John 1:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Critic: The critic would point out that John 1:18 clearly says that “no one has ever seen God,” while Exodus 24:10 explicitly states that Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel.” Worse still, God informs them in Exodus 33:20: “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” The critic, with his knowing smile, says: ‘This is a blatant contradiction.’
Exodus 24:10: And they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.
Exodus 33:20: “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
Answer: Exodus 33:20 is one-hundred percent correct: No human could see Jehovah God and live. The apostle Paul in Colossians 1:15 tells us that Christ is the image of the invisible God, and the writer informs us at Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus is the “exact representation of His nature.” Yet if you read the account of Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul), you would see that a partial manifestation of Christ’s glory blinded Saul (Acts 9:1–18).
When the Bible says that Moses and others have seen God, it is not speaking of literally seeing him, because first of all, he is an invisible spirit person. It is a manifestation of his glory, which is an act of showing or demonstrating his presence, making himself perceptible to the human mind. In fact, it is generally an angelic representative that stands in his place and not him personally. Exodus 24:16 informs us that “the glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai,” not the Lord himself personally. When texts such as Exodus 24:10 explicitly state that Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel,” it is this “glory of the Lord,” an angelic representative. This is shown to be the case at Luke 2:9, which reads: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them [the shepherds], and they were filled with fear.”
Many Bible difficulties are cleared up elsewhere in Scripture; for example, in the New Testament you will find a text clarifying a difficulty from the Old Testament, such as Acts 7:53, which refers to those “who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Support comes from Paul at Galatians 3:19: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” The writer of Hebrews chimes in at 2:2 with “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution. . . .” As we travel back to Exodus again, to 19:19 specifically, we find the support that it was not God’s own voice that Moses heard; no, it was an angelic representative, for it reads: “Moses was speaking and God was answering him with a voice.” Exodus 33:22–23 also helps us to appreciate that it was the back of these angelic representatives of Jehovah that Moses saw: “While my glory passes by . . . Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
Exodus 3:4 states: “God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Verse 6 informs us: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Yet, in verse 2 we read: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” Here is another example of using God’s Word to clear up what seems to be unclear or difficult to understand at first glance. Thus, while it speaks of the Lord making a direct appearance, it is really an angelic representative. Even today, we hear such comments as ‘the president of the United States is to visit the Middle East later this week.’ However, later in the article, it is made clear that he is not going personally, but it is one of his high ranking representatives. Let us close with two examples, starting with Genesis 32:24–30:
Genesis 32:24-30 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
24 And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 And he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my soul has been preserved.”
It is all too obvious here that this man is simply a materialized angel in the form of a man, another angelic representative of Jehovah God. Moreover, the reader of this book should have taken in that the Israelites as a whole saw these angelic representatives and spoke of them as though they were dealing directly with Jehovah God himself.
This proved to be the case in the second example found in the book of Judges where an angelic representative visited Manoah and his wife. Like the above-mentioned account, Manoah and his wife treated this angelic representative as if he were Jehovah God himself: “And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, ‘What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’ Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”—Judges 13:3–22.
Exodus 33:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Thus Jehovah used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. (Bold mine)
The context here is not that Moses was literally looking at Jehovah God face to face. It is a manner of speaking, such as two people emailing one another, saying: ‘we need to talk about this face to face.’ This could be done by way of a phone call. This manner of speaking simply means a two-way conversation short of seeing the other person. We have to keep in mind that Moses’ dealing with God was not like other prophets, for they received their messages in visions. Moses, on the other hand:
Numbers 12:6-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.
7 Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of Jehovah. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Thus, how is it that Moses and the men “saw the God of Israel,” because God himself told Moses, “for man shall not see me and live.” This appearance of God to Moses and the others was by means of a vision.
Exodus 24:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the sons of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (Bold mine)
Angels as Representatives
Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe has no need to come from his heavenly abode, to earth, to have dealings with his human creation. There are only three definite times when Jehovah’s voice was heard here on earth, and this was specifically when Jesus was on earth. (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28) Otherwise, He simply used angelic representatives to deliver his messages to man. The Mosaic Law was the most important information that God has delivered to man, and his angelic representatives delivered it. The apostle Paul wrote: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”—Galatians 3:19.
To further support this, Stephen also mentions that Moses’ dealings were with an angelic representative, not God Himself, Acts 7:38: “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.” Just as the President of the United States would send an ambassador to another country, Jehovah God sent his angelic representative, with the angel speaking for God as though he were personally there. When the angel of Jehovah comes to visit a human, for the Hebrew people it was taken as though Jehovah himself came.
Exodus 3:2-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 The angel of Jehovah appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “Let me turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
We should take note of two things going on here. As Moses interacted with this angelic representative of God, he spoke to him as if he were speaking directly to God. Second, the angelic representative followed a similar pattern, when he spoke as though he were God Himself, saying: “I am the God of . . .”
Exodus 4:10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 But Moses said to Jehovah, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
Below is an account from the book of Judges. Please take note of several points as you carefully read it: (1) this is another account of a man speaking with an angelic representative, (2) verses 11-12 explicitly tells us that this is Jehovah’s angel, not Jehovah Himself, (3) yet in verses 14-16, we find that this angel is represented as though he were Jehovah Himself. Thereafter, take special note of what Gideon says in verse 22.
Judges 6:11-18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 Now the angel of Jehovah came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of Jehovah appeared to him and said to him, “Jehovah is with you, O mighty warrior.” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not Jehovah bring us up from Egypt?’ But now Jehovah has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And Jehovah turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the palm of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Jehovah, how can I save Israel? Look, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And Jehovah said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” 17 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my gift and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.”
Judges 6:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
22 And Gideon realized that he was the angel of Jehovah; and Gideon said, “Alas, O, my lord Jehovah! For now I have seen the angel of Jehovah face to face.”
The reader would do well to read all the account of Manoah and his wife, Samson’s parents. Here you will find that the angelic representative of Jehovah was spoken of as “the angel of Jehovah” and “the angel of God.” Yet, in verse 22, Manoah says to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.”― Judges 13:2-18, 22.
Having laid this groundwork, we can understand why Abraham chose to address one of the angelic representatives as though he were speaking to Jehovah himself: “Jehovah appeared unto him” (Gen 18:1) The angel had come in the place of Jehovah, but to deliver a message that specifically came from Jehovah Himself.
Without demeaning either Jehovah God or His representative, you may wish to think of the angelic representative as being the cellphone tower that sends Jehovah’s voice to the cell phone, which would be viewed as Jehovah God Himself speaking. Therefore, we can better appreciate how Abraham, Moses, and Noah viewed the angelic representatives as though they were speaking directly to God Himself. Like the cell phone, they were hearing God’s voice message, but not seeing God directly. Therefore, getting back to the words of John, they are true, but do not contradict the other accounts: “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18) What Abraham, Moses, and Manoah saw were angelic representatives and not God Himself.
- Why is there no contradiction when we say that no one has seen God?
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 Jn 1:18: WH NU “only-begotten god”, P66 א* B C* L syrhmg,p; [V1] “the only-begotten God,” P75א133copbo; [V2] “the only-begotten Son.” AC3(Ws)QYf1,13 MajVgSyrc
 Or at the Father’s side
 Meaning he contends with God
 Meaning face of God
 I.e., face to face; an expression that is referring to the manner of the communication.
 Or terebinth
 Lit palm of the hand with the sense of control (power)
 Lit palm of the hand with the sense of control (power)