You Have Not Seen the Father
Jesus stands a few feet in front of the Jews, and speaks to them (John 5:37), saying that they have not seen the Father nor heard his voice. Now if Jesus is indeed God the Father as Oneness people have claimed, then why is the Father standing a few feet in front of their noses and speaking directly to them, telling them that they have neither seen nor heard the Father? For they were hearing the Fatherís voice and seeing Him right in front of their eyes, according to Oneness theology, and yet he speaks of the Father saying; "You have neither heard his voice at any time nor seen his face" [the Fatherís] (John 5:37). Please explain this to me, how can they be looking directly, square in the face at Jesus himself, who tells them that they have never seen nor heard, God the Father? Jesus is clearly not the Father according to this verse.
Regarding John 5:37, I agree with Jesus that the Jews had never seen the Father's form. The Father is a Spirit and does not have a form. No man can see God at any time. Although we believe Jesus' deity to be that of the Father, we do not believe anybody could see the essence or form of the Father in Christ. They only saw the man Jesus Christ as it pertains to His humanity. His deity was not visible to men, and indeed could not be. Jesus was, however, the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). That is why Jesus could say to Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9; 12:45). What people saw when they looked at Jesus was the only image of the Father (God) they would ever see, but this image is not the same as God's form (this is evident from Philippians 2:6-8 which speaks of Godís willing relinquishment of His form to accommodate a human existence). Even Trinitarians confess the same. We must either confess that Jesusí body is not the form of God, or else we must confess that Jesus is not God (whether He be the Spirit of the "Father" of Oneness Theology, or "God the Son" of Trinitarian Theology), because God cannot be seen, yet Jesus could. When Jesus said that those who saw Him were seeing the Father, He was not implying that the Jews had seen the Father (or God for that matter) because they were not seeing the Fatheróthey were seeing the man Christ Jesus. Jesusí human existence is only the image of Godís person, not the visible essence of deity. The same applies to John 5:37.
Concerning your second question, I agree that no verse of Scripture says the Father was manifest in the flesh. The Oneness believers you refer to who use I Timothy 3:16 to teach that the Father was manifest in the flesh are doing the Scripture an injustice by switching the Biblical statement "God was manifest" for the "Father was manifest." There is no Scripture that says the Father was manifest in the flesh. I do not find this all that significant, however, because I do not believe that it would be technically correct to say that the Father was manifest in the flesh. It was God, the YHWH of the OT who was manifest in the flesh. "Father" was never a proper name for God in the OT. It was only used of God, or God was only likened to a father, about 13 times. God's name was not "Father," but YHWH, to which He is referred to over 6800 times. Whenever "Father" was used, it was used to show YHWH as the creator of all things (thus the father of all creation), or it was used in a covenantal sense between Israel and their God, or between God and the Judaic kings (like the suzerain-vassal treaties of that day).
God's name is never identified as "Father," although the term was used of Him. In the NT, however, when the one God of the OT became flesh, begetting a human child through Mary, and Himself becoming a man, God became associated as "Father."
It was because of the incarnation that "Father" has such common usage in the NT, unlike the OT. God is "Father" because He fathered a human child through the miraculous conception. Now, in the NT, "Father" is used for God's existence beyond the flesh, while "Son" or "Jesus" is used of God's existence in the flesh. "Father" refers to God as He exists as unmitigated deity, Spirit alone, while "Son" is used of God as He exists in a human existence. Because of the willing limitations placed upon the exercise of Jesus' latent deity, the Son of God (deity and humanity conjoined into one person) is submissive to the Father (who is unlimited Spirit). Because of the genuine human existence in which God assumed, including a human mind, will, spirit, soul, body, and emotions, Jesus is spoken of as being distinct from the Father. Jesus' prayers and religious life arise from the genuineness of His humanity. Jesus, then, said that the Father dwelt in Him, and that those who saw Him were seeing the Father, i.e. the visible image of the invisible God now known as "Father" in a paternal sense because of the incarnation.
This is where Oneness believers get the idea that Jesus is the Father incarnate, because it is said on several occasions that the Father dwells in Jesus, but never says that "God the Son" became a man, or that "God the Son" was in Jesus. Jesus said the "Father" was in Him, as opposed to simply saying that "God" was in Him, because of His relationship to God as His "Father." This relationship only existed after the incarnation, however, because God fathered Jesus' physical human existence. There would be no reason to say that the Father was manifested in flesh, or sent into the world, because that terminology, used in the way that Jesus used it (Father in the sense of begetter), did not arise until the incarnation. Before the incarnation it would be proper to say that God was manifested in the flesh since "Father" and "Son" are relational terms to distinguish God's existence as the unlimited, omnipresent Spirit, and God's existence in the limited humanity of Jesus Christ, which distinction arose in the incarnation..
Concerning the interpretation of I John 3:8, it seems pretty simple to me. John is giving us the purpose for the Son of God on earth. I believe demonstrates that he is answering the unexpressed question, "Why did God become a man?". It was to destroy the works of the Devil. The Son of God was made known for this purpose. I do not see how "manifest" or "revealed" demands that the Son of God preexisted the incarnation. The same concept is derived from the verses which speak of the Son being sent by the Father. But even these do not imply the Son's preexistence as a second Person of the Godhead anymore than John can be said to preexist his birth when it is said that he was sent from God (John 1:6). I can say that I was manifested into this world to preach the gospel, but this does not indicate that I preexisted my human existence. It may indicate that I was chosen for this purpose, and prepared for this very thing, but that is the extent of the implications.
This verse only states the obvious; i.e. the Son of God was made known. It does not say the "Son of God was incarnated," or the "Son of God became flesh," or "God the Son became a man" for that matter. If it did say that the Son of God was manifest in the flesh, then this would heavily lend itself towards the idea of an eternal Son who became incarnate, and would confirm a Trinitarian understanding. However, it does not state this. It only states that the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the Devil? Revealed where?--on earth. Revealed to whom?--the earth-dwellers. Yes, the Son of God did reveal Himself on earth to us, and for the purpose of destroying the works of the devil. We see the manifestation as referring to the already existing Son of God who was conceived in Mary's womb, not a preexisting Son who manifest Himself in Mary's womb.
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