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The whole verse of Acts 7:2, "And he said, Hear me, brethren and fathers! "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran." God ask Abraham to "Depart from your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you." (Acts 7:3).

At Acts 7:8, God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve partriarchs." This event occurred at Genesis 17:1-10.

Genesis 17:1-2, "Now when Abram was ninety-nine year old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless, vs2, And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly."

Genesis 17:10-11, "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. vs11, And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you."

My question is geared to those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ. Since Genesis 17:1-2 clearly states that God appeared to Abraham what form did God take?

I fully understand that the Bible teaches that God (the Father) cannot be seen even according to Jesus Christ Himself at John 5:47 and at John 6:46. So how is this "seemingly" contradiction reconciled?

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    The event in which 'the God of glory appeared' is prior to Abraham leaving Ur of the chaldees . . . . . 'before he lived in Haran' says Stephen, emphasising that it was before the intervention of Terah (Abraham's father) and the move to (and settling down in) Haran. Other than his father's involvement (and subsequent influence to settle) Abraham had had his own - personal - meeting with - 'the God of glory'. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 1, 2023 at 21:52
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    @NigelJ That's true, the God of glory spoke to Abraham at Genesis 12:1 and appeared to him at Genesis 12:7 and built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him. Stephen continues to give a history lesson to the Jews all through Acts 7. Given the events of Acts 7 we can "deduce" or use "deductive reasoning" as to who it was that physically appeared to Abraham.
    – Mr. Bond
    Jun 1, 2023 at 22:24
  • @Mr.Bond the scope really needs to be explicitly stated so you can't self-answer something that contradicts another answer that is factually correct from a different perspective (not talking about Eternal Truth, just what they teach)
    – Peter Turner
    Jun 5, 2023 at 12:33

1 Answer 1

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This is a good question, answerable from Scripture. Let's take a look.

And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, (Acts 7:2, KJV)

The Greek Verb

The Greek word "ὤφθη" that has been translated here as "appeared" may not mean what it first appears (no pun intended).

Consider how this same word, Strong's number G3700, is used in other places.

Reference Text (KJV)
Acts 7:2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared G3700 unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
Act 7:26 And the next day he shewed himself G3700 unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?
Act 7:30 And when forty years were expired, there appeared G3700 to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.
Act 16:9 And a vision appeared G3700 to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
Act 18:15 But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye G3700 to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.
Mat 27:4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see G3700 thou to that.
Mat 27:24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see G3700 ye to it.
Luk 3:6 And all flesh shall see G3700 the salvation of God.

As the above text table demonstrates, the Greek word for "see" can be used with broad application, just as its English equivalent is used, ranging from seeing with the eyes to seeing with the understanding. It can be applied to seeing something in a dream, in person, or in theory (e.g. "see the salvation of God").

Stephen, therefore, cannot be made to say, or mean, that Abraham had literally seen God. That his speech applies to having figuratively seen God is clear from the fact that no one, according to John, has ever seen God.

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, KJV)

No man hath seen G2300 God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12, KJV)

Note: The Greek word used in 1 John for "hath seen" is always used throughout the New Testament with application to the sight of the eyes; i.e. personal witness via the sense of sight. It is never used in a figurative or euphemistic sense, only in its literal sense. See more of this HERE.

However, the Greek word used in John 1:18, "ἑώρακεν" (G3708), is of similar root to the word used by Stephen, and can be used figuratively, such as in the sense of "take heed," or in the sense of understanding, though it usually applies to seeing with one's eyes.

Ye see G3708 then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:4, KJV)

Even in the sense of understanding, of course, it is not possible that any finite human has fully comprehended God, so John is correct to say that no one has ever "seen" God. But that John uses this same expression twice, with a different verb each time, and that John's usage in the latter case expressly applies to the sight, is instructive. If no one has ever seen God, Abraham is included.

Stephen's verb, G3700, is the broadest of these Greek terms in its potential application. It can address an encounter, a perception, or an experience. It is certainly not limited to a literal eye-witness sense of "seeing."

The Hebrew Verb

The Hebrew word used in Genesis 17:1-2 for "appeared" is the word "וַיֵּרָ֨א/way·yê·rā" (H7200). It can mean "to present oneself"; and it is used in Genesis 12:1 of God speaking to Abram to say "I will shew thee" (KJV). The same word is used in the prior chapter, and in a few chapters earlier, in a sense of finding out.

And the LORD came down to see H7200 the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. (Genesis 11:5, KJV)

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see H7200 what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. (Genesis 2:19, KJV)

Further expanding on the flexibility of this verb, again from the same book of the Bible, same writer, same Hebrew language, and even the same Abraham, we have the following text:

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide H7200 himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:8, KJV)

This latter usage parallels that of Genesis 17:1-2 in that both verbs are of the imperfect form in Hebrew.

Conclusion

While the text makes explicit reference to Yahweh, the question is premised on Abraham having seen God; whereas the Biblical language does not limit it to this application. Abraham may well have encountered God in some manner, without entailing his having seen God's person. In fact, if John is to be believed, Abraham cannot have actually seen God, so God's "appearance" to Abraham must be understood in a figurative sense.

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    "No man hath seen God at any time" — for those that believe that YHWH was the pre-incarnate Jesus, this means something completely different than how it is interpreted here. As the scripture continues: "[Jesus] hath declared him". I.e. until Jesus revealed the existence of the Father, no one had ever heard of him, much less seen him. And that interpretation doesn't conflict with people having seen JHWH face to face. Jun 3, 2023 at 2:53
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    @RayButterworth The Father is mentioned in the OT, before Jesus' incarnation. Psalm 68 is all about God--the whole chapter. Verse 5 says: "A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation." Psalm 89:26 says: "He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation." Isaiah 63:16: "Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting." And Malachi 2:10: "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?"
    – Biblasia
    Jun 3, 2023 at 8:34
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    @RayButterworth In examining some of the scriptures used to answer here, I ran across an interesting possibility with 1 Chronicles 29:10 potentially designating God as our Father. Due to ambiguities (at least to me) in the Hebrew grammar, I am looking now for more clarity on this, and have asked a question about it on the Hermeneutics site HERE. Feel free to contribute there if you have insights.
    – Biblasia
    Jun 3, 2023 at 11:03
  • "Thou art my father, my God" is a more figurative use of the word. Your reference to "A father of the fatherless" must be figurative, as otherwise it is self-contradictory. YHWH is the creator, and therefore can be thought of as the father of all creation (as in "Gregor Mendel is the father of modern genetics", but obviously much stronger). For those denominations that identify YHWH and Jesus, "The Father", as a separate person, wasn't known to mankind until Jesus himself revealed his existence. "The Father" is used as a title, part of a relationship symbolized by human families. Jun 3, 2023 at 12:48
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    “ The two persons known as the Son and the Father have a special relationship: they are equal, but the Father is greater than the Son”. That is a conundrum. @RayButterworth
    – Kris
    Jun 5, 2023 at 2:47

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