There are few aspects of Christianity which are more misunderstood than angels because there is so much cultural, mythological, and superstitious baggage attached to the topic. The Greek word translated "angel" is anggelos and means "messenger" or "delegate". So, technically, an angel could be any person with a message. The Hebrew word mal-ak' has a similar meaning. However, in most cases, Biblical mentions of angels generically refer to a non-human heavenly being. Collectively they are called "the heavenly hosts". Although we may refer to any such being as an angel, not all those mentioned in scripture appear to be messengers or ambassadors of God. And there are different types of angels mentioned: seraphim, cherubim, and arch-angels. A couple important ones are mentioned by name1. And, as discussed in the previous article, some angels rebelled against God - the Bible refers to these as "demons", "devils", or "unclean spirits". I will make the same distinction and not refer to demons as angels henceforth. Other unnamed spiritual beings are described in various passages and I'm convinced that there is a lot that we don't know, but I believe that one of the reasons that more detail isn't given in scripture is because God doesn't want us majoring in minor things. I am aware of some people who become unhealthily interested in angels when our focus ought to be on Jesus. But as I survey the various "players" in the whole celestial drama in these articles, I would be remiss not to briefly cover this topic.

There are some people who derive some of their theology about angels and demons from extra-Biblical sources such as the book of Enoch. However, that ancient Jewish writing has always been considered as myth by the Jews and also the early church. Perhaps there is some correlation between that writing and reality, but it is myth nonetheless. Paul explicitly instructs Titus to tell the churches in Crete to pay no attention to Jewish myths.2 So we will not say anything further about that ancient writing.

God operates indirectly most of the time. The angels act in the place of God in many cases - not just as messengers, but also as helpers3 and deliverers of punishment4. In fact, in some places it has unclear whether it is an angel or God acting. But it doesn't really make any difference. If an angel is doing something as a personal representative of God at His behest, it is a distinction without any value. And if an angel is interacting with our world, it is at the behest of God.

Now, let's dispense with some of the modern concepts which have no scriptural support. First is the idea that people become angels when they go to heaven. A distinction is made between people and angels. Paul tells us that we will judge angels5. Also angels look at humans as a mystery6 - we carry the image of God7 whereas they do not. I think part of the origin of this idea is that Jesus said "When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven."8 But the context was about marriage. So, what He was saying was that in the life to come, we will not marry any more than angels marry. There may very well be some other ways in which we will be like angels, but it is one thing to be like and angel, and quite another to be an angel.

Another wrong concept about angels has to do with their appearance. I blame this on Hollywood and medieval paintings, which often are no better matches for reality than the cover drawings of many novels I've read - one has to wonder if the artist even read the source material (in this case, the Bible). Angels inhabit a larger spiritual world than we can apprehend. Therefore, I believe that the descriptions given don't always describe an actual physical object (like a tree) but rather they are the mind's attempt to render a spiritual impression of a reality larger than our own. Perhaps an angel covered all over with eyes is how a human mind would perceive a being that had perceptions beyond that of mere humans. But whether that is true or not, the fact is that the Bible never describes angels as a cute little cherubs. In fact, that seems to me to be an insult to their inherent dignity. Their appearance is often frightening or startling and they are constantly having to tell us humans not to be afraid when they appear to us.9

Angels occupy a spiritual dimension that is beyond our limited ability to perceive merely with our senses. It wouldn't surprise me if they could appear to us in whatever guise is appropriate for the occasion. By this, I do not mean to imply that angels are not real or physical - they are not some holographic projection from another dimension. In fact, I believe that they are more physical than we are. So, while I can believe that they could appear as chubby naked children with wings, there is no scriptural description of them appearing that way. Nor are they ever described as women - as far as I can tell, they are sexless. Nor are they described as having halos. Sometimes they are described as having wings, sometimes not. Sometimes they are described as strange-looking creatures, sometimes like they were simply normal men. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that some people have entertained angels without even being aware of it.10. I suspect this is partly to prevent us from obsessing about them, or chasing after titillating experiences, rather than walking in the Spirit with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.

Third, some pop depictions of angels are of creatures that operate autonomously with little oversight from God. I think this is due to a Deist perspective, which I'll discuss in a future article. But in the Bible, it is clear that angels operate at the command of God to do specific things. Not even demons operate contrary to His express will. God is sovereign, angels are not. Nor are angels supernatural. Only God is supernatural (outside of, or above, nature). Angels are part of His creation and therefore are subject to its constraints (or natural laws). Granted, they are powerful and can do things that violate our comprehension of natural laws - but this is simply because they inhabit a larger reality than we do. They are still subject to the laws that God set in place in His creation. That includes being subject to time, whereas God is eternal and, therefore, outside of time.

Finally, angels are not to be worshipped. This is a form of idolatry. There were religious sects derived from Judaism in the Roman empire where angel worship was practiced, and Paul warned the Colossians about this.11 Only God is to be worshipped.12

1 Luke 1:19, Jude 1:9, etc.
2 Titus 1:14
3 Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13
4 II Kings 19:35, Acts 12:23, etc.
5 I Corinthians 6:3
6 I Peter 1:12
7 Genesis 1:27
8 Mark 12:25
9 Luke 1:30, etc.
10 Hebrews 13:2
11 Colossians 2:18
12 Luke 4:8