HOW CAN THE BIBLE SAY, “NO MAN HATH SEEN GOD AT ANY TIME?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
Years ago, a long-time critic and Bible-rejecter replied to one of our Bible studies, emailing the following argument to me: “John 1:18 says, ‘No man has seen God at any time;….’ Jesus was seen of men and the Bible says no one has ever seen God. Therefore, Jesus could not have been God.” While I never did reply to him (it was one of his many “foolish and unlearned questions,” and those are always to be ignored; 2 Timothy 2:23), how should we reply? For those of us who sincerely want to know God’s truth, who do not ask captious questions just to challenge God’s Word, but who ask questions solely for the sake of better understanding God’s precious Word, how should we view John 1:18?
We will first survey the “Old Testament” Scriptures to learn the following:
- Genesis 17:1 says, “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”
- Genesis 32:30 says, “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (“Peniel” is Hebrew for “the face of God.”)
- Genesis 35:9 says, “And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him.”
- 1 Samuel 3:21 says, “And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.”
- 1 Kings 3:5 says, “In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.”
- 1 Kings 9:2 says, “That the LORD appeared to Solomon the second time, as he had appeared unto him at Gibeon.”
- 2 Chronicles 3:1 says, “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.”
There are other examples, but for space’s sake, we will only list their references (you may look at them in your Bible). Try Genesis 18:1, Genesis 26:2, and 1 Kings 11:9. As these verses demonstrate, people did indeed see “God” (or “the LORD”) in the Old Testament economy. He literally appeared to them and they saw Him face-to-face as we would see another person in front of us. So, how could the Apostle John write, “No man hath seen God at any time?” Is the Bible mistaken? No, actually, we need a sound definition of the name “God” (the scoffers have no such working definition because they do not adequately study the Book they malign and contradict).
Most of the time, when God the Son is implied, the Bible employs terms such as, “the Lord Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “the Lord Jesus,” “the Lord,” “Christ,” “Christ Jesus,” et cetera. The syntax of John 1:18 defines “God” for us: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” In this verse, “Son” is obviously God the Son, Jesus Christ. There is someone else mentioned in the verse, and the Person is “God.” Who would this Person be? The only logical answer is that this would be indicative of God the Father. Not always, but usually, in the “New Testament” Scriptures, the name “God” implies God the Father. What John 1:18 is really communicating is that no one has seen God the Father. So, who were people—Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, David, Solomon, et cetera—seeing in the Old Testament when “God” or “the LORD” appeared to them? They would have seen God the Son, Jesus Christ, in a “theophany,” a pre-incarnate appearance!
While no one can see God the Father (He is a Spirit being), they can see Jesus Christ His Son. Jesus Christ is such a perfect reflection of Father God in all of His glory and wisdom and holiness, to look upon Jesus Christ is as if you were looking at Father God Himself. They are that closely connected with one another! Hence, Jesus Christ is the only way to Father God, the one mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). Whatever Jesus Christ was doing, to watch Him execute that work was to watch Father God working in and through Him to carry out that work!
John 14:6-8 explains: “ Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.  If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.  Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.  Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.  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?  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.”
Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus Christ is, “…the brightness of [Father God’s] glory, and the express image of his person.” Colossians 2:9 says, “For in [Jesus Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” And 2 Corinthians 4:6, “Christ, who is the image of God.” (As noted earlier, please observe how “God” in that last verse is indicative of the Father.)
Back to John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Jesus Christ and His Heavenly Father are so intertwined, so united in love (John 17:24), Jesus Christ is spoken of as being “in the bosom of the Father.” Jesus Christ is the very dearest of all Father God knows! God the Father’s relationship with Jesus Christ is the greatest of all relationships. The exciting reality is that, in Jesus Christ, we Christians are just as precious to Father God as Jesus is! “To the praise of the glory of his grace; wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). Colossians 1:13 calls Jesus Christ “his dear Son”—Jesus is ever so beloved of Father God and in Christ we are ever so beloved of Father God, too!
Since God the Father and God the Son are so closely related, Father God declares Himself to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, by His actions and His words, makes the invisible Father God known to mankind. Again, Jesus Christ is the Mediator between God the Father and men (1 Timothy 2:5). To better understand the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Heavenly Father, we need to look no further than His prayer to His Father just prior to His betrayal, arrest, and death on Calvary’s cruel cross (please note especially the bolded statements). Note the words of John chapter 17:
“ These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:  As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.  I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
“ And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.  I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.  Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.  For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.  I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.  And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.”
“ And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”
“ And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.  As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.  Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;  That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
“ 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.  O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.  And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
A LITTLE MORE CLARITY
To even better understand John 1:18, let us consider the following. John’s Gospel is meant to testify that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God. At its heart, the book highlights eight “signs” (miracles communicating doctrine) that Jesus performed to prove that He was Israel’s Messiah/Christ/God’s Son. We read in chapter 20, verses 30-31: “ And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:  But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” These miracles “sign-ified” that Jesus Christ could give those Jews who received Him, “power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). They would be equipped to do what He was doing for Father God’s glory! In other words, it would be His power to work in them and have them resemble His Father in their heart and actions, too, just as He was thinking and doing!
SUPPLEMENTAL: A BRIEF WORD ABOUT TEXTUAL CRITICISM AND JOHN 1:18
Beloved, a study about John 1:18 without discussing manuscript evidence would be an incomplete study. So, we will dedicate a special section to briefly examining the controversy surrounding the reading of John 1:18.
John 1:18 is a major reason why the Bible versions issue is so important. We will read it again as it appears in our King James Bible: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The majority of Greek New Testament manuscripts read, “monogenes huios” (“the only begotten Son”)—the King James Bible and its Greek Textus Receptus has the correct reading. The Greek New Testament used by the translators of the modern English versions, commonly called the “Nestle-Aland Greek” or “Critical Text,” has the phrase, “monogenes theos” (translated as “the only begotten God” in the New American Standard Bible).
In church history, there was (and still is) a heretical doctrine known as “Arianism.” It is the belief that the Bible’s view of the Trinity is wrong, that Jesus Christ is a created being, and that Jesus Christ is not equal to God the Father. To say that Jesus is a “begotten God” not only eliminates the reference to Jesus being “the Son” (thus removing a reference to the Trinity—remember our God/Father/Son syntactical comments from earlier?), it also borderlines the idea that God had an origin, that Jesus was a created god or created being. This is the Jehovah’s Witness’ view and the Mormons’ view of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is most definitely God, but He is not a “begotten God.” To say that Jesus Christ is a “begotten God” is heresy; the NASB is a heretical modern English version. Jesus Christ is God’s “begotten Son,” for Father God raised His Son, not His “God,” from the dead (see Acts 13:33-34).
“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). This verse does not deny Jesus is God. In fact, for John 1:18 to say that “God” (indicative of the Father) was not seen in the Old Testament, and yet the Old Testament says people did see God, means that there are at least two Persons called “God” in the Bible. In other words, Jesus Christ is the “LORD” (all caps, JEHOVAH) of the Old Testament! While John 1:18 is seen as a refutation of Jesus’ deity, upon close study, that verse strengthens the claim that Jesus was and is just as much God as God the Father. Jesus is JEHOVAH, dear friends, so now we see why the Devil corrupted John 1:18 and keeps people confused about its proper reading!
John 1:18 simply means that whenever “God” appeared to people in the Old Testament economy, it was God the Son, Jesus Christ before His incarnation (before He took on Himself human flesh and became the God-Man). John 1:18 is saying that no mortal human has seen God the Father. That phrase “whom no man hath seen, nor can see” of 1 Timothy 6:16 does not refer to Jesus Christ, as sometimes assumed, but rather applicable to “God” (the Father) of verse 13. Only Jesus Christ His Son has seen and had a personal relationship with Him. Thus, it is through Jesus Christ alone that we can have fellowship with Father God. Hence, the Bible says that those who saw Jesus Christ in His flesh saw His Father—Jesus Christ is the perfect reflection of His Heavenly Father, “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3), “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is through His Son Jesus Christ that Father God has made Himself known (see Hebrews 1:1-2).