One of the most important claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (Mormons) is that God the Father and God the Son both appeared to Joseph Smith, the founding "prophet" of their religion in order to restore the true gospel to the world. The Mormon religion rests on this claim as well as others (validity of the Book of Mormon, restored priesthood, etc.). If Smith was not telling the truth about this encounter with the Father, then Mormonism is proven false.
Still, Smith claimed to have actually seen the person of God the Father. Let's look at his own words:
"When the light rested upon me, I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defined all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other--'this is my beloved Son. Hear him!'1
Amidst the many controversial topics that Mormonism teaches (God was once a man,2 God is married,3 a goddess mother,4 becoming gods,5 etc.), this teaching is equally problematic because the Bible clearly tells us that God the Father cannot be seen.
"I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen." (1 Tim. 6:13-16, KJV)
Let's examine this text closely because if it does tell us that the Father cannot be seen, then Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, contradicted the Bible, and Smith was not telling the truth. This means the Mormon would be left with a choice: believe the word of God or believe Joseph Smith. Let's examine 1 Tim. 6:16 in context.
Verses 13 and 14 are talking about how God gives life to all things and how Jesus was a witness to the truth before Pontius Pilate. Paul also urges Timothy to keep the commandment, the gospel as a whole, without spot, until Jesus returns. In verse 15 it says,
"which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords." The question here is, who is the "he" in "his time he shall shew"? Who is the only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords that is referred to in verse 16, of whom it is said "no man hath seen, nor can see"?
The context is dealing with the return of Christ and with God; and since, biblically, God is associated with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it must be one of these that cannot be seen. Let's continue.
Verse 16 says "Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen." Who is the one being spoken about in the first few words of this verse, "who only hath immortality"? The verse says that this "figure"--this "person"--has not been seen nor can be seen.
We know that Jesus was obviously seen since people walked with him. So it cannot be the the Son who is being spoken of here. The Holy Spirit appears as Wind (John 3:5); Fire (Acts 2:3), a Dove, (Matt. 3:16), etc., but never in the form of a person. So, the only one left would be a person of the Father. Therefore, the text would require that it is the Father who has not been seen nor can be seen.
Since we have verified that the Scriptures teach that God the Father cannot be seen, we must then conclude that Joseph Smith was not telling the truth about the first vision. This means that Joseph Smith's account of the first vision is wrong; and since the first vision is foundational in Mormonism, without it, Mormonism cannot be true.
Objection one: God was seen in the Old Testament.
This is a typical response from Mormons--to say that since God was seen in the Old Testament. They assert that it was the Father who was seen, and 1 Tim. 6:16 cannot restrict the Father's appearance.
First of all, the Mormon's position would impose a contradiction in the Bible. Furthermore, if the Mormons must assert there's a contradiction in the Bible in order to maintain their theology, then they are attacking God's Word as Satan did: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, 'Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden"?'” (Gen. 3:1).
Second, though there most definitely are occurrences of God being seen in the Old Testament, these are not manifestations of the Father. They are the appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ. Let's go over some of the verses.
- Gen. 17:1, "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless."
- Gen. 18:1, "Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day."
- Ex. 6:2-3, "God spoke further to Moses and said to him, I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I did not make myself known to them.'"
- Exodus 24:9-11, "Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank."
- Exodus 33:11, "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend . . . "
- Num. 12:6-8, "He [God] said, "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD . . . "
Now let's look at John 1:18 and John 6:46
- John 1:18, "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him."
- John 6:46, "Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father."
If God is a Trinity (one God in three persons--not three gods), then John 1:18 is not a problem because in John chapter one, John writes about the Word (Jesus) and God (the Father). In verse 14 it says the Word became flesh. In verse 18 it says no one has seen God. Since Jesus is the Word, God, then, refers to the Father.
This becomes clearer when we examine the words of Jesus in John 6:46 where he said that no one has ever seen the Father except the One who is from God. Therefore, Almighty God was seen in the Old Testament; but it was not the Father. It was Jesus before His incarnation. For a more in depth article on this see The Plurality Study
Objection two: The text of 1 Tim. 6:16 is corrupted.
There is absolutely no textual variation in 1 Tim. 6:16 in any copy of the New Testament documents that contain this verse. Therefore, it cannot be said that the text has been altered in any way. For verification of this fact, all you need to do is go to the Nestlé-Aland Greek New Testament (26 edition). You do not need to read Greek to be able to understand the textual apparatus that occurs at the bottom of each page. The English Textual Apparatus includes all variants of manuscripts of the New Testament documents with verse numbers in normal English form. There aren't any variations of any copy of this text. Therefore, the verse is accurate.
- 1. Berrett, William, The Restored Church, 14th edition, Deseret Book Company, 1969, p. 10.
- 2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345; Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 613-614; Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 345, Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 333.
- 3. Mormon Doctrine, p. 516.
- 4. Talmage, James, Articles of Faith, p. 443.
- 5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345-347, 354.