Thursday, May 23, 2019

Is the "Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament referring to Jesus?

Here's an interesting claim that I've been wanting to write about but has been sitting in my drafts box for quite some time. In the Old Testament there are some famous, fascinating references to the "Angel of the Lord" which many Church Fathers understood to refer to the Pre-Incarnate Son of God. This identification was once widely held but has been largely ignored and forgotten about, at least in the West, likely because of the 'fear' people have of reducing Jesus into a created being, an angel, rather than the Eternal Son of God (cf Heb 1:4-6). But this 'fear' is unfounded when proper education is in place, because it in no way threatens the truth about Jesus. (Note that the Son of God was not technically to be called "Jesus" until after taking on flesh, but I won't strictly follow this naming 'rule' in this post.)

I and other people, including Catholics, hope to revive this identification, not only to better connect with the Church Fathers, but also to better savor the Holy Scriptures, since if the Angel of the Lord is Jesus, then that brings out the Trinity within the earliest parts of the Old Testament!

The first and most important thing to keep in mind when approaching the "Angel of the Lord" issue is that both the Hebrew and the Greek term for "angel" is actually a generic word for "messenger". Nothing about either term actually specifically refers to the spirit creature with wings that we normally think about when the term "angel" is used. In fact, when the original languages were used, the texts simply read the "Messenger of the Lord". A Messenger could be anything from an angel to a prophet to a teacher to an ambassador. Even names like of the prophet "Malachi" are simply the Hebrew word for "Messenger".

The second thing to keep in mind is that not all references to "Angel of the Lord" necessarily refer to the Pre-Incarnate Jesus. Some, if not most, references make better sense when referring to something else, including simply an angel sent by God (e.g. Mat 2:13; 28:2; Lk 2:9). The point of this post is that there are some references, not all, that actually make more sense read as the Pre-Incarnate Jesus. For example, in Matthew 11:10, Jesus is explaining that the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 of God's sending a "Messenger" is talking of John the Baptist (sent to prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus). 

The third thing to keep in mind is that there is a general consensus of Church Fathers that say the "Messenger of the Lord" was the Pre-Incarnate Jesus, so we cannot simply discount this identification. Some have said that Augustine was the first to deny this identification, but from what I see in the Catholic Encyclopedia and such is that Augustine was merely cautious about the identification since people could misunderstand it to be Arian (i.e. that the Son was a created being). Augustine did not say the identification was false or could not be made, and cited Isaiah 9:6 as proof. 

Now to cite some Church Fathers who made the identification, I will borrow quotes heavily from others who have written on this matter, particularly Taylor Marshall's excellent 2015 blog post on this very subject: 
  • Justin Martyr: "And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said." (Dialogue with Trypho, ch128)
  • Irenaeus: "And again, when the Son speaks to Moses, He says, I have come down to deliver this people. Exodus 3:8 For it is He who descended and ascended for the salvation of men." (AH 3.6.2)
  • Tertullian: "Thus was He ever learning even as God to converse with men upon earth, being no other than the Word which was to be made flesh. But He was thus learning (or rehearsing), in order to level for us the way of faith, that we might the more readily believe that the Son of God had come down into the world, if we knew that in times past also something similar had been done." (Against Praxeas, ch16)
  • Clement of Alexandria: "Now that the Word was at once Jacob's trainer and the Instructor of humanity [appears from this]--"He asked," it is said, "His name, and said to him, Tell me what is Try name." And he said, "Why is it that thou askest My name?" For He reserved the new name for the new people--the babe; and was as yet unnamed, the Lord God not having yet become man. Yet Jacob called the name of the place, "Face of God." "For I have seen," he says, "God face to face; and my life is preserved." The face of God is the Word by whom God is manifested and made known. Then also was he named Israel, because he saw God the Lord. It was God, the Word, the Instructor, who said to him again afterwards, "Fear not to go down into Egypt."" (The Instructor, 1:7)
  • Eusebius: "Remember how Moses calls the Being, Who appeared to the patriarchs, and often delivered to them the oracles afterwards written down in Scripture, sometimes God and Lord, and sometimes the Angel of the Lord. He clearly implies that this was not the Omnipotent God, but a secondary Being . . . the Being Who was seen must have been the Word of God, Whom we call Lord as we do the Father. But it is needless for me to labour the point, since it is possible to find instances in Holy Scripture. These I will collect at leisure in connection with my present work to prove that He Who was seen by the patriarchal saints was none other than the Word of God." (Proof of the Gospel, 1.5)
  • Ambrose: "It was not the Father Who spoke to Moses in the bush or in the desert, but the Son. It was of this Moses that Stephen said, This is He Who was in the church, in the wilderness, with the Angel. Acts 7:38 " (Exposition of the Faith, 1:13:83)
  • Hilary: "For God appeared from the bush as the Angel of God, and the prayer for Joseph is that he may receive such blessings as He shall please. He is none the less God because He is the Angel of God; and none the less the Angel of God because He is God. A clear indication is given of the Divine Persons; the line is definitely drawn between the Unbegotten and the Begotten." (On the Trinity, 4:33)
  • Theodoret: "The whole passage (Exodus 3) shows that it was God who appeared to Moses. But Moses called Him an “angel” in order to let us know that it was not God the Father whom he saw but the Only-begotten Son, the Angel of Great Counsel." (quoted in Catholic Encyclopedia "Angels")
The goal of the Church Fathers, at least early on, especially when doing apologetics with the Jews, was to show that Jesus as Son of God was already foretold in the Old Testament, and that indeed was a taste of the Incarnation to happen later on. Tertullian says these manifestations of Jesus in the Old Testament were to make it easier for us to accept the Incarnation, like practice rehearsals.

With the above quotes in mind, consider some of the primary "Angel of the Lord" texts which the Fathers saw as referring to the Pre-Incarnate Christ:
  • Genesis 16:7-14. The Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar, but the Angel speaks as if He is God Himself, saying things such as "I will multiply your offspring." At the end of the message Hagar replies, "Truly I have seen [God] who looks after me."
  • Genesis 21:7-19. Again the Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar and speaks like God Himself: "I will make [Ishmael] into a great nation."
  • Genesis 22:11-18. The Angel of the Lord appears to Abraham and says: "I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your only son from me" and "By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this I will surely bless you, because you have obeyed my voice". 
  • Genesis 31:11-13. The "Angel of God" says to Jacob: "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me.
  • Exodus 3:2-6. The Angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush, where "God called to him out of the bush" and said to Moses: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The passage even says: "And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
  • Judges 2:1-5. The Angel of the Lord appears and says: "I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I will never break my covenant with you". 
In all these instances, it is certainly understandable that there is confusion as to just who the "Angel of the Lord" is, for on one hand we know God (Yahweh/Jehovah) is distinct from this Angel, while on the other hand this Angel speaks as if he indeed is God.

Also worth considering are: Genesis 18:1-22 where 'angel messengers' appear as men to Abraham; similarly Gen 19:1; in Gen 32:24-30 there's the famous encounter with Jacob who "wrestles" with a "man" (Hosea 12:3-4 says it was an "angel") and Jacob was named Israel (meaning "wrestles with God") and said he saw the face of God; in Gen 48:15-16 mention is made of 'angel' alongside God's work of salvation; in Exodus 14:19-22 both the 'Angel of God' and the Lord are mentioned saving the Israelites from the Egyptians; in Joshua 5:13-15 a "man" appears to Joshua and claims to be captain of God's army, and tells Joshua that this is holy ground; in Judges 6:11-24 the Angel of the Lord and has a talk with Gideon, which ends with Gideon afraid of seeing God and builds an altar there in commemoration of God visiting him; in Judges 13:2-23 the Angel of the Lord appears and has a long discussion with a barren couple, the dialog distinguishes between God and the Angel but the Angel speaks like God Himself; in Zech 3:6-10 it recalls when the Angel of the Lord appeared and talked to Joshua, but the dialog is as if God Himself is speaking. 

We also know that often times God simply speaks directly to people (e.g. Gen 4:6; 6:13; 12:1; 17:1; 20:3), without the need for an angel to act as an ambassador between God and men. Also, we know that sometimes angels (plural or singular) show up without any message. So God making use of the "Angel of the Lord" to speak in God's Person is highly mysterious, and it seems the best answer for the mature Christian is to accept that it is the Son of God. 

As far as the New Testament goes, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of commentary on Jesus appearing in the OT as the "Angel of the Lord," but Jesus does speak as if He is aware of the OT Saints and even that He was around when the OT events happened. In places like Revelation 10:1; 18:1; 18:21; 20:1; some have suggested the reference to "mighty angel" is actually Jesus. And in Rev 22:8-9, John falls down to worship the "angel" but is told not to. It's more likely that John mistook the angel for Jesus rather than John thinking he should worship a creature.

It is worth noting that Stephen mentions the "angel" in the burning bush in Acts 7:30-38, but he doesn't make it clear that this was Jesus. This would seem to go against the identification, unless Stephen was being subtle and actually trying to convey the identification.

I'm not sure what else to say, other than this has been a fascinating research for me. On one hand I am eager to make this identification, because the Church Fathers do and the mysterious language of the OT references; yet on the other hand, I'm not overwhelmingly convinced given that the New Testament doesn't explicitly make the identification, which you'd think would be so obvious for apologetic and preaching purposes.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Did Paul have biology in mind when he spoke of "works"?

I have been looking into the connection between Paul's talk of "works" and the 'biological' references that he often uses (e.g. flesh, seed, children). Until I stopped to look into it for myself, I didn't realize how heavily emphasized the biological aspect is, such that Paul spends as much time talking about "works" as he does talking about biology. In fact, for Paul there is less emphasis on "what we do" and more about "who we are". Realizing this should influence how we read Paul's teaching on Justification.

Consider the following passages which clearly connect 'flesh' (in the lineage sense) and 'works':
  • Romans 4:1-2 What shall we say by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works... [cf Rom 3:28-30, just prior to this passage]
  • Rom 4:11 The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised
  • Rom 9:3-10 I wish that I myself were accursed for the sake of my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel [see my post HERE], and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac [not Ishmael] shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children [Jacob & Esau] by our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls