is God invisible or just not seen

1Ti 1:17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul tells Timothy some key characteristics of God. God lasts forever, does not die, and is “invisible”. The Greek word for invisible translates literally to “not looked at”. It is a negative of the word “horatos” meaning “looked at”. The contrast can be seen in Col 1:16:

Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

In this verse, “that which is seen” is contrasted against “that which is not”. Almost like he is listing categories of the “seen” and “unseen”, Paul begins a list: “thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers “. These may reference just invisible “concepts” or the de facto rulers, angels, and kingdoms of the world. If the latter is correct, Paul’s sentence becomes clear: the things that are unseen and the things which are seen are dependent on the viewer.

Most ancient Greeks had never seen a throne, a ruler, an angel, or the workings of government. However, some did see those things. But to those who had seen rulers or angels the list then becomes a “seen” and “unseen” list. The immediate context is another instance of Paul calling God “invisible”:

Col 1:14 In whom [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Col 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

It is interesting to note that Jesus is the “image” of the God “not looked at”. Paul was telling us we could look to Jesus to see God. An image is a representation, particularly a visual representation. Some theologians might want to take this figuratively, that Jesus represented the key aspects of Godhood, but then they would be insisting the Paul was not trying to contrast two ideas. They would have to insist that Paul was mixing metaphors and using puns, as opposed to building on a concept. Paul here was saying that in all characteristics, Jesus showed us who God is.

In Romans Paul contrasts that which is not seen with that which is seen. The mistranslation ruins the flow of what Paul is attempting to communicate:

Rom 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Blatant translator bias is revealed in Hebrews 11. In this verse the author is saying people were able to see what was unseen. The negative word of “seen” is used for “invisible”. When translating as “invisible”, it again destroys the flow the author is trying to achieve:

Heb 11:27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

This verse would flow much better and be a more accurate translation if it ended: “as seeing him who is not seen”.

God, in Exodus, has a conversation with Moses that is incredibly telling:

Exo 33:20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

God tells Moses that no one can see God, not because he is invisible, but because if anyone does see him, that individual will die. Not to worry, God explains a plan B such that Moses can experience him. God will literally place Moses on a rock, cover Moses with his (God’s) hand, pass by him, uncover him, and let Moses see God’s back:

Exo 33:21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
Exo 33:22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
Exo 33:23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

Calvinists, eat your heart out making this passage figurative.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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8 Responses to is God invisible or just not seen

  1. Pingback: Restored to the beauty of a creation reconciled with its source: St George’s Church, Paddington, NSW, 21 July 2013. | Key SensitivityKey Sensitivity

  2. Pingback: negative theology | reality is not optional

  3. Not a bad work at all. God bless you brother. :D

  4. Pingback: God does not condescend to man | reality is not optional

  5. timothy mcmahon says:

    Chris, what’s your thought on all the occurrences in the OT of people seeing God and the NT assertion that no one has ever seen God?

    • 1Jn 4:8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
      1Jn 4:9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
      1Jn 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
      1Jn 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
      1Jn 4:12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.
      1Jn 4:13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

      No man has seen God at any time. If this phrase was talking about physically seeing God, then this phrase does not seem (on face value) to fit the context.

      V8: If you know love you know God.
      V9: God showed His love by sending His son.
      V10: The love of God is not contingent on other people’s first love.
      V11: In the same manner, love one another.
      V12: No one has ever looked at God? Then God lives in us if we love.
      V13: And this is how we know God lives in us.

      It seems that John was using “looked” at in an idiomatic manner. Maybe he means no one has comprehended God fully. John uses the word earlier in which he seems to distinguish it from mere “looking at”:

      1Jn 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

      John says we: heard, seen, looked at, and handled. Ears, eyes, ?, hands. I think he is using the word to mean mind.

  6. Interesting article! :-)

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