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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Angel

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ANGEL

1. Old Testament . That in the OT the existence of angels is taken for granted, and that therefore no account of their origin is given, is to be explained by the fact that belief in them is based upon an earlier Animism, * [Note: This view is supported by the various names in the OT for angels, and their varied functions (see below).] such as is common to all races in the pre-polytheistic stage of culture. The whole material for the development of Israelite angelology was at hand ready to be used. It must therefore not cause surprise if we find that in its earlier stages the differentiation between Jahweh and angels should be one of degree rather than of kind (see Angel of the Lord). This is clearly brought out in the earliest of the Biblical documents (J [Note: Jahwist.] ), e.g. in Genesis 18:1-33 ; here Jahweh is one of three who are represented as companions, Jahweh taking the leading position, though equal honour is shown to all; that the two men with Jahweh are angels is directly asserted in Genesis 19:1 , where we are told that they went to Sodom, after it had been said in Genesis 18:33 that Jahweh ‘went his way.’ Moreover, Jahweh’s original identity with an angel, according to the early Hebrew conception, is distinctly seen by comparing, for example, such a passage as Exodus 3:2 with Exodus 3:4 ; in the former it is the ‘angel of the Lord’ who appears in the burning bush, in the latter it is God; there is, furthermore, direct identification in Genesis 16:10 ; Genesis 16:13 ; Genesis 21:17 ff. In the earliest document in which angels are mentioned (J [Note: Jahwist.] ) they appear only by twos or threes, in the later document (E [Note: Elohist.] ) they appear in greater numbers ( Genesis 28:12 ; Genesis 32:1-2 ); this is just what is to be expected, for J [Note: Jahwist.] , the earlier document, represents Jahweh in a less exalted form, who Himself comes down to earth, and personally carries out His purposes; by degrees, however, more exalted conceptions of Him obtain, especially as the conception of His characteristic of holiness becomes realized, so that His presence among men comes to appear incongruous and unfitting, and His activity is delegated to His messengers or angels (see Angel of the Lord).

( a ) The English word ‘angel’ is too specific for the Hebrew ( mal’akh ) for which it is the usual equivalent; for in the Hebrew it is used in reference to men ( e.g. Genesis 32:4 (3), Deuteronomy 2:26 , Judges 6:35 , Isaiah 33:7 , Malachi 1:1 ), as well as to superhuman beings. Besides the word mal’akh there are several other expressions used for what would come under the category of angels, viz.: ‘sons of God’ ( bene ’elohim ),* [Note: Cf. the analogous expression ‘sons of the prophets’ (benç nebî’îm).] Genesis 6:2 ; Genesis 6:4 ; ‘sons of the mighty’ ( bene ’elim ), Psalms 89:7 (8), Psalms 29:1 ; ‘mighty ones’ ( gibborim ), JL 4:11 ( Joel 3:11 EV [Note: English Version.] ); ‘the holy ones’ ( qedoshim ), Zechariah 14:5 ; ‘keepers’ ( shômerim ), Isaiah 62:6 ; ‘watchers’ ( ‘irim ), Daniel 4:14 (17). There are also the three expressions: ‘the host of Jahweh’ ( zeba’ Jahweh ), Joshua 5:14 ; ‘the host of the height’ ( zeba’ marom ), Isaiah 24:21 ; ‘the host of heaven’ ( zeba’ shamaim ), Deuteronomy 17:3 (see also Cherubim, Seraphim).

( b ) Angels are represented as appearing in human form, and as having many human characteristics: they speak like men ( 1 Kings 19:5 ); they eat ( Genesis 18:8 ); they fight ( Genesis 32:1 , JL 4:11, ( Joel 3:11 ), cf. 2 Samuel 5:24 ); they possess wisdom, with which that of men is compared ( 2 Samuel 14:17 ; 2 Samuel 14:20 ); they have imperfections ( Job 4:18 ). On the other hand, they can become Invisible ( 2 Kings 6:17 , Psalms 104:4 ), and they can fly, if, as appears to be the case, seraphim are to be included under the category of angels ( Isaiah 6:8 ).

( c ) The functions of angels may be briefly summarized thus: they guide men, e.g. an angel guides the children of Israel on their way to the promised land ( Exodus 23:20 ff., see below), and it is by the guidance of an angel that Abraham’s servant goes in quest of a wife for Isaac ( Genesis 24:7 ; Genesis 24:40 ); in Job 33:23 an angel guides a man in what is right; † [Note: The word used in this passage is not the usual one for angel, though its sense of messenger’ (mçlîz) is the same as that of mal’âkh.] they are more especially the guides of the prophets ( 1 Kings 13:18 ; 1 Kings 19:5 ff., 2 Kings 1:3 ; 2 Kings 1:15 , Zechariah 1:9 ); they bring evil and destruction upon men ( 2 Samuel 24:16-17 , 2 Kings 19:35 , Psalms 35:6 ; Psalms 78:49 , Job 33:22 ; in Proverbs 16:14 the wrath of a king is likened to angels of death); on the other hand, they are the protectors of men ( Psalms 34:8 , (7), Psalms 91:11 ), and save them from destruction ( Genesis 19:15 ff.); their power is superhuman ( 2 Kings 6:17 , ‡ [Note: Though not specifically stated, angels are obviously referred to here.] cf. Zechariah 12:8 ); they report to God what is going on upon the earth ( Job 1:6 ; Job 2:1 ), for which purpose they are represented as riding on horseback ( Zechariah 1:8-10 , cf. Psalms 18:11 (10), Isaiah 19:1 § [Note: Cf. the Walküre in Teutonic mythology.] ); their chief duty above is that of praising God ( Genesis 28:12 , Psalms 103:20 ). Angelic beings seem to be referred to as ‘watchmen’ in Isaiah 62:6 and Daniel 4:14 (17). An early mythological element regarding angels is perhaps re-echoed in such passages as Judges 5:20 , Isaiah 40:25-26 , and elsewhere.

( d ) In Ezekiel , angels, under this designation, are never mentioned, though the angelology of this book ehows considerable development; other names are given to them, but their main function, viz. messengers of God, is the same as in the earlier books; for example, in Ezekiel 2:2 it is a ‘spirit,’ instead of an ‘angel,’ who acts as an intermediary being, see, too, Ezekiel 3:12 ff., Ezekiel 11:5 ff.; in Ezekiel 8:1 ff., Ezekiel 40:1 a vision is attributed to ‘the hand of the Lord’; in Ezekiel 40:3 ff., it is a ‘man’ of a supernatural kind who instructs the prophet; and again, in Ezekiel 9:5 ff., ‘men,’ though clearly not of human kind (see Ezekiel 9:11 ), destroy the wicked in Jerusalem. In Ezk ., as well as in Zec ., angels take up a very definite position of intermediate beings between God and man, one of their chief functions being that of interpreting visions which Divine action creates in the mind of men; in both these books angels are called ‘men,’ and in both the earlier idea of the ‘Angel of the Lord’ has its counterpart in the prominent position taken up by some particular angel who is the interpreter of visions. In Zec . different orders of angels are for the first time mentioned ( Ezekiel 2:3-4 , Ezekiel 3:1-6 , Ezekiel 4:1 ). In Daniel there is a further development; the angels are termed ‘watchers’ ( Daniel 4:13 ; Daniel 4:17 ), and ‘princes’ ( Daniel 10:13 ); they have names, e.g. Michael ( Daniel 10:13 , Ezekiel 12:1 ), Gabriel ( Daniel 8:16 ), and there are special angels (‘princes’) who fight for special nations ( Daniel 10:20-21 ). As in Zec . so in Daniel there are different orders among the angels, but in the latter book the different categories are more fully developed.

In the attitude taken up in these later books we may see the link between the earlier belief and its development in post-Biblical Jewish literature. The main factors which contributed to this development were, firstly, Babylon; during the Captivity, Babylonian influence upon the Jews asserted itself in this as well as in other respects; according to Jewish tradition the names of the angels came from Babylon. Secondly, Persian influence was of a marked character in post-exilic times; the Zoroastrian belief that Ormuzd had a host of pure angels of light who surrounded him and fulfilled his commands, was a ready-made development of the Jewish belief, handed down from much earlier times, that angels were the messengers of Jahweh. Later still, a certain amount of Greek influence was also exercised upon Jewish angelology.

2. The Apocrypha . Some of the characteristics of angels here are identical with some of those found in the OT, viz.: they appear in human form ( 2Es 1:40 ), they speak like men (To Esther 5:6 Esther 5:6 ff.), they guide men ( 2Es 5:21 ), they bring destruction upon men ( 1Ma 7:41-42 ); on the other hand, they heal men ( Tob 3:17 ), their power is superhuman ( Tob 12:19 , Bel 34ff., Three 26), and they praise God ( 2Es 8:21 , Three 37). The angelology of the Apocrypha is, however, far more closely allied to that of Ezk., Zec ., and Daniel than the angelology of these to that of the rest of the OT; this will be clearly seen by enumerating briefly the main characteristics of angels as portrayed in the Apocrypha.

In 2 Esdras an angel frequently appears as an instructor of heavenly things; thus in 2Es 10:28 an angel causes Esdras to fall into a trance in order to receive instruction in spiritual matters; in 2Es 2:42 , after an angel has instructed Esdras, the latter is commanded to tell others what he had learned; sometimes an angel is identified with God, e.g. in 2Es 5:40-41 , Esther 7:3 Esther 7:3 , but usually there is very distinct differentiation; sometimes the angel seems almost to be the alter ego of Esdras, arguing with himself (cf. 2Es 5:21-22 , 2Es 12:3 ff.). In Tob 12:6-15 there are some important details, here an angel instructs in manner of life, but more striking is the teaching that he brings to remembrance before God the prayers of the faithful, and that he superintends the burial of the dead;* [Note: Cf., in Egyptian belief, the similar functions of Isis and Nephthys.] he has a name, Raphael ,† [Note: Names of angels occur also in 2 Esdras, viz.: Jeremiel ( 2Es 4:36 ), Phaltiel ( 2Es 5:16 ), and Uriel ( 2Es 10:28 ).] and is one of the seven holy angels (‘ archangels ’) who present the prayers of the saints, and who go constantly in and out before the presence of God; that there are ranks among the angels is thus taught here more categorically than in the later Biblical books. Further, the idea of guardian-angels is characteristic of the Apocrypha; that individuals have their guardian-angels is clearly implied in To Tob 5:21 , that armies have such is taught in 2Ma 11:6 ; 2Ma 15:23 , while in 2Ma 3:25 ff. occurs a Jewish counterpart of the Roman legend of Castor and Pollux; there is possibly, in Sir 17:17 , an indication that nations also have their guardian-angels;* [Note: Cf. this idea in the case of the Angel of the Lord (which see.)] if so, it would be the lineal descendant of the early Israelite belief in national gods. The dealings of angels with men are of a very varied character, for besides the details already enumerated, we have these further points: in Bar 6:3 ff. an angel is to be the means whereby the Israelites in Babylon shall be helped to withstand the temptation to worship the false gods of the land; in To Bar 6:7 ; Bar 6:16-17 an angel describes a method whereby an evil spirit may be driven away; in Bar 6:8 an angel gives a remedy for healing blindness; in Bel 34ff. an angel takes the prophet Habakkuk by the hair and carries him from Judah to Babylonia, in order that he may share his dinner with Daniel in the lion’s den; and, once more, in Three 26, 27 an angel smites the flame of the furnace into which the three heroes had been cast, and makes a cool wind to blow in its place (cf. Daniel 3:23 ff.).

It will thus be seen that the activities of angels are, according to the Apocrypha, of a very varied character. One further important fact remains to be noted: they are almost invariably the benefactors of man, their power far transcends that of man, sometimes an angel is identified with God, yet in spite of this, with one possible exception, 2Ma 4:10-13 , no worship is ever offered to them; this is true also of the OT, excepting when an angel is identified with Jahweh; in the NT there is at least one case of the worship of an angel, Revelation 22:8-9 , cf. Colossians 2:18 . The angelology of the Apocrypha is expanded to an almost unlimited extent in later Jewish writings, more especially in the Book of Enoch , in the Targums , and in the Talmud ; but with these we are not concerned here.

3. New Testament . ( a ) In the Gospels it is necessary to differentiate between what is said by Christ Himself on the subject and what is narrated by the Evangelists. Christ’s teaching regarding angels may be summed up thus: Their dwelling-place is in heaven ( Matthew 18:10 , Luke 12:8-9 , John 1:51 ); they are superior to men, but in the world to come the righteous shall be on an equality with them ( Luke 20:36 ); they carry away the souls of the righteous to a place of rest ( Luke 16:22 ); they are (as seems to be implied) of neither sex ( Matthew 22:30 ); they are very numerous ( Matthew 26:53 ); they will appear with Christ at His second coming [it is in connexion with this that most of Christ’s references to angels are made Matthew 13:39 ; Matthew 16:27 ; Matthew 24:31 ; Matthew 25:31 , Mark 8:38 , Luke 9:26 , cf. John 1:51 ]; there are bad as well as good angels ( Matthew 25:41 ), though it is usually of the latter that mention is made; they are limited in knowledge ( Matthew 24:36 ); there are guardian-angels of children ( Matthew 18:10 ); they rejoice at the triumph of good ( Luke 15:10 ). Turning to the Evangelists, we find that the main function of angels is to deliver God’s messages to men ( e.g. Matthew 1:20 ; Matthew 2:10 ; Matthew 28:5 , Luke 1:28 ; Luke 24:23 ). On only one occasion are angels brought into direct contact with Christ ( Matthew 4:11 , with the parallel passage Mark 1:13 ), and it is noteworthy that in the corresponding verse in the Third Gospel ( Luke 4:13 ) there is no mention of angels. Thus the main differences between Christ’s teaching on angels and that which went before are that they are not active among men, their abode and their work are rather in the realms above; they are not the intermediaries between God and men, for it is either Christ Himself, or the Holy Spirit, who speaks directly to men; much emphasis is laid on their presence with Christ at His second coming. On the other hand, the earlier belief is reflected in the Gospel angelophanles, which are a marked characteristic of the Nativity and Resurrection narratives; though here, too, a distinct and significant difference is found in that the angel is always clearly differentiated from God.

( b ) In the Acts there seems to be a return to the earlier beliefs, angelic appearances to men being frequently mentioned ( Acts 5:19 ; Acts 7:30 ; Acts 11:13 ; Acts 12:8 ; etc.); their activity in the affairs of men is in somewhat startling contrast with the silence of Christ on the subject. It is possible that most of the references in the Acts will permit of an explanation in the direction of the angelical appearances being subjective visions ( e.g. Acts 8:26 , Acts 10:3 , Acts 27:23-24 ); but such occurrences as are recorded in Acts 5:19-20 , Acts 12:7 (both belonging to the Petrine ministry) would require a different explanation; while that mentioned in Acts 12:23 would seem to be the popular explanation of an event which could easily be accounted for now in other ways. The mention, in Acts 12:15 , of what is called St. Peter’s ‘angel’ gives some insight into the current popular views concerning angels; it seems clear that a distinction was made between an angel and a spirit ( Acts 23:8-9 ).

( c ) In the Pauline Epistles the origin of angels is stated to be their creation by Christ ( Colossians 1:16 ); as in the Acts, they are concerned with the affairs of men ( 1 Corinthians 4:9 ; 1 Corinthians 11:10 , Romans 8:38 , 1 Timothy 5:21 ); at the same time St. Paul emphasizes the teaching of Christ that God speaks to men directly, and not through the intermediacy of angels ( Galatians 1:12 , cf. Acts 9:5 ); in Colossians 2:18 a warning against the worshipping of angels is uttered, with which compare the worshipping of demons in 1 Corinthians 10:21 ; in accordance with Christ’s teaching St. Paul speaks of the presence of angels at the Second Coming ( 2 Thessalonians 1:7 ).

( d ) In the Ep. to the Hebrews the standpoint, as would be expected, is that of the OT, while in the Apocalypse the angelology is that common to other apocalyptic literature (cf. also the archangel of Judges 1:9 ).

W. O. E. Oesterley.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Angel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/a/angel.html. 1909.


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Wednesday, June 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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