An Introduction to the Law of Agency
by Raymond James Essoe
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
-The Apostle Paul, Galatians 3:19 NASB
Reading with the Hebrew Mindset
A common mistake made today by Christians and others who study and read the Hebrew scriptures is a tendency to read them as if they were written in modern English. We know from the manuscripts discovered that the scriptures were written in the Hebrew language (with the New Testament written in Greek.) The Old Testament scriptures can be referred to as the Hebrew Bible, because they were written by Hebrews. When the scriptures are read by people who are not of Hebrew descent, they should constantly remind themselves that this is a Hebrew collection of writings inspired by YHWH, the one God of Israel. If we read the Hebrew Bible in modern English translations as if they were written in modern English; we will sometimes read them completely wrong and develop erroneous understandings of the information presented. The key to understanding the Hebrew writings is to investigate the Hebrew language in all its forms. The titles, customs, practices, sarcasms, literature, descriptions, poetry, and language are sometimes foreign to the average reader tofay. Difficult scriptures can be understood in their proper context only if we devote some time investigating what the Hebrew writers were trying to convey to their readers.
The Principle - Shaliah
One of the many customs and practices I will be addressing in this paper is a principle which is essential to rightly understanding the Hebrew Scriptures. This principle is common knowledge to those who have thoroughly investigated the Hebrew Bible, and to the Jews. For others, this will be an introduction to the principle. However, if one approaches the Hebrew Scriptures with presuppositions or has been "told" how to interpret them beforehand, this principle will remain undiscovered. This principle is known by the Jews in the Hebrew as Shaliah, the Jewish law of agency. A common feature of the Hebrew Scriptures is the concept (some even call it the “law”) of Jewish agency. All Old Testament scholars and commentators recognize that in Jewish custom whenever a superior commissioned an agent to act on his behalf, the agent was regarded as the person himself. This is well expressed in The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion: Agent (Heb. Shaliah): 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 principle, who therefore bears full responsibility for it with consequent complete absence of liability on the part of the agent.
Jesus and Joseph
In two parallel passages of scripture, we find this principle being applied between Pharaoh and Joseph, and between God and Jesus. In Genesis 41:40-44, Pharaoh tells Joseph, “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you. I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph‟s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in Egypt.”We read in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28, a similar pattern: For he [God] “has put everything under his [Jesus'] feet” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. In Ephesians 1:22 we find, And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
The parallels between the cases are obviously not identical. Pharaoh granted Joseph authority over all his land, which was the land of Egypt. Jesus was granted authority over all God’s creation. Joseph was a representation of Pharaoh and Jesus was the ultimate representation of God. In both passages, Jesus and Joseph are given positions of supreme authority. However, that authority is not above the one who gave it to them. Pharaoh tells Joseph, “Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” Paul writes, “Now when it says that “everything” has been put under [Jesus], it is clear that this does not include God himself.” Pharaoh “put him (Joseph) in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” God “appointed him (Jesus) to be head over everything for the church.” These are examples of agency at work where roles of authority and power are given in another’s name. As we see in these two examples, the principle of agency can be applied by men or by God.
The roles of God’s agents
The principle of agency is found throughout the scriptures. God used men, angels, and his one and only Son, our Lord Messiah Jesus, in order to accomplish his will. He used them as mouthpieces by speaking through them to deliver messages - warnings, and promises. Other than speaking, they were also utilized to carry out work in His name. Agents of God were used to destroy cities, enemies of God, to save his people, and will be used again when God pours out his wrath on mankind. Angels play a role in carrying out commands from God Almighty and acting on his behalf. According to the definition cited above, an agent - whether a man or an angel - can be addressed as God, while not being God himself. An equivalent in our culture to the Jewish custom of agency would be one who is authorized to act with Power of Attorney, or more strongly, one who is given Enduring Power of Attorney. In that case, such an agent has virtually unlimited powers to act on behalf of the one who appointed him. We read this of Jesus in John 3:34, for the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.
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___________________11 Peter 1:16-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
2 Greg S. Deuble, They never told me THIS in church (2006, pg. 65)
3 Greg S. Deuble, They never told me THIS in church (2006, pg. 65)
4 Zondervan, Bible: New International Version (Emphasis mine)
5 Zondervan, Bible: New International Version (Emphasis mine)
6 Ephesians 1:22
7 Hebrews 1:1-2
8 Exodus 23:21, John 5:43
9 Genesis 19
10 Romans 13:4, Numbers 31:1-3
11 Numbers 20:16, Daniel 3:28
12 Revelation 8
13 Hebrews 1:14
14 Greg S. Deuble, They never told me THIS in church (2006, pg. 66)
15 Greg S. Deuble, They never told me THIS in church (2006, pg. 66)
16 Zondervan, Bible: New International Version (Emphasis mine)