Can Man See God?

Can Man See God?

Can Man See God?

One of those most frequently brought forward is the apparent contradiction between John 1:18, where we read, “No man hath seen God at any time,” and Exodus 24:10, where we are told that Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel.” (There are also other passages in which men are said to have seen God.)

Now this certainly looks like a flat contradiction, and many besides skeptics have been puzzled by it. Indeed, one of the most devout men I ever knew was so puzzled by it that he left his place of business and came miles in great perturbation of spirit to ask me about it. The solution of this apparently unanswerable difficulty is in reality very simple.

We must remember first of all that two statements which in terms flatly contradict one another may both be absolutely true, for the reason that the terms are not used in the same sense in the two statements.

For example, if any man should ask me if I ever saw the back of my head, I might answer, “No, I never saw the back of my head,” and this statement would be strictly true. Or I might answer, “Yes, I have seen the back of my head,” and this statement would also be true, though it appears to flatly contradict the other.

The back of my head I never have seen, but more than once when looking into a mirror with another mirror back of me I have seen the back of my head. What I should answer depends entirely upon what the man means. If he means one thing I answer no, and that is true. If he means another thing I answer yes, and that is equally true.

But someone may object, “In the latter case you did not really see the back of your head. What you saw was a reflection of the back of your head in the mirror.”

But to this I would reply, “Neither do you see the back of anyone’s head when you are looking at it. What you see is the reflection of that person’s head upon the retina of your eye.”

But everyone knows what you mean when you use language in this common sense, everyday way. They know that when you say you saw the back of another man’s head you mean you saw a reflection of it upon the retina of your eye, and they know when you say you saw the back of your own head in the glass that you mean you saw the reflection of the back of your head in the glass.

In the one case you see the reflection, in the other case you see the reflection of the reflection, and in both cases what you actually see is the thing that was reflected.

Now this case is very much like this illustration. God in His eternal essence is invisible (“unseeable,” 1 Timothy 1:17). No man has seen Him, nor can we see Him (1 Timothy 6:16). He is spirit, not form (John 4:23–24). John tells us in the passage before us a profound and wondrous truth: “No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

That is, this invisible (unseeable) God is unfolded to us, interpreted to us (the word here translated “declared” is the word from which our word “exegesis” is derived), in the words and in the person of Jesus Himself. So fully is He declared, not only in the words of Jesus but in His person, that Jesus could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).

But this essentially invisible God has been pleased in His great grace to manifest Himself again and again in bodily form. Moses and the seventy elders saw such a manifestation of God (or a theophany) when they were in the mount. Isaiah saw such a manifestation in the temple (Isaiah 6:1), and in describing it he properly declared, “I saw the LORD.”

Job saw such a manifestation and was so humbled by the actual coming face to face with God Himself that he cried, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). It was God that was manifested in these theophanies, so it was God they saw.

We see then that both of these apparently flatly contradictory statements: “No man hath seen God at any time” and “Moses [and the others] saw God” are perfectly true.

Jesus Christ Himself was the crowning manifestation of God. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (that is, in bodily form, Colossians 2:9). So Jesus said to Philip with perfect propriety, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” The time is coming when all the pure in heart shall behold God permanently manifested in bodily form (Matthew 5:8).

The form in which Jesus existed in His preexistent state in the glory was the form of God (Philippians 2:6, see RV marg.). The Greek word which is translated “form” in this passage means “the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision—the external appearance” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament),so we are clearly taught that the external appearance of Jesus in His preexistent form was the external appearance of God, that is, that the invisible God, who is a spirit in His essential essence, manifests Himself in an external, visible form.



[1]Torrey, R. (1998, c1996). Difficulties in the Bible : Alleged errors and contradictions. Willow Grove: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing.

Can Man See God?