Your Friday Firestorm #19

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)



  1. JST 1 Jn. 4: 12 No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe . . .

  2. Joseph Smith History:

    17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

  3. Peter LLC says:

    What?! Joseph changed the scriptures to match his vision?

  4. Thomas Parkin says:

    I would like to hear from someone what word ‘see’ here is translated from. I’ve always taken this to mean ‘see’ as in ‘understand.’ as in, “ah! I see.” And that no man has understood God at any time except those who believe.

    Since Jesus is God, it’s silly to say that no man has seen God. Obviously, many people saw God, unless you want to say that Jesus was not God. Since many saw God, there must be another meaning.


  5. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (Gen. 32: 30)

    11 And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. (Ex. 33: 11)

    4 The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,(Deut. 5: 4)

    Methinks there might be a little consistency problem in the Bible on this issue…

    See more examples here.

  6. Yeah,

    Tell it to Paul, John, Stephen, Moses, and the people of Isreal.

    Any RM can handle this one my friend.

  7. John 6:46:
    Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.

  8. bbell,

    To play Devil’s advocate, most of those instances were seeing Jehovah (Christ), not the Father.

  9. BTW, Sorry for the capital “D”

  10. Comment #4-

    To See is gr “qeavomai”

    to behold, look upon, view attentively, contemplate (often used of public shows)
    of important persons that are looked on with admiration to view, take a view of
    in the sense of visiting, meeting with a person to learn by looking, to see with the eyes, to perceive

  11. MattG.

    When discussing this issue with the typical evangelical…. They simply do not see the distinction between Jesus, pre-mortal Jesus (Jehovah) and the Father or God. Besides Stephen saw the Father in Acts 7 (Or at least his right hand) See God the father has a body….

  12. I’m with MattG (#8) on this one–

    When Old Testamant-era prophets reported seeing God face to face, they were likely referring to the person that the modern church understands to be Jesus (Jehovah). Some common missionary proof-texts (also used by some GAs from time-to-time) don’t necessarily contradict the statement in John.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    #4, the Greek for the first part of the v. is

    theon oudeis pOpote tetheatai

    which means “no one has ever seen God.” The verb theaomai means “to see with the eyes, view, look upon, behold,” so I don’t think we can resolve this by seeing it as a reference only to true comprehension or something like that.

    The same point is made in John 1:18.

    In the context of 1 John 4, the statement that no one has ever seen God in v. 12 is being used to set up an a fortiori rhetorical argument in v. 20.

    These passages are not using “God” to refer to Jesus. It is rare to predicate “God” of Jesus in the NT. The idea in these passages, including John 6:46, is that it is Jesus who reveals God to us.

    I would tend to see the JST as a harmonizing midrash, since John’s flat out statement that no one has ever seen God is contradicted a number of times by the scriptural record, as shown above.

    In other words, the scriptures aren’t univocal. John appears to have been of the view that no one has ever seen God, and he used that idea as a rhetorical anchor in a number of his arguments, but taking the scriptural record as a whole John was wrong in a few rare instances (although for all practical purposes among his hearers what he said was true enough to get his points across).

  14. Here’s another issue that affects the relevance of Old Testament scriptures that tell of prophets seeing God:

    My recollection is that the early saints, including Joseph Smith, did not make a distinction between Elohim and Jehovah. I’m looking for a certain Dialogue article that discusses the evolution of our modern identification of Elohim as God the Father and Jehovah as Jesus Christ. I’ll post a link and/or summary when I find it.

    The distinction between Elohim and Jehovah is certainly not as clear if you subscribe to the Documentary Hypothesis.

  15. D&C 67: 11
    11 For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.
    D&C 84: 22
    22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
    JST John 1: 19 And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.

  16. But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him. (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:11.)

  17. Check out the article on page 77 of Dialogue (Spring 1986):

    Boyd Kirkland wrote that our current identification of Elohim as God the Father and Jehovah as Jesus Christ is a reconciliation of earlier, less clear understandings communicated by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others.

    To the extent this is true, what does it mean for our current “firestorm”?

    Under our modern understanding, the Old Testament prophets saw Jesus (Jehovah), not God the Father. This means that those scriptures do not conflict with John. Under prior understandings, this is not so clear–they could have been conversing with God the Father himself.

    It would be more orthodox to give primacy to the interpretation of later leaders, but it seems possible that this later interpretation was at least partly influenced by personal opinion, cultural factors, etc. It just adds another wrinkle to our analysis.

  18. Link didn’t come through:

  19. #8

    “But he [Stephen] being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-6).

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    CE, you’re right that in most 19th century LDS discourse Jehovah was the Father, not the Son.

    The articles you are thinking of are:

    Boyd Kirkland, “Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism and the Bible,” Dialogue 19/1 (Spring 1986): 77-93, and

    “Jehovah as Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine,” Sunstone 9 (Autumn 1984): 36-44.

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    #13 – Thanks, Kevin.


  22. Kevin, I previously found the article and tried to link to it in #17 and #18, but couldn’t make the link show up. Thanks for giving the full citation.

  23. It is unfortunate that we Mormons instinctively launch into apologetics when we read the first sentence of the verse and ignore the profound truth and beauty of the last sentence.

    I am guessing that is the experiment that Steve Evans intended to create when he made this post.

  24. That chapter of 1 John is a great one. I like verse 20 even better: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Right, Andrew, the v. really does convey a beautiful message.

    And right, John, v. 12 is really a set-up for the a fortiori argument of v. 20.

  26. It is arguments like this one that make me think the best approach is the scholarly one, which would probably argue that the author of John was perhaps in disagreement with other authors of scripture. If John believes that no man *has* seen God, but Paul believes the contrary, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their writings become uninspired. In fact, I find that kind of approach to be much more fulfilling, spiritually. I realize that it’s not for everybody, but certainly if more people were willing to at least entertain those ideas they wouldn’t find it necessary to engage in so many painful logical contortions.

  27. Andrew, thou speakest truly.

  28. In the third volume of my Exploring Mormon Thought series, I address this issue at some length. As has been pointed out, there are numerous Old Testament passages that state that prophets (and others) have seen God. However, I show at some length that the author(s) of the gospel of John adopted the view that it was in reality the Son to whom the name of the Father had been given that appears in these Old Testament visions. The Son appears as the vizier who has received the divine name Jehovah from the Father — and Jehovah is also the Father’s name. The Father is viewed as “the only true God” but Jesus is seen as the one sent by God to bear his name and appear just as God in vision.

    I also address these same issues regarding Paul. I demonstrate, I believe, that Paul went about seeking Old Testament (and pseudepigraphic) proof texts where the texts could be read as referring to two divine beings — God and the one given the name of God from the Father. The Father always remains God proper, but the Son is endowed with the gifts of the name and the fullness of the divine glory.

    So there is an inner logic to the view of the gospel of John that no one has ever seen God — meaning the Father. Instead, they have seen the Son who bears his name, appears in his glory and does just what the Father sent him to do. However, I don’t believe that such a view reconciles for instance Acts 7. I don’t believe that the scriptures are or have to be consistent. Perhaps the notion that only the “glory of God” is seen by Stephen rather than the face of God could be a basis for denying that Stephen really sees the Father as such. But that is probably too philosophical and makes distinctions I’m not sure were grasped at the time Acts was written.

    However, the notion that it was really Jesus who appeared for and on behalf of Jehovah, bearing the divine name and glory as the one true God’s emissary, is likely the impetus for the LDS view that Jesus is Jehovah. I think that attempting to parse the divine names as they appear in the Hebrew of the Old Testament will not support a neat distinction between Elohim and Jehovah. However, I believe that there was a distinction between El ‘elyon and Jehovah in the earliest Israelite beliefs.

  29. I would like to add that the second part of this verse is a basis for believing that humans too can be filled with the same fullness of divine glory as the Son of God and can enjoy the same status as sons [and daughters] of God. In other words, it seems to assume a type of deification.

  30. Blake, thanks for that. I agree with your notion that the scriptures are not necessarily consistent, and that this doesn’t spell the end of their worth to us.

  31. #13 and #26 – I find the idea that the scriptures are not coordinated/univocal to be very interesting. This is such a critical point to me when doing any kind of analysis. Citing one scripture from one book to support another scripture from another book can get sticky. This kind of heterovocality ;-) is even prevalent in our day with our own leaders – they each have differing opinions on many issues.

    My question is to what degree did the early councils (at Nice, etc.) work to coordinate the entire body of scripture?

  32. Brewhaha – Not very well – no matter how much they tried.

    Banky, well said.

    Kevin and Blake, Amen.

    My only addition:

    Fwiw, I think John probably was concerned about people focusing too much on trying to see God and not enough on trying to become like God. They were focused too much on external signs/proofs and not enough on internal growth and change and on societal unity and love. I see that message throughout the epistles of John.

  33. What about the evolving scholarship on “angel” as manifestation of God? I’m thinking of Kugel here, and it seems to me that Blake’s proposal is pushing Jesus into the role of “angel” more broadly (not an unreasonable assumption, just interesting to me).

    Clearly this doesn’t match Smith’s view of angels per se, but it may still be fruitful.

    And by way of tying in the latter clause to Mormonism, there is a clear sense in which the complex priesthood infrastructure that Joseph Smith proposed (his family tree of deified humans) attempts to fulfill precisely that mandate. In our shared love and existing, we comprise God. (Isn’t this an argument that Orson Pratt made in the 1850s-1860s?)

  34. Blake,

    When is your book coming out? Do you have a blog or a web site where you talk about these things? I noticed that you didn’t link anything to your name when you posted. Who is publishing your book?

  35. Tiffany,

    Blake’s Exploring Mormon Thought books are published by Greg Kofford books, and are available at Blake’s website and Amazon, among other places. I recommend them highly.

  36. #28-However, the notion that it was really Jesus who appeared for and on behalf of Jehovah, bearing the divine name and glory as the one true God’s emissary, is likely the impetus for the LDS view that Jesus is Jehovah.

    I always thought it was because the vision recorded in D&C 110 states that Jesus IS Jehovah-

    Vs:3 His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
    4 I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.

    Joseph Smith understood the difference between Jehovah and God the Father.

    I think most LDS members understand that in most cases, the “God” referred to in the OT is Jesus Christ, but that does not mean that God the Father has never been seen.

    I believe the scriptures DO agree when read with the understanding that many plain and precious things were not translated correctly. If the same “John” is the author of the Gospel of John as well as 1,2, and 3 John, then according to the JST he states in the first chapter of the Gospel of John (vs:19) “ And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.”
    The other verse found in 1 John 4:12 doesn’t say that no man can ever see God, but rather that only “them who believe” can. If John is also the author of Revelations-he had many visions involving both God and Christ. I don’t find John and Paul to disagree with each other.

  37. smb: I think that you are right to look to the angel of YHWH as an inspiration for the early Christian view of Jesus and the relationship to the one true God. I believe that the NT scholarship looking at the acceptance of Christ as an angel is very interesting, though I would suggest also Larry Hurtado and Charles Gieschen as good sources. I also believe that the notion of gods who were the high God’s emissaries from the council of the gods played a role in the development of early Christology.

    Thanks Mark.

  38. Yes thanks, Mark. Blake, you should link your site to your name when you post; people will want to know who you are and what you have written. I can’t believe how much you have written! I’ll take a long look at your articles you have there.

    I wish I had a blog I could link to :)

  39. Eric Russell says:

    Actually Andrew, my theory is that Steve is scraping the bottom of the firestorm barrel and going through his old missionary journals to find something to post.

  40. Let me just second Blake’s recommendation of Hurtado. Great scholar and a fascinating read.

  41. #23: Andrew, that was exactly my thought when I saw this post. I wasn’t suprised how many people jumped to the chance to quote contradicting scriptures rather than discussing the meaning of the scripture itself.

    When I was a new missionary, an investigator brought up James 1:27 as evidence that he did not need to join a church. My immediate reaction was to argue against it, citing the need to ordinances and revelation and such. After I took the time to study and ponder it, it’s now one of my favorite scriptures.

  42. A question for Blake . . .

    I know higher critics point out many, many alleged inconsistencies. Prevailing biblical scholarship trumpets this.

    But did Jesus or the biblical apostles ever teach there were inconsistencies in scripture?

    The Holy Spirit subjectively testifies to my heart the answer. And I also can’t find any objective evidence within the scripture itself giving any authoritative declarations to spell out a positive answer. In fact, there is the contra.

    The scripture cannot be broken, and yet it is riddled with inconsistencies?

  43. Todd, I will let Blake respond for himself, but my own answer when faced with this type of question always has been and always will be that there are enough passages that are inconsistent and/or flat-out contradictory for someone who insists on reading all scriptures the same way (parsing literal words vs. reading symbolically, figuratively or allegorically) that extreme effort and mental gymnastics are required to reconcile them into one consistent message. I am not against mental gymnastics; I engage willingly and consciously all the time. I simply recognize that I am doing so – picking and choosing a combination of interpretive methods that make the most sense to my mind and ring true in my heart.

    To me, this is so obvious as to be elementary. I have many friends who attend different denominations. I have sat in discussions with them, as well as Divinity School classes, where serious, spiritual, dedicated, faithful students of the Bible have disagreed vehemently about the meaning of various passages and the doctrinal import of central, foundational principles. If the text were internally consistent and perfectly pure straight from the mouth of God through prophets to us, I can’t believe this confusion would be as widespread as it is – given the scriptural statements we have concerning the Lord’s desire for doctrinal unity.

  44. Ray, I will be honest with you over what I consider elementary . . . the depravity of my own heart not the blatant inconsistency of scripture.

    Some lay the burden on scripture. Others lay the problem with us. And I know which realm Christ and the apostles in scripture would point to as the ongoing problem.

    thinking of heart issues . . .

  45. Todd, I don’t disagree with that at all.

  46. That wasn’t supposed to post unfinished.

    That’s why scriptural inconsistency doesn’t bug me – why it only matters to me when someone else insists that certain scriptures must be taken in isolation and applied as if they represented the unified message of the entire canon. I also don’t believe I can blame the scriptures if I use their inconsistency to justify a life that is not in accordance with God’s will for me.

    Since I accept on-going and personal revelation, it ultimately trumps previous revelation. It’s good to know you accept that element of Mormonism. (*said with tongue firmly in cheek and with a big grin*)

  47. #42, a casual reader’s response (1st post here). It has been prevalently taught both in Nephi’s vision (1 Ne 13:23-28) and in the teachings of JS, doctrine that flows directly from the mouth of God is pure, but that the scriptures (Bible) have passed through the hands of conspiring men.

    I know your question wasn’t touching on this point, but I felt it worthy to point out the obvious. Scripture is flawed to the extent that people have corrupted, either through accident or on purpose. Personal revelation is key to enlightenment. Scholarly research is an important part of understanding scripture, but is only a means to an end.

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