Theophanies

Discussion in '2005 Archive' started by church mouse guy, Feb 6, 2005.

  1. church mouse guy

    church mouse guy
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    Recently, a copy of J. Oliver Buswell's A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (in one volume) came into my hands. He discusses briefly a subject that has long interested me: Theophanies.

    Specifically, I wonder how many there are in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, and where they are?

    Here is what Buswell says on the subject:

    Theophanines differ in their nature from visions and from anthropomorphic metaphors. In Genesis 32:24-30, we are told that God appeared as a man to Jacob, and wrestled with him, and Jacob said (v. 30), "I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved." This is a most astonishing incident.

    In this experience of Jacob's, and in other theophanies, we are to understand that it is the Second Person of the Trinity who appears thus in human form. A principle involved is that stated in John 1:18, "No man hath see God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."

    The One of the three who is called LORD, or Jahweh, in the incident recorded in Genesis 18, is to be taken to be the Second Person of the Trinity. It is He "whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting" (Micah 5:2), who appeared to Joshua as "the Captain of the Lord's hosts" (Josh. 5:13-15). It was none other than He, the fourth Man in the fiery furnace, who walked with Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego (Daniel 3) "and the form of the fourth [was] like the son of God" (Dan.3:25)....For our present purpose, it is sufficient to point out that the essential and eternal nature of God is incorporeal and spiritual and that manifestations of Himself at particular times and places in history, most important of which is His incarnation, are not inconsistent with His essential incorporeality and spirituality.*

    * The Incarnation differs from all other theophanies in that when He "was born in Bethlehem," when He "became flesh," He took to Himself, permanently, a genuine human nature, wholly apart from sin. In the Old Testament theophanies He appeared as man in specific times and places without actually becoming a member of the human race.
     
  2. OldRegular

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    I agree with Buswell regarding the Old Testament theophanies. However, I am not convinced that God the Son permanently took upon Himself a genuine human nature. I look forward to a discussion of this with supporting Scripture.
     
  3. Matt Black

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    Are references to "The Angel of the Lord" similarly references to some kind of pre-incarnation manifestation of the Second Person? That has likewise always intrigued me.

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  4. Charles Meadows

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    Matt,

    That IS intriguing. It seems like the "mal'ak YHWH" (angel of the Lord) implies the Lord's presence, not just that of an "angel".

    I've always been puzzled by the passage in Genesis 18 where the Lord visits Abraham in Mamre. Certainly it was the "angel of the Lord" since God told Moses that no man could see His face and live. But did Abraham even know he was being visited by the angel of the Lord? He didn't seem uncomfortable at all, just typically hospitable. Compare this to Jacob who wrestled with the angel and then exclaimed that he had "seen God".

    Did Abraham not know? Had God made Himself more familiar to Abraham than to others such that Abraham was not troubled?

    I've never really been too impressed that Genesis depicts Melchizedek as "Mal'ak YHWH" - but yet the later references to him are significant.

    It's very interesting...
     
  5. Debby in Philly

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    Could it be a reference to an angel of the stature of Michael, except not by name? Or God Himself, described as "preincarnate Jesus"?
    I personally feel that it was our Lord in these cases, but I don't have words that fully articulate the nature of the appearance.
     
  6. James_Newman

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    OldRegular, I think by permanently he probably means during the entire time He was on the earth, although I don't know that He is not still in His glorified body now at the right hand of the Father. I'm thinking there is a scripture that might back that up, but I can't quite recall...
     
  7. IveyLeaguer

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    I have always heard that Jacob wrestled with an unnamed angel and checking it, the "God" in Gen 24:28 is eloheem, the same word used for 'angels' or 'divine beings' in some other contexts, which would indicate a created being, but a divine being of very high rank and status, a 'god', not an ordinary rank and file angel, as we have been discussing in some other threads. Hence the reference to 'God' in other places. But without digging further it's hard to say. It would take much more to rule out a Christophony or maybe a Theophany.

    The "captain of the LORD of hosts" is Jesus Christ, a Christophony, because He receives worship from Joshua, and is the "captain" of "Jehovah's hosts" an angelic army. I love that passage.

    In Daniel 3:25 I have always heard this was a Christophany, like unto the "Son of God". But the NASB, HCSB, ESV, translate it "son of the gods" and the NET makes reference to the same thing. I have enough respect for those translations to lean towards a created being until proved otherwise.

    Good question, wish there were more time to look into it. Maybe some of our scholars can help with it.
     
  8. church mouse guy

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    OldRegular, I think that you are going off into a discussion of the nature of the Resurrection or the nature of Jesus. As I understand Christianity, Jesus is truly God and truly man. Jesus rose with a human body and ascended with a human body as I understand Christianity. I will be happy to discuss this in more detail if you like.

    +++

    On the subject of Christophanies, the Random House dictionary says that Christophanies are the appearances of the resurrected Jesus. I believe that Jacob wrestled with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ just as I believe that Abraham bargained with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ over the destruction of Sodom, in which there were not ten good men.
     
  9. IveyLeaguer

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    CMG,

    I had to look for myself and it sure does say that. But I'm not sure I believe it. I've always thought Christophanies refer to the pre-incarnate Christ.
     
  10. rjprince

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    I have always heard pre-incarnate appearances referred to as Theophanies, not Christophanies. Only in the last 10 years or so have I heard C used that way. The distinction may not be so cut and dried though.

    Here is an excellent discussion of the subject...

    http://www.parbarwestward.org/frmAOTL.htm
     
  11. IveyLeaguer

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    That was a nice read. The author (Kerwin) defines Christophanies as pre-incarnate manifestations of Christ in human form. He seems to distinguish the ascended Christ from the pre-incarnate Christ in human form which seems to be a good point since after the Lord ascended He appears in glorified form to Paul and John.

    Kerwin says: ".... our working definition of Christophany: a visible appearance or manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament." .... "James Borland calls Christophanies those unsought, intermittent and temporary, visible and audible manifestations of God the Son in human form, by which God communicated something to certain con­scious human beings on earth prior to the birth of Jesus."

    But at the same time the author points out that ALL Theophanies are manifestations of the 2nd person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, thus the blurred distinctions. So, according to Kerwin, every Theophany is a Christophany and vice-versa. Interesting, and I'm not sure I disagree.

    I don't know how Random House comes up with their definition of Christophany as the appearance of the resurrected Christ, unless they consider all pre-incarnate appearances as Theophanies and the post-ascension appearances to Paul and John as the only Christophanies. In that context it would make sense. But that provides no distinction as to the identity of the Trinity member involved in the Theophanies.

    Also, I seriously doubt all the appearances Kerwin describes are actually Theophanies or Christophanies, though that would take quite a bit of research to refute.
     
  12. church mouse guy

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    rjprince, your source, as you know, defines the words as follows:

    Theophany: This is another meeting of two Greek words. The theos part we’ve already encountered. The last half of the word is derived from phaneia, which means an appearance or manifestation. So a theophany is a visible appearance or manifestation of God.

    Christophany: We’ve already met the two pieces to this word, so we can figure it out. Christos plus phaneia gives us Christophany or a visible appearance or manifestation of Christ.

    +++

    This goes to the heart of the question that I have wanted to hear from everyone about. Is the dove descending upon the shoulder of Jesus at His baptism a theophany? I should think so, but I am not sure how the theological term is used.

    If we use Christophany for Jesus after He arose from the grave, it includes many appearances. However, what is the exact usage of that term?
     
  13. Matt Black

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    I prefer to stick with the θηοσ as it is more devoid of speculation.

    CMG and rjprince, do you have any examples, Biblical or otherwise, of the use of φανηια ?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  14. Charles Meadows

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    I think that the OT writers were obviously limited by their conceptions of God. Did Moses know about 3 persons of the Trinity? probably not. As such it's tough to say that any Pentateuchal theophany is explicitly describing the second person of the Trinity, namely Christ. Consider Genesis 18 where 3 men appear to Abraham. Many commentators will say this is obviously the 3 members of the Trinity. I think that's presumptious. At this point I'll agree with Matt and stick with "theophany" for all OT occurrences.
     
  15. rjprince

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    Matt,

    No Biblical use of φανηια from a check in my PC version of GNT. I am not at home, so cannot check Baeur, Arndt, & Gingrich. If I get a chance I will try to check to see if there is a copy of BAG or TDNT here at the Vanderbilt library.


    Chas,

    Agree that it is presumptious to read NT understanding back into an OT experience. They just did not understand the concept of incarnation, not sure we do today, even though we can clearly state it.


    CMG,

    Would say that the descending of the Spirit in the form of a dove was definitely a "Theophany" in that it was a physical manifestation of God. Certainly was not a "Christophany". "Pneumophany" anyone? Of course the cloven tongues like as of fire were also a visible manifestation of the Spirit's presence.


    Keep praying. Surgery this Friday morning at about 8:30.
    http://www.baptistboard.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php/topic/26/1965/3.html

    Ray
     
  16. rjprince

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    Neither Theophany nor Christophany are Biblical terms. They are theological terms to reference Biblical phenomena.
     
  17. IveyLeaguer

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    Good point, I should think so, too.

    I wouldn't think appearances during the 40 days after the resurrection prior to the ascension would be considered Christophanies but who knows.
     
  18. preachinjesus

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    I've recently completed a Hebrew exegesis paper on the Judges 6 passage where a Messenger of YHWH commissions Gideon. In this paper I did some research on the occurences of supposed theophanic or Christophanic appearances in the OT. To condense my conclusions to a simple point is difficult but I am not persuaded that there are any verifiable Christophanies in the Old Testament. Likewise most (please note most) theophanical accounts can be better understood as God sending a divinely appointed Messenger to speak with someone. That's too far short but anyhoo...

    I'll probably have a post on my blog about this soon.
     
  19. church mouse guy

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    I think that Christianity has stated for a long time that Jesus appeared in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Jesus told Abraham that Sarah was to have a baby. She laughed and Jesus knew that she laughed. In other words, it had to be Jesus because He knew more than an angel could know.
     
  20. IveyLeaguer

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    FWIW, yesterday I heard R.C.Sproul define Christophany as "a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ", implying that he would not view the New Testament appearances of Christ as 'Christophany'. Sproul is just one opinion, true, but his opinion carries some weight in most theological circles. For one thing we know it has been thought out. It also is one that goes back a few years, so the idea of Christophanies as OT appearances is not something that is generally new.

    He calls the appearance of the "captain of the LORD's host" in Joshua 5 a 'Christophany'. He also referred to the appearance of the LORD on Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Law in Exodus 19 as a 'Theophany', and said supernatural appearances of fire throughout the Bible would be examples of Theophanies. Which is very interesting because not only would that include the burning bush, for example, but the dove at Jesus Baptism (as CMG suggested) and the tongues of fire at Pentecost (as RJPrince suggested) as definite Theophanies of the Holy Spirit.

    The reading of Exodus 19 itself, the constant use of the 'LORD' (yehôvâh) in the text, the surrounding context, and the distinctiveness of this appearance lead me to believe the Theophany described there on Mt. Sinai is an appearance of God the Father Almighty. I suspect there are one or two others. For the "captain of the LORD of hosts" in Joshua 5 to be anything other than a Christophany would require a jump through any number of hoops, it seems to me, but that's another post.

    So I am now leaning heavily to the idea of 'theophanic' appearances by all three persons of the Trinity based on Joshua 5, Exodus 19, and Matthew 3, alone. It is clear that the dove in Matthew 3 can be none other than the Holy Spirit since the event described there (the Baptism of Jesus) involves and reveals all three persons of the Trinity.

    The idea that all Theophanies are appearances by Christ, preposed by Kerwin in the above linked article, must now be rejected. From what I have gathered this is one of those positions taken by theologians and others who cannot bring themselves to comprehend the idea that God the Father and the Holy Spirit, being Spirit and non-physical, can ever be anything other than invisible. Therefore, only Christ can be visible. For whatever reason, they have failed to distinguish between 'physical' and 'visible'. If there is any evidence that God the Father or God the Holy Spirit cannot manifest themselves in visible form I would like to see it.

    Nor can I agree with the idea that most, if not all, of the supernatural manifestations or appearances to humans recorded in the Bible are Theophanies. Directed by God, sure. But some of the appearances would be created 'eloheem', divine beings or 'angels' of high rank and status, and others are clearly angels.

    Thoughts, anybody?
     

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