Infidels.org includes on its "List of Biblical Contradictions" the question, "God be seen?" while making the following comments (italicized). TheThinkingAtheist.com also makes a similar criticism in the section "Who has seen God?" The EvilBible also claims a contradiction exists here.
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Meritt claims Exodus 33 contradicts itself by saying God spoke to Moses face to face (v. 11) but that Moses was unable to see God's face since none can see God's face and live. (vv. 20,23) It should first be pointed out that John 5:37 referred to the disciples having seen God the Father specifically, and to infer it as referring to everyone at all times would be a stretch.
Jesus Was God
The answer to this is really pretty simple, and contained in John 1:18 - none have seen God the Father, but God the Father has declared His Son, the Word, to be God as well. This answer is also provided by Jesus. Jesus claimed to have existed with God the Father before the world itself and to have shared His Father's glory. This is repeated elsewhere as well in the Bible. (Proverbs 8:22-31; Colossians 1:17; 1 John 1:1-3) Jesus in Revelation 1:7-8 is called "the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." Isaiah 9:6 prophesied that His name would be "Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
|“|| John 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.
Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
John 17:5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
John 17:24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
A number of times in the Old Testament it appears another, more tangible form of God appears, God the Son, and this is called a 'Christophany.' Jesus after all said He Himself was the original God of Israel.
|“|| John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
Genesis 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
Exodus 3:14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
The book of John presents this as the God of Israel coming to His own and being rejected. Jesus spoke with sorrow of His past relationship with Israel.
|“|| John 1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
15 ¶ John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
Luke 13:34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
The Pharisees refused to consider the eternal nature of Jesus as God's Son, and thus were puzzled by Jesus' riddle showing David's prophesies of the Messiah evidenced an eternal Creator coming to Earth as the Messiah in human form.
|“|| Matthew 22:41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.
43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,
44 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.
Jesus, Angel of the Lord
What many people don't realize is that when God spoke to Moses originally in the burning bush, to Abraham even earlier, and to Jacob, it was not God the Father speaking, but the 'Angel of the Lord' who spoke.
|“|| Exodus 3:2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
Genesis 22:15 And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,
Genesis 31:11 And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.
Genesis 32:28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
Genesis 48:16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
Other cases of apparent Christophanies in the Bible, including places where the Angel of the Lord is called God, include:
|“|| Genesis 16:10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.
12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
13 And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?
Genesis 18:1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
Exodus 24:9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
Judges 2:1 And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.
Judges 6:21 Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
Judges 13:21 But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD.
2 Samuel 24:16 And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.
Isaiah 37:36 Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
1 Chronicles 21:16 And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.
Zechariah 12:8 In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them.
As seen above, the Angel of the Lord was referred to as God a number of times. Some of the KJV translators may have recognized this as several times they capitalized the word 'Angel.' (Genesis 48:16; Exodus 23:20,23,34; 32:34) However, whenever angels or people were called God, they said God alone should be worshiped. Therefore, it is clear from the Bible that the Angel of the Lord was no mere angel, for if so it should have denied the worship it received.
|“|| Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Revelation 22:8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
Acts 14:11 And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.
Acts 10:25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
It appears thus that the first half of Exodus 33 refers to Jesus appearing as the Angel of the Lord and speaking to Moses, just as He did throughout the Old Testament to many of the patriarchs, and was called God frequently when doing so. The last half of the chapter refers to God the Father Himself speaking and saying none can see His face. Genesis 32:30 refers to Jesus, the Angel of the Lord, as God, as do many other places in the Old Testament. Thus Jesus could be seen face to face, yet be considered God, while God the Father could not be seen face to face as something in God the Father's glorious nature meant those who looked on His face would die.
|“|| God was already known as "the Lord" (Jahveh or Jehovah) much earlier than the time of Moses.
Genesis 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
Genesis 4:26 And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.
Genesis 12:8 And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
Genesis 22:14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.
Genesis 26:25 And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac's servants digged a well.
God was first known as "the Lord" (Jahveh or Jehovah) at the time of the Egyptian Bondage, during the life of Moses.
Exodus 6:2 And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD:
The Scofield Study Bible III makes some excellent points on this passage:
|“|| (1) The statement, 'by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them' can also be translated as a rhetorical question, 'By my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them?'
(2) In the O.T. the verb 'to know' generally means far more than to have an intellectual knowledge. There are many instances of this, such as Amos 3:2: 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth.'
(3) The patriarchs were familiar with the name Jehovah, but their experience of God was largely that of Him as El-Shaddai (compare Gen. 17:1, note), the One who provided for all their needs. Here in Ex. 6:3 God tells Moses that He is now about to be revealed in that aspect of His character signified by Jehovah - that is, His covenant-relation to Israel as the One who redeems her from sin and delivers her from Egypt (compare vv. 6-8).
(4) Actually there is no contrast in Ex. 6:3 between Elohim and Jehovah, the names in this text being El-Shaddai and Jehovah.
-The Scofield Study Bible III, Oxford University Press
As pointed out by the Scofield, the key passage Exodus 6:3 can be translated from the original Hebrew as a rhetorical question, thus removing all claims of a contradiction here. Henry M. Morris of ICR concurs with this explanation: "The easiest resolution of the apparent contradiction is to regard the last clause as a rhetorical question (quite permissible in the Hebrew)– 'by my name JEHOVAH was I not (also) known to them?'" The second possibility mentioned, that the expression "know Jehovah" referred to more than a simple awareness of His existence but rather an experiential relationship is argued by Apologetics Press apologist Eric Lyons.
- Meritt, Jim (1992). A list of Biblical contradictions. Retrieved from http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html.
- TheThinkingAtheist. Bible Contradictions. Retrieved from http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/page/bible-contradictions.
- Thiefe, Chris. Biblical Contradictions. EvilBible.com.
- GotQuestions.org. What is a theophany? What is a Christophany? Got Questions Ministries.
- Morgan, Donald. Bible Inconsistencies: Bible Contradictions? Internet Infidels.
- Scofield, C.I. (2006). The Scofield Study Bible III. pp. 92-93. Oxford University Press.
- Morris, Henry M. Exodus 6:3 Was I Not Known. Institute for Creation Research.
- Lyons, Eric (2006). Did the Patriarchs Know Jehovah by Name? Apologetics Press.