When the Old Testament refers to "the angel of the Lord" or "the angel of God," is it an appearance of God
himself, a personal angelic messenger of God or the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ?
How did the Bible translate Biblical Hebrew into "the angel of the Lord / God"?
A. The Construct Relationship
This question takes one into the grammatical study of the Hebrew noun. During the process of translation,
translators take into account how a noun is related to a sentence. In this simplified presentation of Hebrew
grammar, a noun has three possible cases, which is a syntactical form that indicates the sense of its relationship
to the sentence:
Nominative – a nominative noun is the subject of a verb (i.e. the Father loves
Genitive – a genitive noun is the object of a preposition (i.e. the angel of the
Accusative – an accusative noun is one that is the direct object of a verb (i.e. the Father
Biblical Hebrew indicates the genitive function of a noun by using a grammatical method called a construct
relationship, which is formed by stringing 2-4 nouns together. In the study of "the angel of the Lord," the
first noun is the construct noun, which may or may not have its form altered (a noun’s meaning may be altered
slightly by how it is stressed with a change in inflection, spelling, or pronunciation). The second noun is the
absolute noun, because it never undergoes any type of form change.
How the construct noun is stressed affects how the relationship to the absolute noun is designated. There are
four markers, used in various combinations, which connect the construct noun to the absolute noun. These markers
Conjunctive accent – There are 9 conjunctive accent marks that can be seen in the Masoretic
text. These marks are found under a word that is connected to the following word.
Maqqef – This word means "binder," and functions like an English hyphen. It joins two words of
a word pair and forms a new word.
Reduction of a vowel – The construct noun is essentially shortened with the loss of a vowel.
Biblical Hebrew does not have any vowels; however, the translation of the Bible is based on Masoretic texts, where
the scribes of this tradition introduced a system of vowel marks to indicate how the text was to be read.
Specific construct form – this is reference to a certain spelling pattern for the construct noun.
The construct relationship of "the angel of the Lord / God," is indicated by a combination of a vowel reduction
and conjunctive accent. Thus, the Hebrew term for angel (mal’âk) is the construct noun and the Hebrew term for
Lord (Yehôvâh) / God ('elohiym) is the absolute noun.
B. Determining the Definiteness of the Construct Noun
As a rule, the construct noun cannot have a prefixed article such as "a", "an", and "the." In a construct
relationship, the absolute noun defines whether the construct noun is indefinite ("a" or "an") or definite
("the"), and a definite noun is indicated by one of three ways: 1) a prefixed definite article, 2) a pronominal
suffix, or 3) by a proper name.
Because the absolute noun, Lord (Yehôvâh) or God ('elohiym), is a proper name,
it calls for the definite article "the". In all 56 occurrences of the phrase "the angel of the Lord" or "the
angel of God", the nouns are in their proper construct relationship. This means that "the angel of the
Lord / God" is not translated as "an angel of the Lord / God".
Who is the angel of the Lord / God?
In the 56 occurrences of the phrase "the angel of the Lord / God", several suggest that he is God in human
form and other instances where he is distinctly different from God.
The following passages are instances where "the angel of the Lord / God" exhibited capabilities usually
associated with God:
Made prophetic promises
The promise to multiply Hagar’s descendants
The promise to Manoah’s wife of Samson
Identified himself with God
Stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac and blessed him
Appeared in Jacob’s dream (Gen 31:11-13)
Appeared to Moses (Ex 3:2-6)
Israel rebuked for not conquering the Promised Land
The selection of Gideon (Judg 6:11-27)
Provides personal provision and protection for Believers
Provided food for Elijah (1 Ki 19:5-8)
Made divine appointments
Moses (Ex 3:2 –
Samson (Judg 13:3-24)
Delivered the nation of Israel
Protection from the Egyptian pursuit (Ex 14:19)
Future protection of Jerusalem (Zech 12:8)
A prayer of protection (Ps 35:5-6)
Judged human beings
Ahaziah’s worship of Baal (2 Ki 1:2-15)
The Song of Deborah and Barak and the curse of Meroz
In these instances, "the angel of the Lord" is distinctly different from God:
Balaam’s disobedience of going to the leaders of Moab
David’s disobedience of a census (2 Sam 24:15-17,
1 Chron 21:15-18)
God’s answer of King Hezekiah’s prayer and judgment of King Sennacherib of Assyria
(2 Ki 19:34-35)
David’s prayer (Ps 34:7)
Zechariah’s call to repentance (Zech 1:10-20)
When one surveys the New Testament, there is only one instance where an angel is identified with God
(Acts 7:30-38), and it is not with the phrase of "angel of
the Lord". While the phrase "angel of the Lord" does appear twelve times in the New Testament, all refer to
unfallen angelic messengers of God (Matt 1:20, 24;
2:13, 19; 28:2;
Luke 1:11; 2:9;
John 5:4; Acts 5:19;
8:26; 12:7, 23).
The Hebrew "the angel of the Lord / God" is not seen in the Greek text with the appearance of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, "the angel of the Lord / God" spoke in the first person as though He were God, had the
attributes of God, yet was distinct from God. In consideration of the triune nature of God, is He God the father,
Son, or Holy Spirit?
Exodus 33:20 suggests that "the angel of the
Lord / God" cannot be God the father since no man can see His face and live.
John 1:18 and
1 Timothy 6:16 further affirms that no one has seen God the
Examples such as Judges 3:10,
indicate that the Holy Spirit is not visible to human beings.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the only visible Person of the
Trinity that human beings can see face to face and yet live.
"The angel of the Lord / God" share the similarity of being sent by God.
The patriarch Jacob makes the very first mention of the word redeemed and associates
the term with the angel within the context of "redemption from all evil"
Hosea 12:3-4 makes it clear that the patriarch
Jacob associated the angel with God.
"The angel of the Lord / God" was never seen again after the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
For the above reasons, "the angel of the Lord / God" is understood to be the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. And
in only this instance, "the angel of the Lord / God" is not seen as a created angel.