The Law Was Given By Angels
The apostle Paul went even further to show the superiority of “the unwritten Law of Christ” compared to the older Law of God, also called the Law of Moses. Though God allowed the earlier Law to be given to Israel directly, according to Paul and 1st century Jews, it was given through a mediator who was a powerful angel (with the help of many other angels). When the apostle Paul surveyed these historical facts, he was inspired to write that the old Law given to Israel at Mount Sinai was much inferior to “the Law of Christ” taught by apostles commissioned by Christ.
This later Law of Christ was of greater importance, in Paul’s understanding, than the earlier Law of God codified as the Ten Commandments, along with the subsidiary laws given to Moses. This is because Israel was given that early Law (designed for Israel’s infant stage of spiritual development) through the mediatorial role played by these angels. This prompted Paul to classify the earlier Law itself as inferior when compared to the direct teachings of the Father given by His firstborn Son Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was clear on this matter and it is essential we recognize his teachings in precise detail.
Angels and the Law
Paul taught more on the role of angels in the giving of the Law of Moses than has been imagined by many students of the Bible. Entire sections of Paul’s teachings concern the role of angelic mediation (both in the early history of the world and the giving of the Law to Moses) concerning the conduct of individual peoples and nations in the 1st century. This included angelic roles in future events destined to affect the lives of people at the end of the age. This subject is most important for biblical students to understand, and attention should be directed to these essential teachings of Paul.
Yes, angels gave the earlier Law for Israel at Mount Sinai. It was common knowledge among the Jewish people in the 1st century that the Law of God was presented to Moses by angels — and not directly by God himself. Josephus, the Jewish priest/historian of the 1st century and an expert in Jewish beliefs at the time, said: “We have learned the noblest of our doctrines and the holiest of our laws from the ANGELS sent by God.” 1 When the evangelist Stephen rebuked the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem for going against the Law, he said they were those: “Who have received the Law by the disposition of ANGELS, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:53).
Speaking about the Law of God, the apostle Paul in the Book of Hebrews said,
“The word spoken by ANGELS was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.”
And Paul had further to say,
“Wherefore then serves the Law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by ANGELS in the hand of a mediator”
But wait! In spite of what the Jewish priest/historian Josephus, the evangelist Stephen and the apostle Paul had to say, are we not informed in the Book of Exodus that it was God (Elohim in Hebrew) who gave the Law to Moses? Yes, indeed. But what is not recognized by many people is that the word “Elohim” can refer also to ANGELS.
In Psalm 97:7 the word “gods” is Elohim and in Hebrews 1:6 Paul said it referred to angels. 2 There is not the slightest doubt from the New Testament, and even from common Jewish usage in the 1st century, that the “God” (Elohim) who gave the Ten Commandments and the other laws to Moses was a powerful angel who was God’s agent (or mediator) to give the divine laws to Moses. Later we will discover from the Scripture just who this powerful angel really was. It will surprise many students of the Bible.
The Law of God and the Law of Moses Are the Same
We need to understand what the Holy Scriptures define as the Law of God. Is the Law of Moses as much a part of the Law of God as is the Ten Commandments? Some people mistakenly think there is a great difference between the two. The Bible, however, has teaching contrary to this false assumption.
Let us allow the Holy Scriptures to tell us what represents the “Law of the Lord” (that is, “God’s Law”). The “Law of Moses” is called nothing less that the “Law of the Lord” in the New Testament itself, and this designation included the sacrifice of animals at the Temple in Jerusalem.
“When the days of her purification according to THE LAW OF MOSES were accomplished, they brought him [Christ Jesus] to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; as it is written in THE LAW OF THE LORD, every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord; and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in THE LAW OF THE LORD a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
To make sure that people did not distinguish between the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord, Luke finally states:
“And when they [Joseph and Mary] had performed all things [animal sacrifices, etc.] according to THE LAW OF THE LORD they returned into Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.”
It is time to get rid of the nonsense interpretation that the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord are two different laws. Indeed, the laws that governed Adam, Noah, and then the Patriarchs were also the “Law of the Lord.” All these laws were “God’s Law” (no matter to whom given) and they were applicable for those to whom they were intended.
The Law of the Lord Given by Angels
The apostle Paul gives more information about the Law being given by angels in the Book of Colossians. Here Paul’s principal theme of the Mystery of Christ is dependent upon knowledge that angels (very powerful and influential angels) were responsible for issuing the Law to Moses. If one does not recognize what Paul was teaching regarding angelic powers giving the Law to Moses, then one remains ignorant of some of the most sublime teachings on the role of Christ in obtaining a salvation for Christians. Christ released all Christians from the bondage required by this angelic Law.
Note this: Paul stated that a very sophisticated philosophical teaching was being taught to the Colossian Gentile Christians. This teaching was trying to lead them astray from the doctrines of Christ Jesus. He spoke of it as,
“philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements [the real Greek meaning] of the world, and not after Christ.”
Some early commentators thought by Paul’s use of the word “elements” that he meant elementary or rudimentary teachings, as the King James Version has it translated. In no way is this what Paul meant.
The context shows that “rudimentary teachings of the world” were NOT what Paul had in mind. How can elementary doctrines — immature, primitive and formative teachings — be called a “philosophy,” teachings discussing sophisticated subjects of the “Godhead” and the “principalities and powers” in the heavens? These philosophical doctrines concerned “will worship” and ascetic practices that were found among the “wise” of the world. Such were the doctrines that Paul was talking about in Colossians.
Paul was clearly concerned about highly developed philosophies of men in which an inquiring individual would be “intruding in those things which he has not seen” (Colossians 2:8–23). Paul reckoned these teachings as “scientific” discussions and speculations among so-called “wise men” (philosophers) or, as he called their investigations, “science falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20).
Paul was concerned about a system of theological and philosophical beliefs the very opposite of “rudimentary” teachings, as the King James Version has it. Granted, these advanced teachings were based on the Law of God given to Moses, but they were far and away more sophisticated in the 1st century than what Moses gave to Israel through the mediatorial agency of the angels. There was nothing elementary (or immature, as we understand the word “elementary” to mean) about these highly philosophical beliefs Paul was referring to. We will see that the “elements” that Paul was talking about were actually the “principalities and powers” themselves — he made reference to them in Colossians 2:10 and 15.
Careful study shows that Paul was speaking in Colossians about angelic beings that went by the name “elements.” True, these angelic groups were responsible for giving the Law to Moses, but they were now building new philosophical beliefs based on that earlier Law that changed the very character of the former legislation. But what kind of angels were these “elements” Paul was talking about? They were a class of angels that God placed in charge of multitudes of natural and spiritual facilities, with various functions on earth and throughout the universe.
The apostle mentioned them within several contexts of his writings. In Romans 8:38 he mentioned them as “angels, principalities and powers.” In Ephesians 1:21 he reckoned them as highly exalted spiritual beings who were just below the Godhead in authority. Indeed, these principalities and powers were created by Christ (Colossians 1:16) and He is still head of them (Colossians 2:10). These are spiritual powers who govern many of the affairs on earth, and sometimes Christians trying to follow God find themselves at odds with them (Ephesians 6:12). They are powerful beings, and God allows them to exercise their authority for the time being.
To the apostle Paul, these spiritual “elements” were the “principalities and powers” who went by the generic name, angels. But in spite of their glorious existence, Paul showed that they were not omnipotent or omniscient. He remarked that they are deficient in knowledge in some of the higher purposes of God (Ephesians 3:10). Even the apostle Peter admitted that angels lacked sufficient understanding in God’s plans for humanity — “which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12).
Christ himself echoed the same theme. He said that the angels were kept from knowing the exact periods of time associated with the Second Advent. “But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven” (Matthew 24:36). These scriptures show the real inferiority of angels compared to Christ.
With these matters in mind, we can realize what Paul was talking about in Colossians. He was showing how much more glorious was the Gospel of Christ than the Law of Moses dispatched by the “elements” — angelic authorities called “principalities and powers.” These angels were now stretching the meaning of the Law to include the most sophisticated type of spiritual (and erroneous) teachings. These angels actually based their false teachings on many basic principles found in the earlier Law of Moses. Paul selected as an example some of the principal teachings of these angels that were now redundant to Christians. They were the angelic teachings about “eating and drinking” and about Mosaic “festivals, new moons and sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16).
These ritualistic regulations and dogmas (King James: “ordinances”) given to Moses by the principalities and powers, were denominated by Paul as “the religion of angels” (Colossians 2:18). And that is exactly what Paul accounted the ritualistic system of festivals, new moons and sabbaths to be (along with circumcision, animal sacrifices, Temple worship, etc.). Paul considered that requirement of religious beliefs of “the religion of angels” had nothing to do with the teachings of Christianity found in Christ.
In the King James Version the word “religion” (in Greek: threeskia) is translated “worshipping” as though Paul meant that angels were being worshipped. But in no way does the word (either in meaning or in this context within the Book of Colossians) signify a “worshipping” of angels. The Greek word is a noun that means a “form of worship” or “ritual,” or simply what we called today “religious practices.” In the other three references where this Greek word (threeskia) appears in the New Testament, even the King James translators were forced to translate it in the true meaning “religion” (Acts 26:5; James 1:26–27). Paul was informing the Colossians that the Law of Moses was in fact “the religion of angels” (religious practices derived from angels).
Paul was upset with them for beginning to give heed again to religious beliefs engendered by angels, which some with Jewish leanings were attaching to sophisticated principles based on the Mosaic Law. Paul told them,
“Let no man therefore judge you in eating, or in drinking, or in part of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths. …
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and religion of the angels. …
Wherefore if you be dead with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to dogmas (touch not; taste not; handle not) after the commandments and doctrines of men.”
See Greek in Colossians 2:16, 18, 20–21
The truth is, men were using the dogmas ordained on Mount Sinai by angels to continue their rule over God’s people, and were using philosophical terms to do it. Paul would have none of it. Christ came to earth and kept the Law perfectly. He fulfilled it as He said He would. Christians are now reckoned to have kept the Law perfectly in Christ. They have died with Christ (Colossians 3:3) and are already accounted by God to be resurrected with Christ (Colossians 3:1). So, why were Christians going back to the practice of the Law of Moses (even in a sophisticated way) by returning to the Law intended for Israel when they were spiritual infants? To Paul, it was an inferior law compared to that of Christ. The teachings of Christ needed no mediators.
As far as Paul was concerned, such submission to “the religion of angels” at the insistence of certain men had the Colossians submitting to “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:22). It was men who were demanding that the Colossians retain the teachings of those angelic “elements of the world.” (And there are people today who insist that their members do the same thing.)
Men were telling the Colossians that the regulations of Moses concerning “eating, drinking, holy days, new moons and sabbaths,” still had to be kept. They were placing the Colossians back under the Law of Moses in a “modern” philosophical way. This was nothing more, in Paul’s eyes, than bringing them back into subjection to the “principalities and powers” — the angels (or the “elements”) that gave their “religion of angels” to Moses and the Israelites. This is what Paul meant.
The apostle Paul said in no uncertain terms that through the life, death and resurrection of Christ — Christians are identified with Christ in all these things and being with Christ in His keeping of the Law — Christians are now “alive from the dead” (Colossians 3:1). Christians are no longer subject to the “religion of angels.” This is why he asked the Colossian Christians:
“Wherefore, if you be dead with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to dogmas?”
Paul means the ordinances, decrees or regulations given to Moses by the angels. It was the commandments and doctrines of men inspired by angels that demanded such subjection, and Paul was vehemently against this erroneous teaching.
The Angels Are Spirits
Let us look closer at the role of these angels, these principalities and powers, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. We are told in the Book of Hebrews:
“But to which of the angels said he at any time, ‘Sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool?’ Are they not all ministering SPIRITS, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
Indeed, the New Testament shows that all angels are spirits and have various responsibilities given them throughout the heavens and on earth by God and Christ Jesus.
To understand more about the many tasks carried out by these angelic spirits, we need to examine the word that the apostle Paul used to designate them. He called all of them the “elements” (Greek: stoikion). These “elements” brought in the “philosophy” that demanded the Colossians observe Mosaic ritualistic teachings in a new philosophic manner. It was common in the 1st century to refer to the religion of the Jews as a “philosophy” (as did Paul). We find the various denominations of Judaism were reckoned to be “philosophies.” Josephus, the Jewish historian, referred to this in his writings about the Jews and their customs.
“The Jews, from the most ancient times, had three philosophies pertaining to their traditions, that of the Essenes, that of the Sadducees, and, thirdly, that of the group called the Pharisees.” 3
The philosophy that the apostle Paul was talking about in the Book of Colossians was a “Jewish philosophy” that demanded strict adherence to the ritualistic teachings and the religious taboos of the Mosaic Law concerning “eating, drinking, holy days, new moons and sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16). This was also the 1st century Jewish way of reckoning those laws in their highly developed traditional teachings. Christ called this the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9). As far as the apostle Paul was concerned these restrictions and festival periods were reckoned as belonging to “the elements of the world” (Galatians 4:3).
The “Elements” Were Angelic SpiritsThe elements Paul referred to in the Book of Colossians were the angels themselves. They were spirit beings called the principalities and powers. Modern scholars and translators of the New Testament realize this. Notice how some modern translations have rightly caught the meaning of Paul’s teaching about the “elements” (Greek: stoikion).
Here is how the Revised Standard Version translates Colossians 2:8:
“See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ.”
And then in Colossians 2:20:
“If with Christ you have died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belong to the world? Why do you submit to regulations?”
What were those regulations given by the elemental spirits? Paul said they were “questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath” (Colossians 2:16). The Revised Standard Version shows that Paul taught that such rituals were a part of the “religion of angels” (Colossians 2:18) — not of the mature doctrines of Christ.
Other modern authorities of the Greek language have similar understandings of what the apostle Paul meant by “elements.” In reference to the above verses just mentioned, the New English Bible also says that Paul meant “the elemental spirits of the universe.” The Moffatt Version says: “elemental spirits of the world.” And the New American Catholic Bible refers to those “elements” as the “cosmic powers” or the “cosmic forces.” There can be no doubt that Paul was speaking about the teachings of angelic spirits (the principalities and powers) when he mentioned the dogmas of those “elements.” And recall, he plainly stated that such ritualistic teachings were “the religion of angels” (Colossians 2:18). Adult Christians are no longer subject to such angelic laws.
This fact is further strengthened in Paul’s reference to these same “elements” in the Book of Galatians. In the clearest of terms Paul said the Law of Moses was “ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Galatians 3:19). Paul then discussed certain aspects of the Law given to ancient Israel by the angels. He said the Law of God given to Moses was like a schoolmaster to lead people to Christ, but once individuals recognize what Christ did for them, they are no longer under that Law as a legal means to obtain salvation (Galatians 3:23–25).
But, before the time of Christ, Paul said that the Jews were under the Law of Moses and under bondage to it. This was the Law given by angels even before the Jewish authorities elaborated on it with their own teachings in the 1st century. Thus, he continued: “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world” (Galatians 4:3). These were the same “elements” he referred to in Colossians.
Now note how modern translations render Galatians 4:3.
The Revised Standard Version says, again: “the elemental spirits of the universe.”
The New English Bible: “the elemental spirits of the universe.”
Moffatt: “the elemental spirits of the world.” And since the apostle Paul just stated in the context of Galatians that the Law was given by the angels (Galatians 3:19), there can be no doubt that these “elemental spirits” mentioned by him were angels (principalities and powers) who gave the Law to Moses.
Let me now clear up a point that has confused many interpreters of the Bible. Some have thought that the “days, months, times and years” of Galatians 4:10 might be heathen festival seasons. In no way is this true. While it is certain that the Gentile Galatians were once under the domination of “principalities and powers” (because all nations have angelic powers supervising them), in Galatians 4:10 the apostle Paul was referring to the festival days and periods mentioned in the Law of Moses. This is certainly the case because in Galatians 4:21 he chastised these Galatian Gentiles for wanting to be back under the Law. To show what Law he meant, Paul cited as that particular Law the one containing the account of Hagar and Sarah in the Book of Genesis (Galatians 4:22–26). Plainly, the Law, which the Galatians wanted to be under, was the Mosaic Law, of which the first book of Genesis was a part.
So, what we find the apostle Paul teaching was that the Law of God given to Moses was delivered by angels. It was not given directly by God. When it says that God (that is, an Elohim) was the one who presented the Law to Moses, the term (in this case) refers to a powerful angel who could legitimately be called an Elohim in the Bible. This angel and the other angels associated with him in the giving of the Law are identified even in the Old Testament. Let us be aware of his mediator’s role in giving the Law.
The Angel of the Lord
We now enter a most interesting part of this study. It can be shown clearly in the Old Testament itself that it was not God the Father or Christ Jesus before His incarnation who gave the Law to Moses. Many modern students of the Bible have not observed this plain teaching of the Old Testament. We find that it was, as Paul, Stephen, and the Jewish historian Josephus attest, an angel with multitudes of other angels who gave the Ten Commandments and the other subsidiary laws to Moses in their period of spiritual infancy. It shows why the apostle Paul adopted the principle that the Law of Moses was much inferior compared to the teachings of early Christianity that he called “the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
In fact, Paul showed that the Law of Moses and Christianity were not compatible to one another regarding salvation. While faith was important even within the Old Testament period, there were numerous laws and regulations that were necessary to be observed in Old Testament times before one could be considered a righteous person. But something more than rituals was essential to attain salvation from God.
That necessary ingredient upon which faith could flourish was Jesus Christ and His substitutionary role in matters of keeping the Law. And while that Law of God was a steppingstone to the full and mature Gospel of Christ, it can only be reckoned as being like the caterpillar stage of a butterfly’s development. Something else had to be given for salvation. And that was the Gospel of Christ. That Gospel proves to be as different from the earlier Law of God as a butterfly is from a caterpillar larva.
Who Revealed the Law to Israel?
The prime spiritual entity (or Elohim) who gave the Law to Moses was not God the Father or Jesus Christ. He was actually an angel, with his angelic helpers, who spoke the Law to Moses (the Law was “the word spoken by angels” — Hebrews 2:2). This makes it certain that the angelic personality was not Jesus Christ before His incarnation.
The apostle Paul in the Book of Hebrews took the first two chapters to show that Christ Jesus was not an angel, but was far higher in station and authority.
“Being made so much better than the angels, as he has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, ‘You are my Son, this day have I begotten you?’ And again, ‘I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son’.”
“But to which of the angels said he at any time, ‘Sit on my right hand, and I will make your enemies your footstool’.”
There was no controversy about this matter to the apostle Paul. Christ was not an angel because He was far higher in power and esteem than any angel, no matter how exalted in rank the angel might be.
It is time to identify that particular angel as revealed in the Old Testament by giving a compendium of scriptural texts about the role of this angel in various historical contexts of the Old Testament. We find that this Elohim (this single angel) was very active in human affairs from the time of Abraham to the period of the Judges (especially with righteous people). Professor J.M. Wilson in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (New Edition) admirably presents this historical survey on page 125 under the article titled: “Angel,” the section titled “Angel of the Theophany.” Note his comments:
“Angel of the Theophany. This angel is spoken of as ‘the angel of the Lord [Yahweh].’ The following passages contain references to this angel:
Genesis 16:7ff the angel and Hagar
Genesis 18Abraham intercedes with the angel for Sodom
Genesis 22:1ff the angel interposes to prevent the sacrifice of Isaac
Genesis 24:7, 40Abraham sends Eliezer and promises him the angels protection
Genesis 31:11ffthe angel appearing to Jacob says, ‘I am the God [elohim] of Beth-el’
Genesis 32:24ffJacob wrestles with the angel and says, ‘I have seen God [elohim] face to face’
Genesis 48:15ffJacob speaks of God [elohim] and the angel as identical
Exodus 3 (cf. Acts 7:30ff)the angel appears to Moses in the burning bush
Exodus 13:21; 14:19(cf. Numbers 20:16)God or the angel leads Israel out of Egypt
Exodus 23:20ffthe people are commanded to obey the angel
Exodus 32:34 to 33:17 (cf. Isaiah 63:9)Moses pleads for the presence of God with His people
Joshua 5:13–62the angel appears to Joshua
Judges 2:1–5the angel speaks to the people
Judges 6:11ffthe angel appears to Gideon 4
Professor Wilson continues:
“A study of these passages shows that while the angel and Yahweh are at times distinguished from each other, they are with equal frequency, and in the same passages, merged into each other. How is this to be explained? It is obvious that these apparitions cannot be the Almighty Himself, whom no man hath seen, or can see. In seeking the explanation, special attention should be paid to two passages cited above.”Continuing:
“In Exodus 23:20ff God promises to send an angel before His people to lead them to the Promised Land; they are commanded to obey him and not to provoke him, ‘for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him.’ Thus the angel can forgive sin, which only God can do, because God’s name, i.e., His character and thus His authority, are in the angel. Further, in the passage Exodus 32:34 to 33:17 Moses intercedes for the people after their first breach of the covenant; God responds by promising, ‘Behold, mine angel shall go before thee’; and immediately after God says, ‘My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.’ Here a clear distinction is made between an ordinary angel, and the angel who carries with him God’s presence. …”
This “Angel of the Lord” is so important (and higher in power than any other angel) that in Scripture he is called “My Angel” (that is, the Angel who is the personal Angel of God Himself). Professor Wilson sums up his observations on the “Angel of the Lord” by writing:
“The question still remains, Who is the theophanic angel? To this many answers have been given [by scholars and theologians], of which the following may be mentioned:
(1) This angel is simply an angel with a special commission;
(2) he may be a momentary descent of God into visibility;
(3) he may be the Logos, a kind of temporary preincarnation [of Jesus Christ] …
Each has its difficulties, but the last is certainly the most tempting to the mind. Yet it must be remembered that at best these are only conjectures that touch on a great mystery. It is certain that from the beginning God used angels in human form, with human voices, in order to communicate with man; and the appearances of the angel of the Lord, with his special redemptive relation to God’s people, show the working of that Divine mode of self-revelation which culminated in the coming of the Saviour, and are thus a foreshadowing of, and a preparation for, the final revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Further than this, it is not safe to go.” 5This excellent appraisal by Professor Wilson gives a good summation of what the records in the Old Testament state about “the angel of the Lord.” The role of this “angel of the Lord” was mysterious to Professor Wilson, as it has been to many biblical scholars. Wilson was wary of discussing the subject any further because of the deepness of thought these puzzling and sublime revelations of the Holy Scriptures present to us of modern times. It appears confusing to many people that an angel can be called Elohim (which we render in English as “God”) and that he could bear the name of Yahweh, while at other times he is shown to be a distinct personality from Yahweh, the Old Testament designation of the God of heaven and earth.
Though one must admit that there is mystery about the matter, we nevertheless have the plain and simple statements in the Old Testament that “the Angel of the Lord” was called an Elohim (God) in the time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and throughout the period of Moses and Joshua. And, without ambiguity, Stephen in his inspired witness before the Jewish Sanhedrin said that the “God” (Elohim) who met Moses at the burning bush was this angel and that he went by the name “God” (Greek: theos) and “Lord” (Greek: kyrios) which answered to Elohim and Yahweh in the Hebrew.
“And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sinai an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it the voice of the Lord [Yahweh in Hebrew] came unto him, saying, I am the God [Elohim in Hebrew] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Because of the close identification of this “Angel of the Lord” with the supreme deity of heaven and earth, some theologians have tried to equate this special angel with Christ Jesus before His incarnation. But as shown by the apostle Paul in the Book of Hebrews, Christ is in no way an angel because Christ must be reckoned as being of much higher authority than “the Angel of the Lord” or any angel no matter who he may be.
And though we have the express teaching of the apostle Paul that Christ was present at the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, Paul still informed us that Christ was watching events from a distance. Christ followed the trek of the Israelites at the time of their Exodus from Egypt (I Corinthians 10:4). This is different from what was done by “the Angel of the Lord” who had the command to lead all the armies of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 14:19). The words “to follow” and “to lead” are very different concepts and one is not quibbling over words in showing the distinction. Because of this, the apostle Paul was careful in what he said about the role of Christ at the Exodus.
Christ was following Israel during the Exodus period, while “the Angel of the Lord” was leading the hosts of the Israelites as the Elohim (the Shekinah) mentioned by Moses. This Elohim (angel) was not Christ because the Book of Hebrews shows that Christ was not an angel (Hebrews, chapter 1). Yet this angel had the rank of “God” on him and could speak with the power of attorney in God’s name (Exodus 23:20–21). God called him “My Angel.” If one follows the narrative closely (from Exodus chapters 3 to 20), it will be seen that it was this “Angel of the Lord,” along with other principalities and powers, who gave the Ten Commandments and the other subsidiary laws to Moses and the children of Israel. And, as the apostle Paul explained in the Book of Galatians 3:19–20, the personage who gave the Law to Moses was not God Himself.
The Angel of the Lord Was Well Known
The majority of Jews in the time of Christ also believed the “Angel of the Lord” acted like God acts. This was certainly the belief of the apostles. Yet, besides this one powerful angel, there were many angelic helpers on hand to dispense the Law to Israel. Notice what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 33:2:
“The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them, he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints [holy ones — that is, angels].”And in the Septuagint Version, written almost 300 years before the time of Christ, the Jewish translators rendered the verse: “The Lord is come from Sinai with ten thousands of saints; on his right hand were his angels with him.” This fact is reiterated (and plainly so) in Psalm 68:17.
“The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.”It was actually the single angel (not God the Father or Christ Jesus) who handed the Ten Commandments and the whole Law to Moses. Note what Paul said about this matter.
“Wherefore then serves the law? It was added because of trangressions, till the seed should come [Christ] to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.”Galatians 3:19–20
Just who was this mediator to whom Paul was referring? One thing for certain, he was not God. The apostle Paul said that the mediator (this Elohim) was not actually God because “a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one” (Galatians 3:20). Paul showed that in the giving of the Law, God did not directly hand the Law to Moses. It was dispensed to Moses “by the hand of a mediator” — and a close study of the Exodus texts show that this mediator was “the Angel of the Lord.”
It is common today for many interpreters to assume (erroneously) that the mediator was Moses. Yes, this is what many do, and I made the same assumption in the past. But this is not what Paul meant as Galatians, with subsidiary scriptures, shows. As a point in fact, it should be noted that Paul in all six chapters of the Book of Galatians did not mention the name of Moses — not even once. A far as Paul was concerned, Moses as a person was not a consideration in any part of Galatians. Paul established no context in Galatians to require the reader to understand the mediator to be Moses. In fact, the immediate literary environment shows that the mediator in Galatians is positioned next to the angels (plural, many angels) who gave the Law. And this particular mediator (especially pointed out by Paul) was a singular personality. He was the principal angel who dispensed the Law to Moses — “the Angel of the Lord.”
This is simple to understand if one pays close attention to the Book of Galatians. If Moses were indeed the mediator in Galatians 3:19–20, then Moses also had “Yahweh’s angel” as a mediator between himself and God. This must be the case because the Old Testament shows that it was actually “the Angel of the Lord” who handed the Law to Moses — it was not God. But if Moses were the mediator, and the only mediator, of Galatians (as some erroneously, suggest today), then the text would demand two mediators on Mount Sinai, one being Moses and the other “the Angel of the Lord.” But Paul showed no such thing. There was only a single mediator on Mount Sinai to intervene between God and Israel and he was “the Angel of the Lord.”
This can also be shown another way. In the other four occurrences where the word mediator (Greek: mesitees) is found in the New Testament, all in Paul’s writings, the word never refers to a human being as mediator between man and God. In those four occasions the mediator was Jesus Christ in His role as a glorified spiritual being (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, and 12:24). And so it was in the Book of Galatians. We are shown in the Old Testament that it was “the Angel of the Lord” who handed the Law to Moses. He was a spiritual power graced with the name of Yahweh and Elohim. This mediator was a powerful angelic being as confirmed by Paul when he added the comment (to prevent misunderstanding) that “a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one” (Galatians 3:20). Paul was reminding the Galatians that this mediator was NOT God even though he was called an Elohim.
Comparing two important verses in the New Testament further strengthens this truth. When Paul said that the Law was given “in the hand of a mediator” in Galatians 3:19–20 he certainly referred to “the Angel of the Lord.” Stephen used a similar expression when he said that Moses was given his rulership and power “by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush” (Acts 7:35). To the apostle Paul, “the hand of the mediator” to whom he had reference in the Book of Galatians and “the hand of the angel,” that Stephen referred to in the Book of Acts, were identical. Thus, it was the hand of “the Angel of the Lord” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the other laws. Stephen established this fact in the context of his discourse before the Sanhedrin:
“This is he [Moses], that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel [a single angel] which spoke to him [Moses] in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.”
Moses was given the Law by the hand of a mediating spirit called “Yahweh’s angel” who gave Israel the “hand-writing of ordinances that was against us” that Paul mentioned in Colossians 2:14. And this angel was the mediator Paul referred to in Galatians 3:19–20.
Now we come to an important question. Was this “Angel of the Lord” actually “the Lord” — that is, Yahweh himself? The answer is NO! This angelic personality appeared to Moses only “in the name” of Yahweh (as he had done to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob); He was simply acting with power of attorney to carry out the commands of Yahweh. The Jews have long recognized this fact. Jewish authorities record in their Mishnah of the third century that “a man’s agent is as himself” (Berekoth 6:6). And this same principle of interpretation applied to matters dealing with God.
Though the Bible shows God has done many things in past history in a personal way (and without a mediator as an assistant), at other times He used intermediaries to accomplish His will. With many of the prophets of Israel, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others, it was common for them to write in the first person (as though God himself were speaking) while in actual fact it was the prophets themselves who stated or wrote the prophetic teachings in God’s name. The apostle Paul did the same thing when he gave commandments in the name of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
There are other instances of this principle in action. We read in several places that when God punished Israel and Judah for their sins, He utilized Gentile nations of Babylon, Egypt, Tyre, Moab, etc., as His instruments to accomplish the task. We even read that God used Satan the Devil to perform His will on earth. Note that in 2 Samuel 24:1 it says that God moved David to take a census of Israel, but in 1 Chronicles 21:1 it is stated that God used Satan to perform the job (as God’s agent). In the case of giving the Law to Moses, God designated “the Angel of the Lord” to dispense the Law to Moses and Israel. That angel was the instrument, or mediator, assigned to perform the task, and he did it very well! The truth is, God often uses mediators in His work.
But when Christ Jesus was incarnated into the world, humankind began to witness the very Son of God himself within our human environment. Christ Jesus was not an angel of God. He was far superior in rank and exalted above all angels. Christ was in fact the very creator (under the Father) of everything in heaven and earth, visible and invisible — the one who brought into existence all the principalities and powers, including “the Angel of the Lord” (Colossians 1:15–21).
For this reason the apostle Paul placed “the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) on a far higher level of importance than any former teachings given in the Old Testament. Indeed, to Paul there was not the slightest comparison in authority and esteem between the two religious systems. The apostle John also made a prime distinction by stating the same belief. He said at the beginning of his Gospel. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). This was why Paul and John recognized the Gospel of Christ was not only superior to the Law Moses obtained (given by angels), but completely replaced (even jettisoned) the former Law as the means to attain salvation.
The apostle Paul understood from God and Christ that “the religion of angels” given at Mount Sinai was no longer the means by which God’s people were to be governed. What was dispensed at Mount Sinai were regulations demanded by “the elemental spirits of the universe” (Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:8, 20). These angelic spirits were the principalities and powers who gave teachings about “eating, drinking, holy days, new moons, and sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16).
Paul said: Christ released his people from these ritualistic teachings once intended for Israel in their infant stage of spiritual development. In Christ, it became no longer necessary to “observe days, months, times and years” (Galatians 4:10) — and Paul certainly meant by this those ritualistic periods and rites that were Mosaic. Mature saints in Christ have been released from the demands of the former Law given at Mount Sinai by the angelic hosts that was intended for spiritual infants. Christians have Christ Jesus as their only mediator and Elohim. The apostle Paul confidently stated that there are now no mediators between man and God other than Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).
Note these points:
(1) Those in Christ have now “died” to the earlier Law of God and this “death” voids the former Law to them. They are, in one way of reckoning it, “widowed” to that Law. They have “died” to it in Christ.
(2) The earlier Law of God was meant to be observed by children (infants) in the faith. But those now in Christ have turned “21 years of age” in a spiritual sense. The former Laws, no matter how holy, righteous and good, were and are intended to be in force only for minors (even though the laws are “eternal” in duration). The former Law of God was not made for adults to observe.
(3) Christians are now CITIZENS of heaven and not subject to the laws that God gave to physical Israel here on earth. Christians, as taught by Paul at first, became the true “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). This political and religious change of status in the eyes of God was far different than the fleshly, physical “Israel” that was then in the world.
(4) And finally, the earlier Law to Moses was mediated by the hand of the Angel of the Lord (and other angels) and this put it into a lesser position. According to Paul and John, the Law was inferior compared to the teachings of the Gospel. The first Law of God was a “religion of angels,” but the other was “the Law of Christ” (UNWRITTEN laws centered on “love”) coming from Christ himself (Galatians 6:2). There were vast differences between the two systems.