Skip to comments.Is the Angel of the Lord the Pre-Incarnate Christ?
Posted on 01/25/2015 1:52:55 PM PST by NYer
The Church Fathers held an unwavering belief that the Second Person of the Trinity appeared frequently in the Old Testament in a variety of forms: the Angel of the Lord, the Burning Bush, the Son of Man, and the one like a Son of God in Daniel.
Today we’ll look at a debate regarding the Angel of the Lord. Is he are isn’t the Pre-Incarnate Son of God? There are various positions in early Christianity.
The Greek Church Fathers (for example, Saint Athanasius) are convinced that “the Angel of the Lord” is the pre-incarnate Christ. They posit that the Angel of the Lord is categorically different from lower angelic beings (as in the Epistle to the Hebrews) and use this distinction to refute Arian heretics that deny the deity of Christ.
We find the identity of the Angel of the Lord with the Pre-Incarnate Christ also in the early Latin Fathers, such as Saint Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, and Ambrose.
Part of the problem is linguistic. In Hebrew, the word for angel isמלאך or “malak” and all it means is “messenger.” In Greek, the word ἄγγελος or “angelos” also means “messenger.” So the Angel of the Lord is the “Messenger of the Lord” and is God Himself.
In Latin, the word is translated from Greek as “angelus” or angel or angelic being. In Greek, it’s not a problem. But in the Latin West there was a worry that identifying Christ as “the Angel of the Lord” would lead to Arianism since “angel” in Latin implies a lower created being. (By the way, Jehovah’s Witnesses make this very mistake!)
So we see by the time of Saint Augustine, the Latin Church is reading “Angel of the Lord” as merely a chief angelic being or generic theophany of God, and not as the Pre-Incarnate Christ.
Saint Ambrose believed the Angel of the Lord was the Pre-Incarnate Christ. Saint Augustine did not.
This is a shame. In my opinion, this interpretive shift with Augustine was a bad theological move.
Augustine does, however, grant that sometimes “Angel of the Lord” is a reference to the pre-Incarante Christ, such as at Isaiah 9:6 in the Septuagint, where Christ is called “Prince of Peace” and “Angel of Great Counsel” or μεγάλης βουλῆς ἄγγελος.
We can see in the opening books of the Bible that the “Angel/Messenger of the Lord” is divine and speaks as God and is recognized as God:
According to Saint Athanasius and Saint Hilary of Poitiers, in all these cases we have the Logos or Second Person of the Trinity acting as the Divine Word or Message to the people of God. If Christ is the Word of the Father, then we might expect Him functioning in the Old Testament as the Message or Messenger of God.
Irenaeus of Lyons also identifies the Angel/Messenger of the Lord with God the Son in Exodus 3:8:
And again, when the Son speaks to Moses, He says, I have come down to deliver this people.” Against Heresies III, 6.
Saint Hilary of Poitiers writes:
To discriminate clearly between the Persons, He is called the Angel of God; He Who is God from God is also the Angel of God, but, that He may have the honour which is His due, He is entitled also Lord and God. On the Trinity IV
Theodoret of Cyrus writes:
The whole passage (Exodus 3) shows that it was God who appeared to Moses. But Moses called Him an “angel” in order to let us know that it was not God the Father whom he saw for whose angel could the Father be? but the Only-begotten Son, the Angel of Great Counsel.”
I’m currently re-reading the Pentateuch and making notes along the way as I come across “the Angel of the Lord” language. It’s quite fun and remarkable. It certainly gives a robust Trinitarian feel to the Old Testament, something the Greek Church loved to boast in.
Update: As brought up in the comments below: Saint Thomas Aquinas argues that the “Angel of Sacrifice” of the Roman Canon’s Supplices is Christ Himself (STh III q. 83, a. 4, ad 9).
For more references to the Angel/Messenger of the Lord as the Pre-Incarnate Christ see also:
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 58, 59, 60, 61, 76, 86, 116, 126, 127, 128; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.6.1-5, Fragments, 53; Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 16, De Carne, 14, Against Marcion 2.27, 3.9; Novatian, On the Trinity, 18, 19, 31; Apostolic Constitutions, 5.3.20; Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 1.7; Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, 1.5, 4.10, 5.10, Church History, 1.2.7-8, Preparation for the Gospel, VII. 5, 14-15; Origen, Contra Celsus, 5.53, 8.27; Methodious, Symposium, 3.4; Melito, New Fragments, 15; Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith, 1.13.83; Athanasius, Against the Arians, 3.25.12-14; Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, 11.3.
Some interesting comments at the above link, including the three men that appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18:1-2. Catholic ping!
Muzzies will say it is Mohammed or Allah!
I’ve always believed that the one who walked on was Christ or God personified.
If Yahweh appeared to Abraham, and as John tells us, "No man has seen the Father and lived." then who exactly did Abraham visit with?
The question is about the angel of the Lord. God calls him the angel of the Lord. That means he’s the angel of the Lord.
“In the beginning was The Word...”
It’s pretty self-explanatory to me.
Michael means, “one who is like God.” The term Arch-angel means, “the chief messenger.”
If one who is like God and is the chief messenger is not Christ, than who is it?
I find that the main difficulty with those that reject this is that they view the term angel as only a species and not a function. Scripture is clear that humans have been called angels, because they carried a message.
Humans are not angels. Nor are they called angels anywhere in the Bible.
I take the Bible at its Word, and the angel of the Lord is the angel of the Lord, not Jesus. We CAN over-think these things, you know.
An angel is a created being.
Remember that Christ while being fully human was ALSO fully DIVINE.
Yes, he might have appeared as an angel.
Except Abraham bargained with Him for Sodom.
Then to whom is Jesus communicating via John in the first chapters of Revelation, when He dictates letters to the "angel" of each of the seven churches?
The difficulty here is that there are beings to whom the name "angels" has been given, and then there is the use of the term "angel" in its original sense of being the messenger, just as there are lions who are a specific type of being, and then there are those like the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who is not a lion, but who performs the function symbolized by a lion.
Jesus is God. Humans are not angels. Nor are angels Jesus.
This is ‘too complicated’ for me. I’ll just stick with angels being God’s messengers to mankind.
The angel of the churches is the angel of the churches, not a human.
Abraham spoke to God about Sodom. Genesis 18:16-33.
Michael the Arch-angel is not a created being, if He is the Christ.
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