A Series of Answers to Common Questions

Sam Shamoun


How can Jesus be God when the Hebrew Bible says God is not a man? Cf. Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hosea 11:9.


None of those biblical texts say God CANNOT be a man, but say that God IS not a man, a major difference:

"God IS not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" Numbers 23:19

"And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he IS not a man, that he should have regret." 1 Samuel 15:29

"I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath." Hosea 11:9

It is true that during the Old Testament period God hadn’t become a man, but this doesn’t deny that God could choose to later become a man, specifically in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Hebrew Bible itself supports the view that God can become a man, without ceasing to be God, since there are places where God appeared in human form:

"The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw THREE MEN standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash YOUR FEET and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way-now that you have come to your servant.’ ‘Very well,’ they answered, ‘do as you say’… He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. WHILE THEY ATE, he stood near them under a tree. ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him. ‘There, in the tent,’ he said. THEN THE LORD SAID, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son’… THEN THE LORD SAID TO ABRAHAM, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Will I really have a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ BUT HE SAID, ‘Yes, you did laugh.’ WHEN THE MEN GOT UP TO LEAVE, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. THEN THE LORD SAID, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’ ... THEN THE LORD SAID, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’ The men turned away and went toward Sodom, BUT ABRAHAM REMAINED STANDING BEFORE THE LORD. Then Abraham APPROACHED HIM and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ THE LORD SAID, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake’… WHEN THE LORD HAD FINISHED SPEAKING WITH ABRAHAM, HE LEFT, and Abraham returned home." Genesis 18:1-5, 8-10a, 13-17, 20-26, 33

To support the premise that God actually appeared as one of the three men note that Genesis 18:22 says the men got up and headed towards Sodom and Gomorrah, whereas Yahweh remained behind with Abraham:

"So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD." RSV

Now if Yahweh wasn't one of the three men then we would expect to find that all three men went ahead to Sodom. But this is not what we find since the very next chapter says:

"The TWO angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth, and said, 'My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way.' They said, 'No; we will spend the night in the street.' But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate." Genesis 19:1-3 RSV

Only two men show up at Sodom, which the text identifies as two angels. Where was the third man? You guessed it, the third man had remained behind to talk to Abraham since that man was actually Yahweh God who had appeared with the other two!

Noted Messianic Jewish scholar, writer, and evangelist Dr. Michael L. Brown mentions the interesting comments the rabbis made about this specific text:

"According to the Talmud (b. Bava Messia 86b), God himself was paying Abraham a personal sick call, checking on him after the ordeal of circumcision. Here is the expanded translation of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (the actual words of the Talmud are in bold). We read that Abraham went out

and saw the Holy One, blessed be He, standing at the door of his tent, as the verse says, 'And the Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre.' This is what the verse is referring to when it says (Gen 18:3): 'And he said, "O Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, do not, I pray you, pass by Your servant."' In this verse Abraham was speaking to God himself (and so addressed Him as Lord and referred to himself as His servant.) When God saw that Abraham was busy tying and untying the bandages of his circumcision, He said to Himself, 'It is not fitting that I stay here while Abraham is taking care of His wound.' He was about to remove His presence when Abraham pleaded with Him to stay a little longer. And this is also what the verse refers to when it says (Genesis 18:2): 'And he raised his eyes and looked, and, behold, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them.'

Now, here, we have a biblical text that indisputably says that the Lord - Hebrew YHWH - appeared to Abraham and the Talmud even relates in story form how Abraham actually saw 'the Holy One, blessed be He,' addressing him as Lord. Yet, just a few words later, this very same biblical text says that Abraham looked up and saw three men, the Talmud giving the impression that God himself appeared to Abraham, only to be replaced by these men.

Who were the three men?... According to the Talmud, the three men were the angels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, each with his own special task. Michael came to give Sarah the good news that she would soon have a son, Raphael came to heal Abraham, and Gabriel went to overthrow the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (although the Talmud says that Michael went along with Gabriel so as to rescue Lot). But there are problems with this view too. First, the text nowhere says that the angels replaced or represented the Lord. Instead, the Bible says that the Lord appeared to Abraham, that he saw three men, and that he addressed one of them both as Lord ('adonai) and as YHWH. Second, the context indicates clearly that two of the men went on to Sodom- where they are identified as angels- and that Abraham stayed before YHWH, with whom he had extended dialogue. To be faithful to the Scriptures we must say that the Lord, with two angels, appeared to Abraham, and all three appeared as human beings who spoke, ate, and drank with Abraham and Sarah." (Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2000], Volume 2, pp. 31-33)

Despite the rabbis trying to imply that Yahweh didn't appear as a man and wasn't one of the three men, a view which clearly contradicts the plain reading of the text, their admission that Abraham did in fact see God is interesting nonetheless.

Other references to God manifesting in human form include:

"So Jacob was left alone, and A MAN wrestled with him till daybreak. When THE MAN saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with THE MAN. Then THE MAN said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ THE MAN asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then THE MAN said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I SAW GOD FACE TO FACE, and yet my life was spared.’" Genesis 32:24-30

"And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with A HUMAN APPEARANCE. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking… AND HE SAD TO ME, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD." And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.’" Ezekiel 1:26-28, 2:1-10

The Hebrew Bible even predicts that the Messiah of David is actually God in the flesh:

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this." Isaiah 9:6-7

Here, the Messiah is a child who is born, showing that he is truly human, while also being the Mighty God at the same time.

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘Yahweh is our righteousness.’" Jeremiah 23:5-6

The Messiah is David’s Branch, implying that he is a human descendant of David, while also being Yahweh our righteousness. These texts clearly indicate that God will become man in the Person of the Messiah, whom the NT says is the Lord Jesus!

Furthermore, Moses also calls God "a man of war" (ish milhamah):

"The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name." Exodus 15:3 KJV

Other places where God is called a man of war include:

"The LORD shall go forth as a mighty man, he shall stir up jealousy like a man of war (ish milhamah): he shall cry, yea, roar; he shall prevail against his enemies." Isaiah 42:13 KJV

The foregoing demonstrates that in some ways God and man are alike, i.e. both God and man have a warrior spirit. Yet in other respects God is completely unlike man, namely that God is perfectly holy and consistent whereas man is not.

Thus, passages such as Numbers 23:19 do not rule out the possibility of God appearing as a man and/or becoming a man. It simply states that God's essence is distinct from man, without denying the fact that God could/would eventually take on a human nature. In reality, these texts simply illustrate that God is not a man by nature and doesn’t therefore lie or change his mind like men normally do.

What this basically means is that if God chose to become a man then he wouldn’t be like other men … he would be completely pure and holy. And since God did become man in Christ we find that this is exactly the kind of person Jesus was, namely, absolutely pure and sinless:

"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." Mark 1:24

"Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’" John 6:68-69

"The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood." John 7:18

"And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to himWhich one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?" John 8:29, 46

"I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me," John 14:30

"But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses." Acts 3:14-15

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15

"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens." Hebrews 7:26

"how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Hebrews 9:14

"knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Peter 1:18-19

"He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." 1 Peter 2:22

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit," 1 Peter 3:18

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." 1 John 2:1

"And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure… You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin." 1 John 3:3, 5

To conclude, Christians believe that God wasn't always a man, but later became man at the Incarnation. The eternal Word of God took on a real human nature, while still remaining fully God in essence.

A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Answering Islam Home Page