color, and form resembling that of a human being in every respect.173

Finally, he rounded out his case for the humanlike form of the soul by an appeal to biblical authority. For instance, he relied on the New Testament account of Lazarus and the rich man in hell (Luke 16:23–24): “[The soul], too, has eyes and ears of its own . . . [;] it has, moreover all the members of the body. . . . Thus it happens that the rich man in hell has a tongue and poor [Lazarus] a finger and Abraham a bosom.”174

Tertullian believed that angels, though beings of spirit, appear in temporary solid bodies. Furthermore, addressing heretics who claimed Christ’s corporeality was illusory (about A.D. 206), Tertullian even attributed to the Holy Spirit the power to take literal bodily form:

The Gospel of John . . . declares that the Spirit descended in the body of a dove, and sat upon the Lord. When the said Spirit was in this condition, He was truly a dove as He was also a spirit; nor did He destroy His own proper substance by the assumption of an extraneous substance. But you ask what becomes of the dove’s body, after the return of the Spirit back to heaven, and similarly in the case of the angels. Their withdrawal was effected in the same manner as their appearance had been. . . . Still there was solidity in their bodily substance, whatever may have been the force by which the body became visible.175

3. Tertullian believed that the Word took on human flesh when he was born as the son of God. He wrote an entire book, On the Flesh of Christ, to argue that Christ’s flesh was very much human flesh; that the soul, which gave that flesh life, was of the same sort as inhabits other human bodies; and that Christ’s humanity was essential to the purpose of his life and work on earth. He affirmed that Christ’s was a flesh “suffused with blood, built up with bones, interwoven with nerves, entwined with veins, a flesh which knew how to be born, and how to die, human without doubt, as born of a human being.” Such a flesh was necessary so that Christ could suffer and die to redeem mankind. While fully divine in spirit, Christ was fully human in body: “The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man. If His powers were not without the Spirit in like manner, were not His sufferings without the flesh.”176

4. In no way did Tertullian consider it degrading for God to take bodily or even human form. As part of his multifaceted argument that Christ really dwelt in human flesh, Tertullian argued vehemently for the worthiness of human flesh. To those who considered the flesh a shameful thing, Tertullian said of the condition of being clothed in flesh:

And are you for turning these conditions into occasions of blushing to the very creature whom He has redeemed, (censuring them), too, us unworthy of Him who certainly would not have redeemed them had He not loved them? Our birth He reforms from death by a second birth from heaven; our flesh He restores from every harassing malady; when leprous, He cleanses it of the stain; when blind, He rekindles its light; when palsied, He renews its strength; when possessed with devils, He exorcises it; when dead, He reanimates it,—then shall we blush to own it?177

Far from an embarrassment, he considered the body and its process of generation to be sacred, calling it a “reverend discourse of nature.”178 Elsewhere he reiterated that “nature should be to us an object of reverence, not of blushes.”179

Tertullian also denied that the flesh is the source of sin:

[The soul] suffuses even the flesh (by reason of their conjunction) with its own shame. Now although the flesh is sinful, . . . yet the flesh has not such ignominy on its own account. For it is not of itself that it thinks anything or feels anything for the purpose of advising or commanding sin. . . . It is only a ministering thing.180

Thus Tertullian held that the soul is the origin of sinful impulses and that the flesh is sinful only as an abettor in the commission of the sins the soul initiates.181

Far from being a degrading substance, Tertullian maintained that earthly flesh is a glorified substance, since God created it:

You have both the clay made glorious by the hand of God, and the flesh more glorious still by His breathing upon it, by virtue of which the flesh not only laid aside its clayey rudiments, but also took on itself the ornaments of the soul.182

He further compared the flesh to splendid gold, which similarly derives from the refining of earth.183

5. Tertullian believed that the resurrected rise in a body of flesh. Against those led by philosophy to deny bodily resurrection, Tertullian argues, using Christ as the paradigm (about A.D. 206):

For the very same body which fell in death, and which lay in the sepulchre, did also rise again; (and it was) not so much Christ in the flesh, as the flesh in Christ. If, therefore, we are to rise again after the example of Christ, who rose in the flesh, we shall certainly not rise according to that example, unless we also shall ourselves rise again in the flesh.184

To clarify Paul’s teaching regarding the Resurrection—“It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44)—Tertullian explained the difference between natural and spiritual bodies: “As therefore the flesh was at first an animate (or natural) body on receiving the soul, so at last will it become a spiritual body when invested with the spirit [of God].”185 Thus Tertullian believed that resurrected flesh is flesh similar to mortal flesh, but the spiritual body of the resurrection is a fleshy body that has been purified by accepting God’s Spirit.

In a similar manner, our (fleshy) bodies may become spiritual even in mortality:

First of all there comes the (natural) soul, that is to say, the breath, to the people that are on the earth,—in other words, to those who act carnally in the flesh; then afterwards comes the Spirit to those who walk thereon,—that is, who subdue the works of the flesh; because the apostle also says, that “that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural (or in possession of the natural soul), and afterward that which is spiritual.”186

The fact that a person’s body can become a spiritual one while it is still mortal further clarifies that the spiritual body is material. Clearly, for Tertullian, the spiritual body of the Resurrection is a body of flesh, purified by the Spirit of God.

6. Tertullian believed that the Word not only took on human flesh when he was born as the son of God, but that he also will retain that flesh forever in its resurrected, glorified state:

He who suffered “will come again from heaven” (Acts 1:2), and by all shall He be seen, who rose again from the dead. They too who crucified Him shall see and acknowledge Him; that is to say, His very flesh, against which they spent their fury, and without which it would be impossible for Himself either to exist or to be seen; so that they must blush with shame who affirm that His flesh sits in heaven void of sensation, like a sheath only, Christ being withdrawn from it; as well as those who (maintain) that His flesh and soul are just the same thing, or else that His soul is all that exists, but that His flesh no longer lives.187

Without his body, Christ could not have accomplished his mission on earth, and deprived of it, he would not be Christ. Insofar as Christ and his mission contribute to the glory of the Godhead, so contributes the flesh. Tertullian’s belief clearly contrasts with interpretations of the Resurrection that explain away Christ’s eternal embodiment.

Tertullian’s defense of God as materially embodied, of the Resurrection of the flesh, and of the soul as humanlike in form is part of a larger effort to preserve what he understood to be pristine Christian doctrine and to defend it against attempts by late second-century and early third-century Christian Platonists to recast it within an immaterialistic, metaphysical framework.188 Since Christianity is a revealed religion, Tertullian insisted that discussants must refer “all questions to God’s inspired standard.” This standard included the Old Testament, the words of the Apostles, and the tradition of the churches that the Apostles established. Tertullian cited all three in support of his doctrines.

While combating heresy, Tertullian maintained that the apostolic tradition had been well preserved. The “many” and “great” Christian churches that continue in “one and the same faith” evidence that the tradition is strong.189 Moreover, his own doctrine “has its origins in the tradition of the apostles” and the churches they organized, being “in no respect different from theirs.190 Tertullian thus implied that from the beginnings of Christianity to his day, there had been a unified body of Christians who, faithful to the apostolic tradition, affirmed that God is embodied.191

As an educated Christian, Tertullian was in a position to resist philosophical intrusions into Christian doctrine in a way that unlearned Christians could not. After his conversion, Tertullian devoted all of his efforts to the defense of Christianity.192 Tertullian asserted that philosophy is the parent of heresy and posed the trenchant questions that have continued to haunt classical Christian theologians through the centuries:

What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!193

Fourth and Fifth Century Belief in an Embodied God

Tertullian’s vigorous attempt to preserve within Christianity the understanding that God is embodied was, of course, ultimately to fail. But the triumph of immaterialism came about only gradually. Indeed, significant pockets of Christians, resisting Hellenistic influences, continued to believe in an embodied deity as late as the fourth and fifth centuries. That this is so is evident in the writings of Augustine (A.D. 354–430), an uncompromising advocate of incorporealism.

Augustine was born at Thagaste in North Africa in 354. His mother, Monica, was a Christian. During his youth and early adulthood, Augustine apparently understood that Christians believed God to be embodied; by his own admission, it was this very doctrine that for many years constituted an insurmountable stumbling block to his acceptance of the Christian faith. He said that as a youth, he was much embarrassed by the doctrine and thus succumbed to the logic of those who maligned it:

My own specious reasoning induced me to give in to the sly arguments of fools who asked me . . . whether God was confined to the limits of a bodily shape, whether he had hair and nails. . . . My ignorance was so great that these questions troubled me, and while I thought I was approaching the truth, I was only departing the further from it. . . . How could I see this when with the sight of my eyes I saw no more than material things and with the sight of my mind no more than their images? I did not know that God is a spirit, a being without bulk and without limbs defined in length and breadth. . . . Nor had I the least notion . . . what the Scriptures mean when they say that we are made in God’s image.194

At first unable to accept Christianity because of its doctrine that God is embodied in humanlike form, Augustine was much attracted to the Manichaean sect, which endorsed a nonanthropomorphic, though still material, deity.

I had lost hope of being able to find the truth in your Church, O Lord. . . . The Manichees had turned me away from it: at the same time I thought it outrageous to believe that you had the shape of a human body and were limited within the dimensions of limbs like our own. . . . For when I tried to fall back upon the Catholic faith, my mind recoiled because the Catholic faith was not what I supposed it to be . . . but, O my God . . . I thought that this was a more pious belief than to suppose that you were limited, in each and every way, by the outlines of a human body.195

Eventually, Augustine’s career as a teacher of rhetoric took him from his native Africa to Italy, first to Rome and then to Milan. There, under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, he became acquainted with Latin translations of Platonist writings and with the possibility of God’s being a “purely spiritual being” in the sense of being totally immaterial, invisible, and incorporeal.196 This view of God dissolved his long-standing aversion to Christian doctrine and was a major factor in his conversion in 386. The following year, at age thirty-two, he was finally baptized a Christian. In his newly found Platonic understanding of God, he exulted:

I learned that your spiritual children . . . do not understand the words God made man in his own image to mean that you are limited by the shape of a human body, . . . nevertheless I was glad at this time I had been howling my complaints not against the Catholic faith. . . .

O God, you who are so high above us and yet so close, hidden and yet always present, you have not parts, some greater and some smaller. You are everywhere and everywhere you are entire. Nowhere are you limited by space. You have not the shape of a body like ours. . . .

Your Catholic Church . . . I had learnt [sic] . . . did not teach the doctrines which I so sternly denounced. This bewildered me, but I was on the road to conversion and I was glad. . . . [I] had no liking for childish absurdities and there was nothing in the sound doctrine which she taught to show that you, the Creator of all things, were confined within a measure of space which, however high, however wide it might be, was yet strictly determined by the form of a human body.197

From these passages, it is evident that in his youth and probably until his early thirties, Augustine understood Christians to believe that God is embodied.

In two ways, Kim Paffenroth has recently challenged this reading of the quoted texts. He claims that young Augustine’s references to Christian belief in an embodied deity are either merely allusions to the Incarnation or misunderstandings caused by Manichaeans who, intent on discrediting Christian beliefs, misrepresented them.198 However, the fact that young Augustine understood that Christians believed that God was embodied, and not merely as the incarnate Son, seems beyond dispute, for according to Augustine’s own account, the scriptural warrant for Christian belief in divine embodiment was largely found in the Old Testament and, hence, was not merely based upon the Incarnation. For instance, he disclosed that it was only after he met Ambrose in Milan that he learned that God’s “spiritual children . . . do not understand the words God made man in his own image to mean that [God] is limited by the shape of a human body.”199

Moreover, that Augustine, as a result of Manichaean misrepresentations, for many years just misunderstood what Christians of his acquaintance believed seems incredible. How could he be so radically mistaken when his own mother was a Christian, when he grew up among Christians, and when he even studied Christian catechism? But quite apart from inference, Augustine provided considerable evidence of Christian belief in an embodied deity.

Augustine discussed “the carnal and weak of our faith, who, when they hear the members of the body used figuratively, as, when God’s eyes or ears are spoken of, are accustomed, in the license of fancy, to picture God to themselves in a human form.” Though Augustine found these Christians’ belief that God has “a human form which is the most excellent of its kind” laughable, he nonetheless found it more “allowable” and “respectable” than the Manichaean alternative. Moreover, unlike the Manichaeans, Augustine said that these “carnal” Christians are teachable and, with proper instruction in the Church, may gradually come “to understand spiritually the figures and parables of the Scriptures.”200

Further, Augustine provided a catalogue of heretical Christian communities or sects.201 He identified two Christian communities, contemporary with himself, who explicitly taught that God is embodied in humanlike form. Members of the first community were called Audiani (sometimes Vadiani). They were followers of a Christian deacon, Audius of Edessa, and were located primarily in Syria and Mesopotamia. Members of the second community were called the Anthropomorphites and were located in Egypt. John Cassian, a Christian monk who spent about fifteen years (about A.D. 385–400) in the Egyptian monastic communities, corroborated Augustine’s testimony with respect to Egyptian anthropomorphism. Although Cassian was an Origenist and an incorporealist, he nonetheless made it clear that for late fourth-century Christian monks in Egypt, anthropomorphism was the long-established norm and incorporealism was the innovation.202

Cassian records that Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, sent a letter in 399 to the Egyptian churches to set the dates of Lent and Easter. In that letter, Theophilus included a condemnation of anthropomorphism, which

was received very bitterly by almost every sort of monk throughout all Egypt. . . . Indeed, the majority of the older men among the brethren asserted that in fact the bishop was to be condemned as someone corrupted by the most serious heresy, someone opposing the ideas of holy Scripture, someone who denied that almighty God was of human shape—and this despite the clear scriptural evidence that Adam was created in His image.203

Even the monks in Scete, “who were far ahead of all the Egyptian monks in perfection and knowledge,”204 and all the priests except Paphnutius—an Origenist in charge of Cassian’s church—denounced the bishop’s letter. Those in charge of the three other churches in the desert refused to allow the letter to be read or publicly presented at their assemblies.

Cassian chronicled the particular struggles of one monk, Serapion, in accepting the view that God is not embodied. According to Cassian, Serapion had long lived a life of austerity and monastic discipline that, coupled with his age, had brought him into the front ranks of the monks. Despite the persistent efforts of Paphnutis to dissuade him, Serapion had held fast to his belief that God is embodied.

The concept [of a nonembodied God] seemed new-fangled to him. It was something unknown to his predecessors and not taught by them.

By chance a deacon named Photinus came along. He was a very well-versed man. . . . [I]n order to add strength to the doctrine contained in the bishop’s letter he brought Photinus into a gathering of all the brethren. He asked him how the Catholic churches of the East interpreted the words in Genesis, “Let us make man in our own image and likeness” (Gn. 1.26).

Photinus explained how all the leaders of the churches were unanimous in teaching that the image and likeness of God should be understood not in an earthly, literal sense but spiritually. He himself demonstrated the truth of this in a lengthy discourse and with abundant scriptural evidence. . . .

At last the old man was moved by the many very powerful arguments of this extremely learned man. . . . We stood up to bless the Lord and to pour out our prayers of thanks to Him. And then amid these prayers the old man became confused, for he sensed that the human image of God which he used to draw before him as he prayed was now gone from his heart. Suddenly he gave way to the bitterest, most abundant tears and sobs. He threw himself on the ground and . . . cried out: “Ah the misfortune! They’ve taken my God away from me. I have no one to hold on to, and I don’t know whom to adore or to address.”205

According to Owen Chadwick, Cassian’s description of Sarapion’s capitulation greatly understated the resoluteness of Egyptian resistance to Theophilus’s decree proscribing anthropomorphism. Chadwick writes:

Were Cassian the sole authority, the impression would be left that, despite the fierce opposition of great numbers, the decrees of Theophilus were ultimately accepted by the Egyptians. We hear nothing in Cassian of the riots in Alexandria, of the bishop’s submission, of the expulsion of Origenism.

Except in Cassian’s community in Scete, where Paphnutius succeeded in bringing round his congregation to the Origenist viewpoint, a violent agitation arose. A band of monks repaired to Alexandria and caused riots. Theophilus had courage. He went out to meet the approaching band, and, as soon as he could make himself heard, “When I see you,” he said, “I see the face of God.” “Then,” said the leaders, “if you really believe that, condemn the works of Origen.” Theophilus, whom Palladius nicknamed “Mr. Facing-both-ways,” consented on the spot to condemn the Origenists. . . . He sent letters to his suffragans ordering the expulsion of the Origenist monks from the monasteries and the desert. There appears from this moment a drift out of Egypt by some members of the now condemned Origenist party.206

Finally, Augustine also provided evidence that fourth- and fifth-century Christian anthropomorphism was not confined to priests, monks, and laity. For instance, in “A Letter of Instruction to the Holy Brother, Fortunatianus (Epistle 148),” written in A.D. 413, Augustine discussed a brother bishop, not named, who was teaching that we are able, or at least will be able after the Resurrection, to see God with the eyes of our bodies. In a prior letter, without mentioning the bishop by name, Augustine had sharply rebuked those who held this view, and the bishop had been offended. Augustine asked Fortunatianus’s intercession on his behalf in seeking the bishop’s forgiveness and in effecting reconciliation. Nonetheless, Augustine said he had no regrets about having written the letter. For his intent was to

prevent men from believing that God Himself is corporeal and visible, as occupying a place determined by size and by distance from us (for the eye of this body can see nothing except under these conditions), and to prevent men from understanding the expression ‘face to face’ as if God were limited within the members of a body.207

Thereupon, Augustine argued at length against the bishop’s view.

On the basis of the evidence detailed above, it seems clear that Christians, from the very inception of the faith up until at least the early part of the fifth century, widely believed God to be an embodied being. This belief continued despite the fact that it was challenged by both Christian and non-Christian Platonists from at least the time of the second century. As Platonism became entrenched as the dominant Christian world view, the idea of an embodied God gradually faded into obscurity.

Part III
Philosophical Arguments Regarding Divine Embodiment

Philosophical arguments purporting to prove that the concept of an embodied God is incoherent are themselves logically uncompelling.

Though the earliest Christians believed God to be embodied, thinkers within the classical Christian tradition have for centuries reasoned that on logical grounds God must be incorporeal—without body or parts.208 In this final section, I meet these thinkers on their own terms, apart from the historical arguments of the preceding two sections. I examine the most common rational arguments against divine embodiment and show that none of them is sufficient to prove God’s incorporeality. Hence, no such argument ought be a stumbling block to rational acceptance of the Father and the Son as embodied persons.

The pattern of reasoning that these philosophical arguments typically follow was set out by Anselm as early as the eleventh century.209 Anselm defines God as “that than which none greater can be conceived.” From this general definition, he deduces not only that God exists (by means of his famous ontological argument), but also what God is like. In particular, he argues that “x is the greatest conceivable being” logically entails “x is incorporeal.” It will be helpful to outline his position in some detail, before using it as the main representative of the arguments refuted below.

In defining the term “greatest conceivable being,” Anselm makes it clear that by conceivable he does not mean psychologically imaginable—otherwise, God’s greatness would not exceed the limits of human thought. Rather, by “greatest conceivable being,” he means a being than which no greater being is logically possible.

As to what he means by greatest, Anselm explains that the greatest conceivable being would lack nothing that is good and would be whatever it is better to be than not to be. Contemporary commentators have plausibly suggested that in this context, the value terms (greatest, good, and better) are best understood as signifying religious values. According to this view, when Anselm refers to “the greatest conceivable being,” he means “that than which a no more worthy of worship is logically possible.” The formula is often shortened to “the most worthy object of religious worship” or “the most adequate object of religious attitudes.” I will take these shortened formulae to be equivalent to that stated by Anselm. This bit of analysis provides the backdrop for six separate arguments for divine incorporeality, which I will now examine.

The Argument from Divine Infinity

From the formula “x is the greatest conceivable being,” Anselm first derives “x cannot be limited in any way.” As a rationale for Anselm’s conclusion, J. N. Findlay argues that it is

wholly anomalous to worship anything limited in any thinkable manner. For all limited superiorities are tainted with an obvious relativity, and can be dwarfed in thought by still mightier superiorities, in which process of being dwarfed they lose their claim upon our worshipful attitudes. And hence we are led on irresistibly to demand that our religious object . . . should tower infinitely above all other objects.210

From the inference that God cannot be limited in any way, Anselm concludes that God cannot be corporeal. He argues:

But everything that is in any way bounded by place . . . is less than that which no law of place . . . limits. Since, then, nothing is greater than thou, no place . . . contains thee; but thou art everywhere. . . .

For altogether circumscribed is that which, when it is wholly in one place, cannot at the same time be in another. And this is seen to be true of corporeal things alone. But uncircumscribed is that which is, as whole, at the same time everywhere. And this is understood to be true of thee alone.211

Anselm’s argument can be summarized as follows:

1. God = the most worthy object of religious worship.

2. The most worthy object of religious worship cannot be limited in any way.

3. If God were corporeal, he would be limited in that he could not be, as a whole, at the same time everywhere.

4. Hence, God cannot be corporeal. (1) (2) (3)

As a first objection to premise 2, if it is understood literally, Anselm himself cannot consistently affirm it. For if God were absolutely unlimited, he would have to be the whole of reality and thereby not the Creator-God of theistic theology who is ontologically distinct from his creations and who gives his creatures some measure of independence from himself. It is the existence of the Creator-God, I take it, that Anselm is attempting to prove. Similarly, if God were not limited in any way, God could not possess any determinate attributes, either positive or negative. For example, if God were immutable he would be limited in that he could not be mutable or if he were atemporal he would be limited in that he could not be temporal. Indeed, Findlay suggests that an absolutely unlimited being may well entail “a deific absence of anything definite.” But Anselm employs his deity-formula to generate some eighteen divine attributes.

Findlay’s assertion that it is absolutely anomalous to worship a being limited in any thinkable manner seems to imply mistakenly that a limitation, as limitation, is thereby a defect. But surely this assertion depends on the nature of the limitation. Obviously, a limitation in something that is not admirable, such as ignorance, selfishness, or cruelty, would be a good thing. Anselm makes it clear that the greatest possible being would be absolutely unlimited only in every admirable or great-making attribute. But even here we have long recognized that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. A virtue taken to excess may become a tragic flaw. One may be too trusting, too generous, or too helpful. Limitations, as limitations, are value neutral. Moreover, not all values—especially in their superlative form—are logically compossible, such as unlimited compassion and unlimited bliss.212 Nor do all great-making properties or perfections admit of completion. For example, the virtue of veracity admits of completion, but an attribute such as creativity does not. Thus divine perfection cannot coherently be understood as being complete in all respects.

No doubt what Anselm meant, or should have meant, then, is 2ʹ: the most worthy object of religious worship must be unlimited in every respect in which to be so (a) is possible, (b) is admirable, and, when conjoined with other excellences, (c) maximizes worship worthiness. (Hereafter, I shall use WWM, short for worship worthy maximizing, to denote conditions [b] and [c].) But if in Anselm’s argument one replaces premise 2 with 2ʹ, the argument is no longer valid.

The Argument from Divine Omnipotence

Now, in order to try to make Anselm’s argument work, I shall have to supply some additional premise(s). More specifically, I will need to show some particular respect in which God must be absolutely unlimited that is both possible and WWM and, at the same time, incompatible with his being corporeal. It may seem that unlimited power or omnipotence would satisfy these conditions; that is, it may seem that the following proposition is true:

5. It is both possible and WWM to be absolutely unlimited in power.

Using 5, one can construct the following argument for divine incorporeality:

1. God = the most worthy object of religious worship.

2ʹ. The most worthy object of religious worship must be absolutely unlimited in every respect in which it is both possible and WWM to be so.

5. It is both possible and WWM to be absolutely unlimited in power.

6. N (if x is corporeal, then x is not absolutely unlimited in power.)

7. Hence, God cannot be corporeal.

The symbol N signifies a purported necessary truth.

I must now consider whether premise 5 is true. And the first question I must ask is, Is it possible for God to be omnipotent in the sense of having absolutely unlimited power? The answer is clearly negative. Indeed, the logical paradoxes generated by the notion of absolutely unlimited power are well known. For example, the notion seemingly entails the incoherent conclusions that God could create a stone so large that he could not move it or that he could simultaneously create both an irresistible cannonball and an unbreakable lamppost.213 To salvage a rationally coherent view of God, thinkers have been compelled to opt for definitions of omnipotence considerably more restricted than its etymology would suggest. Recently, for example, Anthony Kenny has proposed that omnipotence be understood as “the possession of all logically possible powers which it is logically possible for a being with the attributes of God to possess,” where “attributes” refers to “those properties of Godhead which are not themselves powers.”214

Given Kenny’s proposal, how can the attributes that God possesses be determined? If these are to be determined by Christian revelation and if this revelation confirms that God the Son has a resurrected body, then omnipotence must be understood in terms of the logically possible powers that are also logically possible for an embodied God to have. So understood, there would be no conflict between divine power and divine embodiment.

If, on the other hand, the divine attributes must be ascertained by reasoning from Anselm’s formula, one must ask: (1) how much power must the most worthy object of religious worship possess? and (2) could an embodied being coherently possess that much power?

When we consider the first question, it seems evident that from a religious point of view, the matter of God’s power relates to our practical needs for individual help, protection, and preservation. We look to God for forgiveness of our sins and for power to repent; for strength to cope with and to be refined by our adversities; for comfort in our trials; and above all, for salvation and eternal life. We trust that God’s power is sufficient to satisfy these needs and expectations and to fulfill all his purposes and promises. For this to be assured, it seems as if God must be supreme and have power over all things so that no one or no thing can thwart the fulfillment of his will.

The term almighty can be used to refer to the power described, which is how the third Lecture on Faith describes God’s omnipotence. This lecture delineates God’s character as described in revelation and then explains why this character is necessary for the object of religious faith. Of omnipotence, it says:

An acquaintance with these attributes in the divine character, is essentially necessary, in order that the faith of any rational being can center in him for life and salvation. For if he did not, in the first instance, believe him to be God, that is, the creator and upholder of all things, he could not center his faith in him for life and salvation, for fear there should be a greater than he who would thwart all his plans, and he like the gods of the heathen, would be unable to fulfill his promises; but seeing he is God over all, from everlasting to everlasting, the creator and upholder of all things, no fear can exist in the minds of those who put their trust in him, so that in this respect their faith can be without wavering. (3:19; italics in original)

If I grant—and it seems I must, at least from the perspective of the ordinary believer—that in order to be the most worthy object of religious worship it is necessary that God be almighty, must I also grant that his power is sufficient? It seems so. God’s worship worthiness connects most essentially with his personal and moral attributes: holiness, loving kindness, compassion, long-suffering, justice, equity, and veracity. These attributes are faithfully and steadfastly expressed in his personal dealings and relations with us as father, creator, savior, exemplar, and friend. His power is also relevant but only to the extent that it is needful to accomplish those ends that he, as a perfectly loving and righteous father, freely chooses. To suppose otherwise is to affirm that power itself has something worship worthy about it, quite apart from the good ends it makes possible. That some may, in fact, value or even worship power for its own sake, I don’t doubt. But such worship is neither religiously nor morally required.

If my reasoning is correct, then, it is neither possible nor WWM for God to be absolutely unlimited in power, and thus proposition 5 is false. But my analysis also supplies the following more satisfactory alternative to 5:

5ʹ. The most worthy object of religious worship must be almighty.

Next, to make Anselm’s argument work, one must also show:

8. N (If x is corporeal, then x is not almighty.)

But the truth of 8 is by no means self-evident. Some further premise(s) must be supplied to show why a corporeal being cannot be almighty. Anselm’s argument suggests a possible connecting link—that is, his argument suggests that if God is almighty, he must be omnipresent and that if he were omnipresent, he could not be corporeal. With these claims, I can again reconstruct Anselm’s argument.

The Argument from Divine Omnipresence

The argument can now be stated as follows:

1. God = the most worthy object of religious worship.

5ʹ. The most worthy object of religious worship must be almighty.

9. N (If x is almighty, then x is omnipresent).

10. N (If x is omnipresent, then x is not corporeal).

11. Hence, God cannot be corporeal.

To properly evaluate this argument, one must understand more clearly what is meant by the claim that God must be omnipresent. Anselm suggests that if God is omnipresent, then he is present, as a whole, at the same time everywhere. This notion is less puzzling when considered in its religious setting. Perhaps the idea is nowhere better captured than in the hymn of the Psalmist:

Lord, thou hast examined me and knowest me.

Thou knowest all, whether I sit down or rise up. . . .

Where can I escape from thy spirit? Where can I flee from thy Presence?

If I climb up to heaven, thou art there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, again I find thee.

If I take my flight to the frontiers of the morning or dwell at limit of the western sea,

even there thy hand will meet me and thy right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:1–2, 7–10, New English Bible)

Religiously, the affirmation of God’s omnipresence is the assurance of God’s constant watchful care, his loving awareness of all that is transpiring, and his ability to intervene in human history and in our individual lives to fulfill his purposes and promises. Thus it seems that divine omnipresence is crucially related to his power and knowledge and that if he is almighty then he must be omnipresent.

This understanding brings me to consider premise 10. Is it true that an embodied being could not be omnipresent? The question has recently been carefully examined by Grace Dyck [Jantzen].215 She correctly points out that the claim “an embodied being cannot be omnipresent is ambiguous between ‘His body is not everywhere,’ which,” she says, “is true but harmless, and ‘He is not everywhere,’ which is not necessarily true.”216 The harmless truth follows analytically from the meaning of the word body. By definition, a body is spatially locatable and can be in only one place at one time. But if a being is omnipresent, there is no place where it is not. Thus it appears that the notions of omnipresence and corporeality are mutually exclusive.217

Dyck rebuts this conclusion by carefully analyzing the meaning of the relevant sense of presence and then, derivatively, of omnipresence. Most critical to her analysis, she shows that (1) it is not the case that I am present only in the volume of space occupied by my body, and (2) to be present at x means, most essentially, to be aware of what is going on at x and, perhaps, to be able to some extent to influence it. In support of (1), a person would surely say of a speaker addressing the Senate that he is present in the Senate chambers even though it is not the case that the spatial coordinates of his body are coextensive with those of the chambers. And as to (2), how would a senator who slowly falls asleep as a bill is read and remains so throughout the ensuing debate correctly answer the question, Were you present when the measure was considered? Or suppose a hearing on a bill to eliminate veteran’s benefits is held in a hospital ward of comatose veterans. Could they correctly be said to be present for the hearing?218

On the basis of her analysis, Dyck concludes that, if God has a body that is spatially locatable somewhere in the universe and if, from that position, he knows and is able to influence everything that is going on, then he could properly be said to be omnipresent. If this conclusion is correct, then premise 10 is false, and the argument from omnipresence fails.

But one may still feel constrained to ask, How would it be causally possible for God to be spatially located in the universe and yet be aware of and able to influence all that is going on? I don’t know. This, I take it, is a question for the theologian or for future revelation. But perhaps two brief suggestions will shed further light. First, Dyck points out that modern mathematicians have shown that three-dimensional geometry is not the only possible geometry, indicating that it is merely a limitation of our conceptual structure that we perceive only three spatial dimensions. Dyck thus conjectures that God may occupy or be localized in dimensions outside our ordinary experience from which he may express his thereness in every part of the universe.219 Second, a glorified body may be the source and locus from which emanates the divine spiritual influence everywhere in the world.

The Argument from Divine Indestructibility

Anselm suggested a further argument for incorporeality when he wrote:

For, whatever is composed of parts is not altogether one, but is in some part plural, and diverse from itself; and either in fact or in concept is capable of dissolution. But these things are alien to thee, than whom nothing better can be conceived of.220

The following seems to capture this line of Anselm’s reasoning:

1.God = the most worthy object of religious worship.

12.The most worthy object of religious worship cannot be destructible in fact or in concept.

13.N (If x is corporeal, then x is composite).

14.N (If x is composite, then x is destructible, in fact or in concept).

15.Hence, God cannot be corporeal.

When we consider premise 12, it seems evident that the most worthy object of religious worship cannot be destructible in fact. And let us grant, arguendo, that a corporeal being would be, of necessity, in some sense be composite. What about premise 14? Is it true that whatever is composite is thereby destructible in fact? Plato’s Phaedo notes that natural or physical bodies are composite and are often observed to be destroyed through a process of decomposition.221 From this observation, it is concluded that all bodies, being composite, are likewise destructible. This conclusion, of course, does not deductively follow. And even if all “natural” bodies are liable to decomposition, it does not follow that a “divine” body is. Finally, even if a divine body were not inherently indestructible, it would not follow that God could not everlastingly sustain that body in being. In sum, I find no conceptual incoherence either in the notion of Christ’s body being raised incorruptible or in the notion of an incorruptible body per se.

But what about Anselm’s worry that a body, even if not destructible in fact, would nonetheless be destructible in concept? Are all bodies destructible in concept? I suppose this depends on our concept. If a body is thought of as merely a composition of little bits of matter, then it seems as if its being decomposed can be imagined. On the other hand, if a body (especially a divine body) is thought of in other terms such as a force field, the idea of its being decomposed is not so readily grasped. But even if we granted that the destruction of any body is consistently thinkable, what difference would it make? Our faith in God and in his promises is ultimately grounded in the integrity of the divine will and character and not in the mesh of conceptual necessity. Thus it seems that divine indestructibility does not require incorporeality.

The Argument from Divine Self-Existence

H. P. Owen provides two additional arguments against divine corporeality. He claims that corporeality is logically incompatible with both self-existence and moral perfection. His argument from divine self-existence is very tersely stated:

God’s incorporeality can also be proved from his self-existence. . . . No material entity can be self-existent; for each is a determination, or mode, of being. Consequently we can always ask of any such entity: “What are its causes and conditions?”222

His argument seems to be this:

1. God = the most worthy object of religious worship.

16. The most worthy object of religious worship must be self-existent.

17. N (If x is self-existent, then x is not a determination or mode of being).

18. If God were or had a material body, he would be a determination or mode of being.

19. Hence, God cannot have or be a material body.

Premises 17 and 18 seem open to doubt or, at least, in need of clarification. Concerning 17, Owen has not explained what he means by a “determination or mode of being,” but apparently he means something like a species or category of being, but as contrasted with what? Totally undifferentiated being? If so, it seems that 17 proves too much, for personality, as well as corporeality, appears to be a mode or determination of being. By parity of reasoning, then, it would follow that a personal being could not be self-existent. But I see no basis for such a claim. Owen apparently provides the following argument for premise 17:

(1) Of any determination or mode of being, one can always intelligibly ask, What are its causes and conditions?

(2) Of a self-existent being, one can never intelligibly ask, What are its causes and conditions?

(3) Hence, a self-existent being cannot be a mode or determination of being.

Premise (2) appears to be analytically true and (3) apparently follows from (1) and (2), but premise (1) seems questionable. What one can intelligibly ask (for example, without self-contradiction) is a function of the syntax and semantics of one’s language. For example, the reason why a person cannot intelligibly ask about the causes and conditions of a self-existent being is that self-existent simply means “without cause or condition.” Premise (1) does not appear to be analytically true. If I understand “determination or mode of being” correctly, it does not grammatically imply “must or could have a cause.” Whether some particular mode or determination of being is caused or uncaused is dependent on the nature of reality, not on the meaning or structure of language. Thus, it seems, this support for premise 17 fails, and so the premise remains inconclusive. The argument from self-existence thus fails to prove that God must be incorporeal.223

The Argument from Moral Perfection

Owen’s final argument for divine incorporeality is based on the claim that pure spirit is the most perfect form of being. He says:

Moreover, if a dualistic view of mind and matter is correct we can see, not only that God’s pure spirituality is possible, but also that it is the most perfect form of being. All human behavior approaches perfection to the extent that it expresses wisdom, goodness and love. Yet although the body aids these spiritual properties in so far as it offers a medium for their expression, it also inhibits them in many—and some tragically frustrating—ways. Hence only pure Spirit can constitute an absolutely perfect form of personal existence.224

His argument can be summarized as follows:

1. God = the most worthy object of religious worship.

20. The most worthy object of religious worship must constitute an absolutely perfect form of personal existence.

21. Only pure spirit can constitute an absolutely perfect form of personal existence.

22. N (If x is pure spirit, then x is incorporeal).

23. Thus, God cannot be corporeal.

Owen acknowledges that the cogency of this argument depends on the Cartesian view that mind and matter are ontologically distinct—a view he does not attempt to justify. But Owen admits that unless it can be validated, there is no basis for affirming pure spirituality in God, since the concept could not be given any referent or reference range. It is significant to note that most contemporary arguments for divine incorporeality do not consist of positive arguments for it, but rather attempt to salvage the notion of a totally unembodied deity from charges that incorporeality is either cognitively meaningless, logically incoherent, or contraindicated by the weight of psychological, physiological, and other evidence. I will not rehearse the arguments and evidence here. Suffice it so say that the Cartesian anthropology on which this argument rests does not appear to be rationally compelling.

Assuming arguendo that there could be a totally unembodied mind, why should this be considered the most perfect form of personal existence? Owen suggests that human behavior approaches perfection to the extent that it expresses wisdom, goodness, and love, and that the body inhibits these spiritual properties in “many—and some tragically frustrating—ways.” Unfortunately, Owen does not explain just how the body acts as or constitutes such an inhibiting agency. Personally, I find the idea hard to grasp. Certainly, the body is not an independent agency that might override decisions or choices made by the mind. Might it then somehow be the source of all those desires or wants that may incline or tempt one to choose contrary to that which is wise, good, or loving? But to assign all these negatives to the body and nothing but honorific attributes to the mind seems entirely gratuitous and without ground in reason or experience. (Ironically, in orthodox Christian theology, the most maliciously evil person—Satan—is also supposedly an unembodied mind or pure spirit.) It seems much more reasonable to predicate all attributes (praiseworthy and blameworthy) to the person, not to disparate parts of the same.

But suppose we grant that a body is a causally necessary condition of one’s ability to feel certain desires or inclinations such as the desire for food or sexual gratification. Assuming that such desires and inclinations are not intrinsically evil, would they nonetheless necessarily inhibit a person from always choosing rightly? I don’t see why. The New Testament describes the mortal Jesus as one who was tempted in all points such as we but without sin. It might well be wondered whether one who has fully confronted temptation in all its forms and guises and who has conquered them all is not more worthy of admiration and worship than one who has never experienced a conflict. It seems then that premise 21 is false, and for all the reasons given, this argument, too, fails to demonstrate that God must be incorporeal.

In sum, it appears that none of these typical arguments for divine incorporeality considered here is sufficient to prove it; thus none of them ought be a stumbling block to rational acceptance of the Father or the Son as embodied persons.


Joseph Smith revealed the doctrine that God is embodied, beginning even before he organized the Church in 1830. As evidenced in the writings of influential early Christian thinkers, the earliest Christians widely believed in an embodied God, and that belief persisted into the fourth and fifth centuries but was lost thereafter. The rational arguments of classical Christian immaterialists, however, fail to demonstrate that God must be incorporeal. Hence, neither historically nor philosophically compelling reasons exist for Christians to doubt the message of modern revelation that God is embodied.

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About the author(s)

David L. Paulsen is Professor of Philosophy at Brigham Young University.

Funding for this project has been graciously provided by the Richard L. Evans Professorship for Religious Understanding at BYU. Earlier papers on this subject were made possible by professional development leaves granted by the BYU College of Humanities and the Department of Philosophy. The author expresses gratitude for this support, as well as for the significant contributions of student research assistants Mark Ashurst-McGee, Earl Cahill, Benjamin Huff, Dennis Potter, David Sundahl, and Benjamin Wallace, and also for critical suggestions made by reviewers of this paper, as well as the editorial polishing by many at BYU Studies.


1. “Section 130 is a composite of instructions given by Joseph Smith on Sunday, April 2, 1843, in Ramus, Illinois. The first seventeen verses were given after the Prophet heard Orson Hyde preach in the morning meeting.” Robert J. Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, 3 vols. (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974), 3:1710. In the morning sermon, Orson had said, “It is our privilege to have the Father and Son dwelling in our hearts.” Apparently, Joseph wanted to make sure that Orson’s statement would not be misunderstood. He thus distinguished the Latter-day Saint understanding of God, which held God to be embodied in humanlike form and hence unable to dwell literally in one’s heart (D&C 130:3), from the god of the classical creeds, who, being immaterial, could dwell anywhere and everywhere. Joseph Smith Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1964), 5:323–24.

2. For instance, belief in an embodied God is interconnected in Mormon thought with many of its most paradigmatic ideas, including such basic LDS teachings as the divine nature and destiny of human beings as God’s children, the purpose of mortal life, the eternal worth of the body, and the physical resurrection. Within Christian theology generally, the LDS doctrine also makes possible a coherent understanding of the Incarnation—the affirmation that God the Son was numerically identical with Jesus of Nazareth. Christian theologians have often subscribed to an idea of God as transcendent in every way, having no properties in common with man: “God is qualitatively different from man in the extreme. There is no greater divide in the ontology of the Bible than that between creator and creature.” This idea has led many such theologians to reject the Incarnation as being a logical and metaphysical impossibility. Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986), 18–19.

3. Portions of this part of this article were previously published as “Early Christian Beliefs in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review 83 (1990): 105–16 and as “Reply to Kim Paffenroth’s Comment,” Harvard Theological Review 86 (1993): 235–39. Reprinted by permission.

4. Much of the material in this part was previously published as “Must God Be Incorporeal?” Faith and Philosophy 6 (1989): 76–87. Reprinted by permission.

5. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972), 207, 301–2 (hereafter cited as TPJS). See also D&C 93:33.

6. Woodford, Historical Development, 1:91–92.

7. James B. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 47.

8. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 48; italics in the original.

9. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 49.

10. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 50, referring to Pratt who wrote, “We worship a God who has both body and parts: who has eyes, mouth and ears.” Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked and Its Editor, Mr. La Roy Sunderland Exposed: Truth Vindicated: The Devil Mad, and Priestcraft in Danger (New York: Parley P. Pratt, 1838), 29. Allen recognizes that while there was still no creedal statement on divine corporeality at that time, “it is likely that many Mormons held an anthropomorphic view.”

11. Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology,” Sunstone 10 (May 1985): 9–11. This is a reprint of the article that appeared in Sunstone 5 (July–August 1980): 24–33.

Others apparently asserting the late development and immaterialist theories include Dan Vogel, “The Earliest Mormon Concept of God,” in Line upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, ed. Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 17–33. See also Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? 4th ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1982), 169.

12. Grant Underwood, “Sounding Brass or Tinkling Cymbal?” Sunstone 10, no. 9 (1985): 43; Backman, p. 232, states that the Lectures on Faith “implied that the Father and Son are material beings in a form like created man” and that “Joseph Smith undoubtedly understood in the 1830s that spirit is matter.”

13. Grant Underwood, “The New England Origins of Mormonism Revisited,” Journal of Mormon History 15 (1989): 16–17.

14. Alexander cites two sources for the claim that early Mormons referred to God as an absolute personage of spirit: (1) The Book of Mormon (with Abinadi’s sermon “in Mosiah chapters 13 and 14 [being] a good example”), and (2) the Lectures on Faith (discussed below). Alexander, “Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine” (1985), 8–9. I find no such reference in Mosiah 13 or 14. In Mosiah 15:1-5, Abinadi gives different names to two aspects of Christ’s existence, identifying Christ’s sonship with his flesh (his incarnation) and Christ’s fatherhood with his spirit; but the contrast here is between spirit and flesh, not between spirit and body. Book of Mormon writers explicitly equate being a spirit with being embodied in humanlike form, as is discussed below.

15. As evidence for the second premise, Alexander cites (1) an 1832 article in the Evening and the Morning Star: God “is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth and all things which are in them”; (2) a letter by Warren A. Cowdery published in an 1834 issue of the Messenger and Advocate: God “is a great first cause, prime mover, self-existent, independent and all wise being . . . immutable in his purposes and unchangeable in his nature”; and (3) numbers 5 and 6 of the Lectures on Faith: the Father is “the only supreme governor, an independent being, in whom all fulness and perfection dwells; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life.” Alexander, “Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine” (1985), 9. The analogical inference from (a) “Some early Mormons in some respects apparently held views of God similar to those of classical Christians” to (b) “Therefore, like classical Christians generally, they also believed God to be nonembodied” is weak.

16. In challenging the late development and immaterialist theories, I am not questioning the general thesis that Joseph’s (and Latter-day Saint) understanding of God was enlarged over time. Indeed, in this article, I suggest that we do not know, before the Nauvoo period, how much Joseph understood concerning the Father’s humanlike body consisting of flesh and bones.

17. All Book of Mormon scriptures quoted in this subsection have been checked against and found consistent with the original manuscript or (where necessary) the printer’s manuscript. Royal Skousen, ed., “Book of Mormon Critical Text Project,” Department of English, Brigham Young University.

18. See Susan Ward Easton [Black], “Book of Mormon: Nature of God,” Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

19. This conclusion is based on a social trinitarian reading of the Book of the Mormon. Social trinitarianism holds that the Godhead consists of three separate and distinct persons, or centers of consciousness, who together constitute one perfectly harmonious social unit. This I understand to be LDS doctrine. However, some writers, such as Dan Vogel, deny that the Book of Mormon reflects a social trinitarian notion of God. Rather, they take the Book of Mormon writers, as well as the earliest Mormons, to have a modalistic view of God. See Vogel, “Concept of God,” 24–25. Modalism is the view that God is one individual person who appears in three different modes: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But such a modalist interpretation of the Book of Mormon would also imply that God the Father is embodied in humanlike form: qua Father, God is embodied as a premortal personage of spirit; and qua Son, he is embodied as a personage of flesh and bones. A full discussion of modalism in the early Church is outside the scope of this paper, but I believe Vogel’s claim is mistaken. As Vogel himself acknowledges, modalism is seemingly inconsistent with much data (24)—for example, with Joseph’s 1830 revision of Genesis 1:26–27: “And I God said to mine Only Begotten, let us make man” and the Father’s introduction of his “Beloved Son” to the Bountiful survivors (3 Ne. 11). I believe that the social trinitarianism model of the Godhead as set out in the 1916 First Presidency declaration on the Father and the Son more comprehensively and illuminatingly coheres with all the Book of Mormon references to God and the Godhead, satisfactorily accommodating the apparently modalistic passages. Of course, this discussion by no means implies that Joseph and his contemporaries understood the relevant passages the same way.

20. See also 3 Nephi 10:18 and 28:12.

21. See Luke 24:36–48; and John 20:19–28.

22. On the ascension of Christ, see Luke 24:50–51; Acts 1:9–11; and Ephesians 4:8–10. The New Testament writers did not deduce from the Ascension that Christ transcended his body. See J. G. Davies, He Ascended into Heaven: A Study in the History of Doctrine (New York: Association Press, 1958), 60–68. The orthodox (Catholic and mainline Protestant) teaching is that Christ is in heaven with his resurrected body today.

23. Since Christ was and is commonly understood to have lived thirty-three years, the phrase “in the ending of the thirty and fourth year” augments the post-ascension dating of the American visitation. For a discussion of the dating, see S. Kent Brown and John A. Tvedtnes, When Did Jesus Appear to the Nephites in Bountiful? (Provo, Utah: farms, 1989); and John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 29–33. Christ ended his first visit to the Nephites and Lamanites by ascending into heaven (3 Ne. 18:38–39). However, when he visited them again the next day, he still had a body. In each of his subsequent visits, Christ was still embodied. Mormon writes, “And after that he did show himself unto them oft, and did break bread oft, and bless it, and give it unto them” (3 Ne. 26:13). Therefore, the Book of Mormon indicates that Jesus Christ continued to have a body. Furthermore, the nature of Christ’s ascension in the Book of Mormon is different from the orthodox view of the New Testament ascension. In the Book of Mormon, Christ returned or ascended to heaven several times and, rather than transcending physical limits, visits locations in time and space.

24. If “the Spirit of the Lord” who appeared to Nephi is the premortal Christ, then this text augments the Book of Mormon teaching that even as a spirit, he has a body, humanlike in form.

25. Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 116–18.

26. “And it came to pass that I [Nephi] beheld that she [Mary] was carried away in the Spirit” (1 Ne. 11:19). “And I also beheld twelve others following him. And it came to pass that they were carried away in the Spirit from before my face, and I saw them not” (1 Ne. 11:29).

27. For example, in no instance where the phrase was written down after the appearance of the resurrected Christ on this continent does it refer to his premortal person: “The Spirit of the Lord did not abide in us” (Morm. 2:26), “The Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers” (Morm. 5:16), and “I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them” (Moro. 9:4). Similarly, consider Nephi’s vision of Gentiles (evidently Columbus and others) coming to America: “And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles” (1 Ne. 13:15). Certainly “the Spirit of the Lord” does not refer to the premortal Christ because in this context Nephi envisioned a time long after Christ’s resurrection. Also, the phrase is used in passages where it clearly refers to the functions of the Holy Ghost rather than the power that emanates from deity: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy” (Mosiah 4:3); and “the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples” (Hel. 4:24; compare Rom. 8:9, 11 and 1 Cor. 3:16).

28. For example, when Nephi had his first visitation from the Lord, he said, “I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me” (1 Ne. 2:16). Subsequently, when referring to the prophet Isaiah, Nephi said, “He verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him” (2 Ne. 11:2). In other verses of the same chapter, he refers to the coming Redeemer as the Christ.

29. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, 118. Elder James E. Talmage and President Marion G. Romney also taught that “the Spirit of the Lord” who appeared to Nephi was the Holy Ghost. See Marion G. Romney, “The Holy Ghost,” Ensign 4 (May 1974): 90.

30. This data also suggests that the Holy Ghost is a person distinct from the Father and the Son. Of course, from the fact that Joseph Smith translated this text it does not follow that he immediately understood all of its theological implications. On the other hand, in June 1844, Joseph himself claimed that he had distinguished three separate persons in the Godhead from the beginnings of the Restoration: “I wish to declare I have allways—& in all congregats. when I have preached it has been the plurality of Gods it has been preached 15 years—I have always decld. God to be a distinct personage—J.C. a sep. & distinct pers from God the Far. the H.G. was a distinct personage & or Sp & these 3 constit. 3 distinct personages & 3 Gods” (Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980], 378 [hereafter cited as WJS]).

31. See Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975).

32. Except for minor punctuation and bracketed changes, this text and the following passages from Moses read the same as “Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible,” Old Testament Manuscript 2, in RLDS Library-Archives, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, p. 1, lines 2–5; italics added. Thanks to Robert J. Matthews, whose photographs and typescript of Old Testament Manuscript 2 were used to check the passages.

33. Matthews, Joseph Smith’s Translation, 26–27.

34. Old Testament Manuscript 2, p. 4, lines 26–33.

35. This datum, which discloses two divine individuals (God and his Only Begotten), contradicts Vogel’s hypothesis that at this stage the prophet understood the Godhead to consist of only one individual or person who appears in three different modes (modalism). Other changes in the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) may suggest modalism, but when changes such as the one just quoted are taken into account, the issue is less than clear. Based on an analysis of Book of Mormon passages, Van Hale also cautions against too quickly asserting that the early Mormon concept of God was modalistic. Van Hale, “Defining the Contemporary Mormon Concept of God,” in Bergera, Line upon Line, 13.

36. Old Testament Manuscript 2, p. 11, lines 16–18.

37. For instance, after retelling Joseph’s account of the First Vision, Elder David B. Haight stated, “Joseph now knew God is in the form of a man. He has a voice, he speaks, he is kind, he answers prayers. His Son is like the Father—but a separate and distinct person.” David B. Haight, “Joseph Smith the Prophet,” Ensign 19 (November 1979): 23. Similarly, in 1883, First Presidency member George Q. Cannon said, “Joseph saw that the Father had a form; that He had a head; that He had arms; that He had limbs; that He had feet; that He had a face and a tongue with which to express His thoughts.” “Discourse by President George Q. Cannon,” in Brigham Young and others, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–86), 24:372 (September 2, 1883). But Allen argues it was not until the 1840s that the First Vision was seen to have these implications. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 54–61.

38. The account was part of Joseph’s history of the Church, which was published serially in Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842.

39. See Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, The Case against Mormonism, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Company, 1967), 1:128; and Vogel, “Concept of God,” 27.

40. “Some few days after . . . this vision,” Joseph Smith told a Methodist minister. Joseph Smith, “History of the Church,” A–1, 3–4, Joseph Smith Papers, Archives Division, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, quoted in Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (spring 1969): 290. See also Joseph Smith–History 1:21–22. Joseph may also have told his mother (he did tell her, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true”). Jessee,First Vision,” 290–94. See also Joseph Smith–History 1:20.

41. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 43–53.

42. The dating and authorship are established in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 1:3 (hereafter cited as PJS). See also Jessee, “First Vision,” 277–78.

43. Jessee, “First Vision,” 283; and PJS, 1:124.

44. Quoted in Milton V. Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision: The First Vision in Its Historical Context (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971), 157; italics added.

45. See point 4 of the section on Origen as witness.

46. Joseph Smith, “History of the Church,” A–1, p. 121, reproduced and quoted in Jessee, “First Vision,” 284–85; and PJS, 1:127.

47. LDS Collectors Library version 2.0 DOS, Infobases, Provo, Utah, 1995.

48. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “personage”; italics in original.

49. From this it should not be inferred that at this time Joseph did not understand that Satan is embodied. Rather, on this occasion, Joseph Smith did not experience him as such. It is easily deduced from Joseph’s later theological statements that Satan has a spirit body.

50. Joseph Smith composed this letter “at the request of Mr. John Wentworth, Editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat.” It was published in Nauvoo, Illinois, in Times and Seasons 3 (March 1, 1842): 706. Reproduced in Jessee, “First Vision,” 296; and PJS, 1:430.

51. Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh: n.p., 1840), 5, in PJS, 1:391. This account is almost identical to Orson Hyde’s 1842 account: “Two glorious heavenly personages stood before him, resembling each other exactly in features and stature.” Ein Ruf aus der Wüste, eine Stimme aus dem Schoose der Erde (A Cry from the Wilderness, a Voice from the Dust of the Earth), trans. Marvin H. Folsom (Frankfurt, Germany: n.p., 1842), quoted in PJS, 1:408–9. In an interview with Joseph in 1843, the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette (September 23, 1843) reports him as stating, “I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, ‘O Lord, what Church shall I join?’ Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first personage said to the second, ‘Behold my beloved Son, hear him.’” “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, &c.,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette 58 (September 15, 1843): 3, quoted in PJS, 1:444.

52. Alexander Neibaur Journal, May 24, 1844, photographically reproduced and edited in PJS, 1:461–62. Interestingly, an account that the Father actually touched Joseph’s eye appears in an independent recollection of a separate report of the experience given by Joseph. Charles L. Walker (1855–1902) made the following entry in his diary: “2nd February, Thursday, 1893, Attended Fast Meeting. . . . Br. John Alger said while speaking of the Prophet Joseph, that when he, John, was a small boy he heard the Prophet Joseph relate his vision of seeing The Father and the Son, That God touched his eyes with his finger and said, ‘Joseph this is my beloved Son, hear him.’ As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior. After meeting, a few of us questioned him about the matter and he told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith in Kirtland when Joseph made this declaration, and that Joseph while speaking of it put his finger to his right eye, suiting the action with the words so as to illustrate and at the same time impress the occurrence on the minds of those unto whom he was speaking” (A. Karl Larson and Katherine Larson, eds., Diary of Charles Lowell Walker [Logan, Utah: Utah State University, 1980], 755–56; italics added).

53. For historical background on the Lectures on Faith, see Larry E. Dahl, “Authorship and History of the Lectures on Faith,” in The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective, eds. Larry E. Dahl and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1990), 1–21.

54. See Alan J. Phipps, “The Lectures on Faith: An Authorship Study” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1977), 66–67; Wayne A. Larsen and Alvin C. Rencher, “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982), 184; and Noel B. Reynolds, review of Dahl and Tate, The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective, in BYU Studies 32, no. 1-2 (winter and spring 1991): 288–90.

55. For an analysis of the reasons why the Lectures were removed, see Richard S. Van Wagoner, Steven C. Walker, and Allen D. Roberts, “The ‘Lectures on Faith’: A Case Study in Decanonization,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (fall 1987): 71–77. See also Dahl, “Authorship and History of the Lectures on Faith,” 16–19.

56. Since Joseph Smith here explicitly affirms that two personages exist in the Godhead (the Father and the Son), some commentators have suggested that at this time, Joseph’s understanding of God was binitarian (see Vogel, Alexander, and Kirkland in Bergera, Line upon Line). I am not persuaded, since the same lecture repeatedly refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit separately and as three. Headway toward resolving this puzzle can be made by remembering that Joseph used the term personage to refer to a visible, humanlike, embodied being. While Joseph Smith at this time understood the Holy Ghost to be an actual being, he apparently did not yet understand him to be embodied in humanlike form (despite Nephi’s description of the “Spirit of the Lord” as embodied). Thus, Joseph describes the Godhead as consisting of three beings but only two personages. These formulations in lecture 5, which sound like Campbellite theology (Vogel, “Concept of God,” 27), may have originated with the former Campbellites Sidney Rigdon or Parley P. Pratt. Parley P. Pratt Jr., ed., The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 13–14. Even in his canonized 1843 description of the Godhead where Joseph explicitly extended the category personage to include the Holy Ghost, he still distinguished the Holy Ghost’s mode of embodiment from that of the Father and the Son. He says, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22). For a helpful discussion of the status of the Holy Ghost as presented by the Lectures on Faith, see Robert L. Millet, “The Supreme Power over All Things: The Doctrine of the Godhead in the Lectures on Faith,” in Dahl and Tate, Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective, 231–34.

57. Lecture 5’s static description of Christ as a personage of tabernacle resolves the mostly answered objection that Christ disembodies when he goes to heaven.

58. The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “personage.”

59. Alexander relies on the Lectures on Faith as his principal evidence for the late development and immaterialism theories. In my view, careful textual and contextual analyses of the lectures disconfirm these theories.

60. Webster, American Dictionary, s.v. “tabernacle.”

61. As further evidence for my position, note that Joseph in 1841 used the same phrase, “personage of spirit,” to describe the Holy Ghost in contrast to the Father and the Son, both of whom he then described as personages of “tabernacle.” WJS, 64. The month previous, Joseph asserted that the Holy Ghost had a spirit body. WJS, 62–63. Clearly, Joseph understood a “personage of spirit” to be embodied. Compare, above, the brother of Jared’s description of the humanlike body of the premortal Christ as set out in Ether 3 and Tertullian’s description of the soul.

62. Based on a semantic study of the word spirit in lecture 5 and other Joseph Smith writings and scriptures, Millet has considered the possibility that even at this time, Joseph Smith may have understood that the Father had a body of flesh and bones. Millet, “The Supreme Power,” 225–28. See also Millet, “Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition,” BYU Studies 29, no. 3 (summer 1989): 55–56.

64. Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), 161. Lucy apparently dictated this account of the conversation in 1845. Dan Vogel asserts that such a statement “does not mean that in 1830 Mormons were teaching that the Father has a body like the Son’s,” since this doctrine was introduced much later. Rather Vogel claims that Lucy Smith was “more likely” saying that the Methodists objected because Book of Mormon modalism implied to them that it was God the Father who became incarnate in the flesh. Vogel, “Concept of God,” 24. Since, as has been shown, there is no credible basis for the claim that the doctrine was not introduced until much later, Vogel’s assertion begs the question.

66. Coltrin said that this visitation occurred “about two or three weeks after the opening of the school [of the prophets].” This would place the experience in February of 1833, since the school commenced on January 23, 1833. October 3, 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets: Minute Book 1883 (Palm Desert, Calif.: ULC Press, 1981), 39. On the other hand, it is possible that after half a century, Coltrin’s recollection may have been thrown off by a month. Such a theophany occurred in the School of the Prophets on March 18 according to First Presidency member Frederick G. Williams’s minutes of that meeting. Williams wrote, “Many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the Savior, and concourses of angels, and many other things, of which each one has a record of what he saw.” Milton V. Backman Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 267.

67. Statement of Zebedee Coltrin, School of the Prophets, 38–39; italics added. Since this witness is apparently based on personal reminiscence, it does not provide, by itself, compelling evidence that the Saints in 1832–33 believed God to be embodied. Possibly, he read a later-acquired understanding into his account of his earlier experience. However, given the 1829–30 evidence already presented supporting divine embodiment, Coltrin’s testimony properly becomes part of a cumulative case.

68. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1925), 220–21.

69. “An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock: Taken from His Journal by Himself,” typescript, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 13; italics added. The experience recounted here, unlike most of the other events described in Murdock’s record, is not specifically dated. This lacuna raises the possibility that the account is a personal reminiscence that Murdock has added to his abridged journal entries and not an abridged journal entry itself. Even if this is the case, in the context of the evidence already presented, such a personal reminiscence is also part of the cumulative case.

70. Phillip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of Latter-day Saints in American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 11–42.

71. Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 122.

73. O’Dea, The Mormons, 125.

74. Alan Taylor, “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780–1830,” American Quarterly 38 (spring 1986): 22–23. See also Alan Taylor, “Rediscovering the Context of Joseph Smith’s Treasure Seeking,” Dialogue 19 (winter 1986): 25–26. See Ronald W. Walker, “Joseph Smith: The Palmyra Seer,BYU Studies 24, no. 4 (fall 1984): 461–72; and Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 69–76.

75. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 59.

76. I draw this conclusion from the relative paucity of mention of the doctrine in the popular Mormon publications of that day.

77. In a personal letter, Wilford Woodruff wrote, “Their [sic] is a whole generation worshiping they know not what, whether a God without mouth, eyes, ears, body parts or passions as he does not reveal himself unto them, but their is not deception with the Saints in any age of the world who worships the living and true God of revelation.” Willford Woodruff to Asahel H[art], Scarborough, Maine, August 25, 1838, quoted in Robert H. Slover, “A Newly Discovered 1838 Wilford Woodruff Letter,BYU Studies 15, no. 3 (spring 1975): 357. Note that Woodruff attributes the belief to “the Saints” and asserts that it is grounded in revelation.

In a missionary effort, Parley P. Pratt wrote and published that “we worship a God who has both body and parts: who has eyes, mouth and ears, and who speaks when he pleases.” Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled, 29; italics added. Grant Underwood has argued that Pratt was merely parroting other sects of the time who believed that the Father had a body. Grant Underwood, “The New England Origins of Mormonism Revisited,” Journal of Mormon History 15 (1989): 16–17. I believe that I have shown, however, that that doctrine is embedded in the earliest LDS datum discourse.

78. See, for example, Parley P. Pratt, “Immortality and Eternal Life of the Material Body,” in An Appeal to the Inhabitants of the State of New York, Letter to Queen Victoria, (Reprinted from the Tenth European Edition,) The Fountain of Knowledge, Immortality of the Body, and Intelligence and Affection [Nauvoo: John Taylor, 1840], reprinted in The Essential Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 104–30. Parley P. Pratt’s main thesis is that “all persons except materialists must be infidels, so far at least as a belief in the scriptures is concerned . . . man’s body is as eternal as his soul” and “the idea of a ‘God without body or parts’ . . . [is among] errors of the grosest [sic] kind” (104). See also Orson Pratt, Absurdities of Immaterialism; or, A Reply to T. W. P. Taylder’s Pamphlet, Entitled, “The Materialism of the Mormons or Latter-day Saints, Examined and Exposed” (Liverpool, England: R. James, 1849), quoted in David J. Whittaker, ed., The Essential Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 61–108.

79. TPJS, 181. This is the first extant, explicit statement made directly by Joseph himself that the Father has a body of flesh and bones.

80. TPJS, 207.

81. TPJS, 207. Joseph Smith taught the doctrine of divine embodiment on several occasions during the Nauvoo period. For example, he is reported to have said the following: “Concerning the Godhead it was Not as many imagined—three Heads & but one body, he said the three were separate bodys [sic]” (WJS, 63) and “The holy ghost is yet a Spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body.” WJS, 382. In his King Follett discourse, Joseph taught, “If you were to see him [Elohim] today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man.” Discourse, April 7, 1844, Nauvoo, Illinois, in TPJS, 345; see also Donald Q. Cannon and Larry E. Dahl, The Prophet Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse: A Six Column Comparison of Original Notes and Amalgamation (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1983).

82. See Donald Q. Cannon, Larry E. Dahl, and John W. Welch, “The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and the Creation,” Ensign 19 (January 1989): 27–33.

83. For a historical study of the introduction of Platonism into early Christian thought and its rise to preeminence among Christian thinkers, see Robert P. Casey, “Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Platonism,” Harvard Theological Review 18 (1925): 39–101; and Robert M. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966).

84. Adolph Harnack, History of Dogma, 7 vols. (New York: Dover, 1961), 1:180 n. 1.

85. Harnack, History of Dogma, 2:255 n. 5.

86. The primitive period of the Christian Church is usually understood to last from the apostolic years to the middle of the second century. See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th ed., rev. (London: Adams and Charles Black, 1977), 31–35.

87. See Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955), 9–10. For an excellent study of the popular Greek understanding of the gods, see Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Folk Religion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972).

88. Stoicism, founded by Zeno of Citium, ca. 300 B.C., “was mostly a closely knit system of logic, metaphysics, and ethics. . . . From the theological point of view, however, what was most remarkable about it was its pantheistic materialism. The Stoics reacted vigorously against the Platonic differentiation of a transcendent, intelligible world not perceptible by the senses from the ordinary world of sensible experience. Whatever exists, they argued, must be body, and the universe as a whole must be through and through material. . . . Thus Stoicism was a monism teaching that God or Logos is a finer matter immanent in the material universe” (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 17–18).

89. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 31.

90. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 52.

91. See Edmond La Beaume Cherbonnier, “The Logic of Biblical Anthropomorphism,” Harvard Theological Review 55 (1962): 187; and Cherbonnier, “In Defense of Anthropomorphism,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978), 155–73. Cherbonnier provides a clear description of the anthropomorphic God of the biblical record, particularly in contrast with later mystical or Platonist views of deity.

92. Umberto Cassuto explains that “there is no doubt that the original signification of this expression in the Canaanite tongue was, judging by Babylonian usage, corporeal, in accordance with the anthropomorphic conception of the godhead among the peoples of the ancient East.” Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 1:56.

93. Consider also the postascension appearances of the resurrected Christ to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–7), to John the Beloved on the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:10–18), and to many others who saw the resurrected Lord (1 Cor. 15:5–8).

94. Cherbonnier, “Biblical Anthropormorphism,” 188.

95. See B. H. Roberts, The Truth, the Way, the Life (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1994), 173 n. 1; and Harry M. Orlinsky, “Introductory Essay: On Anthropomorphisms and Anthropopathisms in the Septuagint and Targum,” in Bernard M. Zlotowitz, The Septuagint Translation of the Hebrew Terms in Relation to God in the Book of Jeremiah (New York: KTAV, 1981), xxv–xxvi.

96. For an insightful examination of the reasons why the later church fathers rejected the primitive view of a corporeal deity, see Grace Jantzen, “Theological Tradition and Divine Incorporeality,” God’s World, God’s Body (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1984), 21–35.

97. Kelly, “Early Christian Doctrines,” 6. Jacob Neusner has cautioned against the presumption that this “Judaistic mould” was all of one piece. He asks: “Can we identify one Judaism in the first centuries BCE and CE? Only if we can treat as a single cogent statement everything all Jews wrote. That requires us to harmonize the Essene writings of the Dead Sea, Philo, the Mishnah, the variety of scriptures collected in our century as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, not to mention the Gospels! This is to say, viewed as statements of systems, the writings attest to diverse religious systems, and, in the setting of which we speak, to diverse Judaisms. There was no one orthodoxy, no Orthodox Judaism. There were various Judaisms” (Jacob Neusner, “Judaism and Christianity in the First Century: How Shall We Perceive Their Relationship?” in A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History, eds. Philip R. Davies and Richard T. White [Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990], 256). Nonetheless, E. P. Sanders argues that there was, at least within first-century Palestinian Judaism, a common theological core underlying all this rich diversity of thought and practice. Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE to 66 CE (London: SCM, 1992), 240–78.

98. “Jewish anthropomorphism seems to have been notorious in the first centuries C.E.” Gedaliahu G. Stroumsa, “Form(s) of God: Some Notes on Metatron and Christ,” Harvard Theological Review 76 (1983): 269–88, 271.

99. James Drummond, Philo Judaeus; or, The Jewish-Alexandrian Philosophy in Its Development and Completion, 2 vols. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1888), 1:135.

100. George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), 1:421. For a recent treatment of this topic see Elliot R. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 13–51.

101. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 1:438.

102. Jacob Neusner, The Incarnation of God: The Character of Divinity in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 4.

103. Neusner, Incarnation of God, 12, 17.

104. Neusner, Incarnation of God, 6.

105. Genesis Rabbah 8:10, quoted in Neusner, Incarnation of God, 3. In addition, it was reported at a 1995 conference in Jerusalem, sponsored by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, that an unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, 4Q416 frg. 1, speaks of God as a creature of flesh. Although the Dead Sea Scrolls are not necessarily a part of the rabbinic tradition, we await publication and further analysis of that fragment by T. Elgvin.

106. Neusner, Incarnation of God, 3. The tractate Shi’ur Koma (The Measure of the Body) describes God’s body in huge proportions. See Encyclopaedia Judaica, 14:1417, s.v. “Shi’ur Koma.” A widely acknowledged source for studies of Jewish anthropomorphism, this tractate is from the period of the Tannaim and is associated with Kabbalah, but its concepts are known in rabbinic midrashim.

107. Alon Goshen Gottstein, “The Body as Image of God in Rabbinic Literature,” Harvard Theological Review 87 (1994): 172. See also Arthur Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God (1937; reprint, New York: Ktav, 1968), which deals with the literal versus allegorical interpretation of scripture in rabbinic tradition. While Marmorstein suggests that the rabbis were generally moving away from anthropomorphic conceptions of God, he does not indicate that they were moving away from the idea that God is embodied.

108. Gottstein, “Body as Image of God,” 174; italics in original. Gottstein acknowledges that in the later Tanhuma literature, several paraphrases expand the meaning of zelem to include eternal life, divine glory, and righteous behavior. None of these expansions overrides the older understanding of zelem as body but rather are derived from it (174 n. 9).

109. Leviticus Rabbah 34:3, in Midrash Rabbah, trans. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 10 vols. (London: Soncino, 1983), 4:428.

110. Gottstein, “Body as Image of God,” 183–86.

111. Leviticus Rabbah 20:2, in Midrash Rabbah, 4:252. Other texts corroborate Adam’s possessing a body of light: Genesis Rabbah 12:6, in Midrash Rabbah, 1:91; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 8:1, in Midrash Rabbah, 8:213; and Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:3, in Midrash Rabbah, 7:173.

112. Compare Joseph Smith’s description of the brilliance of God’s body. In his 1838 account of the First Vision, he told of a light “above the brightness of the sun” and attempted to describe the Father and the Son “whose brightness and glory defy all description” (JS–H 1:16–17). Compare also the language that Zebedee Coltrin (Joseph’s LDS contemporary) used to describe God (for example, “surrounded as with a flame of fire,” “consuming fire of great brightness,” and “flame of fire which was so brilliant”) with the rabbinic descriptions of the divine body. Statement of Zebedee Coltrin, October 3, 1883, School of Prophets, 38. A fuller description of Coltrin’s theophany is set out in point 3 of the section on external corroborative evidence.

113. This passage is from a section of the homilies recently translated and discussed by Shlomo Pines in “Points of Similarity between the Exposition of the Doctrine of the Sefirot in the Sefer Yezira and a Text of the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies: The Implications of this Resemblance,” Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 7 (1989): 64–65. “Pines . . . considers the last sentence a later gloss, for it contradicts the possibility of seeing the divine form.” Gottstein, however, conjectures that “‘invisible’ may refer to the ordinary state, and not to the exceptional condition that the pure-hearted ones attain.” Gottstein, “Body as Image of God,” 173 n. 5.

114. Gottstein, “Body as Image of God,” 188.

115. Compare Doctrine and Covenants 131:6–7: “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All Spirit is matter, but it is more fine and pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified, we shall see that it is all matter.”

116. Gottstein, “Body as Image of God,” 176–77. Compare Doctrine and Covenants 93:33: “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy.” Joseph further explained his beliefs about spirit: “In tracing the thing to the foundation, and looking at it philosophically, we shall find a very material difference between the body and the spirit; the body is supposed to be organized matter, and the spirit, by many, is thought to be immaterial, without substance. With this latter statement we should beg leave to differ, and state the spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection be again united with it” (TPJS, 207).

117. Gottstein, “Body as Image of God,” 177.

118. Harry Austryn Wolfson, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948), 1:64.

119. Wolfson, Philo, 1:72.

120. Wolfson, Philo, 1:56.

121. It is interesting that Wolfson asserts “[t]he Jewish God indeed is incorporeal and free from emotions as is the God of the philosophers,” despite his implication that “the great masses of Alexandrian Jews” believed otherwise. Wolfson, Philo, 1:26.

122. See Casey, “Clement of Alexandria,” 79. For a brief summary of Clement of Alexandria’s immaterialistic views on God, see Robert M. Grant, Gods and the One God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986), 90–91.

123. According to a recent biographer, Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen did “more than anyone else to relate the Bible to Greek philosophy.” Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-Century Church (Atlanta: John Knox, 1983), 3. For a clear presentation of Origen’s Platonism and its formative influences, see chapter 3 (52–75). See also Richard A. Norris, God and World in Early Christian Theology (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1966), 106–29; and Grant, Gods and the One God, 91–92.

124. Origen, De Principiis, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1951), 4:239–41 (hereafter cited as ANF).

125. Origen, De Principiis, in ANF, 4:241.

126. Origen, De Principiis, in ANF, 4:241.

127. See Gedaliahu Stroumsa, “The Incorporeality of God: Context and Implications of Origen’s Position,” Religion 13 (1983): 345–58.

128. Origen, De Principiis, in ANF, 4:242. For an instance of this, see point 1 of the section on Tertullian as witness. Wolfson admits that “in Scripture . . . there is no indication that by spirit and soul were meant any such principles as form or immateriality.” Wolfson, Philo, 2:95.

129. See Stroumsa, “Incorporeality of God,” 345–47. See also Jantzen, “Theological Tradition and Divine Incorporeality,” 22–23.

130. For an excellent analysis of the centrality of the doctrine of divine incorporeality to Origen’s theology and his sustained polemics against anthropomorphic conceptions of God, see Stroumsa, “Incorporeality of God,” 345–58. “Although Origen does not explicitly name his opponents here, they are, obviously, Christians” (346).

131. Origen, De Principiis, in ANF, 4:242–45.

132. Origen, Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. Ronald E. Heine (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1981), 63–64.

133. Origen, Homilies, 63. As a matter of fact, some believers of this period did conceive of God as having a body of such cosmic proportions. Stroumsa, “Forms of God,” 269–88.

134. Origen, Homilies, 90–91.

135. Origen, Homilies, 63.

136. Trigg, Origen, 53–54.

137. Trigg, Origen, 106.

138. Origen, “Exhortation to Martyrdom,” in Alexandrian Christianity, trans. John Oulton and Henry Chadwick (Philadelphia: Westminister, 1954), 394.

139. Richard C. White, Melito of Sardis: Sermon “On the Passover” (Lexington, Ky.: Lexington Theological Seminary Library, 1976), 4–6. A Quartodeciman is “one of a group in the early church esp. in Asia Minor who during the 2d century and until the Nicene Council in 325 observed Easter on the 14th of Nisan when the Jews slaughtered the Passover lamb no matter on what day of the week that date occurred.” Webster’s New International Dictionary, 3d ed., s.v. “quartodeciman.”

140. Stuart George Hall, ed., Melito of Sardis: On Pascha and Fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979).

141. Et Dixit Deus: Faciamus hominem ad imaginem nostram et similtudinem. Prius discutiendum est ubi consistat illud, ad imaginem, in corpore, an in anima. Et in primis videamus, quibus utantur qui prius asserunt; e quorum numero est Melito, qui scripta reliquit, quibus asserit Deum corporeum esse [“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness.’ We must determine beforehand where the ‘image’ resides, whether in the body or in the soul. And let us first see what evidences the first writers on the subject used; among these was Melito, who has left treatises asserting the corporeality of God.” Daniel W. Graham, trans., Department of Philosophy, Brigham Young University]. Origen, Selections on Genesis, in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Graeca, 161 vols. (Paris: Migne, 1857–), 12:94. See also Origen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 14:870–71, where he continues his polemics against Christian anthropomorphites: qui in Ecclesia positi imaginem corpoream hominis Dei esse imaginem dicunt [“those members of the Church who say that the corporeal form of man is the image of God.” Henry Chadwick, trans., Origen: Contra Celsum (Cambridge: University Press, 1965), 416 n. 3].

142. See Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, trans. Hugh Lawlor and John Leonard, 2 vols. (London: SPCK, 1954), 1:132.

143. A Dictionary of Christian Biography, 1882, s.v. “Melito.”

144. Gennadius, Liber ecclesiasticorum dogmatum, 4.

145. Stroumsa claims that the affirmation of Melito’s anthropormorphism is unfounded, citing Othmar Perler, trans. and ed., Méliton: Sur la pâque (Paris: Cerf, 1966), 13 n. 1. Quoted in Stroumsa, “Form(s) of God,” 270.

146. See the introduction to Henry Chadwick, trans., Origen: Contra Celsum, 9–32. For an attempted reconstruction of Celsus’s work from the quotations in Origen’s Contra Celsum, see Celsus, On the True Doctrine: A Discourse against the Christians, trans. R. Joseph Hoffmann (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). Though by his own admission, Origen has omitted Celsus’s sustained anticorporeality arguments, Hoffmann claims to have reconstructed several pages of these arguments (103–15).

147. Chadwick, Origen: Contra Celsum, 416. This passage continues: “The Bible clearly says that God is incorporeal. That is why ‘no man has seen God at any time’ [John 1:18], and ‘the firstborn of all creation’ is said to be an ‘image of the invisible God’ [Col. 1:15]—using ‘invisible’ in the sense of ‘incorporeal’” (416). Colossians 1:15 is one of four places where Paul uses the Greek word aoratos, which is usually translated “invisible.”

However, Origen’s claim that Paul meant incorporeal here when he wrote invisible is dubious. In their translation of and commentary on Colossians, Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke suggest that Origen’s interpretation is not the proper way to understand aoratos.Aoratos is usually translated as ‘invisible.’ But the verbal adjective in the biblical Greek not only designates a possibility or impossibility, but is also used in a factual and pragmatic sense: the agnostos theos in Acts 17:23 is the ‘unknown God,’ not the ‘unrecognizable’ one; as also the aniptoi cheires (Matt 15:20) are the ‘unwashed hands,’ not the ‘unwashable’ ones. It is recommendable in Col 1:15 to translate aoratos in this pragmatic sense. This corresponds to the OT usage because there is no Hebrew equivalent of aoratos with the meaning of ‘invisible.’ According to the proclamation of the OT, God is not invisible; it is simply not within the capacity of human beings to see Yahweh. . . . It is unlikely that Paul fostered different notions and cannot be demonstrated. In 1 Cor 13:12, he speaks of a ‘time’ when we will no longer look as though through a mirror, but rather ‘from face to face.’ Obviously, he does not presuppose an ‘invisible God.’” (Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, trans. Astrid B. Beck [New York: Doubleday, 1994], 195–96). Paul was then suggesting not that God is unseeable, only that he is unseen. Whether humans can see or have seen God is a separate issue because even if no man had ever seen God the Father, this fact in no way entails that God is incorporeal.

148. See Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), 57–58.

149. Robert E. Roberts, The Theology of Tertullian (London: Epworth, 1924), 26–32.

150. Though the period of time during which Tertullian wrote was relatively short (ca. 197–218), thirty-one of his works are extant, and at least a dozen others were written but did not survive. Barnes, Tertullian, 30–41.

151. For support of this claim, see James Morgan, The Importance of Tertullian in the Development of Christian Dogma (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1928), 77–97; and New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Tertullian.” For an opposing position, see Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 4 vols. (Westminster: Newman, 1980), 2:249–59.

152. Morgan, Importance of Tertullian, 23.

153. For a fuller account of Tertullian’s significance in relation to contemporary theology, see Morgan, Importance of Tertullian, 148–65.

154. Clear signs of Tertullian’s involvement appear in his writings starting ca. 206–7. Barnes, Tertullian, 46–47. Much later, adherents of the New Prophecy were called Montanists after the name of the movement’s founder, Montanus. They were most often called Cataphyrians by their opponents, the title indicating their geographical origin. See Ronald E. Heine, trans. and ed., The Montanist Oracles and Testimonia (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1989), ix.

155. Barnes, Tertullian, 131.

156. Barnes, Tertullian, 131.

157. Barnes, Tertullian, 131–32. Although the Montanists were called heretical by later Christians, their differences from their contemporaries were in matters of practice, not theology. Barnes, Tertullian, 42. Likewise Tertullian’s “orthodoxy in matters of doctrine remained impeccable” during his Montanist years, as before.

158. For a summary of Tertullian’s views on God, see Norris, Early Christian Theology, 81–105.

159. Tertullian did not use the phrase “material body” to describe God, but simply “body” (Latin corpore). In fact, Tertullian used the Latin materia, cognate to the English “matter,” to refer specifically to the matter of the world in contradistinction to God’s eternal substance. Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, in ANF, 3:477–502. (In addition to referring to the chapter and book [if any] of Tertullian’s works, I cite the page number from Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ANF, 3.) He also specifically distinguished God and matter as “two words and two things.” Tertullian, Ad Nationes, bk. 2, ch. 4, ANF, 3:133. Likewise, he said that the human soul is formed “by the breathing of God, and not out of [non-divine] matter,” clearly distinguishing God from the matter of the world. Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, ch. 3, ANF, 3:184. Although Tertullian did not apply the term material to God, the properties that he ascribed to God are what we now consider to be the defining properties of matter: spatial location, extension, shape, and “even a certain tangibility.” Morgan, Importance of Tertullian, 182. Hence I describe Tertullian’s conception of the soul and of God as materialistic. It is nevertheless important to remember that Tertullian distinguished between created, perishable, sensible matter and the uncreated, imperishable, insensible substance (matter) of God. Tertullian, Ad Nationes, ch. 4, ANF, 3:132.

160. Morgan, Importance of Tertullian, 15. This notion appears explicitly in Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 7, ANF, 3:187; and implicitly in Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch. 7, ANF, 3:602. Although Tertullian closely agreed with the Stoics on this and many other beliefs and methods, we should not thereby conclude that Stoicism was the source of his belief. See Morgan, Importance of Tertullian, 10–16. While Tertullian employed Stoic explanations, arguments, and beliefs, he exercised discrimination in doing so.

For example, Tertullian used arguments of Stoic and other philosophers to support his belief in the corporeality of the soul, particularly agreeing with the Stoics’ description of the soul “almost in our own terms.” Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 5, ANF, 3:184–85. Yet elsewhere, Tertullian pointed out that the Stoics do not believe in the restoration of the body, condemned them as the source of Marcion’s and Hermogenes’ heresies, and denounced broadly the teaching of Zeno as making the matter of the world equal with God. Tertullian, On Prescription against Heretics, ch. 7, ANF, 3:246; and Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, ch. 1, ANF, 3:477. On this last point, Tertullian criticized precisely the Stoic materialism that some say was the basis of his own belief. Morgan, Importance of Tertullian, 182.

While Tertullian acknowledged that his beliefs sometimes coincided with those of this or that philosopher, he used philosophical authority strictly as a supplement to the ultimate authority of biblical and continuing revelation. He held that “all questions” should be referred “to God’s inspired standard.” Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 2, ANF, 3:182–83. The discrimination Tertullian showed in regard to philosophical doctrine precludes a simple explaining away of Tertullian’s materialism as due to inability to transcend Stoic prejudices (although Morgan suggests this explanation in Importance of Tertullian, 16). For further discussion of Tertullian’s relationship to pagan philosophy, see R. Braun, “Tertullien et la philosophie païenne. Essai de mise au point,” Bulletin de L’Association Guillaume Budé 2 (June 1971): 231–51.

161. Tertullian, Ad Nationes, bk. 2, ch. 4, ANF, 3:133.

162. To date Tertullian’s writing, I rely on Barnes’s chronology. Barnes, Tertullian, 55.

163. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch. 7, ANF, 3:602. This interpretation of John 4:25 was noted by Origen. See point 3 of the section on Origen as witness.

164. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch. 7, ANF, 3:602.

165. While some may find this argument persuasive, my point in presenting it is to illustrate Tertullian’s understanding of God, not to suggest that this understanding is demonstrated by this reasoning. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch. 7, ANF, 3:602.

166. See Barnes, Tertullian, 123.

167. Tertullian cited Isaiah 24:5 as teaching that man’s soul is a condensation of the Spirit or breath of God: “My Spirit went forth from me, and I made the breath of each. And the breath of my Spirit became soul.” Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 11, ANF, 3:191. Hence man’s soul was once a part of God. This concept is especially significant because Tertullian expressly asserted elsewhere that the matter out of which God formed the world had a beginning when God created the world out of nothing. Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, ch. 33, ANF, 3:496. In this book, he contrasted creation out of nothing with creation out of God’s own substance. Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, ch. 2, ANF, 3:477. Hence, Tertullian made the human soul of eternal, uncreated, divine substance in contrast with created and perishable matter.

168. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 9, ANF, 3:189. Although he says “the face of man,” Tertullian clearly alludes to Genesis 2:7 in this passage, which he quotes as referring to Adam. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 3, ANF, 3:184.

169. Ernest Evans, trans., Tertullian’s Homily on Baptism (Cambridge, England: University Printing House, 1964), 9, 11. See also a slightly different translation in Tertullian, On Baptism, ANF, 3:670.

170. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 10, ANF, 3:190.

171. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, chs. 5–6, ANF, 3:185.

172. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 9, ANF, 3:188. The word that Tertullian uses for figure is cognate with the English effigy, which roughly means a copy of something.

173. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 9, ANF, 3:188.

174. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 9, ANF, 3:189. In this passage, Tertullian also refers to Paul hearing and seeing the Lord (2 Cor. 12:2–4). For other arguments based on scripture, see Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 7, ANF, 3:187.

175. Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 3, ANF, 3:523.

176. Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 5, ANF, 3:525; italics in original.

177. Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 4, ANF, 3:524; italics in original.

178. Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 4, ANF, 3:524.

179. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 27, ANF, 3:208.

180. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 40, ANF, 3:220.

181. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 40, ANF, 3:220.

182. Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, ch. 7, ANF, 3:550.

183. Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, ch. 18, ANF, 3:557–58; and ch. 6, ANF, 3:549.

184. Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, ch. 48, ANF, 3:581.

185. Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, ch. 53, ANF, 3:587.

186. Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 11, ANF, 3:191.

187. Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, ch. 24, ANF, 3:542.

188. See Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 23, ANF, 3:203. For a fuller discussion of Tertullian’s resistance to Platonism, see Roberts, Theology of Tertullian, 63–78.

189. Tertullian, On Prescription against Heretics, ch. 28, ANF, 3:256.

190. Tertullian, On Prescription against Heretics, ch. 21, ANF, 3:252–53; italics in original. Although this work stands on its own as a general statement on heresy and orthodoxy, it also serves as a preface to a series of Tertullian’s works addressed to particular heresies, including A Treatise on the Soul, Against Praxeas, On the Flesh of Christ, On the Resurrection of the Dead, Against Hermogenes, and Against Marcion. Note also the many places where Tertullian refers to his appeal to apostolic authority as a criterion for distinguishing orthodox Christian doctrines: On Prescription against Heretics, chs. 31, 34, ANF, 3:259–60; Against Marcion, bk. 5, ch. 1, ANF, 3:429; and Against Hermogenes, ch. 1, ANF, 3:477.

191. Tertullian, On Prescription against Heretics, chs. 20, 28, ANF, 3:252, 256. See also numerous instances where Tertullian speaks as “we” and of his doctrines as those of “ourselves,” as in Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 2, ANF, 3:182.

192. As a new convert, Tertullian devoted himself to the obvious threats to Christianity outside the Christian community. His earliest writings defended Christianity against pagans and Jews. However, as he became more deeply involved in the issues threatening Christianity, Tertullian turned to internal threats, which he saw as the most significant dangers.

193. Tertullian, On Prescription against Heretics, ch. 7, ANF, 3:246.

194. Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1961), bk. 3, sec. 7, pp. 62–63.

195. Augustine, Confessions, bk. 5, sec. 10, pp. 104–5.

196. Stroumsa, “Incorporeality of God,” 352.

197. Augustine, Confessions, bk. 6, secs. 3–4, pp. 114–15; italics in original.

198. Kim Paffenroth, “Paulsen on Augustine: An Incorporeal or Nonanthropomorphic God?” Harvard Theological Review 86 (1993): 233–35.

199. Augustine, Confessions, bk. 6, sec. 3, pp. 114; italics in original.

200. Augustine, The Writings against the Manichaens and against the Donatists, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1956), ch. 23, sec. 25, p. 139; italics added.

201. See Liguori G. Müller, The De Haeresibus of Saint Augustine (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1956). Müller says, “It becomes evident immediately in the De Haeresibus that Augustine envisioned a heresy as a concrete sect, not a heretical proposition, since he speaks of the individual members of the sect rather than of the tenets they hold” (50).

202. Otto Meinardus concludes that “anthropomorphists appear to have outnumbered the liberal party [the Origenists who preferred allegorical interpretations of the Scriptures] by at least three to one.” Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Deserts, rev. ed. (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1989), 53.

203. Colm Luibheid, trans., John Cassian: Conferences (New York: Paulist, 1985), 125–26.

204. Luibheid, Cassian: Conferences, 26.

205. Luibheid, Cassian: Conferences, 125–27.

206. Owen Chadwick, John Cassian, 2d ed. (Cambridge: University Press, 1968), 28–29. On the causes of the controversy and the subsequent expulsion of Origenists, see Elizabeth A. Clark, The Origenist Controversy (Princeton: University Press, 1992). Chapter 2 focuses on anthropomorphism. For a tentative questioning of the generally accepted view that the Egyptian monks believed in an embodied God, see Graham Gould, “The Image of God and the Anthropomorphite Controversy in Fourth Century Monasticism,” in Origeniana Quinta, ed. Robert J. Daly (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1992), 549–57.

207. Philip Schaff, ed., The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1956), 498. Note also that the bishop’s basis for his belief was apparently Old Testament, not incarnational, passages about God.

208. Many Christians nonetheless affirm that God (the Son) was incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified and raised from the dead, and exists now everlastingly with a resurrected (though gloriously transformed) body. These views apparently conflict, for if God must be incorporeal, then the resurrected Christ cannot be God. The problem can be expressed in terms of an inconsistent triad: (1) Jesus of Nazareth exists everlastingly with a resurrected body; (2) Jesus of Nazareth is God; and (3) N (if x is God, then x is incorporeal). The conjunction of any two propositions of the triad entails the negation of the third. In this section, I argue that (3) is false. If my argument is successful, it removes possible stumbling blocks to rational acceptance of both the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

209. S. N. Deane, trans., Saint Anselm: Basic Writings (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing, 1966), chs. 2, 7–8.

210. J. N. Findlay, “Can God’s Existence Be Disproved?” in The Ontological Argument: From St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers, ed. Alvin Plantinga (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965), 116; italics in original.

211. Deane, Basic Writings, 19–20.

212. Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964), 1–56.

213. For further explication of the problems with absolutely unlimited power, see Kent E. Robson, “Omnipotence, Omnipresence, and Omniscience in Mormon Theology,” in Bergera, Line upon Line, 67–75.

214. Anthony Kenny, The God of the Philosophers (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 98.

215. Grace M. Dyck [Jantzen], “Omnipresence and Incorporeality,” Religious Studies 13 (1977): 85–91. My thinking on the issues discussed in this article has been significantly aided by Dyck’s article and her later book, Grace M. Jantzen, God’s World, God’s Body.

216. Dyck, “Omnipresence and Incorporeality,” 90–91.

217. Dyck, “Omnipresence and Incorporeality,” 85–86.

218. My illustrations are similar to and suggested by those of Dyck.

219. Dyck, “Omnipresence and Incorporeality,” 90.

220. Deane, Basic Writings, 24.

221. Plato, Phaedo, 78b–80c.

222. H. P. Owen, Concepts of Deity (London: Macmillan, 1971), 18.

223. Certainly, ordinary believers do not believe Christ’s resurrected body to be self-existent since its history began on the first Easter morning. Rather, they affirm that the divine person, who rose from the dead on that Easter morning, is self-existent and antedated both his resurrected and mortal bodies. It is perfectly consistent to think of God as a self-existent person with some acquired properties.

224. Owen, Concepts of Deity, 19.