Exodus 33:20

And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live."

For clarification, this is the LORD speaking to Moses (KJV) and since all capitalization is used in LORD then Yahweh is the Hebrew word actually in the original text and should be ascribed to God the Father. So here is the question to be addressed according to scripture and not opinion: Did Jesus provide an exclusive answer and solution to this problem with scripture?


3 Answers 3


This is not as straight-forward as the OP implies. I note the following that clearly say that no one has seen God:

  • John 1:18 - No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
  • John 5:37 - You have never heard His voice nor seen His form
  • John 6:46 - No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. (See also Matt 18:10.)
  • 1 John 4:12 - No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us.
  • 1 Tim 1:17 - Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God …
  • 1 Tim 6:16 - He alone is immortal and dwells in unapproachable light. No one has ever seen Him, nor can anyone see Him.
  • Col 1:15 - … the invisible God …
  • Ex 33:20 - But He added, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.”
  • Isa 45:15 - Truly You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.

By contrast, we have many texts saying that people have seen God.

  • 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.
  • Job 42:5 - My ears had heard of You [= the LORD, V1], but now my eyes have seen You.
  • Gen 18:1, 10 - Then the LORD appeared to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. ... Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year, and your wife Sarah will have a son!”
  • Gen 32:30 - So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
  • Ex 3:5, 6 - “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
  • Josh 5:13 - 6:2 - And the LORD said to Joshua, “Behold, I have delivered Jericho into your hand, along with its king and its mighty men of valor.” (V2)
  • Judges 6:14 - The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Am I not sending you?” [See also V16]
  • Judges 16:22 - “We are going to die,” he said to his wife, “for we have seen God!”
  • Eze 1 - the prophet's vision of God; many elements of which are repeated in Rev 4 & 5. Further, we find in Eze 10:4, “the radiance of the glory of the LORD.” And in Heb 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
  • Rev 22:3, 4 - No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be within the city, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

If we assume that the Bible is not contradictory when it asserts that no one has seen God and yet many people have seen God, what are we to conclude?

The common solution is found in John 8 where Jesus, three times (V24, 28, 58) declares Himself to be the Great "I Am" and thus leads to the conclusion that these divine epiphanies were of the pre-incarnate Jesus as per John 8:58 – “Truly, truly, I tell you,” Jesus declared, “before Abraham was born, I am!” See also John 1:18, quoted above.

  • @ Dottard Even with voice technology how do you do that so fast? I can tell your starting to like me Australia.
    – RHPclass79
    Nov 27, 2023 at 20:41
  • Most of us try to reflect the character of our Savior (very imperfectly) and try to love all people. I am still learning.
    – Dottard
    Nov 27, 2023 at 20:47
  • @ Dottard I can now call you brother and apologize when I have affended you or anybody else on this site, even Old English. This is a great day and I look forward to many more like this one.
    – RHPclass79
    Nov 27, 2023 at 20:54
  • @RHPclass79 - No apology needed as far as I am concerned. We all have a different point of view and background and thus we all have something to learn from each other. Old English is a good person from whom I have learned much.
    – Dottard
    Nov 27, 2023 at 21:00

Many examples of apparent contradiction in human speech come from the fact that words are being used in different ways. I believe this is one of them.

The idea that men cannot see God makes sense. The reality of God is surely much too big to be taken in by the human mind. So the many declarations that God cannot be seen ought to be taken at face value.

I suggest that on those occasions when men are said to have seen God, they do not, in fact "see" God in the full sense. What they see is an image which is designed to accommodate itself to their understanding, and give them a sense that they are in the presence of God. That would explain the occasional differences in detail. It is a kind of filtering, comparable to the way astronomers are able to observe the sun by filtering out most of the light.

  • This is an interesting answer but begs a special pleading for some texts and not other despite the same verbs used in both places. Nevertheless, I understand what you are saying and agree to a limited extent.
    – Dottard
    Nov 27, 2023 at 21:03
  • 1
    It seems to be a logical necessity. The idea that God can be seen and simultaneously cannot be seen is absurd umless the two situations are using the word differently. The real problem with my interpretation is the implication that Biblical words should not always be taken literally. Nov 27, 2023 at 21:17
  • That is true., but there is another possibility as per my answer. However, I still like your answer.
    – Dottard
    Nov 27, 2023 at 21:21
  • Let's not forget with God all things are possible.
    – RHPclass79
    Nov 28, 2023 at 0:04
  • 2
    If you've seen me you've seen the Father. +1 Nov 28, 2023 at 1:06

The scriptures state that those who walk in justice will indeed see the face of God and live. There is also a famous case that provides the exception to the rule that one cannot see the face of God and live. This dramatic event is part of the vision of Isaiah 6 in which the prophet "saw the Lord" and feared that he was doomed because he was a man of "unclean lips." Granted that the word "face" is not mentioned, but that is clearly the implication. Thankfully he was given special grace and went on to a successful career. In addition:

Psalm 11 provides perhaps a clear example of how a person can see God and live:

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven. God’s eyes keep careful watch; they test the children of Adam... 7 The Lord is just and loves just deeds; the upright will see his face.

Psalm 15 carries a similar message:

Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy mountain? 2 Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart... Whoever acts like this shall never be shaken.

In Psalm 18 the author speaks of God rewarding him because of "my righteousness and the cleanness of my hands." In his temple, the LORD heard the prayer of the distressed psalmist and granted him a vision in which he describes God's face:

Smoke rose from his nostrils, a devouring fire from his mouth; it kindled coals into flame (vs. 9)

There is no sense in these psalms that achieving a state "clean hands" and moral uprightness is impossible. Those who act justly will see God's face. In the case of Psalm 18, this has actually happened, and in Isaiah's case he saw the Lord and yet lived because he was given grace.

Conclusion: Christians usually deny that a state of uprightness is possible outside of Christ. Paul argues persuasively that everyone sins and needs to be reborn in Christ. Jesus himself declared that no one comes to the Father by Christ. However, it cannot be denied that the scriptures also speak of another way. Isaiah saw God's face and lived, as did the author of Psalm 18. Psalms 11 and 15 speak of waking uprightly as the normal state for pious Israelites. Thus, Jesus' answer is is not the only one given in scripture.

  • Paul supports the general righteousness outside of Christ or faith, in Romans 2. Only a particular mainstream sects deny righteousness, among Christianity.
    – Michael16
    Nov 28, 2023 at 7:24

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