Binitarianism In The OT – Truth or Myth (Part 1)

It has become fashionable of late for some Christian scholars, teachers, and apologists to assert the idea that the Hebrew Bible presents a picture of the Godhead as binitarian, rather than unitarian. It is claimed that the Jews of ancient times had no problem seeing a plurality in God in such a way that this plurality did not infringe upon the strict monotheism which was so clearly their fundamental belief. It is then contended that this binitarian belief  of the ancient Hebrews is the foundation of the later Christian doctrine of the Trinity, that the Trinity flows naturally from it. Then biblical passages which supposedly show this plurality are interpreted as references to the members of the Trinity.

The best known proponent of this claim is Dr. Michael Heiser, and it may not be exaggerating to say that most other popular proponents of this view derived it from Dr. Heiser. In other words, Dr. Heiser is probably more responsible than anyone else for the widespread acceptance of this concept among Christians of all stripes. I will be examining Dr. Heiser’s teaching on this subject, drawn from various papers and lectures he has published, which are free of charge on the internet.

Defining The Terms

Binitarianism is defined as the belief that there is one God which exists or manifests or reveals itself as two persons. Heiser is not a binitarian but a trinitarian i.e. God as three persons. When he speaks of binitarianism in the OT he means that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is presented as two distinct personages, one invisible and the other visible. He often speaks of the invisible Yahweh and the visible Yahweh. That these were not to be understood as being the same person is seen in the fact that they can appear in the same scene at the same time, as Heiser puts it. Even though they are two distinguishable beings, that they are both referred to as Yahweh supposedly ensures that this is no violation of monotheism.

Another way that Heiser will often refer to this concept is as ‘the two powers in heaven.’ This designation comes from rabbinic literature from the second through the fifth centuries C.E. These rabbis spoke against those who were said to hold that there were two powers in heaven. Heiser refers often to the work by Jewish scholar Alan Segal, titled “Two Powers In Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism.” The controversy centered on specific biblical passages which were interpreted in a binitarian way by certain sectarian Jews. The rabbis sought to refute these interpretations by providing a different interpretation to these passages which did not entail binitarianism. As far as I am concerned, both the binitarian and the rabbinic interpretations of these passages are, for the most part, nonsensical. The sectarian Jews were not polytheists but monotheists. Their ‘heresy’ was to postulate that God shared his heavenly rule with some other being. This second figure was usually either some angel (whether Michael, Raphael, Yahoel or Metatron) or some man (whether Adam, Abraham, Moses or Melchizedek) who had been exalted to this high position. It is noteworthy that the second power was typically a created being, as even Dr. Heiser acknowledges, not a being who shared the uncreated nature of Yahweh.

So we see an ambiguity in the terms here. Both Segal and Heiser use the terms ‘binitarianism’ and ‘two powers in heaven’ interchangeably, but it seems to me that these two terms should not necessarily be synonymous. While ‘binitarianism’ denotes one God which consists of two persons, presumably on an equal level, in both ontology and status, ‘two powers in heaven’ can denote a lesser, inferior and even a created being, who shares authority with the one God because God has so willed it. Dr. Heiser has repeatedly stated, regarding the second power, that the views of the Jews of the Second Temple period “ranged from divinized humans from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to exalted angels.” But when he asserts that the early Christians held Jesus to be the second power he then shifts to speaking of Jesus as though he shares not only Yahweh’s authority but also his nature. But does he think that the Jews who held that the second power was either an exalted man or angel, believed these exalted figures to be ontologically on par with Yahweh? This exposes Heiser’s underlying presupposition and shows that he set out to prove his conclusion i.e. that Jesus is God and that he has always existed with God the Father.

The fact that certain Jews believed that God shared his authority with some man, who was exalted to heaven and functioned in a mediatorial role, does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the Trinity doctrine has it’s roots in Hebrew thought rather than Greek thought. The two concepts are really quite different. While faithful Jews could certainly entertain the idea, based on certain biblical passages, that Yahweh could elevate a man or a non-human created being to a vicegerent position under Him, it is certain that no faithful Jew could conceive of Yahweh as existing as two (or three) distinct persons who are sharing the same substance or essence. To a Jew this would amount to polytheism. This would not even have been within the categories of thought concerning God for a faithful Jew. The faithful Jew was committed to the biblical revelation:

“Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one (masculine, singular).” Duet. 6:4

For a Jew to believe that Yahweh would grant a human or non-human agent a high representational status would not be in conflict with this statement of faith in the one God. But the idea that the God of Israel consisted of more than one personal being named Yahweh, i.e. two or more Yahwehs who were distinct from each other, one visible and one invisible, is certainly not something a faithful Jew would have conceived, that is, not without the influence of Greek metaphysical thought. There was one such Jew that we know of, Philo of Alexandria, whose writings are also appealed to by Trinitarian apologists as evidence that binitarianism (which then leads to trinitarianism) was a thoroughly Jewish concept. But Philo, if anything, is the quintessence of a Jew under the influence of Greek philosophy. The website Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says this about Philo:

“When Hebrew mythical thought met Greek philosophical thought in the first century B.C.E. it was only natural that someone would try to develop speculative and philosophical justification for Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy. Thus Philo produced a synthesis of both traditions… Philo was thoroughly educated in Greek philosophy and culture… He had a deep reverence for Plato and referred to him as ‘the most holy Plato’.

At the center of Philo’s philosophy was the concept of the Logos. It is still debated among scholars as to whether this Logos of Philo was supposed to be understood as an actual personal being, a sort of Platonic Demiurge, who mediated between God and the created world or as simply a personification of attributes of God which then take on an intermediary role between God and his creation. It is obvious that he was using categories of Greek metaphysics to explain the Hebrew Scripture’s presentation of God. He interpreted many of the strange passages from the OT (some of which we will examine shortly) simply by recourse to the Logos. Later Christian apologists, like Justin (mid 2nd century), followed Philo’s lead in this. Like Philo, Justin was also highly influenced by Platonic philosophy, either directly or through the writings of Philo. And like Philo, who sought to explain the God of Judaism through metaphysical categories, Justin sought to explain the relationship of Christ to God through the same metaphysical categories. Seeing the Logos as the pre-human Jesus, Justin interpreted those strange OT passages as pre-incarnate appearances of the Son of God. It is clear though, that Justin saw the Logos not as an equal, co-eternal member of a binitarian God, but as a subordinate to the one true God, who he identified as the Father. For Justin the Logos was distinguished from and second to the one God, the Maker of all things. Therefore Justin’s theology would fit the ‘two powers in heaven’  concept that the rabbis sought to refute.

Problems With The Claim

In 2013 Dr. Heiser gave a lecture at the Messianic congregation Beit-Tefillah in Gig Harbor WA, titled Two Powers of the Godhead. The video of this lecture is available on YouTube and as of this writing has had 46,799 views ( a link can be found at the bottom of this article). No doubt this video lecture has had a profound effect upon the many who have viewed it and has probably helped to shape the belief of many. It has, no doubt, given many the much needed justification for their belief in the Trinity and deity of Messiah Jesus. Because of the recent proliferation of online materials which expose the historical and exegetical weaknesses of these beliefs, many Christians have become confused about the validity of these doctrines and have sought reassurance for their faith. Dr. Heiser has given them that reassurance, not only through this video lecture but by means of all of his books, websites and other resources. Because he is a scholar many laypersons confidently and uncritically accept what he says as gospel. Personally, after listening to this lecture multiple times I am not impressed in the least by Heiser’s attempt to ground the Trinity doctrine in the Hebrew Scriptures. I found his explanations of the relevant passages to be weak, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, but always displaying more of an eisegesis rather than an exegesis. I wonder how well Heiser would hold up in a debate where someone could push back on his exegesis, but as far as I know he doesn’t do debates. I even noticed that the Comments  was disabled for this video on YouTube. In fact I do not recall ever seeing or hearing Dr. Heiser in a position where he had to defend his beliefs against an able opponent. There is a proverb which has stuck with me ever since a first read it many years ago, Prov. 18:17 – “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” I do not think that Dr. Heiser would ever engage in a debate on these issues, whatever his reasons may be, so I am presenting here some push back to his teaching on the subject of “two powers in heaven” as set forth in the video lecture.

My first point of contention is that Heiser makes it seem that binitarianism was just a normal part of Jewish belief prior to the time of Jesus, accepted by most, if not all, Jews and even rabbis, and that this belief later fell out of favor with the rabbis because of the Christians’ insistence that Jesus is the second Yahweh. He claims that Alan Segal proved this in his book. But I did not get this impression from Segal’s book. In fact, throughout his book Segal refers to the proponents of the ‘two powers’ concept in ancient Judaism as “sectarians,” which he describes as “a disapproved rival among many factions within the parent group.” It is by no means clear that this belief was mainstream or widespread among Jews of the 2nd Temple period and into the first century C.E. There were a number of Jewish apocalyptic works produced during this period, such as 1 Enoch, which played off of and elaborated upon the apocalyptic visions of Daniel, especially that of ‘the son of man.’ Segal expresses uncertainty as to whether these works would have been considered heretical by the rabbis, but he clearly regards them as sectarian. Dr. Heiser makes it seem like the concept of ‘divine plurality‘ was just normative among the first century Jews, but this cannot be proven. It is also instructive that these ideas among Jews do not appear until well into the Hellenistic period. That some Jews, like Philo, could have been and in fact were influenced by Greek ideas is not debatable. But is there any evidence that the  OT prophets would have viewed Yahweh as a plurality? This is the real question that needs to be answered. So it is not really a matter of what some Jews came to eventual think later in history, but what do the law and the prophets proclaim. Heiser makes a valiant attempt to find such plurality in those strange passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, but, in my opinion, fails.

Another point of contention is Dr. Heiser’s claim that the second power must be ontologically the same as Yahweh in order to maintain the strict monotheism of the Shema. In Heiser’s scheme this is important because, as he asserts early on in the video, the second power turns out to be Jesus, and based of orthodox Christology, Jesus must be ontologically the same as Yahweh. Yet this turns out to be wrong in relation to the Jewish concept of ‘two powers.’ As far as I can tell none of the figures put forward in the 2nd Temple Period literature as the second power are to be regarded as ontologically the same as Yahweh; they are always either angelic beings or exalted humans. They may be regarded as representationally or functionally equal to Yahweh, i.e. whatever they do can be understood as Yahweh’s action, yet they are always inferior on an ontological level. But Heiser would have us believe that a first century Jew would have no problem embracing Jesus of Nazareth as God in the flesh because that Jew had a belief in two powers in heaven who were both ontologically Yahweh. This cannot be substantiated by anything found in either the Hebrew Bible or the 2nd Temple Period literature. Heiser seems confused here. He wants to point to Jewish ideas of ‘two powers’ to show how a first century Jew could accept Jesus as Yahweh but none of those Jewish ideas fit that paradigm. Philo’s Logos is the closest thing to what Heiser proposes as normative Jewish belief in a second power that was ontologically equal to Yahweh. But two problems plague Philo’s Logos concept: 1) Scholars are uncertain as to whether he meant the Logos to be understood as an actual hypostasis or as a personification of attributes of God, and 2) Philo was heavily influenced by Greek metaphysics. Philo’s teaching would hardly count as normative Jewish thinking. It is not until 2nd century Christians like Justin, who were influenced by Philo’s work, begin to push Jesus closer and closer to an ontological sameness  as God that the rabbis begin to attack the concept of ‘two powers.’ Segal’s work shows that the first rabbinic polemics against the ‘two powers’ idea were directed at Gentiles, probably Christians, maybe even against Justin himself.

The Biblical Passages

In the video, Dr. Heiser systematically presents a series of OT passages in order to build his case that the Hebrew Scriptures portray a binitarian Godhead. I heard him say in a podcast interview that the OT no where teaches binitarianism with direct propositional assertions, but that there are verses scattered all throughout the OT which seem to present Yahweh in two distinct ways, visible and invisible, and often in the same scene at the same time. It is all of these passages taken together, which in his mind, then portray God as a duality. Now if it can be shown that Heiser’s interpretation of these passages, each one taken by itself in it’s context, is not the only or the necessary  interpretation of these texts, then his case falls apart. If each individual passage can be shown to not support his thesis, then the accumulation of these passages cannot be proof of the thesis.

So let’s examine  the main passages which Heiser puts forth in his lecture video as proof of ‘divine plurality‘ in the Hebrew Scriptures.

1.) Gen. 19:24 –  “Then Yahweh rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahweh out of the heavens.”

Heiser rightly points out the oddness and awkwardness of this verse, which seems to suggest two Yahwehs, one supposedly on earth and one supposedly in heaven. Of course, he interprets the verse to fit his paradigm of two Yahweh’s, a visible one (the one who was talking to Abraham as a man in ch. 18) and an invisible one (the one presumably in heaven). But is this really a plausible interpretation of this passage? Yes, the language is strange to our ears, but that is no reason to resort to a postulation of two Yahwehs.

Let’s look first at the construction of the verse. The word from in the phrase “from Yahweh out of the heavens” is me-et, which is the untranslatable mark of the accusative eth preceded by the preposition me, which means from. Eth is used to mark the accusative of the verb and always directly precedes the accusative noun. This is true probably in the majority of it’s occurrences. But there are times when it appears to serve a different function, as here in this verse. We can see that rained is the only verb in this verse, and the accusative would seem to be brimstone and fire. Eth does not appear before brimstone and fire because they are not definite and eth is only used with definite objects. But why does eth appear before the second mention of Yahweh, which is certainly not an accusative noun in this sentence? Could it be that eth is serving some other purpose here? This passage from An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax may throw light on this verse:

… A. M. Wilson, late in the nineteenth century, concluded from his exhaustive study of all the occurrences of the debated particle that it had an intensive or reflexive force in some of it’s occurrences. Many grammarians have followed his lead. On such a view eth is a weakened emphatic particle corresponding to the English pronoun self … It resembles Greek ‘autos’ and Latin ‘ipse’, both sometimes used for emphasis. pp.177-178

Perhaps the verse could be read like this: “Yahweh rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire. It was from Yahweh out of the heavens.” Or perhaps like this:

Yahweh rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire; Yahweh himself out of the heavens.

Understood in this way it is emphasizing the fact that the judgment came not by the will or power of the agents involved, but by the will and power of Yahweh. For a fuller treatment of this verse and it’s preceding context see this article:Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 1)

2.) Amos 4:11 – ” ‘I have wrought destruction among you, as when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; you have become like a brand plucked from the burning. Yet you have not turned back to me,’ declares Yahweh.”

A better translation might be:

I overthrew some of you, like the overthrown of God, Sodom and Gomorrah…

Heiser points to the fact that Yahweh is speaking, yet refers to himself in the third person as God. He then rightly points out that this is not the only place where this kind of thing occurs. In fact it happens quite frequently in the Hebrew Bible. Dr. Heiser, in presenting this verse, is implying that if Yahweh is speaking of himself in the third person, he must be speaking about another distinct hypostasis who shares his being. But this is nonsense. What he must know, but fails to inform his audience of, is the phenomenon known as illeism. There is a wonderful dissertation by Ervin Roderick Elledge from 2015 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 It’s Implication For Christology (I’ll include a link at the bottom of this post), in which he shows that illeism is a common phenomenon in the Bible, in the speech of Yahweh and of kings in the OT, and of Jesus in the NT. He also documents it’s common use in ANE literature in the speech of gods and kings. While referring to oneself in the third person may seem weird to 21st century Westerners, it apparently was not that strange among ANE peoples. But is it really that uncommon even for us? I can remember, when my daughter was a young child, telling her, “Daddy loves you very much.” I do the same thing with my granddaughter now, telling her, “Papi loves you.”

Andrew S. Malone, in an article on illeism in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (52.3), cautions against the use of illeism in the Bible as a “tool for divining OT hints of the trinitarian plurality of God … 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. 

Another possible alternative explanation is that the phrase ‘like the overthrown of God, Sodom and Gomorrah‘ could have simply become a popular adage, a proverbial saying among the Israelites, that even Yahweh himself incorporated in his prophetic pronouncements. If one wanted to speak of the utter destruction of something he would use this phrase. The exact phrase is also found in Is. 13:19 and Jer. 50:40; the phrase without the words ‘of God’ is found in Deut. 29:23 and Jer. 49:18.

3.) Gen. 22:11-12,15-18 –  “But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” … “Do not lay a hand on the boy … Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your… only son … The angel of Yahweh called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, ‘I swear by myself,’ declares Yahweh …

Heiser makes this sound like it is confusing, like we can’t tell who is speaking – is it the angel or is it Yahweh. The implication Heiser wants his audience to get is that there are two Yahwehs, one visible i.e. the angel of Yahweh, and one invisible i.e. the one that the visible Yahweh here refers to as God. We know from other sources of Heiser’s teaching that he believes the OT figure ‘the angel of Yahweh’ to be the second Yahweh, the visible one, and that he shares an ontological equality with Yahweh. Heiser’s presupposition causes him to simply read the passage in a way that fits. He apparently does not even attempt to find any other alternative meaning, it just has to be made to fit his theological prepossessions. But a better solution to the text is staring him in the face, even though he cannot see it.

First, I want to point out a misguided assumption of Heiser and of many other commentators and apologists. It is a very common belief that the OT phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh‘ is a designation belonging to one specific entity, one special agent of Yahweh who alone shares a kind of mystical relationship with Him, a sharing of his very essence. Heiser and others see this entity as the pre-incarnate Son of God. Now I have thoroughly refuted this notion in another article on this blog, so I will not rehash the whole thing here. If you have not read that article I encourage you to do so here:Pre-incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 1)

In that article I show conclusively that it can no longer be maintained that the phrase is a title that is borne by one single individual being, but is rather a generic designation that can be applied to any and all of Yahweh’s myriad of agents, whether the non-human celestial kind or the human kind.

Now let’s talk about how Yahweh’s agents act on his behalf and how the authors of Scripture record these actions. What I find incredulous is that a scholar in the field of ANE studies seems ignorant of a basic part of ancient near eastern culture, that of the concept of agency. The concept is simple: If a king or some other important person employed an agent, whether a trusted servant, or friend, or a faithful son, to go on his behalf and  carry out some task or relay some message, it was understood that what ever this agent did or said in the name of the one who sent him, it was tantamount to him doing it himself. It could therefore be recorded as though the principal had actually done the deed or spoke the message. That this was common practice can even be seen in Ugarit literature, of which Heiser is familiar, where messengers sent by the gods speak the message of the god in the first person.

Now Heiser brings up many passages where we see an angel of Yahweh speaking in the first person as if they were Yahweh, but I have never heard him mention this concept of  Semitic agency as a possible explanation. Instead, he simply falls back on his predilections and reads them into these texts. That an ‘angel’ i.e. a non-human agent, would speak for God in the first person should not be taken to imply an ontological sameness between God and the angel, for the same practice can be seen to be employed by God’s human agents, the prophets. Twice in Deuteronomy, in 11:14 and 29:6, Moses slips into speaking for God in the first person without the usual formula ‘thus says Yahweh.’ The prophetic books occasionally do the same thing – Micah 1:6-7; Habakkuk 1:5-6; Zech. 14:1-3; Hosea 14:1-8, Is. 3:1-4; 34:1-8; 53:1-12.

In our passage we are explicitly told (v.11) that it was an angel of Yahweh who called to Abraham, but the words the angel speaks are not his own words but the words of Yahweh. Therefore the angel can speak for God in the first person, which he does. So the words should be understood as Yahweh’s words, not the angel’s words. Now, as to why Yahweh would say to Abraham, “Now I know that you fear God,” this is just one of those many instances of illeism that are found in the speech of not only Yahweh, but of human kings also, in both the Bible and in ANE literature. Then in vv.15-18 the angel again speaks for God in the first person but this time uses the customary formula “declares Yahweh.” What we learn from this is not that the angel is somehow Yahweh but still distinct from Yahweh or that there are two Yahwehs, but rather that a commissioned agent of Yahweh can speak for Yahweh in the first person, either with the prophetic formula or without it. To say anything more than this is to read ones presupposition into the text. Nothing in the text requires Heiser’s interpretation.

What I have said here regarding ‘the angel of Yahweh’ applies fully to the next passage presented by Dr. Heiser in the video, i.e. Exodus 3.  I will only make a couple of comments about Heiser’s take on the passage. He seems to think that because v. 2 plainly says that “the malak of Yahweh” was in the bush, and then v. 4 says that when Yahweh saw that Moses turned aside to look, God called to him from within the bush …,” therefore both Yahweh and the angel were in the bush together. This is one of those passages of which he refers to as ‘both Yahwehs appearing together in the same scene.’ But it is not necessary to resort to such an explanation, unless you are just trying to get the passage to fit your own paradigm. Surely a better way to understand the passage is through the concept of  Semitic agency, of which it is axiomatic that the agent is to be regarded as the one he represents. It is not necessary that Yahweh be literally in the bush because he is in the bush through the angel. In fact, we have a NT commentary on this passages which plainly states what I am saying:

He (Moses) was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God, through the agency (lit. hand) of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.

Acts 7:35b

Note that it is said that God sent Moses, even though it was through an angel that he did it. It is also acceptable for the author of Exodus to record the angels speech as if Yahweh himself were speaking, since the agent is merely the mouthpiece of God and is speaking Yahweh’s words on his behalf.

4.) Exodus 23:20-23 – “See, I am sending an agent before you to have charge of you on the journey and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Keep yourself before him and listen to his voice. Do not embitter him (for he will not bear your transgressions) because my name is within him. But if you listen intently to his voice (to obey) and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies… My agent will go before you and bring you into the land …”

In the video, at the 14:12-14:20 mark, Heiser states that this one particular angel is singled out as being different, presumably from other angels, because God’s name is in him. Later, at 19:58- 20:20, he paraphrases God’s words to Moses like this:

“…when you look at that angel … my name is in him, my presence, my essence, who and what I am is in that angel. That’s Me out there …”

Heiser believes this angel to be the second Yahweh. We know from elsewhere that Heiser believes the OT figure ‘the angel of Yahweh’ to be the second Yahweh, so we can assume that he thinks the angel mentioned in Ex. 23:20 is ‘the angel of Yahweh.’ He asserts that this angel is “singled out” and is different from other angels by virtue of the fact that God said, “My name is in him.” Heiser then interprets the meaning of God’s words to be “my presence, my essence, who and what I am is in that angel.”  Please note that this is an interpretation of the phrase; the text does not say “my presence, my essence … ” Dr. Heiser finds support for this interpretation of the phrase in what he refers to as ‘the Name theology.’ From the time mark 14:22-19:35 he quotes a number of verses to prove that the Name is a circumlocution for God himself, and in some cases this may be true. But what he does not tell his audience is that the mention of ‘the name of Yahweh’ can have different meanings according to context. All he gives the audience are the verses where ‘the Name’ could plausibly refer to God himself or his presence. Yet even in some of the verses Heiser uses to prove his point it is not clear that the ‘Name’ simply means God himself or God’s presence. For example, he quotes Deut. 12:4-11 where it is stated twice that God would choose a specific place at which he would establish his name. Heiser claims that this simply means that God would choose a place to dwell. But I think that is a little to simplistic. In light of 1 Kings 8:27-30 and Is. 66:1-2 we know that God did not literally dwell in the temple in Jerusalem, although his presence was there in a sense that it wasn’t anywhere else on earth. But I think the real significance of his name being established at Jerusalem and in the temple is that this is the one place on earth that was to be associated with Yahweh, the Most High God. Though God cannot literally be contained within the confines of a particular place he can put his name at a particular place so that everyone would know that this is God’s one special place with which he has chosen to associate himself.

Is there an alternative way to understand the phrase “my name is in him?” I think so. The phrase “in the name of Yahweh” occurs quite a few times in the Hebrew Bible and in none of these passages does the word ‘name‘ stand as a circumlocution for Yahweh. The following verses speak of people who perform some action in Yahweh’s name – Deut. 18:5, 7, 20, 22; 21:5; 1 Sam. 17:45; 20:42; 1 Kings 18:32; 22:16; 2 Kings 2:24; 1 Chron. 21:19; Ps. 118:26. In most of these verses it appears that the meaning is that these people performed the act by the authority of Yahweh, i.e. having been commissioned by Yahweh to do so. In a couple of cases it could mean something like ‘with Yahweh as a witness.’ So from this data, why could we not assume a possible interpretation of the phrase “my name is in him” to be “my authority is in him,”  meaning “I have commissioned this one and he is acting in my stead, with my authority behind him.” Now of course this would apply to any agent who was sent by God to accomplish some task on His behalf and so would not mark this angel out as distinct from other angels. God would be simply reminding the Israelites that this agent is acting on his behalf and therefore must be obeyed as if he were God himself. In other words, this could just be an idiom of agency. Because an agent who is commissioned and sent to conduct business on behalf of another has the authority and resources of the sender behind him and therefore the reputation of the sender is at stake, it could be said that the name of the one who sent him is in him. Heiser simply presupposes that the phrase has some sort of mystical meaning that involves some kind of metaphysical connection between God and the angel. I hope you can see that this is not at all required by the language or the context of the passage but is merely assumed and then read into the passage. But why does Heiser assume this? Simply because of his theological prepossessions. He already told the audience early on that in the NT Jesus turns out to be the second Yahweh figure and everyone knows that in orthodox Christianity Jesus is ontologically the same as God. Heiser looks for anything in these texts that he can interpret as an ontological connection between Yahweh and this supposedly special angel. Therefore, it becomes clear that Heiser is not exegeting this passage, but rather is  merely interpreting it to fit this paradigm. We will notice, as we make our way through the video, that this is Heiser’s standard way of interpreting these passages.

There is another aspect of this passage that Heiser doesn’t touch on but which most apologists promoting the two Yahwehs theory do indeed think affirms this theory. In verse 21 we read:

“Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion . . .”

What the apologists claim, based on the statement “he will not forgive your rebellion,” is that this angel must be a divine being since he has the prerogative to forgive sins, and only God has that prerogative. Maybe I am missing something here but does the text not say that “he will not forgive your rebellion.” It is assumed by the apologists that this means he has the prerogative but will choose not to forgive. But this is merely an assumption on their part. The grammar can just as readily mean that the angel 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. Therefore it is not necessary to take this statement as an assertion of an ontological ability which this angel possesses, but as a statement of what the angel is not authorized or able to do.

I want to propose another possible interpretation of this passage that may seem odd at first, but stay with me because I think it will bear itself out. It may be that this ‘angel’ is a reference to Moses himself, and, in fact, this is what I have come to believe. The first objection to this might be that the text says it was an angel. The word translated as angel in our English Bibles is the Hebrew word malak which means messenger. Now this is one of those translation issues that just irritates me. The word angel is a really poor translation of malak, and I wish English versions would drop it’s use. The word angel comes straight out of the Greek of the NT, for it is the transliteration of the Greek word angelos, which also means messenger. So why do translators take an English transliteration of a Greek word and use it to translate a Hebrew word meaning messenger? Can somebody say ‘traditional rut.’ Anyway, the basic meaning of both malak and angelos is messenger. But this word messenger does not do justice to the use of these words in the Scriptures. Messenger may give the wrong impression that the entities who bear this designation have one sole task i.e. to relate a message on behalf of another. While it is often true that a malak/angelos is sent to relay a message, they are also often sent to carry out other tasks as well. Because of this I like the word agent instead. An agent is defined as “one who acts for or in the place of another by authority from him.” This expresses well how the biblical malak/angelos functioned. Now here’s the main point – in the Bible a malak/angelos can be either a human being or a non-human, celestial being. This is what makes the translation angel wrong, because in our vocabulary today the word angel has only the connotation of a non-human, celestial being. Now when modern English translators come across these two words, if the context is clearly referring to a human agent they will always translate them by the word messenger or occasionally envoy. And when the context is clearly referring to a non-human, heavenly agent, they translate as angel. The problem is that it is not always clear, in many of the places where they translate as angel, that it really is a non-human being that is in view. It is basically left up to the translators discretion. I happen to think that there are a number of OT passages where our English versions have wrongly assumed that the word malak in those passages is referring to a non-human entity, i.e. an angel. And this may be the case in Exodus 23:201.

Another objection that might be raised to the proposal that Ex. 23:20-23 may be 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. In the lecture Heiser reads the passage as if God is speaking to Moses to reassure him. But this is just not the case. Therefore Yahweh is speaking to the Israelites and telling them:

Look, I am sending an agent (Moses) before you to have charge of you on the journey … Keep yourselves before him and listen to his voice … Do not embitter him … because my name is in him (i.e. I have commissioned and sent him).

Now I want you to think with me here. Do we see anywhere in the rest of Exodus, in Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy, where a non-human agent is addressing the people of Israel with words from Yahweh? The answer is no! But who do we see doing that very thing? The answer is Moses!

Now, this agent is said the be “sen[t] … before you(Heb. shalach lapaneka) , the “you” referring to the Israelites, not to Moses. 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 non-human 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, Aaron and Miriam.

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 Moses. 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, the exact statement made about the ‘angel’ in Ex. 23:20.

Further evidence in favor of this proposal is that the assigned task of this agent 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. It is used of the act of keeping or tending sheep and this may be the intended meaning in our text, the people being analogized to a flock of sheep {see Num. 27:15-17 and Is. 63:11}. 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 know that prophets were also considered ‘the malak of Yahweh‘ according to Haggai 1:1, where Haggai is called a prophet, and 1:13 where he is called “the malak of Yahweh.” Prophets are also referred to as malak in 2 Chron. 36:15-16. So we know that Moses was a prophet and as such that he fulfilled the role of a malak or agent of Yahweh. 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.

There may be other passages where Moses is designated a malak. In Numbers 20:14-16 Moses sends messengers (malakim in the Hebrew) to the king of Edom to request safe passage through his territory:

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.

Though all English versions, with the exception of the NET and YLT, translate malak here as angel, implying a non-human agent, this is clearly wrong. Exodus 3:7-11 describes how Yahweh heard the cries of his people in Egypt and appeared to Moses to commission him saying:

So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.

There is no reason not to understand the agent in Num. 20:16 to be Moses. Moses (and Aaron) alone was sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, and Moses was the agent by which God would keep them and lead them to the land of promise. Many verses attribute the bringing of the Israelites out of Egypt to Moses – 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. Because of a mistranslation of the word malak in Num. 20:16, as well as in our Ex. 23 passage, most commentators, for many centuries, have wrongly concluded that a non-human agent was sent by God to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Some, like Heiser, believe that the pre-incarnate Son of God was the one sent to deliver the Israelites. But there is nothing in these OT texts which even hints at such a conclusion; that is merely reading ones predilections into these texts.

But what of Isaiah 63:9 which speaks of  “the angel of his presence (which) delivered them (the Israelites)?Surely this refers to one special non-human agent of Yahweh who enjoys some mystical oneness with Yahweh, an ontological sameness of sorts? While that may be a possible interpretation, on what basis should it be preferred other than that it fits with ones presuppositions? Why does the oddity of a text always have to be interpreted in a mystical sense? Is there a possible interpretation of this text which demystifies it? Yes, I believe so. Once again, the problem is the translation of malak as angel, implying a non-human agent. But what if we were to understand it as referring to a human agent? Why should this be so hard to accept, seeing that all throughout Scripture God works in and through human agents to accomplish his purposes? The best candidate that can be assumed from the context would once again be Moses.

It appears that Is. 63:7-14 is recounting Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian army after their exodus from Egypt. Similar language can be found in Ex. 14:29-15:17:

  • Is. 63:8 – Savior (Heb. = the one delivering them) = Ex. 15:2  [related words]
  • Is.63:9a – delivered them  =  Ex. 14:30  [same word]
  • Is. 63:9b   =  Ex.15:13   [synonymous words]
  • Is. 63:11b  =  Ex.14:29   [same idea]
  • Is. 63:12  =  Ex. 15:11   [same idea]
  • Is. 63:11-12 = Ex. 14:15-16, 21, 31 [Moses’ role is highlighted in both]

Now there is a mention of an “angel of God” in Ex. 14:19-202, which does appear to be a non-human agent, but his role in the whole scene is very limited. His only task seems to be, through the use of the cloud, to hold off the Egyptian army while the Israelites cross through the sea on dry land. Moses’ role is more pronounced, as the sea does not part until he raises his staff and stretches forth his hand over the sea. In verse 31 the result is that the people put their trust in Yahweh and in Moses, not in the angel who was in the cloud. Moses’ role is even more pronounced in the Isaiah passage. In v.11 he is called “the shepherd of his (Yahweh’s) flock.”  Verse 12 is interesting in what it might be saying about Moses. As is typical in the OT text, the Hebrew is open to several possible ways of translation. One possible way is:

(Yahweh) … who led (the Israelites) by the right hand of Moses, the arm of his (Yahweh’s) glory.

If this is correct, then Moses is here described as the arm of Yahweh’s glory, by whose right hand he led the Israelites {see also Ps.77:20}. For someone to be the arm or hand of another is an idiom meaning that one is the agent of the other, the one through whom the other accomplishes something. Yahweh saved the people, but he did it through Moses. Yahweh led the people through the wilderness, but he led by Moses. This would coincide perfectly with his being designated in v. 9 as “the malak of his presence.”

But in what sense is Moses the malak of Yahweh’s presence? First of all we should understand it as “the 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 “the 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 go-between, i.e. without an agent (an angel) or 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. This is how Moses can rightly be designated “the malak of his presence.”

But can it legitimately be said of Moses that he “saved” Israel? Yes, in a sense. In this context Moses would be designated a malak, i.e. an agent, and therefore it should be understood as through the agency of Moses Israel was saved. It is not uncommon for this type of language to be used of those whom God raises up and appoints, as the following verses show – Judges 2:16, 18; 3:9, 15; 1 Sam.9:16; 2 Sam. 3:18; 2 Kings 13:5; 14:27; Neh. 9:27.

Another objection that might be raised to Moses being the agent in whom is Yahweh’s name, from Ex.23:20-21, 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. 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.

Another objection that could be raised concerns Ex. 33:2-3, where God once again tells Moses, “I will send a malak before you …?” There are two possible ways to view this. First, we could understand this as God speaking to the Israelites, to reassure them, that regardless of their rebellion to him (see Ex.32), he would still send his agent Moses to lead them to the promised land and that he would still show up at that time to drive out the inhabitants of the land, but that he would not be among them on the journey to the land lest he destroy them for their stiff-neckedness. The sense in which Yahweh would not go up in their midst is that he would withdraw his personal presence as found at the tent of meeting, where he would appear in a cloud and speak directly to Moses, giving him directions in leading the people. This would effectually leave them with only the human guidance of Moses.

The second option is to see this as God telling Moses that he would not be personally going with them on the journey from this point, but that he would send an angel, i.e. a non-human agent, to lead them to the land. This would mean that there would be no ‘face to face’ interaction between Yahweh and Moses at the tent of meeting, but that Yahweh would only communicate to Moses through the mediation of this angel. Moses does not like this at all and in vv. 12-17 he pleads with Yahweh to change his mind and to continue with them on the journey to the promised land. Clearly Moses understood God’s threat of not going with them in this way, as can be seen by the parenthetical insertion of vv. 7-11, explaining how God would meet with Moses face to face at the tent of meeting, and by Moses’ words and God’s reply in vv. 12-16 about his ‘presence’ (Heb. face) going with them.

So this whole pericope in Ex. 33 really shows that the original promise of Yahweh in 23:20 to send an agent was not referring to a non-human agent at all. Moses does not object at that point as he does in Ex. 33. Plus, as I noted earlier, the agent in 23:20 cannot be a non-human agent because the Israelites are told to listen to this agent and the only agent we ever see communicating God’s words to the people is Moses.

There is one final objection that must be answered. The agent is assigned to bring the Israelites into the promised land but Moses never makes it into the promised land, so this eliminates Moses as the agent. This is not really a formidable objection. First, the wording in v. 20 need not imply that the agent would enter into the land himself but only that he would lead them to the land. This Moses does, bringing them to the very border of the land. Second, it was God’s intention at this point in the narrative for Moses to enter the land of Canaan. It is only later in the narrative {Num. 20:6-12} that God prohibits Moses from entering the land because he did not honor the Lord properly before the people. Therefore, this objection does not eliminate Moses as the agent.

If the identification of the agent in Ex. 23:20 as Moses can be maintained, this is a serious blow to Heiser’s whole thesis, since he makes so much to depend on this ‘angel’ being the ‘second Yahweh’ and none other than the pre-incarnate son of God himself. Once again I will point out, that Heiser does not arrive at that conclusion by careful exegesis of the text but by simply reading his predilections into the text, which I hope is evident by now.

5.) Deut. 4:35-37 –  “To you it was shown, that you might know that Yahweh is God … Out of heaven he let you hear his voice… you heard his words from out of the fire. And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his presence, with his mighty power … ” 

Heiser feigns confusion over this verse, “Wait I thought it was Adonai who brought them out. No it’s the malak Adonai that brought them out. No, it’s the panim … it’s all the same thing.” It appears that Heiser really is confused about what this verse is saying. Once again, based on his presuppositional paradigm, he assumes that “his presence” is a way of denoting that it is really God himself, and because this certain ‘angel’ is said to have brought them out of Egypt in Ex. 23:20 and Is. 63:9, then the angel must really be God himself, but not the invisible Yahweh but the visible Yahweh, nevertheless it is Yahweh himself. But I have shown that these two passages are more likely referring to Moses, who is the only agent recorded in Scripture who was commissioned to bring the Israelites out of Egypt { see Ex. 3:10-12}. So what exactly does “by his presence” refer?

The only thing in the whole narrative, recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, that the ‘presence’ (Heb. panim lit. face) is associated with is the pillar of cloud and fire. Now there are too many verses which speak of this cloud to list here, but it is clear that the cloud always was associated with the presence of Yahweh – Ex. 13:21; 16:10; 19:9, 16-20; 20:21; 33:7-11; Lev. 16:2 Num. 9:15-23. That this ‘presence’ of Yahweh in the cloud is mediated by an angel is shown in Ex. 14:19. This is what Heiser fails to grasp, that the presence of God can be mediated through his agents, especially his non-human ones, without this implying an ontological or metaphysical oneness between God and the agent, which is what Heiser simply assumes. As Aubrey R. Johnson stated in The One and the Many In the Israelite Conception of God, with regard to how agency worked in the ancient Semitic world: “In Semitic thought this messenger-representative was conceived of as being personally — and in his very words — the presence of the sender.”

In my next post I will continue through the video, examining the passages presented by Dr. Heiser

Here are some pertinent links ( right-click then choose ‘open link in new tab’):

Two Powers of the Godhead video
Elledge_sbts_0207D_10248
JETS 52-3 499-518 Malone

End Notes

  1. It is worth pointing out that Justin Martyr, the second century apologist, who was the first to postulate that the Angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate son of God, and upon whom modern apologist rely for this supposition, understood this ‘angel’ in Ex. 23:20 to be Joshua, the servant of Moses. What is significant about this is that he is the first to have commented on this passage. Here is his thoughts on this passage from his “Dialogue With Trypho” ch. 75:

“Moreover, in the book of Exodus we have also perceived that the name of God Himself which, He says, was not revealed to Abraham or to Jacob, was Jesus, and was declared mysteriously through Moses. Thus it is written: ‘And the Lord spake to Moses, Say to this people, Behold, I send My angel before thy face, to keep thee in the way, to bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Give heed to Him, and obey Him; do not disobey Him. For He will not draw back from you; for My name is in Him.’ Now understand that He who led your fathers into the land is called by this name Jesus, and first called Auses (Oshea)[i.e. Joshua]. For if you shall understand this, you shall likewise perceive that the name of Him who said to Moses, ‘for My name is in Him,’ was Jesus.”

Later in the 2nd century Tertullian said the same thing:

And accordingly it is agreed that the Son of God Himself spake to Moses, and said to the people, “Behold, I send mine angel before thy”—that is, the people’s—“face, to guard thee on the march, and to introduce thee into the land which I have prepared thee: attend to him, and be not disobedient to him; for he hath not escaped thy notice, since my name is upon him.” For Joshua was to introduce the people into the land of promise, not Moses. Now He called him an “angel,” on account of the magnitude of the mighty deeds which he was to achieve (which mighty deeds Joshua the son of Nun did, and you yourselves read), and on account of his office of prophet announcing (to wit) the divine will; just as withal the Spirit, speaking in the person of the Father, calls the forerunner of Christ, John, a future “angel,” through the prophet: “Behold, I send mine angel before Thy”—that is, Christ’s—“face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee.”

Tertullian, Answer To The Jews , ch. 9

2.This is undoubtedly the same angel mentioned in Ex. 32:34 & 33:2 whose only role was to represent the presence of Yahweh, through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, going out in front of the camp of Israel to guide them through the wilderness to the promised land. This angel is never depicted in the narrative as ever addressing the Israelites, as this was the role that Moses assumed. That scripture speaks of God himself being in the cloud {see Ex. 13:21; 14:24; Num. 14:14; Neh. 9:12} leads many to misunderstand these passages because they do not understand the concept of agency. That God could send an angel to guide the Israelites as a pillar of cloud and of fire, and then this be recorded as God himself doing it, is just the way agency works. The principal sends the agent, who then acts on the principal’s behalf, with the principal’s authority and power behind him, and then the principal gets the credit for doing it.

An Analysis Of How Dr. Michael Heiser Interprets Scripture In Relation To His Divine Council Concept

In this article I will examine Dr. Michael Heiser’s views on the Divine Council, as found in various articles on his website The Divine Council.com. My purpose is to offer a critique of Dr. Heiser’s methodology in arriving at the conclusions he does regarding the biblical texts and to offer alternative interpretations. I find his interpretation of certain passages in both the OT and NT to be faulty. When one discerns what are the underlying beliefs which lead him to interpret Scripture the way he does, it then becomes clear that  the interpretive conclusions he arrives at are really the conclusions he began with.

What is my motive in this exercise? I have been listening to Michael Heiser’s podcast for a number of years now but had never read any of the available online material of his work until recently. I have heard a few radio interviews he has given regarding his books and on various topics for which he is known. When I was first introduced to his ideas I was intrigued. It was something I had not heard before and I was always willing to learn new things. I tended to accept what he was saying at first because he was a scholar and though I really did not fully grasp everything he was putting forth (some of it was technical), I was taken in by other personalities, who I admired, who were fast becoming devotees of Dr. Heiser’s work. But over the ensuing years I just lost interest in his work, due mainly to the fact that I was constantly in disagreement with him on his interpretation of specific verses of Scripture. This was while I was still trinitarian in my theology. Since renouncing trinitarianism in favor of biblical unitarian monotheism I have taken a closer look at Dr. Heiser’s work and I now understand more than at any time before what he is promoting. This is because I have actually read his material on a deeper level than ever before and have also listened multiple times to his lecture series Biblical Theology of the Spiritual World. Now that I more fully understand his theses and the underlying presuppositions he holds, I find that I am even more at odds with his biblical interpretation than before.

But so what, I am sure that I am at odds with many scholars’ interpretation of Scripture; why focus on Dr. Heiser? Michael Heiser is one of those rare scholars who have broken through the scholar / layperson divide. He has been able to bring his work down from the heights of academia to the level of popular Christianity. It is not often that scholarly work has such an influence on the folks in the pew. And coupled with that is the sort of awe with which many in the pew regard scholars, especially those who are as accessible as Dr. Heiser. I fear that many will and do take his conclusions for granted, without critical analysis, simply because of his status as a scholar. Many will assume that he knows what he is talking about, he is the scholar and they are just a layperson. To be sure, Dr. Heiser does know what he is talking about when it comes to his specific field of study. He knows the languages and the literature of the ancient near east (ANE) as well as the literature of the second temple period (c. 516 BCE – 70 CE). So when Dr. Heiser is giving data concerning ancient Semitic languages and ANE literature, listen to him, for he knows that material. I have learned a lot about the biblical text and about ANE studies from listening to his podcast. But many laypeople fail to distinguish between that kind of knowledge and biblical interpretation. They just assume that if he knows what he is talking about with regard to those things he must be correct in his interpretation of Scripture. But this is just not the case. The fact of the matter is that the data he has collected from his field of study has caused him to develop certain presuppositions (along with presuppositions which exist due to orthodox dogma) which then determine how he will interpret Scripture. If the presuppositions are wrong then the interpretation of Scripture that flows from them will also be wrong. It is my contention that his presuppositions are indeed wrong and so his interpretation of Scripture cannot automatically be trusted by virtue of his scholarship.

The Priority Of Extra-Biblical Literature

In introductory material from Heiser’s websites and his podcast one will hear of “Dr. Heiser’s approach to the Bible.” What exactly is his approach to the Bible? Does he regard the Bible as inspired revelation or as a product of purely human invention, or perhaps a mixture of the two? It is hard for me to determine precisely his thinking on this matter as he seems a bit ambivalent. Sometimes he will make  statements in which he seems to regard scripture as revelatory, but at other times he will appear to regard Scripture on a completely human level, speaking of how the biblical authors borrowed from the literature of the surrounding nations in their portrait of the true God. One specific example involves a discussion about the visions of Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, in which Heiser makes this statement:

This writer (i.e. Dr. Heiser himself) concurs with Collins’ carefully argued rejections of an Iranian or Babylonian background for the visions in favor of a Canaanite provenance, specifically that of the Ugaritic Baal Cycle.

He goes on after this to show the congruence between the imagery in Daniel’s vision and material found in the Baal Cycle. What is he saying here? Is he saying that the source or origin of these visions is Canaanite literature, i.e. the Baal Cycle of Ugarit? Is he suggesting that the authors of both Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7 were borrowing from a Canaanite source when they wrote these portions of Scripture? The texts themselves claim to be visions given directly by God to the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel. Does Dr. Heiser believe that to be the case? It is unclear what he believes. Again, there is a certain ambivalence with him regarding how the biblical texts came about. Was it by divine revelation or was it by the Hebrew authors adapting Canaanite religious concepts and imagery to fit their Yahwistic religion?

Assuming that there is indeed a similarity of concepts about God and of imagery used to speak about God, and I have no reason to doubt that to be the case, how does that coincide with the self claim of much of the Hebrew Scriptures to be direct revelation from God? Because the extant ANE literature is chronologically prior to the Biblical texts, it is assumed by scholars in general that the authors of the Hebrew Bible borrowed from and accommodated the ideas found in these writings in the setting forth of their own religion. Many of the scholars that Heiser quotes no doubt fall into this category. Heiser himself seems to agree, at least to a degree, with this assessment. I might note here that most, if not all, of the scholars quoted by Heiser, do not regard the Scripture to be of divine origin, i.e. they do not believe in divine revelation. They view the Hebrew Bible the same way they view other writings of the time – products of human ingenuity and the result of an unguided process.

For what it is worth I offer here my understanding of why there is much similarity between the Hebrew Scriptures and ANE literature. Although the ANE literature is prior in time to the Hebrew Bible, the religious ideas and concepts of the Hebrew Bible were prior to ANE religion. If we go back to the beginning, when God first created man, we see that God revealed himself to the original human pair. Even after man sinned and was exiled from the garden we can still see that the knowledge of the Creator was still among the human race for a time. Eventually however, man’s knowledge of the Creator degenerated into false religion and the worship of false gods. This led to widespread immorality and debauchery and violence. God eventually destroyed the human race, by means of the flood, with the exception of eight people: Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives. These were spared because they were righteous, maintaining the worship of the Creator. As they began to repopulate the earth after the flood, they no doubt passed on the knowledge  and worship of the true God. So there would have been a time when the true worship of the true God would have been prevalent in the earth. Once again though, as time went on, men turned from the worship of the Creator and were eventually spread over the whole earth, bringing with them their false religions, with remnants of the true religion contained therein. Is it any wonder that similar religious concepts are found in various religions, especially those within the same cultural and linguistic environment. False religion was not a pure invention out of thin air, but rather a perversion of the true religion, and therefore elements of the original will still be seen in the false, only now in a mythologized version. Just because these false religious concepts were recorded prior to the recording of the true concept of God, the Creator, in the Hebrew Scriptures, does not mean these concepts predated those of the Hebrew Bible, or that the Hebrews developed their religious concepts from these false religions. In fact, the false religions were developed out of whatever revelatory knowledge of the true God would have been available to man after the flood. So yes we should expect to see an overlap of concepts and imagery between the Israelite religion and the false Canaanite religions.

The Divine Council

It should be clear to anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Heiser’s work, that the concept of the ‘Divine Council’ is the overarching idea that governs how he will interpret any given passage. Indeed, this is what he is mainly known for. Although the concept is not original to him, he, more than any other scholar, has brought these ideas to the people in the pew, and has made them popular, at least in some circles of American Christianity. The idea is that there is a council or pantheon of divine beings under the one true God, who administrate God’s rule upon the earth in various ways. It is confirmed by scholars that all ancient near east cultures had such a divine council in their religious systems. This only came to light after the discovery of  cuneiform tablets from ancient Ugarit in the late 1920’s. This is why there is no talk of a divine council among the commentators prior to this time. But if the concept of the ‘divine council’ is so clearly taught in the Hebrew Bible why did no one see it there until this discovery? The concept seems to be derived from the Hebrew Scriptures only by inference, while it is unambiguously laid out in Canaanite literature; and the inference from the Bible only appeared after the discovery of this literature. While I do not doubt that some such a system is employed by God, I do think that Heiser may be overstating it’s importance in understanding OT theology. He seems to think that one cannot fully or accurately understand the Hebrew scriptures without first understanding this concept. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is obsessed with the idea of the divine council. This is proved by how he tends to see this concept in biblical passages where it really is not found. An example is Deut. 4:19-20, where God says to the people of Israel:

And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, and the moon and the stars, all the host of the heavens, beware lest you are driven to worship them and to serve them, which Yahweh your God has apportioned to all the nations under the whole heavens. And you, Yahweh has taken and  has brought out of the iron furnace of Egypt to be his people, a possession, as you are this day.

Heiser interprets the ‘host of  the heavens’  here to be the divine council members which he believes Yahweh gave to the nations, to be their gods, while he chose Israel to be his nation. But it seems plain enough to me that ‘the host of the heavens‘ is simply the corporate designation for the sun, moon and stars which were just mentioned. The phrase ‘the host of heaven‘ does not have a single meaning – it can refer to all of the heavenly bodies, as here, but it can sometimes refer to the angelic armies which serve at God’s pleasure {1 Kings 22:19}. It can even refer to the people of God as in Daniel 8:10-12. The context must determine the meaning in each specific passage. The context here speaks of the sun, moon and stars, not of members of a divine council. These gifts God gave to all nations for their benefit, not to be worshipped as the pagans did. Israel is being reminded of their privileged status as God’s possession, and as such they must not follow the practices of the other nations who have gone astray {see Deut. 17:2-5}.

Another passage heavily utilized by Heiser is Deut. 32:8-9:

When the Most High apportioned to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the boundaries of the nations with regard to the number of the sons of God (or Israel). For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.

Heiser interprets the verse to be saying that when God divided up the nations he did so according to the number of divine council members (sons of God), to whom he then allotted the nations as their inheritance, while taking Israel as his own inheritance. But the context has to do with the geographical boundaries of the nations in relation to Israel’s numbers. What would national boundaries have to do with God giving dominion over the nations to divine council members? Heiser, of course, prefers the DSS reading of ‘sons of God‘ rather than the Masoretic text reading ‘sons of Israel.’ But this makes no difference to the meaning of the verse. For in this chapter Israel is synonymous with the sons (or children) of God {see vv. 5-6, 18-20}. The DSS reading bene elohim is probably original, and gave rise to the other readings. The translators of the LXX believed this to be referring to angels and wanted anyone reading their translation to think the same, so they paraphrased it as “angelon tou Theou” i.e. angels of God. The translators of the Masoretic text understood bene elohim to be referring to the people of Israel, and, not wanting people to be confused as to who was being referred to, paraphrased it as “bene Yisrael” i.e. children of Israel. Now most English versions translate the term bene in vv. 5 and 20 as “children”, but as “sons” in v. 8, thus obscuring the connection. It would be better to translate all the occurrences of bene in this passage as ‘children’, except in v. 19, where a distinction is made between “sons” and “daughters”. The point is that ‘sons (or children) of God‘ in this context is not referring to angels or to divine council members, but to the people of Israel, who are God’s children. When God divided up the nations (Gen. 10-11) he set their boundaries, taking into account his planned intention to place a people of his own in the land of Canaan, and provided that this land would be of sufficient size for his chosen nation.

Psalm 82

Of course there is Psalm 82, which in the first verse reads:

God takes his place in the congregation of God, he executes judgment among the gods.

Heiser translates the verse as “God has taken his place in the divine council… ” Obviously he assumes this passage to be referring to this divine council concept. But is this the absolute necessary way to understand this passage. Heiser thinks so. But why did no one prior to the discovery of the Ugarit literature understand the passage that way? The almost universal way of understanding this passage prior to the Ugarit discovery was that the psalmist was speaking metaphorically of rulers or judges in Israel. Heiser decries this interpretation and insists that the passage should be understood in light of the Ugaritic concept of a divine council (i.e. a group of gods, who, along with and under the authority of the supreme God, administer the affairs of the cosmos). It is clear that Heiser makes the correct understanding of the biblical text dependent upon the extra-biblical texts. To his mind, unless we read the biblical text in the light of the Canaanite text we will fall short of accurately ascertaining the meaning of it.

If we remember that Psalm 82 is poetic literature, then we should not find it strange to find the use of poetic imagery as metaphor. The psalmist is metaphorically portraying the human rulers of Israel, specifically the Davidic kings, but possibly the kings of the Northern kingdom also (judges may be included, as those who administer justice on the king’s behalf – see 2 Chron. 19:5-7), as an assembly of gods, who are being called to account by the Most High, who gave them their authority and commission, for failure to properly fulfill their divine duty. The charge against them is laid out in verse two. In vv.3-4 their divine commission is delineated:

Vindicate the poor and the fatherless; bring justice to the afflicted and the needy. Deliver the weak and the oppressed; rescue them from the hand of the wicked.

These are not the duties of heavenly beings but of earthly kings, as can be seen from the following verses – 2 Chron. 9:8; Ps. 72:2-4, 12-14; Jer. 21:11; 22:1-5. Here we have a number of passages that clearly set forth the divine duty of the Davidic king in the exact language used in Ps. 82:3-4. My question for Dr. Heiser is this – where in the Hebrew Bible is the commission and duty of the members of the divine council even spelled out at all, much less in these exact terms?  It isn’t; but perhaps it is spelled out in these terms in the Canaanite literature. If that is the case, then he is letting extra-biblical literature determine how we should interpret this passage rather than the Hebrew Scriptures themselves.  Therefore, vv. 3-4 are more conducive to the human ruler view than to the divine council view. But what of verse 6, where God says of these rulers:

I designated you gods, every one of you sons of the Most High.

The mistake of Heiser is to take this literally, but that is because his underlying presupposition is driving his interpretation. Why can’t human rulers, and even more specific, the David kings, be addressed in this way? They can be, but not in an ontological sense, but in a representational and functional sense. The reigning Davidic king is so designated in 1 Chron. 28:5-6 (son); Ps. 2:6-7 (son); Ps. 45:6 (elohim). If the common translation of Ps. 45:6 is correct, “Your throne O god is forever,” this should be understood as a representational and functional designation, i.e. the Davidic king is the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule over Israel, functioning as Yahweh’s vicegerent. It is not referring to the king’s ontological nature. On Heiser’s website The Divine Council.com, in a PDF titled The Plural Elohim of Psalm 82, at the end of page two he says, “there are actually five (he really gives six) different entities referenced as elohim in the Hebrew Bible.” In the list that follows he fails to include Moses, who is so designated in Ex. 7:1 and the Davidic king in Ps. 45:6, as noted above. The reason for this omission is found in the next section of the PDF (2.2):

All the figures called [elohim] in the Bible have one thing in common: they all inhabit the non-human realm. That is, they are by nature not part of the world of humankind …

Again, his underlying presupposition prevents him from seeing that certain humans can be designated by the word elohim.

Another reason Heiser thinks Ps. 82 can only be referring to divine beings is because of Ps. 89:5-7. But what does Ps. 89 have to do with Ps. 82? He is simply assuming (being driven to do so by his presuppositions) that a similar phrase in Ps. 89 is referring to the same thing as Ps. 82. I do believe that Ps. 89:5-7 is speaking about the angelic host that surrounds God in the heavens, but it is unclear to me why this has to determine the meaning of Ps. 82. Just as we saw above, regarding the phrase ‘the host of the heavens,’ even the exact same phrase can have completely different meanings according to context. So a similar phrase in Ps. 89, which does indeed refer to heavenly beings, does not really have any bearing on Ps. 82, which to my mind has a totally different context.

In the same document, on pg. 13, after discussing Jesus’ use of Ps. 82:6 in John 10, Heiser makes this claim:

The human [elohim] view (of Ps. 82) derives from two assumptions brought to the text: (1) that it is required by the assumed impossibility of their being other [elohim] because of Judeo-Christian monotheism; and (2) that the phrase (used by Jesus in John 10) “to whom the word of God came” refers to the Jews who received the law at Sinai.

But I have argued for the human king view without any reference whatsoever to these two assumptions. In fact I do not accept either of those assumptions as fact. Heiser doesn’t even address the reasons that I have presented here for seeing the Ps. 82 ‘gods’ as human kings . Is he unaware of the points that I have made? Or is he just picking the low hanging fruit? I would be interested to hear how he would answer these objections to his view.

Verse 7 offers only a slight challenge to the human view:

But in fact, you shall die like men, and fall like one of the rulers.

Heiser interprets this as saying that the divine council members who have rebelled will lose their immortality. Does the phrase “you shall die like men” require that the recipients of these words are not men? Of course not. The phrase is in contrast to their exalted status and to God’s own designation of them as ‘gods’. Read Psalms 2, 45 and 72 and see the exalted ideal of the Davidic king ruling on Yahweh’s throne. God is reminding them of their mortality and that their exalted status will not prevent God’s hand of judgment from bringing them down because of their rebellion to him. That they will “fall like one of the rulers” signifies the exalted status of the Davidic king in relation to the kings of the nations. In Ps. 89:27 God calls him “... my firstborn, the most high (elyon – one of God’s titles) of the kings of the earth.” But this will not prevent God from bringing the rebellious in their ranks down to the ground. I think the NIV captures the intent of the psalmist here, “But you will die like mere men; and fall like every other ruler.” {see also Ps. 73:3-5}

Heiser then interprets the final verse in line with the divine council concept. He envisions the psalmist calling upon God to take back the rule of the nations from these corrupt members of the divine council. But what if the psalmist is simply recognizing that God’s ideal for the Davidic king ruling his kingdom in such a way as to bring under the shadow of his rule, as it were, the Gentile nations, had up to this point not been fulfilled. And this is a plea for that ideal to become a reality. Note the similarity of language with Ps. 2:8-9, where the Davidic ruler is promised the nations as his inheritance. And also note the apostle Paul’s declaration that God

…has set a day in which he intends to judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has furnished assurance of this to all men by raising him from the dead.                 Acts 17:31

For a more updated exegesis of Ps. 82 see this article here.

John 10:30-38

Michael Heiser’s presuppositions regarding the divine council and orthodox Christology surely lead him to his faulty interpretation of John 10:30-38. In typical orthodox fashion he sees v. 30 – “I and the Father are one” – as a claim to deity by Jesus. This is simply assumed by Heiser and most other orthodox trinitarian believers. There is nothing in the words themselves which necessitate that meaning. In other words, the words, as they stand, do not definitively mean that Jesus is claiming deity; this meaning is merely assumed based on the presupposition of orthodox Trinitarianism. Because they believe Jesus is deity, then that must be what he means by saying these words. This is an example of how orthodox dogma stifles inquiry into a text of scripture. If you think you already know the meaning of any particular passage, based on orthodox dogma or creedal declarations, then why seek for other possible or more plausible meanings of the text. But we must ask, “One what?” The orthodox answer is ‘one substance.’ And so we are told that Jesus was claiming to be one in substance with the Father and that the Jews to whom he was speaking understood him in this way. This is why they picked up stones to stone him, they said, “because you, being a man, make yourself a god.” Yes I said ‘a god‘, but we will get to that soon.

But is ‘one substance‘ the only way or even the best way to interpret Jesus’ words? Is there no other possible tenable alternative? Of course there is, but many trinitarians may be completely unaware of it due to orthodox conditioning. I believe a much more adequate way to interpret these words is in light of the Semitic understanding of agency. As I have explained in other articles on this blog, the concept of agency is ubiquitous in the Scriptures, both in the OT and the NT. The main idea of agency in the ancient Semitic world was that the agent was to be regarded as the one who sent him, since he carried the name, authority, and resources of his lord. The agent came, not to carry out his own will or plans, but those of his master. In this sense it could be said of any faithful agent,  that he and his lord are one. The identity of the agent is in a sense hidden in the one who sent him. The lord is in his agent and the agent is in his lord. Forty times in the gospel of John Jesus is spoken of or speaks of being sent by God. I think that qualifies the idea of Jesus as God’s agent as being a major theme of John’s gospel. This language of being sent is the language of agency. There are other phrases and words in this gospel, other than sent, which also denote agency, such as:

  • Jesus makes the Father known – 1:18
  • Jesus is ‘come from God’ – 3:2; 7:17; 8:42; 13:3
  • Jesus is ‘given authority’ to act on the Father’s behalf – 5:27; 17:2
  • Jesus comes in the Father’s name – 5:43; 10:25
  • Jesus is given a task to do by the Father – 5:37; 17:4
  • The Father is in Jesus and he is in the Father – 10:38; 14:10-11; 17:21
  • Jesus speaks only the Father’s word -7:16-18; 8:28; 12:49-50; 14:10,24

The idea that Jesus was speaking of a metaphysical unity with God, and that the Jews understood him to be so speaking is out of context with the Hebraic culture and mindset. Heiser should know this but seems unaware of it. The Jews did not think or speak of God in such metaphysical terms. It was later Gentile Christians, who were imbued with the Greek mindset, who introduced metaphysical concepts about the relationship between God and Jesus into the church’s thinking. The Jews thought of God in terms of functional relationship, i.e. the ways God acted toward them in covenant relationship. The relationship of Jesus to the Father is laid out in terms of divine agency not divine metaphysics.

I was very delighted to find a prestigious Evangelical commentary that agrees with this understanding of Jesus’ words, the Expositor’s Greek Testament, whose comment on this verse I could not have said better:

An ambassador (another term for agent) whose demands were contested might quite naturally say: “I and my sovereign are one”; not meaning thereby to claim royal dignity, but only to assert that what he did his sovereign did, that his signature carried his sovereign’s guarantee, and that his pledges would be fulfilled by all the resources of his sovereign. So here, as God’s representative, Jesus introduces the Father’s power as the final guarantee, and claims that in this respect he and the Father are one. Whether this does not involve metaphysical unity is another question.

How refreshing to see an Evangelical, orthodox trinitarian commentary actually get it right on a passage that is all too often touted as a proof text for the deity of Jesus. Of course they did have to add the final sentence so as to not lose all credibility and respect with their peers.

The agency view is further borne out in what Jesus says in vv. 34-38. Heiser, working under his presupposition of orthodox trinitarianism and his divine council model, sees not only v. 30 as a declaration by Jesus of metaphysical equality with God, but also v. 38, where Jesus declared, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” But Heiser is simply reading his predilection of some sort of metaphysical unity into this statement. The statement on it’s own accords well with the concept of Jesus as God’s agent, as does the rest of what Jesus says here.

But the fact that the Jews wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy, for “making [himself] a god,” surely proves that they understood his statement as a claim to ontological sameness with the Father, doesn’t it? Not at all. First off, there is no definite article before the word theos in the Greek and so the better translation is ‘a god‘ rather than ‘God.’ It is absurd to imagine these Jews as understanding Jesus’ words to be a claim to being ‘the God‘ of Israel, Yahweh himself, or that he was claiming some sort of metaphysical sameness with Yahweh. These opponents of Jesus were prone to exaggerating Jesus’ claims and his actions {see John 8:56-57} to make him look foolish or guilty of sin, therefore to use their words as a proof that Jesus was indeed claiming deity in his statement is ridiculous. What if they understood him as I have proposed i.e. that Jesus was claiming to be the special agent of God who was foretold in the prophets, the Messiah, the final and ideal son of David. Then they would have understood his statement as a claim to functional equality with God, not of ontological equality. Then their accusation would be an extreme exaggeration of Jesus’ claim. Jesus was not claiming to be a god in a sense that would threaten the monotheism of Judaism, but he was claiming that as God’s set-apart  and sent agent {v.36} he would carry out the same function as Yahweh, that of shepherding the flock {vv.1-30}. But why should this be controversial? In the Hebrew Bible the chosen and anointed ruler was tasked with shepherding God’s flock {2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7-8; Ps. 78:70-72; Is. 63:11}, while God himself was seen as the ultimate Shepherd of Israel {Ps. 80:1}. The coming ideal Davidic ruler is also portrayed in these terms {Ezek. 34:23-24; Micah 5:2-4 (see also Matt 2:7)}. The idea is really quite simple – God, the ultimate Shepherd, carries out that function of his covenant relationship with his people, by means of an empowered human agent, the anointed of the Lord. God, as Israel’s ultimate King rules over his people through his appointed agent, the Davidic king.

But why would it be blasphemy for Jesus to be making this claim? If the Jews were exaggerating Jesus’ claim it may be because they saw it as a usurpation of God’s role by Jesus. These Jews did not consider Jesus to be the Messiah. They thought he was a false claimant to that title; he did not fit the bill of what the Messiah was supposed to be, a military leader who would lead Israel to victory against the oppressive Gentile nations. Such a claim by one who obviously didn’t meet the standard would be considered blasphemous. The idea that blasphemy is defined only as a claim to be God is nowhere found in the Bible. To blaspheme is to speak of one in such a way as to defame them. Hence, Jews held that Moses (as well as the patriarchs), and even the law and temple could be blasphemed {Acts 6:11-14}. In the Hebrew Bible a false claim to speak for God was punishable by stoning {Deut. 18:20}.

Jesus answers the Jew’s false accusation against him by referring them to Psalm 82:6:

34.”Is it not written in your law, ‘I have said you are gods’ ? 35. If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be broken —36. what about the one whom the Father set-apart and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s son’ ? 37. Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.”

Heiser thinks that the only way to make sense of Jesus’ use of this passage is if Ps. 82 is speaking about the divine council. In his document titled Jesus’ Use of Ps. 82 in John 10:34 he summarizes his conclusions as follows:

(1) Jesus uses Ps.82 to identify himself as belonging to the divine realm.
(2) Jesus also identifies himself with the Father, who belongs to the divine realm.

Briefly, I view John’s use of Ps. 82:6 in John 10:34 as making the point (from Jesus himself) that there are other non-human sons of God. By referencing Psalm 82, which is not about “human elohim,” Jesus is in effect tweaking his opponents by claiming to be more than human … John is both asserting Jesus is divine and distinct from other divine sons of God. In effect, Jesus is lord of the council.

I am sorry, but none of Heiser’s conclusions follow from the text itself. He is simply assuming his concept of the divine council (as well as orthodox trinitarianism) and forcing that upon the text.

Now I agree with Heiser that Jesus’ statement “to whom the word of God came” is not referring to the Law being given to the Israelite nation, so that all Israelites are being called ‘gods‘ here. But he acts as though that is the only alternative one has if they don’t take it his way. Yes “to whom the word of God came” refers to those whom God is specifically addressing in Ps. 82, but Heiser sees them as the members of the divine council, when, as I have shown, it is the kings who rule God’s people who are addressed there. Jesus’ point is simple – if God himself referred to his appointed representative rulers as ‘elohim’ (all of whom, by the way, failed to live up to the ideal), then what of the special, ideal and final representative agent, the long awaited coming one (this is the significance of the words “the one the Father set-apart and sent into the world“), who Jesus was claiming to be, is it blasphemy for him to claim to be God’s son? No, in fact he has a right to that title. Note that in Ps. 82:6 the designation ‘gods‘ is equivalent to the designation ‘sons of the Most High’, which, as we saw earlier, are both designations given to the Davidic kings. Far from the divine council view of Ps. 82 being necessary in order to make sense of John 10:30-38, it does not even adequately address the language of Jesus in the whole passage. If the divine council members are ‘sons’ of God, and Jesus is claiming to be God’s son also, how does that establish the distinction between Him and the other council members that Heiser envisions?

One final point, Heiser sees v. 38 as parallel to Exodus 23:20-23, where Yahweh tells Moses he is sending an agent ahead of them and that his name is in this agent. Again, driven by his presuppositions, Heiser  sees a metaphysical relationship between Yahweh and this agent, who he describes as “Yahweh in human form”, or at other times “the visible Yahweh” as compared to the invisible Yahweh i.e. the Father. But this is simply reading his foregone conclusion into the text. That Yahweh’s name was in the agent is completely intelligible from the agency view. Of course the name of an agent’s master is in him, this is what gives the agent the authority to speak and act in the master’s stead. No metaphysical or ontological connection between the two need be posited for this language to make sense, in fact it only brings confusion into what really is a simple concept.

For further exegesis of John 10:30-38 see this article here.

The Divine Council Of Ugarit vs The Divine Council Of The Hebrews

In his Old Testament Godhead Language pdf, Heiser tells us the difference between the divine council in Ugaritic literature and the Hebrew Bible. In Ugarit religion there was a divine council consisting of three tiers, maybe four. The first tier consisted of El and his wife; the second of the royal family, the sons of God, of whom Baal served as El’s co-regent; and the third was for ‘craftsman deities’ (Heiser doesn’t explain what these are); and a possible fourth tier consisted of mere messengers, the malakim.

Heiser then explains the divine council according to the Hebrew Bible as follows. It is a three tier system, where Yahweh occupies the top tier. The second tier consisted of the lesser ‘elohim‘, called the ‘sons of God.’ The third tier consisted of the malakim, or angels.

Now let’s look at what Heiser says next in this paper:

Orthodox Yahwism replaced the co-regent spot that Baal occupied with a sort of binitarian Godhead, in which Yahweh occupied both slots … Within Israelite religion, Yahweh’s occupation of both of the two highest tiers resulted conceptually in two Yahwehs – one visible, the other invisible. At times both speak as characters in the same scene, but more frequently, they are virtually interchangeable.

Heiser sees Jesus as the second Yahweh. Even though he is called son of God, like the lesser elohim of the second tier, he is not a lesser elohim, but occupies the top tier along with the Father, as a second hypostasis in the Godhead, a second Yahweh figure, while remaining distinct from the Father. Heiser has simply fused his divine council concept with orthodox Christology. But please notice how he had to adjust the Ugarit divine council to arrive at an Israelite divine council that would accommodate orthodox Christology. How convenient. In Heiser’s scheme Jesus replaces the Baal figure of Ugarit; but a second tier deity won’t do for orthodox, creedal Christianity, so Heiser bumps him up to a first tier Deity along with the Father. He then asserts that this binitarian Godhead was simply a part of the orthodox worship of Yahweh.

This is quite an assertion; what evidence does he offer for it. Well he begins with the OT figure known as ‘the angel of Yahweh‘. I have dealt with the popular notion promoted by many trinitarian teachers and apologists that the angel of Yahweh was the pre-incarnate son of God in Part 1 of my series Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OTso I won’t go into it too deep here. He mentions Ex. 23:20-23, where the angel has God’s name in him, which I dealt with above. He mentions Judges 6 but doesn’t explain much, except to say, “Yahweh and the Angel can be simultaneously – but seperately – present.” Judges 6 can be understood easily when one understands Semitic agency, where God would be acting in and through his agent so that the authors of Scripture can speak of the agent’s speech as Yahweh himself speaking and the agent’s actions as Yahweh himself acting. No postulation of a metaphysical unity between the two is necessary. He next mentions how Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is sometimes attributed to God and sometimes to the Angel of Yahweh, which is supposed to imply this metaphysical sameness. The solution to this is so simple that the fact that Heiser misses it is inexcusable. When God does a thing through an agent then surely it can be said that God did it or that the agent did it. Not only is the bringing of Israel out of Egypt attributed to God and to the angel but also to Moses {1 Sam. 12:6-8}. Should we then postulate a metaphysical relationship between Yahweh and Moses? God was acting in and through his agents (whether human or divine) and so he gets the ultimate credit, but Scripture still recognizes the role of the agents. This is why in the book of Judges Israel’s deliverance from their enemies is attributed to both Yahweh and the human judges {Judges 2:16-18}.

He next mentions Gen. 48:15-16, which reads, regarding Jacobs blessing of Josephs two sons:

May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm — may he bless these boys.

Heiser thinks that this establishes the identity of the angel of Yahweh as Yahweh himself, a sort of metaphysical sameness which he describes as “a tight fusion of the two divine beings.” But why can’t it just be understood that Jacob realizes that God’s deliverance of him from all harm was accomplished not by God’s direct involvement but rather by an agent assigned by God to protect him. He knows that ultimately God is the source of his protection, but he also knows that God accomplished it through an agent, whom he recognizes in this blessing. The singular verb bless in the phrase “may he bless” would be referring to God alone not to the angel who acted on God’s behalf.

Heiser then mentions the Rider on the Clouds of Daniel 7:13 which I will be examining in my next article, so I won’t here.

Next he references how Yahweh speaks sometimes of himself in the third person, as in Amos 4:11. This is a phenomenon known as illeism. There is a dissertation by Ervin Roderick Elledge on illeism in the Bible and in ANE literature, which is available online, which documents the widespread use of this rhetorical device among ANE gods and ANE kings, as well as in the speech of Yahweh and kings in the OT and Jesus in the NT. It really has nothing to say about whether their might be multiple persons in the Godhead.

Next he mentions the two powers in heaven doctrine of Judaism, which I will also deal with in the next article.

None of these supposed ‘evidences’ really merit the over confidence of Heiser in his assertion that orthodox Yahwism made room for a binitarian Godhead which consisted of a visible and an invisible Yahweh. Heiser never really tries to explain on too deep of a level how he conceives of the relationship between these two Yahwehs – how they are the same person but yet distinct, he just asserts it and expects his followers will accept his word for it. If Heiser wishes to view things the way he does, fine, he is free to do so. But he should tell his followers that this is just one way to see things, that there are other viable ways of explaining the data. Instead, he presents his interpretations as the only plausible way of reading the text. But as we have seen there are other alternative interpretations of these passages that are really much better than what Heiser offers.

In my next article we will examine Heiser’s interpretation of Daniel 7. Please come back.

Pre-incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth? – The Angel of the Lord

Ever since the time of the early Christian apologist Justin (middle of the second century), it has been a popular trend among apologists, Bible commentators, pastors and teachers, to claim that Jesus, the son of God, can be seen to be actively at work in the pages of the Old Testament. This, of course, would be prior to his becoming a man in his birth from the virgin Mary, hence these instances are usually referred to as ‘pre-incarnate appearances of Christ’. This idea obviously grows out of the belief that Jesus existed prior to his birth in Bethlehem, either as God himself or as some kind of divine being. If one denies that Jesus the Messiah pre-existed his birth then he has no motivation to find in the OT, instances of  his ‘pre-incarnate appearances’. Trinitarians are more inclined than others to see these ‘pre-incarnate appearances’, and by pointing them out, hope to bolster the doctrines of the Trinity and Deity of Christ. But it must be pointed out that even if one could prove that Jesus did exist and appeared to men, prior to his proper incarnation, this would not ipso facto be proof of the Trinity or of the proper deity of Jesus. At best it would only prove that he existed in some form prior to his birth as man. The early Logos theorists, such as the Justin mentioned above, Arians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and others throughout Christian history, have believed that the son of God existed and made appearances to men prior to his becoming a man, but would not classify him as the true God himself, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

There are a number of mysterious figures that appear in the OT which are claimed to be ‘pre-incarnate appearances of Christ’ (i.e. Christophanies). We will, in this study, examine the ones most commonly used by the promoters of this idea:

  1. The Angel of Yahweh
  2. The Word of Yahweh
  3. Miscellaneous (Melchizedek, Captain of the Armies of Yahweh, etc.)

The Angel Of The Lord

Much discussion has been had over this mysterious figure in the OT throughout the centuries, with most of the ‘orthodox’ considering his appearance a Christophany. Yet it must be stated categorically that there is no explicit or unambiguous statement in either the OT or the NT that equates the ‘Angel of the Lord’ with Jesus, the son of God. This indeed is astounding when one considers the nearly universal acceptance of this figure as Jesus himself. So how is this to be accounted for. One reason is that the identification of this angel with Jesus is very ancient, going back to the aforementioned Justin, in the middle of the second century (he was the first to assert this idea). Subsequent church fathers followed his lead in this and for many within orthodoxy today these early church fathers are sacrosanct, and their writings are, at least on a subconscious level, considered nearly inspired. For many in the orthodox camp the more ancient a belief the more reliable it is and so it should be unquestionably accepted as truth. This is what is known as tradition. But the fact that the NT is absolutely silent regarding this ‘angel of the Lord’ (well not completely, as we will see) and no where unequivocally teaches that Jesus was actively appearing to people in the OT (notwithstanding 1 Cor. 10:4 & 9 and Jude 5, which have textual problems and are ambiguous), should provide a caution, as we proceed, against the unquestioning acceptance of this tradition.

Because of the lack of explicit biblical statements on this topic one must find scriptural support by inference. This is usually done as follows:

  1. The angel of the Lord often appears as Yahweh himself, speaking in the first person. E.g. Genesis 16:10; Ex. 3:1-15; Judges 2:1-5.
  2. Yet the NT says that no one has ever seen God, which is assumed to mean the Father – 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12
  3. So then the angel of the Lord must be appearances of God the Son.

Now there are some serious flaws in this line of reasoning, which we will examine shortly. But before we do I want to first look at the issue of whether or not each time the ‘angel of the Lord’ is mentioned it is actually referring to one and the same specific individual being. If it can be shown that this is not the case, then the proposition that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is the pre-incarnate son of God is seriously weakened.

Arthrous or Anarthrous

The whole argument for the ‘angel of the Lord’ being a Christophany depends on the presupposition that this phrase is a designation belonging to the same  specific individual entity every time it appears. This presupposition depends largely on the inclusion of the definite article (i.e. the word ‘the‘) before the word angel. The inclusion of the definite article before a noun makes that noun arthrous, i.e. with the article. The absence of the definite article before a noun makes that noun anarthrous, i.e. without the article. An arthrous noun would be more specific – the angel, whereas an anarthrous noun would be more general – an angel. The problem is, that with some languages, such as ancient Hebrew, the definite article does not necessarily have to be explicit in the text, but is sometimes implied by the grammatical relationship of the words in a sentence. There was no indefinite article in either Hebrew or Greek, so a noun that is anarthrous in the text could be translated as either indefinite (a or an) or definite (the), by implication. Of course when the article is explicit in the text it must be translated as so. So, in the OT, in the Hebrew underlying the English phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh’, is the noun angel arthrous or anarthrous?

There is in Hebrew what is known as the construct state. This is when two nouns are joined together in a construct relationship. The first noun is the construct noun and the second is the absolute noun. This forms a genitive construction and so the word ‘of‘ is placed between the nouns. This is the precise construction we have in the phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh.’ In Hebrew we have malak YHWH which literally translated is angel YHWH. Because this is a genitive construction denoting possession we get angel of Yahweh. The rule is that the definiteness or indefiniteness of the construct noun, here angel, is determined by the definiteness or indefiniteness of the absolute noun, here Yahweh. Now because all proper nouns are definite, and Yahweh being a proper noun,  the correct grammatical translation would be ‘the angel of Yahweh.’ But this in no way means that a Hebrew reader would have understood every instance of the phrase to be referring to the same specific being, as if ‘the angel of Yahweh’ was a title designating one specific individual. That the definiteness of the word angel just does not have to mean this is easily proved. First of all, it is noted by Hebrew scholars that when the construct state includes a proper name (Yahweh) as the absolute, though technically the construct noun would be definite, in actual understanding it can be considered indefinite, depending on the context. This is because there is no way to write in Hebrew ‘an angel of Yahweh‘ since Yahweh is always definite and therefore the construct noun preceding it is always technically definite. But if the context requires it, then the grammatically correct definite noun should be understood as indefinite. In Exodus 10:9 we find the Hebrew phrase hag YHWH = feast YHWH = the feast of Yahweh. It is grammatically correct to translate feast as definite for the construction requires it, but it is not necessary to understand it as definite. In fact every English translation I checked renders this phrase as ‘a feast of the Lord.’ This is because the context clearly requires it be indefinite. Up to this point in the story in Exodus there has been no mention of any feast of Yahweh. If ‘the feast of Yahweh’ was referring to a specific feast, which one? Later in Exodus, Yahweh establishes seven feasts for Israel to keep, but up to this point no such feast has been mentioned; this is obviously a general feast, unconnected to the seven feasts established later. This is why English  translators are nearly unanimous in translating it as “a feast of the Lord.” Also the Jewish translators of the LXX (the Greek version of the OT) rendered feast as indefinite in this passage.

Now let’s look at another example. In Deut. 22:19 we have in Hebrew bethulah Yisrael = virgin Israel = the virgin of Israel. Are we to assume from this that there is one specific virgin in Israel who is designated as ‘the virgin of Israel.’ No, of course not. Once again, although virgin is technically definite because of the grammatical construction, it clearly should be understood as indefinite. In the context of the passage it refers to any virgin in Israel to whom the aforementioned circumstances apply. All English versions and the LXX render virgin as indefinite.

Now let’s look at examples where even though the English versions translate a construct noun as definite in a phrase, it cannot possibly be understood to be referring to one and the same individual person in every instance that phrase occurs. Take the Hebrew phrase ebed YHWH = servant YHWH = the servant of Yahweh. If what the proponents of ‘the angel of Yahweh’ being one specific individual person say is true, because of the definiteness of the word angel, then the same must apply here, for it is the exact same construction. But is this the case? Obviously not, for the OT tells us of various people who were so designated:

  • mosheh ebed YHWH = Moses the servant of Yahweh – Deut. 34:5
  • yehoshua ebed YHWH = Joshua the servant of Yahweh – Joshua 24:29
  • lebed Yahweh ledawid = of David the servant of Yahweh – Ps. 18:1

No one would conclude that Moses, Joshua and David were all the same individual person because they were each designated ‘the servant of Yahweh.’  We also see the paralell phrase used by Yahweh himself, “my servant.” Surely whoever Yahweh calls ‘my servant‘ must be ‘the servant of Yahweh.’ Yet the phrase ‘my servant’ is applied to:

  • Abraham – Gen 26:24
  • All Israelites – Lev. 25:42
  • Caleb – Numbers 14:24
  • The future Messiah – Is. 42:1
  • Zerubbabel – Haggai 2:23
  • all prophets – Ez. 38:17

It seems to me that one of the reasons that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is taken as a single individual is because whenever there is an appearance of the angel of the Yahweh there is no proper name given to him, as in the case with ‘the servant of Yahweh.’ But it must be remembered that in all of Scripture only two names of angels are ever given, Michael and Gabriel, yet there is said to be myriads of angels. It just doesn’t seem to be the norm to give the names of God’s celestial messengers when they appear, probably because they are not coming in their own name but in the name of Yahweh. If it had been common practice for these divine messengers to give their names when appearing then we might not be having this discussion because we would have seen that more than one specific messenger was being designated by the phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh. But the lack of proper names for each messenger of Yahweh has aided in the misconception that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is referring to a single individual messenger.

One last example is found in Judges 13:6 and 2 Chron. 25:7 where we find the phrase ish haelohim = man the god = the man of God. Because the word elohim  has the definite article prefixed, the construct noun should technically be rendered ‘the man’ i.e. it is grammatically correct to translate it so. Yet, once again all English versions and the LXX render the word man, in these passages, as indefinite. Why? Because the context demands it. In the context of Judges 13, Manoah’s wife tells him for the first time about a man of God that came to her. In most languages this would be expressed by an indefinite noun. If I approach someone to tell them about a speeding ticket I got last week I wouldn’t begin by saying, “I was stopped by the police officer last week for speeding,” but rather, “I was stopped by a police officer.” (By the way, I did not really get a ticket last week). In the context of the 2 Chron. passage, the man of God is being introduced into the story for the first time in verse 7, and so it is proper to understand the noun man as indefinite. Also, as with the phrase ‘the servant of Yahweh’, the definite phrase ‘the man of God’ is applied to multiple persons:

  • Moses – Deut. 33:1
  • Elisha – 2 Kings 4:7
  • Shemaiah – 1 Kings 12:22
  • David – 2 Chron. 8:14
  • Igdaliah – Jer. 35:4

So if the definite phrases ‘the servant of Yahweh‘ and ‘the man of God‘ need not be referring to one single individual then neither must the phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh‘, at least not based on the grammatical construction. If the definiteness of the ‘angel of Yahweh’ is to be maintained it must be solely on exegetical grounds.

Further evidence that the definite phrase, ‘the angel of Yahweh’ may be understood practically as indefinite is found in the LXX. As noted with the other definite phrases mentioned above, we find the same thing regarding this definite phrase – the Jewish translators of the LXX consistently render the phrase as indefinite (an angel of the Lord) at the first mention of ‘the angel of Yahweh’ in any given passage. Subsequent mentions are then rendered as definite (the angel of the Lord), referring back to the initial indefinite first mention. Here is an example from Judges 13. In the Hebrew text all occurrences of the phrase are grammatically definite based on the construction. But in the Greek version we find something different. Verse 3, and the 2nd mention in vv. 16 and 21, are rendered as indefinite by the translators, while the remaining occurrences  are clearly given the definite article. How does one who insists that the phrase be taken strictly as definite account for this? Did these Jewish scholars not know how to read their own scripture and translate it into another language? The fact that there is no way to write in Hebrew ‘an angel of Yahweh‘ does not mean that Hebrews reading the scriptures were not able to parse in their minds when a definite construction should be read as indefinite, and then translate that understanding into another language.

What I have just said about the LXX is also true of the 1985 translation of the Tanakh by The Jewish Publication Society. In almost every passage where ‘the angel of Yahweh’ appears, the first mention of the angel is indefinite, while any subsequent mentions within the same narrative are then definite, referring back to the angel first mentioned. This includes Gen. 16:7-12; 22:11-15; Ex. 3:2; Num. 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-4; 6:11-22; 13:3-21; Is. 37:36; Zech. 12:8. So we see that modern Jews, as well as ancient ones, understand the grammatically definite phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh’ as practically indefinite when the context demands it.

One last point on why the definite phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh’ cannot be a designation for one single individual. There are actually two occurrences of this phrase where we are told exactly who is being referred to:

Haggai, the angel of Yahweh, spoke the message of Yahweh to the people …”
 Haggai 1:13

“The lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction, because he is the angel of Yahweh of hosts.”
Malachi 2:7

In light of these two passages, it cannot be maintained that one single individual being is denoted by the definite phrase ‘the angel of Yahweh.’ The phrase is, in fact, a generic designation which applies to any and all of Yahweh’s agents, whether human or non-human.

 Faulty Reasoning

Having ruled out the necessity of seeing ‘the angel of Yahweh’ as a single individual being, this does not mean that at least some of the time, appearances of the angel of Yahweh could be pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. Let’s go back to the syllogism I noted earlier. First we will look at the second premise and how it relates to the conclusion. The premise is that the NT {1 Tim. 6:16; 1 Jn. 4:12} states that no one has ever seen God, meaning the Father, and so the conclusion is that if it can be shown that God did appear and was seen in the OT it must be someone other than the Father, but who is also God. My first objection to this is that it seems rather arbitrary on the part of Trinitarians to make ‘God’ in these passages to mean ‘the Father’ in the trinitarian sense i.e. one of the three persons of the Godhead. Why couldn’t it be referring to the Trinity? How do they come to the conclusion that it refers to the Father?  Simply by reading their presupposition into the text. It is true that the word God in these verses is referring to the Father, but in the biblical sense i.e. God and the Father are numerically identical, they are the same being. In fact the NT tells us explicitly that the Father alone is the God, i.e. the God of the OT whose name is Yahweh:

“Father … you, the only (one, single, alone, sole) true God.”     John 17:3

“Yet for us (i.e. Christians) there is one God, the Father …”      1 Cor. 8:6

“… one God and Father of all, the one over all …”                        Eph. 4:6

Not only this, but in all of Paul’s letters he often speaks of  “God the Father.” This is read by trinitarians as if Paul is making a metaphysical distinction between ‘God the Father,’ ‘God the Son’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit.’ But please note that Paul never once speaks of ‘God the Son’, since such a concept was still a couple of hundred years in the future from when Paul wrote his letters. What should be plain to any unbiased reader is that what Paul means by “God the Father” is “God, who is the Father.”

To read the word God in 1 Tim.6:16 and 1 Jn.4:12 as meaning ‘the first person in the Trinity’ is anachronistic, for the word God would not take on that meaning until the 4th century.

But let’s assume that the Trinity doctrine is true. Does it not teach that the Son is of equal substance and glory, co-eternal with the Father? Does it not say that the Son existed in the form of God prior to his incarnation, which presumably is the same form in which the Father exists? So by what kind of logic can it be said that the Father cannot be seen but the pre-incarnate Son can? What is it about the pre-incarnate Son, that differs from the Father, that enables him to be seen while the Father is unable to be seen? This distinction is never made, at least not that I have seen. This exposes the completely arbitrary nature of this premise — they are just making it up as they go.

Now let’s examine the first premise in the syllogism. It states that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ speaks in the first person and is spoken of as if he was Yahweh himself, and therefore it must be Yahweh himself (yet not Yahweh the Father, but Yahweh the Son). Now there are some scholars who see ‘the angel of Yahweh’ as a theophany rather than a christophany, i.e. that it is an appearance of Yahweh the Father himself. The explanation that I am about to present refutes the theophany concept as well as the christophany concept.

An Ambiguous Figure

Is there any other way to explain the fact that when the angel of Yahweh appears, he speaks in the first person, as if he was Yahweh himself, other than just concluding that he must be Yahweh in some sense? I think there is, but before I get to that let’s look at a few passages where the angel of Yahweh appears. There are things said in some passages which should caution us against being to quick to see a numerical identity of the angel with Yahweh.

It is true that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ speaks as if he is Yahweh. Here are some examples:

  • In Gen 16:6 Abram’s wife Sarai causes her maidservant Hagar, who is pregnant with Abram’s child, to flee into the desert. There  ‘the (LXX- an) angel of Yahweh’ appears to her, and in v.10 says, “I will so increase your descendants that they will become too numerous to count.” Surely it is not an angel who is making this promise but Yahweh himself. The angel seems to be Yahweh himself.
  • In Gen 22:11, as Abraham is about to slay Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering to Yahweh, ‘the (LXX –an) angel of Yahweh’ calls out to him and says, “Do not lay a hand on the boy, … now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Was Abraham going to offer Isaac to the angel or to Yahweh. The angel seems to be Yahweh himself.
  • In Exodus 3:2 “the (LXX- an) angel of Yahweh appeared to him (Moses) in flames of fire from within a bush.”  Verse 4 then says, “When Yahweh saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush …” In v. 6 God says, “I am the God of your father Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” The rest of ch. 3 through ch. 4:17 is a conversation between Yahweh and Moses. So the one first identified as ‘the angel of Yahweh seems to be Yahweh himself.
  • Judges 2:1 says: “The (LXX-an) angel of Yahweh went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers…'” Here the angel of Yahweh speaks as if he were Yahweh himself.
  • In Judges 6 ‘the (LXX-an) angel of Yahweh’ appears, as a man, to Gideon. After a brief conversation between the two we read at v.14, Yahweh turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midians hand. Am I not sending you.'” Once again, it seems as if the angel is Yahweh himself.

Now I could give more examples but this will suffice. So as you can see, the proponents of both the theophany and the christophany views do have a point. But is this phenomenon a sufficient reason to conclude either of these views. Let me point out, first of all, that this phenomenon concerning ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is not consistently seen in all occurrences of his appearance, and not even in the immediate context of the passages where this phenomenon is seen, as in some of the passages above. For example:

  • In the Gen. 16 passage the angel switches from speaking in the first person, as Yahweh, in v. 10, to speaking of Yahweh in the third person at v. 11.
  • In the Gen. 22 passage the angel goes from speaking as if he were Yahweh himself, in v. 12, to speaking on behalf of Yahweh at vv. 15-18.
  • In the Judges 6 passage there is a switching back and forth between the angel and Yahweh. In vv. 11-13 it’s ‘the angel of Yahweh’; then in vv.14-18 it’s simply Yahweh; then in vv. 20-22 it’s back to ‘the angel of Yahweh.’ If we were meant to understand the angel to be Yahweh himself by vv. 14-18, then why revert back to calling him ‘the angel of Yahweh’ in vv. 20-22?
  • In Judges 13 ‘the (LXX-an) angel of Yahweh’ appears as a man to Manoah’s wife. The angel never speaks in the first person as Yahweh, he only gives the woman a promise and instructions. Later he shows up again to Manoah and his wife, but they only think he is ‘a man of God.’ The angel speaks of Yahweh in the third person in v. 16. Throughout the whole account he is consistently called ‘the angel of Yahweh’ and never simply ‘Yahweh.’
  •  In 1 Chron. 21:11-27 ‘the (LXX-an) angel of  Yahweh’ is clearly, throughout the passage, distinct from Yahweh himself, as seen in vv. 14-15, 27.
  • In Numbers 22:21-35 ‘the angel of Yahweh’ seems to be distinct from Yahweh from vv. 22 and 31. Nothing in the passage would suggest the angel just is Yahweh.
  • In Zech. 1:11-13 ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is explicitly distinct from Yahweh for he addresses Yahweh at v.12 and is spoken to by Yahweh at v. 13.
  • In Zech. 3 ‘the (LXX-an) angel of Yahweh’ seems to be called Yahweh at v. 2, but immediately speaks of Yahweh in the third person. In vv. 6-10 the angel speaks on Yahweh’s behalf with the common prophetic announcement, “This is what Yahweh Almighty says.”

So what we see from this is that while sometimes ‘the angel of Yahweh’ speaks as Yahweh, in the first person, at other times, even within the same context, he speaks of Yahweh in the third person. Sometimes the angel is called Yahweh but is mostly called ‘the angel of Yahweh’ , and the text can switch between the two within a single pericope. As I noted earlier, these facts should caution us about being to quick to simply identify the ‘angel’ as numerically identical to Yahweh.

So, is there a way of understanding ‘the angel of Yahweh’ that would explain all of the data we find regarding this figure, and not just part of the data. Proponents of the  theophany view focus on the aspects of ‘the angel of Yahweh’ that seem to identify him as Yahweh, while ignoring the data that seems to make him distinct from Yahweh. The proponents of the christophany view acknowledge both aspects of this person, and think that this supports their trinitarian belief. They see the angel as Yahweh himself but somehow also distinct from Yahweh, hence two distinct persons who are both Yahweh.

The Missing Piece Of The Puzzle

One mistake that many people make when trying to interpret scripture is to not consider the cultural milieu in which the scriptures were written. In the culture of the Ancient Near East (ANE) the concept of agency would have been a common idea, but the concept has escaped most within Christendom for the past two thousand years. Scholarship in the area of ANE studies, in the 20th century, has helped to throw much needed light on this subject. Once this concept is understood and applied to the biblical text, much of what seemed confusing or contradictory in scripture suddenly becomes lucid. The ancient Hebrew people certainly understood this concept and it should not surprise us to find the language of agency permeating the pages of Scripture.

OT scholar, John Walton, in his commentary on Genesis in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary said this regarding this ancient concept and it’s relationship to the angel of Yahweh:

“In the ancient world direct communication between important parties was a rarity. Diplomatic and political exchange usually required the use of an intermediary, a function that our ambassadors exercise today. The messenger who served as the intermediary was a fully vested representative of the party he represented. He spoke for that party and with the authority of that party. He was accorded the same treatment as that party would enjoy were he there in person. While this was standard protocol, there was no confusion about the person’s identity.

This explains how the angel in this chapter [Gen. 16] can comfortably use the first person to convey what God will do (16:10). When official words are spoken by the representative, everyone understands that he is not speaking for himself, but is merely conveying the words, opinions, policies, and decisions of his liege. So in Ugaritic literature, when Baal sends messengers to Mot, the messengers use first person forms of speech. E.T. Mullen concludes that such usage ‘signify that the messengers not only are envoys of the god, but actually embody the power of their sender.'”

Aubrey R. Johnson, in The One and the Many In the Israelite Conception of God, expressed the concept of agency as follows:

“In Hebrew thought a patriarch’s personality extended through his entire household … in a specialized sense, when the patriarch, as lord of his household, deputized his trusted servant as his malak (his messenger or angel), the man was endowed with the authority and resources of his lord, to represent him fully and transact business in his name. In Semitic thought this messenger-representative was conceived of as being personally — and in his very words — the presence of the sender.”

Did you catch that? The duly appointed agent becomes, as it were, the person who sent him, the one whom he represents. However the agent is received and treated is in reality how the one who sent him is received and treated. This understanding is reflected even in the NT:

“When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me , but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me he sees the one who sent me.”                   John 12:44-45

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me…”                                                                                                                           John 5:24 

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.”                                                                                                Matt. 10:40

“He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”                                               Luke 10:16

This is the language of agency, which every Jew hearing Jesus’ words would have understood. The above statements of Jesus were indeed axiomatic within the culture of ancient Israel and her surrounding neighbors. There are two incidents in the gospels which really drive home this point that the agent is regarded as the one who sends him — the story of the centurion seeking healing for his servant and the story of two disciples who wanted places of honor above the others in Jesus’ kingdom. The first incident is recorded in two Gospels, Matthew 8 and Luke 7. In Luke’s account, at verse 3, we are told that the centurion sends a delegation of Jewish elders to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. But in Matthew’s account, at verses 5 & 6, we are told:

“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in much suffering.'”

Matthew says nothing about the delegation of Jewish elders whom the centurion sent to Jesus, but rather portrays the account as if the centurion himself had come to Jesus. Is this a contradiction? Whose version of this event is correct? Actually they both are. Because the Jewish elders had not gone to Jesus of their own initiative, but were enlisted by the centurion to ask the Lord on his behalf, they were acting as his agents, bringing the request to Jesus in the centurion’s stead. Therefore it is perfectly acceptable for Matthew, in his retelling of the story, to bypass the messengers and portray the centurion as personally asking Jesus for his help.

The second incident is recorded in Matt.20:20-21 and Mark 10:35-37. In Matthew’s account the mother of James and John, the son’s of Zebedee, came to Jesus to request of him that her two sons might be given the special places of honor at Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom. Yet in Mark’s account the mother is not mentioned, but only that “James and John, the son’s of Zebedee, came to him.” We see again that the request can be portrayed as being made personally by the two brothers because they, no doubt, enlisted the aid of their mother to speak to Jesus on their behalf, i.e. the request was really coming from them, not from their mother.

So how does the concept of agency enable us to make sense  of the information we have in Scripture concerning ‘the angel of Yahweh’ ? I believe it has explanatory value for the passages where ‘the angel of Yahweh’ speaks as Yahweh in the first person and where the text seems to call him Yahweh. We can understand the angel as being an extension of Yahweh’s person and as such his words and actions are attibuted to Yahweh, the one who sent him and on whose behalf he speaks and acts. To receive the angel favorably is to receive Yahweh favorably; to receive the angel’s message is to receive Yahweh’s word. Of course, it also explains why on some occasions ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is clearly distinct from Yahweh and may speak of Yahweh in the third person and may even use the prophetic formula “thus says Yahweh.”

I will not go through each passage where ‘the angel of Yahweh’ appears, but I encourage each reader to apply this concept of agency to each of the passages where the phrase occurs and see if it does not help to clarify what is going on in the text.

Objections To The Agency View

But what about the fact that some who saw ‘the angel of Yahweh’ believed they had seen Yahweh and were fearful for their lives. This is not really as weighty as it may seem at first. First, we should not assume that the patriarchs and the early Israelites, during the time of the judges, would have had a comprehensive understanding of what was going on in these appearances. They surely would have understood the concept of agency which was part of their culture, and that an agent was in a sense the personal presence of the one who sent him. They seem to have had the notion that if one were to see God they would die, but where they attained that idea from is unknown. It is not hard to imagine that such experiences would have been very traumatic for them and a cause of confusion. It’s not as though they had some definitive revelation from God to tell them how to decipher these experiences. Caught up in the ecstasy of the moment, they may have uttered things which evidence their confusion and ignorance.

But what did they actually see? It seems that in most cases ‘the angel of Yahweh’ (or angels in general) appeared to them as a man; this is either explicitly stated in the text or is a reasonable inference {see Gen. 16:7-14; 18:2; 32:24-30; Joshua 5:13-14; Judges 6:11-22; 13:2-23}. We know that in the case of Jacob wrestling with the man in Genesis 32, that although at the end of the encounter he declared, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared,” in actuality he only saw an angel, according to the inspired interpretation of the prophet Hosea, in 12:3-4. Now, if in this case, we know that the appearance of an angel was taken to be a “face to face” encounter with God, by the one to whom he appeared, and that Jacob’s seeing God was in some other sense than literally, then can we not conjecture the same in the other instances where men declared to have seen God after seeing ‘the angel of Yahweh’. That Jacob’s expression that he saw God “face to face” does not have to be understood literally can be seen from other incidents where this expression is used. In Deut. 5:4 Moses tells the whole Israelite community, “Yahweh spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain.” He was, of course, referring to the incident recorded in Ex. 20. But the Israelites never literally saw God , they saw only fire and smoke on the mountain and heard an audible voice speak the 10 commandments. The fire was a representative form by which God appeared to them. In  Ex. 33:7-11 we are told of how Moses would meet with God at the tent of meeting and receive instructions from him. Again, Moses did not see God literally, but saw only a representative form in which God appeared i.e. the cloud. This was characterized as a “face to face” encounter with God, yet what was seen was only something that represented God. In the same way, the man (or angel) who wrestled with Jacob was simply a representation of God, so that when Jacob contended with the angel, he was, in effect, struggling with God; when he prevailed over the angel he thus prevailed with God {Hosea 12:3-4}.

In Gen. 16:7-14 we read of Hagar’s encounter with the angel of Yahweh (LXX – an angel). It is often claimed by defenders of the theophany/christophany view, based on v. 13, that Hagar believed that she had seen God, and that this is supposed to confirm that view. Now it could be that Hagar, out of ignorance, really did believe that the angel was God himself, after all what would this Egyptian maidservant know about the workings of Yahweh and his agents. But I think a more reasonable approach is to assume that she perceived this personage to be a messenger of the God of Abraham, whether she thought him to be a divine messenger or just a man, and to understand her statement, “I have seen the one who sees me,” in a figurative rather than a literal sense. The emphasis of the whole pericope is that God saw Hagar in her mistreatment and distress and gave her comfort and a promise. That God saw Hagar is stated three times in vv. 13-14 and is the main point of the story. The word ‘see’ (Heb. raah) has a figurative connotation of coming to know by experience, as in the sentence, “He has seen much grief in his life.” It can also denote to learn or find out about something, as in the sentence, “Will she ever see the error of her ways.” It is therefore plausible to take Hagar’s statement as a play on words and to understand it in this sense: “I have come to know Him who sees me.” Also, we can understand the statement in v. 13 that “Yahweh spoke to her” as a concomitant of agency i.e. what the angel said to her was what Yahweh was saying to her.

Another incident in which it is claimed that one who encountered the angel of Yahweh actually encountered Yahweh himself (or the second Yahweh) is found in Judges 13. Manoah and his wife encounter someone who they believe is a man of God but whom the text calls the (LXX -an) angel of Yahweh. Throughout the whole encounter they perceive this personage as simply a man. Not until the angel ascends in the flames of Manoah’s sacrifice in v. 20, does he realize they are dealing with a divine messenger of God, and in v. 22 he exclaims, “We are doomed to die, for we have seen God!” Does this demand that we understand the angel to be Yahweh himself? I don’t think we need to jump to that conclusion. This incident took place at a period in Israel’s history when “they forsook Yahweh, the God of their fathers . . . they followed and worshipped the various gods of the people around them.” It is conceivable that Manoah’s understanding of this encounter was influenced by the current beliefs of the peoples around them. In that culture, at that time, according to Ugaritic literature, all heavenly messengers sent by the gods, such as Baal, were themselves gods, albeit lesser gods, and Manoah’s statement may simply reflect that belief. With this in mind, and the fact that the word ‘God’ in the Hebrew is anarthrous, the statement could be read as “We have seen a god,” thus betraying Manoah’s belief that Yahweh’s messengers were also gods, just as Baal’s were. The fact that Manoah thought that he and his wife would die upon realizing that this personage was a messenger-god rather than a human prophet, may also reflect what we find in the literature of the surrounding peoples of that time. It was primarily to other gods that these messenger-gods were sent, not to humans, and if a god did send a messenger-god to a human this would typically be understood to be for a destructive purpose. This passage, understood in this way, fits perfectly with the agency view.

Another objection to the view that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is simply an agent of Yahweh, is the assertion that he receives worship from those who encounter him. Exodus 3:5, Joshua 5:15 and Judges 6:17-22 are offered as proof of this, but when each passage is examined carefully it does not appear that the angel is being worshipped i.e., as God, at all. In the Exodus passage (as well as in the Joshua passage) the angel of Yahweh, speaking as Yahweh, tells Moses to remove his sandals because the place where he was standing was holy ground. The same thing occurs with Joshua when he encounters the captain of Yahweh’s host. Why is Moses told to do this if ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is simply an agent of God and not God himself? First, it is not clear that the removing of his sandals amounts to an act of worship. Perhaps we can understand it to be an act of recognition that God’s presence being there makes the place holy. We can understand that Yahweh’s agent here carries with him the personal presence of Yahweh i.e. the agent in some way embodies the presence of the one who sent him. My question is this: If this is the proper response to a theophany or christophany, why are these the only two times someone is told to do this when ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is encountered? Perhaps there is something unique about these encounters that we do not fully understand. Beside that, in neither case does the person receiving the encounter spontaneously remove his sandals, as one might expect of an act of worship, but has to be told to do so, which to my mind weakens the case for this being an act of worship. Therefore, I think it is going too far to call this an act of worship.

In the Judges passage, the first issue we must deal with is this: Who did Gideon think he was interacting with? The proponents of the theophany and christophany views  must believe that the ancients would have known that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ was actually Yahweh himself i.e. that it was common knowledge that if one saw the angel of Yahweh he was literally seeing Yahweh himself. Now in vv.18-19 Gideon prepares an offering and presents it to the angel. Was he offering this to one who he believed was God? This is extremely  unlikely since he doesn’t even come to realize it is ‘the angel of Yahweh’ until after the offering is consumed by the fire that came out of the rock and the angel disappeared suddenly (vv. 20-22). When the angel first comes on the scene he sits under an oak tree and starts a conversation with Gideon (vv.11-12). Who does Gideon think this is? We can assume the angel looked like an ordinary man, for Gideon doesn’t seem startled or afraid. When this man starts speaking in the first person for Yahweh (vv.14 &16), who does Gideon think this man is then? Most likely he thinks the man is a prophet of Yahweh who has come to him with a message from Yahweh. Following the accepted norms of that culture he receives Yahweh’s messenger as Yahweh himself, yet not thinking he is literally Yahweh. But according to v.17, he’s not completely sure this is a prophet sent by Yahweh, and he wants a sign that Yahweh is indeed speaking to him, through this messenger. Gideon then expresses his intention to prepare and present an offering, which he does (vv.18-19). The point is, that if he believed this was a prophet of Yahweh then he was not making the offering to him but to Yahweh, and hence this was not an act of worship done to the ‘angel of Yahweh’. It is most likely that he was presenting the offering to the prophet so that the prophet could offer it to Yahweh on his behalf, like the priests. In Lev. 2:8 we read:

Bring the grain offering made of these things to Yahweh and present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar.”

One more point about Gideon’s encounter. In vv. 22-23 Gideon fears death upon the realization that this messenger was divine rather than human. This can be explained in the same way as we saw with Manoah, based on the understanding at that time, that the purpose of a visitation by a divine messenger was not  beneficial but deleterious.

It should also be noted that in Judges 13:16 ‘the angel of Yahweh’ tells Manoah, “If you prepare a burnt offering you must offer it to Yahweh.” It certainly appears that the angel is careful to make sure that Manoah understands that he is not to worship him but Yahweh.

After examining the relevant passages I can confidently affirm that there is no passage where an act of worship is given to the ‘angel of Yahweh’ as if he just was God.

Further Considerations

As I noted earlier, the NT is completely silent regarding any connection of Jesus with ‘the angel of Yahweh’ in the OT. This is hard to conceive if the authors of the NT really understood ‘the angel of Yahweh’ to be the son of God, especially since this has been a constant assertion by Christian apologists, pastors, expositors, etc. from the middle of the second century down to our very day. Not only that, but in the one and only place in the NT where an OT appearance of ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is recounted, no connection is made to Jesus. In fact, in this passage, some light is thrown on this subject as to how Christians in the first century perceived this OT figure. In Acts 7 we have Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin, where he recounts the history of Israel from Abraham’s day to their own day. In vv. 30-38 he relates the story of Moses and the burning bush. How many times in the past 1900 yrs. has the opportunity not been missed by Christian teachers, to identify ‘the angel of Yahweh’ in Exodus 3 with the pre-incarnate Son of God. Yet Stephen is completely silent in this regard. In fact, Stephen does not even refer to the figure who appeared in the flames as ‘the angel of the Lord’ but only as ‘an angel’. This coincides with what we saw above, where in almost every case of the first mention of ‘the angel of Yahweh’ in an OT passage, in the Hebrew text the phrase is technically, grammatically definite, but in the LXX is translated as indefinite. But if it was just common knowledge among the first Christians in Judea that Jesus had appeared on earth many times in past generations, as ‘the angel of Yahweh’, and that it was in fact the son of God who appeared to Moses in the flames within the bush, then why does Stephen, in recounting that event, simply refer to this figure as “an angel“? Why does he fail to tell his hearers this all important revelation? This is similar to the prophet Hosea’s brief account of Jacob wrestling with God. The story in Gen. 32:22-32 tells of Jacob’s encounter with a man with whom he wrestles all night. Now the text does not refer to this man as ‘the angel of Yahweh’ but this does not stop zealous trinitarians from asserting that he was Jesus. Others see the man as a theophany. But in Hosea 12:3-4 the prophet simply calls the man “an angel” (neither the Hebrew or Greek texts have the definite article). For those who believe the Scriptures to be God-breathed, we have two inspired commentaries, one by Stephen and one by Hosea, which refer to a supposed christophany or theophany as simply one of Yahweh’s malakim.

One argument put forward by proponents of the christophany view as further proof of that position, is that once the Son of God is incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth, ‘the angel of Yahweh’ disappears from history, never to be seen again. This is supposed to be positive evidence that this figure was indeed the pre-incarnate Son of God. But do they not see that this is begging the question? First of all, if the assertion were true that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ disappears in the NT, this is only proof that he was the Son of God if you already presuppose he was. That is not a positive proof, but only a circular argument. But the fact is, that the assertion that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ disappears when the NT begins, is easily proven to be invalid. As noted in the examples given earlier, the Hebrew phrase malak YHWH = messenger (angel) Yahweh must be grammatically and technically translated as definite, hence the angel of Yahweh. But as I stated earlier, this definite construction can be, on a practical level, understood as indefinite. This is because there is no way to write in Hebrew ‘an angel of Yahweh’. Since Yahweh (the absolute noun in the construct state) is definite, by virtue of being a proper noun, so malak (the construct noun) must of necessity also be definite. We saw however, that when the Jewish translators of the LXX translated this phrase, when it occurs as a first mention of this figure in any given context, they always render it with an anarthrous noun i.e. as indefinite. This means that these Jewish scribes understood, that this definite phrase should be rendered practically as indefinite when the context demands it.

Now let’s carry this knowledge over into the NT. The only reason you do not see the phrase ‘the angel of the Lord’ in the NT is because it is written in Greek, instead of Hebrew. The definite phrase only occurs once, in Matt. 1:24, and this is definite because it refers back to the angel mentioned in v.20. The indefinite phrase ‘an angel of the Lord’ occurs 10 times, in the following passages: Matt. 1:20; 2:13, 19; 28:2; Luke 1:11; 2:9; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 12:7, 23. My contention is that, if the NT would have been written in Hebrew, each of these occurrences would have been in the construct state and would therefore have been grammatically definite. Hence ‘the angel of Yahweh’ would be seen to still be making an appearance in the NT, even after the supposed incarnation. The absence of ‘the angel of the Lord’ in the NT is not proof that when he appeared in the OT he must have been the pre-incarnate Son of God, but rather that the OT phrase was understood by Jews to be practically indefinite.

Conclusion

So let’s recap what we have learned regarding the proposition that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ in the OT is a christophany.

  1. We learned that the belief that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ is a designation for one specific individual cannot be maintained on grammatical grounds. Although the phrase is technically definite it can be understood on a practical level as indefinite. This is confirmed by other Hebrew phrases of the same construction and by the LXX. This greatly weakens the case for the christophany view.
  2. The biblical data concerning the angel of Yahweh shows an inconsistency in his speech and identification i.e. sometimes he is identified and speaks as Yahweh and other times he is clearly distinct from Yahweh.
  3. The concept of agency is adequate to explain the different ways that the angel of Yahweh presents himself and speaks.
  4. The lack of mention of OT christophanies by the NT authors is not what would be expected if this assertion were true.
  5. Various peripheral points made by proponents of the christophany view, in order to support the view, do not hold up under scrutiny.

In part 2 we will examine the claim that ‘the word of Yahweh’ in the OT is a pre-incarnate appearance of the son of God.