Angels In General

Meaning and use of the term.

The word "angel" is usually a translation of the Hebrew word malak in the Old Testament, and its equivalent Greek word in the New Testament is always aggelos (pronounced anggels) – both meaning messenger or agent. But three other Old Testament words are rendered "angel" one time each in the King James Version. Also, the rendering of aggelos as "angel" in the first three chapters of Revelation in the New Testament is questioned by some. The latter two matters will be noted first

a. Exceptional Old Testament Renderings.

(1) In Psalm 78:25, King James Version, the Hebrew abbir, meaning mighty, is translated "angels’": "Man did eat 'angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full." The American Standard Version renders it literally, "Man did eat the bread of the mighty: he sent them food to the full." But the LXX (earliest Greek translation, about 250 B. C.) and most commentators understand "angels" to be meant, which accounts for the interpretive rendering.

(2) In Psalm 8:5, King James Version, the Hebrew elohim, plural of el, mighty one (used of God over 2,000 times; gods 240 times; judges, 5 times), is rendered "angels." The American Standard Version renders it: "For thou hast made him but a little lower than God" (but with [Or, the angels] and [Heb. Elohim] in the margin). Again, "angels" was an interpretative rendering in the LXX, and is likewise employed in the New Testament quotation of it (in Hebrews 2:7).

NOTE: The five times elohim is rendered "judges" in the King James Version are in Exodus 21:6; 22:8;9,9,28. The American Standard Version has it "God" in each instance, but with "Or, the judges" in the margin. Young’s Analytical Concordance in giving the meaning of elohim in connection with these verses, has "Gods, those representing God." And indirectly Jesus recognized such use of elohim on occasion – that is, to refer to others of eminence representing God, as we shall now notice.

In John 10:34-36 he quoted the use of elohim as "gods" in Psalm 82;6, as follows "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came (and the scripture cannot be broken), say ye of him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, thou blastphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?"

It needs to be noted that Psalm 82:6, in saying of men, "I said ye are gods. And all of you sons of the Most High," was referring to vs.1-2 of the chapter, which reads as follows: God [elohim] standeth in the congregation of God [el]; He judgeth among the gods [elohim]. How long will ye [‘the gods’] judge unjustly. And respect the persons of the wicked?" That means that the ones he called "gods" (elohim), also called "sons" of the Most High, and to whom Jesus said "the word of God came," were men who served as judges.

This we have noted in order to show that the interpretive rendering of elohim as "judges" does not misrepresent its meaning in the texts under consideration. It also suggest the possibility of a similar rationale for the interpretive rendering of elohim in Psalm 8:5 as "angels" by the LXX and by New Testament quotation of it in Hebrews 2:7. For good angels as well as good men are sometimes call "sons of God," as will later be seen.

(3) In Psalm 68:17, King James Version, the Hebrew shinan, meaning repetition, is interpretively rendered "angels": "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place." The American Standard Version renders it: "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands upon thousands: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the sanctuary." In the original, it is literally "twenty thousand thousands of repetitions" – that is, repetitions of that number of chariots. But all those thousands of "chariots" are hardly to be expected to be empty, and so may be thought of as occupied by as many "angels," who were involved somehow in the giving of the law of Moses at Sinai (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).

b. New Testament Exegetical Problem.

In the Book of Revelation, most English translations render the 76 occurrences of the Greek word aggelos uniformly as "angel." But it occurs eight times (in 1:20;2:1,8,12,18: 3:1,7,14) in reference to the seven churches of Asia, Where there is a problem of deciding whether it should be rendered "angel," or "messenger."

Some versions give recognition of this by placing "angel" in the text, but "Or, messenger" as a marginal note. Such is true of the New International Version (1978) and the New King James Version (1983). Others place "messenger" in the text without any alternate reading, as The Living Oracles (1826), Rotherham (1897), and Williams (1937).

Goodspeed (193) has "guardian angels" in 1:20, but simply "angel" in the remaining seven passages, yet each understood from 1:20 to be a guardian angel. The American Bible (1976) has "presiding spirits," with a note saying: "literally angels. Angels were thought to be in charge of the physical world (Rev.7:1; 16:5), as well as communities (the seven churches), and individuals (Matthew18:12; Acts 12:15)." The Jerusalem Bible (1966) has a similar note, ending thus: "Each church is here thought of as under the control of an angel appointed to be responsible for it."

COMMENT: Whether these are to be understood as (a) guardian angels of the respective congregations, or (b) "the readers" in said congregations (1:3). Or (c) symbols of their respective leaderships, or (d) personifications of the respective churches themselves, as some believe, is controversial. But careful reading of all the letters addressed to the "angels" (or "messengers"), makes it evident that the membership of all the churches are indeed addressed – which would seem to eliminate the probability of (a), the likelihood of (b), and maybe but not certainly (c), with (d) not ruled out as a possibility, especially if (c) is not what is meant.

In the final analysis, however, (a) each congregational member is responsible for his own compliance, but surely (b) the leadership of each congregation is responsible for its membership’s opportunity for publicly hearing the message addressed to it and encouraging a favorable response to it – and likewise for hearing the messages addressed to the other churches as well (see 1:11;2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).

c. Predominant Usage in Old and New Testaments.

(1) In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word predominately translated "angel" is malak (111 times), when it refers to a heavenly messenger or agent. When referring to a human personage, it is rendered "ambassador" (4 times, 2 Chronicles 35:21; Isaiah 30:3; 33:7; Ezekiel 15:15) or messenger" (98 times).

(2) In the New Testament, the only Greek word translated "angel" is aggelos (181 times), when thought by the translators to refer to a heavenly agent, which is its predominant usage. Aside from the eight controversial instances in Revelation 1-3, only seven other times (in Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24-27; 9:52; 2 Corinthians 12:7; James 2:25), is it translated otherwise – namely, as "messenger" – in all of which it definitely refers to human agency unless 2 Corinthians 12:7 is an exception – which speaks of "a messenger of Satan to buffet" the apostle Paul, called by him "a thorn in the flesh," but not further described.

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