Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, February 18, 2008

In spirit and truth (John 4:23)

One of the subtle clues Greek gives to its readers is how it views a series of words. For example, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well, that an hour is coming and now is when true worshipers will worship the father in spirit and truth. One of the exegetical debates of this verse surrounds the identity of the series of two words, spirit and truth.

But here is where the Greek holds a hint that cannot be easily conveyed in English. There is only one preposition, in (ἐν). This is Greek's way of telling the reader that the two objects of the preposition, spirit and truth, are to be viewed as a unit, not two separate entities.

But how close a unit? Again we are reminded that Greek grammar does not often settle an exegetical issue, but rather shows us the range of possible meaning. What settles the issue is, as always, context. Context is king.

God is spirit is the controlling statement of the context. Since God is spirit (i.e., not limited to any one place and time, certainly not to one of two mountains), so also proper worship of him is done in the spiritual sphere, deep in our hearts, and as such is a worship empowered only by God's Spirit. While this goes contrary to the human heart and most of human tradition, it is the truth because it is taught by the one who is the embodiment of truth, Jesus Christ.

To worship in spirit and truth is one concept. It is to worship in accordance with the truthful teachings of Jesus, who defines God as spirit and defines acceptable worship as that done in the sphere of spirit and the Spirit.

While there certainly is a connection between external stimuli and response with that of true worship, the external is not the heart of worship. Worship is the interchange between the revelation of God in our hearts and our appropriate response to that revelation, to bowing all that we are before all that he is. Some times it will show itself in calm and silence, sometimes in shouts of joy. Sometimes it will show itself in falling to our knees with Isaiah, and at other times is a joyful raising of our hands. But true worship is what happens in the sphere of the spirit, in our hearts and minds, regardless of when or where it manifests itself. This is the truth of Jesus' instruction. Let's not confuse the two.


Excellent insight!