What does theophany mean? What is a Christophany?

The word "theophany" means "the appearance of god" and is used to describe times when gods appeared to men in various forms. There are a few occurrences of theophany in the Bible, where Yahweh appeared to certain of the Israelites. Theophanies also occur in many Greek myths and gods of other religions also appear to men. The word theophany can be applied to any god, not just to God Himself. The word Christophany, on the other hand, applies only to Christ, and means similarly "the appearance of Christ."

Some of the theophanies in the Old Testament include the burning bush, where God appeared to Moses in the form of a bush that was on fire but not consumed by the flame (Exodus 3:1–2), the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, a manifestation of God which led the Israelites through the desert (Exodus 13:21–22), the thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai, which was a manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 19:16–25), the appearance of God on His throne to Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1–7), the theophany of God in His chariot, as seen by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:4–28), the appearance of three men—two angels and God—to Abraham (Genesis 18:1–2), and Jacob wrestling with what seemed to be a man but was a theophany of God (Genesis 32:22–32).

Christophany also occurs in the Bible. Christophanies are distinct from Christ's incarnation (His life as a human being) and His subsequent appearances in that form to His disciples. The first Christophany recognized as such by scholars is the appearance of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve. This is seen as a Christophany because of Christ's role in creation (John 1:1–5; Genesis 3:8) as the Word. It is also believed that Melchizedek, the mysterious priest referred to in Hebrews, was actually a manifestation of Christ, or a Christophany, but this is not explicitly stated in the Bible (Hebrews 7). The early church fathers also identified "the commander of the army of the Lord" mentioned in the book of Joshua as a Christophany (Joshua 5:13–15).

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