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Which theophanies are allowed to be Christ?

Many preachers on OT passages seem to have an arbitrary ranking system when it comes to theophanies (appearances of God).  Sometimes they are clear that the appearing LORD is Christ, sometimes they tentatively suggest it, sometimes they claim that all is shrouded in darkness and who can know and sometimes they ignore the issue altogether.

I'm never sure what might be the rationale behind such decisions.  But there seems to be a ranking at play.  So I've decided to reconstruct what I think the ranking might be.  Here is just  a top ten (with the number one being the most likely to be desginated a Christophany).  There are, obviously, many more appearances than these.  But I'm not sure you'll find many today who will acknowledge more than these ten.

10.  The LORD who eats with Abraham  (Genesis 18)

9.  The Glorious Apparition of Daniel 10

8.  The Voice of the LORD walking in the garden  (Genesis 3)

7.  The God who eats with the 70 elders of Israel  (Exodus 24)

6.  The fourth figure in the fiery furnace  (Daniel 3)

5.  The I AM of the burning bush (Exodus 3)

4.  The Man who wrestled Jacob  (Genesis 32)

3.  The LORD who rebukes Satan (Zechariah 3)

2.  Isaiah's Temple vision  (Isaiah 6)

1.  Commander of the LORD's host  (Joshua 5)

Have I got the ranking about right?  Are there other more worthy candidates for the top ten?

Against this arbitrary system, Jonathan Edwards' advice will be a much safer and saner approach:

When we read in sacred history what God did, from time to time, towards His Church and people, and how He revealed Himself to them, we are to understand it especially of the Second Person of the Trinity. When we read of God appearing after the fall, in some visible form, we are ordinarily, if not universally, to understand it of the Second Person of the Trinity.  (A History of the Work of Redemption)

See more from Owen and Edwards here.

0 thoughts on “Which theophanies are allowed to be Christ?

  1. Si Hollett

    I'd disagree with the order - #6 is the most common one IME (though obviously there's the Son of Man in Dan 7 that trumps it as there's no weasel words employed there - you normally get tentative links, 'could be's and so with Dan3). Never heard #2 (though it clearly is), despite it being a passage that comes up a bit (unlike #1, 3, 7 or 9, which don't really come up much).

    If we count songs, then the Ancient of Days in Dan 7 is the OT figure most often linked with Christ and Christ-language in terms of frequency :P

  2. Glen

    Sacre bleu, can't believe I overlooked Daniel 7. Perhaps because it is so irrefutable...

    Daniel 3 is a funny one. I can think of one sermon series I heard in which chapter 3 was spoken of in shadowwy terms but chapter 10 was clearly proclaimed as Christ. Which just goes to show how arbitrary the rationale is often.

  3. John B

    IME the designation of a Christophany usually isn't pressed when the text uses "the angel of the Lord" or angel of God language, as in #'s 3, 5, and 6. I've heard Exodus 34 presented as a Christophany and linked to the account in the Gospels of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Also, Ezekiel 1 is usually taught as a Christophany.

  4. Paul Huxley

    Exodus 33? It would be low on the list. I think Isaiah 6 is less likely to be preached as Jesus since he's less human-sized (unless he's wearing a massively oversized robe) than some of the other examples.

  5. Rich Owen

    I think Isaiah 6 tends to not be given Christocentrically - more often than not. We just get glory talk, like it is some kind of gas that god is made from.

    To be honest, I think you are being too optimistic (typically plucky Aussie :-)). Allow the grumpy negativity of Great Britain to counter that and allow for some Hegelian synthesis :-)

    I've heard a few sermons which do the "some say" thing, or even slightly more. But giving the nod in that way is not the same as preaching Christ as the intended meaning, the Object of faith, the Eternal Son the saviour and the LORD God of Israel. They almost never make the link between ontology and epistemology and even if they do, it is that reluctant, backed-into-the-corner-by-that-wretched-clarity-of-scripture thing. The following week it is like that strange Jesus in the OT thing never happened.


  6. Rich

    Apologies if this is slightly off topic...

    I was chatting to a friend of mine about the angel of the Lord on the weekend. He was fine with the angel of the Lord being recognized as God, or the "Eternal Son of the Father", or "God the Son" or even "the pre-incarnate Christ", but not as "Jesus".

    To be honest I was baffled by the distinction as I am always happy to refer to Christ in the Old Testament as Jesus. Same person -- the Son of God -- different name/title.

    But my friend argues that "Jesus" or "Jesus of Nazareth" is not a name we can apply to God the Son in the Old Testament because Jesus (the man) had not yet been born. So though "God the Son" was present and active in the OT, the Son had not yet been made flesh and so "Jesus the man" did not exist.

    Just to be clear, he is not saying Jesus and the Son are different persons. He agrees that God the Son was active in the OT. He just maintains that we mustn't refer to him there as Jesus.


    Part of his argument is that God the Son could not have paid the price for our sins had he not been made flesh. So only Jesus of Nazareth (that is the Son made flesh) could redeem us. So sure, we must recognize that Jesus in the NT is the Son of God, but more than that, we must recognize that he is the Son of God made flesh -- he is the Son of God able to redeem flesh.

    He thinks therefore, that to refer to the Son in the OT (before he was made flesh) as Jesus obscures the absolute necessity of the Son becoming flesh.

    As I understand it his fear is that by referring to the Son in the OT as Jesus we might obscure the very thing that has allowed Jesus to save -- the fact that, at a specific point in time, he took on human flesh.

    TBH I still don't have a problem referring to God the Son as Jesus in the OT.

    I figure I could refer to a painting of Queen Elizabeth II aged 3 as depicting either "The Queen of England aged 3" (though she hadn't yet been crowned), or "Princess Elizabeth of York". Same person. Different title. In the same way I figure it's fine to refer to the Son in the OT as Jesus.

    Also, I think making this distinction seems to encourage the view that Jesus only became mediator once he had taken on flesh. Has he not always been mediator?

    Anyone come across this argument before? Any thoughts?

  7. dave

    I've been warned off saying it's "Jesus" in the OT. Seems silly really. John's take on Isaiah 6 has Jesus doing..... and Isaiah saw his glory and spoke of him... doesn't see the need to jump through hoops and say it was the pre-incarnate Jesus or something...

  8. Paul Huxley

    @Rich - that's the position I've been taught, so I'd normally use the phrase Son of God referring to OT appearances. but I'm inconsistent, since I'll talk about the Psalms' being Jesus' words, or the 'Word of Christ'.

    "He's the Son of God, who we know is Jesus" might bypass some of the argument. We know the person in the burning bush, the temple vision etc. as Jesus.

  9. Glen

    Funnily enough I originally entitled the post "Which theophanies are allowed to be Jesus" but then changed it cos I couldn't be bothered having the inevitable discussion in comments. ;-) Phil 2:5ff and 2 Cor 8:9 are both happy talking about the Son as "Christ Jesus" in His pre-incarnate state. And of course: Jude 5

  10. Si Hollett

    You have, in Romans 4, Paul talking about Abraham being justified by faith in Genesis 15, but Abraham wasn't renamed that until Genesis 17. Ditto Abraham + Mel referred to in Hebrews, when they meet while Abram was still Abram. I'm sure it happens to other guys whose names get changed - Simon/Peter being the best example. Averted with Saul/Paul though.

    Back on topic, like Rich Owen, this is leading me to grump due to the list being too optimistic.

  11. Rich

    Thanks @Dave & @Paul. I may just stick to saying Second Person of the Trinity, or Son of God to avoid unnecessary road blocks. Doesn't really make it any less thrilling does it? :)

    @Glen - oops, my apologies! :) Thanks for these. I did mention Jude 5 but I couldn't make it stick because it's only "some early manuscripts" & only the ESV goes with Jesus.

  12. Glen

    I think an expanded list would make an interesting questionnaire to give to pastors at a conference. They could fill it out anonymously and besides each theophany they could tick a box which says "I would identify Him as Christ"; "I would mention that some identify Him as Christ"; and "I would not mention His identity".

    I'm guessing that those Christophanies which some preachers found as obvious, others would consider obscure - for quite obscure reasons. I think that, between the whole conference, we might find every box ticked, but I doubt we would find many individuals who would tick every box.

  13. Pete Bowman

    The Nicene creed doesn't have a problem with calling the pre-incarnate Son Jesus.

  14. Rich

    Hey Pete, you're right - I'd never noticed that. Interesting that there's been such a widespread (popular) departure from that position.

  15. Paul Huxley

    Is it true to say Abraham was called out of Ur? Yes, in that his name is (now) Abraham and he is the same person as the one who was called out of Ur. At the same time it might be misleading, since, in Ur's history, no one called Abraham left (that we know of). It's a case of whether we're stressing the continuity or discontinuity. Both have their dangers, both are legitimate.

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