An E-mail Exchange on John 4

More than twenty years ago, a brother (“Rick”) and I shared some thoughts on the “mountaintop” discourse in John 4.  I thought it would be valuable to share my portions of this correspondence here.

. . .  Rick, you express what I believe shows a Godly heart when you say, “My desire is to . . . ‘worship Him in spirit and in truth.’”

You might try reading “in truth” in several translations.  Do you have copies of The Message, the Amplified Bible, and the Easy-to-Read NT as well as the NIV, NASB, and the NRSV?

I find that the words “in truth” are better rendered, in our current-day English, as “truly,” “actually,” or “sincerely.”  While other passages speak to standards God does and does not have, I don’t think this one does.

How about this rendering of John 4:24, given the context of the conversation with the Samaritan?

God is not bound by location—He is a Spirit—so we can and should approach Him in the same vein.  Our worship is not bound by physical place, either.  We worship truly and spiritually . . . actually and in our spirits.

OK, so I’m not a great translator.  But would the import of the passage be compromised if it had come to us this way?  What do you think?


Admitting I’m in a physical body, but trying to speak from a greater reality,



Rick, I appreciate your having pondered John 4 since your last post.  You wrote, “It says we ‘must’ [worship in spirit and truth], showing that we must meet some sort of expectation, guideline or rule.”

I’m not sure how much I’d lean on the word “must.”  It’s probably not a point of emphasis designed to show “requirement or else” in Greek.          “For what if we do not worship in spirit and truth?” you wrote.

Then we’re not the kind of worshippers the Father is seeking.  But still—it’s a great tendency, I believe, to substitute “doctrinal correctness” for “truth” when the passage is rendered this way.  In this text, there does not seem to be any mention of adherence to doctrinal expectations.  As you found in your version search, “in truth” is translated equally well as “in reality” or “actually.”

You said,

“My reading is that there is some expectation of doing it a right way.”

I would agree with the notion that there are certain expectations on the part of the Father, but this text, again, in my opinion, does not speak to those, other than to say that location is no longer important, and to say that He is seeking those who will truly and spiritually worship Him.

There are those that use this passage to excuse them from ‘meeting together with the body’—for it isn’t a location. . . .

I have never heard the passage used this way, but I guess an insincere soul could, huh?

Finally, what is it that will make our worship”‘in spirit”?  Would gathering together on any day to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drink melted ice cream, and listening to Stryper constitute a period of worship—because as some would say ‘this really speaks to my spirit’—or is there some sort of expectation that God does have? What are these expectations?

That doesn’t sound like you, Rick.  Maybe I’m reading you wrong here.  Rather than respond directly to the first part, I’ll say one more thing on what this worshipping in spirit is, in my opinion:  it is bowing in spirit (humility of soul) in adoring communication to God.  Messages from the deepest part of me—the spirit—are sent to God’s Spirit.  All this has as its foremost objective the pleasing of God.  And regardless of what speaks to my spirit or yours, I think we’re both on more solid ground in asserting God’s pleasure over our perceived catharses.  You would agree with this, I’m sure.

I noted that you said, “Currently I . . .” and then went on to explain your practice.  I would just like to support you in this type of stance.  You believe something based on your study and experience, and you act on it, but by your use of the word “currently,” you show that you are open to learning and growing and changing later, as God directs.

May we all exhibit such openness to God.



I firmly believe that if I “get” John 4, I will have made a quantum leap toward understanding New Covenant worship.  First, I need to understand that the word “worship” in this text derives from proskuneo and that the concept is a specific one.  I also need to be clued in to the meaning of “in spirit.”  Since Jesus calls attention to the nature of God’s existence (“God is Spirit”), it seems to me that this expression pertains to communication in the spiritual realm—involving both the Holy Spirit and my spirit.

And the phrase “in truth” does not appear to refer directly to accuracy, “doctrinal” correctness, towing the line, or living up to a certain set of expectations which are commonly transmogrified into some nebulous body of material that some dogmatically call “truth.”

This position doesn’t deny that there is a set of expectations on God’s part.  It’s just that “in truth” has in the Church of Christ been used to mean “within our schema of interpretation.”

Certainly, God desires certain things from those who would worship Him.  He is looking for those who will actually “proskuneo” Him spiritually.  He wants us to bow before Him sincerely and spiritually.