The January 2014 Ensign magazine includes an edited version of a General Conference talk given in 1986 by (now deceased) Gordon B. Hinckley of Mormonism’s First Presidency. The 2014 “Gospel Classic” is titled, “The Divine Godhead.” In it Mr. Hinckley explains what he believes about God the Father and relates an experience he had while a missionary in England:
“I believe without equivocation or reservation in God, the Eternal Father. He is my Father, the Father of my spirit, and the Father of the spirits of all men. He is the great Creator, the Ruler of the Universe. … In His image man was created. He is personal. He is real. He is individual. He has ‘a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s’ (D&C 130:22).
“In the account of the creation of the earth, ‘God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Genesis 1:26).
“Could any language be more explicit? Does it demean God, as some would have us believe, that man was created in His express image? Rather, it should stir within the heart of every man and woman a greater appreciation for himself or herself as a son or daughter of God. …
“… As a missionary, I was speaking [in London, England, when a heckler interrupted], ‘Why don’t you stay with the doctrine of the Bible which says in John (4:24), “God is a Spirit”?’
“I opened my Bible to the verse he had quoted and read to him the entire verse: ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’
“I said, ‘Of course God is a spirit, and so are you, in the combination of spirit and body that makes of you a living being, and so am I.’
“Each of us is a dual being of spiritual entity and physical entity. All know of the reality of death … , and each of us also knows that the spirit lives on as an individual entity and that at some time, under the divine plan made possible by the sacrifice of the Son of God, there will be a reunion of spirit and body. Jesus’s declaration that God is a spirit no more denies that He has a body than does the statement that I am a spirit while also having a body.” (Ensign, 1/2014, 72; ellipses and brackets retained from the original)
When Jesus says “God is spirit” (John 4:24), aren’t His words just as explicit as the statement quoted by Mr. Hinckley (Genesis 1:26; also see verse 27)? No one need be confused about what “God is spirit” means in connection to Mormonism’s assertion that God the Father has “a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s,” for Jesus, in another time and place, explained, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). Mr. Hinckley’s argument that God the Father has a spirit (coupled with a body of flesh and bones) imposes much onto the words of the apostle John that is not there – or anywhere in the Bible.
Likewise, Mr. Hinckley’s treatment of Genesis 1:26 misses the mark. Mr. Hinckley suggests that man being made in the image and likeness of God the Father can only mean that God the Father is a tangible being of flesh and bones. This is not so. Christian author Dr. Jim W. Adams explains:
“Humanity is distinguished from all other creatures by the fact that it is created in the image (tselem) and in the likeness (demut) of God (Gen 1:26). What exactly the term tselem means in relation to humanity has been the source of scholarly debate. But careful analysis of the various occurrences of the noun throughout the Old Testament leads to the conclusion that a tselem ‘represents’ something. Hence, the most natural understanding of humankind created in the image of God is that human beings are God’s image or representative on earth. This is confirmed by God’s command for humanity to rule over God’s creation on his behalf (v. 28; see also Ps 8:5-8)…
“The term tselem, however, also indicates that to some degree human beings are like God and resemble him. This is enhanced by the use of the similar noun demut (Gen 1:26a; 5:1), which tends to convey the idea of two objects corresponding to one another (see, e.g., 2 Chr 4:3; Ps 58:4). Still, the text never indicates how humankind is like God. An obvious correspondence between God and humankind would include that both speak, hear, see, and feel. However, what is certain is that humanity does not resemble God in nature or in bodily form, for in the Old Testament God is never presented as an embodied being or even a physical being. Furthermore, the Old Testament assumes throughout that human beings do not have the divine nature of God: God creates, but human beings cannot create in the same sense; God is the sole Creator, but humans are creatures; humans die, but God is immortal.” (“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph Smith?”, The New Mormon Challenge, Beckwith, Mosser, Owen, general editors, 172, 173)
I think Gordon B. Hinckley’s “heckler” at Hyde Park asked a good question those many years ago: Why doesn’t Mormonism stay with the doctrine of the Bible? Like Joshua entreated the people of ancient Israel, so we too beseech you, Mormons: “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23). He, the only true God, can be found in the pages of the Bible, explicitly revealed to all who seek to know Him – to all who seek to worship Him in spirit and in truth.