9. If No Man Has Seen God, Do The Scriptures Contradict?
The Bible tells us that No one has ever seen God (John 1:18, 5:37; 1 John 4:12). God is invisible to us (Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17). God dwells in unapproachable light where he cannot be seen (1 Timothy 6:16). However, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God does not necessarily hide himself completely from us. There are several individuals throughout the Bible to whom God has shown himself to in various, tangible forms – whether showing his back side, veiling his glory in a cloud or a pillar of fire, appearing in the form of an angel or in the “likeness” of a man (i.e., Jesus) See: ( The Difference Between Manifestation And Incarnation). Mortal man has never seen God in his true form, only a comprehensible “likeness” (Numbers 12:8), and we are said to be made in his “likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
Now let’s consider several other passages which could potentially appear to be conflicting statements, indicating God was seen by man (Gen 5:22, 24, 6:9, 12:7, 17:1, 18:1; Exodus 6:2-3, 24:9-11; Num 12:6-8; Acts 7:2; John 5:19, 6:46).
One potential source for this idea is found in the statements made about those who walked with God. For example, “Enoch walked with God” (Genesis 5:22, 24) and “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). But even these passages do not necessarily imply that Enoch and Noah physically took walks with God. The “walk” in these passages should probably be understood in a figurative sense, in other words Enoch and Noah lived faithful lives.
In a similar way, we are told in the New Testament to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). This walking refers to living a life that pleases God (Eph 2:10, 5:2; Col 1:10; 1Th 2:12, 4:1). If used in this sense, Adam and Eve did “walk” with God prior to sin because there was no fracture in their relationship with God. However, most people aren’t thinking of it in the figurative sense because this passage mentions them walking in the cool of the day, so they aren’t thinking of it in the figurative sense.
There are some theologians who suggest that the idea of men seeing God or God “walking” refers to a theophany—an appearance of God in a tangible, human form (a man-made theory, one of several; “incarnation” – God became a man literally, or “theophany” – the visible appearance of God to man “literally”, both are misleading, non-biblical and should be avoided). Theologians who hold this view often point to Genesis 18, where God is said to “appear” as one of three (seemingly human) visitors to Abraham. But was it actually God himself that was ACTUALLY SEEN with the physical eyes of those to whom he APPEARED. This either proves that the Bible at times contradicts itself or there must be a better, yet sound, biblical supported explanation in order for the Bible to remain true and yet in harmony.
Let’s first remind ourselves that God’s angels are actually God’s “messengers” and often found speaking for God as if God was speaking himself. When the three angels appeared to Abraham it says: “The LORD appeared to Abraham.” (Genesis18:1). When his grandson, Jacob, wrestled with the angel he said: “I saw God face to face” (Genesis 32:30). And when “the angel of the LORD” spoke to Moses from the burning bush it reads as if it was God himself: “When the LORD saw that he (Moses) had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush” (Exodus 3:4, compare Exodus 3:2)
In Genesis 18:1, the word “APPEARED” does not strictly demand that a person was actually looking at God himself in person literally. This word “RAAH” which in this case was translated as appeared also means to PERCEIVE or to UNDERSTAND. So however this appearance came to Abraham, Abraham rightly PERCEIVED that it was indeed God.
NOTE: If you read Genesis 18:1-2 carefully, the Lord appeared to Abraham, but it clearly does not specify how or in what manner God appeared (possibly Abraham was day dreaming or was it a vision (in his thought), after all it was in the heat of the day and he was just sitting around in his tent), and THEN Abraham SAW these THREE MEN standing by his tent, again they were what he “perceived” to be men.
2. And he lift up his eyes and LOOKED, and, lo (or perceiving), three men stood by him: and WHEN he SAW them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground.
This sounds like God (Yahweh) was having some type of interaction with Abraham (probably from within- in that the Almighty was revealing himself to Abraham). I say this because after this occurred Abraham THEN lifted UP his EYES and this was when Abraham began to LOOK and perceive what HE BELIEVED were three MEN standing before (by) his tent. So Abraham got up and ran to greet these three men PERCEIVING that this was what God wanted him to do.
Important Notice: It’s important to note that this “appearance” of the LORD did not follow Abraham out to meet these three men, nor does the Bible indicate Abraham left God (this “appearance” of the LORD) standing alone at his tent when Abraham went out to greet the three man, (That would be a total of 4 men).
In other words, Genesis 18:3-5 appears to be a kind of FLEECE that Abraham puts before the Lord; (in essence he his thinking in his mind) “if you have sent these three men to me let me show my hospitality and if they receive it, then I will know that you Lord have sent them and you have come to your servant Abraham.”
“And they said, So do, as you have said.” Here we can see Abraham getting confirmation that indeed this was a move of God.
Other people have also seen angels (most unaware – Heb 13:2) and claimed that they had seen God himself. But Jesus said NO MAN has ever SEEN God. 1 Timothy 6:14-16 teaches us that man CANNOT SEE God. The Bible also teaches us that God is NOT a MAN nor is God the Son of MAN (which totally debunks the false incarnation teachings that God was both “fully” man and “fully” God at the same time). So whatever was seen they were certainly not looking at God in person (nor looking at any “real” humans, for lack of better wording).
So in Genesis 18:1, it is better understood that God was working through this image which appeared as a man (but most likely an angel) and the angel was speaking “in the name of” God (or with the AUTHORITY of God), so this image was called “God”. This is not unusual, the same was true when Jesus was here on Earth (Mt 28:18; John 5:43, 12:49-50, 14:10) (See Also: Understanding The Phrase “In the Name of..” and In The Name Of).
There are other examples.
In the book of Judges 13:20-25, a husband and his wife see an ANGEL of the Lord, but yet they still SAY or claim that they have actually SEEN GOD. However, they did NOT actually SEE Almighty God HIMSELF, but rather they saw an ANGEL OF the Lord God Almighty.
20. “For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.
21. But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD.
22. And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have SEEN God.
Now if we were to take this verse out of context and the person reading this one verse alone and apart from the rest of God’s word, then certainly one might be convinced that people have actually SEEN God. But when this verse is left in the context of where it is found, it becomes very clear that Manoah nor his wife actually SAW God at all, but rather what they saw was a ANGEL of God.
In Genesis 48:1-4 Jacob tells his son Joseph that the Lord God Almighty APPEARED to him when he was in Luz. And then we read of this appearance in Genesis 28:10-22. It is here we find that the appearance of God to Jacob was actually in a DREAM.
10. “And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
11. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12. And he DREAMED, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon you lay, to you will I give it, and to your seed;
14. And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be BLESSED.
15. And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places whither you go, and will bring you again into this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of.
16. And Jacob AWOKE out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
17. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
18. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
19. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
20. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying , If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
21. So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:
22. And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that you shall give me I will surely give the tenth unto you.”
In other words, the phrase “appeared…” Does not automatically mean that an invisible God literally appeared in a physical form. God can appear to us in a dream, in a vision, by sending an angel, by an audible voice, or by his Holy Spirit abiding within us.
The Hebrew word that is translated as “appeared” is “RAAH” which has a variety of meanings. The root meaning of this Hebrew word is to SEE, either literally or figuratively. This SEEING can be directly, by implication, or by causation. The seeing can be by perceiving, observing, discerning, get acquainted with and to understand. Seeing can also be by feeling. Seeing can be by ascertaining; For example, people saw that God was WITH a prophet by the works that were done by his hand, but what they actually SAW was the WORKS of the Lord working through the hands of the prophet of God.
Therefore when the Lord APPEARED to Abraham and THEN AFTER Abraham lifted UP his eyes and LOOKED, then Abraham SAW THREE MEN does not mean without fail that one of these three MEN (or ANGELS) was Almighty God HIMSELF APPEARING as a human being.
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