The following post is taken from Glenn Miller’s article, Is there no “THE” in “THE Angel of the Lord”?.
This question came in:
My name is XXX i live in YYY. I’ve been a Born Again Christian for over 30 years, thanks to Gods marvelous grace made available in Jesus name.
Some 2 years or so ago I was busy enlightening some poor JW’s when guess what the trinity come up – especially the OT phrase “the angel of the Lord” . They very sweetly and nicely informed me there was no definite article attached to “angel” in the Hebrew.
This has bothered me ever since, the Hebrew has the phrase “malak yhwh” (4397) this would on purely linguistic terms be translated (a/an) angel of the LORD the ‘of the’ attached to YHWH is perfectly justified because of the very special nature of LORD, but ‘malik’ is a different matter I have two separate Hebrew text’s and in no case can I find the definite article ie ‘hamalak’ used. I understand that there are compelling reasons of theology for translating “the Angel of the Lord” but JW’s seem right in this instant for translating “an angel of Lord”
But as my knowledge of Hebrew is slight, may be I am missing something obvious to everyone else. I would under line I’m familiar with the evidence you present in your article and agree whole heartedly with it. Just seems to me that Christians are in this instance ‘lying for Jesus’ If the word (the) is not represented in the original it ought not be their, or translated (a / an) or omitted altogether ‘angel of the LORD’
I do hope this doesn’t appear trivial or nit picking, but sometimes an awful lot seems to hang on one small article.
Would look forward to your reply in due course, given you can some how find time. In the meantime The Lord Bless You and yours.
The basic answer is: there are more ways to say ‘the‘ in Hebrew than just ‘the‘! (In fact, MOST of the ways to say ‘the’ are NOT by using the word ‘the’!)
If you consult a standard Hebrew language grammar (e.g., GKC or Waltke/O’Connor [OT:IBHS]), this topic will be discussed under ‘determination’ which refers to definiteness (‘the’) or indefiniteness (‘a, an’). In English, we (mostly) express definiteness by use of the article ‘the’, but in Hebrew there were other ways of indicating this.
The rules given in the grammars (I cite from Waltke/O’Connor below, section 9.7a) are as follows:
“In Hebrew the definiteness of a noun and that of its modifiers are in agreement.”
So, if I used the phrase “city of the night“, the word city would be definite, because ‘the night‘ was definite. It would be translated into English as ‘THE city of the night‘. If, on the other hand, I used the phrase “city of a night“, the word city would be indefinite, because ‘a night‘ was definite. It would be translated into English as ‘a city of a night’.
So, in our case, with ‘angel of YHWH’, if YHWH is definite, then angel is definite (i.e., ‘the angel’ in English).
The next rule goes like this:
“If the genitive is definite, the phrase is definite; the genitive may be definite because it bears the article or a suffix or because it is a name.”
Some of the examples they give:
2 Sam 9.11: bene (ha)melek — THE sons of THE king (the first the is due to the 2nd the )
Lev 18.8: ish abi(ka) — THE wife of your father (the first the is due to the suffix your)
1 Kgs 8.15: elohe israel — THE God of Israel (the first the is due to the proper name Israel)
Since YHWH is treated as a proper name in the OT (and sometimes like a title), it is always definite as ‘intrinsically definite’ (Waltke/O’Connor, section 13.4a). [The same applies to Elohim, but it, as more of a title than a name, is sometimes used with the definite article he.]
This would mean that ANYTIME you see ‘malik YHWH’ it is to be translated as “THE angel of YHWH” or “THE angel of THE LORD” (both definite).
This is why it is incorrect to say that it says ‘AN angel of YHWH’, because it doesn’t.
Now, perhaps you see an obvious problem here–how would we say ‘an angel of YHWH’ if we wanted to?!
The Hebrew actually has to use a ’round about’ way to say this!
“Hebrew cannot use a construct with a definite article in such circumstances (tn: trying to say ‘A son of THE king’) but rather resorts to a periphrastic genitive with blamed.”
So, the phrase ‘a psalm of David’ (with David as a name being definite, obviously) has to use a lamed preposition to ‘distance’ the definite ‘David’ from the indefinite ‘psalm’.
Mizmor leDawid (A psalm of David)..the le (lamed) lets us know the phrase is indefinite.
Ben leIise (A son of Jesse)..the le (lamed) lets us know that the phrase is indefinite.
And, in fact, this construction of ‘an angel of YHWH’ does not occur in the Hebrew bible at all. The only phrases that are translated into English with “an angel of YHWH/God” are comparisons, in which someone is being compared with ‘the angel of the Lord’ (see Waltke/O’Connor 13.5.1f). In these cases, the definiteness of the noun is NOT translated as such–it is used as a ‘class’:
Like the heart of a lion (THE lion in Heb) [2 Sam 17.10]
As one hunts a partridge (THE partridge) [1 Sam 26.20]
As when someone dreams in a famine (THE famine) [Is 29.8]
Like the appearance of an angel of Elohim (THE + Elohim!) [Jud 13.6]
You are pleasing in my eyes like an angel of God (Elohim) [1 Sam 29.9]
For like an angel of God (THE + Elohim!) [2 Sam 14.17]
What this means is that the translation “THE angel of the Lord” is the grammatically correct one, and that your understanding is correct.
Hope this helps,
August 2, 1999
I cite an excerpt from Christian apologist Anthony Roger’s series on the Angel of YHVH, particularly The Malak Yahweh: Jesus, the Divine Messenger of the Old Testament [Part 1], where he discusses the issue of how to know whether the Hebrew should be rendered as an or the Angel of God.
Definite or Indefinite?
When it comes to the Angel of Yahweh, the definite article sets Him off from other angels and also ties together the various episodes featuring someone called “the Angel of the Lord”, showing that the Angel is one and the same person in all of these divine-human encounters.
Some have argued that since there is no definite article in the Hebrew phrase Malak Yahweh, then it should be translated into English as “an Angel of the LORD”, but this is surely mistaken. In Hebrew, nouns and their modifiers are in agreement, such that if Yahweh is definite then Malak is definite as well. Since Yahweh is a proper noun – indeed, it is the distinctive name of the God of Israel – according to the rules of Hebrew grammar it is intrinsically and therefore always definite. In other words, the grammatical construction of Malak Yahweh in Hebrew, where the second noun, a proper noun, Yahweh, is definite, requires that the first noun, which is in the construct state, be understood in a definite way as well.13
In response to this, some have argued that the phrase then is determinate merely because this is required by the construction in Hebrew, such that the inspired authors could not have spoken of the Angel as “an” angel of Yahweh even if they wanted to. But this is also mistaken. In such a case, if the author wanted to render the phrase indefinite, all that he would need to do is include a lamed preposition between Malak and Yahweh. Theologian Gerhardus Vos14 speaks to this error:
“The objection, that before a proper noun the preceding noun standing in the construct state becomes inevitably determinate, in other words that it would be impossible to make ‘Angel of Jehovah’ undeterminate, even though it may have been intended so, does not hold good. The Hebrew has a way of saying ‘an Angel of Jehovah.’ All that is necessary is to insert the preposition ‘lamed’ between Angel and Jehovah: ‘an Angel to Jehovah.’”15
It is highly instructive therefore that the Hebrew Old Testament never employs such a construction: the phrase that is used is invariably Malak Yahweh.
The fact that this phrase refers to one and only one is underscored by the fact that the phrase is never used of angels in the plural; in all of the writings of the Old Testament, the Biblical authors never speak of malakim Yahweh, i.e. “angels of Yahweh”. It may be replied that they do, however, even if only on certain rare occasions, speak of “angels of God” (e.g. Genesis 28:12; 32:1; and 2 Chronicles 36:16), but in this case it needs only to be pointed out that once again a distinction is drawn between angels of God in general and the Angel of God in particular. Whereas the phrase Malak Yahweh does not permit using the definite article, for its definiteness is determined by the use of the proper name of God, Yahweh, the phrase Malak Elohim, which uses the more general term for deity, does permit such a construction, as in Genesis 31:11 (q.v. Exodus 14:19; Judges 6:20, 13:6, 9; 2 Samuel 14:17, 20, 19:28; and 2 Chronicles 36:16), but for all that it never uses the definite article when speaking of angels in the plural. It speaks of “the Angel of God” and “angels of God”, but never does it speak of “the angels of God”, thereby once again drawing a clear distinction between this Angel and all others.
13 John M. Baze, Jr., “The Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament – Part I”, Conservative Theological Journal 3 (Dec., 1997), p. 272: “This construct relationship would substantiate that the only possible literal translation of ma’lak YHWH is ‘the Angel of the Lord’ while eliminating the indefinite translation, ‘an angel of the Lord.’” For further discussion of this, see: here.
14 Gerhardus Vos, Ph.D., D.D., was Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. In addition to his other academic accomplishments, Vos held a doctorate in Arabic studies from Strassburg University. His dissertation advisor was the well known Theodor Noldeke.
15 Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948), p. 86