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Answering The Atheist
December 3, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 49

Did Moses see God face to face? Some texts say yes (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10), but others say no, that he only saw God's back parts (Exodus 33:20-23). Is there a contradiction?

How dismal it would be, if Moses in writing about his experience with the Lord, was unable to convey what had taken place; even contradicting himself within the space of nine verses! If such is the case here, then no measure of confidence could be placed in any part of the Bible penned by Moses. But, did Moses here contradict himself? Did he say in Exodus 33:11 that he had seen the Lord face to face, and then nine verses later say that he could not?

Neither Exodus 33:11 nor Deuteronomy 34:10 say that Moses saw God face to face. Such an understanding of these two texts betrays a lack of care in reading. Notice a few things:

  • In both texts, God is the subject, not Moses. We are told what God did, not what Moses did.
  • In neither text do we find the word "see" or anything which is interchangeable with it.
  • In Exodus 33:11, God "...spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." The phrase "face to face" is not used here to refer to their physical position in relation to one another, but the intimate nature of the LORD's discourse with Moses. Wesley says, "He spake not as a prince to a subject, but as a man to his friend, whom he loves, and with whom he takes sweet counsel."
  • Deuteronomy 34:10 says that the LORD "knew" Moses "face to face". Again, the phrase "face to face" is not being used of physical position, but of their relationship. How did the LORD know Moses face to face? The following verses tells us, "In all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel." (34:11-12).
Exodus 33:20-23 makes it clear that Moses did not see God's face. There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible