Exodus tells of Moses meeting face to face with God.

Shortly thereafter there is a warning that nobody can see God's face or they will die.

So contradiction, translation problem, or other explanation? How can both statements be correct.

There are other instances that seem to contradict each other including some in the NT.

  • @Kris Where is your link?
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 9, 2021 at 1:29
  • 2
    Please edit this to quote the verses you are referring to.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 9, 2021 at 1:52
  • This article gives Jehovah’s Witness answer. Not sure if this question will stay open if you don’t specify a denominational POV
    – user 14
    Feb 9, 2021 at 2:12
  • This belongs on Biblical Hermeneutics, but we can't migrate it until the specific verses are added.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 9, 2021 at 22:12

3 Answers 3


What Moses saw is described and defined in Numbers 12:8.

  1. And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
  1. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.
  1. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

What Moses saw was a 'similitude' (temunah Strong 8544). Such was the importance of all that was to be communicated to Moses, and thence to Israel, and thus to the whole earth, that God spoke through a mechanism, as if face to face.

God spoke to prophets by vision and by dream, previously and thereafter. But to Moses he spoke through a visible means, which gave, to Moses, the likeness of speaking to a man face to face.

But it was only a 'similitude'.

Nor was that similitude ever described. No doubt because, had it been described, people would immediately have fashioned a likeness to it and worshiped it.

Jesus told us that :

God is (a) Spirit.

He has no physical form, as Deity.

But God is 'manifest in flesh' (1 Timothy 3:16 TR) when 'the Word was made flesh' John 1:14 when 'Jesus Christ is come in the flesh' 1 John 4:2.

To draw near to God in prayer, with a sincere heart and with faith, in order to seek his real presence, his true person, is, once successful, once the Lord hears and answers and draws near : this is to see his face, as he truly is.

But it is not the physical eyes which see him who is Spirit, but the 'eye of faith'.

Those who repent and believe the gospel and continue in the faith shall see God, as he is, when he comes, 1 John 3:2 :

  1. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him;
  1. for we shall see him as he is.

All quotations are from the KJV.


In the New Testament, we learn that Moses and Jacob did not see God in some abstract, intangible way. As John opens his gospel, he informs us that “no one has ever seen God,” but that Jesus, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). This echoes Jesus’ statement in John 6:46: “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God [that is, Jesus]; he has seen the Father.” Since Jesus is God (the second person of the Trinity), He alone has seen the Father, meaning that Jacob and Moses saw the pre-incarnate Jesus, whose glory was still too great for sinful humans to see.


Seeing God 'face-to-face' in an anthropomorphism; God doesn't actually have a face. Hence when reading that Moses met 'face-to-face', I read that as Moses being in God's Presence with completely open, transparent and honest conversation.

Similarly, in not being able to see God's face, I read that as we cannot behold God in his holiness in our sinful nature. They are antithetical to each other - Isaiah 6:1-5.

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    What is your source for saying God has no face, when we have two instances here mentioning a face? Which, granted, could just be a figure of speech, but is there any reason not to take this literally? I think the contrast - normally people not bein able to endure seeing God's face, and Moses still talking face-to-face, and coming back with a glow, is interesting here and gets diminished if there is nothing to see as you seem to be saying. Also, if there is nothing to see, the statement "If you see God, you die" doesn't make any sense at all.
    – kutschkem
    Feb 9, 2021 at 7:08
  • As Nigel J mentions in his comment, the primary source for saying that 'God doesn't have a face' is the verse 'God is Spirit'. Supposing that God did have a face, I doubt that it would be of a scale that would fit inside the Tent of Meeting.
    – David Drew
    Feb 9, 2021 at 19:19
  • Ok thanks, that is what I expected. I was just wondering if there was something else. NigelJs answer is good, even if I don't completely agree.
    – kutschkem
    Feb 10, 2021 at 7:38

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