Does Genesis 1:26,27 Prove God Has a Physical Body?

By Bill McKeever

According to Doctrine and Covenants 130:22, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.” A common proof text used by Mormons to support Smith’s claim is Genesis 1:26, 27. These passages state:

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

In the March 2016 issue of the Ensign, this verse is cited to support this teaching, saying “God is our Heavenly Father, and He created us in His image” (“Created in the Image of God,” p. 7).  J. Reuben Clark, Jr., a member of the LDS First Presidency, used Genesis 1:26, 27 to support his notion that “God is not a formless, spiritual essence, not a being without body, parts, or passions…God is an exalted, omniscient, omnipotent, deified being of the same divine order as the children of his creation and of his own First-born and Only Begotten” (Behold the Lamb of God, pp.179 – 180.)

Writing for the LDS Improvement Era magazine, Anthon H. Lund also makes references to Genesis 1:26 when he states,

“That God has neither body, parts, nor passions is the general belief of the Christian world; but it seems to us that the Bible is very clear to the contrary in its statements concerning God, for it teaches that he was created in his likeness” (“Joseph Smith’s First Vision and Scripture Promises,” April, 1920, Vol. xxiii,. No. 6)

LDS President Gordon Hinckley also used this passage when he said,

“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” (“Faith: The Essence of True Religion,” p. 21).

That Latter-day Saints see the Genesis passages as support for their idea that God is corporeal is without question. Nor do knowledgable Latter-day Saints dispute that this is an actual conversation that took place sometime during what Mormons call the preexistence. However, for our Mormon friends to better understand the true meaning of the Genesis passages, we must ask, “Who was involved in the dialogue?”

The answer to this inquiry can be found in Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible, otherwise known as the Joseph Smith Translation or JST. In Genesis 1:27 it reads, “And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so.” Smith’s rendition of Genesis 1:26 can also be found in Lectures Two and Lecture Fifth in the Lectures on Faith, as well as the Book of Moses (2:26) in the Pearl of Great Price.

On page 105 of A Companion to Your Study of the Old Testament, Daniel H. Ludlow agrees that the “Only Begotten’ of God was the pre-earthly Jehovah, who came to earth as Jesus Christ. Thus, God the Father was speaking to Jesus Christ on that occasion.” He then goes on to say, “The terms ‘in our image’ and ‘after our likeness’ indicate that God had bodily parts just as man does. This truth has been taught by Joseph Smith.”

This assertion that is held by Ludlow and numerous other members of the LDS Church is certainly a leap in logic unless they can demonstrate that the preincarnate Jehovah had a body of flesh and bones at the time the conversation in Genesis 1:26, 27 took place. Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith admitted that Jesus “did not always have a tangible body” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:11).

A statement issued in 1916 by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve made it clear that, during the preexistence, Christ did not have a tangible body. “In all His dealings with the human family Jesus the Son has represented and yet represents Elohim His Father in power and authority. This is true of Christ in His preexistent, antemortal, or unembodied state, in the which He was known as Jehovah.” (Messages of the First Presidency 5:31, 32. Also cited in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:720, emphasis mine.)

Speaking in conference in April 1921, Charles W. Penrose noted, “The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, as Jesus Christ was when he was Jehovah. He was Jehovah from the beginning of the world, according to the history we have in the Old Testament scriptures. He was a personage of spirit, and he came here to the earth that he might be exactly like his brethren and like his Father, and have a body made out of the lower elements of the universe.” (Conference Report, p.12, emphasis mine).

In making a similar distinction between the personages of the LDS godhead, Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote, “The Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones,’ however, ‘but is a personage of Spirit.’ (D&C 130:22.) He is thus a spirit man, a spirit person, a spirit entity. He lives and moves and has his being separate and apart from his fellow Gods. His spirit body is in all respects comparable to the kind of a body that the Lord Jehovah possessed before that beloved and chosen one made flesh his tabernacle by the process of mortal birth.” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, pp.253, 254, emphasis mine.)

Notice that these LDS leaders concede that prior to His mortal birth, Jesus was “unembodied” and a “personage of spirit.” This is the key to discovering the error so many Mormons make when it comes to the Genesis passages. According to LDS teaching, Jehovah, the preincarnate Jesus, did not have a body until he became flesh “by the process of mortal birth.” That being so, it is wrong for Mormons to assume that the words “image” and “likeness” refer to flesh and bones since the Mormon “Jehovah” (and Mormon “Holy Ghost”) had no such image or likeness when the conversation in Genesis 1:26 took place.

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