« Angariae Angel Angela of Brescia »



I. Biblical Conceptions.

Angels are God’s Servants (§ 1).

The New Testament Conception not Different from the Old (§ 2)

Later Developments (§ 3).

Distinctions Among Angels. Cherubim and Seraphim. Fallen Angels (§ 4).

II. Judaic Notions.

Names and Classes (§ 1).

Functions, Duties, etc. (§ 2).

III. Development of the Scriptural Angelology.

The Belief in Angels Common to All Antiquity (§ 1).

The Hexateuch (§ 2).

The Prophets (§ 3).

The New Testament (§ 4).

Conclusion (§ 5).

The name “Angel” as a designation for spiritual beings of the supernatural world, has come into modern languages with Christianity from the Greek angelos (“messenger”), which is itself a rendering of the Hebrew mal’akh. The latter, in form an abstract noun (“mission,” “message”), occurs only as a concrete (“messenger”), and acquired a special meaning, particularly in the singular, as the designation of a supernatural bearer of a divine 175 revelation. The transition was then easy to the sense of a generic name for the beings of the heavenly world, from whom the God of Israel is called “Yahweh, God of Hosts,” or “Yahweh of Hosts.” To distinguish angels from men, they are called “sons of God” (Gen. vi. 2, 4; Job i. 6, ii. 1, xxxviii. 7) or “sons of the mighty” (Ps. xxix. 1, margin, lxxxix. 6). A special connection with God is always implied, as well as a certain superiority over men (I Sam. xxix. 9; II Sam. xiv. 17, 20). This connection is emphasized by the epithet “holy” (A. V., “saints"; Job v. 1, xv. 15; Ps. lxxxix. 5, 7; Dan. viii. 13; Zech. xiv. 5). In I Kings xxii. 19-24 and Acts xxiii. 9 a distinction is made between angels and spirits, and in the Talmud the latter name is used for demons only. With reference to their duties angels are called “watchers” in Dan. iv. 13, 17, 23.

I. Biblical Conceptions:

1. Angels are God’s Servants.

As concerns their function, it is not the Biblical conception that angels are the indispensable means of communication between the higher and lower worlds, nor are they a personification of nature powers. Yet they are consistently represented as serving God’s purposes in revelation and salvation, and are his “ministering spirits” (Heb. i. 14) from the appointment of the cherubim to guard Eden (Gen. iii. 24) to their activity at the second coming and the end of the world (Matt. xiii. 41, xxiv. 29-31; cf. Gen. xxiv. 7, 40, xlviii. 16; Ex. xiv. 19, xxiii. 20, 23; Luke xvi. 22). Sometimes they appear in companies (Gen. xxviii. 12, xxxii. 1-2; II Kings vi. 16-17; Matt. xxv. 31; Luke ii. 13; Rev. xix. 14), but usually it is one angel who executes God’s command; he is called the “angel of God” or “angel of Yahweh” (Gen. xvi. 7, 9-11, xxi. 17; Ex. iii. 2, xiv. 19; Judges vi. 20; and often). The relation of the “angel of Yahweh” to Yahweh himself is a difficult question. One of the three who appear in Gen. xviii. 2, 22 (cf. xix. 1) is evidently Yahweh, and Yahweh and his angel are both called the guide of Israel (Ex. xiii. 21, xiv. 19). Similar identification apparently occurs elsewhere, while in Zech. i. 9, 12-14, and other passages there is a sharp distinction.

2. The New Testament Conception not Different from the Old.

In the New Testament the angel of the Lord occurs only when an angel has been previously mentioned (Matt. i. 24; Luke i. 11, 13, ii. 9, 10, 13; Acts xii. 7, 11, vii. 30, 38, Gk. text). There is no thought of an identification of the angel with the Lord. That the conception is different from that of the Old Testament can not be proved, and such an assumption is not in accord with Stephen’s references (Acts vii. 30-35) to the appearance in the burning bush (Ex. iii.). But the distinction between the angel and Yahweh does not hinder from making the angel speak as Yahweh or from speaking of the angel as of Yahweh. It follows that the distinction can not be a product of later times. The angel is not the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, as assumed by the Greek Fathers, the older Lutheran dogmaticians, and Hengstenberg; nor is he merely a theophany (Vatke, De Wette, Wellhausen, Kosters, and others). The former view is not consistent with the New Testament revelation, which makes it impossible to find in the Old Testament a knowledge of the threefold character of God; and the latter falls because a “mission,” not an “appearance,” of God is always spoken of. The true Biblical conception of the “angel of Yahweh” is that of a created being (Neh. ix. 6), belonging to the heavenly hosts (Augustine, Jerome, Hofmann, Riehm), who represents God, but is in no way identified with God. The fact, that in the New Testament the angel of Yahweh recedes, does not justify the assumption that he is a type of Christ. A realization of God’s presence through angels and the communication of his revelation by them was as necessary in the old covenant as the revelation and presence of God in Christ or in the Holy Spirit are in the new (cf. Acts vii. 38; Gal. iii. 19; Heb. ii. 2). The angel has no more place in the new covenant because the first has been made old and is “ready to vanish away” (Heb. viii. 13).

3. Later Developments.

From the beginning the appearance of an angel is looked upon as a sign of God’s favor (Gen. xxiv. 7, 40, xlviii. 16; Ex. xxiii. 20; II Kings xix. 35; Isa. lxiii. 9), and the belief that God’s angels guard his servants finds expression in the Psalms (Ps. xxxiv. 7, xci. 11). From the unity of God arises the conception of a multiplicity of angels (Gen. xxviii. 12, xxxii. 2); and then it is only a step to that of Yahweh’s hosts (Josh. v. 14-15), with which he comes to the help of Israel (Isa. xxxi. 4-5), which surround his throne, offering him praise and adoration (I Kings xxii. 19; Ps. cxlviii. 2), and constitute, in the language of the synagogue, “the family above.” Apocalyptic literature develops the thought, depicting in symbolic narratives the part of the angels in the history of Israel (cf. the visions of Zechariah, Ezekiel, and Daniel). In the Book of Daniel (viii. 16, ix. 21, x. 13, xii. 1) two angels are named—Gabriel and Michael. The fact that names are given (cf. Judges xiii. 18) and the names themselves indicate Babylonian influence, which later tradition recognizes by ascribing the many angels’ names which it knows to Babylon (Genesis, Rabbah xlviii.). What is said of these two angels does not contradict existing views, but is merely a development of them, influenced by contact with Babylonian and Persian ideas. The fantastic and bizarre conceptions of later Judaism, however, can not deny their origin from this heathenism (cf. Tobit iii. 17, v. 6, 21, vi. 4-17, viii. 2-3). That which is really new in the Book of Daniel concerns the participation of the angels in the sin of the world. In the New Testament the apocalyptic symbolism, appears in the Book of Revelation only (cf. xii. 7 sqq.; Jude 9). All allusions to angels in New Testament history and in the Epistles can be explained as in full accord with Old Testament conceptions, and if new ideas are found by any it is only because of the desire to find them. It requires great art of eisegesis to ascribe to Paul (as does Everling) the angel doctrine of Jewish legend and rabbinic theology.


4. Distinctions among Angels. Cherubim and Seraphim. Fallen Angels.

There are evidently distinctions among angels, based on differences of duties, not of rank. In this way passages like Dan. x. 13, xii. 1; I Thess. iv. 16; Jude 9 are to be explained. The same observation holds with regard to the cherubim and seraphim, who belong to the angels. The signification of the latter name (only in Isa. vi.) is not certain. From comparison with the Arabic it has been thought to mean nobilis, whence the signification would be “angel-leader” (cf. Josh. v. 13-15; Dan. x. 13, xii. 1). Another derivation is from the Hebrew saraph, “to burn,” and the name is then thought to be given to these beings because of their peculiar relation to the divine holiness, of which they are the heralds and guards. Whether the prophet coined the name with reference to the act attributed to the seraph in verses 6-7, or found it already in use, can not be determined. In any case it is the name only and not the representation that is new. The description of their form is different from that of the cherubim. In the latter case the description is symbolic, and the symbolism is more and more richly developed from the cherubim that guard Eden, in the figures of the Tabernacle (Ex. xxv. 17-22) and the Temple (I Kings vi. 23-28), and the visions of Ezekiel (Ezek. i. 4-14, iii. 12-14, ix. 3, x. 6-22, xi. 22, xli. 18), to the description of the Apocalypse (Rev. iv. 6-11). In that way they unite in themselves all excellencies, they typify the exaltation of God above every creature, as well as the purpose that every creature shall be a bearer of the majesty of God. Sin is found among the angels (Gen. vi. 1-4; II Pet. ii. 4; Jude 6), but not, as among men, as something affecting all. Since Satan appears among the “sons of God” (Job i. 6; cf. I Chron. xxi. 1; Zech. iii. 2), he is reckoned among the angels. The interest which he shows in the sin of men in these passages justifies the assumption (first in Wisdom, ii. 24; cf. Rev. xii. 9, xx. 2) that he is the serpent of Gen. iii. He is therefore the first fallen, to whom the other fallen angels (or demons) join themselves as his angels (Matt. xxv. 41). “Evil angels” (Ps. lxxviii. 49) are angels who do ill at God’s command, not wicked angels.

As concerns the origin of the Biblical conception of angels, the view that they represent the natural powers of old Semitic heathenism stands or falls with the representation of Deut. iv. 19 (also in Paul) that heathenism is an apostasy from the true God. It may be noted that angels never serve as an explanation of the events of nature, but appear only in connection with a divine revelation. The decision depends also on the question as to the reality of angels. That they, as well as Satan and the demons, actually exist is held to be indubitably proved by the words and conduct of Jesus. The upper world, to which we are striving, is full of life and needs not to be peopled by us, but is prepared for us with all that is proper to it, freed from the limitations of the present.

(H. Cremer†.)

II. Judaic Notions:

1. Names and Classes.

To the two names known to Daniel the Book of Tobit (iii. 17) adds that of Raphael, while the Book of Enoch (xxi.) knows seven archangels—Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sariel, Gabriel, Jerahmeel—and seven classes of angels (lxi. 10), namely, the cherubim, seraphim, ophanim, all the angels of power, principalities, the Elect One (Messiah), and the (elementary) powers of the earth and water. They have seven angelic virtues (lxi. 11): the spirit of faith, of wisdom, of patience, of mercy, of judgment, of peace, and of goodness.

2. Functions, Duties, etc.

In the Slavonic Enoch and rabbinic literature, the further development of the heavenly hierarchy introduces the seven heavens, and tells of the food of angels, the hours at which they worship God, their language, and their knowledge. They mediate between God and man, carry prayers to the throne of God (Tobit xii. 12-15; Gk. Apoc. Baruch xi.), and accompany the dead on their departure from this world. Angels are also the guardians of the nations. In Enoch xxxix. 59 the seventy shepherds are the guardian angels of the seventy nations, over whom rules Michael, as Israel’s angel-prince. With these God sits in council when holding judgment over the world, each angel pleading the cause of his nation. It was these angel-princes whom Jacob saw in his dream (Gen. Rabbah lxviii.). There is also a special angel-prince set over the world, Sar ha-‘olam (Talmud, Yebamot 16b; ullin 60a; Sanhedrin 94a), who is said to have composed Ps. xxxvii. 25, civ. 31, and, partly, Isa. xxiv. 16. Besides the guardian angels of the nations, sixty-three angels are mentioned as janitors of the seven heavens, and at each of these heavens stand other angels as seal-bearers. The head and chief of all these is Asriel. Angels protect the pious and help them in their transactions. Every man has a special guardian angel, and there are accompanying angels. Thus two angels—one good and one evil—accompany man as he leaves the synagogue on Sabbath eve. Three good angels receive the souls of the pious, and three evil angels those of the wicked, who testify for them (Talmud, Shabbat 119a; ketubot 104a). Great as is the number and influence of the angels, yet in many respects they are inferior to man. Enoch (xv. 2) intercedes on behalf of the angels, instead of having them intercede for him; and none of the angels could see what he saw of God’s glory (xiv. 21), or learn the secrets of God as he knew them (Slavonic Enoch xxiv. 3; Ascensio Isaiæ ix. 27-38). Adam was to be worshiped by the angels as the image of God (Vita Adæ et Evæ, p. 14; Gen. Rabbah viii.); before his fall his place was within the precincts of God’s own majesty, where the angels can not stay (Gen. Rabbah xxi.). They were inferior in intelligence to Adam, when names were given to all things (Pirke Rabbi Eli‘ezer xiii.). Adam reclined in Paradise, and the ministering angels roasted meat and strained wine for him (Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b). Every man that does not practise magic enters a department of heaven to which even 177 the ministering angels have no access (Talmud, Nedarim 32a).

The essence of the angels is fire; they sustain themselves in fire; their fiery breath consumes men, and no man can endure the sound of their voices (Talmud, Shabbat 88b; Hagigah 14b). Another theory is that they are half fire and half water, and that God makes peace between the opposing elements (Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh ha-Shanah ii. 58a). According to one tradition, each angel was one-third of a world in size; according to another, 2,000 parasangs, his hand reaching from heaven to earth. The angels, numbering either 496,000 or 499,000, are said to have been created either on the first day (Book of Jubilees ii. 2), the second day (Slavonic Enoch), or on the fifth day (Gen. Rabbah iii.). Their food is manna, of which Adam and Eve ate before they sinned (Vita Adæ et Evæ, p. 4).

As a rule, the angels are represented as good, and as not subject to evil impulses (Gen. Rabbah xlviii. 14); nevertheless, two were expelled from heaven for 138 years on account of prematurely disclosing the decree of Sodom’s destruction (ib.). Two narratives are given in Enoch vi.-xv., of the fall of the angels. According to one, Azazel was the leader of the rebellion, and the chief debaucher of women; according to the other, Samiaza, or Shamhazai, was the chief seducer. Each has ten chieftains and 100 angels at his command. They are punished at the hands of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel (Enoch ix. 1, xl. 2).

B. Pick.

III. Development of the Scriptural Angelology:

The nature of Holy Scripture forbids any attempt to build upon its text a systematic angelology. The Bible covers a wide field of time, and, for anything save its main purpose, it is a book of imperfect record. Moreover, its evidence on this question is less apt to be direct than indirect. An elaborate angelology can therefore be derived from the Bible only by doing violence to sound exegesis. Yet it is possible to detect a general movement of thought and to deduce a conclusion, touching the weight to be given to the scriptural doctrine of angels.

1. The Belief in Angels Common to All Antiquity.

The belief in angels is not an original element in the Scriptures; the Bible holds it in common with all the men of antiquity, who lacked a unifying conception of law and made the poet and the theologian one and the same person. So the mind instinctively peopled space with personal forces both good and evil. The field of reality, being governed neither by the scientific idea of law nor by the monotheistic idea of God, was inevitably broken up and parceled out by a kind of spiritual feudalism. The belief in angels being thus instinctive, it follows that, so far as the Scriptures are concerned, the doctrine in question is not a primary one; on the contrary, it is a subordinate element. To be true to the Bible itself, the emphasis must be put on the relation between that belief in angels which the men of the Bible inherited from antiquity and that saving knowledge of the divine unity which is the heart of God’s word. The center of gravity and interest is not in angelology as such.

2. The Hexateuch.

The central and controlling element in the Old Testament is the self-revelation of God in his holy and creative unity. The pith of prophecy is God’s manifestation of himself in terms of the moral order in the experience of the chosen nation. It is significant, then, that in the Hexateuch the angels in their plurality play a small part (Gen. xix. 15, xxxii. 1). The “angel of Yahweh,” “the angel of the presence,” on the other hand, are constantly in evidence. The unity of God, dominating the religious consciousness, has given a monarchical turn to the angelology of antiquity.

3. The Prophets.

In the preexilic prophets the angels appear but twice. In both cases (Hosea xii. 4, Isa. xxxvii. 36) the usage is unitary. This fact, taken with the extreme rarity of the term on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with the fact that the existence of heavenly hosts is taken for granted (Isa. vi. 1-6), gives a weighty piece of evidence. Even in exilic prophecy as a whole there is no emphasis. The “angel of the presence” appears once (Isa. lxiii. 9). The angels in their plurality do not appear. The prophetic passion spends itself upon God’s presence in the crises of the nation’s history, and upon his power to guide it toward a supreme moral end (the day of Yahweh). Even in Ezekiel, in whom the apocalyptic tendency begins to be strongly marked, the angels are not named.

But in Zechariah a new turn is taken. The angel of Yahweh appears incessantly. Moreover, the angels in their plurality appear (Zech. ii. 3). The apocalyptic tendency is becoming dominant. The moral passion of prophetism is declining. And from Zechariah’s time on, there seems to be a steady increase in the amount of attention given to the angels. How far this is due to the influence of Parseeism and how far to the inherent tendency of Judaism, it may be impossible to determine with precision. But certain it is that as Judaism abounds in its own sense and its difference from prophetism develops, the angels play a larger and yet larger part. The climax is reached when the Essenes impose upon those entering the order a terrible oath not to betray the names of the angels (Josephus, War, II. viii. 7). At this point, Judaism comes close to Chaldean magic.

4. The New Testament.

Davidson has said (DB, i., p. 97) that in the New Testament there is no advance. The statement is misleading. There is not nor can there be any advance beyond the Jewish angelology. The Jewish mystic knew a great deal about the angelic hosts, their hierarchical order, and their names. In truth, he knew more than there was to know. “Advance” in this direction would have meant a fuller exposition of unreality. But the New Testament is the literary product of a magnificent revival of Hebrew prophetism. The 178 clarity of the moral and spiritual consciousness relegates the angels to a secondary position. Even in the New Testament Apocalypse the angels are wholly subsidiary to the Kingdom of God. Thus in xix. 10, xxi. 17, and xxii. 9 a view appears fundamentally opposed to that of mystical Judaism. Angels and men are citizens of one divine commonwealth. Worship of the angels is not to be thought of. So, again, in the synoptic gospels and the Acts, the existence of the angels, while taken for granted, is not a primary element of consciousness.

In the Pauline and Petrine letters, the angels play an even more subordinate part. The Christians of Corinth, in danger of falling below their dignity, are informed that the disciples of Christ will be his coassessors in judging the angels (I Cor. vi. 3). Peter, dwelling on the consummation of prophecy, declares that angels desire to understand the mystery of the gospel (I Pet. i. 12). In Heb. i. 14 their function is clearly described. They are spirits worshiping God and sent from God to serve the followers of Jesus.

5. Conclusion.

When, therefore, the Scriptures are placed against the background of antiquity, a certain unity of movement and thought is found. The doctrine of angels is inherited, not created. And it is controlled and utilized by the saving word, the self-revelation of God as the creative unity within human consciousness and society, the moralizing power in history, and the moral end toward which nature and history are being guided (Rom. xi. 36). From this point of view the ecclesiastical discussion over the worship of angels and the careful distinction between dulia and latria is more or less a reversion of type.

Henry S. Nash.

Bibliography: J. Ode, Commentarius de angelis, Utrecht, 1739; E. C. A. Riehm, De natura et notione symbolica Cheruborum, Basel, 1864; idem, Die Cherubim in der Stiftshütte und im Tempel, in TSK, xliv. (1871) 399 sqq.; A. Kohut, Ueber die jüdische Angelologie und Dämonologie in ihrer Abhängigkeit vom Parsismus, Leipsic, 1866 F. Godet, Études bibliques, i. 1-34, Paris, 1873; W. H. Kosters, De Mal’ach Jahwe and Het ontstaan en de ontwikkeling der angelologie onder Israel, in ThT, ix. (1875) 367-415, x. (1876) 34-69, 113-141; J. H. Oswald, Angelologie, im Sinne der katholischen Kirche dargestellt, Paderborn, 1883; O. Everling, Die paulinischen Angelologie und Dämonologie, Göttingen 1888; J M. Fuller, Angelology und Demonology, Excursus II. to Tobit, in Wace’s Apocrypha, i. 171-183, London, 1888; T. K. Cheyne, Origin and Religious Contents of the Psalter, pp. 322-327, 334-337, London, 1891 (very valuable); C. H. Toy, Judaism and Christianity, pp. 141-172, Boston, 1891; C. G. Montefiore, Hibbbert Lectures, pp. 429 sqq., London, 1892 (characterized by G. B. Gray as valuable); R. Stübe, Jüdisch-babylonische Zaubertexte, Halle, 1895 (a work of special interest); F. Weber, Jüdische Theologie auf Grund des Talmud, pp. 166 sqq., Leipsic, 1897; M. Schwab, Vocabulaire de l’angélologie d’après manuscrits hébreux, Paris, 1897; H. Oehler, Die Engelwelt, Stuttgart, 1898; W. Lücken, Michael, Göttingen, 1898; DCB, i. 93-97; EB, i. 165-170; JE, i. 583-597 (deals with biblical, talmudic, and post-talmudic angelology); and the works on Old and New Testament theology (including R. Smend, Alttestamentliche Religionsgeschichte, Freiburg, 1893) and dogmatics; W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judenthums, pp. 313-325, Berlin, 1903.

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