Biblical Archaeology Review 38:3, May/June 2012

Biblical Views: Spirited Discourse About God Language in the New Testament

By Ben Witherington III

In his discussion with the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus has some profound things to say about the nature of worship, as well as the nature of God: “The hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24).

Start with Jesus’ observation about God: God in the divine essence is, by definition, spirit not flesh, not a material being. And yet in the same breath Jesus is perfectly happy to call God “Father.” In our over-sexed and gender-language-sensitive culture, it is understandable that the juxtaposition of “God is spirit” with “God is Father” might seem like an oxymoron. Doesn’t father imply male, and doesn’t maleness require flesh and gender? In fact, as the New Testament shows, the answer to this question, when it comes to God, is no. God is not male, God in the divine essence does not have a gendered identity, and yet God is the Father of Jesus and by extension the Father of all his adopted children as well. How so?

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