Christ and the Divine Council: Part 1

The concept of angels is much deeper than most Christians realize. The New Testament writers used αγγελος to refer to a class of beings known in the Old Testament as אלהים or gods. For example, Hebrews 1:6 says, “Let all the αγγελοι of God worship [Christ].” Psalm 97:7 says, “Worship [Yahweh], all you אלהים.” This equivocation between terms indicates that the אלהים of the Old Testament are real, supernatural beings. These אלהים form a council around God which administered his rule in the earth. While the import of this data has been applied to angelology, it has only recently been applied to other systematic categories.[1] It is the purpose of this paper to explore some the ramifications of this data for Christology.

Overview of the Divine Council

The Nature of the Divine Council

The Divine Council (DC) is a complex organization of which we have only a little data. The beings which comprise the DC were created (Neh 9:6). Their creation occurred before the creation of physical matter (Jb 38:4-7). Yahweh allotted the nations to individuals on the DC, spreading the nations out “according to the number of the sons of [God]” (Dt 32:8, cf. Dt 4:19; 29:26).[2] Yahweh himself chose Israel as his inheritance (Dt 4:20). The members of the DC were to rule over the nations and enforce justice (Ps 82:3-4).

The structure of the council is broken into three tiers, the top tier being Yahweh (Is 6:1).[3] The second tier is called the Counselors, which contain among others the Satan[4] and the Angel of Yahweh (1 Kgs 22:19-13, Zec 3:1). The third tier is called the Agents which include prophets and messengers (מלאכים) (Is 6:8, Ps 104:4).

The Corruption of the Council

However, the DC did not fulfil God’s plan but became corrupt. Psalm 82:1 describes Yahweh taking “his place in the divine council” to hold judgment “in the midst of the gods” (NRSV). He charges them with injustice because they freed the wicked instead of helping the weak (Ps 82:2-4). Their punishment was that they would “die like mortals, and fall like any prince” (Ps 82:7). Psalm 58 presents a similar complaint, this time from a human viewpoint. The DC made a way for wicked persons in the earth (Ps 58:2). The wicked persons lie and cheat (58:3-5). The psalmist calls on Yahweh to fulfill the role that he assigned to the DC and judge the wicked (Ps 58:6). God listens and performs the judgment so that the psalmist can declare that “there is a God who judges in the earth!” (Ps 58:11). The corrupt council also resists God’s purposes on a supernatural level, as is evidenced by the Prince of the kingdom of Persia resisting Gabriel and Michael (Dn 10:13).

The Preincarnate Son

Jesus had multiple functions in the DC before he was incarnated. He held two distinct positions: Yahweh himself and the Angel of Yahweh. His position and prominence within the DC heighten the significant downgrade he took when he was incarnated.

Jesus as Yahweh over the Council

Jesus is the highest member of the DC because he is Yahweh. John identified Jesus as Yahweh in Isaiah 6 which is a DC scene (Jn 12:41). He is preeminent because he is positioned above the council spatially being “high and lifted up” (Is 6:1). And he is seated on the throne while the supernatural beings stand around him (Is 6:2, cf. 1 Kgs 22:19). Hebrews also emphasizes Jesus’ preeminent position by identifying him as the πρωτότοκος and linking him to Yahweh (Heb 1:6, Ps 97:7). Reading Jesus into Psalm 97,  the πρωτότοκος is “exalted far above all gods” and He is the “Most High [עֶלְיוֹן] over all the earth” (Ps 97:9). These gods “worship him” and “declare His righteousness (Ps 97:6-7). And the earth can rejoice and be glad because the πρωτότοκος reigns (Ps 97:1)

In his throne room, the Seraphim surround him chanting “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Is 6:3). The repeated word emphasizes Jesus’ holiness.[5] His utter holiness sets up a contrast with the supernatural beings, who are often called קְדֹשִׁים or holy ones. These holy ones surround his throne (Ps 89:5). But they are incomparable to Yahweh (Ps 89:6). Although they are “sons of the mighty,” they are “extremely terrified” of him (Ps 89:7). So, while they have a measure of holiness, they cannot measure up to the supreme distinction that is attributed to Jesus (Is 6:3).

Jesus also commissions the prophets of the DC.[6] He commissions Isaiah to go and prophesy to the stubborn nation (Is 6:10). The content of the message is not specified fully in Isaiah 6, but John 12:38 links the content of the message to Isaiah 53:1, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” The message of Isaiah 53 is the propitiatory work of Christ. Thus, Jesus commissioned Isaiah to preach about himself and his future work. Not only this, but Jesus later took the position of prophet in the DC and proclaimed this same message about himself (Dt 18:15, Jn 12:32).

Jesus as Angel of Yahweh in the Council

Through the lens of the Trinity, the Angel of Yahweh is Jesus God the Son. This connection is not explicit in Scripture. But it is the best conclusion with the available data. Yahweh said to Israel in the wilderness, “I am going to send an angel before you” (Ex 23:20). This angel is the Angel of Yahweh because Yahweh says that he is “my angel” (Ex 23:24). The Angel has the power to pardon transgression—a prerogative of God alone—because Yahweh’s “name is in him” (Ex 23:21, cf. Mk 2:7, 10-11). Further, the Angel speaks as Yahweh himself and receives worship (Gn 22:13, Jgs 13:20, cf. Rev 19:10). Thus, the Angel of Yahweh seems to be Yahweh himself. But if Yahweh is one God (Dt 6:4), how can there be another being distinct from Yahweh yet function as him? Second Temple Judaism recognized this dilemma and had what is called the Two Powers controversy.[7] The Early Church solved the dilemma by identifying the Angel of Yahweh with the Son in the Trinity.[8]

Jesus as the Angel of Yahweh has two distinct functions in the DC. First, he is a military leader (Nm 22:22-23; Ps 34:8; 35:5-6; 1 Chr 21:27). He probably is identical to the Captain of Yahweh’s Hosts because he receives worship from Joshua and hallows the ground around him (Jos 5:15, cf. Ex 3:2-5; Dn 8:11). One of his functions as Captain is to purge the earth of wrong doers (Is 1:24-26; 2:12). Second, he is a Mediator for Israel. The Angel of Yahweh cried out the Yahweh for the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Exile (Zec 1:12). He removed the filthy garments of Joshua the high priest and forgave his sin (Zec 3:4). He also granted Joshua continual access to the DC (Zec 3:7).[9]

[1]. Daniel Porter, “God among the Gods: An Analysis of the Function of Yahweh in the Divine Council of Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82” (MA thes., Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010); Judson David Greene, “Omni and Intra: God’s Personal, Temporal, Locative Presence in the Divine Council,” 2018.

[2]. The MT reads “sons of Israel,” but this is a textual corruption. The LXX has “angels of God” and DSS 4QDeutJ reads “sons of God.” See Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (2001): 52–74.

[3]. This structure is based off the work done by Marylyn Ellen White, “The Council of Yahweh: Its Structure and Membership” (PhD diss., University of St. Michael’s College Faculty of Theology and University of Toronto (Canada), 2012), ii. This structure is reflected in Paul’s mention of the “principalities and powers.” See Ronn A. Johnson, “The Old Testament Background for Paul’s Use of ‘Principalities and Powers’” (PhD diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 2004).

[4]. The article on the Satan (הַשָּׂטָן) is often cited as denoting a title (GKC §126.d). Therefore, the conclusion goes, Satan as a personal being is not mentioned in the Old Testament because that word simply denotes an office, not a specific person. While this is a possibility, it rests on the assumption that the “archenemy of God” concept was still evolving and would not come to fruition until the first century CE. However, understanding the all the Scripture is Christian Scripture and it all reflects a single (though changing) reality, we should expect to find some mention of the “archenemy of God” in the Old Testament. The article on the Satan indicates best-in-class and causes the substantive to become a personal name (GKC §126.e, IBHS 13.6.a).

[5]. Some people take this as a reference to the Trinity. This is possible doctrinally, but not probable grammatically. It is most likely a repetitive apposition used to emphasize the attribute (IBHS 12.5.a, GKC §133.k).

[6]. Prophets were generally recognized to be part of the DC because they stand “in the council (סוד) of Yahweh” (Jer 23:18, cf. Ps 89:7). Yahweh “does nothing except he reveals his council (סוד) to his servants the prophets” (Am 3:7, cf. 1 Sa 3:7, 21). See Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 238.

[7]. Alan Franklin Segal, “Two Powers in Heaven: The Significance of the Rabbinic Reports about Binitarianism, Ditheism and Dualism for the History of Early Christianity and Judaism” (PhD diss., Yale University, 1975).

[8]. Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Philip Schaff, Alexander Roberts, and James Donaldson, vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 363–7.

[9]. That the high priest had access to the DC may have implications for Jesus’ high priesthood. What did the high priest do in the DC? And how did Jesus perform his work in reference to the DC?

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