Friday, January 20, 2017

The Proto-Trinitarianism of the Old Testament: Part 1

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
I have labored elsewhere to demonstrate the progressive nature of biblical revelation and the trinitarian conception of God within the New Testament, and the New Testament’s conception of the Old Testament.[1] Since the depiction of God within the New Testament is the supreme revelation of the nature of God, an inerrantist view of the biblical text demands that the Old Testament agree. Despite this, it is a common tactic of Oneness Pentecostal and subordinationist apologists to claim that the Old Testament, especially the many monotheistic decrees in the “Trial of the False Gods” (Isaiah 40-45),[2] precludes a trinitarian conception of God. However, a careful reading of the Old Testament text divulges robust support of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Old Testament’s theology of God is thoroughly proto-trinitarian,[3] and can only be reconciled with unitarianism by way of ignoring large portions of key narratives or an intensely eisegetical hermeneutic.
The Divine Plurality of Yahweh
Throughout the Old Testament there are appearances of an individual known as the angel of the LORD.[4] The term “angel,” either in Hebrew or Greek, refers not to a specific ontology, but rather the function of an individual.[5] Therefore the phrase “angel of the LORD” does not in and of itself communicate the nature of the messenger, but instead his relation to Yahweh. The angel of Yahweh, while personally distinct from Yahweh, is Yahweh himself. That is, the angel of Yahweh is neither a creature or a manifestation of a unitarian God, but instead a divine person who is God himself.
In order to demonstrate the above claim, I will provide a consideration of two varieties of texts. First, those passages which show the absolute deity of the angel of Yahweh will serve to demonstrate the illegitimacy of any unitarian theology that seeks to subordinate the angel of Yahweh. These texts show the deity of the angel of Yahweh by identifying him as Yahweh and by attributing to him actions and attributes that belong only to God. Second, passages which show a personal distinction between the angel of the LORD and the LORD both in communication and economy will demonstrate the presence of trinitarian relationships in the Old Testament.
The above claims may be consolidated into the following syllogism:
Premise 1: The angel of Yahweh is God Almighty.
Premise 2: The angel of Yahweh is personally distinct from another person named Yahweh.
Conclusion: There exists a relationship that is trinitarian in shape between the divine angel of Yahweh and Yahweh in the Old Testament.
Below I have outlined the biblical evidence for each of the above premises. However, before a consideration of the relevant passages, an assessment of the phrase יהוה מַלְאַךְ (mal’āk yahweh) is necessary. Traditionally the phrase mal’āk yahweh has been understood definitely (i.e., “the angel of the LORD”), thereby indicating a particular individual whose presence occurs throughout the Old Testament. However, some have argued that the phrase is better rendered indefinitely, making it indicative of a number of individuals acting as an angel of the LORD at various times. The general determiner as to whether a noun is definite is that of its modifiers. Walter and O’Connor note, “In Hebrew the definiteness of a noun and that of its modifiers are in agreement” and, “The largest class of intrinsically definite nouns is names.”[6] Lopez has noted that this rule has its exceptions, and has argued that mal’āk yahweh is one:
While ‘every proper noun is determinate per se,’ this may not always apply to nouns in construct with a proper noun. This is corroborated by Gesenius: ‘In a few instances [when] the nomen regents appears…it often is so before a proper name,’ as in …a feast of the Lord (Exod 10:9)… an abomination unto the Lord (Deut 7:29) … a virgin of Israel (Deut 22:19) … a man of Benjamin (1 Sam 4:12), etc.’ Hence, it may be correct to translate the anarthrous construct noun (מַלְאַךְ) as indefinite.[7]
The key component that distinguishes mal’āk yahweh from the indefinite phrases cited by Lopez is the consistent utilization of mal’āk yahweh throughout the Old Testament. While there are many abominations unto the Lord, there is only one angel of the LORD. This is evident due to the several Old Testament realities. First, the angel of Yahweh is explicitly identified as Yahweh himself, and this within a monotheistic context.[8] Hence, if one were to suppose that there were a multiplicity of angels of Yahweh, then one would necessarily be asserting multiple Gods. Second, there exists no place within the Old Testament wherein mal’āk yahweh occurs in plural form. The lack of a plural points toward a particular individual who is distinguished from other angels. Lastly, the angel of Yahweh is no longer mentioned upon the arrival of Jesus Christ, and the equivalent phrase in the New Testament only appears indefinitely.[9] So too, there are two implicit identifications of the Jesus as the angel within the New Testament. Jude 1:5 states,
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the Land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
The reading “Jesus” appears in the critical editions of the Greek New Testament as it possesses superior attestation by both manuscript and versional witnesses and patristic literature. The Byzantine reading “Lord” occurs in Siniaticus, 044, and a correction of Ephraemi Rescriptus. The reading “Jesus” is present in Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, a number of important miniscules,[10]and among Coptic MS. Additionally, it is attested by Origen, Cyril, Jerome, and Bede. In observation of this, Comfort rightly notes that the critical reading is backed by “an impressive collection of witnesses.”[11]  “Jesus” is also the most difficult reading, which, ironically, is the rationale given by former members of the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies for its omission. Metzger has noted that “a majority of the Committee was of the opinion that the reading was difficult to the point of impossibility.”[12] Metzger concluded that while committee formally rejected the reading, the “Critical principles seem to require the adoption of ’Ιησούς.”[13]
In identifying the Son of God’s involvement in the exodus, the New Testament has provided an inspired identification of the angel of Yahweh’s identity. The angel of Yahweh who is credited with saving a people out of Egypt is none other than Jesus Christ, and therefore the phrase mal’āk yahweh depicts a single individual consistently.
A similar sentiment is communicated by Paul:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
(1st Corinthians 10:1-4)
Paul went further to exhort the Corinthians not to “put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents” (v. 9).[14] Clearly, Paul saw the Son of God as the God of Israel and yet distinct from the Father.[15] In light of the above, there is overwhelming evidence which supports the traditional contention that the phrase mal’āk yahweh ought to be rendered definitely.
Demonstrating the Premises
Premise 1: The angel of Yahweh is God Almighty.


There exists bountiful evidence that the angel of Yahweh is God himself throughout the Old Testament:
  • Moses identifies the angel of Yahweh who appeared to Hagar as “Yahweh who spoke to her” (Gen 16:13), and Hagar characterizes the angel saying, “You are a God of seeing.”
  • It was the angel who appeared to Moses in the bush, and said, “take the sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:4). The angel then identified himself saying, “I Am Who I Am” (v. 14).
  • The angel of the LORD swears by himself—an action that Wenham notes is the “First and only divine oath in the patriarchal stories, though it is frequently harked back to (24:7; 26:3; 50:24; Exod 13:5).”[16] This action is similar to the covenant established with Abram, a covenant predicated upon only the character and faithfulness of Yahweh.[17]
  • The angel of Yahweh said to Jacob, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me” (Gen 31:13). When Jacob made that vow he stated, “If God will be with me…then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar shall be God’s house” (Gen 28:20-22). Hosea identifies the angel saying Jacob “met God at Bethel” (Hos 12:4), and went on to identify him as “the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name” (v. 5).
  • Jacob prayed to the angel of Yahweh when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh. He stated, “The God before whom my fathers walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys…” (Gen 48:15).
  • It is the angel of Yahweh who calls himself Yahweh (Gen 22:16),[18] and who is credited with saving Israel out of Egypt (Judges 2:1).
  • When God was angry at Balaam, the angel of Yahweh appeared. After correcting Balaam by means of his donkey, the angel told Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” Balaam interpreted this command by saying, “The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak” (Num 22:22-38).
  • The angel of Yahweh identified himself as the “commander of the LORD’s army” and said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (Joshua 5:15). Just a few verses later, the commander of Yahweh’s army is identified as Yahweh by the writer (6:2).
  • It was the angel of Yahweh, having a “wonderful” name, that heralded the coming of Samson’s birth, and who received an offering from Manoah ( Judges 13:15-25).[19] Manoah concluded his interaction with the angel of Yahweh saying, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (v. 22).
  • Whereas in Chronicles 21:15-16 the angel of Yahweh appeared to David, 2 Chron 3:1 states that it was Yahweh himself who appeared.
  • Barker has noted that the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes 5:6 reads “Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the angel that it was a mistake.” The Septuagint renders this to say “Do not say before the angel.” Similarly the Hebrew of Isaiah 63:9 states, “The angel of his presence saved them.” The Septuagint renders this, “Not a messenger nor an angel but he himself saved them.”[20]
  • Zechariah 12:8 states that to “be like God” is to be “like the angel of Yahweh.”
In virtually every defining moment in Israel’s history, the angel of Yahweh played a primary role and was characterized and treated as Yahweh himself. Compare this to the treatment of other angelic encounters within Scripture. For instance, when John fell down at the feet of an angel to worship him (Rev 19:10), the angel responded saying, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
In an effort to mitigate the deity of the angel of Yahweh, some have argued that the angel of Yahweh isn't Yahweh at all, but rather a created agent. The agent-sender theory most often relies primarily upon the so-called “law of agency” defined below:
Agent (Heb: Shaliah): The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum,”a person's agent is regarded as the person himself”… Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal, who therefore bears full responsibility for it with consequent complete absence of liability on the part of the agent.[21]
Using the term שָׁלִיחַ (shaliah) as a means of identifying the angel of Yahweh as a created agent is a tactic typical of unitarians who are desirous to defend the notion that the God of Israel is one person. Explaining the identity of the angel of Yahweh as a created agent poses an array of logical, theological, and exegetical problems. Proponents of this theory merely assume that the angel of Yahweh is created agent without providing any positive biblical evidence to support such an assertion. The angel of Yahweh is never called a shaliah. One would expect the use of the term in any one of the dozens of key passages that describe the angel of Yahweh as the primary salvific actor. So too, the above definition does not possess an accurate depiction of the biblical agent-sender relationship in several important ways. In every account within the Old Testament wherein an emissary acts on behalf of his sender, the agent is immediately identified as distinct from the one who sent the agent. For instance, even when God said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1), there was never an acceptance by Moses of the kind of honor belonging to Yahweh. Moses did not start receiving worship and calling himself Yahweh. Rather, Moses spoke the words that Yahweh gave him while still communicating a tacit distinction between himself and Yahweh. No one who saw Moses believed that they had seen Yahweh and lived, as in Judges 13:22. Clearly therefore, even in the Old Testament’s quintessential agent-sender narrative, there is a sharp distinction made between the sender and the one sent.[22] Unlike Moses, the angel of Yahweh never identifies himself as a representative.
By the time of the New Testament, shaliah was the general equivalent of the Greek term  ἀπόστολος.[23] While the apostles represented Christ, they were never called “Jesus” or “Christ,” or worshiped as Christ. Even though Paul was an apostle and was given the power to conduct miracles, he refused to be worshipped as if he was Christ.[24]
If the agency theory is adopted to explain the identity of the angel of Yahweh, there would exist no tenable means to distinguish the function of God from his agent. That is, since the angel is identified so often as the salvific actor within the Old Testament, and if the angel is actually a created agent, there exists no legitimate means to avoid idolatry. When Yahweh asks the rhetorical question, “Who is like me?” (Isaiah 44:7), consistency demands that those who hold the agency view say, ‘Your angel is exactly like you. He even says that he is God Almighty and receives worship and prayer.’ With the agency view, the prohibition in the Decalogue against idolatry is effective obliterated.
           
Premise 2: The angel of Yahweh is personally distinct
from another person named Yahweh.
There are several passages in which the angel of Yahweh and Yahweh communicate directly.  For example, Yahweh spoke to the angel of Yahweh saying, “It is enough, now stay your hand” (2 Sam 24:16). In Zechariah’s prophecy the angel of Yahweh is depicted as saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem…” (Zec 1:12).[25] Lopez and others who hold a similar agency theory seem to think these third person references demand an ontological distinction between the angel of Yahweh and Yahweh.[26] Lopez relies heavily upon Zechariah 1:12 and states that the passage implies “that the angel of the Lord is not the Lord himself.”[27] This statement is wrong on two counts. First, those who understand the angel of Yahweh in a traditional sense also assert a personal distinction between the angel and another person named Yahweh (i.e., the Father). Second, the text of Zechariah itself prohibits understanding the third person references as implying that the angel of Yahweh isn't himself also Yahweh.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?" Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.” (Zechariah 3:1-5)
Within the above passage, the angel of Yahweh is called Yahweh, and in the sentence, he states, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan” (v. 2). Clearly therefore, the personal distinction of the angel of Yahweh is not intended to communicate that the angel isn't himself Yahweh.[28] The angel of Yahweh is both divine and personally distinct from Yahweh in the same manner that Jesus Christ is divine and personally distinct from his Father. This is made further evident in that Zechariah 3:1-5 typically displays the salvific work of Jesus’ people by the imputation of his righteousness. For Jesus is the one who cleanses sinners, removing their iniquity, granting them the spotless robes of his own righteousness.[29]
The Conclusion
Conclusion: There exists a relationship that is trinitarian in shape between
the divine angel of Yahweh and Yahweh in the Old Testament.
Given the above, especially in light of the New Testament’s characterization of Christ, it is clear that there existed a personal relationship between two persons identified as Yahweh.


[1] See Burgos Jr., Michael R., Against Oneness Pentecostalism, (Winchester: Church Militant Pub., 2016).
[2] e.g., Norris, David, I Am: A Oneness Pentecostal Theology, (Hazelwood: WAP Academic, 2009), Kindle, loc. 514, and Buzzard, Anthony, Hunting, Charles F., The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self Inflicted Wound, (Lanham: International Scholar’s Press, 1998), 19ff.
[3] The phrase “proto-trinitarian” is here meant to indicate the Triune nature of God as communicated partially in the text of the Old Testament.
[4] Wenham has noted that the phrase occurs 58 times within the OT, and the “angel of God” 11 times. Wenham, Gordon J., WBC: Genesis 16-50, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 9.
[5] See Harris, R. L., Archer Jr., Gleason L., Waltke, Bruce K. Eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 464. See also BDAG, 8-9. While BDAG notes a “transcendent power” as a definition, it is careful not to associate a particular ontology to the term. Notably, Yahweh himself is said to be a mal’āk (Ecc 5:6; Mal 3:1).
[6] Waltke, Bruce K., O’Connor, M., An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 239 and 156 resp.
[7] Lopez, René A., 2010. “Identifying the ‘Angel of the Lord’ in the Book of Judges: A Model for Reconsidering the Referent in Other Old Testament Loci,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 20, 2.
[8] See Gen 31:13. A full discussion of the absolute deity of the angel of Yahweh occurs below, as does a consideration of the so-called agency apologetic employed by various non-trinitarians.
[9] e.g., Matt 1:20, 24; 2:13, 19; 28:2.
[10] 33, 81, 88, 1739, 1881, and 2344. It is noteworthy that P72 possesses the reading θεός Χριστός (God Christ). It would seem that this reading indirectly supports Ιησούς.
[11] Comfort, Philip W., New Testament Text and Translation Commentary, (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Pub., 2008), 802.
[12] Metzger, Bruce M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed., (New York: United Bible Socities, 1994), 724.
[13] ibid.
[14] The reading “Christ” in 1 Cor 10:9 is strongly attested and appears in the critical editions as well as the best English translations. There is no variant reading in v. 4. See Comfort, 506-507.
[15] cf. 1 Cor 8:6.
[16] Wenham, Gen 16-50, 111.
[17] See Gen 15:1-21.
[18] This phrase is used by Yahweh exactly, as a means unto ensuring his hearers of the certainty of his words. E.g., Exodus 3:2; Ezekiel 37:14.
[19] cf. Isaiah 9:6-7.
[20] Barker, The Great Angel, 32.
[21] Werblowsky, R. J. Zwi, Wigoder, Geoffrey Eds., Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Rev. Ed., (New York: Adama Books, 1996), 15.
[22] See also Gen 24:1-67 and 1 Sam 25:39-42.
[23] Kittel, Gerhard, Bromiley, Geoffrey, William, Friedrich, Gerhard Eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 413.
[24] Acts 14:11-16. cf. Acts 10:25.
[25] cf. 3:7.
[26] See for example how Bernard interprets Zec chapter 3, particularly v. 2. See Bernard, David K., Pentecostal Theology Volume 1: The Oneness of God, (Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 2000), Kindle, loc. 1512.
[27] Lopez, 16.
[28] See also Gen 21:17.
[29] See Rom 4:1-12.

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