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There are many kinds of myths, stories and dogmas regarding angels, but what does the Bible really say about them? This article takes a close look at that matter. It studies the root and origin of the words “angels” and “archangels” and how they are used in the Scriptures. It will also be considered whom the word “archangel” in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 9 actually refers to, and whether or not there are different kinds or “classes” or “types” of angels the way some have claimed.
When the writers of the books of the New Testament mentioned messengers – of God or of others – they used the old Greek noun angelos which simply means “messenger”. That is the root and origin of the English word “angel”.
Unfortunately, many bible-translators have not translated the word angelos (αγγελος) but have instead used that Greek noun, in the transcribed form “angel”. And, they have used “angel” even as a “translation” for the word malak in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. (Malak means “messenger”, just as angelos does.)
Again, the word “angel” comes from the old Greek noun angelos which means “messenger” or “message-bearer”. The related verb angellô means “to bear a message to someone”. The nouns angelia and angelma mean “report”, “message”, “tidings”, “news”. Euangelia = “good tidings”.
The noun archangelos in its turn simply means “chief messenger”. That word is discussed in more detail later in this article.
Again, the Hebrew noun malak and the Greek angelos mean “messenger”. In the Scriptures, those words refer to human messengers about as often as to God’s superhuman agents or messengers. Below, there are some examples of the use of the word angelos in the New Testament.
In the Greek text of Matthew 11:10, John the Baptist is called angelos. Then, Luke 7:19–24 records how John himself had sent messengers, Greek angelôn, verse 24, to ask Jesus a question. Luke 9:50–52 records how Jesus sent messengers, angelous, to some place. – Even the Devil has his messengers, angelois, Matthew 25:41.
(A side-note: It appears that John 5:4 where some Greek texts have the word angelos, is a spurious addition to the NT.)
Acts 12:15 records an event when the apostle Simon Peter had miraculously been freed from prison and was knocking on a door, but the disciples did not want to believe that it was Peter who was behind the door. Apparently they thought that it was instead a messenger (Greek angelos) who had been sent by Peter.
Acts 12:13 And Peter having knocked at the door of the porch, there came a damsel to hearken, by name Rhoda, 14 and having known the voice of Peter, from the joy she did not open the porch, but having run in, told of the standing of Peter before the porch, 15 and they said unto her, ‘Thou art mad;’ and she was confidently affirming it to be so, and they said, ‘It is his messenger’ [Greek angelos] (YLT, comment added)
This passage talks about Satan who pretended that he was a “messenger of light” (angelon phôtos):
2 Corinthians 11:14 and no wonder—for even the Adversary doth transform himself into a messenger of light (YLT)
But, of course, Satan is not that. The “light” that he and his servants and cronies have spread and do spread, is not light but darkness – deception, lies and wickedness.
A note: In the above-quoted 2 Corinthians 11:14, several bible-versions contain wordings which might cause the reader to think that Satan “transformed” himself in the meaning that he changed his outer appearance. But, it is obvious that the wording in the Greek text refers to pretence, deception. The article rda041.htm has some notes on 2 Corinthians 11:13–15, but in short: Satan pretended that he was a “messenger of light”. He deceived others and caused them to think that the lies (deception, darkness) that he came with, were “light” (“revelations”, “new truth”, or whatever).
Galatians 4:14 records how the apostle Paul noted that despite his physical problem (peirasmos, “trial”), certain people in Galatia had received him as a messenger of God (angelon Theou). And indeed, Paul was that, because he was an apostolos (old Greek for “one sent”, “messenger”) who had been sent by Jesus the son of God.
James 2:25 mentions Rahab who had received [into her house] the “messengers” (Greek angelous) – that is, the two men whom Joshua had sent as spies to the town Jericho (Joshua 2).
Sometimes, it is not clear whether human messengers or God’s heavenly messengers are meant or referred to. Examples: 1 Timothy 3:16 talks about Jesus as “seen by messengers” (angelois), but it is not clear whether this referred to human messengers such as the apostles, or someone else. 1 Timothy 5:21 contains a mention of “chosen messengers” (eklektôn angelôn) – even this could refer to the apostles, but it is not fully clear what Paul meant in that case.
In Revelation 1, 2 and 3, several verses mention angeloi, messengers; this obviously refers to men whom the apostle John sent as couriers. They carried the messages which Jesus had John write to disciples in seven towns in the Roman province that was called Asia.
And then, there are several NT passages where the Greek noun angelos refers to superhuman agents or messengers sent by God. Some example scriptures: Matthew 4:11, 13:41 and 28:2, Mark 8:38, Luke 1:11, Acts 12:7–8.
(This is regarding God’s superhuman agents or messengers.)
Indeed, do angels have absolute immortality so that they cannot die? Also: Can they “travel at the speed of thought”, as some have claimed?
Here, we must keep in mind that there are many kinds of sayings, myths and dogmas regarding angels, and that very often, those things have no basis in the Scriptures.
There is all reason to believe that angels who remain faithful to God, do not die but keep on living. But, this does not mean that angels cannot die. The article rda022.htm has more on this.
Some have claimed that angels can travel “at the speed of thought”. Or, that they can “walk through walls”. But, where does that “information” come from? Not from the Bible, at least. We simply do not know anything about the speed that angels can use when travelling. Nor do we know anything about their eventual ability to pass through solid physical objects.
By the way, do angels eat food? The psalmist Asaph used the expression “angels’ food”, Psalms 78:25. This referred to the manna, and was perhaps a poetic expression. But, we have Genesis 19:1–3 which records that Lot served bread to two angels, who then ate it. Genesis 18 contains a similar account; on that occasion, the Lord and two other persons (angels) visited Abraham, and they ate, see Genesis 18:8 with its context. So, we know that angels do eat, even earthly food. – There is also the matter of the tree of life (in Heaven). The article rda022.htm has some notes on that subject.
The word “archangel” occurs only twice in the Bible – in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 9. But, what and whom do those verses refer to, and really what is an “archangel”, and how many of them are there?
In the Greek text of those verses, the word in question is the noun archangelos which simply means “chief messenger”. Unfortunately, most English bible-versions use that Greek word, in the transcribed form “archangel”, instead of translating it. Some translate it though; here is an example of that:
1 Thessalonians 4:16 because the Lord himself, in a shout, in the voice of a chief-messenger, [a] and in the trump of God, shall come down from heaven […] (YLT, note sign added)
a The Greek text has archangelos which indeed means “chief messenger”.
And then – who is God’s chief messenger? Why, Jesus, of course. No one else is. (And no, that does not mean that Jesus the Son of God would be an “angel”, the way that word is understood today.)
A side-note: The chief messenger’s (Jesus’) trump which is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, has nothing to do with the trumpets of the seven angels or messengers who are mentioned in the book of Revelation. The article rta051.htm has more on this.
Another note: There are numerous stories about “archangels” and their names and so on, but for the most part those things are not biblical but come from other sources. Some have even claimed that Satan is or had been an “arch-angel”, but the Bible does not say that. There is no mention that he would have been an angel (a messenger of God).
Again: The word archangelos, “chief messenger”, is found only two times in the Greek text of the New Testament, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 9. In the case of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 which was quoted above, it is obvious that the word archangelos refers to Jesus as God’s chief messenger. When it comes to Jude 9, things are not quite as clear.
Jude 9 yet Michael, the chief messenger [Greek archangelos], when, with the devil contending, he was disputing about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring up an evil-speaking judgment, but said, ‘The Lord [b] rebuke thee!’ (YLT, comment and note sign added)
That refers to something that happened in Old Testament times, when Moses had died. Who was the chief messenger whom that verse mentions? Was he the person who later became a mortal man (Jesus), here acting as God’s chief messenger? Perhaps. That would explain why he was called Michaêl. Clarification: The word or name Michaêl in the Greek text of Jude 9 is said to be a transcribed form of the old Hebrew word miyka’el which is thought to mean “he who is like God”.
We know this: When Jesus the Son of God was here on Earth, he indeed acted as God’s chief messenger. Compare this with the fact that Jesus alone was God’s apostle. Simon, Andrew, John, Paul and the others were Jesus’ apostles (envoys/representatives).
b Apparently, some people have had problems with the identity of the Lord whom Jude 9 mentions. (Lord: The Greek text has Kurios.) They have thought that the word Lord/Kurios in that verse refers to the person who then was born as a mortal and became the Lord Jesus. But, that word was used even of others, including God the Father. For more on this, look under the heading “Kurios” on the page rkw351.htm.
(Again, the old Greek noun angelos means “messenger”.)
For all we know, God has only one chief messenger (archangelos): Jesus. [c] And also: The Bible does not contain any mention of “hierarchies” among the faithful angels of God. The talk about “ranks” or “hierarchies” among God’s angels, comes from Catholic or similar sources and not from the Bible. (A note: The word “hierarchy” is not found in the Bible, except for some less literal translations.)
c Some might say, “But Jesus is not an angel.” – It is unfortunate that many bible-translators have left the Greek noun archangelos untranslated, in the transcribed form “archangel”. This has led to confusion. No, Jesus is not an “angel”, but when he was here on Earth, he certainly acted as God’s chief messenger. (As was noted earlier, the word archangelos means “chief messenger”.)
Some have wondered, “How many kinds of angels are there?”
Many bible-versions have in a number of Old Testament passages such words as “cherub” and “seraph”. Many people have been caused to think that those words refer to angels. And so, they have thought that there are different “types” or “classes” of angels. But, a closer study of that matter shows that the keruwbim which are mentioned in the Hebrew text of certain OT passages, were flying creatures of some kind; the same goes for the saraphim of Isaiah 6:2 and 6. The articles rda012.htm and rda032.htm have some notes on the Hebrew word saraph (seraph). The first of them contains a study on the keruwbim, but there are some notes on that subject even here, under the next heading.
Various myths and “traditions”, and “religious art”, often portray angels as having wings, but those things are not biblical. In the Bible, God’s messengers (Hebrew malak, Greek angelos) are described as having the same form as humans. Often in white clothing. No wings or feathers.
Some might say, “But what about the cherubs?” Again, the article rda012.htm has more on the keruwbim, including the symbolic mention of a keruwb in Ezekiel 28, but here are some shorter notes on that matter.
(Keruwbim is the plural form of keruwb.)
The tabernacle (the portable sanctuary) was decorated with images of keruwbim, and so was the temple which was built in king Solomon’s day. 1 Kings 6:26 shows that the keruwb-statues in the innermost part of that temple, the “Holy of holies”, portrayed winged creatures that were 10 cubits tall – around 5 metres. Even 2 Chronicles 3:10–13 shows that those keruwbim were huge in size.
Then, let us consider Ezekiel’s vision, Ezekiel 9 and 10. The keruwbim of that vision were special, perhaps symbolic and not fully like the keruwbim which are described elsewhere in the Bible. But, let us note that in that vision, Ezekiel saw both a man clothed with linen (obviously an angel of God) as well as creatures that were called keruwbim. In that vision (Ezekiel 9 and 10), the Lord spoke, and so did the man clothed with linen (the angel), but the keruwbim did not speak. The latter were described as having wings, but the man clothed with linen was not.
Ezekiel 10:1 And I looked, and there in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim, there appeared something like a sapphire stone, having the appearance of the likeness of a throne. 2 Then He spoke to the man clothed with linen, and said, “Go in among the wheels, under the cherub, fill your hands with coals of fire from among the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” And he went in as I watched. (NKJV)
Please note that the man clothed with linen (the angel) went under the keruwb. This tells us something about the size of that being, in comparison to the angel.
Here, some might say, “that cherub had a hand, and it gave things to the man clothed with linen”. This with that “hand” is considered below, but first: Let us keep in mind that that was a vision. As we all know, things seen in visions are often symbolic and do not always have exact or literal counterparts in real life. – Regarding the matter of that keruwb having something similar to a hand – here is the passage in question:
Ezekiel 10:8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under [d] their wings. (NKJV, note sign added)
So, this shows that the keruwb of that vision had in connection with its wings something that looked like a hand. Not an arm, but something similar to a hand – a multi-digit grip-organ of some kind. With that grip-organ, the keruwb of that vision gave things to the man who was clothed with linen.
d In Ezekiel 10:8, where the NKJV has “under”, the Hebrew text has tachath. That word was used in such meanings as “the under part”, “beneath”, “instead”, “from”, and so on. That passage does not make it clear exactly how and where those hand-like grip-organs were connected to the wings.
Let us leave aside the apparently symbolic things which the prophet saw in that vision. Let us instead consider what the Scriptures tell us about literal keruwbim, and whether there have existed here on Earth some creatures that correspond to the biblical description of those beings.
The keruwbim – which were not angels – are in the Bible always described as winged creatures, huge in size. The (perhaps poetic) words of 2 Samuel 22:11 and Psalms 18:10 indicate that their size was so great that a person could have ridden on them while they flew. We have also 1 Kings 6:26 and 2 Chronicles 3:10–13 which record that the keruwb-statues in the temple were 10 cubits high (around 5 metres) and also that their wings were truly large.
In addition to that size-description, there is the mention regarding a hand-like grip-organ connected to the wing of the keruwb. Now, which known but today extinct winged creatures of that size had a “hand” attached to their wings? Well, some species of the pterosaurs were up to 9 metres in wingspan, and they had hand-like grip-organs connected to their wings. The article rda012.htm has more on this, and shows in more detail that the keruwbim were huge winged creatures, and not “angels”. The last part of that article has also some notes on the beings that were called saraphim in the vision which the prophet Isaiah saw, Isaiah 6.
And again: In the Bible, God’s superhuman messengers (“angels”, from the Greek word angelos which means “messenger”) are always described as having the same form as humans. Often in white clothing. No wings. And, there is no mention of different “classes” or “types” of God’s angels (messengers).
(Regarding Daniel 9:21 – did the angel Gabriel “fly”? Some translations have for some reason in that verse such wordings as “being caused to fly swiftly”, but the Hebrew text appears to talk about [Daniel] being weary. “Gabriel, the man I had seen in the first vision, came to me in my extreme weariness”, Daniel 9:21, HCSB.)
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. Please also link to this site. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm
On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm
What does the Bible say about Satan the Devil? A study on what the Scriptures tell us about mankind’s arch-enemy. → rda041.htm
Do angels have absolute immortality, so that they cannot die? → rda022.htm
On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets that are mentioned in the Bible – trumps of God, and those of the seven angels. Also: What did the apostle Paul mean and refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump or blast? → rta051.htm
The cherubs or keruwbim, what did they look like? → rda012.htm
On the “dragons”, “satyrs”, “unicorns”, “flying serpents” and other odd creatures that appear in some bible-versions. → rda032.htm
Some notes on the ancient Greek word theos, including its eventual origin and meaning. → roa152.htm
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