Abraham’s Word

Yahweh Visible and Invisible

What’s in a Name?


Chapters 16, 17, and 18 discuss my view that there were two Yahweh figures described in the Old Testament—one invisible, the other visible–and that this theology was the OT backdrop to the Godhead of the NT. As such, they will be dealt with collectively on this site.


Bibliography included in the book


Esther J. Hamori, “When Gods Were Men”: The Embodied God in Biblical and Near Eastern Literature (BZAW 384; Berlin: Walter deGruyter, 2008)


John Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Baker Academic, 2010)


Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (reprint, Baylor University Press, 2012)


Michael S. Heiser, “The Divine Council in Late Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Jewish Literature.” PhD diss., UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON, 2004


Alan R. Millard, “The Celestial Ladder and the Gate of Heaven (Gen 28:12, 17),” Expository Times 78 (1966/67) 86–87


C. Houtman, “What Did Jacob See in His Dream at Bethel? Some Remarks on Gen 28:10–22,” Vetus Testamentum 27 (1977) 337–51


Michael S. Heiser, “Should elohim with Plural Predication be Translated ‘Gods?” Bible Translator 61:3 (July 2010): 123-136


Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)


Sandra L. Richter, The Deuteronomistic History and the Name Theology: lešakkēn šemô šām in the Bible and the Ancient Near East (BZAW 318; Berlin: Walther de Gruyter, 2002)


Tryggve Mettinger, review of Sandra L. Richter, The Deuteronomistic History and the Name Theology: lešakkēn šemô šām in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Review of Biblical Literature, accessed May 1, 2014


Gordon J. Wenham, “Deuteronomy and the Central Sanctuary,” TynBul 22 (1971): 103-18


Ian Wilson, Out of the Midst of the Fire: Divine Presence in Deuteronomy (SBL Dissertation Series 151; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995)


Michael B. Hundley, “To Be or Not to Be: A Reexamination of Name Language in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History,” Vetus Testamentum 59 (2009): 533-555


Michael B. Hundley, Keeping Heaven on Earth: Safeguarding the Divine Presence in the Priestly Tabernacle (Forschungen Zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe; vol. 50; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011)


Additional Bibliography on the Two Powers teaching in Judaism, and the Israelite /Jewish roots of high Christology / Trinitarianism


Nathaniel Deutsch, Guardians of the Gate: Angelic Vice-Regency in Late Antiquity (Brill’s Series in Jewish Studies 22; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999)


Charles Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (AGSU 42; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998); Darrell D. Hannah, Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions and Angel Christology in Early Christianity (WUNT 2 Reihe 109; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999)


Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (2nd ed., 1988; repr., Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998)


Larry W. Hurtado, “The Binitarian Shape of Early Christian Worship,” In The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus (ed. Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila and Gladys S. Lewis; JSJSup 63; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999) 187-213


Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” Harvard Theological Review 94:3 (2001) 243-284


Daniel Boyarin, “Beyond Judaisms: Meṭaṭron and the Divine Polymorphy of Ancient Judaism,” JSJ 41 (2010) 323-365


Daniel Abrams, “The Boundaries of Divine Ontology: The Inclusion and Exclusion of Meṭaṭron in the Godhead,” Harvard Theological Review 87:3 (1994) 291-321


Michael S. Heiser, “Co-Regency in Ancient Israel’s Divine Council as the Conceptual Backdrop to Ancient Jewish Binitarian Monotheism,” (forthcoming, Bulletin for Biblical Research 25:1)


Stephen L. Herring, Divine Substitution: Humanity as the Manifestation of Deity in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (FRLANT 247; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht, 2013)


Victor Hurowitz, review of Sandra L. Richter, The Deuteronomistic History and the Name Theology: lešakkēn šemô šām in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, JHS 5 (2004-2005), accessed February 23, 2012



H. B. Huffmon, “Name,” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999)



Alan Segal, ” ‘Two Powers in Heaven’ and Early Christian Trinitarian Thinking,” In The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 73-95



Content Discussion


The co-regency or binitarian godhead thinking that I sketch in these three chapters was the conceptual backdrop to both Judaism’s Two Powers in Heaven teaching and the Trinitarian theology in the New Testament that considered Jesus the incarnation of Yahweh. This material was drawn from my dissertation. I summarized the arguments and data in the dissertation in a scholarly journal article for Harvard Theological Review (see below). For our purposes here, there are several items needing attention.


1. The Issue of the Name Theology

Some evangelical scholars have, in recent years, taken a skeptical view of the name theology, most notably Sandra Richter. Richter’s conclusion (i.e., that there is no name theology) has been soundly rebutted by other scholars, particularly Hundley. My forthcoming  BBR article summarizes the problems with Richter’s arguments articulated by Hundley, Wenham, Wilson, and Hurowitz. More recent scholarship has established that Israelite religion could (and did) conceive of God being more than one person (including appearing in human form) in simultaneous places and rooted that thinking in the wider ancient Near East (Sommers, Hamori, Herring).


2. What about the Holy Spirit? Are there hints of a Trinitarian Godhead in the Old Testament?

These two chapters establish a two person (“binitarian”) Godhead conception in the Hebrew Bible. Readers naturally ask, “What about the Trinity?” Chapter 33 of the book deals with how New Testament writers re-purposed the binitarian concept of the Old Testament to speak about Jesus as God—and to align the Holy Spirit with the two Yahwehs. There are hints of the inclusion of the Spirit in an Old Testament Godhead in the Old Testament as well. I’ll use the example of Isaiah 63 to make the point.


Isaiah 63


The key to seeing the Spirit identified with Yahweh and the second Yahweh is to find passages that speak of the Spirit in ways that the Angel or the Name are spoken of elsewhere. Note the language describing the divine figures of Isaiah 63:7-14 (in bold underlining). I have interspersed commentary at my initials (MSH).


I will mention the loyal love of Yahweh, the praises of Yahweh, according to all that Yahweh has done for us,


and the greatness of goodness to the house of Israel that he has done to them according to his mercy and the abundance of his loyal love.


And he said, “Surely my people are children; they will not break faith.” And he became a Savior to them.


In all their distress, there was no distress,


and the messenger (= the angel; mal’akh) of his presence saved them,


in his love and compassion he himself redeemed them,


and he lifted them up,


and he supported them all the days of old.



MSH: Through verse 8 the text is clearly describing Yahweh. He is the Savior figure. But in verse 9 the “messenger (angel) of Yahweh’s presence” is introduced. This description correlates with both Deut 4:37-38, where the “presence” delivers Israel from Egypt and brings her to the land, and passages crediting the deliverance to the angel of Yahweh (Num 20:16; Judg. 2:1-3). The two figures are both distinguished and yet overlap—a familiar pattern.




10 But they were the ones who rebelled,


and they grieved his Holy Spirit,


so he became an enemy to them;


he himself fought against them.


11 Then his people remembered the days of old, of Moses.


Where is the one who led up them from the sea with the shepherds of his flock?


Where is the one who puts his Holy Spirit inside him,[1]


12 who made his magnificent arm move at the right hand of Moses,


who divided the waters before them,


to make an everlasting name for himself,


13 who led them through the depths?


They did not stumble like a horse in the desert;


14 like cattle in the valley that goes down, the Spirit of Yahweh gave him rest,


so you lead your people to make a magnificent name for yourself.



MSH: There are three references to the Spirit here; that much is obvious. But there is no real backdrop in the Torah for the Spirit’s inclusion in the exodus escape. But in verse 10, the Spirit became Israel’s enemy because he was grieved – or is it another figure? The Spirit seems the obvious reference, but take that understanding into the pronouns that follow:


“he became an enemy to them”

“he himself fought against them”

“his people remember the days of old, of Moses”



So far so good. But then in v. 11 the psalmist asks, “Where is the one who led up them from the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is the one who puts his Holy Spirit inside him?”



This seems to be asking, “Where is Yahweh?” since Yahweh would be the one putting the Spirit inside . . . who? The one who led them from the sea, obviously (v. 11). This can only be the Angel – and so we have here an equation of the “name” inside the Angel (Exod. 23:20-23) with the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere, as we saw in Chapter 12, the Name is a way of referring to Yahweh himself. This is a clear statement of the deity of the Spirit—and (again) the Angel.



So if the “leader” is the Angel, look at what else we learn:



  • God made the Angel’s arm “move at the right hand of Moses …
  • When we read, who divided the waters before them, to make an everlasting name for himself, are we reading about God doing this (most likely) or the angel doing it on God’s behalf? Who is “who”? The relative pronoun “who” is not present in the text in the form of a pronoun. Rather, the relative pronouns in this verse derive from participles – which are masculine singular. The referent could be either Yahweh or the angel, since the grammatical gender of both is masculine.
  • God (or the Angel?) “led them through the depths”


But then in verse 14 it isn’t God or the Angel who gave Israel rest – it’s none other than “the Spirit of Yahweh.”



The point is that there is no attempt on the part of the writer to keep these two (three) figures distinct to avoid confusion or blasphemy. They are interchanged freely.



We’re not done yet with this passage. There’s more. It has an interesting parallel in Psalm 78, which is describing the same chain of events. Look at the two of them side-by-side. I have marked Hebrew words of importance:



Isaiah 63:10-11 Psalm 78:40-41
10 But they were the ones who rebelled (lemma: marah),and they grieved (lemma: ʿatsab) his Holy Spirit,so he became an enemy to them;he himself fought against them.

11 Then his people remembered the days of old, of Moses.

Where is the one who led up them from the sea with the shepherds of his flock?

Where is the one who puts his Holy Spirit inside him…

40    How often they rebelled (lemma: marah) against him in the wildernessand grieved (lemma: ʿatsab) him in the desert!41    They tested God again and againand provoked the Holy One of Israel.



The point to notice here is that, in Isaiah 63, Israel rebels against and grieves the Holy Spirit. But in the parallel the object of those same two verbs, in the same context, is God himself, the Holy One of Israel. A close reader of the canonical text of the Hebrew Bible (such as a New Testament writer) would have noted the identification of the Spirit with the God of Israel—and of course also the Angel via Isaiah 63.


[1] Some translations (e.g., ESV) don’t have “him” here but “them” (“in the midst of them” / “in their midst”). The suffixed pronoun in question is third masculine singular. While singular suffixed pronouns can be translated as collectives (of a group), they can of course also be translated singular, as in the LEB. The choice has theological significance here. The singular choice of the LEB is consistent with the parallel in Psa 78 (see the rest of the discussion).



3. What is the relationship of Jesus and the Angel of the Lord?


This is actually dealt with in the book, but here’s a summary:


The angel of the Lord (Yahweh) in the OT is Yahweh in human form. Some of the things said about that angel (who is Yahweh) are applied to Jesus in the NT, thereby linking Jesus to Yahweh via the angel. Consequently, the angel of Yahweh = the second person of the Trinity made visible as in human form in the Old Testament.  Jesus = the second person of the Trinity *become incarnate” as a man. The Angel of the Lord was not the second person incarnate (conceived in the womb and born of a woman).


So, Jesus and the Angel of the Lord are related, but still distinct concepts — but both were God in human form. But only one was incarnate.