Review: Theophany

Theophany, Vern S. Poythress. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2022 (Originally published by Crossway in 2018).

Summary: A study of the visible appearances of God to his people in scripture, what they reveal about God, and how they anticipate God’s ultimate appearing in the person of his Son, God incarnate.

The word theophany refers to a visible manifestation of God. Vern Poythress asserts that all of these point to the wondrous news that God desires to commune with his people and that we have the hope one day of seeing God “face to face.” Poythress sees this closely interconnected with God’s promises and their fulfillment, God’s covenantal relationship with his people, his kingdom rule and his presence, God with us. He believes all the theophanies of scripture anticipate the ultimate theophany of the incarnation of the Son of God and look forward to the consummation of his redemptive purposes in his return.

Poythress begins by cataloging the different types of theophanies and their significance: thunderstorm, fire, cloud, glory, God’s court, as a Man, a warrior, in a chariot. He then considers how we know God, both as transcendent and immanent. The appearances reflect God, and Poythress considers the different ways God is reflected via human appearance, the Spirit, the Trinity, and even reflections in creation and the clothing evident in appearances.

After this, the remainder of the book is a survey of the appearances of God throughout scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. One thing is apparent. God appears abundantly throughout the scriptures, and in doing so reveals his presence, promise, power and purposes to people. Poythress often shows how these appearances anticipate the appearing of his Son in the incarnation.

Poythress is thorough in his survey, clear in his explanation, and frequent in drawing out the significance of particular biblical teaching to larger overarching themes. He also includes appendices discussing the angel of the Lord, and two discussing the early chapters of Genesis. The one thing he does not discuss is that, given the many appearances of God in scripture, what expectation might believers have of theophanies, and what is the extrabiblical evidence of such through church history? The author contents himself to see the significance of theophany as our communion with Christ, which is the believer’s ultimate comfort, to be sure.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

2 thoughts on “Review: Theophany

  1. Perhaps your mild criticism at the end of the review may find an answer in the subtitle of Poythress’ book, “A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing.” As such it is not intended to be a historical, dogmatic, polemical, or practical theology any of which may address the issue pro or con regarding the continuation of theophanies in the post-apostolic period of church history from extrabiblical sources including the present time. Where Poythress hints at his take on this may include a statement on pg. 23, “…the theme has at its center the person of Christ, who is the permanent theophany anticipated by the temporary theophanies in the Old Testament.” One other place where this is found is footnote 4 on pg. 30, “…readers may note that my definition does not directly distinguish temporary from permanent manifestations….we may highlight the uniqueness of the incarnation by building an explicit distinction in terminology between the incarnate Christ and the Old Testament theophanies that foreshadow it.”

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  2. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: January 2023 | Bob on Books

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