Angel [E]

Superhuman or heavenly being who serves as God's messenger. Both the Hebrew malak [J; 'm] and the Greek angelos [a [ggelo"] indicate that these beings also act decisively in fulfilling God's will in the world. But these two terms also apply to human beings as messengers ( 1 Kings 19:2 ; Hag 1:13 ; Luke 7:24 ). "Angels" are mentioned almost three hundred times in Scripture, and are only noticeably absent from books such as Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther, the letters of John, and James.

The Old Testament From the beginning, angels were part of the divine hierarchy. They were created beings ( Psalms 148:2 Psalms 148:5 ), and were exuberant witnesses when God brought the world into being ( Job 38:7 ). By nature they were spiritual entities, and thus not subject to the limitations of human flesh. Although holy, angels could sometimes behave foolishly ( Job 4:18 ), and even prove to be untrustworthy ( Job 15:15 ). Probably these qualities led to the "fall" of some angels, including Satan, but the Bible contains no description of that event. When angels appeared in human society they resembled normal males ( Genesis 18:2 Genesis 18:16 ; Ezek 9:2 ), and never came dressed as women.

In whatever form they occurred, however, their general purpose was to declare and promote God's will. On infrequent occasions they acted as agets of destruction ( Gen 19:13 ; 2 Sam 24:16 ; 2 Kings 19:35, ; etc. ). Sometimes angels addressed people in dreams, as with Jacob ( Gen 28:12 ; 31:11 ), and could be recognized by animals before human beings became aware of them, as with Balaam ( Nu 22:22 ). Collectively the divine messengers were described as the "angelic host" that surrounded God ( 1 Ki 22:19 ) and praised his majesty constantly ( Psalm 103:21 ). The Lord, their commander, was known to the Hebrews as the "Lord of hosts." There appears to have been some sort of spiritual hierarchy among them. Thus the messenger who instructed Joshua was a self-described "commander of the Lord's army" ( Jos 5:14-15 ), although this designation could also mean that it was God himself who was speaking to Joshua.

In Daniel, two angels who interpreted visions were unnamed ( 7:16 ; 10:5 ), but other visions were explained to Daniel by the angel Gabriel, who was instructed by a "man's voice" to undertake this task ( 8:15-16 ). When a heavenly messenger appeared to Daniel beside the river Hiddekel (Tigris), he spoke of Michael as "one of the chief princes" ( Daniel 10:13 Daniel 10:21 ). This mighty angel would preside over the fortunes of God's people in the latter time ( 12:1 ). Thereafter he was regarded by the Hebrews as their patron angel. In the postexilic period the term "messenger" described the teaching functions of the priest ( Mal 2:7 ), but most particularly the individual who was to prepare the way for the Lord's Messiah ( Mal 3:1 ).

Two other terms relating to spiritual beings were prominent at various times in Israel's history. The first was "cherubim, " a plural form, conceived of as winged creatures ( Exod 25:20 ), and mentioned first in connection with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden ( Gen 3:24 ). Apart from their functions as guardians, however, nothing is said about their character. When the wilderness tabernacle was being fashioned, God ordered two gold cherubim to be placed on top of the "mercy seat" or lid of the covenant ark to screen it. These came to be known as the "cherubim of the Glory" ( Heb 9:5 ). Cherubim designs were also incorporated into the fabric of the inner curtain ( Eze 26:1 ) and the veil of the tabernacle ( Exod 26:31 ).

Solomon placed two wooden cherubim plated with gold leaf in the Most Holy Place of the temple, looking toward the Holy Place. They stood ten cubits (about fourteen feet) high and their wings were five cubits (about seven feet) long. Near Eastern archeological excavations have shown how popular the concept of winged creatures was in antiquity. The throne of Hiram at Byblos (ca. 1200 b.c.) was supported by a pair of creatures with human faces, lions' bodies, and large protective wings. It was above the cherubim that the Lord of hosts sat enthroned ( 1 Sa 4:4 ).

The seraphim were also thought of as winged, and in Isaiah's vision they were stationed above the Lord's throne ( 6:1-2 ). They seemed to possess a human figure, and had voices, faces, and feet. According to the vision their task was to participate in singing God's praises antiphonally. They also acted in some unspecified manner as mediums of communication between heaven and earth ( Isa 6:6 ). The living creatures of Ezekiel 1:5-14 were composites of human and animal parts, which was typically Mesopotamian in character, and they seem to have depicted the omnipotence and omniscience of God.

The Apocrypha In the late postexilic period angelology became a prominent feature of Jewish religion. The angel Michael was deemed to be Judaism's patron, and the apocryphal writings named three other archangels as leaders of the angelic hierarchy. Chief of these was Raphael, who was supposed to present the prayers of pious Jews to God ( 1 Tobit 2:15). Uriel explained to Enoch many of his visions (1 Enoch 21:5-10; 27:2-4), interpreted Ezra's vision of the celestial Jerusalem (2 Esdras 10:28-57), and explained the fate of the fallen angels who supposedly married human women (1 Enoch 19:1-9; cf. Gen 6:2 ). Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel (1 Enoch 40:3, 6) reported to God about the depraved state of humanity, and received appropriate instructions. According to contemporary thought, Gabriel sat on God's left, while Michael sat on the right side (2 Enoch 24:1). The primary concern of these two angels, however, was supposedly with missions on earth and affairs in heaven, respectively. In rabbinic Judaism they assumed a character which, while sometimes dramatic, had no factual basis in divine revelation.

The New Testament Against this background of belief in angels who were involved in human affairs, it was not surprising that the angel Gabriel should be chosen to visit Zechariah, the officiating priest in the temple, to inform him that he was to become a father, and that he had to name his son John ( Luke 1:11-20 ). Gabriel was not referred to here as an archangel, the Greek term archangelos [ajrcavggelo"], appearing only in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 to describe an otherwise unnamed executive angel, and also in Jude 9, which refers to "Michael the archangel." Six months after his announcement to Zechariah, Gabriel appeared to Mary to inform her that God had selected her to become the mother of Jesus, the promised Messiah ( Luke 1:26-33 ).

Nothing in Gabriel's behavior is inconsistent with Old Testament teachings about angels. It has been pointed out frequently that, just as they were active when the world began, so angels were correspondingly prominent when the new era of divine grace dawned with the birth of Jesus. On three occasions an angel visited Joseph in a vision concerning Jesus ( Matt 1:20 ; Matthew 2:13 Matthew 2:19 ). On the first two occasions the celestial visitor is described as "the angel of the Lord, " which could possibly be a way of describing God himself. On the last visit the heavenly messenger was described simply as "an angel of the Lord." In the end, however, the celestial beings were most probably of the same order, and were fulfilling among humans those duties normally assigned to such angels as Gabriel ( Luke 1:19 ).

There is nothing recorded about the actual form of the latter, but Zechariah appears to have recognized the angel immediately as a celestial being, and was terrified ( Luke 1:12 ). His penalty for not having learned anything from his ancestor Abraham's experience ( Luke 1:18 ; cf. Gen 17:17 ) would only be removed when his son John was born ( Luke 1:20 ). When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear Jesus (Luke 31), she seems to have been more disturbed by his message than his appearance. The birth of Jesus was announced to Bethlehem shepherds by the angel of the Lord, and since he was accompanied by the divine glory he may well have been the Lord himself. The message of joy having been proclaimed, the heavenly host of angels praised and glorified God ( Luke 2:13-14 ) for a short period, as they had done at the creation of the world ( Job 38:7 ), after which they departed.

During his ministry, angels came and ministered to Jesus after he had resisted the devil's temptations ( Matt 4:11 ). Again, when Jesus was submitting himself to God's will in the garden of Gethsemane ( Luke 22:40-44 ), an angel came from heaven to strengthen him. At the resurrection, the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone from Jesus' burial place ( Matt 28:2 ), and he was described as having a countenance like lightning and garments as white as snow ( Matt 28:3 ). Again, this celestial being performed a service of reassurance and love for Mary and Mary of Magdala, who subsequently reported seeing "a vision of angels" ( Luke 24:23 ). In John's Gospel Mary Magdalene saw two angels in white clothing, sitting in the empty tomb, just before she met the risen Lord ( John 20:12-16 ).

In Acts, the imprisoned apostles were released by an angel ( 5:19 ). Philip was ordered by an angel to meet an Ethiopian official ( 8:26-28 ), while another celestial being appeared to Cornelius ( 10:3 ). The angel of the Lord released Peter from prison ( 12:7-11 ), and subsequently afflicted Herod with a fatal illness ( 12:23 ). When Paul and his companions were about to be shipwrecked the apostle assured them of the presence of a guardian angel ( 27:23-24 ).

Paul referred subsequently to angelic hierarchies ("thrones, powers, rulers, or authorities") when proclaiming the cosmic supremacy of Jesus ( Col 1:15-16 ; cf. 1 Peter 3:22 ), and prohibited the worship of angels in the Colossian church ( Col 2:18 ) in an attempt to avoid unorthodox practices. His reference to "angels" in 1 Corinthians 11:10 may have been a warning that such things observe humans at worship, and thus the Corinthians should avoid improper conduct or breaches of decency.

The angelology of 2 Peter and Jude reflects some of the intertestamental Jewish traditions concerning "wicked angels." In Revelation there are numerous symbolic allusions to angels, the worship of which is forbidden ( 22:8-9 ). The "angels of the seven churches" ( 1:20 ) are the specific spiritual representations or personifications of these Christian groups. A particularly sinister figure was Abaddon (Apollyon in Greek), the "angel of the bottomless pit" ( 9:11 ), who with his minions was involved in a fierce battle with Michael and his angels ( 12:7-9 ).

Jesus accepted as valid the Old Testament references to angels and their functions ( Matt 22:30 ), but spoke specifically of the "devil and his angels" ( Matt 25:41 ) as destined for destruction. He fostered the idea of angels ministering to believers (cf. Heb 1:14 ), and as being concerned for the welfare of children ( Matt 18:10 ). He described angels as holy creatures ( Mark 8:38 ) who could rejoice when a sinner repented ( Luke 15:10 ). Angels were devoid of sexual characteristics ( Matt 22:30 ), and although they were highly intelligent ministers of God's will they were not omniscient ( Matt 24:36 ).

Christ claimed at his arrest in Gethsemane that more than twelve legions of angels (numbering about 72, 000) were available to deliver him, had he wanted to call upon them for assistance ( Matt 26:53 ). He taught that angels would be with him when he returned to earth at the second coming ( Matt 25:31 ), and that they would be involved significantly in the last judgment ( Matthew 13:41 Matthew 13:49 ). Finally, angels set a model of obedience to God's will in heaven to which the Christian church should aspire (cf. Matt 6:10 ).

Some writers contrast the celestial beings with "fallen angels, " of which there are two varieties. The first consists of unimprisoned, evil beings working under Satan's leadership, and generally regarded as demons ( Luke 4:35 ; 11:15 ; John 10:21 ). The second were imprisoned ( 2 Peter 2:4 ; Jude 6 ) spirits because they forsook their original positions in heaven. For New Testament writers they were particularly dangerous. The precise difference in function and character is not explained in Scripture, but some have thought that the latter were the "sons of God" who cohabited with mortal women ( Gen 6:1-2 ). This view, however, is strictly conjectural. Presumably the imprisoned angels are the ones who will be judged by the saints ( 1 Cor 6:3 ).

In a material world that is also populated by good and evil spirits, the Bible teaches that the heavenly angels set an example of enthusiastic and resolute fulfillment of God's will. They acknowledge Jesus as their superior, and worship him accordingly. Angels continue to perform ministering duties among humans, and this function has led to the concept of "guardian angels, " perhaps prompted by Christ's words in Matthew 18:10. It is not entirely clear whether each individual has a specific angelic guardian, but there is certainly no reason for doubting that an angel might well be assigned to care for the destinies of groups of individuals such as families. These celestial ministries will be most effective when the intended recipients are receptive to the Lord's will for their lives.

R. K. Harrison

Bibliography. G. B. Caird, Principalities and Powers; A. C. Gaebelein, The Angels of God; B. Graham, Angels: God's Secret Agets; H. Lockyer, The Mystery and Ministry of Angels; A. Whyte, The Nature of Angels.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Angel'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.
Angel [B]

a word signifying, both in the Hebrew and Greek, a "messenger," and hence employed to denote any agent God sends forth to execute his purposes. It is used of an ordinary messenger ( Job 1:14 : 1 Samuel 11:3 ; Luke 7:24 ; 9:52 ), of prophets ( Isaiah 42:19 ; Haggai 1:13 ), of priests ( Malachi 2:7 ), and ministers of the New Testament ( Revelation 1:20 ).

It is also applied to such impersonal agents as the pestilence ( 2 Samuel 24:16 2 Samuel 24:17 ; 2 Kings 19:35 ), the wind ( Psalms 104:4 ).

But its distinctive application is to certain heavenly intelligences whom God employs in carrying on his government of the world. The name does not denote their nature but their office as messengers. The appearances to Abraham at Mamre ( Genesis 18:2 Genesis 18:22 . Comp 19:1 ), to Jacob at Peniel ( Genesis 32:24 Genesis 32:30 ), to Joshua at Gilgal ( Joshua 5:13 Joshua 5:15 ), of the Angel of the Lord, were doubtless manifestations of the Divine presence, "foreshadowings of the incarnation," revelations before the "fulness of the time" of the Son of God.

  • The existence and orders of angelic beings can only be discovered from the Scriptures. Although the Bible does not treat of this subject specially, yet there are numerous incidental details that furnish us with ample information. Their personal existence is plainly implied in such passages as Genesis 16:7 Genesis 16:10 Genesis 16:11 ; Judges 13:1-21 ; Matthew 28:2-5 ; Hebrews 1:4 , etc.

    These superior beings are very numerous. "Thousand thousands," etc. ( Daniel 7:10 ; Matthew 26:53 ; Luke 2:13 ; Hebrews 12:22 Hebrews 12:23 ). They are also spoken of as of different ranks in dignity and power ( Zechariah 1:9 Zechariah 1:11 ; Daniel 10:13 ; 12:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ; Jude 1:9 ; Ephesians 1:21 ; Colossians 1:16 ).

  • As to their nature, they are spirits ( Hebrews 1:14 ), like the soul of man, but not incorporeal. Such expressions as "like the angels" ( Luke 20:36 ), and the fact that whenever angels appeared to man it was always in a human form ( Genesis 18:2 ; Genesis 19:1 Genesis 19:10 ; Luke 24:4 ; Acts 1:10 ), and the titles that are applied to them ("sons of God," Job 1:6 ; 38:7 ; Daniel 3:25 ; Compare 28) and to men ( Luke 3:38 ), seem all to indicate some resemblance between them and the human race. Imperfection is ascribed to them as creatures ( Job 4:18 ; Matthew 24:36 ; 1 Peter 1:12 ). As finite creatures they may fall under temptation; and accordingly we read of "fallen angels." Of the cause and manner of their "fall" we are wholly ignorant. We know only that "they left their first estate" ( Matthew 25:41 ; Revelation 12:7 Revelation 12:9 ), and that they are "reserved unto judgement" ( 2 Peter 2:4 ). When the manna is called "angels' food," this is merely to denote its excellence ( Psalms 78:25 ). Angels never die ( Luke 20:36 ). They are possessed of superhuman intelligence and power ( Mark 13:32 ; 2 th 1:7 ; Psalms 103:20 ). They are called "holy" ( Luke 9:26 ), "elect" ( 1 Timothy 5:21 ). The redeemed in glory are "like unto the angels" ( Luke 20:36 ). They are not to be worshipped ( Colossians 2:18 ; Revelation 19:10 ).

  • Their functions are manifold. (a) In the widest sense they are agents of God's providence ( Exodus 12:23 ; Psalms 104:4 ; Hebrews 11:28 ; 1 Corinthians 10:10 ; 2 Sam 24:16 ; 1 Chronicles 21:16 ; 2 Kings 19:35 ; Acts 12:23 ). (b) They are specially God's agents in carrying on his great work of redemption. There is no notice of angelic appearances to man till after the call of Abraham. From that time onward there are frequent references to their ministry on earth ( Genesis 18 ; 19 ; Genesis 24:7 Genesis 24:40 ; 28:12 ; 32:1 ). They appear to rebuke idolatry ( Judges 2:1-4 ), to call Gideon ( Judges 6:11 Judges 6:12 ), and to consecrate Samson ( 13:3 ). In the days of the prophets, from Samuel downward, the angels appear only in their behalf ( 1 Kings 19:5 ; 2 Kings 6:17 ; Zech. 1-6; Daniel 4:13 Daniel 4:23 ; Daniel 10:10 Daniel 10:13 Daniel 10:20 Daniel 10:21 ).

    The Incarnation introduces a new era in the ministrations of angels. They come with their Lord to earth to do him service while here. They predict his advent ( Matthew 1:20 ; Luke 1:26-38 ), minister to him after his temptation and agony ( Matthew 4:11 ; Luke 22:43 ), and declare his resurrection and ascension ( Matthew 28:2-8 ; John 20:12 John 20:13 ; Acts 1:10 Acts 1:11 ). They are now ministering spirits to the people of God ( Hebrews 1:14 ; Psalms 34:7 ; 91:11 ; Matthew 18:10 ; Acts 5:19 ; 8:26 ; 10:3 ; 12:7 ; 27:23 ). They rejoice over a penitent sinner ( Luke 15:10 ). They bear the souls of the redeemed to paradise ( Luke 16:22 ); and they will be the ministers of judgement hereafter on the great day ( Matthew 13:39 Matthew 13:41 Matthew 13:49 ; 16:27 ; 24:31 ). The passages ( Psalms 34:7 , Matthew 18:10 ) usually referred to in support of the idea that every individual has a particular guardian angel have no such meaning. They merely indicate that God employs the ministry of angels to deliver his people from affliction and danger, and that the angels do not think it below their dignity to minister even to children and to the least among Christ's disciples.

    The "angel of his presence" ( Isaiah 63:9 . Compare Exodus 23:20 Exodus 23:21 ; 32:34 ; 33:2 ; Numbers 20:16 ) is probably rightly interpreted of the Messiah as the guide of his people. Others have supposed the expression to refer to Gabriel ( Luke 1:19 ).

    These dictionary topics are from
    M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
    published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

    [B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

    Bibliography Information

    Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Angel". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .
  • Angel


    The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the ANGELS of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches. ( Revelation 1:20 )

    Source: A King James Dictionary. (Used with permission. Copyright © Philip P. Kapusta)

    Bibliography Information

    "Entry for 'Angel'". A King James Dictionary.


    an'-jel (mal'akh; Septuagint and New Testament, aggelos):



    1. Nature, Appearances and Functions

    2. The Angelic Host

    3. The Angel of the Theophany


    1. Appearances

    2. The Teaching of Jesus about Angels

    3. Other New Testament References




    _I. Definition and Scripture Terms._

    The word angel is applied in Scripture to an order of supernatural or heavenly beings whose business it is to act as God's messengers to men, and as agents who carry out His will. Both in Hebrew and Greek the word is applied to human messengers (1 Kings 19:2; Luke 7:24); in Hebrew it is used in the singular to denote a Divine messenger, and in the plural for human messengers, although there are exceptions to both usages. It is applied to the prophet Haggai (Haggai 1:13), to the priest (Malachi 2:7), and to the messenger who is to prepare the way of the Lord (Malachi 3:1). Other Hebrew words and phrases applied to angels are bene ha-'elohim (Genesis 6:2,4; Job 1:6; 2:1) and bene 'elim (Psalms 29:1; 89:6), i.e. sons of the 'elohim or 'elim; this means, according to a common Hebrew usage, members of the class called 'elohim or 'elim, the heavenly powers. It seems doubtful whether the word 'elohim, standing by itself, is ever used to describe angels, although Septuagint so translates it in a few passages.

    The most notable instance is Psalms 8:5; where the Revised Version (British and American) gives, "Thou hast made him but little lower than God," with the English Revised Version, margin reading of "the angels" for "God" (compare Hebrews 2:7,9); qedhoshim "holy ones" (Psalms 89:5,7), a name suggesting the fact that they belong to God; `ir, `irim, "watcher," "watchers" (Daniel 4:13,17,23). Other expressions are used to designate angels collectively:

    codh, "council" (Psalms 89:7), where the reference may be to an inner group of exalted angels; `edhah and qahal, "congregation" (Psalms 82:1; 89:5); and finally tsabha', tsebha'oth, "host," "hosts," as in the familiar phrase "the God of hosts."

    In New Testament the word aggelos, when it refers to a Divine messenger, is frequently accompanied by some phrase which makes this meaning clear, e.g. "the angels of heaven" (Matthew 24:36). Angels belong to the "heavenly host" (Luke 2:13). In reference to their nature they are called "spirits" (Hebrews 1:14). Paul evidently referred to the ordered ranks of supra-mundane beings in a group of words that are found in various combinations, namely, archai, "principalities," exousiai, "powers," thronoi, "thrones," kuriotetes, "dominions," and dunameis, also translated "powers." The first four are apparently used in a good sense in Colossians 1:16, where it is said that all these beings were created through Christ and unto Him; in most of the other passages in which words from this group occur, they seem to represent evil powers. We are told that our wrestling is against them (Ephesians 6:12), and that Christ triumphs over the principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15; compare Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24). In two passages the word archaggelos, "archangel" or chief angel, occurs:

    "the voice of the archangel" (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and "Michael the archangel" (Jude 1:9).

    _II. Angels in Old Testament._

    1. Nature, Appearances and Functions:

    Everywhere in the Old Testament the existence of angels is assumed. The creation of angels is referred to in Psalms 148:2,5 (compare Colossians 1:16). They were present at the creation of the world, and were so filled with wonder and gladness that they "shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). Of their nature we are told nothing. In general they are simply regarded as embodiments of their mission. Though presumably the holiest of created beings, they are charged by God with folly (Job 4:18), and we are told that "he putteth no trust in his holy ones" (Job 15:15).

    References to the fall of the angels are only found in the obscure and probably corrupt passage Genesis 6:1-4, and in the interdependent passages 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6, which draw their inspiration from the Apocryphal book of Enoch. Demons are mentioned (see DEMON); and although Satan appears among the sons of God (Job 1:6; 2:1), there is a growing tendency in later writers to attribute to him a malignity that is all his own (see \SATAN\).

    As to their outward appearance, it is evident that they bore the human form, and could at times be mistaken for men (Ezekiel 9:2; Genesis 18:2,16). There is no hint that they ever appeared in female form. The conception of angels as winged beings, so familiar in Christian art, finds no support in Scripture (except, perhaps Daniel 9:21; Revelation 14:6, where angels are represented as "flying"). The cherubim and seraphim (see CHERUB; SERAPHIM) are represented as winged (Exodus 25:20; Isaiah 6:2); winged also are the symbolic living creatures of Eze (Ezekiel 1:6; compare Revelation 4:8).

    As above stated, angels are messengers and instruments of the Divine will. As a rule they exercise no influence in the physical sphere. In several instances, however, they are represented as destroying angels:

    two angels are commissioned to destroy Sodom (Genesis 19:13); when David numbers the people, an angel destroys them by pestilence (2 Samuel 24:16); it is by an angel that the Assyrian army is destroyed (2 Kings 19:35); and Ezekiel hears six angels receiving the command to destroy those who were sinful in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:1,5,7). In this connection should be noted the expression "angels of evil," i.e. angels that bring evil upon men from God and execute His judgments (Psalms 78:49; compare 1 Samuel 16:14). Angels appear to Jacob in dreams (Genesis 28:12; 31:11). The angel who meets Balaam is visible first to the ass, and not to the rider (Numbers 22). Angels interpret God's will, showing man what is right for him (Job 33:23). The idea of angels as caring for men also appears (Psalms 91:11 f), although the modern conception of the possession by each man of a special guardian angel is not found in Old Testament.

    2. The Angelic Host:

    The phrase "the host of heaven" is applied to the stars, which were sometimes worshipped by idolatrous Jews (Jeremiah 33:22; 2 Kings 21:3; Zechariah 1:5); the name is applied to the company of angels because of their countless numbers (compare Daniel 7:10) and their glory. They are represented as standing on the right and left hand of Yahweh (1 Kings 22:19). Hence God, who is over them all, is continually called throughout Old Testament "the God of hosts," "Yahweh of hosts," "Yahweh God of hosts"; and once "the prince of the host" (Daniel 8:11). One of the principal functions of the heavenly host is to be ever praising the name of the Lord (Psalms 103:21; 148:1). In this host there are certain figures that stand out prominently, and some of them are named. The angel who appears to Joshua calls himself "prince of the host of Yahweh" (Joshua 5:14 f). The glorious angel who interprets to Daniel the vision which he saw in the third year of Cyrus (Daniel 10:5), like the angel who interprets the vision in the first year of Belshazzar (Daniel 7:16), is not named; but other visions of the same prophet were explained to him by the angel Gabriel, who is called "the man Gabriel," and is described as speaking with "a man's voice" (Daniel 9:21; 8:15). In Daniel we find occasional reference made to "princes":

    "the prince of Persia," "the prince of Greece" (Daniel 10:20). These are angels to whom is entrusted the charge of, and possibly the rule over, certain peoples. Most notable among them is Michael, described as "one of the chief princes," "the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people," and, more briefly, "your prince" (Daniel 10:13; 12:1; 10:21); Michael is therefore regarded as the patron-angel of the Jews. In Apocrypha Raphael, Uriel and Jeremiel are also named. Of Raphael it is said (Tobit 12:15) that he is "one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints" to God (compare Revelation 8:2, "the seven angels that stand before God"). It is possible that this group of seven is referred to in the above-quoted phrase, "one of the chief princes". Some (notably Kosters) have maintained that the expressions "the sons of the 'elohim," God's "council" and "congregation," refer to the ancient gods of the heathen, now degraded and wholly subordinated to Yahweh. This rather daring speculation has little support in Scripture; but we find traces of a belief that the patron-angels of the nations have failed in establishing righteousness within their allotted sphere on earth, and that they will accordingly be punished by Yahweh their over-Lord (Isaiah 24:21; Psalms 58:1 f the Revised Version, margin; compare Jude 1:6).

    3. The Angel of the Theophany:

    This angel is spoken of as "the angel of Yahweh," and "the angel of the presence (or face) of Yahweh." The following passages contain references to this angel:

    Genesis 16:7--the angel and Hagar; Genesis 18--Abraham intercedes with the angel for Sodom; Genesis 22:11--the angel interposes to prevent the sacrifice of Isaac; Genesis 24:7,40--Abraham sends Eliezer and promises the angel's protection; Genesis 31:11--the angel who appears to Jacob says "I am the God of Beth-el"; Genesis 32:24--Jacob wrestles with the angel and says, "I have seen God face to face"; Genesis 48:15 f--Jacob speaks of God and the angel as identical; Exodus 3 (compare Acts 7:30)--the angel appears to Moses in the burning bush; Exodus 13:21; 14:19 (compare Numbers 20:16)--God or the angel leads Israel out of Egypt; Exodus 23:20--the people are commanded to obey the angel; Exodus 32:34-33:17 (compare Isaiah 63:9)--Moses pleads for the presence of God with His people; Joshua 5:13-6:2--the angel appears to Joshua; Judges 2:1-5--the angel speaks to the people; Judges 6:11--the angel appears to Gideon.

    A study of these passages shows that while the angel and Yahweh are at times distinguished from each other, they are with equal frequency, and in the same passages, merged into each other. How is this to be explained? It is obvious that these apparitions cannot be the Almighty Himself, whom no man hath seen, or can see. In seeking the explanation, special attention should be paid to two of the passages above cited. In Exodus 23:20 God promises to send an angel before His people to lead them to the promised land; they are commanded to obey him and not to provoke him "for he will not pardon your transgression:

    for my name is in him." Thus the angel can forgive sin, which only God can do, because God's name, i.e. His character and thus His authority, are in the angel. Further, in the passage Exodus 32:34-33:17 Moses intercedes for the people after their first breach of the covenant; God responds by promising, "Behold mine angel shall go before thee"; and immediately after God says, "I will not go up in the midst of thee." In answer to further pleading, God says, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." Here a clear distinction is made between an ordinary angel, and the angel who carries with him God's presence. The conclusion may be summed up in the words of Davidson in his Old Testament Theology: "In particular providences one may trace the presence of Yahweh in influence and operation; in ordinary angelic appearances one may discover Yahweh present on some side of His being, in some attribute of His character; in the angel of the Lord He is fully present as the covenant God of His people, to redeem them." The question still remains, Who is theophanic angel? To this many answers have been given, of which the following may be mentioned:

    (1) This angel is simply an angel with a special commission;

    (2) He may be a momentary descent of God into visibility;

    (3) He may be the Logos, a kind of temporary preincarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Each has its difficulties, but the last is certainly the most tempting to the mind. Yet it must be remembered that at best these are only conjectures that touch on a great mystery. It is certain that from the beginning God used angels in human form, with human voices, in order to communicate with man; and the appearances of the angel of the Lord, with his special redemptive relation to God's people, show the working of that Divine mode of self-revelation which culminated in the coming of the Saviour, and are thus a fore-shadowing of, and a preparation for, the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Further than this, it is not safe to go.

    _III. Angels in New Testament._

    1. Appearances:

    Nothing is related of angels in New Testament which is inconsistent with the teaching of Old Testament on the subject. Just as they are specially active in the beginning of Old Testament history, when God's people is being born, so they appear frequently in connection with the birth of Jesus, and again when a new order of things begins with the resurrection. An angel appears three times in dreams to Joseph (Matthew 1:20; 2:13,19). The angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias, and then to Mary in the annunciation (Luke 1). An angel announces to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, and is joined by a "multitude of the heavenly host," praising God in celestial song (Luke 2:8). When Jesus is tempted, and again during the agony at Gethsemane, angels appear to Him to strengthen His soul (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43). The verse which tells how an angel came down to trouble the pool (John 5:4) is now omitted from the text as not being genuine. An angel descends to roll away the stone from the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:2); angels are seen there by certain women (Luke 24:23) and (two) by Mary Magdalene (John 20:12). An angel releases the apostles from prison, directs Philip, appears to Peter in a dream, frees him from prison, smites Herod with sickness, appears to Paul in a dream (Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3; 12:7; 12:23; 27:23). Once they appear clothed in white; they are so dazzling in appearance as to terrify beholders; hence they begin their message with the words "Fear not" (Matthew 28:2-5).

    2. The Teaching of Jesus about Angels:

    It is quite certain that our Lord accepted the main teachings of Old Testament about angels, as well as the later Jewish belief in good and bad angels. He speaks of the "angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30), and of "the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). According to our Lord the angels of God are holy (Mark 8:38); they have no sex or sensuous desires (Matthew 22:30); they have high intelligence, but they know not the time of the Second Coming (Matthew 24:36); they carry (in a parable) the soul of Lazarus to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22); they could have been summoned to the aid of our Lord, had He so desired (Matthew 26:53); they will accompany Him at the Second Coming (Matthew 25:31) and separate the righteous from the wicked (Matthew 13:41,49). They watch with sympathetic eyes the fortunes of men, rejoicing in the repentance of a sinner (Luke 15:10; compare 1 Peter 1:12; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 4:9); and they will hear the Son of Man confessing or denying those who have confessed or denied Him before men (Luke 12:8). The angels of the presence of God, who do not appear to correspond to our conception of guardian angels, are specially interested in God's little ones (Matthew 18:10). Finally, the existence of angels is implied in the Lord's Prayer in the petition, "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth" (Matthew 6:10).

    3. Other New Testament References:

    Paul refers to the ranks of angels ("principalities, powers" etc.) only in order to emphasize the complete supremacy of Jesus Christ. He teaches that angels will be judged by the saints (1 Corinthians 6:3). He attacks the incipient Gnosticism of Asia Minor by forbidding the, worship of angels (Colossians 2:18). He speaks of God's angels as "elect," because they are included in the counsels of Divine love (1 Timothy 5:21). When Paul commands the women to keep their heads covered in church because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10) he probably means that the angels, who watch all human affairs with deep interest, would be pained to see any infraction of the laws of modesty. In Hebrews 1:14 angels are described as ministering spirits engaged in the service of the saints. Peter also emphasizes the supremacy of our Lord over all angelic beings (1 Peter 3:22). The references to angels in 2 Peter and Jude are colored by contact with Apocrypha literature. In Revelation, where the references are obviously symbolic, there is very frequent mention of angels. The angels of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20) are the guardian angels or the personifications of these churches. The worship of angels is also forbidden (Revelation 22:8 f). Specially interesting is the mention of elemental angels--"the angel of the waters" (Revelation 16:5), and the angel "that hath power over fire" (Revelation 14:18; compare Revelation 7:1; 19:17). Reference is also made to the "angel of the bottomless pit," who is called \ABADDON\ or \APOLLYON\ (which see), evidently an evil angel (Revelation 9:11 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "abyss"). In Revelation 12:7 we are told that there was war between Michael with his angels and the dragon with his angels.

    _IV. Development of the Doctrine._

    In the childhood of the race it was easy to believe in God, and He was very near to the soul. In Paradise there is no thought of angels; it is God Himself who walks in the garden. A little later the thought of angels appears, but, God has not gone away, and as "the angel of Yahweh" He appears to His people and redeems them. In these early times the Jews believed that there were multitudes of angels, not yet divided in thought into good and bad; these had no names or personal characteristics, but were simply embodied messages. Till the time of the captivity the Jewish angelology shows little development. During that dark period they came into close contact with a polytheistic people, only to be more deeply confirmed in their monotheism thereby. They also became acquainted with the purer faith of the Persians, and in all probability viewed the tenets of Zoroastrianism with a more favorable eye, because of the great kindness of Cyrus to their nation.

    There are few direct traces of Zoroastrianism in the later angelology of the Old Testament. It is not even certain that the number seven as applied to the highest group of angels is Persian in its origin; the number seven was not wholly disregarded by the Jews. One result of the contact was that the idea of a hierarchy of the angels was more fully developed. The conception in Da of angels as "watchers," and the idea of patron-princes or angel-guardians of nations may be set down to Persian influence. It is probable that contact with the Persians helped the Jews to develop ideas already latent in their minds. According to Jewish tradition, the names of the angels came from Babylon. By this time the consciousness of sin had grown more intense in the Jewish mind, and God had receded to an immeasurable distance; the angels helped to fill the gap between God and man. The more elaborate conceptions of Daniel and Zechariah are further developed in Apocrypha, especially in 2 Esdras, Tobit and 2 Macc.

    In the New Testament we find that there is little further development; and by the Spirit of God its writers were saved from the absurdly puerile teachings of contemporary Rabbinism. We find that the Sadducees, as contrasted with the Pharisees, did not believe in angels or spirits (Acts 23:8). We may conclude that the Sadducees, with their materialistic standpoint, and denial of the resurrection, regarded angels merely as symbolical expressions of God's actions. It is noteworthy in this connection that the great priestly document (Priestly Code, P) makes no mention of angels. The Book of Revelation naturally shows a close kinship to the books of Ezekiel and Daniel. Regarding the rabbinical developments of angelology, some beautiful, some extravagant, some grotesque, but all fanciful, it is not necessary here to speak. The Essenes held an esoteric doctrine of angels, in which most scholars find the germ of the Gnostic eons.

    _V. The Reality of Angels._

    A belief in angels, if not indispensable to the faith of a Christian, has its place there. In such a belief there is nothing unnatural or contrary to reason. Indeed, the warm welcome which human nature has always given to this thought, is an argument in its favor. Why should there not be such an order of beings, if God so willed it? For the Christian the whole question turns on the weight to be attached to the words of our Lord. All are agreed that He teaches the existence, reality, and activity of angelic beings. Was He in error because of His human limitations? That is a conclusion which it is very hard for the Christian to draw, and we may set it aside. Did He then adjust His teaching to popular belief, knowing that what He said was not true? This explanation would seem to impute deliberate untruth to our Lord, and must equally be set aside. So we find ourselves restricted to the conclusion that we have the guaranty of Christ's word for the existence of angels; for most Christians that will settle the question.

    The visible activity of angels has come to an end, because their mediating work is done; Christ has founded the kingdom of the Spirit, and God's Spirit speaks directly to the spirit of man. This new and living way has been opened up to us by Jesus Christ, upon whom faith can yet behold the angels of God ascending and descending. Still they watch the lot of man, and rejoice in his salvation; still they join in the praise and adoration of God, the Lord of hosts, still can they be regarded as "ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation."


    All Old Testament and New Testament theologies contain discussions. Among the older books Oehler's Old Testament Theology and Hengstenberg's Christology of Old Testament (for "angel of Yahweh") and among modern ones Davidson's Old Testament Theology are specially valuable. The ablest supporter of theory that the "sons of the Elohim" are degraded gods is Kosters. "Het onstaan der Angelologie onder Israel," TT 1876. See also articles on "Angel" in HDB (by Davidson), EB, DCG, Jew Encyclopedia, RE (by Cremer). Cremer's Biblico- Theological New Testament Lexicon should be consulted under the word "aggelos." For Jewish beliefs see also Edersheim's Life and Times of Jesus, II, Appendix xiii. On the Pauline angelology see Everling, Die paulinische Angelologie. On the general subject see Godet, Biblical Studies; Mozley, The Word, chapter lix, and Latham, A Service of Angels.

    John Macartney Wilson

    Copyright Statement
    These files are public domain.

    Bibliography Information
    Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'ANGEL'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.