Question: How could Joseph Smith have seen God if the Bible says that God cannot be seen by mortals?

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Question: How could Joseph Smith have seen God if the Bible says that God cannot be seen by mortals?

Numerous Biblical verses attest that God has been seen by select humans

Some Christians claim that the Bible teaches that God cannot be seen by mortals, and so claims by Joseph Smith and others to have seen God the Father or Jesus Christ must be false. However, numerous Biblical verses attest that God has been seen by select humans. John 1:18, which the critics use to argue otherwise, has been interpreted differently by early Christians to avoid the self-contradiction which the critics' reading creates for the Bible.

If God can say "I change not," (Malachi 3:6) and he has appeared to mortals in the past, as the Bible bears record, why would he change his tactics and refuse to appear to modern prophets?

The most commonly used Biblical citation invoked by the critics is probably John 1:18, which reads “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

Early Christian author Irenaeus wrote in A.D. 180 that this scripture should be read “For "no man," he says, "hath seen God at any time," unless "the only-begotten Son of God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared [Him]."[1]

Interestingly, Joseph Smith's revision of the Bible agrees with Irenaeus' reading:

No man hath seen God at any time except he hath borne record of the Son . . .(italics represent changes in JST)

Irenaeus' "unless" (or Joseph's "except") makes all the difference. Irenaeus knew that righteous men had seen God in the past:

Furthermore, by adopting this approach, Irenaeus' interpretation of John 1:18 harmonized with the rest of the Bible and the qualifications which the Bible provides for those who may see God. The requirements are:

  1. Must be "of God" “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.” (John 6:46.) Some critics will argue that only Jesus "is of God", but that position is unscriptural. Moses too was "of God"(Deuteronomy 33:1), as well as Samuel (1 Samuel 9:10), Shemaiah (1 Kings 12:22), and Elijah (1 Kings 17:24).
  2. Must have "peace and holiness" within you "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which, no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14.)
  3. Must be pure in heart "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8.)

As the numerous Biblical references demonstrate, the idea of seeing God is hardly foreign to Hebrew or early Christian thought. There are also non-scriptural examples: Philo the Jew taught that the name Israel was compounded of 3 words “ish” “rah” “El”, which means “man seeing God;” this view is also found in the apocryphal Prayer of Joseph. [2] And, an early Christian document called the Clementine Homilies portrays the apostle Peter as agreeing with Irenaeus' view:

For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light. . . . For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light.[3]

Joseph Smith revealed the same essential truth (D&C 67:11, D&C 84:22).

It is the critics' view of John 1:18 that is novel and at odds with the earliest Christian understanding of the scripture, not Joseph Smith's.

Notes

  1. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Chapter 6 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:427. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  2. Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden; New York; Köln: Brill, 1998), 139.
  3. Apostle Peter (attributed), "Clementine Homilies," in 17:16 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)8:322–323. ANF ToC off-site This volume