Monday, October 31, 2022

Jesus Qua Shaliach (In His Capacity As Shaliach)

Shaliach is a Hebrew word: its potential meaning is "an emissary, an ambassador, an apostle, a messenger, or a sent forth one." NT scholars commonly employ the term to describe the mission of Jesus, that is, his being sent forth by the Father. The shaliach principle is that "the one sent is subordinate to the one who sent him." For some good reading on the subject, one might consult J.R. Venema's "An Apologetic Role for Agency in John Five" (Ph.D. diss.). If you read German, try J. Buhner's Der Gesandte und sein Weg im vierten Evangelium. G.R. Beasley-Murray's discussion in Gospel of Life: Theology of the Fourth Gospel is also noteworthy.

Beasley-Murray cites the Jewish halachic law as follows: "One sent is as he who sent him." He then adds: "The messenger [i.e., the shaliach] is thereby granted authority and dignity by virtue of his bearing the status of the one who sent him. This is the more remarkable when it is borne in mind that in earlier times the messenger was commonly a slave" (Murray, Gospel of Life, 18).

So the shaliach principle states that the one sent (the apostle or agent) is a special representative of the one sending him. Gerald Borchert accordingly builds on Murray's comments by noting that Jesus "was the Father's special agent or representative (shaliach) on earth" (See his work John 1-11, 121). Borchert likewise gives a number of references that deal with the shaliach principle in the NT: one such work is C.K. Barrett's essay "Shaliah and Apostle" in Donum Gentilicum Fs. for D. Daube (edited by E. Bammel et al.).

As one reads Borchert's commentary, and other apologetic works--it becomes evident that the shaliach principle might be interpreted in more than one way. Personally, I think the ancient Jews understood it to mean that the shaliach was not equal to his principal with respect to his status although the agent legally represented the principal. Trinitarian scholars may reckon that the Son as shaliach qua shaliach was/is still ontologically equal to the Father, but John 13:16 clearly shows that one who is sent is not equal to the One who sent him. Therefore, the fact that the Father originally sent the Son indicates that the Father may well be and is greater than the one he sent. Of course, Trinitarians probably will deny that the Father is ontologically greater than his Son.

Be that as it may, George W. Buchanan also appears to take this position in his commentary on Hebrews (Anchor Bible series). Buchanan notes that "a man's agent is like the man himself, not physically, but legally. He has the power of attorney for the one who sent him" (Buchanan, 7). He concludes:

"The New Testament apostles were apostles of Jesus, and Jesus was an apostle of God. It is against this background that Jesus, in the same context, could say both, 'He who has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14:9) and 'The Father is greater than I' (John 14:28).

Cf. P. Borgen, "God's Agent in the Fourth Gospel" in Religions in Antiquity (Editor, J. Neusner), pp. 137-48.