The term malakh YHWH, which occurs 65 times in the text of the Hebrew Bible, can be translated either as "the angel of the Lord" or "an angel of the Lord". The King James Version usually translates it as "the angel of the LORD"; less frequently as "an angel of the LORD". The Septuagint (LXX) sometimes uses ἄγγελος Κυρίου (an angel of the Lord), sometimes ὁ ἄγγελο�� Κυρίου (the angel of the Lord): in Genesis 16:7-11, it gives first the form without the Greek article, then, in all the subsequent mentions with the article, as in the anaphoric use of the article.
A closely related term is "angel of God" (mal'akh 'Elohim), mentioned 12 times (2 of which are plural). Another related expression, Angel of the Presence, occurs only once (Isaiah 63:9).
Angel of Yahweh
Examples of use of the Hebrew term מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה are found in the following verses, here given in the King James Version translation:
- Genesis 16:7–14. The angel of the Lord appears to Hagar. The angel speaks as God in the first person, and in verse 13 Hagar identifies "the LORD that spake unto her" as "Thou God seest me".
- Genesis 22:11–15. The angel of the Lord appears to Abraham and refers to God in the first person.
- Exodus 3:2–4. The angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a flame in verse 2, and God speaks to Moses from the flame in verse 4.
- Numbers 22:22–38. The angel of the Lord meets the prophet Balaam on the road. In verse 38, Balaam identifies the angel who spoke to him as delivering the word of God.
- Judges 2:1–3. An angel of the Lord appears to Israel.
- Judges 6:11–23. An angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, and in verse 22 Gideon fears for his life because he has seen an angel of the Lord face to face.
- Judges 13:3–22. The angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife and, in verse 16, differentiates himself from God ("And the angel of the Lord said unto Manoah [...] if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the Lord. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the Lord.")
- Zechariah 1:12. The angel of the Lord pleads with the Lord to have mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.
- Zechariah 3:4. The angel of the Lord takes away the sin of the high priest Joshua.
The Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint translates the Hebrew phrase מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה as ἄγγελος Κυρίου, "angel of the Lord" or as ὁ ἄγγελος Κυρίου, "the angel of the Lord". "Owing to the Hebrew idiom, this may mean no more than 'an angel of God', and the Septuagint renders it with or without the article at will."
The KJV and NKJV capitalize "Angel" in the Old Testament references to "the Angel of the Lord", while using lower-case "angel" in the Old Testament references to "an angel of the Lord" (and in the New Testament references). Most versions, including NASB, RSV, ESV, etc., do not capitalize "angel" in the mentions of "angel of the Lord".
Angel of Elohim
The term "angel of God" (Heb. mal'akh 'Elohim) occurs 12 times (2 of which are plural). The following are examples:
- Genesis 31:11. The angel of God calls out to Jacob in a dream and tells him "I am the God of Bethel".
- Exodus 14:19. The angel of God leads the camp of Israel, and also follows behind them, with the pillar of fire.
- Judges 13:9. The angel of God approached the wife of Manoah after the Lord heard Manoah.
In addition, there are mentions of God "sending an angel", of which the following are examples:
- Exodus 23:20-21. The LORD says he will send an Angel before the Israelites, and warns them to obey the Angel's voice, and that the Angel "will not pardon transgressions" because the LORD's "name is in him".
- Exodus 33:2. God says he will send an angel before the Israelites, and that God will drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
- Numbers 20:16. The LORD sent an angel and brought the people of Israel forth from Egypt.
- 1 Chronicles 21:15. God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem, but then repented and told the angel to stay his hand.
- 2 Chronicles 32:21. The LORD sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria.
In the New Testament the Greek phrase ἄγγελος Κυρίου (aggelos kuriou – "angel of the Lord") is found in Matthew 1:20, 1:24, 2:13, 2:19, 28:2; Luke 1:11, 2:9; John 5:4; Acts 5:19, 8:26, 12:7, and 12:23. English translations render the phrase either as "an angel of the Lord" or as "the angel of the Lord". The mentions in Acts 12:11 and Revelation 22:6 of "his angel" (the Lord's angel) can also be understood as referring either to the angel of the Lord or an angel of the Lord.
Most appearances of the "angel of the Lord" leave the reader with the question of whether it was an angel or YHWH who appeared. Apart from the view that "the angel of the Lord is just that – an angel", a wide array of solutions have been offered, such as making the angel an earthly manifestation of God, some kind of avatar of God or the pre-incarnated Christ.
In the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) Hugh Pope writes: "The earlier Fathers, going by the letter of the text in the Septuagint, maintained that it was God Himself who appeared as the Giver of the Law to Moses. It was not unnatural then for Tertullian [...] to regard such manifestations in the light of preludes to the Incarnation, and most of the Eastern Fathers followed the same line of thought." Pope quotes the view of Theodoret that this angel was probably Christ, "the Only-begotten Son, the Angel of great Counsel", and contrasts Theodoret's view with the opposite view of the Latin Fathers Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great that it was no more than an angel, a view that, he says, "was destined to live in the Church, and the Scholastics reduced it to a system". As an exponent of this view he quotes Augustine, who declared that "the angel is correctly termed an angel if we consider him himself, but equally correctly is he termed 'the Lord' because God dwells in him." He indicates, however, that within the Catholic Church the opposite view was also upheld.
The appearances of the "angel of the Lord" are in fact often presented as theophanies, appearances of YHWH himself rather than a separate entity acting on his behalf. In Genesis 31:11–13, "the angel of God" says, "I am the God of Beth-el". In Exodus 3:2–6 "the angel of Yahweh" (מלאך יהוה) appeared to Moses in the flame of fire, and then "Yahweh" (יהוה) says to him: "I am the God of thy father". Compare also Genesis 22:11; Judges 6:11–22. At times the angel of the Lord speaks in such a way as to assume authority over previous promises (see Gen. 16:11 and 21:17). According to the New American Bible, the visual form under which God appeared and spoke to men is referred to indifferently in some Old Testament texts either as God's angel or as God himself.
Another interpretation builds on the usage by which ancient spokesmen, after an introductory phrase, used the grammatically first person in proclaiming the point of view of the one they represent.
Another proposal is Samuel A. Meier's interpolation theory, which holds that, originally, stories in which there is ambiguity between Yahweh and the "angel of Yahweh" were written with Yahweh himself delivering the message. Later, copyists inserted the term mal’akh before the divine name to modify the narratives, in order to meet the standards of a changing theology which more strongly emphasized a transcendent God. If the term mal’akh is removed from these passages, the remaining story fits neatly with a "default" format in Near Eastern literature in which the deity appears directly to humans without an intermediary. The addition of mal’akh does not require any change in the form of the verbs connected to it, since both mal’akh and a deity such as Yahweh or Elohim are of masculine grammatical gender and since the noun before which mal’akh is introduced remains unaffected on the consonantal level. On the other hand, the removal of the word mal’akh from the narration usually makes it more coherent and in line with its Ancient Near East literary context.
Although Wojciech Kosior favours this interpolation theory, he mentions some unsolved difficulties connected with it: the large number of similar theophanies in which the word mal’akh has not been added to the names of Yahweh and Elohim and the fact that it is never associated with names such as El-Elyon, El-Shadday or El-Ro’eh worshipped by the biblical Hebrews.
The early Fathers of the Church, such as Justin Martyr, identify the angel of the Lord as the pre-incarnate Christ whose appearance, i.e. Christophany, is recorded in the Hebrew Bible. On the reason why some early Christians viewed Jesus as the angel of the Lord, Susan Garrett says:
[The logic behind the] reading of Jesus into accounts of the angel of the LORD went deeper. Many Jews before and during the time of Jesus were deeply interested in angels. Some understood the angel of the LORD as a being completely separate from God—a sort of angelic vizier or righthand angel, who served as head of the heavenly host and in other important capacities, including as a mediator between God and humans. Further, some Jews routinely appropriated language used in Scripture to describe the angel of the LORD and used it to characterize certain of God’s attributes, including God’s word, glory, wisdom, spirit, power, and name—almost as if these aspects of the Deity were themselves independent angels. In other words, quite apart from Christianity there was talk among ancient Jews of God’s word, God’s glory, and so forth in terms highly reminiscent of the angel of the LORD. So, when early Christian authors like Justin Martyr connected Jesus with God’s word and that word, in turn, with the angel of the LORD, they were not inventing from scratch so much as adding a new layer to well-established ways of reading Scripture.
In Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Louis Goldberg writes: "The functions of the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament prefigure the reconciling ministry of Jesus. In the New Testament, there is no mention of the angel of the Lord; the Messiah himself is this person."
On the other hand, Knofel Staton says: "The idea that this angel was Christ is unlikely for many reasons, which include the following: 1) God never said to any angel (including the 'angel of the Lord') 'you are my son' (Heb 1:5) ..."; Ben Witherington says: "The angel of the Lord is just that – an angel. [... T]he divine son of God [...] was no mere angel of the Lord, nor did he manifest himself in some observable form prior to the Incarnation."
Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the angel who brought the Israelites into their promised land and would not pardon transgression because God's name was in him (Exodus 23:20-21), was "God's firstborn Son", the pre-existent Christ, who is also the archangel Michael, the Prince of the people of Israel mentioned in Daniel 10:21.
- Judges 2:1; 6:11, 22; 13:16, 21
- Genesis 16:7–11
- "The anaphoric article is the article denoting previous reference. The first mention of the substantive is usually anarthrous because it is merely being introduced. But subsequent mentions of it use the article, for the article is now pointing back to the substantive previously mentioned" (The Berean Christian Bible Resources: Greek article and others).
- Modern critical editions of the Septuagint are based on the Codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, the oldest complete texts now existing, while taking into account the few older fragments that have been discovered (see Septuagint manuscripts).
- Pope, Hugh. "Angels" in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. accessed 9 July 2018
- For instance, Matthew 1:20
- Ben Witherington, The Living Word of God (Baylor University Press 2007 ISBN 978-1-60258-017-6), p. 224
- Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus 2006 p109. "Now, however, God, in the form of 'the Angel of the LORD' (see excursus below, 'The Angel of the Lord') appeared in a fire theophany (see excursus below, 'Fire Theophany') to Moses"
- New American Bible: note to Exodus 3:2
- Kosior, Wojciech. "The Angel in the Hebrew Bible from the Statistic and Hermeneutic Perspectives. Some Remarks on the Interpolation Theory". "The Polish Journal of Biblical Research", Vol. 12, No. 1 (23), pp. 59-60. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- Samuel Arthur Meier (1999). K. van der Toorn; B. Becking; P. W. van der Horst, eds. The Dictionary of Deities and Demons. Leiden–Boston–Köln. pp. 58–59.
- Kosior, Wojciech. "The Angel in the Hebrew Bible from the Statistic and Hermeneutic Perspectives. Some Remarks on the Interpolation Theory". "The Polish Journal of Biblical Research", Vol. 12, No. 1 (23), pp. 60-61. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- Kosior, p. 69
- Garrett, Susan R. (2008). No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims about Jesus. Yale University Press. pp. 248, n. 28. ISBN 978-0-300-14095-8.
Justin Martyr identified the Angel of the Lord with the pre-incarnate Christ; see Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 187-200; Hannah, Michael and Christ, 111-13; more generally on early angelomorphic Christology, see Richard N. Longenecker,“Some Distinctive Early Christological Motifs,” New Testament Studies 14 (1967-68): 526-45; Christopher Rowland, Christian Origins: An Account of the Setting and Character of the Most Important Messianic Sect of Judaism (2nd ed.; London: SPCK, 2002), 32-36. David Keck (Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998], 35) notes that in the early church, identification of the Angel of the Lord with Christ “became an essential ingredient of anti-Jewish polemics.”
- Garrett, Susan R. (2008). No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims about Jesus. Yale University Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-300-14095-8.
- Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume 1, Continuum, 2003, p. 460.
- J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th ed., HarperOne, 1978, p. 11.
- Angel of the Lord - Elwell, Walter A. - Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
- Knofel Staton, Angels (College Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-89900-939-1), p. 211
- Ben Witherington, The Living Word of God (Baylor University Press 2007 ISBN 978-1-60258-017-6), p. 224
- "Your Leader Is One, the Christ" – The Watchtower – Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom – 15 September 2010, pg 21.
- W. Kosior, "The Angel in the Hebrew Bible from the Statistic and Hermeneutic Perspectives. Some Remarks on the Interpolation Theory", The Polish Journal of Biblical Research, Vol. 12, No. 1 (23), pp. 55–70.
- P.E. Kretzmann. The Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. Theological Monthly 2(2) pp. 33–36.
- von Heijne, Camilla Hélena, The Messenger of the Lord in Early Jewish Interpretations of Genesis, BZAW 412, De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-3-11-022684-3
- Vogel, Heinrich. The Angel Of The Lord
- S.A. Meier, angel of Yahweh, in: The Dictionary of Deities and Demons, eds. K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, P. W. van der Horst, Leiden-Boston-Köln 1999, pp. 53–59.