James A. Borland. Christ in the Old Testament: Old Testament Appearances of Christ in Human Form. Moody, 1978. 195 pp.
James Borland’s work is the first to deal systematically with the majority of the Old Testament passages on the human form theophanies from a conservative perspective. The book is academic in nature, yet it maintains a readability that makes it accessible to the non-scholar. The Greek and Hebrew words, however, are not transliterated and sometimes not clearly defined. Borland’s states his thesis in the introduction: “All Old Testament theophanies that involved the manifestation of God in human form were appearances of the second person of the Trinity, and as such their purpose was not only to provide immediate revelation but also to prepare mankind for the incarnation of Christ” (3–4).
The author argues that for years there has been a real need for a comprehensive treatment on this subject. Few have given it any detailed attention. He defines a Theophany as an appearance of God in some visible form. Theophanies do not include dreams and visions, but they do include the pillar of cloud, the Shekinah glory, and other visible manifestations. Christophanies are a specific category of Theophanies. They may be defined as “those unsought, intermittent and temporary, visible and audible manifestations of God the Son in human form, by which God communicated something to certain conscious human beings on earth prior to the birth of Jesus” (10). This definition is carefully crafted, and the author deals with each component as a necessary stipulation for identifying a Christophany.
Having established the guidelines for what constituted a Christophany, Borland argues that all of these human form appearances are really appearances of God. He does this primarily by arguing that the Messenger of Jehovah was normally a Christophany, and as such necessarily an appearance of God. The term “angel” stands not for His nature but His office as a messenger (35). The Messenger is identified as God (37). He bears Jehovah’s name (38). He identifies Himself as God (40). His attributes, prerogatives, and authority are divine (42). He is the object of worship (44). The other theories are inadequate to account for these data. These must be real appearances of God, specifically of God the Son.
The form of the individual in these Christophanies is that of normal humanity. It must be made clear that this was not an incarnation. He took a human body, not a human nature. Likely, his humanness did not look the same every time. Otherwise, Abraham and others who experienced multiple visits would have recognized Him. There are several passages where no specific description of the form is stated. Borland is less dogmatic but argues that these are likely Christophanies as well. Christ was physically present when He created the woman for the man (83). He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (84). He sought out Adam and Eve after they sinned (86). He personally slew an animal and gave them skins to cover themselves.
Those passages where the appearance of God was not in a human form and men see God seem to conflict with Scripture’s teaching that no one has or can see God. Borland handles these passages by saying that God did not reveal Himself as He actually is. He goes on to say, “These must express the impossibility of seeing God in His existence form, for the balance of Scripture also indicates that God may purpose to exhibit Himself in some physical way. To see such a manifestation of Him is not fatal nor scripturally incongruent with God’s invisibility” (99).
Borland’s book meets a real need for a conservative handling of the issue of Old Testament Christophanies. It is thorough, though not exhaustive, and presents a satisfying systematic presentation of the material. Another book of its kind, however, would still be a valuable addition to the literature. The author interacts minimally with other views, presenting only enough to let the reader know that different interpretations exist. His rebuttals, however, are not sufficient to persuade opponents. The book is well organized and contains helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. The footnotes are helpful and not overly extensive. Borland’s primary failure is the haste in which he comes to his conclusions. The exegetical work normally follows the conclusions and often is not convincing enough to make a settled case. In spite of this shortcoming, anyone giving attention to this issue will benefit from this fine work.