What might it mean to worship in spirit and truth? Is Jesus talking about sincere worship, worship from the heart and not just from the lips? Is He referring to worship that is not restricted to a particular place? Is He saying that we can’t worship in our own power or in our own way but that our worship must conform to the contours of God’s maturing revelation?
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24, NKJV).
A textual variant has snuck in to the canon of Scripture without manuscript support. It’s not a variant we find in our more literal English translations. Where we do find it is in conversation. We hear it from the pulpit, the platform, and in prayer. It is propagated not in the scriptorium but by oral tradition.
What is the variant in question? It’s found in the account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus is challenging her redemptive-historical understanding of worship. The woman declares: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:20). Jesus speaks of an hour when worship of the Father will be neither on that mountain nor in Jerusalem. His bottom line is this: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
In the Greek text one preposition governs spirit and truth. It is not in spirit and in truth. It is in spirit and truth. That suggests that spirit and truth are inseparable for the worship of God and characteristic of worship in the climax of redemptive history. True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.