Thursday, February 28, 2019

Did Paul Identify Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?



I have labored elsewhere to demonstrate the robust proto-trinitarianism within the OT, particularly as it relates to the divine angel. Given the trajectory of the work, there remains a significant need for continued research into how the proto-trinitarianism of the OT was integrated by the Holy Spirit into the NT. I have already considered the prologue of the fourth gospel, Jude 1:5, and 1st Cor. 10:1-5 in this regard. In this article, I turned my attention to Galatians 4:14 in order to answer the question, "Did Paul identify Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?" 

4:14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 
4:14 καὶ τὸν πειρασμὸν ὑμῶν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου οὐκ ἐξουθενήσατε οὐδὲ ἐξεπτύσατε, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἄγγελον θεοῦ ἐδέξασθέ με, ὡς χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν.
Translators have supplied the referent for the Galatians' “trial.” Paul’s condition was the “illness of the flesh” mentioned in v. 13, and what is here described their “the trial in my flesh” (ton peirasmon tē sarki mou). The term peirasmos may be translated either “trial,” “test,” or “temptation” as directed by the context.1 Temptations are either internal or external. Internal temptations are brought about when one is “lured and enticed by his own desire.”2 External temptations occur from without, when an agent does the tempting as in Jesus’ temptation in the desert.3 In this case, the Galatians were placed under a burden due to Paul’s illness, and instead of entertaining the temptation to reject him, they treated this situation as a trial and an opportunity to bless the apostle.

“You did not scorn or despise me” (ouk exouthenēsate oude exeptusate). 
When Paul was among the Galatians, they did not “scorn” him. The verb exoutheneō is translated variously: “treat with contempt,”4 “to reject,”5 “to despise,”6 “to have no standing,”7 “to be of no account.”8 It is defined as “to shown one’s by one’s attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit of worth, disdain.”9 The accompanying term translated “despise,” ekptyō is a hapax. The term originally referred to the act of spitting upon someone as a means of expressing contempt, or to ward off demons or sickness.10 Etymologically, the term is a compound word comprised of ek meaning “from” or “out of” and ptyō which refers to the act of spiting. Thus the term is literally, “to spit out.”11 Over time this term came to take a figurative meaning, referring to the act of loathing or disdaining someone so as to spurn them. Some interpreters push the term back to its former meaning so as to identify Paul’s “illness of the flesh” as a form of epilepsy, which is said to have been a product of demon possession.12 However, such an interpretation rests on speculation. The only thing the text implies is that this illness is a fleshly (i.e., bodily) ailment and that it potentially could have turned off the Galatians such that they despised him.

“But received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” (all’ hōs angelon Theou edezasthe me, hōs Christon Iēsoun). 

Instead of despising Paul because of his illness of the flesh, the Galatians did him “no wrong” (v. 13) and received him. The adversative conjunction alla confirms an intended contrast. Paul is reminding the Galatians of their former hospitality in the hope that they will remember who he is, and how they loved each other. 



What Paul meant by “received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” is of considerable debate. The first question is whether the anarthrous hōs angelon Theou should be understood definitely (i.e., "as the angel of God") or indefinitely (i.e., “as an angel of God"). Wallace has argued that the essentially synonymous phrase angelos Kuriou be rendered definitely throughout the NT as though it always refers to a particular angel.13 This viewpoint is not derived from a grammatical or lexical basis, but from his assumption that the angel of the LORD in the OT is the same as the angel of the Lord in the NT. Wallace concluded that the Angel of the Lord in the OT and NT is an agent who represents Yahweh and not Yahweh himself.14


There is however, a substantial reason for distinguishing the Angel of the LORD in the OT from lesser angels in the NT. The angel of the LORD is none other than the God the Son. The appellation “angel” does not indicate the particular ontology of a subject either in the OT or NT, but identifies one’s function as a messenger.15 In fact, God himself is identified as an “angel.”16 The angel of the LORD is identified as God/Yahweh himself consistently throughout the entirety of the OT.17 So too, a trinitarian relationship is depicted in the OT between the divine angel and his Father. 

Indeed, the biblical authors make every effort to communicate that we should not understand the angel of the LORD as an created agent. Take for instance the sending of God’s angel in Exodus 23:20-33. There, God warns his covenant people saying, “do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him” (v. 21). Yahweh commands the Israelites to “obey his voice and do all that I say” (v. 22), and calls the angel “the LORD your God,” saying, “You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you” (v. 25). The third person verb translated “he will bless” (ūberak) implies a personal distinction between the angel and Yahweh, while the phrase, “the LORD your God” identifies the angel as fully God. Consider also Zechariah’s courtroom vision in Zec. 3:1-5. There, the angel of the LORD is identified as Yahweh and yet distinct from Yahweh by the writer:

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?

The presence of the unique divine angel throughout the OT cannot be explained by means of a created agent without obliterating any meaningful way of upholding the prohibitions against idolatry.18 

The angel of the LORD is so frequently identified as the key salvific actor in the OT, if the angel is a creature, there would be no legitimate means to distinguish God from his agent. The angel of the LORD was understood by the OT people of God as completely unique and equal with God.

For example, Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson, interpreted their encounter with the angel of the Lord as encountering God himself saying, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”19 Whereas in 1st Samuel 21:15-16 the angel of Yahweh appeared to David, the chronicler interprets this event as Yahweh himself appearing.20 Over and over again the angel of the LORD is interpreted by both the biblical authors and God’s people as Yahweh himself, and yet personally distinct from Yahweh. Interpreters have historically undervalued this thick thread in the OT, but there is no exegetical basis for doing so. The angel of Yahweh is the Son of God.



When it comes to angels in the NT, the divine angel is notably absent, at least in terms of his OT appellation. In the NT he is simply referred to as the unique one who is God (Monogenes Theos) who made the Father known.21 Like the divine angel, he too is equal with God and has God’s name in him.22 There are lesser angels who appear, like Gabriel.23 Subsequently, the most consistent way to determine whether the phrase angelos Kuriou or angelon Theou is definite is to determine whether it refers to either a created angel or the angel of the Lord (i.e., Jesus the Christ) who is the Creator himself. 



In the case of Gal. 4:14, the construction all’ hōs angelon Theou edezasthe me, hōs Christon Iēsoun identifies the angel of God as Christ Jesus and therefore, angelon Theou ought to be rendered definitely: “but you received me as the angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” We know this for a variety of grammatical and contextual reasons. On the grammatical side, the adversative alla indicates that Paul is engaging in a comparison between how the Galatians potentially could have despised him and how they actually received him.24 Both occurrences of the adverb hōs function as a conjunction indicating the manner in which Paul was received: The Galatians did not despise Paul, but received him as the angel of the Lord, as Christ Jesus.25 These clauses are in apposition, as both substantives share the accusative case: hōs angelon Theou explains how the Galatians received Paul, and hōs Christon Iēsoun explains how the Galatians received Paul as the angel of the Lord.26


This reading of Gal. 4:14 is supported by an examination of the other times Paul uses the all’ hōs…, hōs construction (Table 1 below). 
In the two examples cited, the second occurrence of hōs functions epexegetically. This pattern is further reinforced by Paul’s use of an inverted form of the all’ hōs…, hōs construction (i.e., hōs… all’ hōs) that is brought about when a negative particle is employed (see Table 2 below).

Just as in Gal. 4:14, in each of the texts cited above, hōs functions as a comparative conjunction indicating the manner of the verb. However, because of the negative particle, all’ hōs serves to explain the negative antecedent in a positive sense. 

Given the nature of the argument Paul has made in Gal. 4:14, and the precedent of the all’ hōs…, hōs construction in the Pauline corpus, Paul has intended the clause “as Christ Jesus” to be understood in an epexegetical sense (i.e., in apposition to “the angel of God”). 

Fee believes Paul is using angelon Theou in a definite sense: “The evidence seems strongly to favor Paul’s having picked up a common phrase from the Septuagint.”27 However, he has argued against taking hōs Christon Iēsoun as epexegetical, opting instead to understand the construction as progressive. That is, Fee understands the construction in an ascensive sense: “you received me as an/the angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus.”28 He wrote, “Christ may very well assume the role of the Old Testament ‘angel of the Lord/God,’ but in light of the rest of the Pauline corpus, it seems unlikely that Paul is intending an absolute identification.”29 Fee concluded, “There is simply no firm evidence that would lead us to believe that Paul had a kind of ‘angel Christology.’”30

In all of the examples provided above, Paul never uses the all’ hōs…, hōs construction in an ascensive sense. Aside from the grammar there is good contextual reason to reject Fee’s reading of Gal. 4:14. In the OT, there are a number of key angel of Yahweh texts which both affirm the full deity of the angel and demonstrate human devotion to him by means of hospitality. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham at Mamre,31 Abraham responded by arranging a feast and waiting upon him and his companions. When the angel of the Yahweh appeared to Gideon, Gideon also prepared a fine meal and it was received as a burnt offering by the angel.32 Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson, also prepared a meal offering to the angel of the Lord, who possesses the “wonderful” name.33

Due to the prohibition in the OT of seeing God (i.e., “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live,” Exod. 33:20), those who encountered the angel of the Lord were typically surprised that they survived.34 In the several of the key narratives, those seeing the divine angle respond with hospitality. Whereas the Galatians could have despised Paul and scorned him, they instead, received him as if he was the divine angel—just like the saints of old. God’s covenant people feared the angel of the Lord in the same manner they feared God. Many were terrified at the thought of seeing the angel of the Lord, considering it tantamount to seeing God.35 This was the sentiment of Jacob, Gideon, and the parents of Samson.36 The Galatians apparently had good reason in Paul illness to reject him for fear that they too would become ill. Instead, they received him with great blessedness and hospitality, to the extent that they would have even given Paul their own eyes (v. 15). Thus, Paul is likely alluding to those passages which depict hospitality to the angel, even Christ.

Fee’s dogmatism regarding the alleged lack of “angel Christology” in the Pauline corpus must be weighed against the prominence of the divine angel in most major narratives in the OT.37 Clearly, since the angel of Yahweh is the Son of God, Paul knows as much. This is perhaps why Paul can so easily affirms both the divinity and pre-existence of the Son of God—as he has a Jewish proto-trinitarian framework from which to view the identity of Christ. Fee is too quick to dismiss the notion that Paul viewed Jesus as the divine angel. 

While “angel Christology” is not Paul’s preoccupation, it does underlie his Christology and shows up from time to time. In 1st Cor. 10:4 Paul describes Christ as the “spiritual rock” that followed the Israelites, drawing upon the characterization of the angel of God with the people as the traveled the desert.38 The Israelites did not heed the Word of God in Exodus 23:21, and they “put Christ to the test” and were destroyed by serpents.39 The ESV renders Paul’s statement in Acts 27:23, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship” (parestē gar tautē tē nukti tou Theou ou eimi hō kai latreuō angelos). However, this verse is better rendered, as in the King James Version, “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve.” 

Typically, the phrase angel of the Lord/God occurs indefinitely (i.e., angelos Kurios/Theou) in the NT, but Luke includes the article with the genitive on occasion.40 The ESV renders Acts 10:3, “he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in…” (angelon tou Theou eselthonta pros auton). If the articular tou Theou is the translator’s basis for rendering Acts 27:23 “an angel of the God,” they should have rendered Acts 10:3 similarly. In other words, the translation of angelon tou Theou is contextually dependent. In the case of Acts 27:23, there is no contextual reason to render the phrase “angel of the God.” Instead, there is a good contextual reason to render it simply “the angel of God.” The angel’s statement, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you,” is similar to Acts 23:11 when the Lord “stood by” Paul saying, “Take courage, as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Jesus (i.e., the Lord) is depicted by Paul as standing with him and encouraging him in 2 Tim. 4:17 as well:41
But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.
Moo agrees with Fee, concluding that “as Christ Jesus” is intended to be taken in an ascensive sense. For Moo, that Paul chose the “angel of God” and not the “angel of the Lord” adds to the unlikely nature of an appositive reading:
In this case, ὡς Χριστόν Ἰησοῦν (hōs Christon Iēsoun) could be a simple appositive: “as the angel of God, that is, as Christ Jesus.” But this interpretation is quite unlikely. If this is what Paul intends, it is hard to know why he does not use κυρίου (kyriou, of the Lord) rather than θεοῦ.42
While “angel of the LORD” is the typical title given to the divine angel in the OT, “angel of God” occurs with frequency as well.43 Thus, there is no reason why the “angel of God” wouldn’t be just as likely as “angel of the LORD.” So too, “angel of God” accords best with the differentiation utilized by the NT authors as they sought to affirm both the deity of the Father and Son while simultaneously depicting them as personally distinct. 

The NT authors generally designated the title “God” (ho Theos) for the Father and “Lord” (ho Kurios) for the Son. In holding to this differentiation, the NT authors were able to avoid either diminishing the deity of the persons or confusing them. The occasional crossover wherein the Father is called Lord and the Son is called God serves to reinforce the deity of the Son, but is not substantial enough to confuse the persons. Hence, it is likely that Paul has, in seizing the title “angel of God,” kept this apostolic habit. 

Drawing upon the all’ hōs…, hōs construction, Ehrman has believes Paul has identified the angel of the Lord as Christ in Gal. 4:14. Ehrman’s tack was to marshal support for this interpretation from other scholars:
As Charles Gieschen has argued, and has now been affirmed in a book on Christ as an angel by New Testament specialist Susan Garrett, that verse [i.e., Gal. 4:14] is not saying that the Galatians received Paul as an angel or as Christ; it is saying that they received him as they would an angel, such as Christ. By clear implication, then, Christ is an angel.44
Ehrman’s reliance upon Garrett is inconsequential since she relies primarily on Gieschen for her reading of Gal. 4:14.45 As far as his reliance upon Gieschen, Ehrman has done his readers a great disservice. In response to Ehrman’s claims, Gieschen wrote,
This implication, “Christ is an angel” (emphasis mine), is quite different from the conclusion of the discussion of this text in my book, which reads as follows: “Paul understood Christ Jesus as God’s Angel (i.e., the Angel of YHWH).” My translation of Paul’s description of how he was received by the Galatians is “but as God’s Angel you received me, namely Christ Jesus.”46
Essentially, Ehrman co-opted Gischen’s research for his own preconceived Christology (i.e., Christ is a God-like exalted creature). Tilling notes that Ehrman “uncritically adopts a disputed understanding of Gal 4:14.”47 

While Ehrman is correct in acknowledging the identification of Jesus as the divine angel, he is incorrect in his appropriation of that information to his heretical Christological project. Ehrman has argued that Gal. 4:14 ought to be the lens through which “everything Paul says about Christ.”48 Such a claim is unreasonable as best, and almost prophetically Fee wrote, “One is always wary of a Christological perspective based on one or two texts that themselves are rather obscure.”49

Galatians 4:14 must be taken not only with the balance of the Pauline corpus, but with the totality of Scripture. Christology is a systematic doctrine, and because of the univocal and progressive nature of Scripture, we should see confirmation and clarification of the teaching of the OT within the NT. According to this writer, there is good reason to see in Gal. 4:14 Paul’s identification of Jesus as the divine angel.

1 The King James Version is the only widely used English translation which translates the noun as “temptation.” 
2 Jas. 1:14.
Matt. 4:1-11.
4 Luke 18:9; 23:11.
5 Acts 4:11.
6Rom. 14:3, v. 10; 1 Cor. 1:28; 16:11; 1 Thess. 5:20.
7 1st Cor. 6:4.
8 2nd Cor. 10:10. 
9 BDAG, 352. 
10 BDAG, 309. cf. Homer, The Oddysey, 5.322. Gerhard Kittel ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. II, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 448-449.
11 Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2015), 199. 

12 See George, Galatians, 323.
13 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 252.
14 ibid., n. 97. 
15 Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 585-586, and BDAG, 8.

16 Gen. 48:16; Ecc. 5:6; Mal. 3:1.

17 Gen. 16:13; Exod. 3:4; Judg. 2:1. See also Michael R. Burgos Jr. ed., Our God is Triune: Essays in Biblical Theology, (Torrington: Church Militant Pub., 2018), 8-14. 

18 e.g., Exod. 20:3.

19 Judg. 13:22.

20 2nd Chron. 3:1.

21 John 1:18. 

22 John 5:43; 10:25; 12:13; esp. 17:12. 

23 Luke 1:19. 

24 Longenecker, Galatians, 192.

25 Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 675. BDAG, 1104-05, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, 680. Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents & Early Evidence, (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 323. Cf. Takamitsu Muraoka, 1964, "The Use of ΩΣ in the Greek Bible." Novum Testamentum, 7.1, 51-72.

26 Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 198-9. Andreas J. Kӧstenberger et al., Going Deeper with New Testament Greek, (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2016), 67.
27 Fee, Pauline Christology, 230.
28 Burton, Dunn, and Hannah come down similarly. See E. D. W. Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1921), 242, J. D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 234-5 (cf. Dunn, Christology, 156), Darrell D. Hannah, Michael and Christ: Michael Tradition and Angel Christology in Early Christianity, (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 155-156. Hannah also argues that taking Gal. 4:14 to mean that Christ is the angel of the Lord necessarily contradicts Gal. 3:19 saying, “Paul contrasts the Law given by angels with the promise which was fulfilled in Christ.” Paul however, says nothing of the angel of the Lord in 3:19, who is repeatedly depicted as Yahweh and distinct from created angels, having given the law. 
29 Fee, Galatians 166. See also Fee, Pauline Christology, 231.
30 Fee, Pauline Christology, 231. cf. Tilling who follows Fee, Paul’s Divine Christology, 126-7.
31 Gen. 18:1-33. 
32 Judg. 6:18-21.
33 Judg. 13:19-20.
34 Gen. 32:30; Judg. 6:22; 13:21-23.
35 Exod. 33:20. 
36 Gen. 32:30; Judg. 6:22; 13:22. 
37 Allen Brenneman, Biblical Univocality in Ancient & Modern Context, (Millerton: Graid Point Academic, 2006), 122-8.
38 Exod. 14:19.
39 1>st Cor. 10:9; Num.21:6. 
40 Luke 12:8-9; 5:10; cf. John 1:51. 
41 cf. Mark 6:50; Luke 5:10; John 6:20; Acts 18:19; 12:7.
42 Moo, Galatians, 541.
43 Angel of God: Gen. 21:17; 31:11; Exod. 14:19; Judg. 6:20; 13:6, v. 9; 1 Sam. 29:9; 2 Sam. 14:17, vv. 20, 27. 
44 Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, (New York: Harper One, 2014), 252-3.
45 Susan R. Garrett, No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims About Jesus, (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2008), 11, 245 n. 16. 
46 Charles A. Gieschen, 2018. “Misquoting Gieschen,” in Concordia Theological Quarterly 82:1-2, 140.
47 Chris Tilling in Michael F. Bird et al., How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 122.
48 ibid., 253.
49 Pauline Christology, 231.

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