Kalpana Kalpana (Editor)

Angel of the Lord

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Angel of the Lord

The Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה Malakh YHWH "Messenger of Yahweh", LXX ἄγγελος Κυρίου) is an entity appearing repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) on behalf of God (Yahweh). The term malakh YHWH, in English translation usually accompanied with the definite article, King James Version "the angel of the LORD", occurs 65 times in the text of the Hebrew Bible. In some instances it is made clear that the reference is to a theophany, i.e. an appearance of YHWH himself rather than a separate entity acting on his behalf. The related expression of Angel of the Presence occurs only once (Isaiah 63:9). The New Testament uses the term "angel of the Lord" (ἄγγελος Κυρίου) several times, once (Luke 1:11–19) identified with Gabriel.


A closely related term is "Angel of God" (mal'akh 'Elohim), mentioned 12 times (2 of which are plural). Similarly, the Angel of Death refers to the appearance of such a "messenger" in instances where it kills the enemies of the Israelites.

Angel of Yahweh

Appearances of the "angel of the Lord" are often presented as theophanies: in Genesis 31:11–13 the angel of God says, "I am the God of Beth-el"; in Exodus 3:2–6 the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the flame of fire, and then the Lord says to him: "I am the God of thy father"; compare Genesis 22:11; Judges 6:11–22. At times the angel of the Lord speaks in such a way as to assume authority over previous promises (see Gen. 16:11 and 21:17).

The following are examples of use of the term "angel of the Lord":

  • Genesis 16:7–14. The angel of the Lord appears to Hagar. The angel speaks as God in the first person, and in verse 13 Hagar identifies "the LORD that spake unto her" as "Thou God seest me".
  • Genesis 22:11–15. The angel of the Lord appears to Abraham and refers to God in the first person.
  • Exodus 3:2–4. The angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a flame in verse 2, and God speaks to Moses from the flame in verse 4.
  • Numbers 22:22–38. The angel of the Lord meets the prophet Balaam on the road. In verse 38, Balaam identifies the angel who spoke to him as delivering the word of God.
  • Judges 2:1–3. The angel of the Lord appears to Israel.
  • Judges 6:11–23. The angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, and in verse 22 Gideon fears for his life because he was in the presence of God.
  • Judges 13:3–22. The angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife. In verse 16, differentiates himself from God. ("And the angel of the Lord said unto Manoah. . .if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the Lord.")
  • The ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint translates the phrase as ἄγγελος Κυρίου, angelos Kyriou, "angel of the Lord", a phrase used also in the New Testament. The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo identified the angel of the Lord (in the singular) with the Logos.

    Most of the above listed incidents leave the reader with the question whether it was an angel or a deity who had just appeared and there is a wide array of explanations striving to elucidate this confusion. The most widespread theological ones try to deal with the problem by introducing additional concepts: the angel might be an earthly manifestation of God, some kind of God's avatar or pre-incarnated Christ. The different answer comes from the cultural studies which argue that the ancient commissioners during their proclamations used the first person point of view and spoke as if they had been the consigner himself. Both approaches however resort to additional theoretical concepts retroactively introduced to the source text itself. Meanwhile, the problem can be addressed by means of S.A. Meier's interpolation theory - a linguistic resolution of a seemingly complex theological and cultural dilemma. Accordingly, the word mal’akh would be a mere addendum preceding the divine name and simultaneously modifying the narrations in order to meet the standards of the "new" Israelite theology of single and transcendent God. The "default" form would be that of the ancient Near Eastern literary standards presenting a deity as manifesting to humans directly without any intermediary. On the grammatical level aforesaid augmentation resulted in forming the genitive construction and as such it was characterized by an exceptional ease of use deriving from two factors:

    1. Both mal’akh and a deity, be it Yahveh or Elohim, are of masculine grammatical gender.
    2. The introduction of the modifier noun neither affects the modified noun on the consonantal level nor does need any change in the form of the verbs connected to it.

    In other words, mal’akh becomes "automatically" incorporated into the genitive construction and all the related verbs change their subject or object accordingly. On the other hand, the removal of the word mal’akh from the narration usually makes it far more coherent, meaningful and in line with its ancient Near Eastern literary context. In a nutshell, the interpolation theory, while basically explaining the function of mal’akh Yahveh, can be very well expanded so as to elucidate the nature of the rest of biblical "angels". From this perspective then, the "angels" understood as metaphors would be the "semantic offspring" of mal’akh Yahveh who at certain moment in history started their literary existence.

    Angel of Elohim

    The term "angel of God" (Heb. mal'akh 'Elohim) occurs 12 times (2 of which are plural). The following are examples:

  • Genesis 31:11. The angel of God calls out to Jacob in a dream and tells him "I am the God of Bethel".
  • Exodus 14:19. The angel of God leads the camp of Israel, and also follows behind them, with the pillar of fire.
  • Judges 13:9. The angel of God approached the wife of Manoah after the Lord heard Manoah.
  • The following are examples of God "sending an angel":

  • Exodus 23:20-21. The LORD says he will send an Angel before the Israelites, and warns them to obey the Angel's voice, and that the Angel "will not pardon transgressions" because the LORD's "name is in him".
  • Exodus 33:2. God says he will send an angel before the Israelites, and that God will drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
  • Numbers 20:16. The LORD sent an angel and brought the people of Israel forth from Egypt.
  • 1 Chronicles 21:15. God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem, but then repented and told the angel to stay his hand.
  • 2 Chronicles 32:21. The LORD sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria.
  • Somewhat similar expressions are "the redeeming angel", המלאך הגאל, hamalak haggoel (Gen 48:16); "the angel of his (the Lord's) presence", מלאך פניו, malak panaiv (Isaiah 63:9); "the angel of the covenant", מלאך הברית, malakh habrit (Malachi 3:1); and in the Septuagint "Angel (or Messenger) of Great Counsel", μεγάλης βουλῆς ἄγγελος, megalēs boulēs aggelos (Isaiah 9:6).

    On the expression "the angel of his presence", see Angel of the Presence.

    Old Testament

    The KJV and NKJV capitalize "Angel" in the Old Testament references to "the" Angel of the Lord, possibly to indicate that it is a specific angel, while using lower-case "angel" in the New Testament references to "an" angel of the Lord. Most versions, including NASB, RSV, ESV, etc., do not capitalise "angel" in the Old Testament mentions of "the angel of the Lord".

    New Testament

    In the New Testament the Greek phrase ἄγγελος Κυρίου (aggelos kuriou – "angel of the Lord") is found in Matthew 1:20, 1:24, 2:13, 2:19, 28:2; Luke 1:11, 2:9; John 5:4; Acts 5:19, 8:26, 12:7, and 12:23. None of these are citations from the Old Testament and English translations render the phrase either as "an angel of the Lord" or as "the angel of the Lord". The mentions in Acts 12:11 and Revelation 22:6 of "his angel" (the Lord's angel) can also be understood as referring either to the angel of the Lord or an angel of the Lord.

    In Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Louis Goldberg writes: "In the New Testament, there is no mention of the angel of the Lord; the Messiah himself is this person." Knofel Staton, however, writes that "the idea that this angel was Christ is unlikely for many reasons, which include the following: 1) God never said to any angel (including the 'angel of the Lord') 'you are my son' (Heb 1:5) ..."; and Ben Witherington says: "The angel of the Lord is just that - an angel. ... the divine son of God ... was no mere angel of the Lord, nor did he manifest himself in some observable form prior to the Incarnation."

    An angel of the Lord who is mentioned in Luke 1:11 identifies himself as Gabriel in Luke 1:19.

    Roman Catholic

    In the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) Hugh Pope discusses some of the confusion that arose regarding the term. He writes "The earlier Fathers, going by the letter of the text in the Septuagint, maintained that it was God Himself who appeared as the Giver of the Law to Moses. It was not unnatural then for Tertullian, ... to regard such manifestations in the light of preludes to the Incarnation, and most of the Eastern Fathers followed the same line of thought." He quotes the view of Theodoret that this angel was probably Christ, "the Only-begotten Son, the Angel of great Counsel", and contrasts Theodoret's view with the opposite view of the Latin Fathers St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory the Great, which, he says, "was destined to live in the Church, and the Scholastics reduced it to a system". As an exponent of this view he quotes Augustine of Hippo, who declared that "the angel is correctly termed an angel if we consider him himself, but equally correctly is he termed 'the Lord' because God dwells in him." The visual form under which God appeared and spoke to men is referred to indifferently in some Old Testament texts either as God's angel or as God himself.

    Protestant and Evangelical Christianity

    During the Reformation the Angel of the Lord was usually considered a general representative of God the Father, due to several verses stating that no one can look upon the face of YHWH and live.

    In Evangelical Christianity, some commentators interpret the phrase "Angel of the Lord" in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to a pre-human appearance of Jesus Christ or Christophany. Others comment the functions of the Angel of the Lord prefigure Christ, and there is no clear mention of the Angel of the Lord in the New Testament because the Messiah himself is this person.

    Jehovah's Witnesses

    The official position of Jehovah's witnesses is that the "Angel of the Lord" who led the Israelites in the wilderness, who had "God's Name within him", and who would pardon transgressions, was the pre-existent Christ, who is also Archangel Michael, the Prince of Israel, who is mentioned in the Book of Daniel. They teach that this was God's "first-begotten Son".


    Angel of the Lord Wikipedia