Get ready to tackle our coolest topic yet: Angels.
Angel of the Lord — “The” or “An”?
Exodus 3:1-15, 14:19-20
2 Kings 1:1-18
1 Chronicles 21:1-30
More on Angels
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Genesis 16:1-16 (11/11/13)
As a rule of thumb, “an angel of God” is a created being, and “the angel of the Lord” is a visible manifestation of God personally, particularly in the Old Testament. Sometimes not. Sometimes the text seems to waver back and forth in the same incident.
To make the reader’s job even more difficult, sometimes the same Hebrew or Greek phrase is translated as “the angel” and “an angel” in different places. Read carefully, keep an open mind, and use the context (and the notes in your study Bible) to decide who the angel is.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 36: Genesis 18:1-5, 16-22, 19:1a, Abraham and the Three Angels, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (7/20/15)
Genesis 22:1-19 (11/12/13)
I just looked at a few hundred artists’ conceptions of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. The vast majority show Isaac on the altar, Abraham with the knife ready to fall, and a fairly ordinary-looking angel, who is often holding back Abraham’s hand. That’s certainly the standard picture that I have in my mind. A very few of the images show either a bright light, a hand, or a man in white robes taking the place of the angel.
When we read the scripture carefully, we see that the image seems to go back and forth. The “angel of the LORD” says to Abraham, “I know you fear God, because you have not withheld your son from me.” The angel calls a second time and says, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD… because you have obeyed my voice.”
Now, either the “angel of the LORD” is the LORD, who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, or the “angel of the LORD” is an angel, who enthusiastically reports God’s message word for word. Scholarly opinion tends toward the first idea (contrary to the artists’ images), and I tend to agree. But it isn’t 100% clear, so if you disagree, that’s okay.
Exodus 3:1-15, 14:19-20 (11/13/13)
Here’s a passage where it’s clear that “the angel of the LORD” is the LORD. In this case the angel of the LORD doesn’t have any the characteristics we associate with ordinary angels – no wings, no human face, no brilliant white robes.
Numbers 22:22-35 (11/14/13)
There are several mysteries in the story of Balaam and his donkey, but one we don’t normally think about is this: who exactly is the angel? The text refers to “the angel of the LORD” 10 times in 26 verses, and to “the LORD” alone twice, but never to “the angel” all alone. Even though the pictures we saw in Sunday School have an ordinary-looking winged angel, it looks like this is another case where “the angel of LORD” and “the LORD” are the same person.
Judges 2:1-15 (11/15/13)
This may be the clearest case we’ve seen where “the angel of the LORD” equals “the LORD God.” In vss. 1-4, the angel of the LORD is the one who says, “I brought you up from Egypt... I swore… I said… I say… I will not drive them out…” Then vs. 4 reiterates that the angel of the LORD is the one who spoke these words.
Judges 6:1-24 (11/18/13)
You need to read the entire passage today in your paper Bible, but I’m going to give you two verses over and over again here from several different translations. Gideon is one of my favorite people in the Bible, because he’s just like me – doubtful, impertinent, and not very brave. But he turns out okay, and maybe I will, too.
Remember I said that sometimes translations vary about whether they translate the Hebrew “the angel of the LORD” with “the” or “an.” These two verses are interesting (to me at least) because the Hebrew says “the angel … the angel,” but the Greek Old Testament has “an angel … the angel.” So apparently even the ancient rabbis sometimes weren’t too sure about whether the text was talking about the LORD or about an ordinary angel. Most of the translations below follow the Hebrew, but a couple of them follow the Greek.
12 … the angel of the LORD
Greek (my literal translation)
12 … the angel of the LORD
Jewish Publication Society
American Standard Version
Bible in Basic English
Contemporary English Version
English Standard Version
Judges 13:1-25 (11/19/13)
Here’s another passage in which it’s a bit difficult to tell whether the angel is the LORD or an ordinary angel. The angel apparently looked like an ordinary human being, unlike many of the angels we’ve seen so far. The woman thought initially that the angel was “a man of God,” that is, a prophet or other holy person. His face was “awesome,” but not in any way that inspired fear.
When the angel returns, Manoah also thinks he’s speaking with a human being. Only when the angel goes up with the smoke and flame of the offering do they realize that the angel is something else. They conclude that it was God, not just an angel of God. John Wesley concluded that the angel was the Son of God. I’m not sure what I conclude; what about you?
2 Kings 1:1-18 (11/20/13)
I’m noticing a trend that where the Hebrew has “the angel of the LORD,” the Greek Old Testament often has “an angel of the LORD,” and the English translations vary between the two. You won’t notice that unless you read more than one translation, which is one reason I always recommend that you acquire and read several different translations.
Today the angel of the LORD is speaking to a prophet, and I’ve always understood that the LORD personally spoke to prophets, not sending an intermediary. Even though what “I’ve always understood” is often wrong, I’m inclined to think that in this case it’s right. If so, “an angel of the LORD” can also sometimes be the LORD, especially in English translations!
1 Chronicles 21:1-30 (11/21/13)
In this passage, “the angel of the LORD” appears to be a separate entity from “the LORD,” at least some of the time. In vs. 12, one of David’s options is to have “the angel of the LORD” wreak havoc throughout Israel, and then in vss. 15 and 27, “the LORD” tells “the angel” to stop. Apparently this angel had been traveling around (vs. 14) and hadn’t yet made it to Jerusalem. The fact that the LORD is giving instructions to the angel about where to go and what to do suggests to me that the angel is a separate creature.
Psalm 34:1-10 (11/22/13)
Yesterday we saw the angel of the LORD execute punishment and destruction on Israel after David threw himself into the hands of God rather than man. David had a long history with God; here’s a psalm that he wrote about an earlier experience. What a comfort to know that the angel of the LORD surrounds and delivers those who fear him!
Matthew 1:18-25 (11/25/13)
In Luke 1:11 we saw that Gabriel is called “an angel of the LORD.” Gabriel appeared to both Zechariah and Mary, and I’ve always assumed that when “an angel of the LORD” appeared to Joseph in a dream, it was either Gabriel or another ordinary angel.
Matthew 2:1-23 (11/26/13)
You don’t see “angel of the LORD” in the New Testament. That’s because “LORD” takes the place in most English translations of the Hebrew for the actual name of God, which apparently no one had said for a thousand years or so before the time of Christ. What they said was adonai, which means Lord. So the Greek Old Testament almost always just has kurios, which means Lord, and the Greek NT has the same thing. For this reason, the English New Testament typically just has “Lord.” So when “an angel of the Lord” appears in the New Testament, the Greek is typically exactly the same as what we’ve been seeing in the Old Testament in the past few days in Hebrew as “the angel of the LORD” and in Greek as “an angel of the Lord.”
I’m betting that this “angel of the Lord” who appears to Joseph in a dream is the same one who previously appeared to him in a dream, and I’m still inclined – for no particularly good reason – to think it might have been Gabriel. Could have been the LORD God, however, so if you think that, it’s okay with me.
Acts 5:12b-32 (11/27/13)
Do you ever have the feeling that the more you learn, the less you know for sure? I think (and hope) that this is a sign of growth.
Here’s another New Testament angel, one that I always figured was an ordinary angel, but whom I’m not so sure about now. Notice that in vss. 19-20, “an angel of the Lord” frees Peter and the other apostles and tells them, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” When they do this, they are arrested again. The high priest questions them. Their explanation? “We must obey God rather than men.” So was “an angel of the Lord” delivering a message from the LORD, or was the LORD the one who appeared, freed them from prison, and told them what to do?
Acts 8:26-40 (11/29/13)
Philip (the Evangelist, not the Apostle) had dealings with “an angel of the Lord” and “the Spirit of the Lord.” Clearly the Spirit is one Person of the Trinity, i.e., God. So is the angel an ordinary angel, sent to get things ready for an appearance of God, or is “an angel of the Lord” another way of talking about the Spirit? I really don’t know. I have to admit that these past three weeks on “an angel” vs. “the angel” of the Lord have left me even more confused than usual. So, like Philip, let’s move on!
More on Angels
Gabriel and Michael
Cherubim and Seraphim
Armies of Angels and the LORD of Hosts
Angels say “Fear Not!”
Guardian and Ministering Angels
Angel of the Lord - "The" or "An"?
Angels not in the Bible
Final Tidbits about Angels
Copyright 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants. Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm. All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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