The term malakh YHWH, which occurs 65 times in the text of the Hebrew Bible, can be translated either as "the angel of the Lord" or "an angel of the Lord". The King James Version usually translates it as "the angel of the LORD"; less frequently as "an angel of the LORD". The Septuagint (LXX) sometimes uses ? (an angel of the Lord), sometimes ? ? (the angel of the Lord): in Genesis 16:7-11, it gives first the form without the Greek article, then, in all the subsequent mentions with the article, as in the anaphoric use of the article.
A closely related term is "angel of God" (mal'akh 'Elohim), mentioned 12 times (2 of which are plural). Another related expression, Angel of the Presence, occurs only once (Isaiah 63:9).
The word Angel found numerous times in the scriptures of the bible refers to a heavenly creature who delivers a message from God to humans on Earth, in other words a messenger of God. There is a difference between an angel and the Angel of the Lord, The Angel of the Lord is the only angel appearing continually throughout the old testament referring to himself as the Lord and God in the first person, while the other angels mentioned in the scripture reference to the Lord God as a hallowed third person always humbling themselves and not accepting any type of glory.
Examples of use of the Hebrew term are found in the following verses, here given in the King James Version translation:
The Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint translates the Hebrew phrase as ? , "angel of the Lord" or as ? ? , "the angel of the Lord". "Owing to the Hebrew idiom, this may mean no more than 'an angel of God', and the Septuagint renders it with or without the article at will."
The KJV and NKJV capitalize "Angel" in the Old Testament references to "the Angel of the Lord", while using lower-case "angel" in the Old Testament references to "an angel of the Lord" (and in the New Testament references). Most versions, including NASB, RSV, ESV, etc., do not capitalize "angel" in the mentions of "angel of the Lord".
The term "angel of God" (Heb. mal'akh 'Elohim) occurs 12 times (2 of which are plural). The following are examples:
In addition, there are mentions of God "sending an angel", of which the following are examples:
In the New Testament the Greek phrase ? (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. 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.
Most appearances of the "angel of the Lord" leave the reader with the question of whether it was an angel or YHWH who appeared. Apart from the view that "the angel of the Lord is just that--an angel", a wide array of solutions have been offered, such as making the angel an earthly manifestation (avatar) of the God of Israel or of Christ.
In the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) Hugh Pope 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." Pope 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 Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great that it was no more than an angel, a view that, 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, 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." He indicates, however, that within the Catholic Church the opposite view was also upheld.
The appearances of the "angel of the Lord" are in fact often presented as theophanies, appearances of YHWH himself rather than a separate entity acting on his behalf. 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 Yahweh" (? ?) appeared to Moses in the flame of fire, and then "Yahweh" (?) says to him: "I am the God of thy father". Compare also 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). According to the New American Bible, 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.
Another interpretation builds on the usage by which ancient spokesmen, after an introductory phrase, used the grammatically first person in proclaiming the point of view of the one they represent.
Another proposal is Samuel A. Meier's interpolation theory, which holds that, originally, stories in which there is ambiguity between Yahweh and the "angel of Yahweh" were written with Yahweh himself delivering the message. Later, copyists inserted the term mal'akh before the divine name to modify the narratives, in order to meet the standards of a changing theology which more strongly emphasized a transcendent God. If the term mal'akh is removed from these passages, the remaining story fits neatly with a "default" format in Near Eastern literature in which the deity appears directly to humans without an intermediary. The addition of mal'akh does not require any change in the form of the verbs connected to it, since both mal'akh and a deity such as Yahweh or Elohim are of masculine grammatical gender and since the noun before which mal'akh is introduced remains unaffected on the consonantal level. On the other hand, the removal of the word mal'akh from the narration usually makes it more coherent and in line with its Ancient Near East literary context.
Although Wojciech Kosior favours this interpolation theory, he mentions some unsolved difficulties connected with it: the large number of similar theophanies in which the word mal'akh has not been added to the names of Yahweh and Elohim and the fact that it is never associated with names such as El-Elyon, El-Shadday or El-Ro'eh worshipped by the biblical Hebrews.
The early Fathers of the Church, such as Justin Martyr, identify the angel of the Lord as the pre-incarnate Christ whose appearance, i.e. Christophany, is recorded in the Hebrew Bible. On the reason why some early Christians viewed Jesus as the angel of the Lord, Susan Garrett says:
[The logic behind the] reading of Jesus into accounts of the angel of the LORD went deeper. Many Jews before and during the time of Jesus were deeply interested in angels. Some understood the angel of the LORD as a being completely separate from God--a sort of angelic vizier or righthand angel, who served as head of the heavenly host and in other important capacities, including as a mediator between God and humans. Further, some Jews routinely appropriated language used in Scripture to describe the angel of the LORD and used it to characterize certain of God's attributes, including God's word, glory, wisdom, spirit, power, and name--almost as if these aspects of the Deity were themselves independent angels. In other words, quite apart from Christianity there was talk among ancient Jews of God's word, God's glory, and so forth in terms highly reminiscent of the angel of the LORD. So, when early Christian authors like Justin Martyr connected Jesus with God's word and that word, in turn, with the angel of the LORD, they were not inventing from scratch so much as adding a new layer to well-established ways of reading Scripture.
In Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Louis Goldberg writes: "The functions of the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament prefigure the reconciling ministry of Jesus. In the New Testament, there is no mention of the angel of the Lord; the Messiah himself is this person."
On the other hand, Knofel Staton says: "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) ..."; Ben Witherington says: "The angel of the Lord is just that - an angel. [... T]he divine son of God [...] was no mere angel of the Lord, nor did he manifest himself in some observable form prior to the Incarnation."
Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the angel who brought the Israelites into their promised land and would not pardon transgression because God's name was in him (Exodus 23:20-21) was "God's firstborn Son", the pre-existent Christ, also called the archangel Michael, the Prince of the people of Israel mentioned in Daniel 10:21, the firstborn called "the Son of God" because he was created with qualities like those of his Father.
Justin Martyr identified the Angel of the Lord with the pre-incarnate Christ; see Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 187-200; Hannah, Michael and Christ, 111-13; more generally on early angelomorphic Christology, see Richard N. Longenecker,"Some Distinctive Early Christological Motifs", New Testament Studies 14 (1967-68): 526-45; Christopher Rowland, Christian Origins: An Account of the Setting and Character of the Most Important Messianic Sect of Judaism (2nd ed.; London: SPCK, 2002), 32-36. David Keck (Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998], 35) notes that in the early church, identification of the Angel of the Lord with Christ "became an essential ingredient of anti-Jewish polemics".