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This question is based on discussion in the comments on two separate questions here and here

No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)

The verb of interest is τεθέαται ("tetheatai"), rendered in many translations as "hath seen" or "has seen". The word derives from θεάομαι ("theaomai")

Viable meanings of theaomai include:

gaze on (contemplate) as a spectator; to observe intently, especially to interpret something (grasp its significance); to see (concentrate on) so as to significantly impact (influence) the viewer. (see here)

In context, is this passage talking about "seeing" God or "grasping the significance" of God?

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  • I understand that you are suggesting that τεθέαται could mean 'perceive'. Or 'see' as in 'I see what you mean'. Am I correct ? (Up-voted +1.) – Nigel J Feb 25 at 11:26
  • Yes, it appears (pun intended) that is a plausible meaning. So I'm interested to know of the various meanings that are grammatically possible, what is meant in context. – Hold To The Rod Feb 25 at 19:02
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1 John 1:1 English Standard Version

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen [3708 ὁράω horaó] with our eyes, which we looked upon [2300 θεάομαι theaomai] and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life

The KJV translates Strong's G2300 in the following manner: see (20x), behold (2x), look (1x), look upon (1x). In general, the word carries a range of meaning from sight seeing to mind perceiving.

John used two different words for seeing at the opening of his letter.
ὁράω is a simple seeing with physical eyes.
θεάομαι is a deeper kind of seeing with the mind, in addition to seeing with the eyes. This is the context of how John used this word in his 1st letter.

Later, the same John wrote in 4:12

No one has ever seen [2300] God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

has ever seen
τεθέαται (tetheatai)
Verb - Perfect Indicative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's Greek 2300: A prolonged form of a primary verb; to look closely at, i.e. perceive; by extension to visit.

This time he used the same lexeme for mind-seeing as at the opening. Further, he conjugated it to the prolonged form for emphasis. This latter mind-seeing is even deeper than the earlier mind-seeing in 1 John 1:1.

No one has ever fully grasped the full significance of God at any time. We show our understanding of God by showing our love because God is love.

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    Interesting question...some may forget the 10 commandments are love. First sectionof them is our love for God, second part is our love for each other. So keeping his commandments is demonstrating our love too. – Adam Feb 25 at 18:43
  • Excellent. They saw Jesus with their eyes, but they also perceived whom He was by faith. (Up-voted +1.) – Nigel J Feb 25 at 19:06
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The verb θεάομαι (theaomai) occurs 23 times in the NT for which BDAG lists three basic meanings:

  1. to have an intent look at something, to take something in with one's eyes, with the implication that one is especially impressed, see, look at, behold, eg, Matt 11:7, Luke 7:24, John 8:10, Acts 21:27, 22:9, 1 John 1:1, 4:12, Mark 16:14, Luke 5:27, John 1:38, Acts 1:11, John 6:5, 4:35, Luke 23:55, John 11:45, (passive) Mark 11:16, Matt 6:1, 23:5.
  2. to see for the purpose of visiting, come to see, visit, eg, Rom 15:24, Matt 22:11.
  3. to perceive something above and beyond what is merely seen with the eye, see, behold, perceive, (a) with physical eyes, John 1:14, 32, 1 John 4:14. (b) of perception that is wholly non-sensual - no examples in the NT.

Thus, according to BDAG, there no examples of in the NT or OT LXX where this verb does not involve see with the eyes. The Bible actually tries to make this point; observe the following:

  • John 1:18 - No one has ever seen [ ὁράω ] God [the Father], but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.
  • John 6:46 - No one has seen [ ὁράω] the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.
  • 1 John 4:12 - No one has ever seen [ θεάομαι ] God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us.
  • Isa 64:4 - From ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

The alternate understanding of θεάομαι (theaomai) meaning that it implies only mental perception is untenable because the above quoted verses would imply that no one has ever perceived God [the Father], which is clearly false. The fact that we are discussing these things is evidence that we have perceived God the Father, but admittedly do not fully understand God the Father any more that we fully understand Jesus or the Holy Spirit - if we did we would be God.

The fact that the NT uses different verbs to discuss not seeing God, emphases that we are discussing physical eyesight. Significantly, Rev 22:4 declares that the glorified saints will be able, to see God's face.

Lastly, note the fuller context of 1 John 4:12-14 -

No one has ever seen [θεάομαι] God; ... And we have seen [θεάομαι] and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.

Compare this with John's earlier statement in 1 John 1:1 -

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen [ὁράω] with our own eyes, which we have gazed [θεάομαι] upon and touched with our own hands—this is the Word of life.

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  • +1 Good point. I clarified my answer. Thanks. – Tony Chan Feb 25 at 23:24
  • If no one has ever seen God [the Father] with their eyes, yet we have examples of people claiming to have been God in the OT, should we conclude that what people saw in the OT was someone else representing God? If so, who? – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 25 at 23:55
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - that is the point - the God they saw in the OT was the pre-incarnate Jesus. – Dottard Feb 26 at 0:12
  • @Dottard - that's a very tempting option and it would make a lot of sense. But is it really the only one? Are there other options? For example, could it have been the case that what they saw was the Holy Spirit, or a powerful angel, or a vision of the glory of God (like Stephen)? Or maybe Moses was the only one who was truly allowed to see the Father, but only His back, since no one can see His face and live, and maybe all verses that claim that no one has ever seen God are referring to the Father's face (and so just seeing His back does not technically count)? – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 26 at 0:20
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator - I will deal with these in your other question about Moses. Suffice to say here that Jesus is by far the most likely candidate in view of Mal 3:1 and John 1;14, 18, 6:46. – Dottard Feb 26 at 0:55
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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). In 1 John 4:12, τεθέαται has a very similar set of meanings. John is the writer of both letters, and seems to use both words in the same context of meaning.

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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  • Thank you, this is a fascinating argument! But are you providing an interpretation of 1 John 4:12 (the verse in the OP) or of John 1:18? – Hold To The Rod Feb 26 at 4:18
  • This is NOT an interpretation. This is an exegesis of the meaning of "no man has SEEN." This is what the OP asked for. – oldhermit Feb 26 at 12:21
  • Thank you. No disrespect to your exegesis intended. My doubt is that although you've provided an analysis of the word ὁράω, the verb of interest in the OP is not ὁράω, but θεάομαι. Perhaps the bulk of your post would be the identical, but, having read with interest your analysis of ὁράω on a separate page, I'm interested to understand whether the same argument should be made about θεάομαι that has been made about ὁράω. – Hold To The Rod Feb 26 at 15:31
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    You are correct. I should have spent more time addressing John's use of τεθέαται. I added a comment to the end of the first paragraph pointing out that the meaning of the two words are pretty much the same. – oldhermit Feb 26 at 16:08
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    Dottard did a great job of explaining the meaning of τεθέαται. I doubt I could add anything meaningful to his post. – oldhermit Feb 26 at 16:16

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