John 4:23-24: Worship God in Spirit and Truth--What Does This Mean?

Discussion in 'Exegetical Forum' started by Dr. Bob Gonzales, Mar 6, 2009.

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  1. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    In John 4:23-24, Jesus declares to the Samaritan woman,
    ESV John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
    The phrase "worship in spirit and truth" has been interpreted variously. Here are some examples of the more common readings:

    1st interpretation: The phrase “in spirit and truth” conveys a single idea: It refers to an inward sincerity.

    2nd interpretation: The phrase “in spirit and truth” conveys two closely related yet separate ideas: It refers both to an inward sincerity and also to an objective standard of worship.

    3rd interpretation: The phrase “in spirit and truth” conveys two distinct yet inseparable ideas: It refers both to the Holy Spirit and also to the Lord Jesus Christ, truth incarnate.

    You'll note that the first view treats the phrase "spirit and truth" as referring to one basic idea, whereas interpretations 2 and 3 see two separate though related ideas. Moreover, you'll note that interpretations 1 and 2 seem to refer to a kind of worship that the Father has sought throughout every dispensation. The 3rd interpretation, however, seems to give greater emphasis to an epochal or redemptive-historical shift, i.e., the age of the Spirit and Incarnation of Christ are now to the center pieces of God-pleasing worship.

    Which interpretation do you favor? What are the exegetical arguments for your preference? What weaknesses do you see in the other positions? Or do you have a 4th option to offer? If you don't, I do. But first I'd like to see what you have to say.

    Your servant,
  2. TaylorOtwell

    TaylorOtwell Puritan Board Junior

    Is it possible that, given the context of the discussion of which mountain to worship on, the Lord is teaching that the time has arrived where the believers will no longer have ceremonial holy places (they will not worship on either of the mountains), and should not attach God, who is spirit, to physical places? Or, am I way off in left field?
  3. Dearly Bought

    Dearly Bought Puritan Board Junior

    Great question. I used to favor something more along the lines of #2, which I believe Terry Johnson takes. However, after having read Robert Letham's The Holy Trinity, I would definitely lean toward #3. I'd have to read back through his discussion to give you the precise exegetical reasons. In general, however, I think that the Gospels have a much more Trinitarian framework than a lot of contemporary Protestant scholarship acknowledges. We've let ourselves become shaped by the wrong sort of biblical theology (I'm speaking in terms of the discipline) to the extent that we affirm the Trinity but would often scoff at finding Trinitarian implications in such a passage.
  4. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    Dr. Gonzales,

    This is a really good question. I often have similar questions which arise from the Johannine books.

    My first inclination is to simply note the parallel between "in truth," and "you worship you know not what;" and between "in spirit," and "neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem."

    I would be hesitant to push the distinction between the two concepts too hard, however, as my tendency in John's writings is to see parallel words and concepts being used to describe the same thing. I think the simplest exegesis is that John shows Jesus seizing upon two concepts from the Samaritan woman's statement, and using these to show the true nature of worship.

    I'm sure you're aware of Calvin's exegesis of the passage. He does not see it as opposing the commanded Jewish worship (for this was always spiritual); however the spiritual nature and substantial truth of the worship were veiled and obscured. Thus, when the substance and spiritual nature was revealed more plainly and fully, it was as though something new were seen.

    I would add the fact that the statements of the Samaritan woman by which this conversation is framed can add to this understanding. First she says, "I perceive you are a prophet;" then Jesus says these things of worship, wherein the true mode of worship is to be exhibited plainly (note, not plainly for the first time); and then, she immediately says that "We know Messiah will come and will show us all things," as though she is acknowledging that the role of Christ is not to bring something new, but to exhibit that true worship of God which has been in all ages, though sometimes under the cover of fleshly ordinances.

    This may not have gotten directly at the question you posed. Perhaps Calvin, again, said it best when he explained of this passage: "For the truth of the worship of God consists in the Spirit.

    -----Added 3/6/2009 at 10:45:39 EST-----

    After re-reading the initial post, I think that spirit referring to "inward sincerity" may be too weak an expression, though it may simply arise from the limitations of language. It seems it certainly includes the idea of sincerity, but perhaps isn't limited thereunto. Obviously it corresponds in some way to the statement, "God is spirit." Thus, if God is not corporeal, neither can the substance or truth of worship be such; it's essence cannot consist of outward or fleshly forms -- though indeed it may be presented under such. For the Mosaic worship, at heart, was truly spiritual, but it was presented under the form of fleshly ordinance, though indeed this Mosaic, "fleshly" worship could certainly be done in both faith and sincerity of heart. I don't think Jesus is drawing a distinction here between hypocrites and true worshipers; this doesn't seem to be involved in the context: rather, he seems to be declaring the superiority of the New covenant to the Old ("Our father Jacob dug this well; are you greater than he?"); and that on account of which the New is superior is that the truth and substance of the Spiritual worship of God is set forth more plainly and clearly.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2009
  5. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritanboard Softy

    I definitely take option #2.
  6. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior


    I think you're making a good point. You seem to be suggesting that John 4:23-24 is portending a shift in redemptive history. That would be most consistent with view #3.
  7. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior


    When I read both of your comments above together, you seem to be saying (1) "spirit" and "truth" should not be taken as two distinct ideas but as referring to one inseparable reality, and (2) there is something of a redemptive-historical shift Jesus is alluding to from the Mosaic to the New Covenant. Am I reading you correctly? If so, I agree and think you're definitely on the right track.

  8. A5pointer

    A5pointer Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think it really is this simple. We have a way of mucking things up with our modern/western paradigm. I think you nailed it.
  9. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    I think it means from a true believer (one who has the Holy Spirit), with a right attitude (made possible only by God's presence in one's life), and according to His revealed will (the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture).

    Not sure which option that fits best.
  10. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    I believe you are.

    I think it not insignificant that in the midst of these statements Jesus says that the Jews (as opposed to the Samaritans) know what they worship, for salvation is of the Jews. So the shift involved cannot be one of Judaism proper to Christianity as something opposed, but one in which that worship of the Jews (which is true worship) is pulled out from under its fleshly "cover" and the reality of it is manifested to a greater degree. The Jews had rightly (and spiritually) worshiped in Jerusalem, as Jesus says; now, they will continue to worship rightly, but in such a manner as it is no longer tied to the carnal ordinances of Jerusalem.
  11. Presbyterian Deacon

    Presbyterian Deacon Puritan Board Graduate

    I asked this question awhile back. See this thread: HERE
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2009
  12. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    I didn't read anyone's answer so if I repeat someone's hopefully is was the correct person's :lol:. I believe in spirit and in truth mean this: we worship God by knowing what His Word says so we worship in the RP of worship, we (the pastor) preach the truth, we receive truth and acknowledge God concerning that truth. We can only do that in Spirit.... the Spirit that abides in us. Without the Spirit we wouldn't desire to worship God we would worship the god of our imaginations in the way we want to worship just like every other pagan person.
  13. Iconoclast

    Iconoclast Puritan Board Junior

    God is Spirit. Man was created to be an Image bearer,but as fallen and dead in Adam can no longer properly reflect that Image.
    Jesus is the True Manna, Jn6 who although he came in flesh to die as substitute and sin bearer for the seed of Abraham Heb2:9-16, he was raised and now restores the true image in the elect . Romans 6
    New Birth is essential as God is Spirit we must have that Spiritual life to partake of this worship in Spirit and we must have the Spirit to receive or welcome the truth 1cor 2
    The first interpretation seems weak in that a mormon can say he sincerely felt a burning in his bosom when he read the cultic book of mormon, so he can claim inward sincerity,but it will not be in the realm of Spirit, or Truth.

    The second interpretation comes closer to it,allowing for truth. But again unless the "sincerity" is a Spirit wrought work it can be misguided as Biblical truth cannot be seperated from God making himself known to us.

    The third speaking of the Spirit, and the Son seems to be closer if it is speaking of the the Son, and his commandments to us JN.17:17
  14. PresbyDane

    PresbyDane Puritanboard Doctor

    the opposit of in flesh and lie.

    I am a simpleton I know.
  15. chbrooking

    chbrooking Puritan Board Junior

    Linguistically, I think we ought to take note of the fact that both are anarthrous, suggesting that quality is in view, much as it is in Heb 1:2 ("in son").

    I don't like the characterization of 1 or 2. In both, spirit is characterized as "mood" or something like it. I think Spirit in both readings (one idea or two closely related) can still be the Holy Spirit, especially since Jesus is talking about a near future time (Pentecost). The question is whether the kai refers to a second thing, or not.

    I think I'm a #1 guy, if you wipe out the "inner sincerity" thing and understand it as a reference to the Holy Spirit.
    I wouldn't quibble with #2 either, so long as you do the same.
    I'm not #3 so much, since I don't think the "truth" is used here as a reference to the Son in distinction from the Spirit.
  16. Dieter Schneider

    Dieter Schneider Puritan Board Sophomore

  17. Johan

    Johan Puritan Board Freshman

    Recently I came into a situation where I was confronted with the question of what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. At that time I just bought the seven volumes of Calvin's "Tracts and Letters". In "The necessity of reforming the church" there are several paragraphs that deals with this matter. Here are some of these:

    In "The true method of giving peace and of reforming the church", Calvin also writes:
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