Evidences and Reconciliations 5/26/08

John NilssonGod 10 Comments

And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.

Exodus 33:11

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

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!
Joseph Smith-History v. 17

Discuss, my friends:

Comments 10

  1. With the JST modification, “No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” I don’t see anything from these scriptures particularly contradictory. We know that God and Christ have dwelt physically among their people in the past, and will do so again.

    “…as a man speaketh unto his friend.” This is always how I’ve imagined the reunion with Christ to be. Like turning a corner and running into an old friend, and having Memories rush back.

  2. Kind of fun, as the first scripture is obvious in its intent, even more so in context.

    The Greeks, of course, believed that one could not see the gods in all their glory, but that men could see, talk with and interact with gods who were somewhat veiled. John is a bit of a Greek in many ways.

    LDS doctrine appears to state that one can not see God unchanged and withstand the event.

  3. I grew up in the Southern Bible Belt, and that should tell most people what kind of response many kids at school had to Mormons. Everything from horrified fascination (like looking at a particularly ugly insect) to outright fear and loathing. The fact that I was a D&D playing, trench-coat wearing youth probably didn’t help much. Of course while all of them were off smoking weed behind the school I was quietly reading every book I could lay hands on. But that’s a tangent.

    The point is that I’ve had that scripture in John thrown at me more times than I can remember as a reason for why JS was a complete fraud. I knew then it was obviously wrong-headed, and nothing has changed in the 15 years or so since high school. If Moses truly saw God face to face, then John obviously had something else in mind. So what does John mean by this, because he certainly knew about Moses. There are two explanations, assuming that we have an accurate rendering of John’s writings. Either John is saying that the account in Exodus is a mistranslation or he had a different rendering of it OR he is saying that Moses did not see God in all His Glory, though he spoke to him face to face. (There may be other explanations that I am missing, admittedly).

    Of course, it is possible, just possible, that the rendering of Johns writings is incorrect, as Neal (#1) states, but there you have it. I’d say Stephen (#2) has a point as well.

    My personal take on theophany is this: there are at least types: sleeping vision (in which the person is shown deity in dream), waking vision (in which the person’s mind is called up and shown things of the heavens, including deity), and finally, personal visitation (in which the person is literally visited by deity). I would guess that the first of these is fairly common for prophets and apostles, inasmuch as any vision of deity can be called common. The second is probably much less so, and the third is likely quite rare–on the order of once or less per dispensation, and only in extremely sacred grounds or, if available, within the confines of a temple.

    I might argue that there may be a fourth and fifth type, the fleeting glimpse, which may be experienced in a brief waking moment, and the momentary translation, such as Enoch’s experience when he was taken into the heavens and shown all of creation, which is somehow greater than even Joseph Smith’s experience, but I have less scriptural or other evidences for these types. I certainly would argue that these are important.

    Just some thoughts.

  4. 1 John 4:12 just doesn’t make sense in a literal translation, given the rest of the Bible. Anyone who uses it to dispute the First Vision doesn’t have a leg to stand on – unless they believe it refers to the Father – if they accept the Father and Son as two distinct, separate Beings – then most of them have no leg to stand on.

    We have our own squishy issues, but this definitely is one for those who accept the Bible as inerrant AND literal.

  5. The Bible’s authors paint two separate pictures of God — the personal, anthropomorphic Jehovah and the cosmic, universal God — and you don’t have to go all the way to the Gospels to see both. The main underlying source texts that make up the early books of the Bible (known as J, E, P, D), include the contrast. The earliest texts (the pro-Judaean J and the pro-Ephramite E) date from an era when Jehovah worship had recently emerged from its pagan origins and give us a personal God. The passage in Exodus that you quote comes from E, as probably does Jacob’s personally wrestling with God (Gen. 32:25-33), and God’s face-to-face visits with Adam, Eve, and Abraham come from J.

    The later text P, by contrast, paints the cosmic God of Genesis 1. None of the P stories contain face-to-face encounters with God, angels, or talking snakes. This reflects the direction that Judaism was heading, especially as promoted by the P author, who was either the Aaronid High Priest of Jerusalem or a promoter of the High Priest’s claims. John is following that later trajectory by picturing a universal, omnipotent God — which is the common conception among Jews and mainline Christians today.

    Mormons, by contrast, clearly reject the faceless, omnipotent P God, and return to the anthropomorphic, plenipotent God of J and E.

  6. Perhaps John was thinking of a point later in the same chapter of Exodus, which says,

    18. He said, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!” 19. And He answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name [LORD], and I will grant the grace that I will grant and show the compassion that I will show. 20. But,” He said, “you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.” (JPS)

    When God’s goodness passes before Moses, we’re told, Moses is standing protected in the cleft part of a rock, and Moses’s eyes are covered until God’s face is out of Moses’s line of sight. Perhaps Moses’s eyes were also covered when he and God were speaking face to face? Or perhaps it’s an idiomatic expression to mean God spoke so plainly that Moses was able to understand perfectly?

    As for Joseph Smith’s experience, would it be an acceptable interpretation to describe it as a waking vision (of Benjamin O’s 2nd type in #3 above) and not a literal viewing of the divine faces?

  7. >>> As for Joseph Smith’s experience, would it be an acceptable interpretation to describe it as a waking vision (of Benjamin O’s 2nd type in #3 above) and not a literal viewing of the divine faces?

    We do refer to it as a “vision” and so this would be acceptable. Opinions may vary…

  8. The best, though somewhat convoluted, explanation I’ve seen on this issue is that apparently there was a Jewish belief that if you see God you will die unless He decides to preserve your life. Because He is all powerful, so He can stop you from dying. This would seem to coincide with Joseph Smith’s teaching that you have to be “transfigured” to see God or you would die.

    I came across this possible interpretation of Jewish beliefs when reading Margaret Bakers “The Great Angel” (which I bought because LDS scholars talked about it a lot. I found out first hand that it’s not even close to our beliefs and I don’t really know why they bother with it.)

    In any case, according to Baker, (this is the convoluted part) apparently sometimes when the Bible speaks of “The Angel of Yahweh” it doesn’t mean an an angel sent from Yahweh, but rather the physical presence of Yahweh Himself. (Mormons might say either his spirit body or physical body depending whether or not you see that as the Father or the Son.) This would explain why after meeting the Angel of Yahweh many people act as if they talked with Yahweh Himself.

    Now with this possible interpretation in mind, read the following passages:

    Judges 6

    11 And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
    22 And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.
    23 And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.

    Genesis 32:

    30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved

    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.
    22 And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
    23 But his wife said unto him, If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.

  9. Hamer’s right on this one. There is no uniform picture of God in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. You have several different sources of material, each with their own views and biases. I think we get something similar in the four Gospels and the letters of Paul.

    So yeah, what Hamer said.

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