Thursday, February 28, 2019

Did Paul Identify Jesus as the Angel of the Lord?

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.


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.