Jesus Christ in the Old Testament (Christophany: Genesis 3:8)
Question: I have been dialoguing with a person who claims that God Almighty Himself couldn't have been walking in the garden of Eden (Gen.3:8), because "no one can see God and live." He claims that "YHWH Elohim" there should be translated as: 'Him who is and who was and who is to become [one of the] mighty ones/gods'. This would mean angels, whom he claims were worshiped in the Old Testament (in whose ranks he seems to include Jesus). I know that all this is very wrong, but I would appreciate some linguistic ammunition to refute it.
Response: To start with, Adonai Elohiym (יהוה אלהים) in Gen.3:8 is the familiar formula for LORD God found everywhere in the Old Testament. The verb is singular here (as usual) because the grammatical subject of Adonai Elohiym is Adonai = YHVH which is singular and controls the construction. The translation supplied by your contact is, as you suspect, very wrong. In fact, this is not really a translation but an interpretation based upon some alternative theology (or perhaps I should say "theosophy"). The worship of angels in place of God has always been a cult tendency (cf. Col.2:18, and the book of Hebrews) - after all, Satan is an angel (cf. 2Cor.11:14). Also, the claim that Jesus is somehow not really or originally God or not truly Man is also a common cult tendency (I recommend having a look at these treatments of cult characteristics: Read Your Bible; Peter lesson #17; and Peter lesson #27).
As to the specifics of the translation you have been given, I suppose we are to understand "Him who is and who was and who is to become" as his translation of YHVH, and "mighty ones/gods" as his translation of ELOHIYM. The name YHVH expresses the fact that our God is the essence and origin of being (the name is derived from the Hebrew verb "to be": see "Essential Doctrines of the Bible in Outline: Part 1 Theology: The Study of God, section I, 'the Essence of God'"). The name ELOHIYM is the Hebrew plural of EL which, while it does mean "mighty (one)" and can refer to angels on occasion (cf. Jesus' statement that angels and men are "mighty" as creatures with free will and authority by THE Mighty One, our God: Jn.10:34-35). The fact that this name is plural when applied to God reflects both the superlative nature of His mightiness as well as the plurality of personality in the Trinity (cf. Gen.1:26, "let us make man").
Properly considered, these divine names tell us much about the awesome nature of our God. But there is nothing here that can be used (legitimately) to build such a theology as your conversant is adducing which makes God the Creator into a mere being, just because He has graciously used language to explain Himself to us which we might understand (He is mighty beyond mighty; He is the source of all existence, He exists in three Persons)? We are finite and our words are finite. Of necessity then, they will fall short in giving the infinite God His due, and, inevitably, opponents of truth will twist any name God uses for Himself to advance their own ends.
On the issue of "worshiping angels", the first thing to say is that we are to worship God, not angels, and that we are to worship the Son of God, truly God, Jesus Christ, not the present ruler of this world who seeks to imitate Him (cf. Matt.4:10). This is clear throughout scripture, including the Old Testament. Even when people try to "worship" angels in the Bible (which may be an understandable reaction to the appearance of such glorious creatures), they are told that it is wrong to do so (cf. Rev.19:10; 22:8-9). Now having said that, it is also important to note that, in the Old Testament, people do worship "the Angel of the Lord", but this is in fact an appearance of Jesus Christ before His incarnation (on the subject of such OT "Christophany", see "Essential Doctrines of the Bible in Outline: Part 1 Theology: The Study of God, section II.C, 'The Trinity in the Old Testament'"). The word for "angel" in both the Hebrew and the Greek means "messenger", so that this makes perfect sense as a title for our Lord as well who is the Logos (ὁ λόγος) or very Word of God, the essence of the Father's message (cf. Heb.1:1-4; Jn.1:1-5), sent into the world to accomplish all His will.
This brings us to back to Genesis 3:8. In my view (and not only in my view) it was our indeed Lord Jesus Christ who appeared to Adam and Eve in the garden (in Christophany, see the previous link), for He has always been the Father's representative on earth, appearing for Him and as Him. To take but one example, in Isaiah 6, God appears in every way as He does in His holy, heavenly temple (cf. Rev.4), but we know from John that it was Jesus whom Isaiah really saw. This is also explained by Jesus' words to the effect that anyone who has seen Him has in fact seen the Father - they are One in every purposeful way (Jn.10:30), and the Son is the true reflection of the Father (Heb.1:3). No one has (in this present body) seen the Father in all His true glory (cf. 1Tim.6:16), but Jesus came that the world might see Him in Him and believe in Him through Him. And in the Old Testament, He appeared "in many ways and at many times" (Heb.1:1), always through Jesus, but not evidently and clearly through Him until Christ's incarnation made it clear for us that such was ever the case (cf. Is.48:13-17 where "I am the Lord your God" who has been "sent" by "the Sovereign Lord" with "His Spirit"; cf. also Zech.1:7-17).
Please also see these links:
Hope this is of some help to you in your continuing work for the Lord.
Yours in Him who was and is and ever shall be our Savior, man and God in one unique Person, our Lord Jesus Christ.