- The scope of this article.—The passages in the apostolic writings in which angels are mentioned or referred to will be examined; some of them are ambiguous and have been interpreted in various ways. The doctrine of the OT and of the apocryphal period on the subject has been so fully dealt with in HDB that it is unnecessary to do more than refer incidentally to it here; and the angelology of the Gospels has been treated at length in DCG (see Literature below). But the other NT writings have not been so fully examined, and it is the object of this article to consider them particularly. Of these the Apocalypse, as might be expected from the subject, calls for special attention; no book of the OT or the NT is so full of references to the angels, and it is the more remarkable that the other Johannine writings have so few. The Fourth Gospel refers to angels only thrice (1:51; 12:29; 20:12; 5:4 is a gloss [see below, 5 (b)]), and the three Epistles not at all. There are frequent references to the subject in Hebrews, and occasional ones in the Pauline and Petrine Epistles and in Jude.
- The literal meaning of ἄγγελος.—ἄγγελος = ‘messenger,’ is found only once in the NT outside the Gospels: in Ja 2:25, it is used of Joshua’s spies (in Jos 6:25 [LXX], which is referred to, we read τοὺς κατασκοπευσάντας οὓς ἀπέστειλεν Ἰησοῦς). In the Gospels ἄγγελος is used of John Baptist in Mt 11:10, Mk 1:2, Lk 7:27 (from Mal 3:1 but not from LXX, which, however, also has ἄγγελος), of John’s messengers in Lk 7:24, and of Jesus’ messengers to a Samaritan village in Lk 9:52. In Ph 2:25, 2 Co 8:23 ἀπόστολος is translated ‘messenger.’
- The angels as heavenly beings.—From the earliest times the Israelites had been taught to believe in angels, but after the Captivity the doctrine greatly developed. Yet some of the Jews rejected all belief in them, and this sharply divided the Pharisees from the Sadducees, who said ‘that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit’; the Pharisees confessed both (Ac 23:8).
Angels are creatures, as the Jews had always taught (Thackeray, Relation of St. Paul to Jewish Thought, p. 150). They were created in, through, and unto Christ (Col 1:16), who is the beginning as well as the end of all things (cf. 1 Co 8:6). They are not inferior deities, but fellow-servants (σύνδουλοι) with man (Rev 19:10; 22:9). Therefore they may not be worshipped (ib.); the worship of angels was one of the grave errors at Colossæ (Col 2:18). So idolatry is described as a worshipping of demons (Rev 9:20).
Much emphasis is laid, lest it should be thought that angels were of the some degree as our Lord, on the fact that Jesus is immeasurably higher than they; as in He 1:4ff. (no angel is called ‘the Son’; angels worship the Firstborn), 1:13 (no angel set at the right hand of God), 2:5 (the world to come is not made subject to angels, but to man—v. 8f. shows that the Representative Man is meant, who condescended to be, in His Incarnation, made a little lower than the angels). In 1 P 3:22 ‘angels and authorities and powers’ are made subject to the ascended Christ; and so in Eph 1:21. In Col 2:15 (an obscure verse), we may understand either that our Lord, putting off His body, made a show of the principalities and the powers, triumphing over them in the cross (so the Latin Fathers); or, with the Greeks, that He, having stripped off and put away the principalities, made a show of them, etc.—i.e. that He repelled their assaults. Here the evil angels are spoken of. But the complete subjection of the powers of evil to Jesus will not take place till the end of the world (1 Co 15:23ff.).
Angels are spirits (He 1:7, 14); cf. Rev 16:14, ‘spirits of demons.’ In Ac 23:8f. they seem to be differentiated from ‘spirits’ (‘no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit … what if a spirit hath spoken to him or an angel?’). But this is not so. The ‘angel’ is the species, the ‘spirit’ the genus (Alford). All angels are spirits, though all spirits are not angels. In v. 8 the Pharisees are said to confess ‘both,’ i.e. both the resurrection and angel-spirits; only two categories are intended. We must also remember that in v. 9 non-Christian Jews are speaking.
But, though they are spirits, angels are not omnipresent or omniscient, for these are attributes of Deity. For their limited knowledge cf. Eph 3:10 (whether good or bad angels are there spoken of); it is implied in 1 P 1:12 (the angels desire to look into the mysteries of the gospel) and in 1 Co 2:6ff., if ‘rulers of this world’ are the evil angels (see Demon). It is explicitly stated in Mt 24:36, Mk 13:32. The limitation of the angels’ knowledge is also stated in Ethiopic Enoch, xvi. 3 (2nd cent. b.c.?), where the angels who fell in Gn 6:2 (so ‘sons of God’ are interpreted) are said not to have had the hidden things yet revealed to them, though they knew worthless mysteries, which they recounted to the women (ed. Charles, 1893, p. 86f.). In the Secrets of Enoch. (Slavonic), xxiv. 3 (1st cent. a.d.?), God says that He had not told His secrets even to His angels. Ignatius says that the virginity and child-bearing of Mary and the death of the Lord were hidden from (ἔλαθεν) the ruler of this age (Eph. 19; for this idea in the Fathers see Lightfoot’s note).
The good angels are angels of light, as opposed to the powers of darkness (2 Co 11:14; ct. Eph 6:12); so, when the angel came to St. Peter in the prison, a light shone in the cell (Ac 12:7). The name ‘seraph’ perhaps means ‘the burning one,’ though the etymology is doubtful; cf. also Ps 104:4.
They neither marry nor are given in marriage; and so in the resurrection life there is no marrying, for men will be ‘as angels in heaven’ (Mt 22:30, Mk 12:25), ‘equal to angels’ (ἰσάγγελοι, Lk 20:36). Some have thought that they have a sort of counterpart of bodies, described in 1 Co 15:40 as ‘celestial bodies’ (Meyer, Alford), though this is perhaps improbable; St. Paul’s words may refer to the ‘heavenly bodies’ in the modern sense (Robertson-Plummer), or to the post-resurrection human bodies (cf. v. 48); not to good men as opposed to bad (Chrysostom and others of the Fathers).
They are numberless (Rev 5:11 [from Dn 7:14], He 12:22, ‘myriads’; in the latter passage they are perhaps described as a ‘festal assembly’ [RVm, ἀγγέλων πανηγύρει]).
The unfallen angels are holy (Rev 14:10, Mk 8:38, Lk 9:26, and some MSS of Mt 25:31; so perhaps 1 Th 3:13, Jude 14 [see below, 5 (a)]; cf. Zec 14:5 ‘all the holy ones’). This is the meaning of ‘elect’ angels in 1 Ti 5:21—not angels chosen to guard the Ephesian Church; they are mentioned here because they will accompany our Lord to judgment or (Grimm) because they are chosen by God to rule.
- Ranks of the angels.—There was a great tendency in later Jewish writings to elaborate the angelic hierarchy. In Is 6:2, 6 we had read of seraphim; in Ezk 10 of cherubim. But in Eth. Enoch, lxi. 10 (these chapters are of the 1st cent. b.c.?), the host of the heavens, and all the holy ones above, the cherubim, seraphim, and ophanim (= ‘wheels’; cf. Ezk 1:15), angels of power, angels of principalities, are mentioned (cf. lxxi. 7); in the Secrets of Enoch (20) we read of archangels, incorporeal powers, lordships, principalities, powers, cherubim, seraphim, ‘ten troops.’ The ‘genealogies’ of 1 Ti 1:4 and Tit 3:9 are thought by some to refer to such speculations. St. Paul shows some impatience at the Colossian fondness for elaborating these divisions; yet in the NT we find traces of ranks of angels. In Jude 9 the archangel (Michael) is mentioned; so in 1 Th 4:16, where Michael is doubtless meant. In Romans, Colossians, and Ephesians no organized hierarchy is mentioned; and sometimes the reference seems to be to the whole angelic band, sometimes to the evil angels, when principalities, powers, dominions, thrones are referred to (Col 1:16 θρόνοι, κυριότητες, ἀρχαί, ἐξουσίαι; 2:10, 15 ἀρχή, ἐξουσία; Eph 1:21 ἀρχή, ἐξουσία, δύναμις, κυριότης; 3:10; 6:12 ἀρχαί, ἐξουσίαι; Ro 8:38 ἄγγελοι, ἀρχαί, δυνάμεις; 1 Co 15:24 ἀρχή, ἐξουσία, δύναμις). In the passages in Col. and Eph. St. Paul takes the ideas current in Asia Minor as to the ranks of the angels, but does not himself enunciate any doctrine; indeed, in Eph 1:21 he adds, ‘and every name that is named [ὀνομάζεται, i.e. reverenced] both in this age and in that which is to come.’ Some have thought that he refers to earthly powers; but, though these may perhaps in some cases be included, there can be little doubt that he is speaking primarily of angelic powers, good and bad. ‘Whatever powers there may be, Christ is Lord of all, far above them all.’ In Eph 3:10 only evil angelic powers are referred to—they are in the heavenly sphere (ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις); and so in 6:12, where they are contrasted with ‘flesh and blood’ (see also below). With these passages we may compare 1 P 3:22 ‘angels and authorities and powers’; and possibly 2 P 2:10f., where the ‘lordship’ (RV ‘dominion’), ‘glories’ (‘dignities’), and angels are thought by some to refer to ranks of angels; if so, the highest rank is ‘angels,’ who are ‘greater in might and power’ than the ‘glories.’ The cherubim of the ark (Ex 25:18) are mentioned in He 9:5.
The Christian Fathers and the heretical teachers greatly elaborated the angelic hierarchy; of these perhaps the writer who had most influence was pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (de Cœl. Hier. vi.–ix., c. a.d. 500), who divided the heavenly host into three divisions, with three subdivisions in each: (1) thrones, cherubim, seraphim; (2) powers (ἐξουσίαι), lordships (κυριότητες), mights (δυνάμεις); (3) angels, archangels, principalities (ἀρχαί). On the analogy of this list, the Syriac-speaking Churches divided the Christian ministry into three classes, each with three sub-classes. For other divisions of angels in post-apostolic times see Lightfoot’s note on Col 1:16.
Very few names of angels occur in the NT. Of the holy angels only Gabriel (Lk 1:19, 26) and Michael (Jude 9, Rev 12:7) are named (from Dn 8:16; 9:21; 10:13, 21; 12:1). We also have the proper names Satan (thirty-one one times, nineteen outside the Gospels), Beelzebub (Gospels only, six times), and Belial or Beliar (2 Co 6:15). See Devil, Belial. In the Apocrypha we have Raphael in To 12:15, Uriel in 2 Es 4:1; 5:20; 10:28, and Jeremiel in 2 Es 4:36 (the last book perhaps is to be dated c. a.d. 90). Many other names are found in Jewish writings; see D. Stone, Outlines of Chr. Dogma, London, 1900, p. 38; Edersheim, Life and Times, App. xiii.; Eth. Enoch, 20 (Uriel, Rafael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel; the Gr. fragment [Charles, p. 356f.] has Sariel for Saraqael, and adds Remiel [= Jeremiel]).
- Function of the angels.—The NT represents the angels as having a double activity, towards God and towards man. Both these aspects are found in He 1:14 (see below), as in Is 6:1–7, where the seraphim worship before God, and one of them is sent to the prophet, and in Lk 1:19, where Gabriel is said to stand in the presence of God, and to be sent to Zacharias.
(a) Towards God.—The angels are ‘liturgic spirits’ (λειτουργικὰ πνεύματα, He 1:14; cf. Dn 7:10 ἐλειτούργουν αὐτῷ [Theodotion; the version in our Gr. OT] for יְשַׁמְּשׁוּנֵהּ, ‘ministered unto him’; the Chigi LXX has ἐθεράπευον αὐτόν); their ministry is an ordered one, before the throne of God: ‘the whole host of His angels … minister (λειτουργοῦσιν) unto His will, standing by Him’ (Clem. Rom. Cor. 34; cf. the 4th cent. Ignatian interpolator, Philad. 9, ‘the liturgic powers of God’). They worship God in heaven (Rev 5:11f.; 7:11; 8:1–4; cf. Job 1:6; 2:1), and on earth (Lk 2:13f.); they worship the Firstborn when He is brought into the world (He 1:6), and are witnesses of the Incarnation (1 Ti 3:16 ‘seen of angels’—but Grimm interprets ἀγγέλοις here as the apostles, witnesses of the risen Christ, and Swete thinks the reference is to the Agony in Gethsemane [Ascended Christ, 1910, p. 24]). To this heavenly worship there seems to be a reference in 1 Co 13:1 ‘tongues of angels.’ In Jewish thought there were ‘angels of the presence,’ the highest order of the hierarchy, who stood before the face of God, within the veil (Edersheim, Life and Times, i. 122; To 12:15; Eth. Enoch, 40). There may be a reference to these in Rev 1:4 ‘the seven spirits which are before his throne’ (Swete interprets this of the sevenfold working of the Holy Spirit); 8:2 ‘the seven angels which stand before God’ (cf. v. 4); Mt 18:10 ‘in heaven [the little ones’] angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven’; and in Lk 1:19 (see above).
They will attend on the Son at the Last Judgment (1 Th 4:16, 2 Th 1:7, Rev 3:5); and this seems to be the most probable reference in 1 Th 3:13 ‘with all his saints’ (or ‘holy ones’—τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ) and in Jude 14 ‘with ten thousands of his holy ones’ (or ‘with his holy myriads,’ ἐν ἁγίαις μυριάσιν αὐτοῦ), where the words are quoted from Enoch, i. 9, the text of the latter in the Gizeh Greek fragment being σὺν τοῖς (sic) μυριάσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς ἁγίοις αὐτοῦ. The words in Jude are certainly to be understood of the angels, and this makes the similar interpretation of 1 Th 3:13 more likely. But Milligan (Com. in loc.) thinks that the latter reference is to ‘just men made perfect,’ who are said to judge, or to be ‘brought with’ Jesus at the Judgment (1 Th 4:14, Mt 19:28, Lk 22:30; cf. Wis 3:8; for 1 Co 6:3 see 7 below). No doubt the saints will rule with Christ (Rev 2:26f.; 20:4 etc.); but, as all men will themselves be judged (Ro 14:10, 2 Co 5:10), the interpretation of the above passages as implying that the saints will themselves be judges at the Last Day is somewhat doubtful. The attendance of the angels on the Great Judge is mentioned in all four Gospels (Mt 13:41; 16:27; 24:31; 25:31, Mk 8:38; 13:27, Lk 9:26; 12:8f., and Jn 1:51 [where the reference is to Gn 28:12]).
(b) Towards man.—The angels do service (διακονία) to man as heirs of salvation (He 1:14). They ministered to our Lord on earth, in His human nature, after the Temptation in the wilderness (Mt 4:11, Mk 1:13, not in || Lk.), and at Gethsemane (Lk 22:43: this may not be part of the Third Gospel, but is certainly part of a 1st cent. tradition; it could not have been invented by the scribes [see Westcott-Hort, NT in Greek, ii. App., p. 67]. The present writer has argued for its being older than Lk., and reflecting the same stage of thought as Mk. [DCG ii. 124b]). In Mt 26:53 Jesus says that angels would have ministered to Him, had He so willed, when Judas betrayed Him.
The angels are spectators of our lives: 1 Co 4:9 ‘a spectacle (θέατρον) to angels’; 1 Ti 5:21 ‘in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels’; 1 P 1:12, the angels ‘look into’—‘glance at,’ or perhaps ‘pore over’ (see Bigg, Com. in loc.)—the Church and its Gospel; they rejoice over the sinner’s repentance (Lk 15:10).
They are messengers to man. This is the office of angels which is most prominent in the NT; see Ac 7:35, 38 (Moses) 8:26 (Philip) 10:3, 7, 22, 30 (Peter, Cornelius) 11:13 (Peter) 12:7–11 (Peter in prison) 23:9 (Paul) 27:23 (Paul on his voyage), He 13:2 (reference to Abraham, Gn 18), and frequently in Rev. (e.g. 1:1; 22:6). St. Paul alludes to this work of the angels in Gal 1:8, which suggests that they must be proved, as spirits must be (1 Co 12:10, 1 Jn 4:1, etc.; see Demon, § 2), to see whether they are true or false, and in Gal 4:14, where there is a climax: ‘as an angel of God, nay, as one who is higher than the angels, as Christ Jesus himself.’ For this function in the Gospels see Mt 1:20; 2:13, 19; 28:2–5, Mk 16:5–7, Lk 1:11, 13, 19, 26, 30, 35; 2:9f., 21; 24:4, 23, Jn 12:29; 20:12; here we note that the ‘angel of the Lord’ in the NT is not the same as the ‘angel of Jahweh’ in the OT: it merely means an angel sent by God. This office of the angels does not exclude the Divine message coming directly to man (Ac 9:5; 22:8; 26:14, Gal 1:12).
They are helpers of our worship. They offer the ‘prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar’ (Rev 8:3f.). Their presence at Christian worship is a reason for decorum and reverence (1 Co 11:10: a woman should be veiled in the assembly of the faithful ‘because of the angels’; this seems to be the meaning, not ‘because of the clergy who are present,’ as Ambrose, Ephraim Syrus, Primasius, nor ‘because of the evil angels,’ with a reference to Gn 6:1f., as Tertullian [de Virg. Vel. 7; cf. 17], nor yet ‘because the angels do so,’ i.e. veil themselves before their Superior [Is 6:2]; see Robertson-Plummer, Com. in loc.). For the presence of angels at worship cf. Ps 138:1 LXX and Vulg., To 12:12, 15, Three 37.
They fight for man against evil, under Michael (Jude 9, Rev 12:7f., 19:14, 19; 20:1–3); they are ‘armies’ (στρατεύματα, Rev 19:14) and a ‘host’ (στρατιά, Lk 2:13; not in He 12:22 RV where μυριάσιν is translated ‘innumerable hosts’). They are the ‘armies’ sent out by the King in the Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son (Mt 22:7).
They were the mediators of the Law (Ac 7:53, Gal 3:19, He 2:2); i.e. they assisted at the giving of the Law. St. Paul and the writer of Hebrews argue from this the superiority of the Gospel as being given without the interposition of created beings (Lightfoot on Gal 3). The presence of angels is not mentioned in Ex 19, but cf. Dt 33:2, Ps 68:7; it was emphasized by the Jews as extolling the Law (see Thackeray, op. cit. p. 162), and this is perhaps the meaning in Ac 7:53.
At death the angels carry the faithful departed to Abraham’s bosom (Lk 16:22). This was a common Jewish belief (DCG i. 57a).
At the Judgment they will be the reapers of the harvest (Rev 14:17–19, Mt 13:39, 49).
They are messengers of punishment (Ac 12:23 [Herod], Rev 14:10), and of judgment (Rev 8:6ff.; 19:11–14; cf. the pouring out of the bowls, 16:1–17, and the seven angels having seven plagues, 15:1). In 1 Co 10:10 the ‘destroyer’ (ὀλοθρευτής) is not Satan, bat the angel sent by God to smite the people (the reference is to Nu 16, where no angel is mentioned; but cf. Ex 12:23, 2 S 24:16). Satan is sometimes called ‘the destroyer’ (ἀπολλύων, Rev 9:11), but ὀλοθρευτής is not used elsewhere in the Bible (see Robertson-Plummer on 1 Co 10:10).
They intervene on earth to help man: an ‘angel of the Lord’ releases the apostles (Ac 5:19) and Peter (12:7); and, according to an ancient gloss, probably African, originating before the time of Tertullian, who quotes it (de Bapt. 5), ‘an angel of the Lord’ also ‘troubled’ the water of Bethesda (Jn. 5:4). (Tertullian applies this text to Christian baptism, over which he says an angel presides.) Generally, the angels guard men from evil. This leads us to the question of guardian angels. It is an ancient idea that each human being, or even every creature animate and inanimate, has allotted to it one or more special angelic guards. This idea is to some extent confirmed by the words of our Lord about the ‘angels of the little ones’ in Mt 18:10. It was a popular belief that these guardians took the form of the person guarded, and the people assembled in the house of Mary the mother of Mark thought that Peter, when escaped from prison, was ‘his angel’ (Ac 12:15). This Jewish conception was long retained by the Christians. Tertullian thought that the soul had a ‘figure,’ a certain corporeity, an ‘inner man: different from the outer, but yet one in the twofold condition’ (de Anima, 9); this is not quite the same idea, but we find it more clearly in the 4th cent. Church Order, the Testament of our Lord (i. 40), where all men have ‘figures of their souls, which stand before the Father of Light,’ and which in the case of the wicked ‘perish and are carried to darkness to dwell.’ Similarly there are angels of fire (Rev 14:18), of water (16:3ff.; cf. 7:1f. and Jn 5:4), of winds (Rev 7:1; cf. Ps 104:4), of countries (Dn 10:13–20; cf. Sir 17:17); and the angel of the abyss, Abaddon (q.v.) or Apollyon (Rev 9:11; cf. 20:1). For Rabbinical ideas see Thackeray, op. cit. p. 168, and Edersheim, op. cit. App. xiii.
- Angels of the Churches.—In Rev 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14 the Seven Churches are said each to have an ‘angel.’ These angels represent the Churches; what is said to them is said to the Churches (3:22; cf. 1:4); things done by the Churches are said to be done by them. Various interpretations have been offered. (a) They are said to be angels as in the rest of the book. The strongest arguments for this view are the writer’s usage elsewhere, and the mention of Jezebel (2:20: ‘thy wife’ in some MSS), which is clearly symbolic. The difficulty is the sin ascribed to these angels, as in any case a good angel must, if this interpretation be taken, be meant; if so, the meaning must be that the angels bear the sins of the Churches as representing and guarding them. (b) They are thought to be earthly representatives of the Churches, either delegates to Patmos or the bishop or presbyters of the Churches. This view accords better with the later than with the earlier date assigned to Rev., with the time of Domitian than with that of Nero. (c) They are thought to be ideal personifications of the Churches. On the whole the first view seems to be the most probable. Compare and contrast the following article.
- Fallen angels.—In the NT both good and evil angels are mentioned; but when the word ‘angel’ occurs alone, a good angel is to be understood unless the context requires otherwise, though perhaps 1 Co 6:3 is an exception (see below). The fall is mentioned in Jude 6, 2 P 2:4; and probably in 1 Ti 3:6, where it is ascribed to pride (see Devil, § 2). The Incarnation was not intended to help the angels. Jesus did not ‘take hold’ of, to help, the angels (or, as AV, did not take hold of their nature); see Westcott on He 2:16. Yet in Col 1:20 God is said to reconcile through (the death of) Christ ‘all things’ to Himself—the whole universe material and spiritual (Lightfoot); but it was not by delivering them from death (Alford): the fallen angels are not saved by Christ’s death. According to some interpretations, St. Paul says that angels will be judged by men (1 Co 6:3). Robertson-Plummer interpret this verse, tentatively, as meaning that, as Christ judges, i.e. rules over, angels, so will saints, who share in that rule; but, if the Last Judgment is intended, then fallen angels must be meant here, for good angels, not having fallen, cannot be judged. For 1 Th 3:13 see above, 5 (a). In the end Satan is bound, and Babylon falls (Rev 18 and 20); nothing is said of his angels, but the inference is that his angels fall with him, and this is expressly said in Mt 25:41. See further, Adversary, Air, Belial, Demon, Devil.
Metaphorically the ‘stake in the flesh’ is called an angel (messenger) of Satan (2 Co 12:7). See art. Paul.
- Comparison of apostolic and other teaching
(a) Comparison with that of our Lord.—Oesterley (SDB, 32) contrasts Jesus’ teaching with that of the Evangelists and other NT writers, and says that our Lord taught that the abode and work of the angels are in heaven, not here below, while His disciples taught (as the Jews did) that they are active on earth. On the other hand, Marshall (DCG i. 54a) maintains the complete identity of teaching between Jesus and the Evangelists. To the present writer the latter view seems to be the right one. It is true that in our Lord’s words the work of angels on earth is not prominent. But in Jn 1:51 (our Lord is speaking) the order ‘ascending and descending’ shows that the angels are ‘already on earth, though we see them not’ (Westcott, Com. in loc.). The account of the angelic ministry at the Temptation, like that of the Temptation itself, could by its very nature have come only from our Lord’s own lips. Moreover, in Jesus, teaching, the angels come to the earth to fetch Lazarus’ soul (Lk 16:22) and to reap the Harvest (Mt 13:39, 49).
(b) Comparison with the doctrine of false teachers.—In Colossians we find an elaborate angelology, taught by professing Christians whom St. Paul attacks. Their heresy was partly Jewish, partly Gnostic, though some think that two different sects are meant. The Gnostic element shows itself in the tendency to put angels as intermediaries between God and man, and to make angels emanations from God with an elaborate hierarchy of powers, dominions, etc. Against such teaching St. Paul asserts that Christ is the only mediator (Col 1:15–22; 2:9–15), and forbids the worship of angels because it denies this. In the unique mediation of our Lord lies the significance of the repeated phrases ‘in the Lord,’ ‘unto the Lord’ (3:18, 20, 23). Jesus is the one ἀρχή, or ‘beginning’ (1:18; cf. Rev 3:14), of creation, as against the idea, of angelic intermediaries when the world was made (see Lightfoot’s essay on the Colossian heresy [Col., p. 71ff.]). Perhaps also in the assertion of the unique mediation of Christ lies the significance of the rhetorical passage in which St. Paul says that no heavenly powers, good or bad, can separate us from the love of God (Ro 8:38). Passages in Eph. (above, 4) seem to show that the Colossian heresy was known also on the Asian seaboard.
A later stage of angelological error is found at the end of the 1st cent. in Cerinthus’ teaching, which resembled that of the Colossian heretics. Cerinthus (q.v.) taught that the world was not made by God, but by an angel, or by a series of powers or angels, who were ignorant of God; the Mosaic Law was given by them (cf. above, 5 (b)). Cerinthus is the link between the Gnosticism at Colossæ and the developed Gnosticism of the 2nd century (for his doctrine see Irenæus, Hær. i. 26; Hippolytus, Refut. vii. 21, x. 17). He claimed to have had angelic visions, and was a millenarian of the grossest sort (Caius in Eusebius, HE iii. 28). See also Lightfoot, op. cit., p. 106ff.
Speculations such as those attacked by St. Paul found a congenial soil in ‘Asia’ and Phrygia. Even in the 4th cent. at the Council held at the Phrygian Laodicea (c. a.d. 380), Christians are forbidden to leave the Church of God and invoke (ὀνομάζειν) angels (can. 35; see Hefele, Councils, Eng. tr., iii. 317). It is the proper jealousy for the One Mediator, on the other hand, which has led many moderns to reject the doctrine of the existence of angels altogether. But both heavenly and earthly beings can help man without being mediators, as we see when one man helps another by intercessory prayer. The NT teaching about angelic helpers, so potent an antidote to materialism, in no way asserts that we are to pray to God through the angels, or contradicts the doctrine that Christ is the only Mediator between God and man.
(c) Comparison with current Jewish teaching and that of the later Rabbis.—The apostolic teaching is quite free from the wild speculations of Jewish angelology. (For differences between it and current Jewish ideas see Edersheim, op. cit., i. 142 and App. xiii.) Of Jewish speculations the most elaborate were those of the Essenes (q.v.), which had a decided Gnostic tinge. This Jewish sect had an esoteric doctrine of angels, and its members were not allowed to divulge their names to outsiders (Jos. BJ ii. viii. 1; Lightfoot, Col., p. 87; Edersheim, i. 330f.). A few Jewish speculations may be mentioned. It was thought that new angels were always being created—an idea derived from a wresting of La 3:23 (Thackeray, op. cit. p. 150). The angels taught Noah medicine (Book of Jubilees, 10). The righteous will become angels (Eth. Enoch, li. 4). An angel troubled the waters of Bethesda for healing (gloss in Jn 5:4). An elaborate hierarchical system and numerous names were invented for them (above, 4). Contrasted with these ideas, we have in the NT a wise reserve, which refuses to go beyond the things which are written.
One Jewish speculation must he noticed more fully. The Rabbis taught that none of the angels was absolutely good, that they opposed the creation of man and were jealous of him (Edersheim, ii. 754). Thackeray (p. 151f.) considers that St. Paul also makes them all antagonistic to God. If so, he contradicts the teaching both of our Lord and of the other NT writers (above, 3). But this view, based on St. Paul’s language about principalities, powers, etc., and on the idea that all the angels are the enemies who must be put under Christ’s feet (1 Co 15:25), appears to be untenable. St. Paul, while affirming that some ‘powers’ are evil, does not say that they all are so. See above, 4.
- Nature of NT angelophanies.—It is unprofitable to ask whether angels took material bodies when they appeared to men or whether they merely seemed to do so. At any rate, they took the form of men to the mind, though in some cases there was something about them that produced wonder or fear (Lk 1:12, Mt 28:4, etc.). The accounts of the angels who were seen after the Resurrection vary. In Mt 28:2 the angel who rolled away the stone was like lightning, his raiment white as snow. In Mk 16:5 we read only of a, young man in a white robe. In Lk 24:4 there are two men in dazzling apparel (cf. v. 23 ‘vision of angels’). In Jn 20:12 there are two angels in white, sitting. In Ac 1:10 there are ‘two men … in white apparel.’ To Cornelius the angel was ‘a man … in bright apparel’ (Ac 10:30). Stephen’s face was filled with superhuman glory, ‘as it had been the face of an angel’ (Ac 6:15; so we reflect, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, 2 Co 3:18). For an argument that the appearance of the angels was ‘objective’ see Plummer on Lk 1:11; but this is largely a matter of definition. At the death of Herod (Ac 12:23) no appearance of an angel is necessarily intended.
- The immediate successors of the apostles.—Angelology was a favourite topic of the time; but, the literature of the sub-apostolic period being very scanty, the references are few. For Clement of Rome see above, 5 (a). Ignatius says that the knowledge of angelic mysteries was given to martyrs (Trall. 5): ‘heavenly things and the dispositions (τοποθεσίας) of angels, and musterings of rulers (συστάσεις ἀρχοντικάς), seen and unseen’ (cf. Col 1:16). The ‘dispositions’ would be in the seven heavens. The ἄρχοντες, ‘rulers,’ would be St. Paul’s ἀρχαί i.e. angels (Lightfoot, Ign. ii. 165). In Smyrn. 6 it is said that the angels, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, are judged; this seems to imply that their probation is not yet ended. Sea also above, 3. Papias (quoted by Andreas of Cæsarea, in Apoc., ch. 34, serm. 12; Lightfoot-Harmer, Apostol. Fathers, p. 521) says that to some of the angels God ‘gave dominion over the arrangement (διακοσμήσεως) of the universe … but their array (τάξιν) came to naught, for the great dragon, the old serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole earth, was cast down, yea, was cast down to the earth, and his angels’ (quotation from Rev 12:9). Papias seems to date the fall of the angels after the creation of the world. Hermas (for his possibly early date see Salmon, Introd. to NT, xxvi.) describes the building of the tower [the Church] upon the waters by six young men (cf. Mk 16:5), while countless other men bring the stones; and the former are said to be the holy angels of God, who were created first of all; the latter are also holy angels, but the six are superior to them (Vis. iii. 1, 2, 4). In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, 2, martyrs are said to become angels after death (see above, 8). In the Epistle to Diognetus, 7, God is said to have sent to men a minister (ὑπηρέτην) or angel or ruler (ἄρχοντα). Justin interprets Ps 24:7, 9 [LXX] as addressed to the rulers appointed by God in the heavens (Dial. 36). To angels was committed the care of man and of all things under heaven, but they transgressed through the love of women (Apol. ii. 5, referring to Gn 6:1ff.). Angels, like men, have free will (Dial. 141).
Literature.—A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah9, London, 1897, i. 142, ii. 748 (Appendix, xiii.), etc.; H. St. J. Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, do. 1900; A. B. Davidson in HDB, art. ‘Angel’ (almost entirely for OT); W. Fairweather in HDB, vol. v., art. ‘Development of Doctrine in the Apocryphal Period,’ § iii.; J. T. Marshall in DCG, art. ‘Angels’; and the Commentaries, esp. H. B. Swete, Apocalypse of St. John, London, 1906; B. F. Westcott, Hebrews3, do. 1906; G. Milligan, Thessalonians, do. 1908; J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, do. 1900 (1st ed. 1875); A. Robertson and A Plummer, 1 Corinthians, Edinburgh, 1911.
HDB Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible (5 vols.).
DCG Dict. of Christ and the Gospels.
RVm Revised Version margin.
RV Revised Version.
q.v. quod vide, which see.
AV Authorized Version.
SDB Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible.
HE Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).
BJ Bellum Judaicum (Josephus).