Has anyone ever “seen” God (Ex. 33:11; Ju.13:22), or not (Jo. 1:18).


Verses in question:

John 1:18 tells us that God cannot be seen:

“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

Exodus 33:11 says that Moses saw God “face-to-face”: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
Again, in Genesis 32:30 says: “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
We read in Judges 13:22 that: “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”

So, according go some verses people have seen God, and others say that we can’t and that we would die if we did. Does this leave us with a contradiction?


On a surface level reading there may appear to be a contradiction, but I think there is not. In Exodus 33:11, for example, Moses is speaking to God “face to face.” In this instance, “face to face” is a figure of speech indicating they were in intimate, personal, and in close communion with each other, and such can be done without God having to reveal himself in entirety or in his glory. I think the indication for such a figure of speech is the analogy the author, Moses, uses when he writes “as to a friend.”

In the instance of Genesis 32:30 Jacob saw God appearing as an angel, hence did not fully see God in the same way that Samson’s parents did. Samson’s parents were terrified when they realized they had seen God (Judges 13:22), but they had only seen him appearing as an angel. As Matthew Poole’s Commentary affirms:

That to see God is “not in his essence, for so no man ever saw God, John 1:18, nor yet in a dream or vision, but in a most evident, sensible, familiar, and friendly manifestation of himself.”

On the other hand, the book of John (1:1, 14) illustrates that Jesus was God in the flesh, and in that sense many people then have seen God, but not God revealed in all his glory lest he destroy us via his holiness (Judges 13:22). People had seen God the Father’s attributes in the Son, but not God the Father as he is fully himself. I think for those several reasons there is no contradiction in the text.

Let me know your thoughts!

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