Response to LDS article at mormoninterpreter.com, can a man see god? 1 Timothy 6:16

by Matt Slick
7/14/2016

CARM's position that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a true church is clear to all who read its articles.  One of the arguments presented in support of this is that God the Father cannot be seen by mortal men as the Scriptures teach in John 6:46 and 1 Timothy 6:161. Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS church, said he saw God the Father in what is called the First Vision.  But, if Joseph Smith could not have seen the Father, then his First Vision is a lie, and the Mormon Church is proven to be false.

A response to this position is found at mormoninterpreter.com.  This pro-Mormon site is...

"a nonprofit, independent, peer-reviewed educational journal focused on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."2

In their article "Can a Man See God? 1 Timothy 6:16 in Light of Ancient and Modern Revelation,"3 James Stutz attempts to respond to CARM's position. I believe he failed to sufficiently answer my challenge. First of all, as you will see below, he tries to interpret Scripture with Scripture without sufficiently understanding the overall context and then concludes something contrary to 1 Timothy 6:16.  Furthermore, at one point he seems to contradict himself when he says that Paul taught the Father could not be seen.  Finally, he interprets the New Testament revelation in light of LDS theology and thereby contradicts the Bible.  

 Here is my response to his article.  But, Please note I will not respond to every point he presents.  Instead,  I will focus on the main issue at hand dealing with 1 Timothy 6:16 which, when speaking of the God the Father, says in the King James Version...

"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," (1 Timothy 6:16).

The importance of the First Vision in Mormonism

"Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” as it has come to be called, forms the foundation of Mormonism’s claim to be the “only true and living church” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:30). The importance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision to Latter-day Saint theology renders the First Vision a natural target for critics of the restored church."4

Mr. Stutz properly addresses the importance of the First Vision.  If the First Vision is false, then Mormonism is false.   Therefore, Mr. Stutz, because of his commitment to Mormonism, is forced to interpret 1 Timothy 6:16 in harmony with LDS revelation. After all, his article is titled "Can a Man See God? 1 Timothy 6:16 in Light of Ancient and Modern Revelation".  Notice "in Light of Ancient and Modern Revelation".  In other words, he assumes the validity of Mormonism and begins with the assumption that Joseph Smith actually saw God the Father. This is a logical fallacy called begging the question where a person assumes the validity of the thing he is trying to prove.  Mr. Stutz does this by assuming that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and then argues from Smith's statements as revealed in D&C, which you'll see later.  He then submits 1 Timothy 6:16's apparent contradiction to Smith's First Vision to that Latter-day interpretation, thereby contradicting the text. This is why Mr. Stutz says,

"Paul’s description here of God’s nature and qualities should be interpreted as poetic doxology, a genre of writing defined as liturgical expression of praise.10 It is questionable whether Paul meant this to be interpreted as a technically precise theological guide to God’s characteristics...Trinitarian critics of Mormonism who wish to employ 1 Timothy 6:16 will first need to explain why the passage incorrectly describes God the Father as the only person who “hath immortality”." [Underline Added]

A quick comment about this quote. I may be misreading it, but I suspect that it contains a typo which I have underlined. Did he mean to say "correctly" not "incorrectly"?  If so, it would then say,

"Trinitarian critics of Mormonism who wish to employ 1 Timothy 6:16 will first need to explain why the passage correctly describes God the Father as the only person who “hath immortality”."

My Trinitarian position is that the passage correctly describes the Father as the only one having immortality. Of course, the context is key. Let's take a look.

Immortality

Given the possible "corrected" version of the quote, I see it as an insufficient representation of the issue. The text under examination and the way I use it in my argument deal with mortal men not being able to see the person of God the Father.  But, Mr. Stutz begins his analysis by focusing on "immortality" and says that there are others who also have immortality such as the person of Christ himself and how "Paul himself notes that mortal men will also be resurrected into immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53-55)."5 He then concludes his thought by saying...

"God the Father, frankly, is not the only person who “hath immortality.”

But, in 1 Timothy 6:16, the verse in question, it says when speaking of God the Father...

"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 honor and power everlasting. Amen."[underline added]

So, through his logic, he has now directly contradicted the Scripture.  Why does he do this?  It is because he rests his belief in LDS "Latter-day revelation", a faulty lens through which he interprets the Bible.

Paul still proves that Joseph Smith's First Vision account is false. Perhaps Mr. Stutz does not realize that the apostle knew Jesus was resurrected and was in an immortal, glorified state.  Paul is obviously not contradicting that truth in reference to God the Father in 1 Timothy 6:16.  In addition, it appears that Mr. Stutz has failed to properly consider that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:53-55 that people will be resurrected to glorified bodies and would then "have immortality".  This is important because when it speaks of God the Father having immortality it means he does not have the capability of dying. Jesus had that capability as do we. However, in the future we will be glorified and will no longer have that ability which is why the Bible says that the "mortal will put on immortality," (1 Cor. 15:54). Mr. Stutz is simply wrong when he directly contradicts God's word.  Finally, it is in this context that Paul tells us that the Father dwells in unapproachable light whom no man has seen or can see.

"Dwelling in the light"

Mr. Stutz then turns his attention to the phrase "dwelling in the light" and sights numerous biblical references where God's presence is shielded by unapproachable light or where God manifests in a "pillar of cloud".  In my opinion, Mr. Stutz  properly represents the issue when he states that this is for the protection of people who would be destroyed by the very presence of God's unshielded glory. He goes on to say...

"In 1 Timothy 6:16, immediately after referring to the unapproachable light that God dwells in, Paul notes that “no man hath seen nor can see” God the Father. The connection between these two statements is obvious: No man has seen nor can see God the Father because God dwells in light (God’s kabod6) that is unapproachable by fallen, mortal humans." [Underline added]

Did Mr. Stutz just contradict himself?  He says that "Paul notes that 'no man hath seen nor can see' God the Father."  In other words, Mr. Stutz is saying that Paul is saying that God the Father cannot be seen by mortal humans.  Yes, that is correct.  that is exactly what Paul was saying.  But, Mr. Stutz then goes on to say,

"The reason God is unseen by mortal men is that men are not worthy to behold his face. Rather than describing an immaterial God who is in inherently unable to be seen by physical eyes, Paul is describing a God who theoretically can be seen but who is presently not seen."

Really?  And how does someone become worthy to see God?  By his own effort and sanctification?  This issue is difficult for me to resist.  So, I digress a bit in order to quote LDS sources:

  • “Latter-day Saints believe in this progression in eternity until, eventually, we become worthy through knowledge, wisdom, humility, and obedience, to be like God, and then to have the privilege of being made equal in power, might and dominion (D&C. 76:95), and to possess all that the Father hath (D&C. 84:38) as members of ‘the Church of the First-born’" (10th LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., The Way to Perfection, p. 9, underline added).
  • “The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fulness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him” (True to the Faith, 2004, p. 77, underline added).

I raise this issue because in Mormon theology worthiness to become gods and dwell with their god is achieved through self-effort, not the sacrifice of Christ alone.  It is yet another serious error in Mormonism - which I do not have time here to fully address.

Nevertheless, by what authority does he make his statement:  "Rather than describing an immaterial God who is in inherently unable to be seen by physical eyes, Paul is describing a God who theoretically can be seen but who is presently not seen"?  Simply offering an unqualified assertion does not make it true. His lens of LDS revelation again blurs the clear fact that God the Father "only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see," (1 Timothy 6:16).

Mr. Stutz then says, that "Relative to humans, God is invisible only in practice, not an absolute reality."  He ends his paragraph with that statement and does not clarify what he meant by it. I found this to be problematic and completely insufficient as it leaves the door open to confusion.  What does he mean when he says that God is invisible in practice but not in reality? 

“…Which No Man Can Approach Unto.”

In this section of his response, Mr. Stutz begins by saying...

"Is it possible for God to strengthen or transfigure a person such that he or she could penetrate the kabod of God and be sustained in his presence? There are important instances in the scriptures in which this exact thing has taken place."

He then goes on to cite references where Moses saw the face of God (ref. Exodus 33:11) and that people "saw the God of Israel," (Exodus 24:9-11).  In Exodus 33:7-11 he briefly recounts how God gave Moses instruction in the tabernacle and how God would speak to Moses "face-to-face".  He references Moses' encounter with God in Numbers 14:14, Jacob's encounter with God in Genesis 32:30, Isaiah's encounter in Isaiah 6:1-7, and also Hebrews 11:27 where it says that Moses, by faith, saw him who was invisible.  He quotes LDS Scripture about Joseph Smith seeing God and how Jesus appeared in light "above the brightness of the sun," (D&C 110:1-3).  He then addresses John 6:46 where in my article I use it to further show that the Father cannot be seen.

John 6:46

Mr. Stutz quotes me as saying,

"Jesus [said], 'not that any man has seen the Father' [in] John 6:46, so they are seeing the pre-incarnate Jesus, never the Father."7

By way of clarification, John 6:46 is where Jesus says,

  • KJV, "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father."
  • NASB, "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father."
  • ESV, "not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father."

Jesus is referring to all of the Old Testament appearances of God and says no one has ever seen the Father - except himself. We know this is the case because Jesus was sent from the Father (John 4:34; 5:24; 6:38).  In addition, the perfect tense "has seen" deals with the past, not the present, and not the future.therefore, all of the appearances of God in the Old Testament were not God the Father. However, we know that God Almighty was seen (Exodus 6:2-3) but it was not the Father (John 6:46).  Logically we would say that the appearances of God in the Old Testament are the pre-incarnate Christ.

Mr. Stutz goes on to say,

"...that most Latter-day Saints would likely agree with Slick that the theophanies of the Old Testament are primarily of the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ."

He then refers to the LDS Doctrine and Covenants 67:11 which says, "For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God."

Begging the Question

But this is exactly the problem. You see, citing LDS Doctrine and Covenants proves nothing. We know that the First Vision asserts that Joseph Smith saw God the Father. But we also know that the Bible teaches that the Father cannot be seen (1 Timothy 6:16; John 6:46). For a Mormon to assume the validity of things written by Joseph Smith, who contradicted Paul about seeing the Father, does nothing to establish the problem. You see, if Joseph Smith lied about seeing God the Father, then Doctrine and Covenants is not Scripture. The issue at hand is whether or not Joseph Smith saw God the Father, not what the D&C says. If Smith lied, then D&C means nothing. Therefore, you can't introduce D&C as a validation since it is to beg the question by assuming the validity of D&C, to begin with. It is a logical fallacy. The issue is whether or not Smith contradicted the Bible about seeing God the Father, not what he later wrote about himself in his so-called scripture later on where he, so to speak, covered his tracks. Criminals will always justify themselves when cross-examined. So too, when Joseph Smith penned the Doctrine and Covenants, which he claimed were from God, he included self-vindication in D&C 67:11. Therefore, Mr. Stutz referencing the words of Joseph Smith does not help his case at all.

Nevertheless, Mr. Stutz says that,

"These modern-day scriptures comport very well with the biblical teaching that man cannot see God unless quickened or protected from God’s kabod...Latter-day Saints can easily understand how the words in 1 Timothy 6:16 do not contradict Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The same principle can be applied to John 1:18, which notes that “no man hath seen God at any time.” Taken together with the entirety of scripture, ancient and modern, this passage clearly is referring to “unaided” man."8

But, he has falsely concluded that the Bible teaches you can't see God unless quickened by the Spirit of God or protected from God's magnificent glory. His article failed to prove his point.  The Bible does not say that God the Father can be seen if a person is quickened by the Spirit.  Nor does it say he can see God the Father is protected from God's glory.

Conclusion

But this is exactly the problem. You see, citing LDS Doctrine and Covenants proves nothing. We know that the First Vision asserts that I have been told by many Mormons that Joseph Smith was enabled to see God the Father because he was special and "quickened by the Spirit of God." But, as I've already stated, this is begging the question. Latter-day Saint revelation is exactly the thing that is in question, especially since it contradicts biblical revelation not only in 1 Timothy 6:16, but in many other areas of the Bible as well (i.e., Psalm 90:2; Malachi 3:6; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8; 45:5; Romans 3:28; 5:1, et. al.).

Mr. Stutz has failed to see the continuity between the Old and New Testament teachings that God the Father cannot be seen and that actual appearances of God in the Old Testament are of the Son. Furthermore, he directly contradicts 1 Timothy 6:16 which says the Father dwells in unapproachable light whom no man has seen or can see. And finally, he imposes Mormon scriptures upon the biblical text so as to reinterpret it in harmony with LDS theology and escape its difficulty. 

Mr. Stutz has not refuted my argument.

  • 1. http://carm.org/can-father-be-seen   and   http://carm.org/did-joseph-smith-see-god-father
  • 2. mormoninterpreter.com
  • 3. mormoninterpreter.com/can-a-man-see-god-1-timothy-616-in-light-of-ancient-and-modern-revelation
  • 4. ibid.
  • 5. ibid
  • 6. kabod is Hebrew for cloud, light, glory
  • 7. This quote is extracted from my video located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkYSQoPf0tsone
  • 8. imormoninterpreter.com/can-a-man-see-god-1-timothy-616-in-light-of-ancient-and-modern-revelation
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.