Question...did Christians just make up the 'THE" in "The Angel of YHWH"?
[created Aug 2, 1999]

This question came in:

Hi Glen,

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 lamed."
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,

Glenn Miller
August 2, 1999

From: The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)