The Pillar of the Cloud -- By: Ronald B. Allen
BSac 153:612 (Oct 96) p. 387
The Pillar of the Cloud
[Ronald B. Allen is Professor of Bible Exposition, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.]
[This is article four in the four-part series “On Paths Less Traveled: Discovering the Savior in Unexpected Places in the Old Testament,” delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 7–10, 1995.]
The first article in this series looked briefly at the prologue to John’s Gospel as a place to frame a strategy for confronting certain older, less familiar texts. This article now gives attention to the culminating verse of the prologue, John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son,1 who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (NKJV).2
This verse seems to present a bit of a problem for readers of the Old Testament, for the Hebrew Scriptures often refer to people seeing God. How then can this verse say that no one has ever seen God at any time? The wording of the first part of the verse is terse and emphatic: “God, no one has seen, ever!”
Abraham experienced dramatic encounters with God, sometimes hearing a voice and sometimes actually seeing some form of the divine presence.3 In a variety of ways, in differing places,
BSac 153:612 (Oct 96) p. 388
and in differing modes, God appeared to, walked with, talked with, and listened to His friend Abraham (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; James 2:23). Yet Jesus’ words in John 6:46, “Not that anyone has seen the Father,” buttress the assertion in John 1:18.
Several solutions to this problem have been suggested. One might argue that John’s point was merely to say that God is invisible, that the divine Person who is Spirit cannot be seen by the human eye.
The noun God (theon) has no article in the Greek text, which indicates that the author is presenting God in his nature of being rather than as a person. “Deity” might be a more accurate rendering. The meaning is that no human eye has ever seen the essence of deity. God is invisible, not because he is unreal, but because physical eyes are incapable of detecting him.4
Another approach ...
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