Did Steven see God the Father in Acts 7:55-56?

by Luke Wayne
12/8/2019

Mormonism claims that their founder, Joseph Smith, saw both God the Father and Jesus Christ in visible, human forms when they allegedly appeared to him and called him to be a prophet. The Bible teaches, however, that God the Father cannot be seen. Thus, God's word denies even the possibility that Joseph Smith's experience, and thus his prophetic calling, was genuine. Faced with the biblical evidence of this (Such as 1 Timothy 6:16, John 1:18, 1 John 4:10-12, etc.), Mormons often try to get around it by pointing to passages in the Bible which they believe are exceptions to this rule. One especially common example is Steven's vision in Acts 7:55-56, but this passage does not claim what Mormons think it does, nor does it contradict the plain teaching of the rest of Scripture.

The Mormon Argument

The Mormon argument is based on the account of Steven's trial and execution in Acts 7. At the climax of the trial, we read of Steven:

"But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,'” (Acts 7:55-56).

When Mormon's read this, they imagine that Steven is describing two human figures, God and Jesus. They assume that "at the right hand of God" must mean that "God" is a figure with two literal, visible hands and that Jesus is standing by the hand on the right. Thus, the way they picture this passage, Steven must have seen God the Father. But is this really what Acts is describing? No. When we let the Bible speak for itself without smuggling in Mormon presuppositions, we discover that it is not.

The Glory of God

The first thing to note is that Acts 7:55 does not say that Steven saw "the Father" or even that he "saw God." It says that he saw "the Glory of God." This language is important. It harkens back to times when God's presence was visibly manifest before His people in the Old Testament. Take the encounter Israel had with God at Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy describes this instance, saying:

"You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice," (Deuteronomy 4:11-12).

They saw fire and clouds, but no form. Yet, Moses continues:

"And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives," (Deuteronomy 5:23-24).

God showed Israel His glory. They saw the "glory of God." Yet they did not see any form. What they saw was a shapeless presence veiled in cloud and fire. This language is used throughout the Torah. We read many statements like:

"Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle," (Exodus 40:35).

The glory of the Lord, His formless presence in the cloud, filled the tabernacle. We read the same language regarding the temple in Solomon's day:

"It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord," (1 Kings 8:10-11).

The cloud is equated with the glory of the Lord. The glory fills the room like smoke does. A human figure walking into a tent or building is not said to "fill" it. Seeing "the glory of God" does not imply seeing a distinct form of any kind, much less a human shape. The prophets speak this way as well. For example:

"then the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy," (Isaiah 4:5).

And again even in the New Testament:

"And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened," (Luke 2:9).

They did not see the figures of angels and another figure of the Glory of the Lord. They saw the figures of the angels while the glory of the Lord "shone around them." They saw the glory of God as formless light. So, when Acts says that Steven "saw the Glory of God," this does not imply that he saw the person of the Father. It does not imply that He saw any distinct shape or figure at all.

At His Right Hand

But Steven says that he saw Jesus "at the right hand" of God. Doesn't that imply that Steven saw God as a figure with hands? No, it does not. Earlier in Acts, the Apostles likewise claim to be eyewitnesses of Jesus exalted at the right hand of God:

"But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him,'” (Acts 5:29-32).

They testify here in court as witnesses to what they have seen with their own eyes, and they say they are witnesses of Jesus exalted to the "right hand" of God. But what did they see?

"And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight," (Acts 1:9).

They saw no human figure of God. They saw no physical hand. No, the "right hand" is a term for the Messiah's exalted status, not a woodenly literal description of His proximity to God's anatomy. Note the ways the phrase is often used elsewhere. In describing the Exodus, Isaiah writes:

"Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name, Who led them through the depths? Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not stumble," (Isaiah 63:12-13).

Isaiah is not picturing God as a human figure who detached His own arm and sent it down to hold hands with Moses on the side opposite his left. Both "arm" and "right hand" are figurative here. "At the right hand of Moses" is not meant to be a physical description. It is a relational one. Or consider when the Psalmist writes:

"I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken," (Psalm 16:9).

A literal, physical human form cannot be continually "set before me" (i.e., placed in front of me) and also be "at my right hand." If the figure is standing off to my right, he is not in front of me. If he is always in front of me, he is never at my right hand. This language is figurative. The author never imagined God as a body of flesh and bone literally standing in either of these locations. Similarly, when the Psalmist writes:

"Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand," (Psalm 17:7).

This is not saying that God is the savior of those who find where God is physically standing in human form and then seek refuge near the correct appendage. The language of "at your right hand" is figurative. Perhaps most importantly, when we read an actual prophecy of the Messiah's exaltation to the right hand of God, we read:

"The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet,'" (Psalm 110:1).

The Messiah here sits at the Lord's right hand. Yet, just a few verses later, the author says to the Messiah in the very same context:

"The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath," (Psalm 110:5).

The Messiah is the Lord's right hand, but the Lord is simultaneously at the Messiah's right hand. The terms "at my right hand" or "at your right hand" are not descriptions of physical locations in proximity to one another's arms and fingers. They are figurative terms of relationship. Thus, seeing Jesus exalted "at the right hand of God" in no way implies seeing a human figure called "God" and Jesus standing on a certain side of that figure's body. That is not what this language meant here.

Conclusion

Neither the statement that Steven saw the glory of God nor the statement that he saw Jesus at the right hand of God implies that Steven actually saw God the father. The focus is on the fact that Steven saw Jesus in heavenly exaltation, not that he saw God the Father as a man (or as anything else, for that matter). Nothing in this passage contradicts the plain teaching that God the Father has not and cannot be seen.