An angel wears white robes and has shoulder length blond hair. He shines brightly, but looks like a human except for the large flowing, feathery wings extending from his back, one on the left and one on the right. Another type of angel, who looks like a fat little baby, the cherub, goes about naked or only in a white cloth diaper. Wings also extend from his back. Frequently, he carries a harp or a bow and arrow with which he shoots people to cause them to fall in love. From the earliest ages, children will readily give such descriptions of angels. Angel depictions top Christmas trees, decorate books and paintings, are characterized in movies and television shows, hang on pendants around necks… images of angels stand out everywhere! Sadly, a serious gap exists between the fairy tale imaginations of mankind and Biblical reality when it comes to knowledge about angels.
A study of angels always results in certain ambiguities. Why? The reason for ambiguity comes from a lack of information. God did not provide complete knowledge of angels for man. Such information is not necessary for our purpose in life. When studying angels, men often develop assumptions. Biblical authority does not come from assumption. It comes from the factual information God presents. Such information comes from commands and examples God has given man. Sometimes, as Jesus encourages in Matthew 22:29-32, man must make necessary inferences. These inferences represent necessity because there is no other conclusion resulting in certainty that can be drawn from the facts. This study of angels will strive to present information with authority rather than assumption. To do this, the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek terms for “angel” must be examined from the beginning.
In the Hebrew language the term H4397 (mal-awk’) is the most predominant term for angel in the KJV translation of the Bible. Three other terms are each translated once as angel: H430 (el-o-heem’ – Psalm 8:5), H8136 (shin-awn’ – Psalm 68:17), and H47 (ab-beer’ – Psalm 78:25). While the translation of H8136 and H47 for angel is questionable, H430 is confirmed as “angels” in Hebrews 2. Focusing on H4397, it appears in 196 verses of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, by definition, it presents a problem. H4397 according to Hebrew dictionaries can mean deputy, messenger, angel, prophet, priest, king, ambassador, or representative. 2 Kings 1:3 is a great example of this word translated more than one way. In 102 verses, H4397 is translated angels. However, just because a non-inspired translator decided whether or not to render H4397 “angel” in a verse does not mean he is always correct. Context always needs to be examined. There are a number of verses where the usage is questionable. When this is the case, the Bible student must be careful not to make assumptions. To draw authorized conclusions about angels, absolute certainty must exist.
The Aramaic language utilized for the term “angel” is H4398 (mal’ak). It is used twice in the book of Daniel. Once it is used in reference to rescuing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abdnego. The second usage relates to the rescue of Daniel. These references are clear and considering sources and context, conclusions can be made with authority.
The Greek language of the New Testament utilizes two terms for angels: G2465 (isaggelos – used once in scripture and meaning “like the angels”) and G32 (aggelos). G32 is much like H4397. It has more than one meaning. It is translated both angel and messenger in the New Testament. Speaking from opinion, the context surrounding angels in the New Testament makes most usages of the term “angel(s)” clearer than those of the Old Testament. Still, for the few instances when such clarity does not exist, assumptions should not be made regarding the activity or nature of angels.
Now that the terms have been examined in regard to angels another issue must be presented. There are passages in scripture where the entities being examined sure seem like angels, but it is never stated. Rather than step beyond authority and make assumptions they are angels, those passages will be set aside. For the purpose of this article, only data from the context of passages confirmed as discussing or using the words “angel(s)” will be examined. It should be seen already, that the objective of this study is to present what is known about angels rather than to rest Biblical presentation upon conjecture. So, what about tackling some common misconceptions?
Do Angels have wings? Of the approximately 300 verses where angels are mentioned in scripture, there is not a single verse demonstrating them as having wings. However, Matthew 28:2 speaks of an angel descending from heaven and Revelation 8:13 and 14:6 which are visions of heaven state that angels fly. How they fly is unknown, but they do fly. “But wait!” someone might say. “What about the Seraphim in Isaiah 6:2-6? They are recorded as having six wings! And the Cherubim are mentioned in the Bible. They have wings!” Well, that certainly is true. Unfortunately, nowhere in scripture are they called angels. If God hasn’t recorded them in the Bible as being called angels, where does man get the authority to do so? Angels may indeed have wings, but man has not been given information to confirm it.
Do angels have shoulder length blonde hair or appear as fat little babies in diapers? Again, there is no such knowledge given in scripture. Angels do often appear as men as seen in the context of Genesis 19. Two Angels appeared to Lot and he invited them to his home. The city about him recognized them as men (Genesis 19:5). In Genesis 32:24, it is said that Jacob wrestles with a man. Hosea 12:4 adds to the understanding of that verse by stating it was an angel with whom he wrestled. Thus, again, we see an angel appearing in the form of a man. Angels also have appeared in the flame of the burning bush (Acts 7:30). They have been present in an invisible form as with Balaam and his donkey (Numbers 22). In Matthew 28:3, the angel at the tomb of Jesus had an appearance as lightening and was wearing garments white as snow. In Revelation 10:1, an angel is said to be clothed in a cloud with a rainbow on his head, his face like the sun, and feet like pillars of fire. Not quite how most folks describe angels is it?
Two people recently mentioned to me that the vast depiction of angels in the world shows them to be predominantly female. Does the Bible speak of female angels? Excluding for a moment the text around Zechariah 5:9 the answer is no. Any clear passage regarding angels which mentions their sex identifies them as male. Now, Zechariah 5:9 describes a vision of Zechariah where two women with stork wings come and remove an evil woman from the place she is in. The language surrounding the vision is figurative. Anytime figurative language is present, caution must be taken in regard to conclusion. Additionally, the absence of winged or female angels elsewhere in scripture should cause hesitation in any affirmative statements. Finally, due to the context a number of commentators (uninspired men) in viewing the stork wings (unclean) conclude the female entities actually to be non-angelic entities and likely even evil themselves. Where uncertainty reigns, authoritative statements cannot.
What are some things we do know about angels?
Were angels created by God? Yes! (Colossians 1:16-17) When were they created? There is no specific data on that topic given in scripture. There are arguments that they were created before or during the creation of the earth and the heavens surrounding it, but ultimately, this is based on assumption. Is Christ an angel? No. Christ is God (Hebrews 1:8-9). He has no beginning and no end (Hebrews 7:3). Angels worship Christ (Hebrews 1:7), He is not their equal.
Are there different levels of angels? Yes! There is an angel called Michael (Jude 1:9, Revelation 12:7-9). He leads angels and is called the archangel. This term means “chief” angel. Thus, by necessary inference it can be determined there are angels with different levels of rank and responsibility. The responsibilities of angels seem to be vast, though generically simple to state. Angels are “ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” i.e. man (Hebrews 1:14). They have been involved in bringing comfort to man, such as Hagar in Genesis 21:17. They destroyed the Assyrian army of 185,000 in 2 Kings 19:35. Actually, to be more specific, one angel did that which clearly demonstrates angels have more power than man. Angels aided the delivery and confirmation of God’s law to man (Acts 7:53). They have enabled the healing of man as seen in John 5:4. They deliver men to Hades following death (Luke 16:22). They will return to punish the wicked at the second coming of Christ (Matthew 13:49-50). There are many other actions engaged in by angels, many seen within the heavenly visions of the book of Revelation.
It has already been mentioned that angels are more powerful than man. The fact is that man for the moment is lower than the angels. This is born out in Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:9. Man does not fly as angels. He does not have the knowledge angels do. Think of the vast amount of knowledge angels have of heaven. They surround the throne of God (Revelation 5:11)! Luke 20:36 describes angels as immortal. Yet, man in his flesh is yet mortal. Thus, at times angels protect man as in the case of Lot (Genesis 19:11) and Peter when Jailed in Acts 12. Speaking of Peter’s jail time, it is apparent angels are not hindered by chains, gates, or walls. The angel who freed him simply appeared in Peter’s cell to free him and direct him safely out. Consider this, angels through means unknown to man (certainly through God) have appeared and directed man even in his dreams (Matthew 1:20-24). They certainly are a higher level being.
While the abilities and knowledge of angels exceed those of man, angels are not omnipotent or omniscient. They stood greatly curious about the salvation of man not knowing the purpose behind the designs of God (I Peter 1:12). It is true that angels have a great interest in man. They have interacted with man in the past and may still do so now unbeknownst to us (Hebrews 13:2). They follow our lives enough that when we turn away from foolish sins they react with joy (Luke 15:7, 10). Consider that they know man has been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Hebrews 2:16 appears to say that angels who are disobedient have not been afforded the opportunity for redemption as man has. The value of man to God is so great that Christ himself left heaven, making himself lower than angels, taking on flesh and blood, to be killed by man, so that man might be forgiven his transgressions. That certainly would peak interest of angels! Even by the actions of man shall angels be judged (I Corinthians 6:3). Thus, angels would logically be attentive to the state of man.
Some teach that each man has a “guardian” angel. It has been seen that angels have protected man in the past. The questions that arise: “Are they guarding today?” and “Is each person assigned an angel?” Some suggest the Jews believed each person had an angel. Acts 12:15 is a verse singled out to suggest this. Peter coming to the home of disciples following an angel releasing him from prison is heard from behind the gate by Rodda. She runs to the disciples stating Peter was there. They do not believe her and say it is his angel. The problem in accepting such a statement is it is not provided as an inspired answer, but rather the conjecture of uninspired men during the time of Peter. Matthew 18:11 is also utilized to suggest the doctrine of guardian angels. The context suggests children have angels before the face of the Father. Questions arise as to why they are not staying near to guard the children. Others consider the term children to refer to Christians who do not have individual angels but angels in general who minister to those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). The truth is there is no answer that can be garnered with complete certainty from the authority of scripture regarding the concept of guardian angels.
All angels do not have the interest of man at heart. Some are disobedient and serve Satan (Revelation 12:9). Is Satan an angel? Some have attempted to apply verses regarding the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 to Satan calling him an angel, but even then these verses do not identify Satan as an angel. Nor does the passage in 2 Corinthians 11:14 which speaks of Satan transforming himself into an “angel [messenger] of light”. The context identifies this as Satan simply disguising his evil motives as goodness, his false teachings as truth. Within the Bible there is no scripture which identifies Satan definitively as an angel. He may be, but no authority within scripture can be found to validate such a claim.
One misunderstood aspect of Angels is the belief they are sons of God. This is a distinction which Christ and man share. Christ according to John 3:16 is the unique or “begotten” Son of God. Christians through the blood of Christ are sons as well (John 1:12). However, Hebrews 1:5 states: ““For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” The term “begotten” (gennao) is not the same as in John 3:16 (monogenes). It is not pointing out the uniqueness of Jesus rather it is stating angels are not even metaphorically sons of God. They have never been called sons. All forty-seven New Testament verses using the term “son of God” relate to Christ as the Son of God. Nine New Testament verses confirm men, not angels, as “Children of God” and therefore sons. The only verses in scripture misunderstood to make the case of calling angels “sons of God” are the Old Testament verses Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7. Rather than demonstrating the short comings of these verses in making such a case, a detailed analysis on this topic can be found at http://www.thatchristianwebsite.com/articles/sonsofgod.html. Nowhere within scripture can angels be found to be called sons, brothers, children, uncles, grandparents, or family (Note: Ephesians 3:15 refers to men and the Church). Man should not attempt to assign a designation to angels for which there is no authority by God.
In conclusion, may it be understood that the angels of God have been an active part of the salvation of mankind even though they themselves have not understood the mystery of God’s plan of salvation from the beginning. Their role has been huge and from various glimpses of their activity in scripture, goes widely unobserved by man. Angels are immortal beings who minster to God and man dutifully. Man himself will share traits with the angels in eternity being both immortal beings, unmarried, and in heaven. As they carry us into Hades, certainly our mind will be full with even more questions. Perhaps we will know them in their true form then and come to know the answers to the questions we have. However, for now, it is enough to know that our salvation does not depend upon that knowledge. What God has authorized we know. Our greater concern is to come to the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for which we should consider all other things but loss (Philippians 3:8).