Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 
Manifestation of God that is tangible to the human senses. In its most restrictive sense, it is a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament period often, but not always, in human form. Some would also include in this term Christophanies (preincarnate appearances of Christ) and angelophanies (appearances of angels). In the latter category are found the appearances of the angel of the Lord, which some have taken to be Christophanies, reasoning that since the angel of the Lord speaks for God in the first person ( Genesis 16:10 ) and the human addressed often attributes the experience to God directly ( Genesis 16:13 ), the angel must therefore be the Lord or the preincarnate Christ. Yet, though the angel is clearly identified with the Lord, he is distinguished from him (he is called "angel, " meaning "messenger" similar patterns of identification and distinction can be seen in Genesis 19:1,21; 31:11,13; Exodus 3:2,4; Judges 2:1-5; 6:11-12,14; 13:3,6 , 8-11,13 , 15-17,20-23; Zechariah 3:1-6; 12:8 ). In the ancient oriental world, a king's messenger spoke in the name of the king. Any insult rendered him was interpreted as an insult to the king himself (cf. Hanun's treatment of David's embassy, 2 Samuel 10:1-4; 1 Chronicles 19:2-6 ). There seems, therefore, no necessity to posit a theophany for the angel of the Lord. In Joshua 5:13-6:5 , the conquest narrative is interrupted by the abrupt appearance of a being who calls himself the "commander of the army of the Lord" (5:14). To interpret this event as an encounter with God or with the preincarnate Christ forces the text. Angels were sent on missions of this kind ( Judges 6:11; 13:3 ), and some were identified as captains over heavenly armies ( Daniel 10:5,20; 12:1 ). While there are no indisputable Christophanies in the Old Testament, every theophany wherein God takes on human form foreshadows the incarnation, both in matters of grace and judgment.
Following are a number of what may be considered classic theophanies. The Lord appears to Abraham on his arrival in the land, wherein God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants ( Genesis 12:7-9 ); God reaffirmed his promises of land and progeny when Abraham was ninety-nine years old ( Genesis 17:1 ), and on the Plains of Mamre on his way to destroy Sodom ( Genesis 18:1 ).
God appeared to Jacob in his dream at Bethel ( Genesis 28:11-19 ). It is also clear that in the events at the Jabbok ford, Jacob somehow received a revelation through an encounter with God, although neither a strict reading of the text ( Genesis 32:22-32 ) nor its later interpretation by Hosea (12:3-4) demand a theophany.
God appeared to Moses alone on the mountain ( Exodus 19:20; 33:18-34:8 ). God also appeared to Moses, with Aaron and his sons and the seventy elders ( Exodus 24:9-11 ) and in the transfer of leadership to Joshua ( Deuteronomy 31:15 ).
While he suffered, Job had complained that he sought an audience with God (31:35). At the conclusion of the book the Lord appears in a thunderstorm to deliver two discourses, designed to grant Job's request for a hearing and arguably to supply at least one of the meanings for Job's affliction: God is sovereign.
In a looser sense, God's promise of the land to Abraham ( Genesis 15 ), as well as his commission that Abraham sacrifice Isaac ( Genesis 22 ), could be considered theophanies. Frequently the term, "glory of the Lord, " reflects a theophany, as in Exodus 24:16-18; the "pillar of cloud" has a similar function in Exodus 33:9 . The Spirit of God or the Spirit of the Lord must be considered theophanous, particularly when it comes upon men, transforming them ( 1 Samuel 10:6 ) and equipping them for divine service ( 1 Samuel 16:13 ). The Lord appears to people in visions ( Genesis 15:1; 46:2; Job 33:15; Psalm 89:19; Daniel 2:19; Acts 9:10; 18:9 ) and in dreams ( Genesis 20:3; 31:24; 1 Kings 3:5; Matthew 2:13 ) to reveal his plans for them or to unveil mysteries for the future.
The Lord appears in theophanies both to bless and to judge. A frequent introduction for theophanies may be seen in the words, "The Lord came down." Examples may be found in Genesis 11:5 , Exodus 34:5 , Number 11:25, and Numbers 12:5 . Although the most common verb for the manifestation of the glory of the Lord is "appeared" ( Leviticus 9:23; Numbers 14:10; 16:19,42; 20:6 ), God's glory also "settled" on Mount Sinai ( Exodus 24:16 ).
William C. Williams
See also Angel Of The Lord
Bibliography . Th. Booij, Biblia 65 (1984):1-26; J. Vander Kam, VT 23 (1973):129-50; M. G. Kline, WTJ 40 (1977):245-80; J. Lust, VT 25 (1975):110-15; E. W. Nicholson, VT 24 (1974):77-97; idem, VT 25 (1975):69-79; K. L. Schmitz, Faith and Philosophy 1 (1984):50-70.
Holman Bible Dictionary 
Need for a theophany. The basic postulate here is that to see God could be fatal. “He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!'“ ( Exodus 33:20 NAS; compare Genesis 16:13; Exodus 3:2-6; Exodus 19:20-21; Judges 6:22-23; Judges 13:20-22 . Yet the record is unmistakable that people did see God, such as Moses and others at Sinai ( Exodus 24:9-10 ); the Lord's rebuke of Aaron and Miriam ( Numbers 12:4-8 ); and the majestic vision to Isaiah ( Isaiah 6:1 ,Isaiah 6:1, 6:5 ). Customarily, God is not revealed to ordinary sight, God at times chooses to reveal Himself in theophanies. Kinds of theophanies.
There are some five forms of theophanies.
1. In human form Without question the theophany in Exodus 24:10 involved the appearance of a human being, for the text clearly states that a pavement of sapphire appeared “under His feet.” At Peniel, Jacob testified that he had seen God face-to-face ( Genesis 32:30 ). On Mount Horeb it was the experience of Moses to speak to God “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” ( Exodus 33:11 NAS). In the same passage when Moses begged God to show him His glory ( Exodus 33:18 ), the Lord graciously granted Moses a vision of Himself, saying, “I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen” ( Exodus 33:23 NAS). If it is protested that the subject is enveloped in mystery, it needs to be remembered that theology without mystery is sheer nonsense. God in His wisdom does not restrict Himself to one method of self-revelation. Notice God's pronouncement in Numbers 12:6-8 , which was quite unlike that of Deuteronomy 4:12-15 where only a voice was granted.
2. In vision Even self-seeking Balaam was allowed of God to see the Lord in vision ( Numbers 24:3-4 ). Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, giants among the prophets, saw God in visions ( Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:1; Daniel 7:9 ). Jacob, sent off by Isaac to Paddan-aram, was granted a dream in which he saw the Lord ( Genesis 28:12-13 ).
3. By the “Angel of the Lord” This is the most usual form of theophany, called the “Angel of the Lord” or “Angel of God.” Observe it is not an “Angel of God,” which could include any of the angelic hosts created by God. The “Angel of the Lord” is identified in the accounts with Yahweh Himself. He appears only occasionally in human form. The encounter of the Angel of the Lord with Hagar is of significance in this connection ( Genesis 16:7-13 ). See Angels.
4. Not in human form In some instances the theophany came as at the burning bush ( Exodus 3:2-4:17 ) and in the guidance through the wilderness ( Exodus 13:21; compare Acts 7:30 ). The glory of the Lord appears to people in numerous passages. See Exodus 16:10; Exodus 33:9-10; Ezekiel 10:4 ). God was also manifest in nature and history ( Isaiah 6:3; Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 43:2 ).
5. As the name of the Lord God's sacred name represented His presence ( Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 102:15; Isaiah 30:27; Isaiah 59:19 ).
Contrast with the incarnation The incarnate Christ was not, and indeed is not, a theophany. The phenomena of theophanies were temporary, for the occasion that required them and then disappeared. On the other hand, in the incarnate Christ His deity and humanity were joined, not for time alone, but for eternity. See Incarnation; Jesus Christ .
The time factor Only in the Old Testament economy did God's people need a theophany; since the incarnation, there is no such necessity. The New Testament doctrine of God is final and complete. God is always present in the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. Still, at times, God's people are more aware of that Presence than at others.
Webster's Dictionary 
(n.) A manifestation of God to man by actual appearance, usually as an incarnation.
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
The ancient Greeks were accustomed, during a certain festival named Τὰ Θεοφάνια , To display at Delphos before the public gaze the images of all their gods. Θεοφάνεια denoted the apparition of one or more gods. The term thus understood was applied by ancient Christian writers to the manifestations of God under the Old Covenant and to the incarnation of Christ;. in the latter instance with reference to the birth, the baptism, and the second advent of Christ. ῾Η Ἐπιφάνεια was, however, a usual substitute for its employment as respects his birth. (See Epiphany).
Later usage has given to the term a doctrinal meaning, by which it is made to designate a special form of the divine revelation, to determine which form it is necessary to examine the entire series of modes of the divine manifestation (see Bretschneider, Systemat. Entwicklung. p. 196). Without delaying to undertake a survey of this kind, we sketch the scriptural view of the theophany in the following paragraphs.
1. The theophany is never an immediate revelation of the super mundane Deity itself ( John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:16). God reveals himself only in Christ ( Matthew 11:27). The theophany is therefore more accurately defined as a Christophany, or an epiphany of God in Christ; and all nature is a storehouse of signs of the divine presence, which uniformly point to Christ ( Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16). (See Logos).
2. The theophany, regarded as a Christophany, is developed in three great stages: (1) under the Old Test.; (2) in the incarnation; (3) in Christ's second advent. In that ‘ advent the theophany, or revelation of the divine glory, will reach its consummation ( Titus 2:13). The first advent was also a revelation, of the kindness and love of God (3, 4) and of his grace and truth ( John 1:14-17; John 14:9); and with that revelation corresponded the fact that Christ Saw the Father in all his work, even as the future manifestation of Christ shall be accompanied with the blessed vision of the saints ( 1 John 3:2). Our attention is, however, confined by dogmatics to the modes of manifestation which occurred under the Old Test. prior to the advent of Christ, or under the New as accompanying or representing his presence. (See Advent).
3. The theophany or Christophany of Scripture is the epiphany of the coming Christ, mediated through the angel of the Lord ( Genesis 16:7, etc.), of the face ( Exodus 33:14; Isaiah 3:9), or of the covenant ( Malachi 3:1). This angel was not a created being. His symbolic sign was the pillar of cloud and fire; his attribute the display of the glory or majesty of God ( Δόξα , כָּבוֹד ); his later Rabbinical and theological designation the Shechinah (q.v.).
4. The manifestation of God in Christological theophany begins with the Voice or the miracle of hearing (the voice of God and of heaven being identical, but different from the Bath-Kol of the later Jews), and progresses towards apparition proper, which is a miracle addressed to the eye, and in which the angel of the Lord appears escorted by actual angels, at first only two, but in later instances myriads in number. (See Bath-Kol).
5. Theophany, the objective mode of revelation, never takes place without being accompanied in the mind of the observer with an ecstatic vision. This connection with the theophany distinguishes the vision from the ordinary historical occurrence ( 2 Kings 6:17; John 20:12; Acts 9:7; comp. Acts 22:9; Acts 12:11). On the other hand, no vision is without its element of theophany, which fact distinguishes it from mere subjective hallucination ( Isaiah 6:1 sq.; the book of Daniel; Zechariah; Acts 10:3). (See Vision).
6. The various modes of manifestation can be distinguished, therefore, only when the predominantly objective facts of the theophany are compared with the predominantly subjective facts of the vision. (See Prophecy).
7. Theophanic Christophany enters fully into earthly conditions by being incorporated in elements of nature and of soul life. It completes itself in one direction by the apparition of angels, and in the other by symbolical representations of an earthly nature ( Genesis 3:24; Exodus 4:16; Psalms 18:11; Psalms 104:4; Isaiah 61:2; Malachi 2:7); but most of all by the Urim and Thummim (q.v.).
8. Vision takes place in the way of a momentary vacating of the body or an ecstasy ( 2 Corinthians 12:4). It expands in an abundance of symbolical and allegorical visions (Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Rev.), and finds its completion in the prophetic dream. The latter is conditioned in a higher determination of the ordinary life of the person chosen, and occurs chiefly where the common life has not been developed to any considerable extent, as with the Old-Test. Joseph; or where it is involved With a secular calling, as in the case of the New-Test. Joseph. (See Dream).
9. The life of Christ combined into a higher unity all the fragmentary features of pre-Christian theophanies ( Πολυτρόπως , Hebrews 1:1). His personal life revealed God to the world, and the entire universe became for him, in turn, a theophanic environment attesting himself; because his whole inner life became an incessant subjective vision, in which the contrast between ecstasy and ordinary consciousness of the world no longer exists. Consult Herzog, Real-Encyklop. S.V. ; Buttstedt, De Adparitionibus Deorum Gentilium (Ger. 1744); Millies, De Variis Generibus Θεοφανειῶν (Hal. 1802); Stud. U. Krit. 1859, No. 2. (See Christology).