104:4 "Who maketh his angels spirits, His ministers
a flame of fire" -- with "servants" as an alternate reading
for "angels" (New King James Version).
"Who maketh winds his messengers; Flames of
fire his minister" -- with "his angels winds" as a
alternate reading for "winds his messengers" (American
Hebrews 1:7: "And of
the angels He says: ‘Who makes his angels spirits And His
ministers a flame of fire" (New King James Version).
"And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his
angels winds, And his minister a flame of fire" (American
Paraphrases and/or Commentaries:
James Macknight, The Apostolical
Epistles: "Who made His angels spiritual substances,
and his ministers a flame of fire; -- that is, the greatest
thing said of angels is, that they are beings not clogged
with flesh, who serve God with utmost activity."
Neil R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today:
"But another rendering of the Hebrew [of Psalm 1:4:4 in the
American Standard Version] is possible which, instead of
making winds His messengers makes His messengers (or
angles) winds. This is the translation of the Septuagint,
which is followed by the author [of Hebrews], showing that
God is able to do with angels whatever he desires. He can
change them into winds or into flames of fire. Angels, at
their highest, are mere servants. They have no will or rule
of their own.* They do not give orders, they obey
* They have no will of their own except either to obey
or disobey God, as is true of Christians. But they can sin,
and some have (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). -- C.N.W.
Bible Commentary: "Quotation: Psa.104:4. Originally
a statement about God: ‘He who makes winds his angels [i.e.
messengers], and the fiery flames his servants [ministers]'
(C.T.). Our writer inverts the meaning -- perhaps following
the writer of 2 Esdras 8:22, who does the same -- so that
it means that the angels do God's tasks in the world of
nature. They are God's servants."
Testament Commentaries: "The translation of the
Hebrew [of Psalm 104:4] could be ‘God makes winds His
messengers, and flames of fire His servants.' The LXX,
which is followed by the author has ‘He makes His angels
winds, and His servants a flame of fire.' . . . Some have
suggested that God often clothes the angels ‘with the
changing garment of phenomena,' transforming them, as it
were, into winds and flames. It is better to take
God's messengers clothed with God's powers to accomplish
His will in the realm of nature. To achieve this they are
allowed to cooperate with the storm winds and flames of
fire as they did on Mt. Sinai. But, however important their
service, and however perfect its performance, they are
still the messengers and servants of God. The Son, on the
contrary, is addressed by the Father not as a messenger but
as God, who occupies and eternal throne, and as Sovereign,
who rules his kingdom with righteousness."
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New
Testament: "Luneman holds that the Hebrew here is
wrongly rendered and means that God makes the winds his
messengers (not angels) and flaming fire his servants. That
is all true [that he does such], but that is not the point
of this passage. Preachers also are sometimes like a wind
storm or a fire."
NOTE: In the figure of speech called metaphor, the
comparison is not stated by "as" or "like," but as reality,
as in the poet's statement, "My love is a red, red rose,"
or in Hebrews 12:29, "Our God is a consuming fire." In
effect, Robertson is representing Hebrews 1:7 as a
Preacher's Homiletic Commentary: "The force of the
passage lies in the vividness with which it presents the
thought of the Most High served by angels who ‘at his
bidding speed,' untiring as the wind, subtle as the fire."
(In effect, another representation of the passage as
Greek Testament: "The writer [of Hebrews] accepts
the LXX translation [of Psalm 104:4] and it serves his
purpose of exhibiting that the characteristic function of
angels is service, and that their form and appearance
depend on the will of God. This was the current Jewish
R. Milligan, Epistle to the Hebrews:
"But what is the meaning of the word pneumata in the first
clause? Does it mean spirits, as in our Common Version
[King James Version], or does it mean winds, as some have
alleged? This must be determined by the scope of the
passage, which evidently is, not to degrade, but to exalt
the angels as far as possible, with the view of exalting
the Son still higher by comparison."
"To say, then, that God makes his angels as strong
as the irresistible winds and tempests, would harmonize
very well with the Apostle's design; and also with the
scope and construction of the next clause in which God's
ministers are compared, not merely with fire, but with a
flame of fire. [This would be to understand the passage
metaphorically. – C.N.W.] But in this case, though the word
might have been used in the Hebrew [and was], it most
likely would have been rendered by the Greek anemos, as in
Ex.x.13,19;xiv.21, etc., and not by pneuma, the current
meaning of which in both classic and sacred literature, is
Seldom, if ever, does it denote a violent wind or tempest,
unless when used figuratively, as in Ex.15.8,10, for the
breath of Jehovah.
"Much more, then, in harmony with the context and
general usage is the word spirit as given in our
English Version. Throughout the entire Bible, the word
often stands in antithesis with the word flesh; the latter being
used symbolically for whatever is weak, frail, depraved,
and corruptible; and the former, in like manner, for what
is strong, pure, and incorruptible. . . . . In no other,
way, therefore, could our author effectually exalt the
angels in the estimation of his Hebrew brethren than by
calling them spirits; that is,
beings ‘who excel in strength,' and who are wholly removed
from all the weaknesses, impurities, and imperfections of
"This, too, corresponds well with the history of
these pure celestial intelligences, so far as it is given
in the Holy Scriptures. They have always served as God's
ministers (leitourgoi), before whom
the enemies of Jehovah have often melted away as wax or
stubble before a flame of fire. This is abundantly proved
and illustrated by the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah
(Gen. Xix.1-26); the destruction of the firstborn of the
Egyptians (Ex.xii,29,30); the punishment of the Israelites
under David (2 Sam.xxiv.15-17); the discomfiture of the
hosts of Benhadad King of Syria (2 Kings vi.8-23); and the
overthrow of the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings xix.35)."
The reader can see that Hebrews 1:7 presents a
problem of translation. It is represented in the
differences between the texts of the New King James Version
(as well as the old KJV) and the American Standard Version,
and by alternate readings in their margins. It chiefly has
to do, however, with whether pneumata is to be
translated "spirits" or "winds".
If translated "winds," then both "winds" and "fire"
are most likely to be understood metaphorically, as per a
goodly number of commentators. If translated "spirits," as
by the King James Versions, "fire" is still most likely to
be understood metaphorically.
Macknight and Milligan are in agreement, and both
are in harmony with the King James and New King James
textual rendering. But Milligan takes pains to argue at
length in support of that rendition, and makes what to this
writer is a convincing case.
That accounts for the wording of II, I, (c) in his
outline of Hebrews as follows: "God makes his angels
spirits (not flesh), and his ministers (the angels) a flame
of fire (possibly in a sense that God is a consuming fire,
12:29)" -- that is, metaphorically.