by Luke Wayne
A foundational claim in Mormonism is that their founder, Joseph Smith, was called as a young man when both God the Father and Jesus Christ are said to have appeared to him. If this event did not happen, Joseph Smith is not a prophet and the Mormon religion is undone. Yet, biblically, this claim is highly problematic for the simple reason that the Bible teaches that God the Father cannot be seen. Confronted with this, Mormons often try to get around it by pointing to instances in the Bible which they believe are exceptions to this rule. One of the examples of this which at first glance seems the most compelling is Daniel 7:9-14. Considered in context, however, this passage is not in any way contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. God the Father has not and can not be seen by men.
A Summary of the Plain Biblical Teaching
Before turning to Daniel 7, it can be helpful to have in mind the straightforward claims found in some for the key texts on this issue. The gospel of John, for example, is especially explicit, opening with the claim:
"No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him," (John 1:18, KJV).
No one has seen Him. Not at any time. Ever. The language here is absolute. The term "God" in the phrase "no one has seen God at any time" is being used to refer specifically to the Father, as can be seen in the clarifying statement that the Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has "declared" (or "revealed") Him. The Father is unseen and is revealed by the Son, just as Paul says in Colossians 1:15 where he describes Jesus as the "image of the invisible God." God the Father is invisible. He cannot be seen. The Son appears before men and makes Him known. John clarifies this further elsewhere. Jesus Himself says, for example:
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father," (John 6:44-46).
Jesus plainly identifies Himself as the one who is from the Father. He points out that no one has seen the Father, not even those taught by the Father who come to Jesus. Only Jesus Himself, the one who came from God and is the unique Son of God, has seen the Father. No mere man has ever seen the Father. Even beyond his gospel, John continued to affirm this, saying things like:
"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us," (1 John 4:10-12).
Again, in this particular verse the term "God" is being used specifically of the Father, as we can see when it says that God "sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." In this context, he again affirms "No one has seen God at any time." Paul, likewise affirms the same things in even stronger words, describing the Father as the one:
"who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen," (1 Timothy 6:16).
In these and like verses, the New Testament authors make it abundantly clear that God the Father has not and cannot be seen.
Does Daniel Contradict This?
The savvy Mormon, however, will stop you here and argue, "but didn't Daniel see God the Father? What about Daniel 7?" And so you turn there and read the following words:
"I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, And the books were opened," (Daniel 7:9-10).
Daniel clearly sees a distinct, visible figure with describable features sitting on a throne. This figure, we are told, is the "Ancient of Days," which is obviously a title for God. What's more, we read just a few verses later:
"I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed," (Daniel 7:13-14).
The figure on the throne, the "Ancient of Days," is distinct from the "Son of Man" who we know to be God the Son (i.e., Jesus). Thus, the "Ancient of Days" seems to be a reference to God the Father here. So, if Daniel sees the Ancient of Days, isn't this an open and shut case of someone seeing God the Father? Actually no, it isn't. Not if you read the whole chapter. Nothing that Daniel "sees" in this chapter is literally there. The very first line is:
"In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it," (Daniel 7:1).
This is a dream, not a physical encounter with God the Father in a real-life form. In the dream, Daniel sees human kingdoms through the ages, but he does not see them as actual kingdoms. He sees them symbolically as animals and beasts. These were not pictures of things but rather symbols that metaphorically represented them in bizarre, dreamy imagery that required interpretation. When Daniel saw a winged lion, he wasn't literally seeing Babylon. What he saw was an image that prophetically and symbolically represented Babylon. Likewise, the "Ancient of Days" figure which Daniel saw on a burning throne was not literally God the Father. It was a symbol that represented the Father's judgment on that nation represented by the fourth beast. Indeed, just as the angel has to tell Daniel that the beasts represent kingdoms, he likewise has to tell Daniel that the "Ancient of Days" figure represents God's final judgment on those kingdoms. Daniel did not automatically know this. Even the term "Ancient of Days" is used nowhere else in Scripture. It was a symbolic figure that appears in Daniel's dream, not an actual image of the Father (much less a literal appearance.) Daniel did not actually see the Father, and the text is very clear about that. It was a highly metaphorical dream.
Joseph Smith, however, did not claim that he had a dream where a figure represented God the Father's future judgment on the nations. No, Joseph claimed to literally see God the Father in a real-life, physical form. That is something that the Bible is quite clear has not and cannot happen. The claims in Joseph Smith's first vision make it absolutely certain that he was not a true prophet of God.