Who Is “The Angel of the Lord”? -- By: Gary Simmers

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 17:3 (Summer 2000)
Article: Who Is “The Angel of the Lord”?
Author: Gary Simmers


Who Is “The Angel of the Lord”?

Gary Simmers

M.Div. in Church Planting Student
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587
Church Planter, North American Mission Board
Homer, Alaska

The New King James Version Exhaustive Concordance annotates 199 uses of “angel” and 95 uses of the plural form “angels.”1 Most of us think we know what angels are. Some of us even top our Christmas trees with angels. But do we really know anything about angels? With the current popularity of angels in our culture, a lot of misinformation seems to be going around. Theologians and most pastors understand that God created angels. Despite the popular images, neither Aunt Sally nor Uncle Harry, nor even little cousin Timmy will go to heaven and become angels after death. This is a misconception found in secular theology. Then what exactly are angels, and what do they do? Billy Graham says, “They are God’s messengers whose chief business is to carry out His orders in the world.”2

Not all angels are the same, however. There is one particular angel mentioned in the Bible whose identity is controversial even among theologians. This angel is called the Angel of the Lord [Yahweh], or the Angel of God [Jehovah]. The exhaustive concordance contains 68 listings for this angel: 56 in the Old Testament and 12 in the New.3 Just who is the Angel of the Lord?

Millard Erickson says there are three major interpretations of “the Angel of the Lord”: “(1) he is merely an angel with a special commission; (2) He is God Himself, temporarily visible in a humanlike form; (3) He is the Logos, a temporary preincarnate visit of the second Person of the Trinity.”4 Erickson concludes that none of these interpretations is “entirely satisfactory,” but “in light of the clear statements of identity either the second or third seems more adequate than the first.”5 James Orr basically echoes Erickson’s three possibilities but concludes that “the last [preincarnate Christ] is certainly the most tempting.. . .”6

Such an encounter with divinity is called a theophany, a “physical appearance or personal manifestation of a god to a person.”7 Another term, Christophany, is in common usage when the second Person of the Trinity is intended but is rarely used in the lite...

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