In the Priestly Code, c. 400 B.C., there is no reference to angels apart from the possible suggestion in the ambiguous plural in Genesis i. 26.

During the Persian and Greek periods the doctrine of angels underwent a great development, partly, at any rate, under foreign influences. In Daniel, c. 160 B.C., angels, usually spoken of as "men" or "princes," appear as guardians or champions of the nations; grades are implied, there are "princes" and "chief" or "great princes"; and the names of some angels are known, Gabriel, Michael; the latter is pre-eminent,[26] he is the guardian of Judah. Again in Tobit a leading part is played by Raphael, "one of the seven holy angels."[27]

In Tobit, too, we find the idea of the demon or evil angel. In the canonical Old Testament angels may inflict suffering as ministers of God, and Satan may act as accuser or tempter; but they appear as subordinate to God, fulfilling His will; and not as morally evil. The statement[28] that God "charged His angels with folly" applies to all angels. In Daniel the princes or guardian angels of the heathen nations oppose Michael the guardian angel of Judah. But in Tobit we find Asmodaeus the evil demon, τὸ πονηρὸν δαιμόνιον, who strangles Sarah's husbands, and also a general reference to "a devil or evil spirit," πνεῦμα.[29] The Fall of the Angels is not properly a scriptural doctrine, though it is based on Gen. vi. 2, as interpreted by the Book of Enoch. It is true that the bnē Elohim of that chapter are subordinate superhuman beings (cf. above), but they belong to a different order of thought from the angels of Judaism and of Christian doctrine; and the passage in no way suggests that the bne Elohim suffered any loss of status through their act.

The guardian angels of the nations in Daniel probably represent the gods of the heathen, and we have there the first step of the process by which these gods became evil angels, an idea expanded by Milton in Paradise Lost. The development of the doctrine of an organized hierarchy of angels belongs to the Jewish literature of the period 200 B.C. to A.D. 100. In Jewish apocalypses especially, the imagination ran riot on the rank, classes and names of angels; and such works as the various books of Enoch and the Ascension of Isaiah supply much information on this subject.

In the New Testament angels appear frequently as the ministers of God and the agents of revelation;[30] and Our Lord speaks of angels as fulfilling such functions,[31] implying in one saying that they neither marry nor are given in marriage.[32] Naturally angels are most prominent in the Apocalypse. The New Testament takes little interest in the idea of the angelic hierarchy, but there are traces of the doctrine. The distinction of good and bad angels is recognized; we have names, Gabriel,[33] and the evil angels Abaddon or Apollyon,[34] Beelzebub.[35] and Satan;[36] ranks are implied, archangels,[37] principalities and powers,[38] thrones and dominions.[39] Angels occur in groups of four or seven.[40] In Rev. i.-iii. we meet with the "Angels" of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. These are probably guardian angels, standing to the churches in the same relation that the "princes" in Daniel stand to the nations; practically the "angels" are personifications of the churches. A less likely view is that the "angels" are the human representatives of the churches, the bishops or chief presbyters.

There seems, however, no parallel to such a use of "angel," and it is doubtful whether the monarchical government of churches was fully developed when the Apocalypse was written.

Later Jewish and Christian speculation followed on the lines of the angelology of the earlier apocalypses; and angels play an important part in Gnostic systems and in the Jewish Midrashim and the Kabbala. Religious thought about the angels during the middle ages was much influenced by the theory of the angelic hierarchy set forth in the De Hierarchia Celesti, written in the 5th century in the name of Dionysius the Areopagite and passing for his. The creeds and confessions do not formulate any authoritative doctrine of angels; and modern rationalism has tended to deny the existence of such beings, or to regard the subject as one on which we can have no certain knowledge. The principle of continuity, however, seems to require the existence of beings intermediate between man and God.

The Old Testament says nothing about the origin of angels; but the Book of Jubilees and the Slavonic Enoch describe their creation; and, according to Col. i. 16, the angels were created in, unto and through Christ.

Nor does the Bible give any formal account of the nature of angels. It is doubtful how far Ezekiel's account of the cherubim and Isaiah's account of the seraphim are to be taken as descriptions of actual beings; they are probably figurative, or else subjective visions. Angels are constantly spoken of as "men," and, including even the Angel of Yahweh, are spoken of as discharging the various functions of human life; they eat and drink,[41] walk[42] and speak.[43] Putting aside the cherubim and seraphim, they are not spoken of as having wings. On the other hand they appear and vanish,[44] exercise miraculous powers,[45] and fly.[46] Seeing that the anthropomorphic language used of the angels is similar to that used of God, the Scriptures would hardly seem to require a literal interpretation in either case. A special association is found, both in the Bible and elsewhere, between the angels and the heavenly bodies,[47] and the elements or elemental forces, fire, water, etc.[48] The angels are infinitely numerous.[49]

The function of the angels is that of the supernatural servants of God. His agents and representatives; the Angel of Yahweh, as we have seen, is a manifestation of God. In old times, the bne Elohim and the seraphim are His court, and the angels are alike the court and the army of God; the cherubim are his throne-bearers. In his dealings with men, the angels, as their name implies, are specially His messengers, declaring His will and executing His commissions. Through them he controls nature and man. They are the guardian angels of the nations; and we also find the idea that individuals have guardian angels.[50]. Later Jewish tradition held that the Law was given by angels.[51] According to the Gnostic Basilides, the world was created by angels. Mahommedanism has taken over and further elaborated the Jewish and Christian ideas as to angels.

While the scriptural statements imply a belief in the existence of spiritual beings intermediate between God and men, it is probable that many of the details may be regarded merely as symbolic imagery. In Scripture the function of the angel overshadows his personality; the stress is on their ministry; they appear in order to perform specific acts.


See the sections on "Angels" in the handbooks of O. T. Theology by Ewald, Schultz, Smend, Kayser-Marti, etc.; and of N. T. Theology by Weiss, and in van Oosterzee's Dogmatics. Also commentaries on special passages, especially Driver and Bevan on Daniel, and G. A. Smith, Minor Prophets, ii. 310 ff.; and articles s.v. "Angel" in Hastings' Bible Dictionary, and the Encyclopaedia Biblica.

(W. H. Be.)

[1] E.g. Gen. vi. 2; Job i. 6; Ps. viii. 5, xxix. I.

[2] Zech. xiv. 5.

[3] Dan. iv. 13.

[4] Deut. xvii. 3 (?).

[5] Josh. v. 14 (?).

[6] The identification of the "hosts" with the stars comes to the same thing; the stars were thought of as closely connected with angels. It is probable that the "hosts" were also identified with the armies of Israel.

[7] Rev. i. 4.

[8] Gen. xxxii. 30; Judges xiii. 22.

[9] Exod. iii. 2, xiv.

[10] Zech. i. 11f.

[11] Cf. xviii. I with xviii. 2, and note change of number in xix. 17.

[12] Gen. xxviii. 12, E.

[13] Gen. xxxii. I, E.

[14] Gen. xxxii. 24, 30, J.

[15] "An angel" of I Kings xiii. 18 might be the Mal'akh Yahweh, as in xix. 5, cf. 7, or the passage, at any rate in its present form, may be exilic or post-exilic.

[16] Deut. vi. 4. 5.

[17] Isaiah xliii. 10 etc.

[18] It is not however certain that these doctrines of Zoroastrianism were developed at so early a date.

[19] Ezek. i.x.

[20] Ezek. ix.

[21] Zech. i. 11f.

[22] Zech. iii. 1.

[23] Job i., ii. Cf. I Chron. xxi. 1.

[24] Pss. xci. 11, ciii. 20 etc.

[25] Tobit xii. 15; Rev. viii. 2.

[26] Dan. viii. 16, x. 13, 20, 21.

[27] Tob. xii. 15.

[28] Job iv. 18.

[29] Tobit iii. 8, 17, vi. 7.

[30] E.g. Matt. i. 20 (to Joseph), iv. 11. (to Jesus), Luke i. 26 (to Mary), Acts xii. 7 (to Peter).

[31] E.g. Mark viii. 38, xiii. 27.

[32] Mark xii. 25.

[33] Luke i. 19.

[34] Rev. ix. 11.

[35] Mark iii. 22.

[36] Mark i. 13.

[37] Michael, Jude 9.

[38] Rom. viii. 38; Col, ii. 10.

[39] Col. i. 16.

[40] Rev. vii. 1.

[41] Gen. xviii. 8.

[42] Gen. xix. 16.

[43] Zech. iv. 1.

[44] Judges vi. 12, 21.

[45] Rev. vii. 1. viii.

[46] Rev. viii. 13, xiv. 6.

[47] Job xxxviii. 7; Asc. of Isaiah, iv. 18; Slav. Enoch, iv. 1.

[48] Rev. xiv. 18, xvi. 5; possibly Gal. iv. 3; Col. ii. 8, 20.

[49] Ps. lxviii. 17; Dan. vii. 10.

[50] Matt, xviii. 10; Acts xii. 15.

[51] Gal. iii. 19; Heb. ii. 2; LXX. of Deut. xxxiii. 2.