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At John 1:18 it says,

"No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."

Also, John 4:24 states,

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth."

Genesis 17:1 says

the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "I am God Almighty."

The new testaments verses there say that God is a spiritual being or God by His very nature is spirit.

How do we reconcile Genesis 17:1-2 with John 1:18 and John 4:24?

Did Abram see God?

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Really, you have answered your own question. God appeared in Spirit to Abraham, not by sight, but to faith.

And Abraham believed God - and it was evaluated to him unto righteousness Genesis 15:6

If Abraham saw (anything) with his eyes, where was the faith ? And why would he be evaluated unto righteousness if he had seen ?

As you say :

No man hath seen God at any time John 1:18 KJV

God is a Spirit John 4:24 KJV

And God appeared unto Abraham.

Stephen enlarges on this just before they stoned him :

The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, Acts 7:2 KJV

Right at the beginning, before he had built any altars, before he knew a thing and before he had been obedient in any way ...

The God of glory appeared.

Thus began his journeyings. Later, there was a delay. It was clearly something to do with nature - his father seems to have got involved and seems to have organised the family. But they stopped short. Progressed no further.

But that initial appearance remained with Abraham and urged him onwards to Canaan. And afterwards, it was God's initiative, all the way. God appeared. God spoke. Over and over.

But from other scriptures we know that this was not a physical appearance. Though one time three men draw near and Abraham says 'my lord'. But I deliberately put a small letter for only when the men depart (and become two men when they reach Lot in Sodom) only then does Abraham converse with the Lord.

These are mysteries. This is spiritual.

As you say, God is a Spirit.

And the God of glory appeared unto Abraham.

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    Right, God did indeed appear to Abram but it was a "physical" appearance. Abram physically saw God with his own eyes. This is confirmed at Genesis 17:22. Keil and Delitzsch OT Commnetary. Jehovah now appeared to Him again, when he was ninety-nine years old, twenty-four years after his migration, and thirteen after the birth of Ishmael, to give effect to the covenant and prepare for its execution. Having come down to Abram in a visible form (Genesis 17:22)," Now, I knew this before reading the commentary. At Genesis 16:7 who appeared to Hagar? Read vs7-13. Connect vs10 with vs2 at Genesis 17. – Mr. Bond Jan 10 at 21:43
  • @Mr Bond Perhaps those visible appearances of God (theophanies) are a condescension whereby the limitless divine is made available to temporal senses. Exodus 33:20 "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." but his backside was shown. – Mike Borden Jan 10 at 23:25
  • Mr. Borden, I'm going to address what you said by way of adding to what I posted because we are limited by just adding comments, so bear with me. – Mr. Bond Jan 11 at 0:05
  • @Mr.Bond There are two covenants. Hagar represents one of those covenants. That covenant was administered by angels. Thus, Hagar saw an angel. Abraham saw God himself, in spirit and by faith. – Nigel J Jan 11 at 7:21
  • Nigel, is this your own interpretation, or is this one that's often presented by biblical scholars, church fathers,etc? (Your reasoning chain does sound very much like some things I've heard discussed at bible studies .....) – KorvinStarmast Jan 11 at 19:13
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How do we reconcile Genesis 17:1-2 with John 1:18 and John 4:24?

I answered a similar question, though it has now been closed. Jesus Christ was concealed in Old Testament why? - Biblical Hermeneutics SE.

Here's part of it:


The Father was revealed in the New Testament:

  • Matthew 11:27 "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."
  • John 1:18 "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."
  • John 5:37 "And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form."
  • John 6:46 "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father."
  • John 17:25-26 "O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

Jesus was "YHWH", the God of the Old Testament:

  • John 1:1-3,14 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. … All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
  • Ephesians 3:9 "and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ"
  • Colossians 1:16 "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him."
  • 1Corinthians 10:1-4 "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ."
  • Compare Isaiah 44:6 with Revelation 2:8: "… I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God." with "… These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life"
  • Compare Exodus 3:14 with John 8:57-59: "And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”" with "*Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” with "Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by."

In the last incident, note that Jesus's listeners understood what he meant; they were going to stone him for blasphemy, claiming to be the God of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament tells of multiple instances of God dealing directly with humans.

John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, and other New Testament passages explain that the God of the Old Testament, known as “I AM”, or “JHWH”, was in fact Jesus, before his incarnation as a human being.

When he says that no one has seen God, John is not talking about God (YHWH), but about God the Father.

God the Father never appeared to humans, and was mostly unknown during Old Testament times.

John 1:18 goes on to say that the Father was at last fully revealed to mankind by Jesus, “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”.

Did Abram see God?

Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. — Genesis 18:1–3

Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way. — Genesis 18:16

Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. — Genesis 18:22

Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. … — Genesis 19:1

Yes he did: "the LORD appeared to him", "three men", "My Lord".

Two of the "men" were angels, but the one that remained with Abraham was "the LORD", the all upper-case indicating the Hebrew word YHWH.

He saw God, but the person he saw, the YHWH of the Old Testament, was Jesus before his incarnation. It wasn't until over 2000 years later that Jesus revealed the existence of the Father.

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In verse 18, John says,

“no man has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

The word “ἑώρακεν” that is translated here as ‘seen’ in most of the English translations is third person singular of “ὁράω” which, according to Thayer, has three basic definitions. First, it means to see with the eyes. Secondly, it means to see with the mind, to know, to perceive. Thirdly, it means to become acquainted with through pragmatic experience (The 1981 New Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon, p 451).

If John is arguing from the first definition, this needs to be understood in the light of pragmatic Old Testament examples. We know from the many examples of theophonic manifestations in the Old Testament that God has repeatedly presented himself to man in a number of ways. At times, God availed himself only to man’s auditory senses. He spoke to Adam, to Cain, to Noah, to the Hebrew patriarchs, to Moses, to the prophets, and to others. Sometimes he visited himself upon man in the form of dreams or visions as to the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah chapter six. Other times, he appears as objects such as the cloud or the pillar of fire that went before Israel in the wilderness. Still, there are other times when he visited man in human form. There are some eight accounts of this type of theophany found in the Old Testament.

The word ‘theophany’ is derived from two Greek words, “Θεὸς” meaning God and “φωνή” meaning sound or voice. A theophany then is a hearing of the voice of God. Theophonic experiences in scripture assume many forms, yet all seem to have a singular function. They communicate the will of God to man. They provide man with a point of reference that man can comprehend. In so doing, God is demonstrating compassion for the limitations of the human mind to understand things that are beyond his ability to comprehend. In some theophonic experiences, God will accommodate only man’s sense of hearing. One only heard the voice of God. God speaking to Noah in Genesis 6 is just such an example. Another is Genesis 12 where God spoke to Abraham. Sometimes, these theophanies would be accompanied by some type of material phenomenon such as fire, wind, or earthquake as in the cases of Moses in Exodus 3, the nation of Israel in Exodus 13 and Elijah in 1Kings 19. Each of these accompanying natural phenomena would appeal to a broader range of physical senses as God sometimes chose to speak in these things. Still, at other times, God chose to assume an anthropomorphic form as in Genesis 18 when he appeared to Abraham in the company of two angels, all in human form. For further reference, one might examine these examples of anthropomorphic theophanies. What appears in each of these is the repeated phrase “The Angel of Jehovah” 22:15-18; 31:11-13; 48:15-16, Joshua 5:13-15, Judges 6:11-24, and Judges 13:15-23.

In each example where the phrase “The Angel of Jehovah” is used, God is represented as the messenger of Jehovah. The phrase “The Angel of Jehovah” is only used to describe the spokesman of deity. This term is never applied to anyone else in scripture. He is always functioning as the spokesman of the divine triad. In each case, this is deity appearing in human form. In every example, those to whom The Angel of Jehovah appeared always understood, at some point, that he was God and they honored him as such. The Angel of Jehovah will always assume divine authority in each of these Old Testament exemplars. He will always be seen serving as the agent of communication, hence the term “The Angel of Jehovah.” He is angelic not in nature but in function. In nature, he is God. In function, he is the messenger in the triadic unity.

If “ἑώρακεν” in verse 18 is to be understood as an intellectual limitation, this would seem to fit better with the closing statement of this prologue. “He has explained him.” The Greek word “ἐξηγήσατο” means to set forth in detail, to set forth in language, to make known or to reveal (George V. Wagram’s Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 1983). This is the etymology of our word ‘exegete’. In other words,

“No man has understood or comprehended God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has EXPLAINED him.”

The Logos presents God to the mind of man through the medium of human language in such a way that man is now able to understand something of the nature and character of God that he could never know from his observation of the natural world. Only the one who came out of the very presence of God could have done this.

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I have not quoted scripture here but there is also the story of God being present in the flesh with Adam and Eve walking through the Garden. I believe in all instances of "seeing" God was his word, his Son - our Yeshua. Remember that before Abraham he was, is and will come. Here is some scripture: Gen 3:8 they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

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    There is also the angel who ascended in the flame, before Manoah and his wife, there is also the man who wrestled with Jacob, there is also the one in the fiery furnace of whom Nebuchadnezzar said 'like unto the Son of God'. But none of these are said by scripture to be 'God'. Nor does Genesis say of Eden (as you do) that God was 'present in flesh'. Those words are just not in scripture. The voice of God walked. Not God. Not God in flesh. – Nigel J Jan 11 at 10:34
  • Jason, which Christian denominations/faith communities take that view of the Word walking with Adam and Eve? (Adding the scripture that you are referring to, and pointing to which faith communities take that understanding of scripture) would be the minimum support that your answer needs (in other words, good start to an answer but it needs a little more support) – KorvinStarmast Jan 11 at 18:58
  • Nigel, did you read the verses that proceed Judges 13:20? Vs3, "Then the angel of the Lord APPEARED to the woman, and said to her, you are barren etc. and shall give birth to a son." Notice vs6, "Then the woman told her husband, "A man of God came to me and his appearanbce was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome." Vs18, "But the angel of the Lord said to him/Manoah, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" This event is analogous to Genesis 16 and at Genesis 18. Incidentally you did not address what I posted at Genesis 18. Again, these are physical appearances. – Mr. Bond Jan 12 at 16:44
  • Korvinstarmast, I added scripture to the answer. I assumed everyone would know what I was referring to. – Jason Henley Jan 12 at 18:45
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It is a known topic - Many holy fathers spoke about this, starting from 1st century (St. Dionysios the Areopagite) - some say that „his” works are actually from 4th century - especially in the 13-14-15th century till today - in 20th century.

The matter was settled down in a series of synods in 14th century - between 1341 and 1351, however since the topic is deep, that's why from time to time theologians explain it to us.

In order to understand you must make distinction between God's essence and His energies - that is between what God is and what God does. In God both His essence is God and, also, His energies is also God.

Nobody can see God in His essence but He is perfectly communicable in His energies.

If you want to dwell further, read St. Gregory Palamas about this. Here is a glimpse.

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The primary Hebrew word for God is Elohim אֱלֹהִים. It is the plural of eloah אֱלוֹהַּ. The fact "God," singular, is written with a word that is plural has various explanations as may be seen in this question and it answers: Why is Elohim translated as God rather than gods in Genesis 1:1?

Perhaps the simplest explanation is regardless of what one "sees" when the LORD appears, it is only God "in part." That is to say, Abram (or Hagar or any other) actually saw a singular aspect of God, but did not fully see God. Similar to Moses' request to see God (Exodus 33:18-23) which was granted "in part." Moses really saw something; yet at the same time was not the face of God.

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Exodus 33:20 "you cannot see my face, for no undomesticated may see me and live."

the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "I am God Almighty."

Abram evidently wasnt undomesticated

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No one has ever seen the spiritual (heavenly) form of God the Father with his naked eyes.

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  • Jesus said, John 5:37. And the Father who sent Me, He has born witness of Me. You have neither hear His voice at any time nor seen His form. Read John 6:46, John 1:18, 1 Timothy 6:16. Jesus at John 14:9, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." Jesus is NOT" saying that He is God the Father, read the context. He is saying that the Father has no separate manifestation from the Son. The Son is the only manifestation and revelation of the Father. What is known of the Father is revealed through the Son. To see the Son is to see the essence of the Father. John 10:30, and other verses. – Mr. Bond Jun 1 at 20:17
  • So how many people have seen the spiritual (heavenly) form of God the Father with their naked eyes? – Tony Chan Jun 1 at 20:28
  • You should talk to the guy below. He says: "Nobody can see God in His essence" directly contradicting you. – Tony Chan Jun 1 at 20:30
  • Nobody has seen God the Father with their naked eyes and I explained why in what I stated. Do you believe Jesus Christ and what He stated at John 5:37? Your initial question was about Exodus 33:20 which is talking about seeing God the Father with the physical eyes. Now you change it to, "how many people have seen the spiritual (heavenly) form of God the Father with their naked eyes?" Nobody, because you cannot see spirit or a spirit like angels. You quoted Genesis 17:1-2 where Abraham saw God Almighty with his physical eyes. Read Genesis 17:22.He saw the preincarnate Jesus Christ. – Mr. Bond Jun 1 at 21:31
  • @Tom Chan. I almost forgot to say I am not responsible for what other people say. This means I don't have to talk to the guy below even though he agrees with me that Nobody can see God in His essence. Seeing God in His essence refers to seeing God's nature. This is what John 4:24 states, "God is spirit (or God is a spiritual being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth." Can you see your spirit Mr.Chan, no? Lastly, and I have to ask, do you believe Jesus Christ is God? I ask because your threads and post are mostly about disproving what the Bible says and teaches. – Mr. Bond Jun 1 at 21:37

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