Seeing God’s face. The contradiction states: In Genesis 32:30 the Bible states, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” And in John 1:18 it states, “No man has seen God at any time…” How can both of these statements be true?
It seems like a contradiction for Jacob to have claimed to have seen God and for James to say no man has seen God, but like most contradictions, with careful study and added faith the answer is revealed.
Unlike the gods of other nations, the God of Israel is a living God, and not a statue, who dwells in unapproachable light. The Bible states in 1 Timothy 6:16, that God, “…alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see.”
We can see what happens when a person sees just a glimpse of His Glory. In Acts 1:1-9, a light suddenly appeared from Heaven down on Saul, and Jesus spoke to him. This small amount of light blinded Saul for three days! If we were to see the fullness of God’s glory we would be destroyed in an instant.
Because God desires to have a personal relationship with people, He must make a way for us to be able to behold Him without destroying us.
In Genesis 32, when Jacob said he saw “God” he used the word Elohim. Elohim is a plural noun and in the Hebrew language, plural means three or more, not two or more as in English.
This means within God’s name Elohim is three identities even though He is one God. These three identities are how God, who dwells in unapproachable light, can communicate with us.
When someone speaks of seeing ones face, not only can it mean actually seeing the person, but can also mean to see a representation of that person. If you seek to speak to a top person of a company you might see a representative of that company, which is called “the face of that company.” The face of the company is not the entire company, but a part of it, having the authority to speak on the behalf of the company head.
In John 1:18, John is speaking of no man ever seeing God at any time but the rest of the verse says, “…the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, is the face of God. Jesus is God’s representative here on the Earth. Philippians 2:5-7 states, “…Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a bond servant, being made in the likeness of men.” And Hebrews 1:1-3 states, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power…”
In Genesis 32, when Jacob wrestles with the “man” it actually was God, as Jesus, the one who represents Him on earth.
So in conclusion, Jacob did see God face to face in the form of a man, who is Jesus.