7 Reasons Why Not To Think The Memra Of The Targums Is A Second Hypostasis Of God

The purpose of this article is to counter some of the torrent of misinformation being promulgated on the internet concerning the ‘memra’ of the targums. Many of the claims made regarding the meaning and function of memra in the targums is greatly over-exaggerated or just plain false. Most of the misinformation and hyperbolic claims being disseminated by online apologists have been derived, whether correctly or incorrectly understood, from the work of two scholars – the Jewish Professor of Talmudic studies, Daniel Boyarin and the Old Testament scholar and popular Christian author, Michael Heiser. I think it is fair to say that Heiser seems to have derived his ideas about memra from Boyarin’s work. Heiser hasn’t done any indepth teaching on this subject, he usually simply mentions the ‘memra’ of the targums as further evidence in support of his teachings on binitarianism in the OT and then credits and recommends the work of Boyarin. So Heiser, more than anyone else, is responsible for having popularized Boyarin’s ideas about ‘memra’.

Boyarin basically thinks that ‘memra’ in the targums denotes a second divine hypostasis who acts in a mediatorial role for God, showing that Jewish belief included the idea of a second god figure1. He proposes this is the same as what the deeply Hellenized Jewish philosopher Philo called the Logos. Likewise, he suggests that the Logos of the prologue of the gospel of John is based on this same idea2. He also posits that these concepts of Memra and Logos laid the groundwork for the acceptance of Jesus as this second god by the early Jewish disciples and for the eventual development of the Christian Trinity.

It is easy to see why orthodox apologists have been eager to promote the ideas of Boyarin in their effort to show that the doctrines of Christ’s deity and the Trinity were not ideas that developed from Greek metaphysics but from thoroughly Jewish sources. This is certainly how Heiser used Boyarin’s work, as has the plethora of online apologists who have devotedly followed Heiser. But the evidence I will present in this article will show that the supposed connections between the targumic ‘memra’ and the ‘logos’ of John’s gospel are superficial at best. I will present seven reasons why one should be cautious in concluding that the ideas of memra and logos in Jewish thought pointed to a belief in a second divine hypostasis who mediated between God and man.

Reason 1
The consensus of targumic scholars is to deny that ‘memra’ in the targums is meant to denote a personal hypostasis.

Boyarin himself admits that the scholarly consensus is against his view3, and offers reasons why he rejects that consensus. It should be noted that Boyarin is not a targumic scholar but a Talmudic scholar. This, of course, doesn’t mean that Boyarin cannot read the targums and reach his own conclusions. Yet it is instructive to know that among those who have devoted their studies to the targums on an academic level, there is general agreement that ‘memra’ in the targums is not a personal hypostasis distinct from God4.

Reason 2
Memra in the targums is used as a circumlocution for God.

Once again, this is the consensus among targumic scholars5. When one steps back from all of the Christian hype regarding memra, and even from Boyarin’s speculations, and simply reads the targums themselves, it becomes clear what is going on with the use of memra. What we find is that when the Hebrew text simply says Yahweh did or said such and such, in the targums it will often say “the memra of Yahweh” did such and such. When in the Hebrew text it has Yahweh saying “I will do such and such,” in the targums this is translated as “my memra will do such and such.” Or when in the Hebrew text, speaking of God, it says “He will do such and such,” in the targums it will read “His memra will do such and such.” Also in places in the Hebrew text where men do some kind of action toward God, whether good or bad, the targums translate it as done to or against the memra of Yahweh. For example, the Hebrew text of Deut. 3:22b reads, “Yahweh your God, he is the one who fights for you.” The same text in targum Onkelos reads, “Yahweh your God, his memra fights for you.” In Deut. 18:19 the Hebrew reads, “And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him,” but targum Onkelos reads, “. . . my memra will require it of him.” The Hebrew of Gen. 9:12 reads, “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you’ . . .,” whereas the targum reads, “This is the sign of the covenant I make between my memra and you.” In all of these cases, as with all of the like uses of memra in the targums, the word memra is not a translation of any Hebrew word in the corresponding Hebrew text, but is simply added into the text by the translators.

What the apologists want us to believe amounts to this – the translators of the targums were given a special revelation by God to reveal what was hidden in the Hebrew text, i.e. that it wasn’t simply Yahweh himself who was being referenced in these passages, but it was a distinct second hypostasis that was actually being referred to. Since such a thing could only have been known by these men through divine inspiration or revelation, then we must assume this is how they knew it.

Long ago, noted OT scholar George Foot Moore summarized the problem for us:

The sum of the whole matter is that nowhere in these Targums is memra a ‘being’ of any kind or in any sense, whether conceived personally as an angel employed in communication with men, or as a philosophically impersonal created potency, as in Maimonides’ theory; or God himself in certain modes of self-manifestation, which has been thought to be the opinion of R. Moses ben Nahman. The appearance of personality which in many places attaches to the memra is due solely to the fact that the phrase ‘the memra of Y.,’ or, with pronouns referring to God, My, Thy, His, memar, is a circumlocution for ‘God,’ ‘the Lord,’ or the like, introduced out of motives of reverence precisely where God is personally active in the affairs of men; and the personal character of this activity necessarily adheres to the periphrasis. The very question whether the memra is personal or impersonal implies, from the philological point of view, a misunderstanding of the whole phenomenon; and every answer to a false question is by that very fact false.

Intermediaries in Jewish Theology: Memra, Shekinah, Metatron; The Harvard Theological Review, Jan. 1922, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 53-54

The targums also employ other circumlocutions for God, such as shekinah (presence) and yekara (glory).

Reason 3
The targums never portray God as personally addressing his memra or his memra personally addressing God.

This fact is precisely what one would expect to see if memra was being used as a circumlocution or a substitute for God in the Hebrew text. But it is not what one would expect to see if memra was intended by the targum authors to denote a personal hypostasis distinct from Yahweh. Some may try to avoid the damaging implications of this fact by claiming that this is an argument from silence, but sometimes silence speaks louder than words, especially when there is a high expectation that something would have been said if it were true.

Reason 4
In the targums, memra de Yahweh never translates the Hebrew phrase dabar Yahweh (the word of Yahweh) in all of the passages in the Hebrew Bible where “the word of Yahweh” is said to have come to someone.

This fact alone is devastaing to the apologists’ case. It is these very passages in the OT {e.g. Gen. 15:1; 1 Sam. 15:10; 1 Kings 6:11; 17:2; Jer. 1:2; etc.} that are employed by the apologists to show that the “word of Yahweh” is a second, distinct personal hypostasis, and the memra of the targums is then appealed to as evidence of this supposed fact. Yet, the fact of the matter is, that in every one of these passages, the targums translate the Hebrew phrase dabar Yahweh not by memra de Yahweh but by pitgama nebu’a de Yahweh which translates as “a word of prophecy from Yahweh.” This clearly shows that the writers of the targums had no intention to associate memra with “the word of Yahweh” that came to men. The choice of pitgama nebu’a to translate this phrase shows that the word refers to the content of God’s communication to the prophets and not to a personal entity.

Reason 5
In the Peshitta6 OT, the phrase “the word of Yahweh” in the Hebrew Bible is never translated as memra marya but as pitgama marya or miltha marya.

If Boyarin is correct that the concept of the memra as a personal hypostasis was a widespread belief among 1st century Jews and that the early Christians incorporated this idea into their belief about Jesus, then why is this fact not reflected in the Peshitta OT, which was written by Christians in Syria? Just as the targums, which were written by Jews, does not reflect this idea in the very passages where it would be expected, neither does the Peshitta OT.

Reason 6
In the Peshitta NT, the logos of John 1 is not translated as memra but as miltha.

Based on Boyarin’s view that John developed his idea of the logos from the memra of the targums, one would expect to see John 1:1 in the Peshitta NT to read: “In the beginning was the Memra, and the Memra was with God, and the Memra was God.” Yet, this is not what we find. Instead, we see the word logos translated by the Aramaic word miltha. It doesn’t seem like this concept of memra as a second god person was as widespread as Boyarin asserts. If memra was the background thought for John’s prologue and the idea behind the word logos, then why, when John’s gospel was later translated into Aramaic in the Peshitta, did the translators not use memra to translate logos, but instead used miltha?

Reason 7
The phenomenon of “the memra of Yahweh” is confined to the targums alone. There is no mention, much less discussion, of memra in the Talmud, the Midrash, or any other rabbinic literature7. There is no mention of “the memra of Yahweh” in the Dead Sea Scrolls or even in the early church fathers.

Again, this is highly unexpected on the proposition that memra as a second god person played such a key role in the development of Jewish and Christian concepts of binitarianism.


  1. Daniel Boyarin, The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue To John, Harvard Theological Review 94:3 (2001), p.255
  2. Ibid., pp. 256-284
  3. Ibid., pp. 254-255
  4. See George Foot Moore, Intermediaries in Jewish Theology: Memra, Shekinah, Metatron, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Jan., 1922), pp. 53-55.
    Martin McNamara, Targum Revisited (2010), pp. 146-162.
    C.K. Barret, The Gospel According To John, p. 128.
  5. M. McNamara, Targum Revisited, pp. 162-3. See also Dictionary of the Talmud and the Jewish Encyclopedia under the entry Memra.
  6. The Peshitta was written by Syriac speaking Christians and contains both the OT and NT in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic.
  7. M. McNamara, Targum Revisited, pp. 161-2. G.F. Moore, Intermediaries, p.54.
    D. Boyarin, The Gospel of the Memra, p. 268

Christ- Truly God, Truly Man? The Absurdity Of Orthodox Christology

The orthodox creeds of Christianity, which have been handed down to us from the ecumenical councils of long ago, have dictated to believers of all time what must be believed about Christ in order for one to be considered orthodox, indeed in order to be saved. What these councils of the past have prescribed regarding what one must believe about Christ is that he is truly God and truly man, i.e. he possesses both a divine nature and a human nature. This has been expressed in various ways, such as “fully God and fully man” or “100% God and 100% man” or “perfect God and perfect man”. These statements are usually presented in such a way that makes them appear reasonable and logical, but as we shall see, this is only a facade.

This article will be somewhat different from what I usually do. Whereas I typically deal with biblical exegesis, in this article I will try my hand at analytic theology.

The Creeds

Let’s look at what these creeds have stated. I will only include the parts of the creeds that are pertinent, with the most relevant parts underlined. We will start with the Nicene creed (original in A.D. 325 with additions in A.D. 381):

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven;
           he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
           and was made human.

Here is the Chalcedoian creed (A.D. 451)

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in deity, the Self-same Perfect in humanity; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the deity, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the humanity; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin as to the humanity; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ . . .

Here is the Athanasian creed (early 6th cen.):

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation, that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his deity, and inferior to the Father as touching his humanity. Who although he is God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Deity into flesh, but by assumption of the humnaity into God. One altogether, not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ.

As we look at these statements we see a progression from simpler to more complex. In the first it states that the son of God, as regards his deity, is true God and of the same essence as the Father, but regarding his humanity, it says only that he became incarnate and was made human. The later council of Chalcedon must have found that this language left too much open and so defined things more precisely – Christ was perfect in his Deity and perfect in his humanity, co-essential with the Father according to his deity and co-essential with humans according to his humanity. Please note how the statements regarding his humanity are meant to match the statements regarding his deity. One would assume from the language that whatever “perfect” means in relation to his deity, it must mean the same in relation to his humanity. Likewise, whatever “truly” means in relation to his deity, it must mean the same thing in relation to his humanity. Finally, whatever “co-essential” with the Father means in relation to his deity, it must have the same meaning in connection with humans in relation to his humanity. Also, from the Athanasian creed, whatever it means that Christ is “of the substance of” the Father regarding his deity, must be the same thing that is meant by “of the substance of” his mother regarding his humanity. It would be deceptive if the words perfect, truly, co-essential and of the substance of were meant to mean one thing as regards his deity but to mean something else as regards his humanity. Because the phrases are matched in this way we must assume the authors of the creeds wanted everyone to think of them as corresponding to each other.

I will now attempt to show how these descriptors cannot mean the same when applied to both his deity and his humanity, and therefore the statements of the creeds do not hold together logically, and that they are, in fact, absurd. I will do this by applying the concepts of essentiality and non-essentiality to both the deity and humanity of Christ. My argument is this – within the orthodox conception of Christ, his deity is essential, while his humanity is non-essential.

Defining Terms

Let’s define our terms.
Essential – fundamental or central to the nature of something or someone;
intrinsic. Absolutely necessary; indispensable
Perfect – having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or
characteristics; absolute; complete. Conforming absolutely to the
description or definition of an ideal type.

Truly – to the fullest degree; genuinely or properly.
Fully – completely or entirely; to the furthest extent.
Coessential – possessing the same essence or nature.

Now, having established the definitions, before I delve into my main points, I want to take a look at how it is said that the son of God became human. We note that the Nicene creed simply states that “he came down from heaven; he became incarnate . . . and was made human.” The Chalcedonian creed says only that he was “born of Mary the virgin as to the humanity.” But when we come the the Athanasian creed we see something more specific: “of the substance of his Mother, born in the world . . . not by conversion of the deity into flesh; but by assumption of the humanity into God. From the time of the Chalcedonian creed, so much controversy and confusion and speculation had arisen over the concept of the incarnation, that something more needed to be said, and so we have the fuller statement of the Athanasian creed. It is important to understand exactly what is being said here. To be ‘orthodox’ one must not think that the divine person of the son changed or turned into a human person, but rather, while remaining fully divine, he took or added to himself a human nature. So, in the being known as Jesus Christ we have a divine person, complete with a divine nature, who added to himself a human nature. From the orthodox viewpoint then, Jesus is not even a human person. He is rather a divine person, the eternal Son of God, with an impersonal human nature added to him. This is the first problem.

If this assertion about Christ is true, what it would mean is that the human nature of Christ is non-essential to his being. In the orthodox view Christ is essentially divine and therefore cannot be essentially human. If deity is essential to his being, i.e. without his divine nature he would not exist as a personal being, then the same thing could not be said of his humanity, for how can one being be both essentially divine and essentially human at the same time. That Christ is indeed essentially divine but not essentially human in orthodoxy is obvious by the fact that the divine person of Christ existed prior to taking a human nature to himself. From this we can see that his humanity is not essential to his personal being, as his divinity is. He can exist as a personal being with or without the addition of this impersonal human nature. That Christ is essentially divine must be included in what it means that Christ is “truly” and “fully” and “perfect” deity. Furthermore, that he is said to be co-essential with the Father means that he shares the same nature as the Father and that he is co-essential with man means that he shares the same nature as man. But he shares the same nature as the Father essentially, while he shares the nature of man non-essentially. And if, as I have pointed out, this language must be applied with the same meaning to Christ’s humanity as to his deity, then we can see that we have a problem. How can a divine person who has a non-essential human nature count as “truly” or “fully” or “perfectly” human? I think I can safely say, putting Christ on the side, that every truly, fully and perfectly human being who has ever existed since the beginning has possessed an essential human nature and was a human person. Therefore, the orthodox Christ appears to lack two qualities that would seem to be fundamental to what a truly, fully, and perfect human specimen would require – human personhood and essential humanity.

So then, the orthodox Christ, as propounded in the orthodox creeds, amounts to a logical absurdity. The only way around this is to special plead that while it is true that every other human being that has ever existed has possessed both human personhood and an essential human nature, Christ is the one instance in which the lack of these two aspects of humanity does not detract from him being truly, fully and perfectly human. But why should anyone accept this absurd implausibility, especially since such a thing cannot be derived from scripture either. In fact, scripture is quite explicit in saying that the Messiah had to be “made like his brothers in every respect.”

Was Jesus Involved In The Exodus? Answering 1 Cor. 10:4 and 9; Jude 5; Heb. 11:26

Ever since the time of Justin, the 2nd century Christian philospher, many Christians have been promoting the idea that the son of God was personally involved in the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and in their journey through the wilderness. Beginning with Justin, and down to our very day, Christians have not been shy about promulgating this notion. This idea is, of course, based on the presupposition that the man Jesus of Nazareth, the long awaited Messiah , is in fact Yahweh himself, and as such, pre-existed his incarnation. In his pre-incarnate state he then physically appeared to the fathers of the Jewish people and was especially involved in the exodus account in the Pentateuch.

The problem that the promoters of this idea have to deal with is the total absence of any explicit and unequivocal statements in the NT documents in support of it. This is strange indeed, seeing the profusion of Christian literature since the middle of the 2nd century that has unreservedly propagated this idea. This has led apologists for this view to scour the NT writings for at least some hints or veiled clues that the authors of these writings were sympathetic to the view. This effort has yielded but four passages which are supposed to be proof positive that the NT authors did indeed hold this view – 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Cor. 10:9; Heb. 11:26 and Jude 5. Needless to say, if the NT authors did believe such a thing, we should be able to find much more in it’s support than a meager four verses, which, as we shall see, are anything but unequivocal.

In the remainder of this article we will examine each of these passages to see if the apologists have overstated their case. We will begin with the weakest one first.

Hebrews 11:26

“[Moses] considered the reproach of the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

In this passage Moses is said to have considered the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than what Egypt had to offer. Did Moses have personal knowledge of Christ or even a personal relationship with Christ? Had Moses come in personal contact with the Messiah, the son of God? That is what some want us to believe this passage is teaching. Some English versions even help push the reader in that direction:

NIV, EHV – “disgrace for the sake of Christ”
HCSB – “reproach because of the Messiah”
ISV – “insulted for the sake of Messiah”
NET – “abuse suffered for Christ”
CJB – “abuse suffered on behalf of Messiah”
LEB – “reproach endured for the sake of Christ”

Some overzealous apologists insist that these words imply that Christ was known to Moses, not merely as one who would come in the future, but as being known by Moses in his pre-incarnate state. Others take the more reasonable but still unsatisfactory view that Moses was willing to suffer for the Christ whom he knew would come in the future, or that the Jewish expectation of a Messiah to come brought insults upon Moses and the Israelites from the pagan Egyptians. All of this is simply conjecture and is unnecessary. Nothing in the passage in Hebrews nor in the account in Exodus suggests any of this speculation. I offer here a simpler view of the passage.

One of the problems with the above interpretations is that they incorrectly understand the genitive phrase “the reproach of the Christ”. All of the English translations above would require “Christ” to be in the dative case rather than the genitive case or the word huper to be added before the word Christos. The author of Hebrews does not mean by “the reproach of Christ” that Moses suffered reproach for or on behalf of or for the sake of Christ. The reproach of Christ refers to the reproach which Christ suffered. Reproach speaks of verbal insult to be sure, but also of the disgrace of being so shamefully mistreated. Messiah endured this reproach solely because of his commitment to do the will of God and because of the glory that would ultimately result. He could have avoided it if he simply would have abandoned this commitment and hope. Yet he was willing to endure rejection and insult and disgrace so that he might fulfill the will of God for him. All who would follow Jesus the Messiah are enjoined to willingly endure the same mistreatment at the hands of the wicked. In 13:13 the author of Hebrews calls his hearers to:

“. . . go to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.”

When believers suffer this way they are bearing the same kind of mistreatment which he suffered, so that our suffering is referred to as “the reproach of Christ.” But if Christ had not yet suffered this reproach at the time of Moses, how can it be said that Moses bore the reproach of Christ? Because the author of Hebrews is speaking anachronistically. Since Christ has come and suffered this rejection and shame for doing the will of God, he is the exemplar of such suffering. He is the prime example of the righteous one willingly suffering at the hands of the wicked rather than turning from God. Therefore, all who had come before Christ and who had suffered in the same way as he did, can anachronistically be said to have borne the reproach of Christ.

This interpretation is confirmed by the context of the passage. In v. 25 the author stated that Moses “chose to suffer ill-treatment with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” V. 26 is simply a restatement of v. 25, in which “the reproach of Christ ” corresponds to “chose to suffer ill-treatment.” No, Moses did not have any personal knowledge of the Messiah, but he was willing to suffer the reproach that came to him because of his commitment to the will of God, and in that sense it is said that he bore the reproach of Christ, i.e. the same reproach that Christ bore.

Jude 5

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

This appears to be the most explicit statement in the NT putting Jesus personally in the exodus story, but it is not without dispute. The problem is, there are a few variant readings for this verse in the manuscripts. Other readings are the Lord, Lord (without the article), God and God Christ. Now I am not going to bore you with all of the manuscript evidence in favor of and against each reading. There are plenty of online sources that can be found which cover all of the tedious details, if you are interested. I will just sum it up. The majority of scholars think that the manuscript evidence is somewhat in favor of the Jesus reading, but the Lord reading is also strong. All scholars dismiss the God Christ reading as most improbable and the God reading as not very likely. One main problem is that the two manuscripts considered to be the most weighty, disagree. Codex Sinaiticus reads Lord while Codex Vaticanus reads Jesus. Both of these manuscripts are from the 4th century and are of the Alexandrian text-type.

To add to the confusion, the earliest extant citations of Jude 5 are from Clement of Alexandria, in the late 2nd century. Clement actually quotes from the epistle of Jude in two places: In the work titled The Instructor, Book 3, ch. 8 he qoutes it as “. . . God having onced saved his people from the land of Egypt . . .” In his Comments on the Epistle of Jude he quotes it as “. . . for the Lord God, who once saved a people out of Egypt . . .” Even if Clement did not have a copy of Jude before him and was quoting it from memory, it is clear that he doesn’t have a memory of it saying “Jesus saved . . .” So we have two Alexandrian texts from the 4th century and Clement, who was from Alexandria, all differing on how the text was read. There are not many other direct citations of the passage from church fathers. Jerome (late 4th-early 5th cen.), in a letter to Marcella, cites Jude 5 with the Jesus reading, but he goes on to explain that Jude was not really referring to the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, but that he was speaking “mystically” and that Egypt means “this world.” So he thought it referred to Christians being saved out of this world by Jesus. He qoutes the passage again in book 1 of his treatise Against Jovinianus and says this:

I will pass to Joshua the son of Nun, who was previously called Ause, or better, as in the Hebrew, Osee, that is, Saviour. For he, according to the epistle of Jude, saved the people of Israel and led them forth out of Egypt, and brought them into the land of promise.

So, again, we see that the text Jerome was reading from said Jesus, but he took that to be referring to Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses’ successor. I don’t know which of these citations from Jerome came first, but he seems to have changed his view on the meaning of the Jesus reading. It is certainly interesting to note that, although he was an orthodox trintarian and believed Jesus pre-existed his incarnation, he seemed reluctant to put Jesus back into the exodus story. The only other patristic citations of Jude 5 I could find were from John Cassian (late 4th-early 5th cen.) in book 5 of Against Nestorius and from the Venerable Bede (late 7th- early 8th cen.), who both read the text as Jesus and expounded on how our Lord Jesus actually led the Israelites out of Egypt.

What all of this goes to show, if we will just be honest about it, is that we can not know definitively, based on manuscript evidence and patristic evidence, which reading was original. So scholars turn to the internal evidence for support for their particular view. The first consideration is how we can conceive of how the variants could have arose during the copying process. In this regard, some, if not most scholars, seek to account for the variants by accidental error. Could a scribe have mistaken this letter for that letter? Of course, such a thing is possible but certainly we cannot rule out a deliberate change by a scribe for theological reasons. Now, we don’t like to think that something like that could have happened, but the fact is, we know it has happened. Bart Ehrman, the renowned (or rather infamous) NT textual critic, in his book The Orthodox Corruption Of Scripture, documents the many corruptions in the manuscripts of the text of the NT. His contention is that many of these corruptions arose because of Christological controversies and that many were deliberate changes to the text in order to make the text more ‘orthodox’. He says:

Were any of these “mistakes” intentional alterations? . . . Did their polemical contexts affect the way these Christians copied the texts they construed as Scripture? I will argue that they did, that scribes of the second and third centuries in fact altered their texts of Scripture at significant points in order to make them more orthodox on the one hand and less susceptible to heretical construal on the other.

pg. 25

He also shows how many of these corruptions involve passages that bear directly on christological issues. Regarding Jude 5 he says:

A striking example occurs in the salutation of 2 Peter 1:2: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus.” P72 omits the conjunction “and” (kai), leading to the identification of Jesus as God: “in the knowledge of God, our Lord Jesus.” That this omission was not an accident is confirmed by similar modifications in the same manuscript. Thus, in Jude 5, where manuscripts vary over whether it was “the Lord” (most manuscripts), or “Jesus” (A B 33 81 1241 1739 1881), or “God” (C2 623 vgms) who saved the people from Egypt (variations that are all explicable from the Old Testament narratives themselves and from early Christian understandings of them, at least as intimated in 1 Corinthians 10), P72 stands alone in saying that the Savior of the people from Egypt was “the God Christ”.

pg. 85-86

I can certainly envision a scenario in which a scribe, who was an ardent disciple of Justin, is copying portions of the NT, and comes upon Jude 5, which may have read Lord, which would have looked like ΚΣ1. But suppose the manuscript was damaged or worn in places and the scribe couldn’t make out the K, and remembering the passage in Justin’s Dialogue With Trypho in which Justin said, “For all we out of all nations do expect not Judah, but Jesus, who led your fathers out of Egypt,” he writes ΙΣ, which is how the word Jesus appears in the Greek manuscripts. This, of course, would not have been intentional on the scribes part. But I can also imagine how a scribe might be tempted to change an ambiguous ΚΣ (Lord), which to his mind could refer to either God or Jesus2, to a ΙΣ (Jesus) because it better supported his christological view.

The next issue to deal with when considering the internal evidence is how each variant relates to the language of the book as a whole. For example, Jude mentions the name Jesus 6 times, not including the verse in dispute, and in all cases the name is accompanied by the titles Christ (6x) and our Lord (4x). If Jude originally contained the stand alone name Jesus in v. 5, it would stand out as an anomaly. This, in itself, does not prove anything, since it is possible that the author deviated from his normal practice in this one case. The word Lord (Gr. kurios) occurs 6 times, not including v. 5, twice in reference to God and 4 times in reference to Jesus Christ. In the two references to God {vv. 9 and 14}, kurios stands alone, without any other name or title, and without the definite article, which likely means that kurios is being used as a substitute for the name Yahweh. The 4 references to Jesus have the article. This could show that, if kurios was the original reading, it probably was without the article. As for the God variant, nothing in the rest of the epistle would militate against it.

As for the theological content of the book, there is no other implication that the author thinks Jesus would have been present or active in OT events or that he thinks Jesus is to be equated with Yahweh of the OT. Of course, it is possible the author believed these things but because of the brevity of the book there was no other opportunity to express them.

Another issue is how the variants relate to the clear teachings of the NT as a whole. Indeed, it is admitted by all that the Jesus reading would be unique in the NT. The only other passages usually pointed to which may be similar are 1 Cor. 10:4 and 9, which supposedly show that Christ was involved in the events of the exodus. But these are far from being unequivocal, as I will demonstrate shortly. Also, there is no indication in the OT texts themselves, which relate the story of the exodus, that anyone other than God, through his agent Moses, saved the Israelites from Egypt. Now, if orthodox trinitarians believe that Jesus just is Yahweh, then even if Jude 5 originally read Lord or God, they can still understand it to be referring to Jesus. What they want, though, is an explicit statement in the NT to this effect, which does not exist. To anachronistically read Jesus back into the exodus story is indeed the worst kind of eisegesis.

I believe that the original read ΚΣ (kurios without the article), which referred to Yahweh, and that this was altered, either accidentally or deliberately, to read ΙΣ (Ἰησοῦς = Jesus). The God variant could have arisen out of the kurios reading by a scribes attempt to make the somewhat ambiguous kurios more definite. In my opinion, this view accords with all of the data. All of this data is inconclusive and thus renders Jude 5 completely ineffective as a proof-text that Jesus was involved in the exodus account.

1 Cor. 10:4 and 9

4. “[They all] ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ

9. – “We should not test Christ, as some of [the Israelites] did, and were killed by snakes.”

We see that in these passages it appears, on the surface anyway, that Paul is implying that Christ was involved in the events of the wilderness journey of Israel after their deliverance from Egypt. But is this really what Paul intended his readers to understand from his words or is there some other explanation of them. In order to fully understand Paul’s train of thought it will be necessary to look at the context of the whole pericope, from 9:24 – 10:14.

In 9:24-27, Paul speaks of the Christian experience in metaphorical terms as an athletic race. The goal of entering such a race is to obtain the prize. This calls for carefulness and seriousness in discipline and training, and a mental fixation on the prize. Paul is writing these things to the Corinthian believers to warn and encourage them to take their newfound faith seriously and not lose sight of the goal. Paul speaks in v. 27 of the possibility of being disqualified and not obtaining the prize after having begun the race.

In order to drive home his point he then draws certain analogies between the experience of the Corinthian Christians (and really all believers) and the experience of the Israelites who were delivered out of Egypt. Between vv. 1-4 Paul uses three such analogies, but I suppose, if he had the time and the inclination, he could have expanded on this theme even more3. The three analogies he uses have to do with Christian baptism, the Lord’s supper and Christ as our God given source of everlasting life. I used to think, based on Paul’s use of the Greek word tupos in v. 6 and v. 11, that he was using the hermeneutical method known as typology in this passage. But I have changed my mind on this, now understanding tupos to simply mean an example or pattern. So I do not think that the three things that Paul mentions in vv. 1-4 are types, in the technical sense, but rather are simply analogies.

The first analogy is the experience of the Israelites coming under Moses’ leadership in the events of Ex. 14, which Paul summarizes by “in the cloud and in the sea.” This, in Paul’s analogy, corresponds to Christian baptism, when the believer comes under the headship of Messiah. Now, no one thinks that the Israelites were literally baptized into Moses, and neither does Paul. He simply means that their experience of this was their new beginning under their appointed leader, Moses, and that this is analogous to the Christian experience of baptism into Messiah. This is, as it were, the start of the race.

Next, the experience of the Israelites in partaking of the supernaturally provided4 food and water in the desert, corresponds to the Christian experience of partaking in the Lord’s supper. They were continuously given this food to eat and water to drink, as the believers are continuously partaking of the eucharistic meal.

Then we come to v. 4, where Paul states that the rock from which they received the life-giving water was Christ. In light of Paul’s method that we have so far observed, does it seem likely that Paul meant this literally i.e. that the physical rock from which the water came was literally Jesus? Or could he have meant that, just as the Israelites’ coming under Moses’ leadership in the cloud and in the sea, was, by analogy their baptism; and just like their partaking of the manna and water from the rock, was, by analogy their Lord’s supper, so likewise the rock itself was, by analogy, their God-ordained source of life. In other words, the rock was for them what Christ is for the Christians – the source of living water {see Jn. 4:10-14}. Paul then brings home his point – though the Israelites started out well, having entered into these God-ordained experiences, “nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” The point is clear, just because the Corinthians had started well and had certain experiences which confirmed them in their new relationship to God, they were to be careful lest the same fate await them that happened to the Israelites. Most of the Israelites who came out of Egypt and partook of these God-ordained experiences were later disqualified and did not obtain the prize – entrance into the promised land.

We note that Paul is not giving the Corinthians a teaching on the nature of Christ or expounding on how Christ manifested himself to the ancient Israelites, but his whole purpose in this passage is exhortative, to give a warning to the believers to not be over-confident in their experiences of baptism and communion, and in their knowledge of Christ as the source of everlasting life. It is necessary that they resist temptation daily and not fall away, if they hope to obtain the prize {v. 12}.

The idea that the rock from which flowed water {see Ex. 17:1-7 and Num. 20:1-13} for the Israelites to drink was literally Christ is a rather crass and juvenile notion, and to attribute such a notion to the apostle Paul is quite demeaning of him. This alone should cause reasonable people to look for another explanation of Paul’s words.

In vv.7-10 Paul gives specific examples of the Israelites’ failures to live up to the calling to which they were called. He briefly relates the events of Ex. 32:1-6, Num. 25:1-9, Num. 21:4-9 and Num. 16:41-50, and then says, “These things happened to them as examples, and were written down as a warning for us . . .” It is in the midst of this admonition that Paul says, in v. 9, “We should not test the Christ, as some of them did . . .” Is Paul just matter-of-factly putting Jesus in the events of Num. 21 or is something else going on here?

First off, we have the same kind of thing with this passage that we saw with Jude 5 – three different readings in the manuscripts: the Christ, the Lord and God. Everything I said about Jude 5 applies here. Different scholars present their arguments to support what they think the original reading was. Once again, the manuscript and patristic evidence is inconclusive, and again, one can imagine different scenarios for how the variant could have arisen if the original were either the Christ or the Lord. The God reading seems to be the weakest variant and is usually dismissed as not being original.

If the original reading was the Lord, this could be taken as a reference either to Jesus or to God in the sense of Adonai. If the original read the Christ, then, of course, this could only refer to Jesus. But even if it could be shown conclusively that the original reading was the Christ, would this require us to believe that Paul is saying that the people of Israel tested Jesus in the wilderness? Such a conclusion can only result from the presupposition that Jesus had some kind of pre-existence prior to his birth from Mary, because the words, in themselves, would not necessitate this conclusion. Paul would simply be saying that we Christians should not test our God appointed leader, the Messiah, even as some of the Israelites tested their God appointed leader, Moses. This explanation of the text is supported by two things. First, a literal translation of the Greek would read, “Neither should we put to the test the Christ, as some of them tested.” Second, in the event to which Paul is referring, recorded in Num. 21:4-9, it was not only God whom the Israelites tested, but also Moses:

v.5 – “. . . they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

v. 7 – “The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you.”

It is likely that Paul sees the people’s complaint as being directed toward Moses as their leader and so they were putting Moses to the test; but to speak against the one whom God appointed is, in effect, to speak against God {see Num. 12:1-9; 16:3, 11, 41-50}. Since the concept of messiah (i.e. christ) connotes one chosen by God to lead his people, we can say in a very real sense that Moses was Israel’s messiah at time, whom they tested. The Israelites’ relationship to Moses is analogous to the Christians’ relationship to Christ.


I conclude then that none of these four passages are conclusive in establishing that Jesus was involved in the exodus event. It seems rather evident to me that such a conclusion can be drawn from these passages only if one already holds the presupposition that Jesus is God or pre-existed his birth. It would be quite strange, if indeed the authors of the NT held such a belief, that it would be spoken of in only these four highly ambiguous and problematic passages. One would think that such a concept, if it were true, would be the subject of much more of the NT writings than just a mere four matter-of-fact, unelaborated statements.


1. In all of the extant manuscripts of Jude, as well as most of the NT, frequently occurring names and titles of God and Christ are usually written in what is called nomina sacra. These are abbreviated forms typically consisting of the first and last letters of the word. The word kurios (Lord) would have been written as ΚΣ, Iésous (Jesus) as ΙΣ, and christos (Christ) as ΧΣ
2. The Greek word for Lord, kurios, can be ambiguous in that it could refer to God or to Jesus. Typically, kurios without the definte article would denote the tetragrammaton i.e. Yahweh, at least to a Jewish scribe. An arthrous kurios that stands alone in the text could be referring to Jesus or to God as adonai.
3. It would not be hard to imagine Paul analogizing further in this manner: the exodus of Israel out of Egypt is analogous to the believers coming out of the world i.e. being set apart unto God in Christ; the wilderness journey is analogous to the walk of the believers in Christ until we obtain our inheritance; Israel’s entering the promised land is analogous to the believers in Christ receiving their inheritance at the return of Christ.
4. I take this to be what Paul means by “spiritual food and drink”. Certainly he doesn’t mean that the manna and the water from the rock were not material substances. It is the fact that they were obtained supernaturally rather than naturally that Paul refers to them as spiritual.

Did Paul Split The Shema In 1 Cor. 8:6?

Beginning in the 1990s, New Testament scholars began to promote a novel interpretation of 1 Cor. 8:6. I am not sure who the first scholar was to set forth this interpretation but it has been promoted by such luminaries as Simon Gathercole, Richard Bauckham, N. T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Larry Hurtado, James Dunn (though he changed his mind later) and others. This then novel interpretation has since become nearly unanimously accepted within NT scholarship and has become a favored apologetic argument. This interpretation of 1 Cor. 8:6 has been defined in various ways – Paul is expanding the Shema to include Jesus; Paul is adding Jesus into the Shema; Paul is including Jesus in the divine identity; and most popularly, Paul is splitting the Shema.

Incredibly, some have proposed that Paul has taken the Shema, the Jewish creed found in Deut. 6:4, and has divided the elements of it between God the Father and the Lord Jesus, thus making Jesus part of the creed. From the Hebrew scriptures Deut. 6:4 reads:

Hear, O Israel, Yahweh (is)our God, Yahweh (is) one.

This seems rather straightforward. Yahweh is Israel’s God and he is one. Now my purpose in this article is not to delve into the various ways in which we could understand Yahweh’s being one, but to show the nonsensicalness of this novel interpretation of 1 Cor. 8:6. The real problem arises when we read the passage from the Greek LXX:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord (Gr. kurios) our God (Gr. theos), the Lord (kurios)is one.

Here the name Yahweh has been replaced with the Greek word kurios meaning lord, master, a word denoting one who has absolute authority over others. This was done because the Jews had developed a practice of not saying the name of God, the Tetragrammaton, out loud when reading scripture, but instead replacing it with adonai, meaning Lord. Eventually this led to replacing the name when translating the scripture into other languages, like Greek, with the word from the other language that meant lord. In Greek the word that best translates adonai is kurios. Now it is important to understand that kurios is not a translation of the tetragrammaton, but a translation of adonai which is substituting for the tetragrammaton. Therefore, kurios is a substitution for Yahweh.

Now lets look at 1 Cor. 8:6 – “Yet for us there is but one God (theos), the Father
. . . and one Lord (kurios), Jesus the Messiah.”

What the proponents of this novel approach to this passage are suggesting, is that, based on the Greek of Deut. 6:4, Paul is applying theos to the Father and kurios to Jesus, thus splitting or dividing up the Shema between the two and so including Jesus in the identity of Yahweh.

The first thing I want to say in response is that the Hebrew is cleary equating Yahweh with God in the statement “Yahweh (is) our God” and then stating that this God, Yahweh, is one. The Greek, likewise, is equating kurios with our God and then stating that this kurios is one. Yet when we look at Paul’s statement we see that he is differentiating between the one God, who is the Father, and the one Lord who is Jesus. So, whereas the Hebrew and Greek of Deut. 6 :4 involve an equation between the words Yahweh and God and between Lord and God, Paul’s statement demands a distinction between the one God and the one Lord. This shows that Paul’s statement is not dividing the Shema between the two persons, but rather that Paul is doing something else.

Second, I do think Paul has the Shema in mind here, but that it is fully covered in the statement “For us there is one God, the Father,” by itself. Let’s compare this statement with the Shema. The words ‘for us’ correspond to the word ‘our’ in the Shema; the ‘one’ corresponds to the ‘one’ in the Shema; ‘God’ here corresponds to ‘God’ in the Shema; and ‘Father’ here corresponds to ‘Yahweh’ in the Shema. Paul’s allusion to the Shema in this passage simply marks out the Father as the one God, known in the history of Israel as Yahweh. Hence, the Shema is fully covered in this first statement of Paul. Then, to this ancient confession, Paul adds the further necessary confession of the one Lord (kurios), Jesus the Messiah. This would seem to eliminate the possibility that kurios in this verse is being used as a stand-in for the name Yahweh, since the name Yahweh has already been alluded to, in the first clause, under the one God, the Father. So kurios must be understood here in it’s normal lexical meaning of lord, master, denoting one who has absolute authority over others.

The impetus for my writnig this article was a recent debate between Carlos Xavier and Sean Luke, a graduate from Trinity Evangelical Divinty School, on this very subject – Did Paul Split the Shema? One argument of Mr. Luke, who took the affirmative position, was based on the semantic connection of v. 6 to v. 5 of 1 Cor. 8. I don’t know if this argument is original to Mr. Luke or if he derived it from the scholars mentions earlier; most of what he argued seemed to be simply a repeating of what those scholars have said. His argument was that the ‘lords’ of verse 5 are in a sense synonymous with the ‘gods’ i.e. both the ‘many gods’ and ‘many lords’ mentioned by Paul were deities, and so because these ‘many lords’ of v. 5 are being contratsed with the ‘one Lord’ of v. 6, then the Lord of v. 6 must be a divine Lord. He sees the clause “just as there are many gods and many lords” as confirmatory of Paul’s concession that “for if indeed there are so-called gods.” So the many gods and many lords of the second clause are both referring to the so-called gods of the first clause. Therefore, Luke thinks the many lords must be understood as deities just as the many gods are. And then this means that when Jesus is called the ‘one Lord‘ this must be understood as a divine Lord, rather than just a human lord. While I can agree with Luke that the many gods and many lords may be referring back to the phrase “so-called gods”, I do think he is begging the question by assuming that the many lords must be divine in nature. Here’s why.

In between the two clauses just mentioned there is another clause which Luke completely ignored in his argument – “whether in heaven or on earth.” A literal rendering of the Greek of the first two clauses of v. 5 would read:

“For even if it is so that there are those being called gods, whether in heaven or on earth . . .”

Paul acknowledges that there are those who are being called ‘gods’ by other people and that these who are called gods are found both in the heavens and in the earth. Is it not reasonable to assume that those being called ‘gods’ who are in heaven are beings that are considered ontologically divine and that those being called ‘gods’ who are on earth are beings who are not considered ontologically divine i.e. human rulers? That human rulers were called by the title ‘god’ is a fact of ancient history known to everyone who has studied ancient history. Not only was this true among gentile nations but even from a Jewish perspective human rulers, such as kings, could be designated as ‘gods’1. The mistake that many make is to assume that when these human rulers were called ‘gods’ that meant that it was thought that they were actual deities. But this is not the case. Rather they were called ‘gods’ because they had power over others and because they were regarded as ruling on behalf of some actual deity. It was their status that was considered divine not their ontololgy. Everyone knew that the Emperor of Rome was a human being ontologically, but was called a god by virtue of his status as supreme ruler. In this regard he was also designated ‘Lord’.

So I propose that when Paul said there are many gods and many lords, the many gods corresponds to those so-called gods in heaven i.e. those considered as actual deities; and the many lords corresponds to those so-called gods on earth i.e. human rulers, who often were also designated ‘Lord’2. Hence, when Paul differentiates between the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah, he is distinguishing between the one actual deity worshipped by believers, the Father, and the one absolute human Lord, who has absolute authority over all believers, Jesus the Messiah.

To my mind, this is a much simplier explanation of Paul’s words and doesn’t involve all of the complications that come with saying that Paul has split the Shema and included Jesus in the identity of God.


  1. See Ps. 82 – see also my article on Psalm 82 which shows the ‘gods’ mentioned there to be human kings. See also Ps. 45:6.
  2. See Acts 25:26 where the Roman Emperor is called to kurio, the Lord. See also Rev. 17:14 where the Lamb is designated “Lord of lords” i.e. King of kings.

Exodus 23:20-23 : Who Is The Angel?

In popular Christian commentary and apologetics, it has been fashionable, for quite a number of decades, to teach that God had sent an angel i.e. a heavenly messenger, to deliver the people of Israel out of their Egyptian bondage and to lead them to the promised land. So pervasive is this idea that it can be found to have been propounded by scholars, pastors, Sunday school teachers, apologists and laymen alike. It seems to be an undisputed and unquestioned assumption, and this assumption is based on a face value reading of Exodus 23:20-23, along with Num. 20:16 and perhaps Is. 63:9. It is also in vogue to assert quite confidently that this angel is none other than the Son of God himself in his pre-incarnate state.

I propose that a careful reading of the scriptures does not substantiate this assumption and that the asumption is therefore false. I assert that Moses alone was commissioned to deliver the people of Israel from Egypt and to conduct them to the promised land. I further submit that the three passages cited above are, in fact, speaking about Moses.

Now I know that this is a bold proposal and that it would seem that I am kicking against the pricks, being at odds with so many scholars and expositors, both Christian and Jewish. I ask only that you give me a fair hearing and look carefully at the evidence I present in this article.

Preliminary Considerations

The first objection that one might raise to my proposal is that the verse states that God said he was sending an angel to lead the people. Well, yes, that is what most English versions say, but it is not necessarily what is meant by the Hebrew word used in this text. The Hebrew word translated as ‘angel’ in this passage, and indeed in every passage where our English versions read ‘angel’, is malak. The most basic meaning of this word is messenger, and there is nothing in the etymology of the word that denotes a heavenly being of any sort. The word malak does not refer to the ontology of the one so designated but rather to his job description. The word, in and of itself, simply denotes one who is sent by a superior to accomplish some specified task, and in this regard the malak acts as the agent of the one who sent him, whether the malak is a celestial or a human being. That the term malak is applied to human persons in the scriptures, in various categories, can be easily established from the following passages:
1. low-level messengers – Gen. 32:3, 6; Num. 20:14; 21:21; 22:5; 24:12; Joshua 7:22; Judg. 6:35; 7:24; 9:31; 11:12-19; and many dozens more throughout the OT
2. the two men sent to spy out Jericho – Joshua 6:17, 25
3. prophets – 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Is. 44:26; Haggai 1:13; Mal. 3:1
4. priests – Malachi 2:7; Ecc. 5:6
5. God’s servants – Is. 42:19; Job 4:18

When translators come across the word malak in the Hebrew text, if the passage is clearly referring to human messengers of some kind, they will typically translate it as ‘messenger’ or ‘ambassador’ or ‘envoy’. When the context clearly is referring to a heavenly being they will translate it as ‘angel’. The problem is that there are texts in which the term malak is ambiguous and it could be referring to either a human or a heavenly being. In almost all such passages translators typically opt for ‘angel’ instead of ‘messenger’, assuming a non-human or divine agent. But this could be misleading; what if they are wrong in this assumption? In fact, I believe that to be the case in the following passages: Judg. 2:1; 5:23; Ex. 23:20; Num. 20:16; Is 63:9; Hosea 12:4: Mal. 3:1 (both times). There may be other passages besides these in which the ambiguous use of malak may refer to a human agent rather than a heavenly being.

It is typically when a malak or malakim are sent by men, that it is clear that the text is speaking of human agents, and so it is translated as messenger or something similar. The problem of ambiguity arises though, when Yahweh is the sender, for Yahweh uses both human and non-human agents to accomplish his purposes. So the phrase “the malak Yahweh” is typically translated as “the angel of Yahweh”, except in two passages where it is clear that human agents are in view – Haggai 1:13 and Mal. 2:7. Most versions translate these passages as the messenger of Yahweh. But this shows that there may be other uses of the phrase “malak Yahweh” that refer to men, though the text is not clear. We cannot just assume the phrase refers to heavenly beings in every case but must be open to the possibility that it might refer to a human agent, unless something in the immediate context precludes that possibility. If you can read a passage where the phrase occurs and replace ‘the angel of Yahweh’ with ‘the prophet of Yahweh’ and the passage can still make sense, then you should be open to that possibility.

Likewise, when we encounter in Yahweh’s speech “my angel” (Heb. malaki), we should not simply assume it’s a reference to a heavenly being. In fact, in a very well known verse where malaki occurs, everyone agrees that it refers to a human agent – Mal. 3:1. In the NT this passage is applied to John the baptizer in Matt. 11:10; Mk. 1:2; Lk. 7:27, showing that, from the perspective of 1st century Jews, the term malaki can apply to human agents. In the remainder of this article I will refer to what we call ‘angels’ as divine agents.

History Of Interpretation

One of the surprising discoveries that I made in my research is that, though the most prevalent modern Christian understanding of Ex. 23:20-23 sees the malak sent by God as a celestial being, even as the pre-incarnate Christ, this was not the case in the early interpretation of this text. The predominate view, at least from the mid second century until the time of Augustine in the early fifth century, was that the malak of Ex. 23:20 was a reference to Joshua, the successor of Moses1.

Now someone may ask, “Well how does that help your case that it refers to Moses?” Good question! What it shows, first off, is that there were commentators who didn’t just assume the malak in Ex. 23:20 to be a divine being; they were able to see the malak as a human agent. Of course, I think they were wrong to identify the malak as Joshua instead of the more obvious choice of Moses. Their identification of the malak as Joshua was due to an underlying presupposition and a misguided interpretation of the phrase “my name is in him.” These early church fathers (ECF) held that the man Jesus pre-existed his birth from Mary as the Logos/Son, a second god who was emanated out from and numerically distinct from the Father, the only unbegotten God, the Maker of all things. They also held that it was not possible for the Supreme God, the Father, to make himself seen upon the earth. Therefore, whenever scripture spoke of God appearing and speaking to men they held that this was actually Jesus in a pre-incarnate visible manifestation. So the reason they did not think the malak in Ex.23:20 referred to the Son is because they thought the one speaking to Moses was the Son. Then based on the phrase “my name is in him” they assumed that the malak had the same name as the Son who was speaking to Moses, i.e. Joshua, which is equivalent to the Greek name Jesus. I will show later the better way to interpret this phrase, but for now, let it suffice to say that they were wrong in both their underlying presupposition and their understanding of this phrase. There are no further extant comments in Christian literature on this passage until modern times.

Medieval rabbinic interpretation of the passage is varied, with no one proposal becoming predominate. Ibn Ezra and R. Chananel said the malak was the angel Michael; Rashi said it was the angel Metatron. Ramban refers it to the angel Gabriel. Other rabbis taught that the malak refers to a prophet. Among these are Rambam, Ralbag, the Rosh, R. Asher and the even the earlier 2nd century tannaitic rabbi Shimon Yohai. Though they did not explicitly state it referred to Moses, it is believed that this is what they meant, since the continuing narrative knows of no other prophet but Moses leading and addressing the Israelite community with commands from God.

Modern Christian exegesis is nearly unanimous in seeing the malak as the pre-incarnate Son of God, but this is obviously for reasons theological rather than exegetical. Yet there are some modern exegetes who see the malak as Moses, e.g. Stefan Kurle in his 2013 work The Appeal of Exodus noted:

But several observations suggest that Moses, and not some supernatural being or manifestation, is meant here. Firstly, communicating the divine word, as described in Exod. 23:22, is something only Moses does in the account of Exodus.

R. Alan Cole in his Exodus commentary admits that “it could be argued that Moses or Joshua was originally intended here” but then opts for a supernatural messenger based on the verses that follow (we’ll address this later). William Propp in his Exodus commentary notes that some take the malak as a prophet, and if so then Moses would be the obvious candidate. J. G. Janzen also sees the malak as Moses.

Among modern Jewish exegetes who see Moses as the malak of Ex. 23:20 we have Hertz, Brichto and Kalisch. Of course, there may be more that I am unaware of.

Moses As Malak

The question now before us is this: Do the scriptures designate Moses as a malak? To this I answer yes. But even if Moses was never explicitly given this designation in scripture this would not preclude his being such. The better question would be: Can Moses legitimately be called a malak of God? This can be answered in the affirmative and shown to be true by two simple syllogisms:

1. Prophets are malakim of God – 2 Chron. 36:15-16; Is. 44:26; Hag. 1:13; Mal. 3:1
2. Moses is a prophet – Num. 12:6-7; Deut. 34:10-12; Hosea 12:13
3. Moses is a malak of God

Similarly, we could reason:
1. God’s servants are malakim of God- Is. 42:19; 44:26; Job 4:18
2.Moses is a servant of God – Num. 12:7-8; Deut. 34:5
3.Moses is a malak of God

Besides this simple logic, I believe there are passages in which Moses is designated as a malak, though they are somewhat ambiguous. These are the three verses noted above in the first paragraph of this article – our study passage Ex. 23:20-23, Num. 20:16 and Is 63:9. One of the objections I have seen to Moses being the malak in either Ex. 23:20 or Num. 20:16 is that Moses is nowhere called a malak. But this is simply begging the question, for it merely assumes out of hand that neither passage is referring to Moses. I will now attempt to show that this assumption is invalid.

Let’s look first at Num. 20:14-16:

Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying: This is what your brother Israel says: You know all about the hardships that have come upon us. Our forefathers went down to Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our fathers, but when we cried out to Yahweh, he heard our cry and sent an agent (malak) and brought us out of Egypt.

Incredibly, every commentator who mentions that Moses could not be the malak in this verse, does so because, they say, Moses is the one speaking these words, and so cannot be referring to himself in the third person. But this is a rather vacuous objection. Yes, Moses sends the messengers with the specific message but the message is from the perspective of the Israelite people as a whole, not from Moses, as the above underlined portion shows. Therefore, it is Israel who says, “we cried out to Yahweh, he heard our cry and sent an agent and brought us out of Egypt.” Nothing in this statement, on it’s face, would rule out Moses as the agent. In fact, we have every reason to conclude it does refer to Moses, regardless of the fact that all English versions, with the exception of the NET and YLT, translate malak here as angel, implying a divine agent. Exodus 3:7-12 describes Moses’ commission:

The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the region of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. And now indeed the cry of the Israelites has come to me, and I have also seen how severely the Egyptians oppress them. So now go, and I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, or that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He replied, “Surely I will be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you: When you bring the people out of Egypt, you and they will serve God on this mountain.”

When we compare this passage with Num. 20:16 we can see a clear correlation between them. In both passages God hears the cry of the Israelites and responds by sending an agent to bring them out of Egypt {see also 1 Sam. 12:8}. If we know that the agent is Moses in Ex. 3 why should we assume a different agent in Num. 20. There is no good reason not to take the agent in Num. 20:16 to be Moses. Moses (with the help of Aaron) alone was sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, as many verses attest – Ex. 3:10, 12; 14:11; 17:3; 32:1, 7, 23; 33:1; Deut. 9:12; 1 Sam. 12:6-8; Acts 7:34-36.

Let’s look next at Ex. 23:20-23. In this passage, we, once again, see a correlation of the language with other passages that we know are speaking of Moses. First, we have established that Moses can legitimately be designated a malak. Next, Ex. 23:20 states that God is “sending a malak before you,” i.e before the people of Israel. The phrase send before you in Hebrew is shalach lapaneka. Sometimes this phrase can denote someone going ahead of someone else, to arrive somewhere before them. But the phrase can also denote to be before someone as their leader, and this is what it means here. Did God appoint a divine agent to be the leader of the Israelites or did he appoint Moses? The best way to answer that question is with scripture itself:

“Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses . . .”

Micah 6:4

Note that the phrase “sent before you” (shalach lapaneka) is the exact phrase found in Ex. 23:20 and it is explicitly in reference to Moses2. While most versions simply translate this phrase literally, some versions do translate the idiom:

Complete Jewish Bible – ” I sent Moshe, Aharon and Miryam to lead you.”
CEV – “I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to be your leaders.”
GW, GNT, NET – ” I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.”
The Message – “I sent Moses to lead you— and Aaron and Miriam to boot!”
NCB – ” I sent as your leaders Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
NIV – “I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.”

So here we have an explicit statement that Moses was sent before the Israelites i.e to lead them {see also Ex. 32:3 and 33:12}, the exact statement made about the malak in Ex. 23:20.

Next, we note that the assigned task of this malak was to shamar the people. The word has a wide range of meaning which includes to keep, to guard, to have charge of, to watch over.  The word is used to express the activity of a shepherd, i.e. to keep the sheep. This coincides with Moses being designated as “the shepherd of [Yahweh’s] flock” {Is. 63:11; Ps. 77:20}. Now is there any passage of Scripture that applies this word to Moses in his commissioned task of leading Israel? Yes, Hosea 12:13:

And by a prophet Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt and by a prophet he (Israel) was kept (Heb. shamar).

This verse is clearly speaking of Moses and describes his commission with the same term as that in our text. In fact, Hosea 12:13 may be directly referencing Ex. 23:20. Here Moses is also called a prophet and we have already established that a prophet is a malak of God. If this text, which we know is referring to Moses, would have instead said, “And by a malak Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt and by a malak he was kept,” then every commentator and expositor would claim that God did these things by a supernatural being i.e. an angel, but it would still be referring to Moses.

The next thing said about this malak is that he would bring the people to the place God prepared for them, i.e. the promised land. One objection to Moses being the malak is that he did not bring the people into the land. But once again, this is a vacuous argument. Five unambiguous passages establish that this was initially part of Moses’ assigned task – Ex. 33:1, 12; Num. 11:12; 27:12-17; Deut. 10:11. It certainly was God’s original intention for Moses to bring the people into the land but he was later denied entrance into the land due to dishonoring the Lord at the waters of Meribah {Num. 20:12}. The task of bringing them into the land was then given to Joshua instead. At the point in the narrative when Ex. 23:20 occurs Moses was still the one appointed to bring them into the land, so the fact that he did not bring them in cannot be used to conclude that Moses is not the malak. Moses did, in fact, bring them to the border of the promised land but then died before the people entered the land.

The next thing said about the malak is that the people must “take heed before him and listen to his voice. That this is what the people were required to do in regard to prophets or leaders whom God appointed over them is rather self-evident. When anyone was appointed by God to speak for him, the people were required to listen to his words and obey them {Num. 27:18-20; Deut. 11:13; 12:28; 18:15-19; Joshua 1:16-18; Jer. 26:4-6}. The people were required to listen to the voice of this malak, but we never see anywhere in the remaining narrative where the people are given verbal commands by a divine agent; but we do see, repeatedly, Moses giving the people commands and instructions. Now would it not be odd if in the whole narrative of the exodus we never see that the people are instructed by God to obey the words of Moses? Indeed, Ex. 23:20-23 may be the one place where the people are enjoined to do so.

If we look at the narrative leading up to Ex. 23:20-23, we see in Ex. 20 that God spoke to the people directly by audible voice, but the people were afraid and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will obey. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” {Ex. 20:19}. In Deut. 5:23-28 we find out that God said that what the people proposed was good. Then God gives a lengthy amount of commands and instructions to Moses, from Ex. 21 -23, which he is to tell the people for God, and 23:20-23 falls within these instructions. Therefore, we should understand Ex. 23:20-23 as God instructing the people that he is sending Moses to lead them to the promised land and that they should obey everything he says since he will be speaking on God’s behalf.

Next, we read, . . . do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.” Here we have two statements that give assurance to those who see the malak as either a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ or simply as a visible manifestation of God. First, they suppose, based on the statement “he will not pardon your transgressions,” that this malak has the authority to forgive the people’s sins, and hence must be a divine person. Second, they think the statement, “my name is in him,” implies the malak is divine in nature. Neither of these assumptions is actually derived from the text itself, but are based on presuppositions held by the commentators and read onto the text. The first is easily dismissed, for the text actually says “he will not forgive your transgressions.” It is assumed that this means he has the prerogative to forgive but will choose not to forgive. But this is merely an assumption on their part. The grammar can just as readily mean that the malak will not forgive because he is not authorized to, it is not part of his job description or he is not able to do so. The phrase consists of the negative particle lo (not) followed by the Qal imperfect form of nasa (will forgive). That this construction need not imply the ability to perform the stated action can be seen by the use of the same or similar construction in other passages, such as Num. 14:30; 20:24; Is. 46:7; Jer. 34:3. In each of these passages the imperfect verb implies an inability to perform the stated action instead of a volitional act to not do so. Therefore, it is not necessary to take this statement as an assertion of an ontological ability which this malak possesses, but as a statement of what the malak is not authorized or able to do.

The second statement, “my name is in him,” is a bit more involved. Of course, it could imply what the majority of commentators think it implies, i.e. that this malak has a divine nature, but nothing in the text itself demands this. This understanding seems to derive simply from the presupposition that the malak is a manifestion of the pre-incarnate Word. Some, like Dr. Michael Heiser, appeal to what is termed “the Name theology” to show that the verse means that the angel just is Yahweh himself, yet not the invisible Yahweh but the visible one i.e. the Son of God. But this is reading way to much into this phrase. A simpler way to understand the phrase is that this malak speaks and acts as God’s representative, by authority from him, and therefore, the people must obey what he instructs them to do. In effect, what this malak says is just what God is saying, and if the people disobey what the malak says then they are actually disobeying God himself. This is why the malak cannot just forgive the people if they rebel against him, because to rebel against the malak is to sin against God, not the malak. Now, this understanding of the phrase does not require that the malak be divine in nature or even a non-human agent. These things could be said about any and all human representatives of God.

We can actually see this play out in the narrative of the desert wandering, where at various times people grumble against Moses and God takes it as sin against himself and brings some sort of punitive judgment in response {Ex. 16:1-11; Num. 12:1-15; 14:1-38; 16:1-50}. Exodus 16 illustrates this well. In v.2 it says, “The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” Then in v. 7 Moses tells them, “in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” In all of these cases Moses is not able to just forgive the people for grumbling against him, because in reality they had rebelled against God, who appointed Moses as his representative before the people. In some cases, when God’s judgment had come upon the people, Moses would plead with God to forgive them or had Aaron make atonement for the people, but only God could forgive their rebellion.

That the malak speaks for God is further confirmed by the next statement in the passage, “Indeed, if you carefully obey him and do everything that I say, then I’ll be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” Note that to obey the malak is to obey what God says. Incredibly, some actually take this statement as further proof that the malak is God. But this conclusion is completely unnecessary. The statement need mean nothing more than what we see throughout Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers – God speaks to Moses his instructions for the people and Moses tells them what God said.

Next, we will look at Is. 63:9, which reads:

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

Here is the third passage which supposedly tells us that a divine agent delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage. The Hebrew reads malak panaw, which literally means a messenger of his face. Because this personage was sent to deliver the people of Israel and not simply bring a message, and because ‘face’ typically denotes ‘presence’, and because there is no definite article in the Hebrew text, we can translate it as an agent of his presence. Once again, there are no textual reasons to assume this malak is a divine agent, despite the vast amount of speculation by both Jewish and Christian exegetes identifying this malak as a divine agent; it is only theological predilections that lead one to that conclusion. We have already seen that human agents such as prophets and priests are designated as malak, and that Moses was a prophet and, therefore, can rightly be termed a malak. We have also seen that God commissioned Moses to “bring my people out of Egypt” {see Ex. 3:10}. Now if someone wants to make the point that there is a difference between ‘bringing’ the people out of Egypt and ‘delivering’ them, and that Moses did the former but not the later, then I would turn their attention to Acts 7:35-36:

“This same Moses—whom they rejected by saying, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ —was the man whom God sent to be both their leader and deliverer with the help of the angel who had appeared to him in the bush.”

Here we have a first century commentary on Exodus 3 which unamiguously understands Moses’ commissioned role to be that of Israel’s deliverer.

Is. 63:9 is the only occurrence of the phrase malak panaw in the Hebrew scriptures so we do not have anything to help us discern it’s meaning. But based on what we do know, i.e. that Moses can rightly be termed a malak and that he was commissioned to deliver Israel, there seems to be no good reason for assuming it cannot refer to Moses. Since scripture gives us no further illumination on the phrase, all speculation regarding this malak being Michael or Gabriel or Metatron or the Holy Spirit or the pre-incarnate Son of God, can only be driven by presuppositions, and are therefore suspect.

But in what sense is Moses the malak of Yahweh’s presence? First of all we should understand it as “an agent of his presence.”  Secondly, we should not just assume that this designation implies that this personage has a heavenly origin. The phrase may imply nothing more than that this agent has a special association with Yahweh’s presence, not necessarily his presence in heaven, but his presence in connection with his earthly people. And this is exactly the case with Moses. The phrase in question is literally “an agent of his face.”  This designation, in all probability, refers to the fact that Moses alone enjoyed a “face to face” rapport with Yahweh. This is brought out in Ex. 33:7-11, Numbers 7:89, 12:5-8 and Deut. 34:10. Yahweh’s presence was associated with the cloud that would appear at the tent of meeting. Moses would go there to speak ‘face to face’ as it were, with Yahweh. ‘Face to face’ should not be understood literally but should be taken in the sense of directly, without a dream or vision. Yahweh dispensed with these mediating forms when communicating with Moses and spoke to him directly, with audible voice, from the cloud, which was regarded as his presence. Moses continually stood before the face of Yahweh, i.e. in his presence. This is how Moses can rightly be designated “a malak of his presence.”

It is clear that Isaiah 63:9 is referencing the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and God’s care for them during the desert wandering. Verse 10 speaks of their long history of rebellion once they entered the land and of God’s judgment upon them. Verses 11-14 are given from Israel’s perspective after having undergone God’s abandonment. Israel recalls the days of old when God performed great deeds in delivering them and leading them to the land. We note that in vv. 11-14 Moses is the only agent mentioned through whom God worked to accomplish Israel’s deliverance. Therefore, it is reasonable to identify Moses with the malak mentioned in v. 9.

So I have shown how the three main passages typically understood to say that God sent a divine agent to deliver the Israelites, Ex. 23:20-23; Num. 20:16 and Is. 63:9, can reasonably be understood as referring to Moses, and that based purely on textual grounds.

Objections Answered

The first and most obvious objection that might be raised to the proposal that Ex. 23:20-23 is referring to Moses is the fact that Yahweh is speaking to Moses when he says these words. At first glance this seems like a formidable objection but not upon closer scrutiny. While it is true that Yahweh is speaking to Moses, what he is saying is not directed toward Moses but toward the Israelite community. The context of the passage goes back to chapter 20 where God appears on the mountain in fire and audibly speaks the ten commandments to the Israelites. In vv. 18-21 the people are afraid and beseech Moses to speak to them on God’s behalf and to not have God himself speak to them. It seems that God was happy with this arrangement and no longer spoke audibly and directly to the people { see Deut. 5:23-31}. In 21:1 we read:

These are the ordinances you are to set before them.

Everything written from 21:2 – 23:33 are God’s words which Moses is to relay to the Israelites; God is speaking to the Israelites in the first person. 23: 20-23 falls within this framework and should be understood as Yahweh’s words to the Israelites not to Moses. Moses is the one who is to relate Yahweh’s words to the people. We could read the passage like this to see how it makes sense:

Look, I am sending Moses before you to have charge of you on the journey … Take heed to yourselves before him and listen to his voice … Do not embitter him for he will not forgive your rebellion because my name is in him (i.e. I have commissioned and sent him).

Another objection, that supposedly confirms the first objection, is the use of the second person singular pronouns (you and your) from vv.20 -33. Surely this means that Yahweh is speaking to a single person, Moses, and so Moses can’t be the agent that Yahweh is promising to send with Moses. But this argument will not hold up. First off, all the things Yahweh says he will do in these passages cannot be said only of Moses but must be applied to all of Israel. Also, in the midst of all these singular pronouns we see a shift to plural in v.25 with the words “So you (pl.) shall serve Yahweh your (pl.) God.” It immediately shifts back to singular in the same verse with “and he will bless your (sing.) bread and water and will take away sickness from among you (sing.).” Surely this is referring not to Moses but to the whole Israelite community, which is being viewed as a single entity throughout. In fact, all of the 2nd person pronouns from vv. 26-33 are singular and all clearly refer to Israel as a people and not to Moses. This same use of singular pronouns for the Israelite community can be seen throughout the whole passage starting from Ex. 21:2 right up to 23:20. Once again, in 22:21-22, we see an abrupt change from singular to plural and then back to singular in v. 23., then back to plural in v. 24, and plural again in v. 25. I am not going to go through the whole passage; I think the point has been made sufficiently. So the use of singular pronouns in 23:20-23 cannot be made to mean that Moses, and not the Israelites, is the intended recipient of these words. This use of singular pronouns in relation to the nation of Israel is also common in the writings of the prophets.

Another objection is that there are three other passages in Exodus in which a malak is spoken of and Moses is clearly not the referent, Ex. 14:19, 32:34 and 33:2. Let’s look at each of these verses, starting with Ex. 32:34, which reads:

“But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you.

Here God is speaking to Moses, and not to the people, and he seems to be saying that a divine agent will go with him. But is this really what the text says? I want to offer an alternative translation of this verse that supports the proposal that Moses is the malak of Ex. 23:20. In the Hebrew text the word for “to” in the phrase “to the place” is el. This preposition denotes motion to or direction towards, and so the primary meaning of the word is to, unto, towards or into. But there are times when this preposition, as with all prepositions, has a meaning that goes beyond the primary meaning. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB) includes within the semantic range of el such meanings as in regard to, concerning, on account of and according to. BDB also says this:

There is a tendency in Hebrew . . . to use אֶל (el) in the sense of עַל (al); sometimes אֶל being used exceptionally in a phrase or construction which regularly, and in accordance with analogy, has עַל; sometimes, the two prepositions interchanging, apparently without discrimination, in the same or parallel sentences.

Now the word עַל (al) has as one of it’s primary meanings according to. Since el and al are sometimes interchangable and el is sometimes used in the sense of al, then I would propose reading our text as if it read al instead of el in the phrase “to the place.” On top of this, there is no word in the Hebrew text which corresponds to the word “place“. The next word in the Hebrew text after el is asher, a relative pronoun meaning which, that which, what or who. So we can translate the first part of the verse as, “But now go, lead the people according to what (or that which) . . .” The next part of the verse can then be read “I have spoken concerning you (rather than to you).” The Hebrew for “to you” is lak, which is a lamed with a second person singular suffix. BDB says that “with verbs of speaking, commanding, hearing, etc.” lak can mean concerning, about3. Rashi, in his commentary on Gen. 28:15 says regarding lak, “[when] used after the verbal form of דבר [it is] used in the sense of ‘concerning’. This verse proves that this is so, since it cannot mean ‘I have spoken to thee’ as He had never spoken to Jacob before this occasion.” It is certainly the case in our text that lak follows after the common verb for speaking, dabar. So, when we put the two parts of the verse together we get:

“But now go, lead the people according to that which I have spoken concerning you, ‘Behold, my angel shall go before you.’ “

When read like this, God is quoting himself (from Ex. 23:23) to Moses telling him to lead the people to the land, for He had told the Israelites that he would send an agent, i.e. Moses, to lead them and keep them on the journey. This would be an explicit confirmation within the same book that the malak of Ex. 23:20 is indeed Moses. Now, someone may object that no English version translates Ex. 32:34 in this way. That is true. But I would answer that this is likely due to the almost universal acceptance of the misconception that God sent a divine agent to deliver the people from Egypt and to lead them to the land. As for those commentators who think Moses is the malak of Ex. 23:20, when they comment on Ex. 32:34, they simply direct the reader back to their comment on Ex. 23:20, which certainly implies that they think Ex. 32:34 is also about Moses, though they do not say anything about the possible translation I have offered. I would also note that in the text itself God is telling Moses to lead the people, so that task is clearly given to Moses, not to a divine agent.

Now let’s look at Ex. 33:2“I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.”

Once again, God promises to send a malak before them; but is this the same malak promised in 23:20? In my opinion, it is possible to see this malak also as Moses, i.e. God is once again reiterating his promise to the people to appoint Moses as their leader. We know, even though it is not stated explicitly, that these words are being communicated to the Israelite community through Moses, based on v. 3 where God says, “because you are a stiff-necked people,” and v. 4 which says, “When the people heard these distressing words.” So yes, we can take this malak as equivalent to that of Ex. 23:20 and so equivalent to Moses. But there is another way to understand this malak, that is, as distinct from the malak of Ex. 23:20, yet not as a celestial being. Because it is through this agent that God says he will drive out the inhabitants of the land before they get there, it seems reasonable to equate this malak with what God had told the people earlier in Ex. 23:28 – “I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way.” This could also to be taken as synonymous with v. 27 – “I will send my terror ahead of you . . .” – but it is not necessary to my point. We also see this same idea reiterated later in Joshua 24:12 – “I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you . . .” Although there is debate among scholars as to what is meant by “the hornet”, some seeing it as metaphorical, some as literal, could this be the malak God promised to send in Ex. 33:2? I don’t see why not. Someone might object that we never see in the Hebrew scriptures the word malak applied to non-personal beings such as animals, or in this case, hornets. But this is simply begging the question, for this may be the one example of such a use. While it is preferable, it is not necessary to have more than one example of an unusual use of a word to establish it’s use once. For example, we have only one instance in which the word mashiach (messiah) is applied to a pagan king, Is. 45:1, yet no one argues that this passage is not applying the word mashiach to a pagan king, based on that fact. Anything that God uses to accomplish his purpose can be said to be his malak i.e. his agent, even swarms of hornets.

The final passage is Ex. 14:19“Then the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.”

It appears that what we have here is a divine agent of God, what we typically call an angel, although it may be possible to also see this malak as Moses. This is the first mention of a malak in connection with the exodus from Egypt. This malak is described as “going before the camp of Israel” i.e. in front of the camp. Now we might be able to reasonably assume that Moses was out in front of the people as they left Egypt, but we don’t have any explicit statement to that fact. It could be saying that Moses, who was in front of the camp, upon being informed that the Egyptians had pursued them {vv. 8-12}, went to the back of the camp, perhaps to assess the situation. While that cannot be ruled out, we do have this explicit statement though:

“After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Yahweh went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

Ex. 13:20-22

So it may be better to take this malak as a divine agent who is connected in some way with the pillar of cloud and of fire. It may be that the angel is producing the physical phenomena of the cloud and fire {see Ps. 104:4 LXX}, which then serves as a visible representation to the people of Yahweh’s providential care. Every other time the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire are referred to in scripture no mention is made of a malak, but the phenomena is always viewed as Yahweh’s provision of guidance and a source of light at night4. We can conclude from this that, if there was an angel involved with the pillars of cloud and fire, his presence was unknown to the Israelites and he was not the central focus of the peoples attention, but his role was merely ancillary, probably to produce the physical phenomena of the cloud and fire.

When we look closely at this account in Ex.14 we see that Moses’ role is much more pronounced. He directs the people according to God’s instructions {vv. 1-4}; he encourages the people to not be afraid but to trust in Yahweh {vv.13-14}; he stretches out his hand over the sea to divide the waters [vv. 15-16, 21-22}; and he stretches out his hand over the sea again to make the waters return, thus destroying Pharaoh’s army {vv. 26-28}. The result of Moses working as Yahweh’s agent in this way is that “the people feared Yahweh and put their trust in Yahweh and in Moses his servant.” We note that no mention is made of the people putting their trust in the angel. But why not, if indeed this angel was carrying out the role that most commentators claim for him? In fact, there is no emphasis placed upon the angel in Ex. 14:19 and his identity is subsumed in Yahweh, his actions being attributable to Yahweh himself.

So we see then, that these three passages, Ex. 14:19, 32:34 and 33:2, when read in the way I have proposed, throw serious doubt onto the commonly accepted notion that God appointed a divine agent to deliver the Isarelites from Egypt and to lead them to the promised land. On top of this, Ex. 33:12 also calls into question this widely accepted view. It reads:

“Moses said to the LORD, ‘Look, You have told me, “Lead this people up,” but You have not let me know whom You will send with me.'”

First, we note that Moses understood it to be his assigned task to lead or bring the people up to the land. Second, are we to believe that God told Moses at least three times that he was appointing a divine agent to bring the people to the land and yet Moses can say “You have not let me know whom You will send with me.” Such a scenario makes the author of Exodus contradict himself, and that within a very short space. But, if we take those three passages {Ex. 23:20-23; 32:34; 33:2} in the way I propose then it makes sense. If Moses understood himself to be the malak that God appointed to lead the Israelites to the land, and then God informs him that He will not go with Moses and the people {33:3}, then we can understand Moses’ statement in 33:12 as him appealing to Yahweh to send someone, perhaps even a divine agent, to assist him on the journey, in view of God’s absence.

One final objection must be dealt with. Some may think my proposal is weakened by Acts 7:38 – “He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.” It is assumed that the angel spoken of here is the supposed divine agent who was appointed to deliver the people from Egypt and bring them to the promised land. But even a cursory reading of the context should show the invalidity of this assumption. First, we note that the whole passage from v. 30 – v. 40 is about Moses’ commission and his carrying out of that commission. The highlight of the passage is vv. 35-36:

This same Moses they had rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge?’ God sent as both ruler and deliverer through the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and miraculous signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.

This passage clearly establishes Moses as the one who God sent to deliver the people from Egypt and to lead them. How can 7:38 support the idea that God sent a divine agent to do what v. 35 explicitly states was the sole assignment of Moses. Notice that v. 35 mentions an angel, the one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush {see v.30}. This angel was sent to represent Yahweh in His commissioning of Moses. Through the hand of is an idiom meaning by the agency of. It was by the agency of this angel that God gave Moses his commission. But this is not necessarily the same angel mentioned in v. 38. In fact, the way the passage presents the two angels is as if they are distinct5. The angel of v. 38 appears to be alluding to the belief of 1st century Jews that angels were involved in the giving of the law to Moses6. The verse says that this is the angel who spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai and from whom Moses received living words to pass on to us, i.e. the law. In Acts 7:53, later in Stephen’s speech, he says that the Jewish fathers “received the law under the direction of angels” (HCSB). This could be referring to the whole period from the call and commission of Moses in Ex. 3 to the receiving of the law by Moses on Mt Sinai in Ex. 20-31, angels being involved in both instances. In saying this Stephen is referring back to what he said in vv. 30-38. The ‘angels’ mentioned by Stephen in his speech are not said of him to have been sent to deliver the people from Egypt or to lead them to the promised land – this he attributes only to Moses {vv. 35-36}.


Let’s review what we have discovered. We have in both the Hebrew scriptures and the NT explicit statements that Moses was the one appointed by God to deliver the people from Egypt and lead them to the promised land. The passages which mention a malak being sent are ambiguous because the word can refer to both divine and human agents of God. Since we have explicit statements that Moses was sent for the same purposes that the malakim are said to be sent, it is more reasonable to assume Moses is the malak and not some divine agent sent in addition to Moses.

We have seen that in history various interpretations of the malak of Ex. 23:20 have been offered, some seeing him as a human agent and some specifically as Moses, though most have seen him (mistakenly, in my opinion) as a divine agent.

We have seen that all of the descriptions of the malak in the relevent passages could easily apply to Moses and that nothing in the language requires a divine agent.

We have seen that all possible objections to Moses being the malak can be reasonably answered.

Therefore, I submit that Moses is the malak sent by God to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and lead them to the promised land.

So what relevance does this have for believers in Yahweh and his Anointed One? I admit this is largely an academic interest, but I think it has some practical value also. First, it gets at the truth of the matter regarding how God accomplished an important element within redemptive history – the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage and their entrance into the promised land. For those who care about truth and are not content to simply let popular traditions dictate their beliefs, this proposal shows how such traditions are not always as strong in biblical support as we might think. Second, if my proposal is valid it shows how God speaks of and uses his human agents. Also my proposal takes some of the mystery out of some of the relevant passages, making them more understandable. Finally, my proposal gives unitarian Christians a reasoned, scriptural response in debates with Trinitarians who use Ex. 23:20 as a way to show that Christ pre-existed and was active in Israel’s history prior to his birth, though my proposal is not anti-trinitarian. A trinitarian can accept my proposal without denying the trinity or deity of Christ, he would merely be denying that Ex. 23:20 and other such passages are supports for those doctrines.


  1. See Justin Martyr’s Dialogue With Trypho ch. 75; Tertullian’s An Answer To The Jews ch. 9 and book 3 of Against Marcion ch. 16; Augustine’s Reply To Faustus
  2. That Micah 6:4 mentions also Aaron and Miriam as leaders of Isreal does not in any way lessen the force of my argument, for Moses clearly was the chief leader while Aaron and Miriam played an ancillary role as leaders under Moses.
  3. Examples where el has the sense of according to rather than it’s primary meaning of to, towards– Josh. 15:13; 17:4; 21:3; Ps. 2:7; 5:1; 80:1
    Examples where the lamed prefix has the sense of concerning rather than to – Deut. 33:7,8,12,13,18, 20,22, 24; Judg. 9:54; 1 Sam. 10:2; Job 42:7; Ps. 3;2; 41:5; Ezek. 44:5
  4. Ex. 13:20-22; 40:34-38; Num. 9:15-23; 14:14; Deut. 1:32-33; Neh. 9;12, 19; Ps. 78:14; 105:39
  5. V. 35 reads in Greek “. . . the angel, the one who appeared to him in the bush.” And v. 38 reads “. . . the angel, the one who spoke to him on Mount Sinai.” This seems to me that author is distinguishing between the two angels, not equating them.
  6. See. Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2

Illeism – A Response To A Stock Trinitarian Apologetic Move

In a recent online debate between a Roman Catholic apologist and a biblical unitarian apologist on the question “Is Jesus Yahweh God”, the Catholic brought up Hosea 1:7 during the section of the debate where they asked each other questions. Hosea 1:7 reads: “[Then Yahweh said] . . . But I will have pity on the nation of Judah. I will deliver them by the LORD their God; I will not deliver them by the warrior’s bow, by sword, by military victory, by chariot horses, or by chariots.” He queried the unitarian as to how many persons are in view in this passage, confidently declaring that it is “irrefutable” that two distinct persons are in view. Because the text tells us that Yahweh is the one speaking and so appropriately uses the 1st person pronoun ‘I’, but then speaks in the 3rd person of saving Israel “by Yahweh their God”, the Catholic regards this as irrefutable proof that there is more than one person who is called Yahweh. He imagines that in this text one Yahweh (God the Father) is making reference to another Yahweh (God the Son). In this brief article I will give a very simple reponse to this assertion.

It must first be noted that Hosea 1:7 is not the only passage in the Hebrew Bible in which this phenomenon is found. Other similar passages include Ex. 19:10-11, 20-22, 24; 30:11-12; 31:12, 15-17; 33:19; 34:5-7; Lev. 23:26-28; Num. 12:5-8; Josh. 24:5-7; Is. 3:16-17; Amos 4:11. There are, in fact, dozens of such passages.

So the question is: “Does this phenomenon of Yahweh or God referring to Yahweh or God in the 3rd person provide irrefutable proof that Yahweh consists of more then one person?” The question itself reveals a desperation among trintarians that is born out of a complete lack of any explicit attestation in the Hebrew Bible that God is comprised of more than one person. Their desperation reveals itself in the fact that these apologists do not even stop to consider whether there might be an alternative explanation for this phenomenon, but simply assume their own explanation based on their theological presuppositions.

A Simple Solution

The simplest explanation of this phenomenon is that it is a common and rational form of speech known as illeism. Illeism is defined as the act of referring to oneself in the third person rather than in the first person. I offer here two scholarly papers on this subject, one, a 20 page article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society from September 2009 by Andrew S. Malone titled GOD THE ILLEIST: THIRD-PERSON SELF-REFERENCES AND TRINITARIAN HINTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT; the other a 247 page 2015 dissertation by Ervin Roderick Elledge titled THE ILLEISM OF JESUS AND YAHWEH: A STUDY OF THE USE OF THE THIRD-PERSON SELF-REFERENCE IN THE BIBLE AND ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN TEXTS AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTOLOGY. Elledge’s dissertation is, of course, a much more thorough treatment of the subject. In it he shows how illeism is a common form of speech found not only of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible but also of other individuals in the OT such as David, Solomon, Jacob, Lamech, and Samuel. He shows how it is even more common in the speech of kings in the OT and documents it’s use in the speech of kings and gods in ANE literature. He also shows the different contexts in which illeism appears and the various purposes it’s use may be fulfilling.

Malone’s approach is not as detailed as Elledge’s and his purpose is to present an alternative to the “two Gods” interpretation of the phenomenon. At the outset of his paper he clearly lays out his purpose:

Since the first generations of NT believers [this phenomenon] has been employed as a significant tool for divining OT hints of the trinitarian plurality of God. It continues to be promulgated by contemporary evangelical systematicians, particularly in the influential textbooks of the last hundred years. Given the theological weight attributed by theologians to this syntactic phenomenon, coupled with renewed interest in it in the contemporary media, it is appropriate for us to critique how illeism has been used—and misused—in identifying the Trinity in OT texts. I propose that the various rhetorical uses identified by biblical and secular commentators offer a more responsible hermeneutic than do the revelatory claims made by many Christian apologists and theologians.

Malone reasons that this kind of 3rd person self-reference by Yahweh in the Hebrew scriptures is a valid and common form of speech and that “such texts can indeed be better understood as divine self-references, rather than as one God or divine Person referring to another.” While Elledge’s purpose was more research oriented he does note his agreement with Malones conclusion. This is significant in that both Elledge and Malone are orthodox trintarians and so are not biased against the idea of multiple persons in God. Malone concludes his article saying:

There are a number of questions left open. In particular, I have not offered much insight into “two Gods” texts that are not formally illeistic. Nor have I surveyed the use that the NT itself has made of such “two Gods” texts . . . Nor does a recognition of the prevalence of illeism deny either the existence of the Trinity in the OT nor the possibility of direct or indirect revelations of it there. I am simply challenging whether this particular syntactic phenomenon can bear the weight which some continue to place upon it . . . I hope to have demonstrated that the illeistic texts of Scripture may well be open to responsible and evangelical interpretations other than those often promulgated by the early Church Fathers and contemporary systematic theologians.

It is clear that Malone has a trinitarian bias, yet, as regards the phenomenon of God’s use of 3rd person self-references in the OT, he has let the evidence lead him to his conclusion, and for this he must be respected.

Jesus And Illeism

There are also examples of illeism in the NT, with Jesus’ use being the chief example (113x), predominantly in his ‘son of man’ sayings. Elledge devotes about thirty pages to Jesus’ use of illeism while Malone just a short paragraph. Elledge acknowledges the validity of Malone’s observation that:

such self-references have never been used to distinguish Jesus from another “Jesus Christ” or from another “Son of Man.” If anything, some scholars are happy to pursue a less-than-divine interpretation of the title by insisting that such a third-person phrase need be only an acceptable form of self-reference.

Some of Jesus’ use of illeism matches Yahweh’s use in the OT in that Jesus will speak of himself in a 1st person reference and then switch to speaking of himself with a 3rd person reference. For example:

Luke 22:21-22 – “But look, the hand of the one who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man is to go just as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” NET

Can anyone seriously conclude from this statement that Jesus is referring to some person other than himself in v. 22? We would be hard pressed to find any of the promoters of the “two Gods” interpretation of the comparable OT texts who would draw such a conclusion. It is simply taken for granted that, for whatever reason, Jesus is referring to himself in the 3rd person. So why isn’t the same reasoning applied to the same phenomenon when found in the speech of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible? Could it be that desperation noted earlier that is behind this kind of inconsistent exegesis?


Two facts make the assertion by the Catholic apologist – that this phenomenon of 3rd person self-references of Yahweh is irrefutable proof of more than one person in Yahweh – manifestly indefensible. First, the common and recognized form of speech called illeism provides a reasonable explanation of the phenomenon. Second, there are scholars, who are themselves biased in favor of the belief in a multiplicity of persons in God, who deny that this phenomenon can be used to support such a claim, based on the illeism.

The Glory Of Jesus In The Gospel Of John

In this study I want to examine the seven passages in the Gospel of John (GoJ) which refer specifically to glory that belongs to Jesus. The purpose of this examination is to establish whether or not such references to glory, as something which Jesus possesses, are attestations to his supposed deity or if they attest to something else. Most traditional Christians are inclined to see in these references, proofs, or at least hints, of Jesus’ deity, but is this the inescapable conclusion that must be drawn from these passages or is there a better way, within their own cultural context, to understand them? The seven passages in question are 1:14; 2:11; 12:41; 17:5; 17:10; 17:22; 17:24.

The Meaning of Glory

Before we delve into the passages, it is important for us to understand what exactly is meant by the term glory. Glory can be one of those nebulous, abstract kind of concepts that is hard to define; we think we know what it means but when we encounter the word in Scripture it doesn’t always seem to align with what we suppose it means. One reason for this is simply because the word does not have the same meaning in it’s every occurrence within scripture. The Greek word translated as glory in our seven passages is doxa. In our English versions doxa is typically translated by the word glory, but sometimes by the word praise. The lexical definitions for doxa are:
1. brightness, splendor, radiance
2. majesty, magnificance, splendor
3. fame, renown, good reputation
4. praise, honor, glory

In the Greek version of the OT (LXX), doxa most frequently translates the Hebrew word kabowd, which emcompasses all of the meanings given for doxa. One unique use of kabowd (and doxa in the LXX) is in reference to a visible manifestation of Yahweh’s presence with the phrase “the glory of Yahweh appeared . . . “ This manifestation was usually in the form of a glowing fire within a cloud {Ex. 16:10; 24:15-17; 40:34-35; Lev. 9:23; Num. 16:42; Is. 4:5}. So then we see that the word glory can denote a number of different things, and so we must pay attention to the context to determine what specific meaning should be assigned to each occurrence.

One additional meaning of glory should be noted, which is related to numbers 3 and 4. We could say that the glory of someone is those qualities or characteristics which make them praiseworthy and bring them renown. This may refer to ones deeds, status, position, unique abilities, etc. Two passages in Isaiah illustrate this meaning:

Is. 42:8 – “I am Yahweh, that is my name; I will not give my glory over to another or my praise to idols.”
Is. 48:11 – “For my own sake, for my own sake, I will act. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.”

Here God is saying that the glory that is distinctly his he will not let any others claim for their own. In the first passage my glory refers to his being the Creator (v.5) and the one who raises up his servant to accomplish his purposes (vv. 1, 6-7). In the second my glory refers to his being able to announce beforehand what he will do and his ability to then bring it to pass, something the gods of the nations cannot do. These are characteristics of Yahweh that make him worthy of praise and glory and he will not allow idols to take the credit for what he alone has done.

Incredibly, Christian apologists will sometimes appeal to these two verses when arguing for the deity of Jesus. The argument goes like this: God does not share his glory with any one else, but in John 17:5 Jesus shares glory with God, therefore Jesus must be God along with the Father. The mistake of the apologists is that they fail to understand the idiom in use in John 17:5. Since John 17:5 is one of the seven passages we will examine, I will refrain for now from commenting on it.

The Passages

John 1:14 And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, a glory as of an only one from a father, full of grace and truth.

The first point I want to make on this verse is regarding the translation. While most English versions translate the second half of the verse asthe glory of the only begotten from the Father,” there are, in fact, no definite articles in the Greek text, and so the above translation is more accurate. This translation, without the articles, is reflected in the AMPC, CEV, DARBY, YLT, NRSVUE (see also Meyer’s NT Commentary). The common translation with the articles seems to be based solely on the traditional understanding of the passage passed down from the early church fathers (ECF), for there is no reason from the text alone to include the articles. What the text is simply saying is that this person (he is yet unnamed in the text) had a glory like that of an only one (i.e. an only son) from a father.

My main focus in this article is the glory of Jesus, so I will not delve into the debate about the meaning of ho logos i.e. the word. I have written an article on the prologue of John which can be read here. Whether one believes the word to be a pre-existent divine person or a personification of God’s word (i.e. his promise of a savior), all agree that once the word becomes flesh we are speaking about a human person, the man Jesus of Nazareth. It is this human person who is the subject of the glory that was beheld by the author and his companions.

In the traditional interpretation given by ECF, not only of this passage, but of all the passages we will examine, his glory refers to Jesus’ supposed divinity. Now that interpretation is based on certain presuppositions concerning the concept of the Logos which were held by the ECF. What I am presenting here is a way to understand the passage without those presuppositions. In other words, if his glory does not refer to a supposed divinity in Jesus then what does it refer to? If it is not his supposed deity that made Jesus praiseworthy in the eyes of his disciples then what was it? To determine the answer to that question we must take a brief look at what is meant by “an only one from a father.”

The words “only one” is the translation of the Greek word monogenes. This word has been, in the past, typically translated as only begotten, but has more recently been understood to denote only, single, unique (see LSJ and Thayer’s lexicons). This would be the literal meaning of the word. If we take it in it’s literal meaning then we would have to conclude that Jesus is here being denoted as the only one who is a son, presumably of God. But what of the many NT passages that include all believers in the category of sons of God1? If believers in Messiah are designated as ‘sons of God’ then how can it be said that Jesus is the “only one?” Now, of course, the ECF, drawing on their education in Greek metaphysics, answered that question by postulating that Jesus was the Logos of Platonic and Stoic philosophy, an emanation out of the Supreme God’s own divinity. This later developed into the doctrine of the eternally begotten, i.e. generated, son of God. But no text of scripture ever says anything like that, and I do not approach this text with the same presuppositions held by the ECF. The question before us, therefore, is in what sense is the man Jesus of Nazareth portrayed as an “only one” in relation to God?

Like many words, in every language, monogenes has not only it’s literal meaning but also a figurative meaning. This figurative meaning can be shown by the interrelationship between monogenes in the LXX and the Hebrew word yachid, and between yachid and another Greek word, apagetos, meaning beloved one. The Hebrew word yachid is a straightforward equivalent to the Greek word monogenes, both meaning only one. We can see this clearly in Gen. 22:2, 12, and 16 where the phrase “your son, your only one” is repeated. This is said in reference to Abraham’s son Isaac, who was, in fact, not Abraham’s only son, because Ishmael was born to Abraham prior to Isaac. Now, the interesting thing is that we might have expected the translators of the LXX to translate yachid in these verses by monogenes, as they did in Judges 11:34, but they didn’t. Instead the use the word agapetos, i.e. beloved one. What they were doing was translating not the literal meaning of yachid but the figurative meaning which would denote someone special and dear. So the LXX has Gen. 22:2,12 and 16 as “your son, your beloved one”. In a similar vein the JPS Tanach (1985) has “your son, your favored one,” favored one being their translation of yachid. Zechariah 12:10 is another example of the figurative use of yachid. The Hebrew reads literally, “they will mourn for him as one mourns for the only one, and grieve for him as one grieves for the firstborn.” Once again, the LXX translates this as “as one mourns for a beloved one (Gr. apagetos)” and the JPS as “wailing over them as over a favorite son.” Observe also that yachid is set in parallel to the term ‘firstborn’ in this passage, which further supports the figurative meaning of yachid. A firstborn son, while not necessarily an only son, is certainly beloved and favored. So we note that both the LXX and the JPS Tanach are taking yachid in it’s figurative sense in these passages.

What I propose for John 1:14 is that the author is thinking Hebraically in using monogenes as one would use yachid when writing in Hebrew, but that he expects his readers to understand it in the figurative sense rather than the literal sense. Further evidence that John may be using monogenes in it’s figurative sense is the fact that the synoptic gospels portray Jesus’ relationship to God predominately by the term “beloved son” {Matt. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Mk. 1:11; 9:7; 12:6; Lk. 3:22; 20:13} but never by the term monogenes. Whereas John uses monogenes but never apagetos. Could it be that John’s monogenes is equivalent to the synoptic’s apagetos? The figurative meaning would be something like special, beloved, favored, privileged. So from this perspective the text would be saying that the glory of this one is like the glory of a specially favored one of a father. More proof that this is what John had in mind is found in 1:18, where the monogenes son2 is said to be “in the bosom of the Father.” Despite the fact that ECF tended to see in this statement some eternal metaphysical or ontological relationship between the Father and son, this language may simply be nothing more than an idiom expressing the the dearness and the place of special privilege this son, over all others, possesses in relation to God3. We saw earlier that yachid in the Hebrew text of Zech. 12:10 and agapetos in the LXX were parallel to firstborn, which denotes a privileged position over other siblings in relation to a father. This is consistent with Paul’s understanding as laid out in Romans 8 where from v. 14 – 25 he speaks of the sonship of believers and in v. 29 concludes that “he (i.e. the son) should be the firstborn among many brothers.”

So the glory of this one, which was beheld by his disciples, was the glory of a specially loved and particularly privileged Israelite, who held a special place in God’s purposes for Israel. His status with God was above that of every other Israelite. Therefore, the way they beheld his glory was in all the ways this special privileged status was made manifest in Jesus’ life; in the fact that he was given the spirit of God, which was demonstrated in the wisdom he displayed as well as in the miracles he performed, in his willingness to lay down his life on behalf of the nation, in his resurrection from the dead prior to and apart from the resurrection of the righteous, in his ascension into heaven, in the fact that he shall reign as king over the house of Israel on the throne of David. All of this together is the glory of this monogenes son, for which he is worthy of glory and honor.

John 2:11Jesus performed this first sign in Cana of Galilee. He displayed His glory, and his disciples believed in him.

In performing this first of his miracles, Jesus displayed his glory to his disciples. This shows that the ability to perform miracles was one aspect of what made Jesus praiseworthy. Whereas the glory in 1:14 encompassed all he accomplished in his ministry and beyond, here the glory is limited to his ability to perform miracles. That this ability did not, in the minds of his disciples, translate to Jesus being himself divine is evident in what Luke records in two places:

“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . .” ESV

“Fellow Israelis, listen to these words: Jesus from Nazareth was a man authenticated to you by God through miracles, wonders, and signs that God performed through him among you, as you yourselves know.” ISV

Luke 24:19 and Acts 2:22

What this means is that Jesus is worthy of glory and honor not because he is God who has somehow become man, but because he is a man whom God has chosen and exalted and upon whom God has set his seal of approval.

John 12:41Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke
about him.

Christian apologists often employ this verse and it’s context as a proof-text for the deity of Jesus. They imagine that John is saying that Isaiah saw Jesus when he had the vision recorded in Is. 6:1-2. The Hebrew text says that Isaiah saw Yahweh and so John must be equating Jesus with Yahweh. In actuality, John said nothing like that. I have already written an article on this very passage, so I will not rehash the whole thing here. Here is a link to the article : Why John 12:37-41 Is Not A Prooftext For The Deity Of Jesus. Let me simply state here that Isaiah most certainly saw, by revelation and vision, the glory that would come to the Messiah. The glory spoken of in this passage refers to the exaltation of the Messiah after his sufferings per Is. 52:13-15.

John 17:5Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with
you before the world existed

Once again, we have here a passage which is often used as a proof-text by apologists for the deity of Jesus. It appears that Jesus is asking the Father to return to him the glory that he formerly had with him prior to his incarnation; I say ‘appears’ because only if one holds a certain presuppositions will the verse seem to say this. But if one does not hold to these presuppositions concerning the nature of Jesus the verse can still make perfect sense within the cultural context in which it was written. I spoke of this passage earlier in the article and noted the apologists’ failure to recognize the idiom in use in this passage. First I will offer two translations in which the meaning of the idiom is given, then I will explain the idiom. Here are the translations:
Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory you have
predestined for me before the world existed.

Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory you have
had in store for me before the world existed.

Either of these translations expresses the meaning of the idiom Jesus used. When a ancient Israelite wanted to express the thought that God had some blessing or reward laid up in store for him, one way to do so was to say that the reward or blessing was his but that it was with God, the idea being that it would be bestowed upon him at the appointed time. Another example of this idiom is found in Matt. 6:1 where the Greek text reads literally “you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” While some versions retain the idiom most translate the idiom as “you will have no reward from your Father. . .,” putting the receiving of the reward from the Father in the future. Is. 49:4 conveys the same thought:

But I myself said: I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and futility; yet my vindication is with the LORD, and my reward is with my God. – HCSV

Now look how the NET translates the idiom to a future tense:

But I thought, “I have worked in vain; I have expended my energy for absolutely nothing.” But the LORD will vindicate me; my God will reward me. – NET

The idea of having something with God before the world began which is then later received as an actual possession is seen in passages like 2 Tim. 1:9b and Romans 5:2:

. . .  the grace that was given to us in the Messiah Jesus before time began.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand . . .

It is evident that this grace which was given to us before the ages of time was only given to us in prospect, in the plan and intention of God, for none of us actually existed at that time. Only later, at some point in time, did we actually receive this grace as an actual possession. The glory that Jesus asked of the Father was the glory that had been given him in prospect before the world existed, in the predestined plan and intention of God, and to be actually experienced by Jesus only after his suffering. This glory speaks of his resurrection to immortality and his subsequent exaltation to the position of ruler over God’s kingdom.

John 17:10All that is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine, and I have
been glorified through them

Jesus is here referring to his followers. Some of them had been faithful followers of Yahweh and were given by God to the Messiah to be his disciples. Some had just recently repented through Jesus’ preaching and became his followers and thus belonged to God. But whatever the case, Jesus had been glorified in them, i.e. in the fact that they accepted that he was from God and followed him. So the glory spoken of here pertains to the honor that came to Jesus by the fact that men were willing to follow him at great cost to themselves.

John 17:22 – The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be
one just as we are one.

Now this passage is not typically employed by apologists as a proof-text for the deity of Jesus, but since it deals with a glory that belongs to Jesus I have included it in this study. This statement by Jesus is somewhat enigmatic and so we have to get more of the immediate context to rightly interpret what is being said, paying careful attention to the idioms and figures of speech which pervade this whole chapter. If we back up to v. 18 we read, “As you have sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” Jesus is speaking of his immediate disciples, the 12 apostles. He says that he has sent them into the world, but what does this mean? First of all, it shows that Jesus’ being “sent into the world” does not entail that he pre-existed somewhere outside of this world and was then sent into this world. He says that his sending them into the world is just as the Father’s sending of him into the world. This implies that whatever it means in the one case it must mean in the other. We have here an another idiom. To be sent into the world is idiomatic for being commissioned to openly and publicly proclaim a message. This is what being “sent into the world” means for both Jesus and his apostles; Jesus being commissioned by the Father and the apostles being commissioned by Jesus. That this is what Jesus means by this idiom is confirmed by v. 20 where Jesus speaks of “those who will believe in me by means of their message,” i.e. the message they were commissioned to openly and publicly declare. Jesus goes on, in v. 21, to ask the Father that “all of them” i.e. the apostles and all who believe through their preaching, “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” The later half of that verse is an idiom expressing oneness of will and purpose. For two persons to be in each other simply means they are one. So Jesus’ statement amounts to saying ,“that all of them may be one, Father, just as you and I are one” {see v. 11}. That this is not referring to some kind of ontological oneness is seen in what Jesus says next, “May they also be in us,” i.e. may they be one with us. Jesus is praying that the disciples would not only be one among themselves but one with himself and the Father. This oneness involves a unity of will and purpose, with each participant fulfilling his part. The Father has a will and purpose to exalt the son; the son must willingly submit to the Father’s planned means for him to attain this exaltation i.e. death; and the disciples must acknowledge and submit to the exaltation of the son. This oneness would result in the world i.e. the unbelieving among the Israelites, believing that Jesus was indeed the Messiah

Now we come to our passage in v. 22. There are two ways to understand Jesus’ past tense verb “I have given them” – either literally, i.e. he had already given them the glory that God had given him, or proleptically, i.e. he is speaking of something yet future as if it is already done. Also, the glory that was given to Jesus by the Father must be understood in either of these two ways. I contend that Jesus is speaking proleptically of the glory that will be given to him in the resurrection and his subsequent exaltation,the same glory he asked of the Father in v. 5, which had been predetermined for him from before the foundation of the world. Jesus wants his disciples to experience the same glory i.e. resurrection to immortal life and to be co-rulers with him in the kingdom of God. Jesus can speak of his having already given them this glory because it is in his intention and will to do so {see Jn. 5:21, 28-29}.

John 17:24 – Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,
so that they can see my glory, which you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

This passage solidifies my contention regarding v.22 being proleptic in nature. If Jesus were speaking of glory that was actually given to him during his ministry, as in God performing miracles through him, this would be a glory that the disciples had already beheld {see 1:14}. But Jesus seems to be referring to a glory which his disciples had yet to behold and this must refer to the glory in which he will appear the second time {see Matt. 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7-10}. For now Jesus’ disciples acknowledge and confess his glory by faith, calling him Lord, but then we shall see him in all his glory and our faith will be turned to sight.

This glory, which was still in the future when Jesus said these words, had already been given to him in the mind and plan of God before the foundation of the world. If you think this sounds too strange, I remind you of 2 Tim. 1:9 where Paul says that grace was given to believers before the ages of time {see also Eph. 1:4-6} That something can be given to someone in the mind and plan of God before the world began does not necessitate that persons actual existence before the world began. That Jesus could be loved before the foundation of the world simply means that he was foreknown and chosen in the plan and purpose of God, but then made manifest at a point in human history {1 Pet. 1:20}.


So we have seen that there is nothing in these texts themselves that demand us to understand the glory of Jesus in the gospel of John to be the glory of divinity. It is merely tradition that dictates that perspective, a tradition inherited from ECF, based upon an interpretation which they derived from reading scripture through the lens of their former education in Greek metaphysics. When the passages are read in their own cultural setting, taking into account idioms and figures of speech then current, they make good sense from the perspective of a purely human Jesus.


  1. Matt. 5:9, 45; Lk. 6:35; Rom. 8:14, 19; 2 Cor. 6:18; Gal. 3:26; 4:6-7; Heb. 2:10; 12:6-7; Rev. 21:7 – these verses use the Greek word huios (a son) for believers.
    John 1:12; 11:52; Rom. 8:16-17, 21; 9:8; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 2:15; 1 Jn. 3:1-2, 10; 5:2 – these verses use the Greek word technon (a child).
  2. In verse 18 we have a famous textual variant. Did the text originally read “only-begotten son” or “only-begotten God” ? While the vast majority of Greek manuscripts read “son”, three early and weighty witnesses support “God”. Quotations of the verse in church fathers is a mixed bag. Most have “son”, some have “God”, and a few even quote the verse both ways. I don’t think manuscripts or church fathers are going to resolve the issue. I take the original reading to be “only-begotten son” because this designation is given to Jesus three other times in John’s writings {John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9} while “only-begotten God” never shows up again. Another reason I prefer the “son” reading is that to me “only-begotten God” always did have a gnostic ring to it. There is evidence that the Valentinians used this designation for the Arche within their system, along with Son.
  3. See also Deut. 13:6; 28:54, 56; Is. 40:11

The Immortality Of the Soul – Truth Or Myth (Part 3) : The Spirit Of Man

In the first two parts of this study, we examined both the Hebrew Bible (HB) and the NT to discover the biblical concept of the soul. We concluded that the soul of man is not a distinct component of his nature which lives on in sentient consciousness after death. We saw that both the Hebrew word nephesh and the Greek word psuche have a varied semantic range which does not include the idea of an immaterial immortal part of man as distinct from the body, which survives the death of the body. We saw that this concept of the soul is of pagan origin and found it’s way into the thinking of Christendom through the influence of Greek education upon the early Gentile church fathers.

But scripture also speaks of spirit in relation to man. Is spirit another component of man’s nature? Are human beings made up of three constituent parts – a spirit, a soul and a body? Based on some passages of scripture {1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 4:12} this might appear to be the case. Is there a distinction between soul and spirit, and if so what is it? These are the questions we will seek to answer in this study.

Let’s first take a look at how the concept of man’s spirit is understood in differing Christian circles.

GotQuestions.Com defines the human spirit as “the incorporeal part of man.” But this is basically how they also define the human soul. In their answer to the question, “What is the difference between the soul and spirit of man” they further define the spirit as “the immaterial part of humanity that connects with God.” In their answer they do maintain a distinction and separability of the soul from the spirit.

One popular belief is that the spirit is the part of man that experiences the ‘new birth’ when one receives Christ. The spirit in man is said to be dead, separated from God, until it is born again, receiving new life. It is believed then that it is the spirit of man that possesses eternal life. Some Christian teachers regard the spirit of a man as the real person, i.e. man is basically a spirit being who has a soul (which enables him to engage the world on an emotional and psychological level) and lives in a body (by which he engages the world on a physical level). These views are expressing a belief that man has a tripartite nature – a spirit, soul and body.

Others see man as consisting of only two constituent parts – soul and body. In this view there is no real distinction between spirit and soul; they are just different ways of saying the same thing. This dichotomist view typically sees the spirit/soul as the immaterial part of man that consciously survives the death of the body. This view is expressly espoused in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“The bodies of men, after death, return to dust and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them; the souls of the righteous are received into the highest heaven and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell. Besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.”


Most of these popular views see the spirit of man as a independent, self-conscious entity in it’s own right; the soul and body, in a trichotomy, or just the body, in a dichotomy, being only necessary for proper intercourse in the natural or material world. It must be noted that the idea that the human spirit is the true self which has a kind of immortal existence has also been a prominent belief in most religious systems, such as Hinduism, Islam, various forms of Gnosticism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism, Reincarnation, Wicca, Hermeticism, ancient Egyptian religion, New Age/esotericism, Vodou, and many others.

The Spirit Of Man In The Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew scriptures there are two words which are translated as ‘spirit‘ in connection with humans, and these two words are very closely related. The first is neshamah, whose primary meaning is a blast of air, and hence it’s most literal and predominate meaning in the HB is breath. The second word is ruach, which denotes the movement of air, and hence it’s most literal meaning in the HB is breath and wind. When these words are used to convey the idea of ‘spirit’ in the HB they are being used figuratively. These two words are used as synonyms as the following verses show:

Job 4:9 – “By the blast (neshamah) of God they perish and by the breath (ruach) of his anger they are consumed.”

Job 27:3 – “As long as my breath (neshamah) is in me, and the breath (ruach) from God in my nostrils . . .”

Job 32:8 – “Truly a spirit (ruach) it is in man, the breath (neshamah) from the Almighty enables him to understand.”

Job 33:4 – “The spirit (ruach) of God has made me, and the breath (neshamah) of the Almighty gives me life.”

Job 34:14-15 – “If he set his heart to do so, and gathered to himself his spirit (ruach) even his breath (neshamah), all flesh together would perish and man would return to the dust.”

Psalm 18:15 – “The valley of the seas were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Yahweh, from the blast (neshamah) of the breath (ruach) of your nostrils.”

Is. 42:5 – “Thus says the God Yahweh, who created the heavens and . . . the earth . . . who gives breath (neshamah) to the people upon it and breath (ruach) to those who walk on it.”

The only passage where neshamah is translated as spirit in our English versions has to do with humanity specifically:

The spirit (neshamah) of man is the lamp of Yahweh, searching all the inner places of the belly.

Prov. 20:27

This passage is highly figurative and somewhat enigmatic. The words ‘lamp’, ‘searching’ and ‘belly’ are obviously being used figuratively, but what about neshamah; is it to be taken figuratively as ‘spirit’ or more literal as ‘breath’. Is this verse teaching something about a particular part of man’s nature? I propose that ‘the lamp of YHWH‘ should probably be understood as an ablative genitive i.e. ‘a lamp from (i.e. given by) YHWH‘. Hence the neshamah of man is a lamp given to man by YHWH. This coincides with the first mention of neshamah in the HB:

Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath (neshamah) of life, and the man became a living being.

Gen. 2:7

But how does the breath of life given to man by God act as a lamp which searches all the inward parts of the belly? Again, the whole passage must be regarded as figurative. The inner places of the belly is figurative of the motives, intentions, purposes, etc. that are hidden within a person’s heart, unseen by others and often not fully known to the person themself. But there is in man the ability to discern his own inner workings, a self-awareness by which he can know himself. This is what neshamah is figurative of in this verse. So this passage really lends no support to the idea that man has a spirit entity in his body that is the true self, which will consciously survive the death of the body.

We now move to the word ruach, which is the word that is chiefly translated as ‘spirit‘ in our English versions. We will look only at passages in which ruach relates to humans.

Ruach as Breath

Many times when ruach is used of human beings it simply refers to the breath of life which God gave to the original man and which has been transmitted to all humans through the man’s seed. This is one of it’s literal meanings. These verses are Gen. 6:17; 7:22; Num. 16:22; 27:16; Job 12:10; 27:3; 32:8; Ps. 104:29; 146:4; Eccl. 3:19-21; 12:7; Is. 38:16 (maybe figurative); 42:5; 57:16 (maybe figurative); Ezek. 37: 5,6,8,9,10. Of course, there are many verses where ruach is used also in connection with God and ‘breath‘ is the probable meaning. In all of these passages the idea of a spirit entity in man that consciously survives death is most improbable. For example, the Genesis passages speak of the “ruach of life”, which could be taken as ‘the spirit of life’, but two thing are against it. First, in 7:22 it is specifically stated that this ‘ruach of life’ is in the nostrils, hence it refers to breath. Second, in this same verse, as well as in 7:15, the phrase is applied to animals. But those who hold to the dichotomist or the trichotomist views of man would not typically say that animals have a spirit entity in them that is their real self and which survives the death of the body. But animals do share with humans the breath of life in their nostrils. This is also apparent in the Eccl. 3:19-21 passage.

Ruach as Disposition/Inclination/ State of Mind/ Temperament

Often in the HB ruach is used figuratively to denote a dominate disposition or frame of mind, or even a temporary state of mind of a person. Here are passages which reflect this meaning: Gen. 26:35; 41:8; Ex. 6:9; Num. 5:14, 30; 14:24; Deut. 2:30; Joshua 2:11; 5:1; Judg. 8:3; 9:23; 1 Kings 21:5; 1 Chron. 5:26; Job 7:11; 15:13; 21:4; 32:18; Ps. 34:18; 51:17; 77:3; 142:3; 143:4; Prov. 11:3; 14:29; 15:4, 13; 16:18, 19, 32; 17:22, 27; 18:14; 25:28; 29:23; Eccl. 7:8-9; 10:4; Is. 19:14; 28:6; 29:24; 37:7; 54:6; 57:15; 61:3; 65:14; 66:2; Jer. 51:11; Ezek. 3:14; Dan. 2:1, 3; Hosea 4:12; 5:4; Haggai 1:14; Zech. 13:2; Mal. 2:15-16.

Ruach as Mind/Will/Resolve/Motives

Another figurative use of ruach is to denote a persons thoughts, their will or an inner resolve. Here are passages with this meaning: Ex. 35:21; 1 Sam. 1:15; 1 Chron. 28:12; 2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1, 5; Job 6:4; 20:3; Ps. 32:2; 51:10, 12; 77:6; 78:8; Prov. 1:23; 16:2; 29:11; Is. 29:24; Jer. 51:1, 11; Ezek. 11:5; 19; 13:3; 18:31; 20:32; 36:26; Dan. 2:1.

Ruach as Vigor/Inner Strength/Courage

Verses which demonstrate this figurative use of ruach are: Gen. 45:27; Joshua 2:11; 5:1; Judges 15:19; 1 Sam. 30:12; Ps. 76:12; 143:7; Is. 19:3; Ezek. 21:7.

Ruach as Divine Enablement/Prophetic Inspiration/Supernatural Ability

This figurative use of ruach signifies an ability or enablement from God. Here are the verses: Gen. 41:38; Ex. 28:3; 31:3; 35:31; Num. 11:17, 25, 26, 29; 24:2; 27:18; Deut. 34:9; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Sam. 11:6; 19:20, 23; 2 Kings 2:9, 15; 2 Chron. 15:1; 20:14; 24:20; Neh. 9:20, 30; Job 32:18; Ps. 106:33; 143:10; Is. 11:2; 42:1; Hosea 9:7.

Ruach as Synonymous with Leb (Heart)

The following verses establish the use of ruach and leb as synonyms through the device of synonymous parallelism: Ex. 35:21; Deut. 2:30; Josh. 2;11; 5:1; Ps. 34:18; 51:10, 17; 77:6; 143:4; Is. 57:15; 65:14; Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 21:7; Mal. 2:15, 16. This category of usage helps to further clarify the figurative use of ruach as ‘spirit‘ and shows that it does not refer to a supposed immaterial entity within human nature that is the real self and which can exist apart from the body. These passages show that ruach and leb (spirit and heart) are used interchangeably and so it is necessary to understand what is being conveyed by ‘heart’ in the HB.

When the HB speaks of a man’s heart it speaks of the inner activity of man in contrast to that which is outer; of that which is unseen in contrast to what is seen. The concept of leb can denote a person’s mind, will, motives, emotions, affections, desires, devotion, commitments, loyalties, etc., as the following verses show: Gen. 6:5; 8:21; 17:17; 27:41; 50:21; Ex. 4:14; 7:23; 25:2; 35:5, 22; Num. 16:28; Deut. 28:65; 29:19; Josh. 14:8; Judg. 5:15; 16:15; 18:20; 1 Sam. 1:13; 9:20; 10:26; 2 Sam. 6:16; 7:27; 15:6; 1 Kings 8:23; 11:3; 1 Chron. 28:9; Neh. 2:12; 6:8; Job 31:27; 36:13; Ps. 10:17; 21:2; 26:2; 37:31; 44:21; 57:7; 64:6; 78:37; 84:2; 119:11; Prov. 4:23; 6:18; 12:20; 16:1; 23:12; Eccl. 1:17; 9:1; Is. 35:4; 41:22; 65:14; Jer. 3:16; 12:3; 20:12; Lam. 1:20; 3:21; Ezek. 33:31; 40:4; Dan. 1:8; 10:12; Hosea 10:2; Mal. 2:2. There are literally hundreds more verses showing the meaning of leb in the HB.

Now for those who hold that man can be divided up into two or three constituent parts i.e. spirit, soul and body, I ask, “What is the heart of man?” If you say that the heart corresponds to the human spirit, which I agree with, we find that the popular notions of man’s spirit do not coincide well with how leb is used in the HB. One popular belief regarding the spirit of man is that it is the part of man that relates to God, while the soul is the part that relates to other humans. But we have seen that leb many times describes the inner activity of a person toward other people. Not only that but leb and nephesh (i.e. soul) are also used in synonymous parallelism in the HB: Ps. 84:2; Prov. 2:10; 23:7; 24:12. To complicate things even further nephesh and ruach are also used in synonymous parallelism in Job 7:11; 12:10; Is. 26:9. It appears that when these words are used in their figurative sense they are practically interchangeable terms. The error made by many Bible teachers is to regard these words as technical terms for distinct parts of human nature, but a careful examination of how these words are used does not bear this out.

A Closer Look At Specific Passages

We will now look at some specific passages in which ruach could be taken in the sense of ‘spirit’ i.e. that the spirit of man is an immaterial entity within a man which is a distinct and independent part of his nature, surviving the death of his body in conscious existence.

Numbers 16:22 {see also 27:16} – “But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, ‘O God, God of the spirits of all flesh . . . ‘ “

This would be an odd expression if ‘spirits’ here refers to a distinct part of man’s nature; is God the God only of the spirits of men and not of their souls and bodies also. This should be understood in the sense of the following passages:

  • Job 12:10 – “In his hand is the life (nephesh) of every living thing and the breath (ruach) of all the flesh of man.”
  • Is. 42:5 – “Thus says the God Yahweh, who created the heavens and . . . the earth . . . who gives breath (neshamah) to the people upon it and spirit (ruach) to those who walk on it.”

The statement is simply expressing the truth that God is the source of the life of all mankind. That life comes from the breath which he breathed into man at the beginning. The fact that ruach is plural i.e. ‘breaths’, rather than the typical singular ‘breath’, could be viewed as a superlative plural. In this view the ‘flesh’ that Moses speaks of is specifically that of all mankind and not of animals. Since animals also share the breath of life with man {see Gen. 1:30; 6:17; 7:15, 22} Moses uses a superlative plural to signify the breath of all mankind and not of the animals.

Psalm 31:5 “Into your hand I entrust my spirit; You have redeemed me Yahweh, God of truth.”

Is David entrusting to God the immaterial entity that dwells in his body? No, he is entrusting his breath i.e. his life to God.

Psalm 146:4“When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that day their plans come to nothing.”

Is this referring to the idea that when men die the spirit entity in them departs and goes to either heaven or hell where it is consciously alive? No, it is simply referring to the breath of life that departs from one at death.

Prov. 18:14 “The spirit of a man sustains him in sickness, but a broken spirit who can endure?”

Here spirit denotes an inner attitude or state of mind. If one’s state of mind is joyful or cheerful it will sustain him through sickness, yet if one’s state of mind is that of dejection how can he endure. Prov. 17:22 gives the same idea: “A cheerful heart brings about a good healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

2 Kings 2:9 & 15“. . . Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I may do for you before I am taken away from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be to me’ . . . And when the company of prophets saw him . . . they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’

It should be obvious that the “spirit of Elijah” does not refer to Elijah’s ghost i.e. an immaterial entity within him, but rather to the prophetic and supernatural ability by which he carried out his ministry.

Job 32:8“Truly a spirit it is in men, a breath from the Almighty gives them understanding.”

Since ‘a spirit’ is synonymous with ‘the breath from the Almighty’ and based on the context {vv. 6-9}, ruach here probably denotes inspiration from God in the form of understanding and wisdom.

Psalm 76:12“He restrains the spirit of rulers; he inspires fear in the kings of the earth.”

Here ‘spirit of rulers’ probably denotes either the proud will or the wrath of rulers.

Psalm 88:10“Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up to praise you?” (NIV)

Here it appears that the spirits of the dead may refer to what is typically called ghosts, giving the impression that man has a spirit that lives on after death. But this translation is misleading. The word translated ‘spirits‘ here is raphaim, which some understand to refer to the departed spirits of the dead. Now this may have been how the word was used among pagan peoples in the Semitic world, but in the Hebrew Bible it is simply a synonym for the dead. This can be clearly seen in it’s other seven uses: Job 26:5; Prov. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9; 26:14, 19. In each of these passages raphaim is set in synonymous parallelism to death or the dead (Heb. muth). There is no reason to take raphaim as a reference to departed spirits. A better translation of the above phrase is simply, “Do the dead rise up to praise you?” Of course, the answer is NO!

Psalm 146:4“His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans vanish.”

Some mistakenly take this to say that when a man dies his still living and conscious spirit departs and his body goes back to the earth. But all that it is actually saying is that when a person dies his breath departs from him and he returns to the earth. It is the man who returns to the earth, hence there is no spirit that is the real person distinct from the body. This same concept is seen in Eccl. 3:19- 21 which speaks of the death of both men and animals as their breath departing from them and they returning to the earth.


What we can conclude from this survey is that the concept of man as an immaterial entity or spirit (a.k.a. a ghost) living in a body, which is able to survive the death of the body in conscious existence, is not a necessary deduction drawn from any passage in the Hebrew Bible. This was the same conclusion we reached in the survey of the soul, in parts 1 and 2 of this study. It is equally as clear from this study that the Hebrew Bible knows no distinction between soul and spirit, i.e. as if these were two constituent parts of man. While the words nephesh (soul) and ruach (spirit) are, in there literal meanings, two distinct concepts, in their figurative meaning there is overlap between them. But again, neither of these concepts denotes an immaterial part of man which is immortal, living on consciously after death. In part 4 we will survey the New Testament for it’s concept of ‘spirit’ in relation to man.

Jesus, The Archegos Of Life

In a recent live video discussion with a Trinitarian Christian, it was brought up by this person that Jesus is the author or originator of life, based on Acts 3:15. This person understood this to mean that Jesus is the creator, the source from which all life comes. Having looked into this passage before, I immediately knew that this person had wrongly apprehended the passage. Wanting to reassure myself that I understood what the true meaning of this passage was, I looked deeper into the meaning of the Greek word archegos, which is translated as author, prince, or originator in most English versions. What I found confirmed what I already knew, but also gave me a deeper appreciation for this passage. In this article, I share with you my research in the hope that you too will gain a greater appreciation for this passage and what it means for you.

Acts 3:15 In Translation

Acts 3:15 – “You killed the archegos of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

NET – “Originator of life”
ESV – “Author of life”
NASB – “Prince of life”
HCSV – “source of life”
CEV – “the one who leads people to life”
GNT – “the one who leads to life”
NCV – “the One who gives life”
NLV – “the very One Who made all life”

We can see from the varied ways that archegos is translated, that it is not just a simple matter. Why are there so many options? Some of these translations (NET,ESV,HCSV,NCV,NLV) could certainly imply that Jesus is the Creator of life, while others (NASB,CEV,GNT) would not imply that at all. Since the English versions present an ambiguity as to exactly what kind of relationship between Jesus and life is being asserted here, we must look to the lexicons to see if we can obtain a clearer definition of archegos.

Archegos – The Lexical Data

Thayers Greek Lexicon:
ἀρχηγός, ἀρχηγόν, adjective, leading, furnishing the first cause or occasion . . . chiefly used as a substantive . . .
1. the chief leader, prince
2. one that takes the lead in anything and thus affords an example, a predecessor in a matter
3. the author

1. one who has a preeminent position, leader, ruler, prince
2. one who begins something, that is first in a series, thereby providing impetus for further developments
3. one who begins or originates, hence the recipient of special esteem in the Gr-Rom. world, originator, founder

Lidell-Scott Greek Dictionary:
I. beginning, originating . . . primary, leading , chief
II. 1. as substantive, a founder, first father . . . the founder of a family
2. a prince, chief . . .
3. a first cause, originator

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:
a. The ―hero of a city, its founder or guardian; b. the ―originator or ―author (e.g., Zeus of nature or Apollo of piety); c. ―captain. Philo uses the term for Abraham, and once for God, while the LXX mostly has it for ―military leader. In the NT Christ is archēgós in Acts 5:31: we bear his name and he both looks after us and gives us a share of his glory, especially his life (3:15) and salvation (Heb. 2:10); he is also the archēgós of our faith both as its founder and as the first example when in his death he practiced his faith in God‘s love and its overcoming of the barrier of human sin (Heb. 12:2).

Discovery Bible HELPS Word Study:
properly, the first in a long procession; a file-leader who pioneers the way for many others to follow. (arxēgós) does not strictly mean “author,” but rather “a person who is originator or founder of a movement and continues as the leader – i.e. ‘pioneer leader, founding leader’ ” (L & N, 1, 36.6).

NET Bible Commentary:
The Greek word . . . is used of a “prince” or leader, the representative head of a family. It also carries nuances of “trailblazer,” one who breaks through to new ground for those who follow him. 
“Founder” (of a movement), founding leader.

So now, let’s boil this down. The three basic meanings of the word are:
1. a chief leader, ruler, prince
2. the originator or founder or beginner of something, hence the first in
a series, one who pioneers a way for others
3. a first cause, author, in the sense of a source or cause of something

OT & NT Usage

The word occurs in the Hebrew Bible some 24 times. The majority of times it refers to a ruler, leader, head of a family, or a captain. One deviation from this is Micah 1:13 where the city of Lachish is spoken of as “the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion.” This probably refers to the fact that Lachish was the first city in the southern kingdom of Judah where the idolatry of the northern kingdom had taken root, and subsequently, over time, spread to the rest of Judah. In that regard it could correspond to definitions 2 or 3 above.

In the NT the word appears three other times, all in reference to Jesus, in Acts 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2. Let’s look at these passages to see if we can gain a better understanding of what archegos means.

Acts 5:31 – “God exalted him to his right hand as Archegos and Savior . . .”

The English versions translate this in three main ways:
“Prince and Savior” – KJV, ASV, NIV, NASV, YLT
“Leader and Savior” – ESV, ISV, NET, NRSV, RSV, TLV
“Ruler and Savior” – MEV, HCSB, CJB, CSB

It seems clear that in this passage archegos is best taken in the sense of leader or ruler, for the fact that it is paired with Savior (Gr. soter) seems to be drawing from usage in the book of Judges, where the judges were referred to by both terms, archegos (leader) in 5:2 and soter (savior) in 3:9, 15. The usage in Judges precludes any necessary divine connotation to the word. Also, this statement was made by Peter before the Sanhedrin, the body of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who would have been well acquainted with the Scriptures and would have known exactly what Peter was referring to.

Heb. 2:10 – “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting for God, for whom and through whom all things exist, to make the archegos of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author of their salvation” – ASV, DRA, EHV, MEV, NASB1995, NCB, WEB, YLT
“captain of their salvation” – KJV, NKJV, BRG
“founder of their salvation” – ESV
“leader of their salvation” – Darby, Phillips, NABRE
“pioneer of their salvation” – NET, ISV, RSV, NRSVUE, NIV, CEB, CSB, AMPC
“source of their salvation” – GW, HCSB, NOG
“originator of their salvation” – NASB, LEB

As with Acts 3:15, we find a wide array of possible meanings of “archegos of salvation.” How can we know the best way to understand the text? We get a clue from Heb.5:9, where the author says that Jesus, after he had suffered death and was made perfect, i.e. immortal, “he became the source (Gr. aitos)of everlasting salvation . . . “ If we assume that the author is using archegos and aitios as synonyms, then we can take archegos as source, or perhaps cause. When you look up the definition of source on Google (provided by Oxford Languages) it gives as synonyms author, cause, originator and origin. When you look up the word originator, two of the synonyms it gives are founder and pioneer. So all of these English words have a similar meaning. That Jesus is the source of salvation would denote that salvation comes because of him or is obtained through him. This need not imply that Jesus is the ultimate source but only the secondary source. Just as the judges were the secondary source of salvation from the enemies of Israel, but God was the ultimate cause, calling and empowering and backing up his chosen agents, so the same can be predicated of Jesus in his role as savior. God saves us through or by means of Messiah {2 Cor. 5:18-19}.

We could also understand “archegos of salvation” in the sense that Jesus was the first to attain everlasting salvation, i.e. immortality and exaltation. This is what I believe the author of Hebrews means when he speaks of Jesus being perfected. Because he is the first, he becomes the source of this salvation to all those who follow him; he becomes the pattern to which all others will be conformed {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20-21}.

Heb. 12:2 – “. . . fixing our attention on Jesus, the archegos and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Here’s how the different English versions translate archegos in this passage:
“author and finisher (or perfecter) of [our] faith” – KJV, ASV,BRG, DLNT, GNV,
“pioneer and perfecter of our [the] faith” – CSB, ISV, Mounce, NET, NIV, NRSV
“founder and perfecter of our faith” – ESV

This is a difficult one. “Author and finisher of our faith” could imply that our personal faith is something that is begun and finished by Jesus, but this, I believe, would be inaccurate. The Greek actually has “the faith” not “our faith”. This, in the context, would be referring back to chapter 11, where the personal faith of many OT believers is highlighted. We might say that “the faith” means the life of faith, as exhibited in these OT notables. Jesus is then being portrayed as the archegos and perfecter of the life of faith. But this cannot mean he was the first one to live the faith life as a pioneer, or the first in a series, for all of the people mentioned in chapter 11 preceded Jesus. It could be that archegos here is being used as an adjectival noun in the sense that Jesus is the leading or chief example of the life of faith. The words “fixing our attention on” in Greek is the word aphorao, which more precisely means to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something. So after pointing out the faith of the OT examples, the author of Hebrews exhorts his readers to focus all of their attention on the ultimate example of faith – Jesus, who remained faithful to God till the end and then actually entered into the reward of faith, i.e. exaltation, in contrast to those who came before {see 11:39}.

Jesus could, perhaps, be understood as the pioneer of faith in the sense that he is the first, upon completing the race, to receive the reward of immortality, opening the way for those who will follow. Jesus would not be the first to finish the race, but the first to complete the life of faith by entering into the experience of the reward.

Exegesis of Acts 3:15

So having collated the lexical and biblical usage data, let’s apply it to our text. In what sense can Jesus be said to be the archegos of life? To rightly answer this question we first have to answer the question as to what is meant by life. Did Peter mean life in the sense of the life that all living things possess? Is Jesus the archegos of all life? This is what my trinitarian interlocutor understood it to mean, and then postulated that Jesus is the Creator of the life of all living things. Now, of course, it could be saying that, but nothing in the text itself necessitates that meaning. In fact, only someone who already presupposes that Jesus is the Creator would interpret it that way. But imagine Peter standing before the crowd of Jews in the temple courtyard and telling them that the man they were recently complicit in putting to death is actually the Creator of all life. The Jews knew the Creator of all life to be Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Would these Jews have understood that Peter, by calling Jesus the archegos of life, was declaring him to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This is most untenable, especially in light of the context of Peter’s message:

“Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why do you stare at us as if we had made this man walk by our own power or piety? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you.” Acts 3:13-14 NET 

Clearly, no one in that crowd hearing Peter would have thought he was equating this man Jesus with the Creator, for he explicitly differentiates between Jesus and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, calling him the servant of Him. We can, therefore, rule out that Peter’s meaning is that Jesus is the Creator of all life.

A more plausible way to understand life in this context is that it refers to everlasting life i.e. immortality. This would mean that Peter was calling Jesus the “archegos of immortality“. So the life being spoken of here is the life of the age to come {see Lk. 20:34-36} not the the common life that all possess now in this age. So then what does it mean that Jesus is the archegos of immortality?

Looking at the lexical data and the usage in the other three occurrences of archegos in the NT, it seems reasonable to understand Acts 3:15 in the same sense as Heb. 2:10, and in fact, the two passages are saying the same thing. So one option is to take it as saying Jesus is the source of immortality, understanding it in the sense that he is the secondary source, not the ultimate source. This would mean that life in the age to come is necessarily obtained from, through, or by means of Jesus. That this would not require Jesus to be divine is clearly confirmed in such passages as 1 Cor. 15:20-23; Acts 17:31; John 5:28-30 and Heb. 2:6-14.

A second option is to see Jesus as the beginning of immortality for the human race, the first in a series. This would fit well with a number of other statements in the NT, such as Acts 26:23; 1 Cor. 15 20-23; Col. 1:18; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 1:5, 17-18. But an even better option is to understand both of these ideas as being conveyed, i.e. having become the first human being to possess immortality, he becomes the source of this immortality for all others, and, in fact, this seems to be exactly what Heb. 5:8-9 is saying, but in different words.

Now someone might object that Peter said to the crowd, “You killed the archegos of life,” implying that he was already this when they killed him, instead of becoming such by his resurrection from the dead. But this is simply answered by assuming that Peter was speaking anachronistically. At the time Peter was speaking, Jesus had already been raised from the dead and was, therefore, indeed the archegos of life. If I were to say to my wife, “There is the highschool my father attended,” I would not mean by this that he was my father at the time he attended the school. Later he became my father and that is how I speak of him even when referring to that period of time of his life prior to becoming my father. So the language of Peter does not require Jesus to have already been the archegos of life at the time he was killed. Peter spoke anachronistically to heighten the irony of their situation i.e. they killed the one, who by means of his death, became the firstborn from the dead and the means by which immortality must be obtained by all others.

That Jesus is the “archegos of immortality” should have significant meaning for those who follow him. The promise of immortality is no longer simply a vague hope or fancy or dream. One of our own race has already entered into this glorious state, this participation in the divine nature, and has thus confirmed the promise to those who love God. As a result we have now entered into a living hope, a confident expectation of sharing in this immortality with Jesus, who has gone before us, making possible our own future participation in the divine nature.

Peace and hope to all who are in Messiah Jesus our Lord!

A Refutation of Dr. Al Garza’s Opening Statement in the Xavier – Garza Debate On ‘Is Jesus God In Psalm 110:1’

This debate took place on April 15 between Carlos Xavier, a biblical unitarian, and Dr. Al Garza, a trinitarian scholar. Dr. Garza is the author of over 20 books and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies and is an Associate Scholar in Biblical Linguistics from Hebrew University’s Institute of Biblical Studies, Israel. Dr. Garza was answering the debate question in the affirmative.

I was expecting a vigorous presentation by Dr. Garza, but instead was surprised to hear him offer such a weak case. In fact, it seemed as if Dr. Garza was unenthusiastic or half-hearted about the debate, using only half of his allotted ten minutes for his opening. His opening consisted of four main points and a conclusion, all of which were weak and unconvincing. In this article I want to go through each point and show it’s flaw. I will also engage with some of what he said in the cross-examination section. Finally, I will give an explanation of what Jesus was getting at in Matt 22:41-45 {see also Mk. 12:35-37; Lk. 20:41-44}. Here is a link to the debate video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o3c0pPpkHo&t=497s

Garza’s Case Refuted

Garza’s main argument in this debate was that the original reading of Ps. 110:1 did not say: “YHWH said to my lord (Heb. ladoni – which could refer to a man), as we have it in the Masoretic text, but rather, “YHWH said to the Lord (Heb. ladonai – which must refer to God). His first line of defense for this assertion (3:45-4:22) is the fact that in Matt. 22:43-45 Jesus is recorded as saying that David, in the psalm, called the messiah “lord” rather than “my lord”. To Dr. Garza’s mind this means that the text that Jesus knew in his day did not contain ladoni (to my lord) but ladonai (to the Lord), for if the text had said ladoni then Jesus would have said that David called him “my lord”. But since Matthew records Jesus as saying that David called the Messiah “lord” then this is proof that the text of Jesus’ day read ladonai instead of ladoni.

Well, I must say that this is not a very strong argument. Why should we assume that, if David called the Messiah “my lord”, Jesus would have to say that David called him “my lord” and that it would be inaccurate for Jesus to simply say that David called him “lord” if in fact David called him “my lord”. Jesus’ point is that David called the Messiah by the title lord, not that he specifically said either “my lord” or simply “lord”. In fact, there is another passage in the NT which parallels this passage in Matthew and shows Dr. Garza’s argument to be irrelevant – 1 Peter 3:6:

. . . like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him lord.

Here are the two passages in Greek :

Matt. 22:45 – καλεῖ (calls) αὐτὸν (him) Κύριον (lord)
1 Pet. 3:6 – κύριον (lord) αὐτὸν (him) καλοῦσα (calling)

So we see that the two passages are identical except for the different forms of kaleo. Now here is the thing I want you to see. The only place in the Hebrew bible that Peter could have been referring to is Gen. 18:12, which reads:

After I am worn out, and my lord (Heb. adoni) is old, shall I have pleasure?

Here we have an exact parallel case. In both Ps. 110:1 and Gen 18:12 we have someone calling someone else “my lord”. And in both cases, when someone in the NT is referring to these passages, they relate them as if they said merely “lord” instead of “my lord”. Is Dr. Garza going to claim, based on 1 Pet. 3:6, that the original Hebrew of Gen. 18:12 must have read adon instead of adoni? I think not! This point by Dr. Garza is, therefore, invalidated.

His next point (4:30-5:28) is that there are no rabbinic commentaries that ascribe Ps. 110 to the Messiah. He states that the rabbinic interpretation is that the “lord” whom YHWH invites to sit at his right hand is Abraham, and he quotes Rashi to that effect. He then makes the claim that it was based on this traditional understanding of the psalm as referring to Abraham that the scribes added the vowel points to make the word adoni rather than adonai, which is supposedly used exclusively for God. For those who may not know, the original Hebrew text consisted of only consonants. The proper vocalization of the scriptures was passed down by tradition and vowel pointings were added to the text by the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries, based on that tradition. In the original, without vowels pointings, there would have been no distinction between adoni and adonai, except by the traditional vocalization. What Dr. Garza is claiming is that when they added the vowel points at Ps. 110:1 they did so purposely based on the tradition that the psalm referred to Abraham, hence adoni, a word that can refer to men, rather than adonai, a word that refers to God.

This is indeed a bold assertion, but what proof does he offer for it? Well, the only supposed proof that he kept referring to throughout the debate is the fact that rabbinic tradition applied the psalm to Abraham. But this is simply begging the question. How can the fact that a rabbinic tradition that Abraham is the referent of Ps. 110:1 prove that the original text read adonai instead of adoni? Dr. Garza simply assumes it because that’s how he wants it to be. Are there any rabbinic sources admitting that the scribes pointed the vowels for the express purpose of aligning the text with their tradition of interpretation of the text? He doesn’t provide any because they don’t exist. It is much more rational to reason that, based on the tradition of vocalization, which read Ps.110:1 as adoni rather than adonai, that they interpreted it as referring to Abraham (and David and Saul), because they believed, based on that traditional vocalization, that it referred to a man, not to God. Dr. Garza’s claim is simply preposterous. Not only that, but his claim that there is no rabbinic tradition which refers the psalm to Messiah is false. Here are some sources:

  • Yalkut Shimoni on Tehilim 110:
    “Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
  • T’fillat R. Shimon ben Yochai:
    “And the Holy one, blessed be he, will fight for Israel and will say to the Messiah: ‘Sit at my right’. And the Messiah will say to Israel: ‘Gather together and stand and see the salvation of the Lord’.”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Genesis LXXXV, 9:
    “… AND THY STAFF alludes to the royal Messiah. as in the verse The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Midrash Rabbah, Numbers XVIII, 23:
    “…That same staff also is destined to be held in the hand of the King Messiah (may it be speedily in our days!); as it says, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies (Ps. 110: 2).”
  • Artscroll Tenach Commentary Tehillim:
    “Sforno says that this Psalm is dedicated to the future king Messiah. He is on God’s right hand and the ministering angels are on the left. The armies of Gog and Magog will attack, but HaShem will subdue them until they come crawling to the feet of the Messiah.”

The fact that rabbis could refer the psalm to Messiah, knowing that the traditional vocalization read adoni, shows us that they regarded the Messiah who was to come, strictly as a human being, not as God. On top of the rabbinic sources, the very fact that Jesus uses Ps. 110 as recorded in Matt 22:41-45, proves that the Jewish leaders of that day must have considered the psalm messianic. Jesus’ purpose in applying the psalm to Messiah would have been completely moot if those to whom he was speaking did not regard the psalm as messianic. Mr. Xavier pointed this out to Dr. Garza later in the debate, but he had no response.

Dr. Garza’s next point (5:28-6:01) is where we start to see some sleight of hand. He asserts that we can know that Ps. 110:1 originally said ladonai, i.e. to the Lord, instead of ladoni, i.e. to my lord, because in all of the psalms ladoni appears no where else, but ladonai does. As if to strengthen this claim he makes the following statements: “David wrote ladonai in every other place in the psalms . . . When we look at all of the places in the book of Psalms where ladonai appears, we can see what David intended to write. David did not intend to write ladoni in any other place in all 150 psalms.” Note the underlined sections of this quote. Don’t you get the impression that there must be many places in the psalms where ladonai occurs. Well, if so, you would be wrong. In fact, the word occurs only twice in the psalms, in 22:30 and 130:6. So Garza’s argument seems to be that because ladonai is used by David in two other psalms then 110:1 must read ladonai instead of ladoni. No, really, that is his argument. Not only is this a weak argument, but it borders on ridiculous. I’m stunned that someone would not see the silliness of such an argument. By what logic does the fact that David intended to write ladonai in two places in the psalms mean that he didn’t intend to write ladoni in another psalm? What a text reads is not to be determined by how many other times the same word is used, either in the same book or in other books of the Bible. The fact of the matter is this, that in every Hebrew text, in every Greek text, and in the OT Peshitta, Ps. 110:1 reads to my lord. To postulate that it should read “to the Lord” based on such weak arguments as Dr. Garza presented in this debate is to leave the realm of reality for the world of fantasy.

Next (6:02- 6:19), he attempts to strengthen his case by appealing to v. 5 of the psalm, which reads, The Lord (Heb. adonai) is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. Dr. Garza says that, “David describes Adonai at the right hand of Yahweh, referencing back to v.1.” He then states that in the NT only Jesus is depicted as at the right hand of God, implying that Jesus must be Adonai. He also states that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the right hand of the Messiah. The problem that Dr. Garza is going to have is that vv.5-7 are somewhat ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations. Such passages are not at all conducive for use as proofs. One interpretation, given by the NET Bible commentary, takes adonai as a reference to Yahweh, who is being addressed, hence “O Lord, at your right hand he (the king) strikes down kings in the day of his wrath.” Vv. 6-7 then would be referring to the king who sits at Yahweh’s right hand. Another possible explanation is to see adonai i.e. Yahweh as being at the right hand of the king. Dr. Garza claims that Yahweh is never mentioned as being at the Messiah’s right hand. Well, yes and no. There is no passage specifically about the Messiah which mentions Yahweh being at his right hand, but in Ps. 16:8 David, as Israel’s king and Yahweh’s anointed (i.e. messiah), stated that Yahweh is at his right hand. Therefore, there is no reason why Ps. 110:5 could not be understood in this way. The NET Bible commentary gives a third option – to revocalize adonai as adoni to match v.1. This would make v.5, as well as vv. 6-7, addressed to Yahweh but about the king. In any case, Dr. Garza’s understanding of the text is not at all certain and is therefore a weak proof of the debate thesis.

His next point (6:29-6:46) is another case of sleight of hand by Dr. Garza. He quotes from the Targum on Psalm 110 and states that it “refers to adoni as the Word.” He quotes it as saying, “Yahweh said at him or with him the word . . . “ In quoting it like this he gives the impression that the “my lord” in the Hebrew text is replaced with “the word” (Aram. memra) in the Targum. He then goes on to show how Jesus is referred to as “the word” in the NT. But this is completely false. The Aramaic text of the Targum actually has the word ribbon or ribbona, not memra, as the translation for adoni. Here is how one English translation of the Aramaic text reads:

1.     Composed by David, a psalm. The Lord said in his decree to make me lord of all Israel, but he said to me, “Wait still for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to die, for one reign must not encroach on another; and afterwards I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord spoke by his decree to give me the dominion in exchange for sitting in study of Torah. “Wait at my right hand until I make your enemies a prop for your feet.” Another Targum: The Lord said in his decree to appoint me ruler over Israel, but the Lord said to me, “Wait for Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to pass away from the world; and afterwards you will inherit the kingship, and I will make your enemies a prop for your feet.”

Targum Psalms – An English Translation by Edward M. Cook 2001

Note the underlined word “decree”. This is the word memra, i.e. “the word” that Dr. Garza wants us to believe is replacing the adoni of the Hebrew text. Now note the underlined word “lord”, which is ribbon or ribbona in Aramaic, and which is the translation of the Hebrew adoni. Dr. Garza has either completely misunderstood the Targum text or he was being less than candid in what it says. This point by Garza fails to show what he wants it to.

In conclusion(7:38 – 7:44) he states, “We can safely conclude that adoni in Ps. 110:1 is based on rabbinic tradition.” I’m sorry, but he did not even come close to proving any such thing. I hope you can see just how flawed and deficient Dr. Garza’s opening presentation was in proving his case. So much for his opener.

Further Fallacies

I now want to show other fallacious arguments used by Dr. Garza in the rest of the debate. At timestamp 26:14-26:48 Dr. Garza states emphatically that in the NT Jesus is never once called kurios mou (i.e. my lord), the Greek rendering of adoni. But this is manifestly false. Jesus is called kurios mou in Lk. 1:43; Jn. 20:13, 28; Phil. 3:8. When I pointed this out to Dr. Garza in the comment section on the debate video page, instead of admitting his mistake he obfuscated the issue with these responses:
I already stated that in those verses you read ‘THE Lord of me’ with the article in a different tense in Greek and you have other places where Jesus is called just Lord like God the Father. Kurios is a generic word for Lord and can go either way based on your belief. The Hebrew and Peshitta are more exact to YHVH and Adonai to Jesus which I pointed out and Carlos did not refute.”

“In other words, you would not translate Luke and John has to say “to my lord.” It would be translated as ‘the Lord of me.’ That is the difference grammatically.”

The underlined section of his response is hard to make sense of. He says “different tense” but I think he meant different cases. But the meaning of a word does not change because the case is different. Kurios mou (nominative), kuriou mou (genitive), kurion mou (accusative), all mean the same thing, my lord.

But even more than this, Jesus is called dozens of times in the NT kurios (or kurion, kuriou) hemon, which means “our lord”. Mou is the 1st person singular genitive of the Greek word ego. Hemon is the 1st person plural genitive of ego. So Jesus is called “my lord” in the singular and “our lord” in the plural many times in the NT. Dr. Garza is simply wrong!

At stampmark 27:52-29:17 Dr. Garza appeals to the Peshitta NT, claiming that in Matt. 22:43-45 the Peshitta calls Jesus by the divine name Yahweh. Is this true? I had never heard this claim before this debate, so I did some checking to see if his claim is true. What he is referring to is that in the Peshitta the Aramaic word for “lord” in Matt 22:43 & 45 is marya. It seems that there are a few scholars in the field of Peshitta studies who have put forward the theory that marya, a form of mara, meaning ‘lord’, is meant to designate the name Yahweh. Hence the “lord” in Matt. 22:43 & 45, which is referring to the Messiah, is supposed to be calling him Yahweh. The claim is that marya = mar+yah = Lord Yahweh1. From what I could gather, only some scholars take this position while others deny it, seeing marya simply as the emphatic form of mara. It is true that marya is used throughout the Peshitta OT and NT for the tetragrammaton (YHWH), but this appears to be a substitution for the divine name, like kurios in Greek. Marya is most likely an equivalent of the Hebrew adonai, which was used by the Jews as a substitute for YHWH when reading or reciting the scriptures out loud, and like adonai is an emphatic form of adon, so marya is the emphatic form of mara. Kurios is an equivalent of adonai in Greek, and it seems to me the best way to understand marya is as an equivalent to adonai in Aramaic.

That marya occurs a few times with reference to Jesus in the NT is extrapolated by the proponents of this view to mean that Jesus is being called Yahweh. But Dr. Rocco A. Errico, a former student of Dr. George Lamsa, takes a more sensible approach:

“When the Aramaic word Mariah is used it may refer to either the LORD God or to the highest ranking Lord of lords. For instance Jesus was called by the people “my Lord”, Mar- from the word Mara, lord, master, sir…The term Mariah-LORD was substituted for the Hebrew word Yahweh, which refers to the LORD God only, but on a few occasions the Messiah is called Mariah (as in [Matthew] verse [22]:45) because he is the highest Lord among men. (GOD is the LORD of the Messiah.)”

The validity of Dr. Errico’s perspective can be seen in the absurdities that would result if marya, when used of Jesus, meant to signify him as Yahweh. Take for example Acts 2:38: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” The Peshitta has marya for the word “Lord”, which if we would take it to mean Yahweh would result in this: “Therefore, let all the people of Israel understand beyond a doubt that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Yahweh and Messiah!” God made the man Jesus {see v.22} Yahweh? What kind of nonsense is that? Another example is Rom. 14:9, which would read like this: “For this reason the Messiah died and returned to life, so that he might become Yahweh of both the dead and the living.” Does anybody really find this plausible?

Dr. Garza’s perspective is that just as he thinks that Jesus being called kurios in the Greek NT means he is Yahweh, because kurios is used as a substitute for the divine name in both the LXX and the NT, so likewise, that Jesus being called marya in the Peshitta means he is Yahweh, because marya is used as a substitute for the divine name in the Peshitta OT and NT. But he is mistaken on both counts. The words kurios and marya have meaning beyond their use as a substitute for the divine name. In Acts 25:26 the Emperor of Rome is called kurios by the Roman governor of Judea. Are we to assume that this Roman governor was calling Caesar Yahweh? If kurios, when used of Jesus, was meant to designate him as Yahweh, then the oft used phrase in the NT, “our Lord Jesus Christ” would amount to “our Yahweh Jesus Christ.” I’m sorry, but this is simply ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus is called “lord” (kurios in Greek and marya in Aramaic), not because the NT authors are designating him Yahweh, but because they are designating him as the one Lord out of all created beings, whom God has appointed and exalted to that position, and to whom all others must submit.

Matthew 22:41-45

41 While the Pharisees were still gathered, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They told him, “David’s.” 43 He asked them, “Then how can David by the Spirit call him ‘Lord’ when he says, 44 ‘The Lord told my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘? 45 If David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?

Orthodox Trinitarian Christians are nearly universal in the belief that the only way to make sense of this passage is to see Jesus as affirming that the Messiah is himself God and that this is why David could call him Lord. In other words, the Messiah must be more than just David’s son or descendant if David calls him ‘Lord.’ He must also be David’s God.

The first thing that needs to be said in response to this is that the text does not explicitly say this. No where in this passage, or in it’s parallels in Luke and Mark, does the text have Jesus or the author explaining that what Jesus meant is that the Messiah must be God. This is merely an assumption on the part of those who already presuppose that Jesus is God in accordance with orthodox creedal dogma. To be sure, if one holds this presupposition then the passage can be made to correspond, making the passage appear to be support for the presupposition. But what if one does not approach this text with the presupposition that Jesus is God? Can the text be made to make sense if it is approached with the presupposition that the Messiah is strictly a man? Well, let’s see.

The first point I want to look at is that the words of Jesus in this passage give the impression that he is challenging the popular belief of the Jews that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. But I don’t think we should even entertain such a thought too long. Why would Matthew start off his gospel with the words, “This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” and then include a statement of Jesus denying this very thing. The Jews were certainly correct to hold that the Messiah would be a son of David, since their scriptures declared as much {1 Chron. 17:11-14; Is. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6}. That Jesus is a descendant of David is affirmed in other NT documents {see Lk. 1:32-33, 69; Acts 13:22-23; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16}. So then what is Jesus driving at by this questioning of the Jews. Again, some say that he is challenging their belief that the Messiah is simply a man. This is, of course, Dr. Garza’s position, but it is not the necessary conclusion that must be drawn from the passage.

Jesus’ question can be put like this, “If the Messiah is David’s son, then how is it that David calls him ‘Lord’?” The relevance of the question is to be found in the Semitic culture, in which a man’s son or descendant would not be considered greater than himself. This would be even more so if the man were a great patriarch or, as was David, the originator of a royal dynasty. Take Abraham, for example. It is doubtful that Jews would have thought that any descendant of Abraham, the father of their nation, would ever hold a place of greater honor than Abraham, not even the Messiah. They would have envisioned the Messiah, no matter how great he would be, as bowing down before Abraham to pay him honor. This can be seen in the rabbinic quote cited earlier in this article:
“Rabbi Yusan said for Rabbi Aha Bar Hananiah: in the future the Holy one blessed be He will sit the King Messiah at his right and Abraham at his left, and Abraham’s face crumpled and he said: the son of my son sits at the right and I sit at the left? but the Holy one blessed is He reconciled him by saying: the son of your son sits at your right and I sit at your right hand…”
Here Abraham takes offence at the Messiah being given a greater honor than him. But God placates him by reminding him that the Messiah and ,indeed, God himself is sitting at Abraham’s right hand, thus putting Abraham in a place of greater honor. In the same way, David, the great king of Israel, would likely be viewed as bowing before Abraham and addressing him as ‘my lord’ after the resurrection, in the age to come, rather than the reverse.

I have to disagree with Carlos Xavier when he said (55:00 – 56:02) that Jews would not have a problem with a son becoming greater than his father and uses the story of Joseph’s dream in Gen 37:9-11 as evidence. But the reaction of Jacob in v. 10 shows that he was not comfortable with the thought. Mr. Xavier says that Jacob accepted it, believing God had a plan, but the text doesn’t say this, it merely says that Jacob “kept the matter in mind.” Later in the story, when Joseph and Jacob are reunited, there is no indication in the text that Jacob bowed down to Joseph and called him ‘my lord’ as Joseph’s brothers had done.

So it seems to me that Jesus is challenging the Pharisee’s understanding of the extent of Messiah’s authority and position in comparison to the patriarchs. The Jews, though they would have held Messiah to be a figure of great importance and authority and worthy of great honor in his own day, in the resurrection it seems they would have regarded Messiah as subject to the patriarchs. By quoting Ps. 110:1 Jesus was showing an inconsistency in the thinking of these Jews. If the Messiah would be subject to the patriarchs after the resurrection then why does David call him ‘my lord’, an address that a subordinate bestows on a superior?

What the Jews of that day did not know, in that it was hidden from them, was the fact that the Messiah would be rejected by the people, be put to death, and then be raised from the dead, not along with all of the righteous of all time in the resurrection event at the end of the age, but in a separate and singular event, prior to the event known by the Jews as the resurrection. Hence the Messiah would be the first man to receive immortality and so become the source of resurrection for all others, including the patriarchs themselves, establishing him as preeminent over all others {Heb. 5:7-9; Jn. 5:26-30; Rom. 14:9; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:17-182}. So in the resurrection at the end of the age it is the Messiah who will call forth from their graves the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David, who will then bow down before Messiah and acknowledge his preeminence. This is what was faulty in the Jew’s understanding of Messiah, not that he would be God come in human flesh.

1. Here is an article that explains the problem : https://logoi0.blogspot.com/2011/11/marya-miryam.html?fbclid=IwAR3EGxSlfZB7muTA8F0F0xlAInJJ_Li-BngZDYWoRf9bhLYuzgtiTzgGi-I
2. The appellation “the First and the Last” need not be understood as denoting deity simply because Yahweh is so designated {Is. 44:6; 48:12-13}. The appellation can be understood as a declaration of being unique in one’s class. Yahweh is the First and the Last in that among all the gods of the nations he alone is the true and living God, the Creator. Jesus the Messiah is the First and the Last in that among all humanity he is the only one to have died and been raised from the dead immortal, prior to the resurrection event at the end of the age.