The writer of the book of Hebrews indicates that the Torah was “spoken by angels.” In this teaching, D. Thomas Lancaster takes a look at first-century angelology to understand the apostolic concept of the Torah being delivered by angels and what role that concept plays in the argument in Hebrews 2.
In last week’s sermon which I reviewed, we learned that Yeshua (Jesus) was greater than even the angels. What we didn’t learn is why that was important to the addressees of the letter to the Hebrews and why that should be important to us.
Today, we’re going to find out.
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
–Hebrews 2:1-4 (NASB)
Here, we see another Kal va-chomer argument, from the light to the heavy. Look at this.
For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
In other words, if the word spoken by angels…what word is that? The Torah which was delivered by angels at Sinai. If the Torah proved “unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience (of Torah) received just penalty, then how” must less “will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”
This is the cornerstone of Lancaster’s sermon and we need to pay attention. I said in my first review of this series about the Kal Va-chomer argument, that if the first and lighter portion of the argument was not valid, then neither is the second, and the entire argument disintegrates.
The first part of the argument states that the Torah is “unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty.” In other words, the writer of Hebrews is telling his Jewish audience that the Torah remains valid and unalterable in their lives. The Jewish audience must have continued to be Torah observant Jews who did not question the validity of Torah. After all, if they considered the Torah alterable or invalid or obsolete as most Christians believe the writer of Hebrews is saying, then according to the argument, the heavier aspect of the statement must also be invalid or obsolete: Jesus and salvation. That doesn’t make much sense.
Put in just a slightly different way, if the Torah remains valid and unalterable, how much more is the salvation of Jesus valid and unalterable. The second element in the argument does not undo or invalidate the first but rather rests upon and depends on the first element. If it doesn’t, the argument falls apart.
Christianity’s understanding of the purpose of the Book of Hebrews in general and this portion of the epistle in specific is what becomes invalid based on what the text is actually saying!
However, as Lancaster solves one problem, he introduces another.
For if the word spoken through angels…
–Hebrews 2:2 (NASB)
Not only in this verse, but Acts 7:53, the words spoken by Stephen, and Galatians 3:19, which was written by Paul, both speak of the Torah being delivered by angels.
But wasn’t the Torah spoken directly by God to Moses?
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven.’
–Exodus 20:22 (NASB)
This is just one of a multitude of examples of God (seemingly) speaking directly to Moses words of Torah rather than having Torah delivered by angels. In fact, where do we ever see angels delivering words of Torah or tablets of Torah to Moses? Apparently no where.
Lancaster goes through a list of the various types of angelic beings, which aren’t important to present here, but he does mention one particular type of angel we need to pay attention to: the angel of the Lord.
In Genesis 18 we see three men visit Abraham at his camp. We know that these three men are really three angels. Two of them go on to Sodom but one stays behind and this is God. But how can it be God if God is infinite and a consuming fire? Just look at what He did to the top of Mount Sinai! Who or what is the angel of the Lord?
According to Lancaster, this is an angel, a created being, through which God speaks. The angel speaks the Words of God in the first person singular as God Himself, but is not God Himself, but rather a representation or extension of God, as if God were talking into a microphone and the angel were a speaker on the other end of a cable.
“Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. (emph. mine)
–Exodus 23:20-21 (NASB)
In other words, when Jacob wrestles with an opponent in Genesis 32, we don’t have to drive ourselves crazy wondering if it is an angel or if it is literally God. Lancaster says, it’s the angel of the Lord, God’s created representation in our world.
And it is not and never has been a “pre-incarnate Jesus.”
Actually I find that a relief. I always suspected that at least some angels had such a function rather than an infinite, all-powerful, all-encompassing God literally intersecting with our world, He would send a representative being, like an amplified ambassador able to speak as if he were God present among us. It also is a nice response to certain Hebrew Roots commentators who turn exegesis in the Tanakh into “I-see-Jesus” whenever the angel of the Lord appears.
Lancaster provides numerous other proof texts to support his commentary, and you can listen to the full recording to get all of his references.
I will say that Lancaster also mentions that the concept of the angels giving the Torah was very popular in the first century, as evidenced by how well read the Book of Jubilees, which supported the angelic giving of Torah, was among Jews of that period.
All this may sound strange and even alien to us, but Lancaster says it made perfect sense to a first-century Greek-speaking Jewish audience. We can’t judge these things by the context of 21st-century English-speaking Christians living in the United States of America. We have to get into the heads and comprehension of the original audience. Otherwise, we’ll come up with some pretty goofy conclusions.
But what does this have to do with the Messiah being superior to the angels? It seems applied to our Kal va-chomer argument. If Messiah is superior to the angels and the angels gave the Torah, then what the Messiah gives must be superior as well. No, I didn’t say what the Messiah gave replaced the Torah, just that it held much more weight, and to extend the metaphor, the message of Messiah rests on the foundation of the Torah.
Think of it this way.
At Sinai, Moses went up the mountain. He acquired the Torah in the realm of angels, descended and gave the Torah to human beings.
Messiah went up into the Heavenly Court, the realm of angels, at the ascension. When he descends, he delivers the Messianic Era of peace and complete knowledge of God to human beings.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
–Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)
Lancaster didn’t use this scripture in his sermon but I think it makes sense. The New Covenant doesn’t undo any of the older covenants or “unwrite” any of the specific content. It actually amplifies the older covenants, reaffirms them, and makes it more possible for Judah and Israel (and the people of the nations who are grafted in through faith in Messiah) to “know God” in a more fulfilling way than even the great prophets knew God, and the law, the Torah will be written on all their hearts.
That’s the Messianic Era. We have just barely tasted the first fruits of that New Covenant. Most of those promises have yet to be fulfilled. Messiah’s work is not finished, otherwise why return and why is the gospel message all about the coming of the Kingdom rather than just a plan of personal, individual salvation for specific human beings?
The New Covenant is wholly dependent upon the older covenants. If any of the older covenants cease to exist, the fabric of the New Covenant unravels and falls to dust and Judah, Israel, and the people of the nations who cleave to the God of Israel have no hope.
But if the Torah is true and valid and reliable, how much more true and valid and reliable are the Messianic promises and the coming of Moshiach?
What Did I Learn?
I did hit something of a wall or contradiction. Probably just a misunderstanding on my part (and I’ve made mistakes before in this review series). If the argument is that Messiah is greater than the angels who delivered the Torah, but was specifically the angel of the Lord, God’s personal angelic representation, if you will, who delivered the Torah to Moses, then does that mean the Messiah is greater than the angel of the Lord?
I don’t know if the question even makes sense, depending on how you view Trinitarianism, but it’s what popped into my head as I was listening to the sermon, so I thought I’d share it with you.
I didn’t read through each and every transaction Moses had with Hashem in the Torah, but I suspect that we may encounter some difficulties in determining on some occasions exactly who is addressing Moses. Is it the angel of the Lord, or the Lord? Does God never speak directly to Moses? Is it always an angel? I don’t know. The suggestion offered by Lancaster seem to bear further scrutiny, however.