Has Man Seen God?

Joseph Francis Alward

This brief article shows that there may have
been confusion on the part of the Bible
writers: John evidently believed that no
man has seen God, while Moses tells us that
he had, indeed, seen God.

John wrote that no man has "seen" God:

"No man hath seen God at any time
(John 1:18)

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

No man hath seen God at any time."
(John 1:18)

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The penalty for looking at God is death, so sayeth the Lord to Moses: "And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." (Exodus 33:20)   However, Moses and seventy of the elders of Israel evidently met with God, saw him, and lived to tell about it. Here is the story:
"And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel and worship ye afar off.....Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Anadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone....and upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand." (Exodus 24:1-11)

It seems quite clear that Moses and the others SAW God and God forgave them; otherwise why would the author of Exodus tell us that God did not lay his hand on the men? It seems as if the author is telling us that the Lord did not act as he normally might in such a situation: God did not strike the men dead, "he laid not his hand" on the men. This appears to demonstrate almost conclusively that the men saw God--just as they said they did, but God chose to forego the usual death penalty meted out to anyone who dared to look at him [1]. Thus, the authors of the books of Exodus and John were wrong; man had seen God and lived.

[1] The author is grateful to Herb Slocum for calling attention to this passage and recognizing the implications of the words "he laid not his hand".