In similar vein, regularly appearing on the skeptic’s comparative list are the biblical claims that God cannot be seen (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 6:46; 1 John 4:12), while God has reportedly been seen and communicated with "face to face" (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11). When set in opposition to each other on a confined itemized chart, there seems to be an obvious disparity. But when contextual and exegetical considerations are involved in the assessment, there is no problem at all. To "see" is an allusion both to physical eyesight ("I see the bird in the tree") and to mental perception ("We see the matter differently"). God’s full spiritual essence cannot be optically viewed with the human eye (Exodus 33:20), whereas deity can be more clearly understood when cognitively visualized through the revelation of Jesus Christ (John 1:18). It is not with physical eyesight that God is seen but with purity of heart (Matthew 5:8).
The Bible, like all other forms of communication (both written and oral) in every language and culture throughout history, is filled with figures of speech. When two people living on separate continents "see eye to eye," no one envisions them literally facing each other with their eyeballs pressed together! Anthropomorphism is a very common literary device wherein human characteristics are ascribed to nonhuman entities (e.g. "The merciless tornado was tireless in its malicious tirade"). Since the spiritual realm is beyond the ability of the mortal mind to fully comprehend, God is depicted throughout scripture with imagery to which humans can relate ("face," "ears," "hands," "eyes," etc.). Thus speaking with God "face to face" is simply a metaphoric description of direct, intelligible, and intimate conversation (see Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:6-8).
Another favorite example among antibiblicists is the following. In Luke 11:23 (cf. Matthew 12:30) Jesus is reported as saying, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." Compare this with the seemingly conflicting words of Luke 9:50 (cf. Mark 9:40): ". . . for he who is not against us [you] is on our [your] side." While critics of the Bible cry "blatant contradiction," a sympathetic reading of the statements in their respective contexts proves otherwise. In the first passage, the Lord is speaking to antagonistic Pharisees who were falsely accusing him of doing the devil’s work. Enemies of truth, resistant to Christ’s message, are decidedly against him. In the second passage, the apostles were forbidding the good works of an apparent disciple of Jesus simply because he was not in their immediate apostolic circle. In this case, the Lord is addressing misplaced pride and unwarranted discrimination. The teachings of Christ call for both exclusiveness and inclusiveness, depending on the circumstances. Out of context, there appears to be incongruity. In context, the teachings are easily harmonized.
--Kevin L. Moore
Related Posts: Mistakes in the Bible?, Luke's Historical Blunder?
Recommended Sources: Eric Lyons' Answering the Allegations; Wayne Jackson's Homer Sometimes Nodded