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The Word "Angel"

This bible study is about the various ways in which the word "angel" is used in the Bible.  It is not about angels, and it is not about God Himself.  This is a bible study about the word "angel."  This bible study does not discuss doctrine per se.  Rather, this bible study is presented in order to teach how to understand certain types of phrases as they appear in the Bible.

In the event that the topic of this bible study was missed by the reader, it should be pointed out again that this bible study is more linguistic than it is theological.  That this bible study is not about God Himself, nor is it about angels per se.  This bible study is about the word "angel," and about the various ways in which the word "angel" is used.

1. "Angel," meaning a heavenly servant of God

For a long time in the West, the word "angel" has typically been understood to refer to a being in Heaven who is a servant of God, but who is not God Himself.  Our understanding of the word "angel" is highly colored by the events that took place surrounding the birth of John the Baptist:

LUKE 1:11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
LUKE 1:12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
LUKE 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
LUKE 1:14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
LUKE 1:15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
LUKE 1:16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
LUKE 1:17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
LUKE 1:18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
LUKE 1:19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

This angel identified himself as "Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God," and not as God Himself.  This passage of scripture satisfactorily demonstrates the word "angel" meaning a being in heaven other than God, that brings messages from God.

2. "Angel," in the Original Greek and Hebrew

It just so happens that the original Greek and Hebrew words for "angel" is defined by Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Complete and Unabridged, Compact Edition, by James H. Strong, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, concordance pp. 64-65, Hebrew lexicon p. 66, Greek lexicon p. 7, as:

32 αγγελος aggelos; from αγγελλω aggello [probably derived from 71; comp. 34] (to bring tidings); a messenger; esp. an "angel"; by implication, a pastor.  The Greek word "aggelos" has been translated into our English bibles as "angel," and "messenger."

or, from the Old Testament,

4397 mal'Ôk; from an unused root mean. to despatch as a deputy; a messenger; spec. of God, i.e., an angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher).  The Hebrew word "malak" has been translated into our English bibles as "ambassador," "angel," "king," and "messenger."

Beyond these definitions, it is otherwise a simple matter to prove that "malak" and "aggelos" are indeed equivalent to one another.  Consider how "malak" is used in the original Hebrew statement:

MALACHI 3:1 Behold, I will send my messenger (malak), and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger (malak) of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.

...and compare that with how the word "aggelos" is used in the Greek retelling of this scripture:

MARK 1:2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger (aggelos) before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

On this basis, and in addition to the very definitions of the two words themselves, it is plain that the Hebrew word "malak" and the Greek word "aggelos" are equivalent words.

Previously, we have seen that the word "angel" is used to refer to a messenger from Heaven who is merely a servant of God—but who is not God Himself.  But as we have just seen in Mark 1:2, the word "messenger" ("aggelos" in the original Greek) refers directly to John the Baptist.  Therefore, the examples shown above suggest that the original words, "malak" and "aggelos," are used in other ways as well.  (John was from Judaea—not Heaven).

3. "Angel," meaning a human messenger

In the definitions above, we have seen that both the original Hebrew and Greek words, "malak" and "aggelos," have been translated into English as "messenger," in addition to "angel."  One application of this idea of "messenger" or "ambassador" can be found in the New Testament where the word "angel" is used:

ACTS 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
ACTS 6:9 ¶ Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
ACTS 6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
ACTS 6:11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
ACTS 6:12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,
ACTS 6:13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:
ACTS 6:14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
ACTS 6:15 And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
ACTS 7:1 Then said the high priest, Are these things so?

Stephen, quite obviously, is of human origin.  At this instance, the word "angel" does not refer to a heavenly being.  Here, the word "angel" means "messenger." ...and they "saw his face as it had been the face of [a messenger]."  The word "angel" can—I repeat, can—be used to refer to a messenger of either heavenly origin (as at Luke 1:11, 19) or of human origin, as in the case of Stephen above (or of John the Baptist in section 2).

4. "Angel," referring to visible manifestations of God

The word "angel," however, can also be used to refer to visible manifestations of God.  Consider the well-known incident where God spoke to Moses while in the form of the burning bush:

EXODUS 3:1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
EXODUS 3:2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
EXODUS 3:3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
EXODUS 3:4 And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
EXODUS 3:5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
EXODUS 3:6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

Verse 2 plainly says that "the angel of the LORD" appeared to Moses.  At verse 6, this "angel of the LORD" identified Himself as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."  Moses hid his face, because "he was afraid to look upon God."  Here, the word "angel" refers to a visible manifestation of God.

4.1 Ordained by "angels"

Likewise, there is also an instance in the New Testament in which the word "angels" is used to refer to visible manifestations of God.

GALATIANS 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law?  It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

Here, the word "angels" is used in a statement referring to the giving of the Law of Moses at Mt. Sinai.  The original account of this reads as follows:

EXODUS 19:16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
EXODUS 19:17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
EXODUS 19:18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
EXODUS 19:19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
EXODUS 19:20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.
EXODUS 19:21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.
EXODUS 19:22 And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.
EXODUS 19:23 And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.
EXODUS 19:24 And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them.
EXODUS 19:25 So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.
EXODUS 20:1 And God spake all these words, saying,
EXODUS 20:2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
EXODUS 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

At this point, God continued to give the rest of the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments continue until Exodus 20:17, at which point the narrative continues, saying,

EXODUS 20:18 ¶ And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
EXODUS 20:19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
EXODUS 20:20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
EXODUS 20:21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

In a different bible study, the point was made that God appeared before the Children of Israel in the form of "thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount," even as Exodus 19:20 says, that "the LORD came down upon mount Sinai."

Many years later, the apostle Paul referred to this episode in his letter to the Galatians, saying that the Law was "ordained by angels" in the hand of a mediator:

GALATIANS 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law?  It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

God called Moses up to the mount, whereas the rest of the people were forbidden to do so (per Exodus 19:20,21-24).  Moses acted as a "go-between" between God and the Children of Israel, for the people were afraid to speak to God directly (Exodus 20:19, 21).  Therefore, Moses was the "mediator" that Paul wrote of.

The Law of Moses was ordained by God, but Paul wrote that the Law [of Moses] was ordained by "angels."  The "angels" that Paul wrote of were the "thunders and lightnings," and the "thick cloud" that was atop mount Sinai.  That is the form in which God was manifest to the Children of Israel on that day.  Here therefore, at Galatians 3:19, the word "angels" refers to visible manifestations of God.

5. "Angel" as a direct reference to God Himself

Even though the word "angel" actually means something like "messenger," and even though the word "angel" can refer to visible manifestations of God, the fact is that the word "angel" has been used in the Bible to refer to God Himself.  The patriarch Jacob (here, called "Israel") plainly called God "the angel" when he said:

GENESIS 48:15 ¶ And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,
GENESIS 48:16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

Israel (Jacob) called Him, "God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk" (in other words, The God of Abraham and of Isaac).  But Jacob also called God "the Angel that redeemed me" at Genesis 48:15-16.  At no point in the Bible was Jacob rebuked or even corrected for having referred to God in this fashion.

Do you find this surprising?

This should not be taken to mean that God is anything less than both the Creator and King of the Universe.  Remember, God is not the subject of discussion in this bible study.  The word "angel" is the topic of this bible study.  This bible study is more linguistic than it is theological—it is about the various ways in which the word "angel" is used in the holy scriptures.

6. "Angels" Referring to the Types and Shadows of the Law

The apostle Paul wrote:

COLOSSIANS 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
COLOSSIANS 2:17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
COLOSSIANS 2:18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Worshipping of angels?  That statement would be spurious, if it actually meant worshipping the servants of (or rebels against) God.  Throughout the Old Testament, there is an ongoing theme that we are not to worship other gods, but Paul used the words "worshipping of angels," not "worshipping of other gods."  Elsewhere in the New Testament, the apostles taught repeatedly that we are not justified by the works of the Law of Moses.  This is a recurring theme that runs throughout the New Testament, and this is the theme that is being revisited at this scripture.

We have seen in section 2 that the word for "angel" (or "angels") means a "messenger."  It just so happens that the word "angels" (aggelos) has, in parts of the New Testament, been abstracted to the point where it means something like "that which conveys a message."  This is how the word "angels" is used at Colossians 2:18.

Consider the context in which this scripture was written:

COLOSSIANS 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Colossians 2:16 speaks about things from the Law of Moses, which, per Acts 15:21, was read by the churches every sabbath day:

In this context, Paul then continued in the next verse:

COLOSSIANS 2:17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Each of the ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses has a hidden meaning.  That is, they carry a message that is not obvious.  The Passover for example (Exodus 12), a "holyday," foreshadows the Cross of Christ (Christ is called "our passover" at 1 Corinthians 5:7).  Other events of the Law are types and "shadows" of the Kingdom of Heaven which is yet to come.

The Greek word for "angel" means "messenger."  Since the ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses contain hidden messages, (much as Christ's spoken parables did), they have been referred to by Paul as "angels" in the very next verse:

COLOSSIANS 2:18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Here, the word "angels" means something like "those things of the Law which convey a hidden message," or, "those things of the Law which have a deeper meaning."  The "worshipping of angels" mentioned at Colossians 2:18 refers to an overemphasis of those ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses (as though man might be justified by these works of the Law).  Salvation is not derived from these "types and shadows" from the Law—they are prophetic.

There is another example in the New Testament in which the word "angels" (aggelos) has been abstracted so as to mean something like "that which conveys a hidden message":

1 CORINTHIANS 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
1 CORINTHIANS 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

...that is, "because of the message that is conveyed," or, "because of what it represents."

Note: Long hair means something like "submission," or "subordination," or perhaps "consecration." The rules for a Nazarite vow, for instance, are given at Numbers 6:1-21.  During the time of the vow, such a man is not allowed to cut his hair (he must let his hair grow long).  Upon completion of his vow, his hair is to be completely shaved, and offered as part of a wave offering, for a testimony.

Recall the Sampson the Judge (Judges 13-16).  He became a Nazarite while still in his mother's womb.  While his hair was long, he was strong—immensely strong.  When his hair was cut, he was "weak...like any other man."  Sampson did not have magical hair: his hair was a token of his vow (or consecration).  When Sampson's hair grew back after being cut (Judges 16:17-22, Numbers 6:5,11-12), he became strong again, and smote many Philistines.

Consider the context of 1Corinthians 11:3-10 above, and the context in which the woman's hair is to be long.  Verse 3 says that Christ is the servant of God, each man is the servant of Christ, and the woman is the servant of the man.  From verses 9 and 10: "Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman [was created] for the man.  For this [reason] ought the woman to have power on her head [because of what that represents]," i.e., "because of the angels."

7. The "Angels" of Children

In section 4 of this bible study, it has been shown that the word "angel" can be used to refer to visible manifestations of God here on the earth.  Apparently, the reverse is true also: the word "angel" can refer to visible manifestations or representations of man up in heaven as well.  In speaking of children, Jesus Christ said:

MATTHEW 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
MATTHEW 18:11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

The "angels" that He was referring to is the angels "of these little ones," i.e., of children.

I should probably not say much more about the word "angels" in Matthew 18:10.  After all, I am presently in this world, and not in heaven, lest I should likewise intrude into those things which I myself have not seen (cf. Colossians 2:18).

8. Summary

This bible study has been about the word "angel," and the various ways in which that word is used in the Bible.  It was not about angels however, and strictly speaking, it was not about God Himself.

This bible study did not discuss doctrine per se.  Rather, this bible study has been presented in order to teach how to understand certain types of phrases as they appear in the Bible.  It was intended to be more linguistic than it is theological.


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