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Does “spirit and truth” really mean “emotion and sincerity”?

Although I disagree with this author’s interpretation of “spirit and truth,” I think he nails a problem that needs to be addressed. If he understood the nature of different kinds of emotion, I think he could have answered the question better.

You may have found yourself in this situation: You’re having a conversation or even a debate about worship, and you feel like you are making great points when all of a sudden the person you are speaking with plays the trump card.  It goes something like this:

“Well, I can see what you are saying, but I just don’t worship that way.  God wants us to worship in spirit and truth, and that type of worship just doesn’t move me.”

What presuppositions underlie that statement?  It’s become conventional wisdom that “spirit and truth” equates more or less directly to “emotion and sincerity.”  It’s not hard to see how you can make this jump.  After all, “spirit” sounds like something inside of me that has to do with my feelings (thus “emotion”) and truth surely means that I am to be true to myself in how I express my devotion to God (thus “sincerity).  It sounds plausible, but is this what Jesus meant when he used this phrase?  Did Jesus really mean that the Father is seeking those who would worship Him in “emotion and sincerity?”

Read the whole thing.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

4 Responses to Does “spirit and truth” really mean “emotion and sincerity”?

  1. Thanks for taking the time to read it and linking to it as well. I am curious about your comment regarding emotion, as my post was not at all opposed to emotion in worship. Rather the opposite actually, if you take a look at point 1. I’m just saying that isn’t what this particular text is talking about.

    I’m not offended or anything, just curious as to what you mean. My understanding of this text is by no means the final word, and I was hoping the post would stir up exactly this sort of discussion.

  2. Hi, Nicolas! Thanks for commenting! I really appreciate you addressing the question you did; I think you nailed the problem.

    I also recognize that you are not opposed to emotion (although, as you’ll see, it is that word “emotion” that I’m not thrilled about!).

    Here’s what I was referring to in my introductory comments above. I do actually think “spirit” in the text refers to man’s inner spirit rather than the Holy Spirit. Obviously pheuma could go either way, but I think contextually, with Christ’s de-emphasis of location and outward forms of worship in the passage, his focus is on the inner spirit of man.

    However, I agree with you that it doesn’t mean “emotion.” I would differentiate between man’s inner spirit, including his mind, will, and affections, and the outward “feelings” (or we might use terms like “passions,” “appetites,” or “emotions”). In other words, I teach that the passage is referring to affection for God like love, joy, adoration, thanksgiving, etc. as the essence of worship, but this does not mean that “emotion” (the physical feelings) are what it’s about.

    So I agree with your primary point that this is not about “emotion,” but I disagree that “spirit” does not refer to man’s inner spirit.

    This is the interpretation of “spirit and truth” I articulate in both my books.

    Does that make sense?

  3. Thanks, that is helpful. I really appreciate your explanation. I still see that interpretation as proving too much, as it would seem contextually to require that OT saints had a radically different experience regarding their “inner spirit,” something I wouldn’t agree with. But again, my word is by no means final, and I don’t think that the view I argued for is completely free of any weaknesses. That being said, I think Clark (and I’ve heard it presented well from others too) gives the best explanation of the context and terminology I’ve seen. BTW, I don’t agree with a lot of Clark’s application of the text, nor his specific prescriptions for New Covenant worship.

    Thanks for the interaction, and God bless!

  4. Hi, Nicolas. That’s a very good point. I would just counter by saying that your answer isn’t really a radically different experience, either. I believe that saints in the OT worshiped through the Holy Spirit on the (future) merits of Christ’s work in the same way we do; their worship wasn’t limited to the Temple only.

    For both of our interpretations, I think what Jesus is emphasizing is not a shift in the essence of worship (that has been and will always be the same), but rather the fact that since the physical Temple is no longer necessary in any respect (that’s the real difference between OT and NT), he is able to emphasize what the essence of worship has always been.

    But I could be wrong!

    Again, in the end I think we are both combating the same error, and so I am very thankful for your perspective.

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