The following study is an interesting examination of theophanies. A theophany is an appearance of God. God appears in the Old Testament in different ways: as an angel of the Lord (Acts 7:30-32, Exodus 3:2, Judges 2:1), apparently in physical form (Gen. 3:8, Exodus 24:9-11), in visions and dreams (Num. 12:6-8), and in flame (Judges 13:20-21). However, there are verses that say that you can't see God: Exodus 33:20, John 1:18). If this is so, then is there a contradiction in the Bible? No, there isn't.
Study the following verses, read them in context in the Bible, and see if you can figure out what is going on. If you can't, continue reading and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
These verses are taken from the New American Standard Bible. Please note that "LORD" is equivalent to YHWH, Yahweh, and Jehovah which is the name of God.
Plurality of God:
- Gen. 1:26, "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..."
- Gen. 19:24, "Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven."
- Amos 4:10-11, "‘I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, and I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,' declares the LORD. ‘I overthrew you as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah . . . '"
- Isaiah 44:6, "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides me...‘" See also, Isaiah 48:16.
Appearances of God
- 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..."
- Acts 7:2, "And he [Stephen] said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran..."
Can't see God:
- Exodus 33:20, "But He [God] said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!'"
- 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."
- 1 Tim. 6:16, "[God] who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see."
- John 6:46, "Not that any man has seen the Father except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father."
- John 8:58, "Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."
- Exodus 3:14, "And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM'; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'"
- Zech. 12:10, "And I [God] will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son . . . "
It is evident above that God was seen. But, considering the "Can't-see-God" verses, some would understandably argue that people have not seen God, otherwise, there would be a contradiction in the Bible. A possible explanation for this is that people were seeing visions or dreams or the Angel of the LORD (Num. 22:22-26, Judges 13:1-21). But the problem is that the verses cited above do not say vision, dream, or Angel of the LORD. They say that people saw God (Exodus 24:9-11) and that God was seen and that He appeared as God Almighty (Ex. 6:2-3).
At first, this is difficult to understand. God Almighty was seen (Ex. 6:2-3) which means it was not the Angel of the Lord, for an angel is not God Almighty, and at least Moses saw God and not in a vision or dream as the LORD Himself attests in Num. 12:6-8. If these verses mean what they say, then we naturally assume we have a contradiction. Actually, the contradiction exists in our understanding and not in the Bible--which is always the case with alleged Biblical contradictions.
The solution is simple. All you need to do is accept what the Bible says. If the people of the OT were seeing God, the Almighty God, and Jesus said that no one has ever seen the Father (John 6:46), then they were seeing God Almighty but not the Father. It was someone else in the Godhead. I suggest that they were seeing the Word before He became incarnate. In other words, they were seeing Jesus (compare John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14 above).
If God is a Trinity, then John 1:18 is not a problem either because in John, chapter one, John writes about the Word (Jesus) and God (the Father). In verse 14, it says that the Word became flesh. In verse 18, it says that no one has seen God. Since Jesus is the Word, God then refers to the Father, and the apparent contradiction is easily resolved--especially when this is examined in the light of Jesus' words in John 6:46 where He said that no one has ever seen the Father. Therefore, Almighty God was seen but not the Father. It was Jesus before His incarnation. There is more than one person in the Godhead, and the doctrine of the Trinity must be true.
This is an interesting study to present to Jehovah's Witnesses. Since they deny the Trinity, they have to do a lot of fancy talking to explain away the theophanies. I've never yet met a J. W. who could adequately explain these verses.