The question of identity concerning this Biblical character is debated from the start. (10) There are even mixed views amongst Trinitarians on this subject. Some have gone so far as to compare this Biblical character to the Incarnation itself. The Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary needlessly appeals to mystery, “This special relationship is a mystery similar to that between Jesus and God in the New Testament.”(11) In a newer edition they remove the term "mystery": "This special relationship has led many to conclude that the Angel of the Lord was Jesus in a pre-incarnate form." (12) There is no need to further obfuscate Trinitarian theology by appealing to mystery. Some will also suggest that it is only an angel or Michael, the archangel. Justin Martyr speaks of this character often. In his Dialogue with Trypho he frequently calls Jesus “the Angel.” The Hellenized Jewish philosopher Philo identified the Angel of the Lord with the logos.
D.M. Howard suggests that there are about three options. He notes, (1) It is simply an angel with a special commission. (2) It may be a momentary descent of God himself into visibility. (3) It may be the Logos himself (i.e., Christ) “a kind of temporary preincarnation of the second person of the trinity.” Because of the close relationship—even alternation—of the angel of the Lord and the Lord himself, it would seem that the first option is not adequate. The angel represents God himself in very real ways.”(13) We would agree with Howard on the fact that the first one is not adequate and would also suggest that the latter is stating too much. Advanced angelology is probably not very developed at this point in Jewish history either. The second option is most coherent and is compatible with the Oneness view: God Himself became visible if only momentarily.
This character can also be thought of as referring to someone other than God. When this is so the angel is often doing the work of God and speaking for God. In the fourth vision of Zechariah 1 the angel of the Lord asks the Lord for information and then receives comforting words indicating that he is perhaps not co-equal with God in power or knowledge. D.J. Clark and H.A. Hatton recommend that "(a) that the angel among the myrtles and the angel who talked with the prophet are regarded as separate figures; and (b) that “the angel of the Lord” in verse 12 is identified with the angel among the myrtles."(15)
The New Testament is not reluctant to identify Jesus Christ with Old Testament figures, i.e. King, Messiah, Priest, or Word. Nevertheless, the Old Testament never identifies Christ with the “angel of the Lord”. Nothing in the Scriptures requires our understanding God’s self-expressions or manifestations prior to Jesus’ birth to have been a second or even third person of the Trinity. This type of information is nowhere suggested as being assumed or even seeded in a Bible writer’s thought.
In his book God is Spirit Geoffrey W. Lampe noted, “The concept of the angel of the Lord also refers in the first instance to human experience. In this case, too, it is an experience of a communication from God, of a message received from beyond the human personality itself...The angel of the Lord signified the manifestation of the divine presence itself in action at certain specific times and places; but the idea of a messenger from God came to replace that of God himself reaching out to communicate his message.”(17) T. E. McComiskey’s conclusion seems to be a sensible one, “It is best to see the angel as a self-manifestation of Yahweh in a form that would communicate his immanence and direct concern to those to whom he ministered.”(18)
In future posts we will examine some of the passages that reference the Angel of the LORD
8) Fox, E. (1995). Vol. 1: The five books of Moses : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a new translation with introductions, commentary, and notes. The Schocken Bible (Ex 3:2). New York: Schocken Books.
9) Metzger, Bruce M. & Coogan, Michael. (1993) Oxford Companion To The Bible. (28) New York, NY: Oxford University Press
10) Whitlock, L. G., Sproul, R. C., Waltke, B. K., & Silva, M. (1995). Reformation study Bible, the : Bringing the light of the Reformation to Scripture : New King James Version (Ge 18:2). Nashville: T. Nelson.
11) Lockyer, Herbert, Bruce, F.F., Harrison, R.K., et al. "Angel of The Lord" Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
12) Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). "Angel of The Lord" Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville: T. Nelson.
13) Howard, D. M., Jr. (2001, c1998). Vol. 5: Joshua (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
14) Wood, D. R. W. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary (37). InterVarsity Press.
15) Clark, D. J., & Hatton, H. (2002). A handbook on Zechariah. UBS handbook series (81). New York: United Bible Societies.
16) Servetus, Michael. The Restoration of Christianity (An English Translation of Chistianismi Restitutio, 1553) by Michael Servetus. Translated by Hoffman and Hillar. The Edwin Mellen Press
17) Lampe, Geoffrey W. God As Spirit. Oxford University Press 1977
18) McComiskey, T.E. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “Angel,” See also M. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986) who has a similar conclusion.
19) Dunn, James D. G. (1996) Christology In The Making. (150) Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
20) Friedman, Richard E. (2001) Commentary on Torah. (63) New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.