Angel of the LORD: Part One

Popular but Disputed Site of Mount Sinai

The phrase “angel of the LORD”” (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) is a peculiar aggregate of words that appear often in the Old Testament and a phrase sparingly found in the Gospels and Acts. The word "LORD" is in all caps since it is a reference to God or Yahweh. The first Christians did not interpret Jesus as an angel but as far much greater. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is better than the angels (Heb. 1:4) and that His concern is not for angels but for the descendants of Abraham (Heb. 2:16). This Biblical character is variously interpreted as only an angel, the second person of the Trinity, or God Himself. In future posts we will look consider some of these options closer. For the sake of our discussion we will be evaluating the Trinitarian and Oneness perspectives.

Why the angel of the LORD?

The immediate answer here is because this messenger does some amazing things. More to the point though. B.B. Warfield tells us that “we cannot speak broadly of the revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament...It is a plain matter of fact that none who have depended on the revelation embodied in the Old Testament alone have ever attained to the doctrine of the Trinity.”(1) James D.G. Dunn is a Trinitarian scholar but is even more reserved. He notes, “The understanding of God as Trinity is only to be found in the NT itself with hindsight, foreshadowed in passages like Matt 28:19, 1 Cor 12:4-6, and 2 Cor 13:14.”(2) Here Dunn is even more reserved than Warfield but ends up in the same place suggesting it is only found by additional revelation, namely NT passages.(3)

For such Trinitarians it is the NT revelation of the Trinity which will inform their understanding of it in the OT. I point this out because it is not in the Old Testament, itself, where a Trinity can be found. Warfield and Dunn are quick to leave the Old Testament landscape to find a Trinity elsewhere but it is actually later presuppositions, and especially creedal ones, that Trinitarians use to read a tri-personal God back into the Old Testament literature.

The quotes from Warfield and Dunn are generous but it is obvious that the Old Testament is not high ground for Trinitarians. Non-Trinitarians do not waste time in pointing this out. As a result this Biblical character is typically used as an attempt to strengthen a tri-personal view there. How do Trinitarians imagine the angel of the Lord? The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible suggests this character is a veritable extension of “the subordinate ministry of the second person of the Trinity”.(4)

Trinitarian scholar Daniel G. Finestone concludes: “We are therefore justified in asking what relationship exists between the “Angel of Jehovah” of the Old Testament and the Jehovah Jesus Christ. Many devout scholars have replied that they are the One Divine Person, the second Person of the Trinity.”(5) In his Bibliotheca Sacra article Finestone, like others, attempts to prove the assertion that the “Angel of Jehovah” is Jesus Christ. As we shall see, this is an argument from silence. There is no verse or set of verses that indicate the angel of the LORD is a second person in the Trinity.

We should remember that Trinitarians believe that God is one being who consists of three divine persons. They view this angel of the Lord as being one of those divine persons. Oneness believe that God consists eternally undivided and there can be only one divine person who can be called God. In Trinitarianism, each person has their own mind and will and is also separate or distinct from each other. Jesus, the second person, is the angel of the Lord but they will also suggest he is more than an angel that operates separate or distinct from God but yet is God. They suggest that in certain passages the angel of the Lord and God the Father are radically distinguished to the point where God has manifest Himself as more than one person. In Oneness theology Jesus is this one divine person who is God.

The “angel of the LORD” seems superior to other angels and is able to forgive sins (Exod. 23:21). In other instances he speaks with authority as though he were God Himself speaking in the first person (Gen. 16:10, 22:12). In some instances, the “angel of the Lord” is worshipped and referred to interchangeably as God Himself (Judges 6:11-14). In certain texts these premises are true but the Trinitarian conclusion that more than one divine person is being referenced as God is a false conclusion.


1) Warfield, B.B. "Trinity" International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Edited by James Orr. Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft

2) Dunn, James D.G. (2009-05-01). New Testament Theology (Library of Biblical Theology) (Kindle Locations 1484-1485). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

3) It is the opinion of this writer and others that the NT does not contain the popular doctrine called the Trinity but it is not the purpose of this discussion to examine certain NT passages.

4) Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Map on lining papers. (90). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

5) Finestone, Daniel G. Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 95, pg. 374 Dallas Theological Seminary.

1 comment:

forevertruth said...

Hebrews 1:1-2a refutes the idea of a Christophany in the O.T. on the grounds that God the Father did not speak by His Son *prior* to the "last days":

1:1 "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Heb. 1:1-2a, NIV)

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)