A reader asked: My boss, who is LDS (Mormon), and I have frequent discussions about Biblical matters. I was saved by God’s grace out of Mormonism so we’ve had some very interesting conversations (to say the least). Today, my boss asked me this question: “Luke is quite emphatic that Stephen saw God with Jesus. If God is without substance, what did Stephen see?” Then, he followed with this statement: “Further, if Stephen didn’t see God with Jesus, then Luke’s account is incorrect. Luke is advocating false doctrine, and the Bible is far from inerrant. I would presume that Luke was sincere in his belief that Stephen saw God.” I know in Whom I believe and I trust the Bible completely. However, my boss is a retired attorney and he asks questions and make statements like the above for which I’m unable to give a succinct reply. I’m just not able to put what I believe into words of explanation. Can you, PLEASE, help me with a reply that will make sense to my employer?
I believe that one of the best translations to study for this passage is the New American Standard, which describes what Stephen saw as:
“… the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55b)
An even more accurate translation is: “… the glory of God, even Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
Yes, Stephen was given the unique privilege of seeing God. However, technically, this passage does not say that he “saw God;” i.e., it doesn’t say that he saw God, the Father (the first person of the Godhead). It says that he saw “the glory of God,” and he saw this glory of God through Jesus Christ. In other words, by seeing Jesus Christ, he saw the glory of God, because Jesus is God; i.e., He is the second person of the Godhead (although your Mormon friends may have trouble with this interpretation).
Your boss’s assumption, “… if God is without substance…” may need closer examination as well. John 4:24 does indeed say that, ” God is spirit.” If this does mean that God is without substance, then the above explanation still holds, since Stephen saw “the glory of God.” Still, we must be careful with this assumption. For example, Jesus is God, and Jesus has a body, so technically, God (i.e., Jesus, the second person of the Godhead) does indeed have a body (even if God the Father, the first person of the Godhead) does not have a body. Even by this, the above explanation still stands.
Furthermore, we must be careful with any assumptions of what it is like to see things in eternity. In our mortal bodies, we simply cannot understand the eternal things of God which are beyond time and space. Perhaps it was difficult for Luke to describe exactly what Stephen saw. Luke, in his physical body, may not have understood the things that Stephen saw in his unique opportunity, just before death (i.e., entering into the very presence of God).
Still, with any of these reasonable explanations, it is still a fact that Luke is not advocating false doctrine, and that the Bible (in its original manuscripts) is indeed inerrant. God, for whatever reason, has given you the challenge of defending your faith to a Mormon who is intelligent and articulate, and an experienced debater–one who is probably capable of twisting his opponents words and thoughts for the purpose of confusion. I can only encourage you in this awesome task.