What is the definition of Christophany? What is the definition of theophany?
The terms theophany and Christophany are theological terms that some Christians may not recognize. Therefore, the purpose of this article is provide a clear explanation of the terms theophany and Christophany and provide some examples.
Definition of Theophany
The definition of a theophany is an appearance of God in the Old Testament. The word theophany is a compound word of the Greek words theo, which means God, and phaino, which means “to appear.” That is, a theophany refers to God appearing. But a theophany does not mean that people actually saw God.
Examples of a Theophany
The first theophany in Scripture may have occurred in Genesis 3:8 when we are explicitly told that Adam and Eve heard God walking in the Garden of Eden.
They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (NASB)
While the appearance of God is not described as being an angel or some other form, we are told that God walked in the Garden and His walk was heard. Some how the trees and bushes rustled with His walking and Adam and Eve could hear His appearance. We do not know exactly how God chose to appear.
Angel of the Lord — Genesis 16:7-13
Genesis 16:7-13 is the first time it is clear that a theophany of Christ occurred in the Old Testament. The theophany occurred when God appeared as the “angel of the Lord.” The phrase “angel of the Lord” occurs 68 times in the Old Testament. Sometimes this phrase refers to a theophany and sometimes it refers simply to an angel who belongs to the Lord. “The angel of the Lord” appears for the first time in the Old Testament in Genesis 16:7-13. In this passage the angel of the Lord appears to Hagar in the wilderness.
Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. Genesis 16:7 (NASB)
Then notice what Hagar said in verse 13. She said, “You are a God . . . ” She called the “angel of the Lord” God.
Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “ Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Genesis 16:13 (NASB)
This passage reveals that the angel of the Lord was definitely God.
Theophany and Abram — Genesis 18:1-21
The first theophany that we can say positively occurred happened in Genesis 18:1-21. Here we are told that three men visited Abram and Sari.
Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. Genesis 18:1-3 (NASB)
We must not miss that the word Lord comes from the Hebrew word YHWH or Yahweh or Jehovah. That is, Genesis 18:1 clearly reveals that one of the three men was the Lord. That is, Yahweh appeared as a man. One of the men was a theophany. Then verses 4-21 plainly demonstrate a number of times that one of the men was Yahweh and the other two men were angels. For example, if we compare Genesis 18:16, 21, 33 with Genesis 19:1 we learn that Yahweh left (Genesis 18:33) and the other two men, who were angels, went to Sodom.
We have discovered that one of the men was a theophany. Hebrews 13:2 tells us that we can entertain angels without knowing it.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 (NASB)
This is a reminder that angels and even God Himself could appear to us and we would not know it.
Theophany In The Burning Bush — Exodus 3:2-6
Our final example of a theophany in the Old Testament is from Exodus 3:2-6.
The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:2-6 (NASB)
This passage reveals that one day Moses was walking and saw a blazing fire in the middle of a bush. The blazing fire was the angel of the Lord. At the end of the passage we learn that this angel of the Lord was the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. He was Jehovah God. Acts 7:31-32, 35 also teaches us that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the bush.
Other examples of theophanies in the Old Testament can be found in Exodus 13:21-22; 24:9-11 and Judges 6:11-23;
Definition of Christophany
The definition of a Christophany is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. The word Christphany is a compound word of the Greek words christos, which means Christ, and phaino, which means “to appear.” That is, Christophany refers to Christ appearing
Examples of a Christophany
It is common for some to believe that the theophany in Genesis 3:8 was a Christophany, but there is no strong textual support or New Testament references that prove it was a Christophany. The best example of a Christophany in the Old Testament occurs in Daniel 3:23-26.
But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” Daniel 3:23-25 (NASB)
In this passage, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego have been thrown into a furnace and God rescued them from death. In verse 26 we are told that one “like a son of the gods” was there. As a result, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were not hurt by the fire. Who was the one who like a son of the gods? It appears to have been a Christophany. In fact, according to James E Borland all of the theophanies may actually be Christophanies.
Other appearances of the angel of the Lord, which we understand to be Christophanies, are Genesis 22:11-19; Judges 2:1-5; 13:2-22 and Zechariah 3:1-2.
We have discovered that theophanies and Christophanies occurred in the Old Testament era, as well as, angelophanies, or appearances of angels. One example of an angelophany occurred in (Genesis 18:1-21).
1. James A. Borland. Christ In The Old Testament: Old Testament Appearances of Christ In Human Form. entire, 1999. p. 24.