There is already an existing question (Reference) that asks about the ‘angel’ that Stephen says spoke with Moses on Mt Sinai. The accepted answer included....

The angel of the Lord that Stephen talks about is the same being that spoke to Moses in the Old Testament and guided Israel through the wilderness.

However, further on in Acts 7 we read ...

ACTS 7:53* who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

And Strongs under the outline for [Greek] ‘diatagē’ / translated ‘direction’ in the NKJ above includes ..... “influenced by the authority of the ordaining angels,

This leads me to consider that ‘angels’ may have had more to do with the giving of the Law than just the ‘one’ representing God. (Inference taken from the accepted answer referenced above).

So my question is asking for a more detailed outline of the role of the angels in this incident on Mt Sinai, one that satisfies v53.

  • At Mt. Sinai only ONE angel is mentioned but the subject of v38 is Moses. Why conflate this occasion that aligns with entering into a covenant, with other occasions when other laws were also given? Moses’ father in law Jethro helped bring about a law in Israel and led to the division of the people into manageable sizes. But he wasn’t on Mt Sinai. Jun 30, 2021 at 12:07
  • @Nihil Sine Deo Interesting - So could you please clarify this, where are you suggest the location of verse 53 is? Not Sinai? And, what is [definite article] the Law referring to?
    – Dave
    Jun 30, 2021 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


What role did angels play on Mt Sinai (Acts 7:53)?

Answer: We should differentiate between human "messengers" and the angelic host of God.

The Hebrew word “malak”, and the Greek “aggelos” both mean simply "messenger”. The words have a wide variety of applications. Often, as with Genesis 6:1-4, terms such as "sons of God" (human beings in this context) are misinterpreted as celestial beings of divine origin.

We must, therefore, be careful when concluding that real celestial majesties are in view. The word "angel" is very elastic, often simply meaning "messenger" (prophet), "priest", "prince", and so forth. (There are other variations.) Let us keep this in mind as we observe the passage in question by the OP:

Acts 7:52-53: "Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."

It is not clear that celestial beings spoke on Mt. Sinai from this verse (7:53). It is clear that whatever message was preached, it was "ordained by angels." This may mean that prophets, who spoke for God, were given their instructions by angels, since angelic majesties work for God:

Hebrews 1:14: "Are [the angels] not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?"

The OP version reads "[people] received the law by the direction of angels". It does not explicitly state that angels spoke to anyone. It seems reasonable to suppose that prophets were the one's to delivered the divine decrees. This appears to align with an excerpt from Barnes on the subject:

Others suppose that the angels were employed as agents or instruments to communicate the Law. All that the expression fairly implies is the former; that the Law was given amidst the attending ranks of angels, as if they were summoned to witness the pomp and ceremony of giving "law" to an entire people, and through them to an entire world.


I think this question is touching on two related yet separate debates.

  1. Should, in the Hebrew Bible, the very common occurence of "malach YHWH" and similar constructions be translated as "The Angel of the LORD" and be a reference to YHWH himself, or simply as "a messenger/prophet of the LORD".

This relates to the question of definiteness as well as identity (e.g. is this a title?). This is effectively a debate between Christians and Jews of the old testament and touches on some very interesting ambiguities in Hebrew -- e.g. in a construct form the article is applied only to the absolute noun at the end, but YHWH cannot take an article (or any modifier) and so definiteness has to be determined through more oblique means. The full argument then looks for citations throughout the Hebrew Bible as well as theological beliefs -- e.g. requesting to remove your sandals for you stand on holy ground when in front of malach YHWH (ex 3.2-6), and not dissuading people who bow down to/revere malach YHWH, and various passages where malach YHWH declares himself to be YHWH, etc. For an extended version of this debate and all it's grammatical and theological arguments, see the noted hebraicist McCaul, pages 9-27. https://archive.org/details/rabbidavidkimchi00kimcrich/page/8/mode/2up

As part of this larger debate, we need to understand that "malach" can indeed be interpreted as any messenger, including human messengers, and so we rely on a long chain of arguments to make this case, bringing both grammar and theology to bear on resolving the meaning of this idiom used more than 500 times in the Old Testament, from Genesis 16.7 to Zechariah 12.8

But once you have "malach YHWH" is a special identity that has the same name as "YHWH", then this is the argument that the angel of YHWH - the one who appeated at the burning bush and said "I am YHWH" -- was the one that gave the law to Moses on Sinai.

  1. The meaning of the Greek in Acts 7.53, translated in the LEB as "directions of angels" or "ordinances of angels".
 you who received the law by directions of angels 
 and have not observed it!”

Here, too, the Greek is ambiguous but for slightly different reasons. First, angelos has the semantic range of "human messenger", "divine messenger", "evil spirit", "angel" or "God" depending on context (see BDAG entry for angelos). One might think of the most general translation as "supernatural ordinances". Thus there is ambiguity as to whether eis diatagas angelon "by the ordinances of the angels" in Acts 7.53 should be viewed as a similar construction to eis cheiras ethnon - "into the hands of men" (Acts 21.11), where "men" serves to denote a category rather than a specific number of men, or whether it should be read as eis apostolous Christou ("as apostels of Christ") in which the disagreement in number of the genitive is important, theologically, as there are many apostles but one Christ, thus there is a unity emphasized.

The bottom line is that these ambiguities in "ordinances of angels" is not going to be resolved by looking at the grammar of a single greek passage and so doesn't really have much bearing on the proper interpretation of the hebrew "malach YHWH".

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