When Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman, he tells her that “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24; πνεῦμα ὁ θεός; pneuma ho theós). For some, this phrase denotes that God is an ethereal being who is not spatially delimited; in other words, that God has no bodily form. However, the Bible often describes spirits as embodied, and John’s own Gospel presents God as both “spirit” (πνεῦμα; pneuma) and as having some kind of body. When Yeshua says that “God is spirit,” he does not argue against divine embodiment. Instead, for God to be “spirit” means that the Lord is not made of flesh and blood like human beings, nor is God bound by our physical world.
For help in understanding what Jesus means by “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24), the best place to go is back to the beginning of John’s Gospel. In the Johannine prologue (1:1-18), the evangelist asserts that God (1) has some sort of “body,” and (2) that body is not physical in an earthly sense—that is, God’s bodily form is not that of flesh and blood. On this second assertion, the Gospel clarifies that God is not made of human materials. John says that everyone who receives the Word of God becomes “children of God, who were born, not of blood (αἱμάτων; haimáton) nor of the will of the flesh (σαρκὸς; sarkòs) nor of the human (ἀνδρὸς; andròs) will, but of God” (1:12-13). These verses highlight the fact that God is not made up of “blood” or “flesh,” nor is God “human”; according to John, the Father exists and operates beyond the earthly realm.
At the same time, John also notes that God exists in a bodily form that is not like our own. The very end of the prologue states that “no one has ever seen God,” but that the one-of-a-kind Word, “who is in the Father’s bosom (κόλπος; kólpos), has made him known” (1:18). The Greek word translated “bosom” (sometimes translated “side” [e.g., ESV, CEB,]) literally describes God’s chest or the part of the body between the arms. Luke’s description of Lazarus in the afterlife can help us make sense of how God can be both “spirit” and have a “body.” When Lazarus dies, Jesus says that he is “carried away by the angels to the bosom (κόλπος; kólpos) of Abraham” (Lk 16:22; also see v. 23). Of course, since Lazarus meets Abraham in the afterlife, the patriarch’s “bosom” is no longer made of flesh and blood—his physical body remains in the grave. Nevertheless, Abraham (and Lazarus, for that matter) is still very much embodied in the afterlife—in what we might call a “spiritual body” (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44). In a similar way, God has a bodily form, but the divine body is made of “spirit” rather than “flesh.” The Fourth Gospel shows that God can be both “spirit” (πνεῦμα; pneuma) and embodied in heaven.