Mormon critics like to quote verses such as the following to suggest that God cannot be seen, therefore Joseph Smith’s claims to have seen God cannot be true:
20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.
15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
The number of scriptures, however, that teach that man can see or has seen God are more numerous than those which say that he can’t:
1 And the Lord appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
A close reading of the context of the above verses reveals that one of the “three men” who appeared to Abraham was indeed God, and the other two were the two angels who went on to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and rescued Lot. God stayed behind and continued to converse with Abraham, as recorded in the book of Genesis. God was on such familiar terms with Abraham that He used to come and visit Him at his tent like a guest! That is how Abraham gained the reputation of being the “friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Here are some more examples:
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
22 And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
1 Kings 22:
19 And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
2 Chronicles 18:
18 Again he said, Therefore hear the word of the Lord; I saw the Lord sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left.
1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
1 I Saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
That is a ratio of around two to one in favor of seeing God than not seeing Him! Obviously the question that arises here is how to reconcile this apparent contradiction. But that is a different subject matter. The most immediate conclusion is that the Bible is overwhelmingly in favor of man seeing God rather than not seeing Him. Interestingly, modern LDS scripture confirms this doctrine, of which the following are a small selection:
13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
11 For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.
12 Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.
68 Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;
49 And he [Enoch] saw the Lord, and he walked with him, and was before his face continually; and he walked with God three hundred and sixty-five years, making him four hundred and thirty years old when he was translated.
4 And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face; and he said unto me: Look, and I will show unto thee the world for the space of many generations.
11 Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made;
Exodus 33:20 is rendered by Joseph Smith as follows:
And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also, and I destroy thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.
And John 1:18 as follows:
And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.