Monday, October 27, 2014


I haven't thought about this term -- Christophany -- in quite some time, until I heard a radio preacher use it one morning last week. Theophany may be a more common usage for the topic of appearances of God in the Old Testament. Dictionary definitions usually point to an older or traditional meaning of :Christophany

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary: an appearance of Christ after resurrection especially as recorded in the Gospels
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary: An appearance of Christ, as to his disciples after the crucifixion.

A common usage in conservative and evangelical circles today refers to physical manifestations of God in the Old Testament. The rise of such usage is sometimes traced to James A. Borland and his book Christ in the Old Testament: Old Testament Appearances of Christ in Human Form (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1978). The originated with his doctoral thesis in 1976, “Christophanies: Old Testament Appearances of Christ in Human Form” (Grace Theological Seminary, 1976). One writer asserts, "A theophany is a manifestation of God in the Bible that is tangible to the human senses. In its most restrictive sense, it is a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament period, often, but not always, in human form."

In Jesus Christ Our Lord, John Walvoord states, “It is safe to assume that every visible manifestation of God in bodily form in the Old Testament is to be identified with the Lord Jesus Christ”  (p. 54). This is a broad position, much broader than that taken by some other conservatives but more restrictive than that taken by others. Part of the difference is probably in the definition and part in the interpretation (e.g., a pillar of fire is a manifestation, but is it a "bodily form"?). Another dispute is whether all theophanies are Christophanies, and whether some passages are appearence of God (theophany), and not appearances of angels (angelophany). "The angel of the Lord" is often interpreted to mean the pre-incarnate Son of God.

One set of criteria used to distinguish an Old Testament appearances of Christ from an appearance of an angel is:
* Does the New Testament refer to the event as an appearance of Jesus?
* Does the person receive worship?
* Is the person addressed as the Lord?

Christology 101 offers the following list of mentions of Christophanies:
* Genesis 16:7-13
* Genesis 22:15-18
* Genesis 31:11-13
* Exodus 3:1 ff
* Acts 7:30-35
* Exodus 13:21
* Exodus 14:19
* Judges 6:11-23
* Judges 13:9-20
* Genesis 24:7, 40
* Numbers 20:16
* Zechariah 1:12-13

I have created this Excel file of 30 passages that different writers list as Christophanies in the Old Testament. It attempts to be an inclusive list and does not represent what I believe. My list would be extremely shorter. For example, I don't believe Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Christ. And while I think that the pillar of fire that Israel saw in the wilderness was a manifestation of God, I wouldn't call it a Christophany because it was not an appearance in a humanlike form.

God walking in the Garden Genesis 3:8
The Lord appeared unto Abram in Moreh Genesis 12:7-9
Melchizidek king of Salem Genesis 14:18-20
The Angel of the Lord & Hagar Genesis 16:7-16
The Lord appeared to Abram at age 99 Genesis 17:1-2
The Lord appeared unto Abraham in Mamre Genesis 18:1ff
The Angel of the Lord & the sacrifice Genesis 22:11-19
The Angel & Abraham's servant Genesis 24:7,40
The Lord of Jacob's ladder Genesis 28:13-15
The Warner of Jacob Genesis 31:11-13
The Divine Wrestler Genesis 32:22-30
God in the midst of the bush Exodus 3:1-5
The Pillar of Fire Exodus 13:21
The Pillar between Egypt and Israel Exodus 14:19-20
The God of the paved sapphire stone Exodus 24:9-11
The Rock in the Wilderness Numbers 20:11-16
Balaam's adversary Numbers 22:22
Balaam's Lord Numbers 22:35
The Appointer of leaders Deuteronomy 31:14-15
The Captain of the host of the Lord Joshua 5:13-15
The Angel of the Lord at Bochim Judges 2:1-5
The Angel of the Lord at Ophrah Judges 6:11-23
The Angel appears to Manaoh & his wife Judges 13:3-20
The Angel who touched Elijah 1 Kings 19:4-8
The Angel of the Lord & Elijah 2 Kings 1:3-15
The Angel who smote the Assyrians 2 Kings 19:35
The Angel with the drawn sword in his hand 1 Chronicles 21:16-27
The Lord in the Whirlwind Job 38–42
God in the Fiery Furnace Daniel 3:23-25
The Angel who talked to Zechariah Zechariah 1:12-13

What do you think about Christophanies in the Old Testament?

Some links on the subject

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