“It is the glory of a king to search out a matter.” This surely applies to students of the Bible! There is definitely no shortage of “matters” to search out in scripture! We look for insights and principles to guide us whenever we can. A principle that I have recently begun to appreciate more fully is the notion of Biblical Agency. Here’s an interesting article on it offered by a fellow believer and student of scripture named Carlos Xavier. This may not answer every question about God and Christ but it is certainly a step in that direction. Here is Carlos’ recent (and slightly edited) article that was printed in the “Focus on the Kingdom” newsletter of March 2022.
New Testament Christology (by Carlos Xavier)
“Of the greatest importance to NT Christology.” This quote is from one of the top biblical scholars of the 20th century, G.B. Caird from his book The Language and Imagery of the Bible, 1988, p. 181. “So completely is the ideal Davidic king identified with the purposes of God that he can be dignified with the titles of God himself [e.g., Ps 45:6]. This practice of treating the agent as though he were the principal is of the greatest importance for New Testament Christology.”
Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion
Regarding the word “agent” (Hebrew, Shaliach). “The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself (Ned. 72B; Kidd, 41b). Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal.” We find agency between people, ie. agents for other humans and also between divinity and humanity. Here are a few examples.
- Gen. 43-44: The steward or servant of Joseph is treated by his brothers as Joseph himself.
- Luke 7:6-10 The friends of the centurion speak as the centurion and are addressed by Jesus as the centurion himself. “The centurion sent friends to say to him saying “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him.”
- John 3.22 says “Jesus was baptizing” but in the next chapter the same writer says “Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were” (John 4.2)!
- Deuteronomy 29 contains an example of agency between divinity and humanity. Moses speaks as God in the first person. (but clearly Moses never claimed to be God) “Moses summoned all Israel and said to them…. I have led you forty years in the wilderness. “You have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the LORD your God…You are standing today, all of you, before the LORD your God.” The Pulpit Commentary on v. 5: “Moses introduces Jehovah Himself as speaking to them.” Cambridge Bible for Schools & Colleges: “here the speaker’s personality is merged in that of the Deity.” It is clear that Moses and other Old Testament prophets were viewed as God’s agents.
Other Examples of Biblical Agency
- Deuteronomy 31:3, “YHWH your God is the one who will pass before you….Joshua is the one who will pass before you.” (Joshua is treated as YHWH Himself) Joshua 24.1: “Joshua assembled all the tribes [and] they presented themselves before God.”
- Ezekiel 37:24, “My servant David will be king over them. (King David identified with YHWH) And they will all have one shepherd.” Zechariah 14:9, “YHWH shall be king over the entire earth. And on that day He will be one and His name will be one.” Hosea 3:5, “Afterwards, the Israelites will return and seek Yehovah their God and David their king.”
New Testament Christology
In the New Testament, so completely is Jesus identified with His God and Father that the writers can use a so-called YHVH text from the OT and apply it to the Son without confusion. There are many of these well known usages of language that are not referring to some mysterious plurality of persons within the one God of Israel. For example Paul quotes Joel 2.32 in Rom. 10.13.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, John 5:30.
“Jesus is thus a faithful shaliach, or agent; Jewish law taught that the man’s agent was as a man himself (backed by his full authority), to the extent that the agent faithfully represented him. Moses and the Old Testament prophets were viewed as God’s agents and often spoke for Him in the first person.” Note also that 4 of the 10 plagues performed by Aaron were said to have been performed by God.
Again, “much of the equivalence between Father and Son [in John] is phrased in language that stems from the Jewish concept that the one who is sent (shaliach) is completely the representative of the one who sends him. Because Jesus is an agent who is God’s own Son, John deepens the legal relationship of agent and sender to a relationship of likeness of nature, still not in philosophical terms, however.” And that’s according to the noted Catholic scholar Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, p. 632.
Lastly, Peder Borgen another scholar who Brown quotes as the expert on this topic adds: The saying in John 12:44 “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me” is a very close parallel to the saying by the king in a quotation from the Siphre (an ancient rabbinic text) The same idea, that dealing with the agent is the same as dealing with the sender himself, is found in all four gospels. [See Matt. 10:40; Matt. 18 : 5; Mark 9 : 37; Luke 9 : 48 and John 13:20] The essential message is that, “he who receives any one whom I send receives me; he who receives me receives Him who sent me.”
PS: Many students of scripture understand this principle on an intuitive level. This essay by Carlos Xavier helps us see clearly on an intellectual level something we knew in our hearts to be true all along.
Copyright 2021 by Carlos Xavier with an introduction by Bob Shutes