0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5 (0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...

Paul’s View of Jesus as an Angel

Here’s a bit from my chapter 7 of How Jesus Became God where I talk about why I think Paul understood Jesus, before coming to earth, to have been an angel. There’s more to the argument than just this, but it’s a start. As you’ll see, this isn’t just a crazy idea I had. I learned this from some very smart colleagues in the field, who have convinced me. It’s one of the HUGE surprises that I’ve had writing this book, coming to this realization. It affects a LOT in terms of New Testament interpretation.

******************************************************************************************************************

Many people no doubt have the same experience I do on occasion, of reading something numerous times, over and over, and not having it register. I have read Paul’s letter to the Galatians literally hundreds of times in both English and Greek. But the clear import of what Paul says in Galatians 4:14 simply never registered with me, until, frankly, a few months ago. In this verse Paul indicates that Christ was an angel. The reason it never registered with me is because the statement is a bit obtuse, and I had always interpreted it in an alternative way. But thanks to the work of other scholars, I now see the error of my ways.

In the context of the verse Paul is reminding the Galatians of how they first received him when he was ill in their midst, and they helped restore him to health. This is what the verse in question says:

Even though my bodily condition was a test for you, you did not mock or despise me, but you received me as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ.

FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. If you don’t belong yet, JOIN ALREADY!!!

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.


Angels as Divine
Paul’s Christology

104

Comments

  1. hwl  April 11, 2013

    The epistle to the Hebrews presented a detailed argument that Christ was greater than the angels. Do you think the author was reacting against and correcting an earlier angelic christology, such as the one held by Paul? If not, why was it even necessary to make this argument?
    As the same Greek word is used to denote “messenger” and “angel”, how do we tell which is most appropriate in specific instances?
    Is it possible in some instances when Paul refers to Jesus as an “angel”, he was referring in generic terms that Jesus was the unique son sent from God, without any angelic connotations?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      Yes, I think you’re right about Hebrews. And yes, same Greek word: that’s what angels were — messengers of God. I can’t think off hand (I’m on the road) of an instance where aggelos gets used of a non-heavenly being in the NT. I’ll look it up when I get home.

      1
      1
      • James Dowden  April 13, 2013

        The messengers of John the Baptist in Luke 7 are probably the best example.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  April 13, 2013

        There’s not many instances. In Q and Mark, the OT ‘messenger’ is applied to John the Baptizer. Luke 7,24 for the messengers from John. In Luke 9,52, Jesus sends messengers ahead of him. James 2,25 for Joshua’s spies.

        There’s a few cases that could be ambiguous, but the great majority are references to angles.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 13, 2013

          Ah, yes! But these are not an “angel of God” (they are an angel/messenger of John)

          • Robertus
            Robertus  April 13, 2013

            Only Q 7,27 & Mk 1,2 speak of God’s messenger/angel from the Jewisch scriptural citation as applied to John the Baptizer. Q 7,24 are messengers from John.

      • S.P.  June 14, 2013

        Professor Ehrman,

        Do you think this view of Jesus as an angel has anything to do with the condemnation of angel worship in the letter to the Colossians?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 14, 2013

          No, I think the reverse: the later condemnation of worship of angels led Christians away from the idea that Jesus had been one.

  2. toddfrederick  April 11, 2013

    You make reference to your idea of Jesus being an Angel in Paul’s writing as a crazy idea that is not a crazy idea. It is one on many you have presented about how Jesus is God, some less crazier than others. Just the notion of a finite human becoming an infinite God is crazy enough but that is the formal belief of orthodox Christian…fully God and Fully man.

    I often post short essays on these topics on Facebook from a Progressive Christian position, and I tend to take the position that Jesus was fully man…period….not God at all.

    Even doing this, some of my Facebook readers and friends refer to the Bible as fairy tales and there is no reason to even believe in God at all to show love and compassion. They have a point.

    I am going to take a chance here and post the essay I posted to two Facebook groups. One of the comments referred to the belief in fairy tales, even though I was being very progressive in my position.

    *** Bart….feel free to remove it if you think it is too long or inappropriate here. I was surprised that one of the responses accused me of believing in “crazy fairy tales”***

    Facebook Posting:
    “A Progressive Christian’s View of the Holy Bible and an Understanding of God’s Purpose for Our Lives Today.”

    (This is a “personal statement of my faith” and I welcome comments and constructive suggestions)

    What we call the Holy Bible, containing selected writings of the Jewish and Christian religions, is a document that was written well over 2000 years ago (possibly back to 4000+ BCE in both oral and written forms) in various ancient languages, among them Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek containing myths, legends, stories of family life in the Hebrew tribes, laws to help control their people, poems, songs, prophesies, histories of wars and kings and rulers, conquests, often containing considerable brutality and slaughter of the Hebrew’s enemies. This group of people are called by many names including Hebrews, Israelites (from the name Israel), and Jews (derived from the name (Judah).

    It was written, to begin with, by a small band of nomads living in what is now Iraq and provides a description about their understanding of their tribal God (named YAHWEH) and what this God intended for it’s people. Over many centuries these ideas grew and expanded and became more sophisticated culminating in the story of one Jewish man named Jesus who proclaimed the coming of God to establish a kingdom on earth filled with peace and harmony.

    Even though this Kingdom of God did not come to us in a physical sense, I believe that it did come, within us, and it is our purpose to communicate this Kingdom to our neighbors through our love and compassion.

    When we read the Holy Bible, we are reading the story of these people as they wrote it. We are reading a very ancient document and when we read it we must do so by understanding the context and world view within which it was written. Not all of the contents apply to us today and there are many contradictions and discrepancies and many laws and commandments and practices which simply don’t fit in our modern society or which are cruel and inhumane.

    In general, Progressive Christians do not believe that the Holy Bible contains the actual exact words of God or His commandments coming directly from His Mind. Rather, the Holy Bible is a document from which we can better understand how these people understood God in various ways, and by reading it we can hear the Mind of God within our spirit speaking to us today. I also acknowledge the truth contained in other Spirit documents in many cultures and religions that also guide us in the ways of love and compassion.

    Humans can not prove God’s existance through reason and science, but we believe that God (the infinite source of all that is) speaks to us through his Spirit to our spirits in many ways, and that all humanity is loved by God and is equal in His sight, wherever we are on the path to understanding His reality in the cosmos.

    Many of us also believe that God is still speaking to us now, through our spirits, through the events in history, through the power of our minds and the power of reason which God gives us.

    We believe in God by faith (trust) who, through the teachings of Jesus, requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves and that we practice this love in the betterment of humankind unconditionally to build a loving and compassionate society through the power of God in our lives to transform us and our world.

    I sincerely believe that there are those among other religious faiths who are also truly God touched and who also are dedicated to giving love and compassion to our fellow beings.

    We are, of course, finite beings and we can not do this perfectly and, when we fall, we say that we have sinned. Sin is an ancient way of saying that we are not perfect and that we make mistakes…often very huge mistakes. God loves us none-the-less.

    The goal of the Christian faith is not to get a “ticket to Heaven” but to live now as though we are already in Heaven.

    We are called to be an instrument of God’s peace through love, compassion, and social justice to the very best of our ability.

    • bobnaumann  April 13, 2013

      Beautifully stated! I couldn’t agree more.

  3. jsoundz  April 11, 2013

    Jesus as an angel , it seems to me, would place a great deal of pressure on Christians to reinterpret their theology especially the trinitarian concept. Do you see this as an issue?

  4. gmatthews
    gmatthews  April 12, 2013

    Thanks for explaining the Greek of Gal 4:14. When you first brought it up a couple months ago I said that it didn’t sound like Paul was calling Jesus an angel, but you didn’t really answer my questioning of it 🙂 It makes sense now, but I can’t see many Christians buying it if Paul only used the but as…as phrase a couple of other times. They’ll just tell themselves that two known uses of a sentence construct doesn’t prove anything.

    At any rate, I just read 2 Cor 2:17 and to me it reads more strangely than the Galatians verse: “but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” (KJV– other versions are fairly similar in wording). Is he saying God is sincerity/sincere (ie., not corrupting his Word)?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      Yes, if a text says what you don’t want it to say, simply point out that it’s only one text! 🙂

      Sorry, I’m on the road just now and can’t check the Greek text of 2 Cor. 2:17….

    • Scott F  April 12, 2013

      2 Cor 2:17
      “but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.” (NRSV)

      In this translation the second phrase repeating yet refining the first is more plausible.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 13, 2013

        Yes — but it is not *contrasting* with the first statement, which is my point. They are the same persons, not different ones or different kinds of ones. So Christ is an angel, but a certain kind (probably “the” Angel of the Lord)

  5. Osiris  April 12, 2013

    Mind blown.

  6. Adam0685  April 12, 2013

    I’m open to interpreting Paul as saying Jesus was an angel, but I can hear some saying that it can be interpreted also as indicating Paul was thankful his readers received him as Jesus “received” him.

    Do you talk about in the book the various meanings of “angel.” Can those who take a different interpretation argue it can refer to a be a human non-divine messenger of god here? That it refers to an divine angel might be supported by his reference in Gal 1:8 to an “angel from heaven.”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      I can’t think off hand (I’m on the road) of an instance where aggelos of God gets used of a non-heavenly being in the NT. I’ll look it up when I get home.

  7. billgraham1961  April 12, 2013

    Well, this certainly answers a question from you Facebook page I saw earlier today. Bart, you have really made me want to go back to school and become a textual critic. Unfortunately, I’m 51 years old, and putting my own children through college. Besides that, I have a mortgage to pay and life calls on me to learn other things every day about my own profession. Still, I’m very tempted. I sorely want to understand more about the ancient texts and piece together a solid understanding of what the original texts really said.

    I find this desire increasingly important, because I get the impression that many modern believers live under the delusion that the ancients thought as we do today. They seem to think that our understanding of the scriptures was the understanding of the ancients, and some of them vociferously defend that point of view. Worse yet, politicians are making policies based on these misguided interpretations of the Bible. Just today, Joe Barton said that God introduced climate change during the great flood in Genesis.

    I am thankful for your work, but there are way more of them than there are of people like you. You are right to say that more pastors should teach what they learned during seminary and give people a proper balance. I’ve read several of your books, and I try to share what I’ve learned, but I have to admit that it’s not always well received. Still, I want to arrive at the truth, and that is not an easy thing to reconstruct or share once you find it. Thank you for having the courage to take on this important work.

    • gavm  April 13, 2013

      “As the Angel of the Lord, Christ is a pre-existent being who is divine; he can be called God”
      Prof Erhman this seems a big leap. it seems abnormal that an angel can be compared to or seen on the same level/magnitude as Yahweh/God

  8. Yvonne  April 12, 2013

    This may sound too simple minded so do not feel compelled to answer. The thing is, if Jesus was an Angel to Paul (and I guess that is only as far as he was concerned), I do not recall anywhere in the Bible or elsewhere in other gospels written under fradulent names that angels were ever born into the world. They just seemed to appear with a message and then disappear.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      Yes, I argue in my chapter that for Paul Jesus was an angel who became human. But so too did angels in the OT. But Jesus was actually *born*, which made him unique….

  9. RonaldTaska  April 12, 2013

    Actually, almost all of your 300 or so blogs have contained original material so my guess is that original material will keep flowing from this blog for quite some time. Today’s blog, however, is considerably more complicated than your usual blogs so I will reread it from time to time. One of the better things about you is that you keep tweaking and modifying your ideas as you learn more and more.

  10. Jim  April 12, 2013

    I don’t know Greek at all, so I’m wondering if there is a remote chance that the word aggelos in Gal 4.14 could have implied “messenger” rather than angel or even possibly an aggos. Is reference to either messenger or vessel instead of angel totally impossible in this verse?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      Yes, same Greek word: that’s what angels were — messengers of God. I can’t think off hand (I’m on the road) of an instance where aggelos gets used of a non-heavenly being in the NT. I’ll look it up when I get home.

  11. Wilusa  April 12, 2013

    But…doesn’t “angel” literally mean something like “messenger”? (Which would not necessarily imply divinity?) I realize, of course, that it wouldn’t be used for a very mundane type of “messenger.”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      Yes, same Greek word: that’s what angels were — messengers of God. I can’t think off hand (I’m on the road) of an instance where aggelos gets used of a non-heavenly being in the NT. I’ll look it up when I get home.

  12. Pat Ferguson  April 12, 2013

    Hi again 🙂 You wrote: “Paul says in Galatians 4:14 …. that Christ was an angel.” OK, I can see why you think Saul-Paul might have thought that Jesus was an angel, especially if (in his Judaism-influenced thinking) he regarded the Christ (Messiah) for whom he mistook Jesus of Nazareth to be as the lord of all angels.

    Robinson apparently agreed with you that “Christ was an angel” when he penned: “[n]ot a mere ‘messenger’ of God, but a very angel, even as Christ Jesus” (Robinson, Word Pictures in the New Testament at Gal. 4:14). Nonetheless, I respectfully─and other widely consulted (albeit pro-Orthodox) commentators─disagree with your premise that Paul might have believed that Jesus was an “angel” in some supernatural sense.

    ▪ “… the Galatians … received him heartily, even as an angel of God, God’s messenger” (B. W. Johnson, People’s NT);
    ▪ ” … [w]ith even higher honor than an angel” (Vincent’s Word Studies citing Matt. 10:40; John 13:20);
    ▪ “… they received [him] as they would have received the Saviour himself” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, also citing Matt. 10:40)
    ▪ “…, they received him as an angel of God – as a messenger from heaven, and as Jesus Christ himself. This appears to me to be the simple meaning of [ως αγγελον θεου … ως χριστον ιησουν]” (Clarke, Commentary on the Bible), and
    ▪ “as an angel of God — as a heaven-inspired and sent messenger from God:…. as Christ — being Christ’s representative” (JFB, Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, citing Mal. 2:7; Matt. 10:40).

    I am, however, virtually dog-earring this blog page for further personal research. Regrettably, I can locate only one online comment by Metzger on this verse:

    “Later Christian theology tended to see the preincarnate Christ in this figure …, but the phrase probably referred vaguely to any mediator sent by God” (http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100605072759AAiC7Dh, citing Oxford Companion to the Bible article with Michael Coogan).

    And, alas, I don’t have in my personal library any other comment by Metzger on Gal. 4:14. Would you please briefly share what else he did or might have said about that verse?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      I”m afraid I don’t know what Metzger thought of this. But yes, most NT scholars have missed this. But look for yourself!

      • Pat Ferguson  April 13, 2013

        Hello again, Dr. Ehrman 🙂

        You wrote: “By clear implication, then, Christ is an angel.” Yes, that appears to be an implication one might deduce from the Greek phrase ως αγγελον θεου … ως χριστον ιησουν. But for me to believe the notion that Paul believed that Jesus, Messiah or not, was a supernatural angel, then wouldn’t I first need to believe the notion that such supernatural enties exist? And if I were to believe that Jesus, messiah or not, “is an angel,” how do I know that Jesus wasn’t, instead, an extraterrestrial biological entity (EBE) as Orthodox Christians and ancient astronaut theorists apparently believe?

        Granted, I’m not qualified to say with any certainty that angels do NOT exist. Yet I can say, based on my personal knowledge of the adaptatation and evolution of angelology into the Orthodox Christian system of theology, and from my own varied and sometimes hazardous life experiences that, if they do, I’ve never (to the best of my knowledge, belief, and understanding) met one.

        Respects!

  13. lbehrendt  April 12, 2013

    Bart, I get your argument that Paul says Jesus is an angel. But where does it say that Jesus was an angel before he was born on Earth?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      Ah, you need to read my book! If Paul had an incarnation theology, and thought Christ had been an angel — there it is!

      • gavm  April 13, 2013

        which book?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 13, 2013

          How Jesus Became God.

          • gavm  April 14, 2013

            i feel like a goose. i read an earlier post and you clearly say which book there. sorry bout that

  14. Xeronimo74  April 12, 2013

    Another interesting insight! And that’s what I love about the Bible, it’s like a huge puzzle and treasure trove. You can always find (out) new things.

  15. RonaldTaska  April 12, 2013

    After sleeping on it, I would like to make a comment about Paul seeing Jesus as being an “angel.” On the one hand, it is a very intriguing and creative interpretation. On the other hand, since the Bible has so many authorship, textual, historical, translation, social context, and other problems, I am always very slow, cautious, and skeptical , as I know you are, about placing a lot of emphasis on a phrase or sentence or two of scripture. Is there something about this scripture which makes it more reliable than most scripture other than it being written earlier than most scripture?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. Do you mean Paul may not have meant it in this place?

      • RonaldTaska  April 14, 2013

        Unfortunately, I did not express my point very well. For a variety of reasons, it is difficult for me to take a lot of the Bible as being reliable and historical. So why should I consider Galatians 4:14 as being a reliable expression of Paul’s ideas?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 15, 2013

          When the Bible is said to be “unreliable” it is usually in reference to what it says about the activities / views of people that it is talking *about*. Gal. 4:14 is not about what Paul was talking *about*. It is Paul talking. That’s the dif!

          • RonaldTaska  April 16, 2013

            Aha! I see your point about the Bible being more reliable when Paul is saying something than when the Biblical authors write about the activities and views of people. Since, like you, I have spent considerable time in a Biblical inerrancy subculture where people, with much dogmatic certainty, draw conclusions, about women, gays, and etc., from a sentence or two attributed to Paul, I am afraid that I have an immediate, negative gut reaction to someone quoting a sentence or two attributed to Paul to prove this or that. It reminds me too much of proof texting. So, I am intrigued by your idea that Paul viewed Jesus as being an angel, but am not yet convinced. On the other hand, I am not convinced about much of anything except the importance of the critical examination of crucial questions. Since we are talking about “incarnation” theology, I assume your contention is that Paul thought Jesus was an angel prior to His birth and then was incarnated as a human and returned to being an angel after His Resurrection. I am not a theologian, but I think you are going to need considerably more evidence to sell this view. For example, why didn’t Paul develop this idea more thoroughly in Galatians and in his other epistles?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 16, 2013

            Mainly because he was not trying to provide a systematic exposition of his Christology in any of his letters; it is assumed, rather than explicated.

  16. Christian  April 12, 2013

    Professor Ehrman, repetition helps the understanding. Please proceed. And I’ll buy your book anyway.

  17. bobnaumann  April 12, 2013

    So how does this square with the “born of a woman” passage in Galations 4 or the “traced human ancestry of the Messiah” passage in Romans 9 and the “descended from the seed of David and was declared to be the Son of God” in Romans 1? Or will we have to wait for your book to read pp. xxx?

  18. Scott F  April 12, 2013

    Are we talking angel as in halo and feathery wings like Michael or more like a generic heavenly being?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      what would a generic heavenly being be? (Michael doesn’t have feathers and a halo!)

      • tcc  April 13, 2013

        What WERE Angels to people like Paul, anyway? Were they non-corporeal “spirits” or were they anthropomorphic messengers from Yahweh?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 13, 2013

          Yes and yes. Well, they weren’t non-corporeal; they did have bodies. And on earth they had human bodies.

          • tcc  April 13, 2013

            Huh. Interesting. I don’t get how beings that have bodies can exist outside of space, but I guess the ancients hadn’t really thought that through.

            Did Yahweh have a body for people like Jesus and Paul? I’m a little confused as to what the NT even means by “god” at times: God is love, God is a spirit, God’s gonna resurrect everybody with immortal spirit bodies, etc. Sometimes he sounds like an abstract concept, other times he’s an all powerful space magician.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 15, 2013

            For some authors he did (e.g., Isaiah 6)

  19. philologue  April 12, 2013

    Yes, PLEASE do post again on the Philippians poem – I don’t think it will be repetitive, as you’re coming at it from a different perspective now.

    On a barely related note, I have a somewhat pressing question about the first phrase of 1 Peter 3:15, which is translated

    “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” in the KJV
    “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” in the ESV
    “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord” in the NIV

    These are all significantly different, and when I went back to the Greek, it seems that the Textus Receptus doesn’t say anything about “Christ”, while the Septuagint/Westcott-Hort does. Can you clarify what the original phrasing was and why the discrepancy?

    Thanks very much

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 12, 2013

      I”m on the road just now and nowhere near my books, but if I recall the difference here is indeed that the TR reads THEOS (God) and the best manuscripts read, instead, CHRISTOS (Christ)

      • Pat Ferguson  April 12, 2013

        Correct.

        I move that, one day in the hopefully distant future when you pass on, you donate your brain to science for analysis similar to that performed on Einstein’s brain 😀

  20. Robertus
    Robertus  April 12, 2013

    Ah, I see that Gieschen had an unrelated article in Hurtado’s Festschrift. Haven’t read his Angelomorphic Christology, but imagine it must be very interesting.  

You must be logged in to post a comment.