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Biblical Angelology: What the Bible Has to Say About Angels

Effeminate Angels?

Heavenly Haloes?

On Wings of Angels?

Where Angels Fear to Tread: Sources of

extra-biblical stories, legends, myths, and speculation about angels


If you have questions or comments about any of the material in the articles in this collection of Answers About Angels, you may write to:



Fifty years ago, the average American gave lip service to belief in angels once a year—at Christmas time. A large proportion of households, both church-goers and non-church-goers alike, had at least two angels on hand for the season. One went at the top of the Christmas tree.

This angel most often looked like a beautiful young lady in a ball gown, frequently made of white silk or chiffon or lace, and had delicate white wings, typically either of lace or feathers.

The other typical household angel came with the resident Nativity Set of figurines, and often perched on top of the stable which held the Baby Jesus and His family—or was affixed to the gable on the front of it, to give the illusion that the angel was hovering.

Although this angel’s garb was usually simpler, in line with the humble clothes of the Holy Family, and its wings might be a variety of colors, it was indeed still a female wearing a dress.

So this was the introduction to angel lore that most young children, for many generations, had absorbed. Angels were flying women who were connected in some vague way with the Christmas celebration.

As they became familiar with the words of Christmas carols, and perhaps had a Bible story book with the story of the birth of Jesus in it, they learned that an angel announced the birth of Jesus to some shepherds. Given the angel at the top of the tree and the angel on the front of the stable, most children likely envisioned a pretty lady with wings in a gown hovering over the shepherds near Bethlehem, telling them about the Baby Jesus. A choir of other pretty ladies would be hovering behind her in the sky, singing ethereally and melodiously in their lovely soprano voices.

Children who were regularly taken to Sunday School might have had this image slightly adjusted, for some Bible stories make it very clear that the angels in those stories were said to have looked like men. If these young people eventually were exposed to the religious art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, they would expand that perspective just a bit more. So that eventually, hearing the term “angel” might bring to mind either male or female winged figures.

But of course the Christmas Angels would still be those pretty ladies in the pretty gowns.

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But even though the average American might eventually have a broader concept of what an angel was, they still seldom thought of them at other times of the year. The exception to this might be in a family that was particularly pious regarding their religious faith. Some denominations, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, give more attention to angels, particularly the notion of “guardian angels” for

people. In particularly dedicated Roman Catholic homes there would be religious artwork depicting angels, and the children would be taught from their earliest years to pray to their own guardian angel.

But in homes from different religious backgrounds, or no religious persuasion at all, angels would have been primarily segregated to the Christmas season, brought out then to decorate the home, and afterwards tucked into tissue paper, boxed up, and placed on closet shelves until the next year.

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outoutoutout ofofofof thethethethe ClosetClosetClosetCloset But something happened starting in the 1970s. Perhaps it was

But something happened starting in the 1970s. Perhaps it was a deliberate marketing scheme. Perhaps it was a spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm for the supernatural, related to the advent of the kind of “New Age” spirituality that is unconnected to the Bible and to traditional religious history. Whatever the cause, angel artwork,

figurines, posters, greeting cards, banners, statuary, and much more started showing up in unexpected places and throughout the whole year. And by the 1990s, angels were no longer just bit players for annual Christmas displays—they became Big Business.

The traditional Christmas tree topper angels are still around, as are the Nativity Set angels. But they are now more of a nostalgia item than a vital part of the Angel Business. In many cases, the traditional figures have even been replaced at Christmas by more … contemporary versions of the same thing. Some tree topper angels no longer look like those lovely ladies.

And sometimes is not a lovely winged lady hovering over a Nativity scene. For instance, there’s this … “Cativity Set” with two winged, behaloed felinangels overlooking a furry version of the Holy Family:

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Why are angels—and mystery—so well accepted and popular now? Only a decade ago, there were a grand total of six books in print on the topic of angels; today, they number in the hundreds. Why the sudden fascination? Three possible explanations have been suggested:

First, that human history goes in cycles, as does the necessary intervention of angels. Some have suggested that angels are in fact, busier now in human affairs than they have been at other times. Even in an era when membership in some organized religions is declining, angels meet our need to encounter the divine in a direct, personal way.

A second theory is that in the last few decades, we humans have been overcome by science and technology until we feel there is no mystery left, and yet we know instinctively that this is untrue. The converse of

this has also been suggested: that science is revealing so many mysteries that we need to remind ourselves there is a loving presence in the midst of it all. Have you seen the star show at the Rose Center’s Hayden Planetarium in New York City? There is no way to digest what we now know about the heavens without being absolutely floored by the enormity and majesty of it all. The same goes for what we’re discovering about human biology. The mystery is overwhelming. We need help!

Finally, it is true that we live in a world in which we’re bombarded by CNN, watching terrorists rip into buildings, seeing children starving by the tens of thousands, hearing of viruses that cannot be cured. The evil in our world is beyond our control, and we desperately need to know there is a benevolent presence beyond us that is more than a match for the presence of evil and hopelessness we see on our television screens. We need to know that, despite everything, we are loved. And that is what the angels tell us.

But these modern “angels,” for all the love they are said to spread, have most often been ripped from the context of not only the nativity story, but from any connection at all to the God of the Bible. A large proportion of them have become the equivalent of an army of Fairy Godmother-type beings, who can dispense wisdom in how to deal with all of life’s little problems, and can intervene for everyone regardless of religious persuasion (some surveys have found that more people believe in the existence of angels than in the existence of God) to keep them from harm and bring them a happy, prosperous life. They demand no obedience to any particular creed, or standard of behavior or morals. In fact, they demand nothing but belief in their existence. In exchange, they promise peace, comfort, sunshine, and an unconditional love that allows people to live life any way they please … if they only “believe in angels.”

Well, actually, “they” don’t promise any of this—for the reality is that “they” are imaginary beings. The promises come from the Public Relations efforts of the purveyors of Angelmania. It is even quite obvious that some writers who would have written books on Horoscopes, or channeling messages and advice for people from “Ancient Ascended Masters,” in decades past have switched to touting the blessings of looking to the “Angels Among Us” for guidance.

Does this mean that angels don’t exist? No, the Bible is very clear that God does have supernatural assistants and messengers called, in English, “angels.” Does it mean that angels don’t at times defend and rescue humans in times of trouble? No, for the Bible is also very clear that one of the primary missions of God’s angels is to do those very jobs.

But what is also very clear is that the “angels” of popular culture bear almost no resemblance to the nature of the angels of the Bible. They are purely an invention of the human imagination.

The purpose of this collection of articles is to give an overview of just what we can know about angels from the Bible, and to examine and evaluate some of the popular mythology, in both religious and non- religious circles, that has grown up around the topic of angels.



Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations herein are from the New International Version (NIV).

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a hierarchical system of angels, messengers, celestial powers or emanations, and the study of these systems.

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The English word angelangelangelangel comes from the Greek word aggelos (pronounced ang-elos). The Greek word implies the function of a messengermessenger.messengermessenger When translating the word from the Greek New Testament documents, most English translators have considered whether the one fulfilling this function is a human, or a supernatural being. If it is a

human, the word is usually translated by a word similar to messenger. When it is clearly referring to a supernatural being, it is translated as angel.

Jesus, speaking of John the Baptist, said:

This is the one about whom it is written: “I will send my messenger [aggelos] ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Mat 11:10)

John the Baptist was a normal human being, born to a mother and father. He was commissioned by God as a messenger, but he was not a supernatural being who came down from Heaven.

In speaking of the incident in the Old Testament when Israelite spies entered the city of Jericho, and were hidden by a woman named Rahab, James writes:

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies [aggelos; KJV: messengers] and sent them off in a different direction? (Jam 2:25)

This is an obvious reference to human spies sent to gather information from Jericho and bring a message back to human military leaders about its vulnerabilities. So again the term is referring to human messengers.

But in the passage below, the messenger is obviously a supernatural being sent with a message from God Himself, and thus the word is translated angel.

But after he had considered this, an angel [aggelos] of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do

not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Mat 1:20)

The Hebrew word translated in the Old Testament as “angel” is malak (plural: malakim). Like aggelos, this word also implies a messenger.

As in the New Testament, when the word is obviously referring to a human deputy, it is translated into English as messenger. But when it is obviously a supernatural being representing God Himself, it is translated as angel. You can see both types of meanings in this passage from Genesis:

Jacob also went on his way, and the angels [malakim] of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim. Jacob sent messengers [malakim] ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. (Gen 32:1-3)

It is clear that the OT term malak and the NT term aggelos are interchangeable in their meanings, as the incident regarding Rahab and Jericho as it appears in the book of Judges is described this way by Joshua:

The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies [malakim] we sent. (Jos 6:17)

Even though the root of the English word angel is a Greek word that could mean also a human messenger, centuries of the Biblical use of the word have led to the term being used almost exclusively in modern times to designate a supernaturalsupernaturalsupernaturalsupernatural beingbeingbeingbeing sentsentsentsent onononon aaaa missionmissionmissionmission fromfromfromfrom HeavenHeavenHeavenHeaven bybybyby GodGod.GodGod


In the New Testament, the author of the book of Hebrews notes the primary function of angels who come to Earth:

Are not all angels ministering [doing the work of a servant or a benefactor] spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14)

Thus in the New Testament narrative, angels appear particularly in roles of service to key individuals.

Among other activities, an angel or angels:

Announced the conception of John the Baptist to his father. (Luke 1)

Announced the conception of Jesus to Mary and Joseph. (Luke 1)

Announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. (Luke 2)

Warned Joseph to flee with Mary and the infant Jesus to avoid Herod. (Mat 2)

Ministered to Jesus after His 40 days of fasting, and His confrontation with Satan. (Luk 4)

Rolled back the stone from the tomb of Jesus and announced His resurrection to some of His disciples. (Mat 28)

Rescued the Apostles from prison in Jerusalem. (Acts 5)

Guided Philip to a meeting with the Ethiopian Eunuch. (Acts 8)

Rescued Peter another time from prison in Jerusalem. (Acts 12)

Instructed Cornelius the centurion to send for Peter, leading to the baptism of Cornelius and his household. (Act 10)

The activities of angels described in the Old Testament were often similar. Among other things, an angel or angels:

Rescued Lot and his daughters from Sodom. (Gen 19)

Rescued Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness when they had been banished. (Gen 21)

Guided the people of Israel to the Promised Land. (Exo


Delivered to Gideon his commission. (Judg 6)

Announced the conception of Samson to his parents. (Judg 13)

In both the Old and New Testaments, the angels of God are also said to do battle with evil supernatural forces which are attempting to thwart the plans of God.

In Daniel, an angel comes to bring a message from God to the prophet Daniel.

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.” (Dan 10:12-13)

This same “Michael, one of the chief princes” is referred to in the New Testament book of Jude:

But even the archangel [archaggelos: chief angel] Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jud 1:9)

And this “archangel Michael” is also referred to in the New Testament book of Revelation. The author, John, sees a vision in which:

… there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon [identified in verse 9 as Satan], and the dragon and his angels fought back. (Rev 12:7)

This would indicate that Satan has supernatural beings who accept his own authority and assist him in doing his works of evil. For more information on this topic, see “The Devil’s Dark Angels.”

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Click here for a sampler of scriptures with examples of these five main roles of angels as they interact with the servants of God: protection, provision, comfort, guidance, and deliverance.

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Only two angels are given specific names in the Bible.

The “archangel Michael,” mentioned in the passages above, is the only one who is specifically designated an archangel.

“archangel Michael,” mentioned in the passages above, is the only one who is specifically designated an

This illustration is from a typical Eastern Orthodox Icon (picture used in religious worship) that depicts “Saint Michael the Archangel” triumphing over the Devil.

The angel Gabriel announced the conception of Jesus to Mary and Joseph, and of John the Baptist to his father, the priest Zachariah. This is likely the same Gabriel who also delivered a message to the prophet Daniel. The Bible does not specifically state that Gabriel is also an “archangel” like Michael, but this has been the speculation since the earliest centuries after the writing of the New Testament.

earliest centuries after the writing of the New Testament. In Christian artwork, such as the cast

In Christian artwork, such as the cast shown here of a carving on a cathedral from 1359, he is often represented as a winged figure

blowing a trumpet.

Perhaps this is because of speculation that he is actually the unnamed archangel in I Thessalonians 4:16:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Some apocryphal and pseudepigraphal writings from shortly before and after the time of Christ on the Earth (see “Where Angels Fear to Tread” for definitions of these words and information on this type of literature)

contain elaborate angelologies that name and describe many other angels, and purport to give all sorts of information about their activities, and elaborate details of a hierarchical system of “heavenly government” in which they operate. Most of these writings have never been widely accepted as “inspired scripture” in the same way as have the 66 books of the modern Protestant version of the Bible. But many were, nonetheless, very influential in the thinking of the “early Church Fathers.” Thus many of the details found in them have worked their way into a sort of “Christian mythology” that has built up over the past 2000 years. It is important for the serious Bible student to sort out which of these details are solidly based on the



"Where Angels Fear to Tread" for definitions of canon,

canonical, and extra- canonical) and which

are based on writings that are unreliable at best and contrary to the Bible at worst.

are unreliable at best and contrary to the Bible at worst. canonical ( ( s e



Out of these extra-biblical sources of information has come the notion that there are seven archangels. In addition to Michael and Gabriel, the book of Tobit, in the Roman Catholic Apocrypha, mentions one named Raphael. And the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch adds Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jerahmeel. ("Where Angels Fear to Tread" contains

information on the history and reliability of the information in these books.)

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Paintings and sculpture of angels throughout history have almost invariably represented them as having huge wings and a circular halo of some sort over, around, or behind their heads. Throughout history they have appeared most frequently in artistic representations as either females—or as very delicate, effeminate males. This 15 th century painting by Fra Angelico is typical of such portrayals.

painting by Fra Angelico is typical of such portrayals. The only angelic being consistently portrayed at

The only angelic being consistently portrayed at times as a particularly masculine character is the archangel Michael. This is likely because he is named as one who was involved in battles, as he is shown in this 1865 sculpture, doing battle with Satan.

However, any of the accounts in the Bible that describe a person interacting with an angelic messenger, such as Mary speaking with Gabriel or Gideon speaking with an unnamed angel, never mention anything about wings or a halo. Most of the time angels are just described as looking like men (never women), who have appeared unexpectedly. On a few occasions, particularly in visions, their appearance may be described as “dazzling” or extremely bright, or like fire or blazing jewels. But most of the time there is nothing about their appearance that differentiates them from humans. It is for this reason that the author of Hebrews could write:

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb 13:2)

The only heavenly supernatural beings that are described in the Bible as having wings are the cherubim and seraphim. See the next section for details on these beings.

For an exploration of the traditional features of angels as portrayed in popular art, see the articles on:

Heavenly Halos

On Wings of Angels?

Effeminate Angels?

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Besides the angels and archangels, the Bible mentions by name two other specific types of heavenly supernatural beings which humans have seen, cherubim and seraphim. NeitherNeitherNeitherNeither isisisis everevereverever givengivengivengiven thethethethe designationdesignationdesignationdesignation “angel”“angel”“angel”“angel” inininin thethethethe Bible.Bible.Bible.Bible. Neither is ever portrayed as performing the function of “messenger” implied by the terms malak or aggelos. And neither is ever portrayed as “ministering to the saints” as Hebrews 1:14 defines the role of an angel.

But for some reason they have been referred to historically as part of an “angelic hierarchy,” and as being, in that hierarchy, a type of angel … above the angels. This seems to make little sense. It might be more useful to refer to them as “celestial beings.” Thus one could say that angels are celestial beings, but not all celestial beings are angels.


The English word cherub is derived directly from the Hebrew term kerub used in the Old Testament. We first encounter the word in the account of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. God is said to have stationed guarding cherubim, along with a flaming sword, at the entrance to the Garden, to prevent Adam or Eve (or anyone else from then on) from approaching the Tree of Life in the Garden. (Gen 3:24) In Hebrew, the addition of the suffix im at the end of a word indicates the plural of that word. So cherubim is the Hebrew word that refers to two or more cherubs. (The translators of the King James Version of the Bible seemed not to have understood this, and chose to use the word cherubims with an unneeded, added “s” on the word.)

The author of Genesis gives no description of these cherubim. But the word shows up again when Moses was being given instructions for building the Tabernacle. In Exodus 25 Moses was commanded to have a golden lid made for the Mercy Seat (the Ark of the Covenant chest, holding the Ten Commandments, that would be in the room of the Tabernacle called the Holy of Holies). The lid was to have a cherub at each end of it, facing each other. Again there is no detailed description of the cherubim, but we do learn that they had wings, and each was to be designed so that his wings arched over the lid. Moses was also commanded to have tapestries made to hang inside the Tabernacle, with images of cherubim embroidered into the fabric. By the time Solomon created the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant, he also ordered the crafting of two huge, free-standing cherubim with spread wings to tower over the Ark.

The only specific evidence we are given in the Bible as to the appearance of any cherubim is in a vision described in the book of Ezekiel. In this instance they seem to be fantastic creatures transporting what appears to be a portable throne for God. There are four in the vision. Each has a body like a man, feet like a calf, four wings—two

that are spread when it flies, and two that remain covering its body. Underneath the covering wings are what appear to be a man’s hands. And each of the creatures has four faces, looking in four different directions. One looks like an ox, one like a lion, one like an eagle, and one like a man.

Are these exactly what the carved and embroidered cherubim of the Tabernacle and later the Temple looked like? We have absolutely no way of knowing, as the Bible just doesn’t say. In the Book of Revelation, John has a vision in which he sees four creatures around the throne of God in Heaven:

Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." (Rev


Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." (Rev 4:6-8) Were these creatures cherubim, related

Were these creatures cherubim, related to the ones that Ezekiel saw, but with slightly different characteristics? Again we have no way of knowing, since the

Bible doesn’t elaborate on any connection. There are plenty of extra- biblical myths and legends that may try to make such connections, but without a clear word from the Bible, we can only speculate. And there is a historical speculation that seems to have some merit regarding what the cherubim in the Tabernacle and Temple may have looked like. When God gave directions to Moses regarding making the cherubim, the fact that He gave no specific instructions about what they looked like seems to indicate that He expected that Moses and the Israelite craftsmen who were to make them already knew what they looked like. And archaeological excavations of civilizations in the Middle East that were thriving during the era of ancient Israel, including those of Egypt and Assyria, have unearthed many examples of royal thrones and buildings flanked by and decorated with figures that certainly bear some resemblance to the descriptions in Ezekiel. They are creatures that combine various animal and human body parts, such as the body of a lion, feet of an ox, head of a man, and wings of a bird, or similar combinations and variations. One such example is this huge winged bull figure with a human head from the Temple of Sargon II of Assyria (c. 700 BC).

head from the Temple of Sargon II of Assyria (c. 700 BC). Another is this small
head from the Temple of Sargon II of Assyria (c. 700 BC). Another is this small

Another is this small carved ivory plaque representing a winged sphinx-like creature with a lion’s body and human head, in a Phoenician style with Egyptian


influence from about 150 years earlier.

Whether the Biblical cherubim looked similar to one of these ancient artifacts or not, one thing is certain: They did not look like the figure that has inherited the label “cherub” in Christian art for over 1000 years, as seen in this section of a painting by Raphael from 1514.

as seen in this section of a painting by Raphael from 1514. It isn’t clear historically

It isn’t clear historically how or why artists settled on calling these “baby angels” by the name cherub, or how or why they invented the notion of such beings at all! The extremely popular


(first published in 1946, but reissued with updated artwork fairly frequently clear into the 21 st century) presents the notion that children who die “become” angels when they arrive in heaven, so perhaps the notion was that babies and toddlers who die become the chubby little winged “cherub” figures that are so popular with collectors even today. Whatever the source of the mythology, the Bible is very clear that humans do not become angels when they die and that biblical cherubs are not chubby babies.






It is surprising just how much speculation can be spun out of a tiny portion of one chapter in the Bible, and one or two obscure words. The Hebrew term seraph (plural: seraphim) is like that. It is used only twice in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the

temple. Above him were seraphsseraphs,seraphsseraphs each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to


“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”


LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” one At the sound of their

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Then one of the seraphsseraphsseraphsseraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isa 6:1-


That is the full collection of information in the Bible about seraphim. These beings are never mentioned by name again. All that we can determine from this passage is that they are winged beings that can fly, they can speak, they have hands, and they are intimately connected with God. We know nothing about any specific role or function that

they have, other than praising God in this specific instance. The Hebrew word itself gives no clue as to the specific appearance of these beings. It seems to have meant something that is “fiery,” but it is not clear whether this is a reference to a color, a luminance, or what. But this has not stopped commentators for over 1000 years from spinning this sparse information into elaborate theories about the appearance, nature, and function of the seraphim.

From article: “Seraphim”

The early medieval writer called Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite included seraphs in his "Celestial Hierarchy" (vii), which helped fix the fiery nature of seraphs in the medieval imagination. It is here that the Seraphim are described as being concerned with keeping Divinity in perfect order, and not limited to chanting the trisagion'. Taking his cue from writings in the Rabbinic tradition he gave an etymology for the Seraphim as "those who kindle or make hot":

"The name Seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all- consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness" (Celestial Hierarchy, vii)

… Thomas Aquinas [1200s] in the Summa Theologiae offers a description of the nature of the Seraphim:

The name "Seraphim" does not come from charity only, but from the excess of charity, expressed by the word ardorardorardorardor or firefire.firefire Hence Dionysius (Coel. Hier. vii) expounds the name "Seraphim" according to the properties of fire, containing an excess of heat. Now in fire we may consider three things.

"First, the movement which is upwards and continuous. This signifies that they are borne inflexibly towards God.

"Secondly, the active force which is "heat," which is not found in fire simply, but exists with a certain sharpness, as being of most penetrating action, and reaching even to the smallest things, and as it were, with superabundant fervor; whereby is signified the action of these angels, exercised powerfully upon those who are subject to them, rousing them to a like fervor, and cleansing them wholly by their heat.

"Thirdly we consider in fire the quality of clarity, or brightness; which signifies that these angels have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others."

All of this fanciful interpretation based solely on the meaning of the word seraphim may be interesting, but it is wholly unbiblical and utterly speculative.

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In Ephesians 1:19-21, the Apostle Paul wrote about the role of Christ after the Resurrection:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, farfarfarfar aboveaboveaboveabove allallallall rulerulerulerule andandandand authority,authority,authority,authority, powerpowerpowerpower andandandand dominiondominiondominiondominion [KJV:[KJV:[KJV:[KJV: principality,principality,principality,principality, power,power,power,power, mightmightmightmight,,,, andandandand dominion]dominion],dominion]dominion] and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Paul also wrote in Colossians 1:16 about some of the things created by God:

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities [KJV: thrones,thrones,thrones,thrones, orororor dominions,dominions,dominions,dominions, orororor principalities,principalities,prinprincipalities,cipalities, orororor powers]powers];powers]powers] all things were created by him and for him.

It isn’t quite clear from these passages why some would conclude that the terms “principality, power, might, and dominion,” in Ephesians, and the added note regarding “thrones” in the listing in Colossians, as listed in the King James Bible version of this passage, are specific names of “ranks” or “types” of angels in a heavenly angelic hierarchy. But that has historically been an interpretation in many Christian circles.

According to medieval Christian theologians, the Angels are organized into several orders, or AngelicAngelicAngelicAngelic ChoirsChoirs.ChoirsChoirs The most influential of these classifications was that put forward by Pseudo- Dionysius the Areopagite in the Fourth or Fifth century, in his book

The Celestial Hierarchy.

In this work, the author drew on passages from the New Testament, specifically Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16 (considered by modern scholars to be very tentative and ambiguous sources in relation to the construction of such a schema), to construct a schema of three HierarchiesHierarchies,HierarchiesHierarchies SpheresSpheresSpheresSpheres or TriadsTriadsTriadsTriads of angels, with each Hierarchy containing three OrdOrdersOrdOrdersersers or ChoirsChoirs.ChoirsChoirs In descending order of power, these were:

FirstFirstFirstFirst Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:



Thrones or Ophanim

SecondSecondSecondSecond Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:




ThirdThirdThirdThird Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:




While it is useful to know that some religious groups accept this theory of angelology, it is also important to realize that this is not something that is clearly revealed in the Bible at all—but is primarily a very strained speculation with no real basis in scripture.

The Bible only directly addresses one “type” of angel, which it calls simply an angel (aggelos or malak), with the term archangel evidently designating a “chief angel.” As mentioned above, cherubim and seraphim appear to be names for other supernatural beings not of the same “type” as angels—which are “messengers” and “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”—at all.

And thus the elaborate “hierarchy” of angelic “choirs” is not a Biblical notion, but a human invention.

InInInIn SummarySummarySummarySummary

In light of the material covered above regarding what we cannotcannotcannotcannot determine about the angelic realm if we rely only on the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as the sole source of information, just what cancancancan we know about angels?

Angels are supernatural beings that are not normally visible to the human eye as they go about their business.

Angels are able to manifest themselves into the physical realm so that they can be seen by humans, and when they have done so in situations described throughout the Bible, they normally appeared as looking just like men. Angels were created by God as a completely separate “kind” of being from man. Some angels are involved in warfare with Satan and those supernatural beings who serve him. One of the primary roles of angels is to “minister to” those humans whom God calls to be part of his Family. Major ways in which angels interact with humans are:

Delivering messages from God. Protecting and defending humans who are God’s servants. Guiding and delivering from harm humans who are God’s servants. Comforting and providing for humans who are God’s servants.



Effeminate Angels? In every instance in the Bible where an angelic messenger is described in any
Effeminate Angels? In every instance in the Bible where an angelic messenger is described in any

In every instance in the Bible where an angelic messenger is described in any way, that description includes note that the angel was in a form like a human. Although there are a few instances in which the being appeared in full supernatural “glory,” shining or glowing, a number of times such angels looked so normal that the people visited didn’t even realize that it was an angel until after the incident was over! There is never any mention of such beings having wings or haloes as a “giveaway” to their identity. (See “On Angel’s Wings?” and “Heavenly Halos” for details on the origin of the artistic representation of angels with wings and haloes.)

But if one were to judge by the common pictures and statues of angels today in the Angel Shops that fill shopping malls and the Internet, it would be logical to assume most of the accounts in the Bible must have

represented the beings as having the form of a human femalefemale.femalefemale For the vast majority of artwork of angels of the past century and more … including even Christmas tree topper angels such as the two shown here … have depicted creatures of graceful feminine beauty.

… have depicted creatures of graceful feminine beauty. This assumption would be wrong. Angelic messengers are
… have depicted creatures of graceful feminine beauty. This assumption would be wrong. Angelic messengers are

This assumption would be wrong. Angelic messengers are always described in the Bible as having the form of human malesmales.malesmales Why, then, the almost unrelenting modern representation of angels being feminine?

Perhaps, once many religious circles accepted the erroneous notion that Bible angels had wings, some early artists, looking for examples from which to draw inspiration, were attracted to the feminine “winged Nike” figure of ancient Greek mythology and art. This example is from around 550 B.C.

mythology and art. This example is from around 550 B.C. 30 Greek had already been influenced


mythology and art. This example is from around 550 B.C. 30 Greek had already been influenced

Greek had already been influenced by Egyptian art, and the depiction of the Egpytian winged goddess Isis may


well have been of interest to Greek artists looking for motifs.

But what is even more likely is that what modern viewers and artists perceive as “feminine” angels in many famous medieval European paintings were not intended by the artists to be females at all. Particularly during the Medieval period, the overt “sexuality” of much classic Greek and Roman art was almost totally repressed. Bodies were totally covered, both male and female, in long robes. For instance, consider this painting of the angel Gabriel (described clearly in the Bible as appearing as a male figure) from about 1400:

in the Bible as appearing as a male figure) from about 1400: Modern eyes see this

Modern eyes see this as a woman with soft facial features in a pretty, colorful, feminine dress.

But artists of the time seldom

painted overtly “chiseled,” square-jawed, masculine features on the faces of men. So unless a male was bearded, and particularly if he was represented as a young man, it wasn’t all that easy to sort out the vaguely uni-sex


pictures by




And as for that pretty “dress,” look at a painting of the coronation of Pope Boniface IX, done during the same century. All of these are male figures, in typical religious garb of the time. Bright colors and flowing garments were obviously not limited to just the ladies of those days!

were obviously not limited to just the ladies of those days! Even the more typical “white

Even the more typical “white gown” of angels in some paintings is not intended at all to look feminine, but reflects instead the typical garb of Roman Catholic priests. Even to this day, the main piece of wardrobe of a Catholic priest is the white “alb,” that is almost identical to the robe of the angel in this picture, high collar, wide sleeves, belted waist, and all.

Although there has been one recent instance of a woman wearing the same outfit …

wide sleeves, belted waist, and all. Although there has been one recent instance of a woman


Outside their historical and cultural context, all of these features of paintings can be very misleading. Even hairstyles which to us may look stereotypically feminine because of length or curliness or the like may well have been just typical male hairstyles of the time. The robes probably cause the most confusion, as they tend to totally obscure any hints that we might pick up of male musculature in bodies. Here are some Medieval paintings which, because of slight differences in costume, allow it to be abundantly clear that these are depictions of “masculine” angels.

allow it to be abundantly clear that these are depictions of “masculine” angels. 15th Century 12
allow it to be abundantly clear that these are depictions of “masculine” angels. 15th Century 12
allow it to be abundantly clear that these are depictions of “masculine” angels. 15th Century 12



12 th




17th Century

However, these are, in general, the exception rather than the rule for the depiction of the most famous classic paintings that have included angels. So by the 1800s, many artists who engaged in creating “popular” pictures of angels had been brought up on seeing artwork which may have seemed to them to feature many “female angels.” But even this is likely not the primary cause of the shift to feminine angel representations.

Perhaps the most significant influence on the “feminization” of angels of the past 200 years or so is the severing of the topic of angels from a specific Biblical context. Medieval and Renaissance angels show up in scenes from the Bible, or at least from popular religious legends (such as the “Assumption of Mary”). They are depicted either delivering important messages to significant personages from Bible


stories, witnessing important events (such as in nativity scenes in Bethlehem like this one by Charles Poerson from the 1600s), or perhaps engaged in rapturous worship around the throne of God. Even if the artist himself wasn’t a particularly “religious” person, much if not most of the patronage of the arts at the time was from people wanting Biblical art.

But the motif of angels has been appropriated by many modern artists and their patrons who may well have no Biblical interests at all. In fact, their angels have been removed from any particular connection to the God of the Bible, and are much more akin to mythological creatures such as fairies and leprechauns … and perhaps even pagan gods and goddesses. They may have a “spiritual aura” connected to them, which makes them look otherworldly, but without any special link to a Heaven where God’s throne is. They are viewed by many as being benevolent supernatural beings whose primary interest is helping out people—not necessarily because they have been sent by God to do so, but because it is just “their nature.”

out people—not necessarily because they have been sent by God to do so, but because it

And as this “new” kind of angel has taken shape in the past century or two, the emphasis has shifted more and more to a sort of gentle, nurturing, “motherly” (or “big sisterly”) role for angels—hence the trend toward almost entirely representing them as female. Even younger versions, of adolescent and preadolescent angels, seem aimed almost entirely at just the sentimentality of the “prettiness” of little girls and young ladies with wings. (There is a small subset of angels who are viewed as being “supernatural warriors,” and believed by some to do battle with malicious supernatural beings, and these are still depicted as male.) The Internet is full of websites and online shops specializing in angels—angel posters, figurines, artwork, collectibles—and only a minority have any biblically religious emphasis at all. Most emphasize a very “New Age” sort of pseudo-spirituality.

This trend started in the 1800s, as can be seen by angelic art works such as this 1899 painting by Thayer (the model was his young daughter) and the others below.

works such as this 1899 painting by Thayer (the model was his young daughter) and the

Greeting Card 1911

Greeting Card circa 1900 And the trend continues to this day, removing angels farther and

Greeting Card circa 1900

And the trend continues to this day, removing angels farther and farther in the public mind from the reality of the powerful heavenly messengers of the Bible, and essentially implying that they are an army of Fairy Godmothers!


Heavenly Halos?

EXTRA-BIBLICAL ANGEL LORE: Heavenly Halos? The popular mental picture of an angel that most people have

The popular mental picture of an angel that most people have in modern American society almost invariably includes a circle of some sort floating above the head of that angel—whether the angel looks like a pretty lady, a “cherubic” baby, or even an angelic duck. Usually the circle is a metallic golden ring, but in recent years, popular alternatives, especially for angel costumes, are circlets of tinsel or marabou feathers

but in recent years, popular alternatives, especially for angel costumes, are circlets of tinsel or marabou


(connected by a thin wire to a headband to hold it on the head of the pseudo-angel.)

Did this concept of the floating halo being part of the “outfit” of an angel come from the Bible? If not, how and when did it become so pervasive in society?

The Nimbus

The Bible says nothing about floating circles over the heads of any being. And thus we have to look elsewhere for the origin of this symbolism. That search takes us back to ancient pre-Christian art, and a pictorial symbol known as the nimbus.

NimbusNimbus:NimbusNimbus Latin, rainstorm, cloud; probably akin to Latin nebula cloud

1111 aaaa :::: a luminous vapor, cloud, or atmosphere about a god or

goddess when on earth bbbb :::: a cloud or atmosphere (as of romance) about a person or thing

2222 :::: an indication (as a circle) of radiant light or glory about the head of a drawn or sculptured divinity, saint, or sovereign

head of a drawn or sculptured divinity, saint, or sovereign The Greek god, Helios http://www. m-

The Greek god, Helios




of a drawn or sculptured divinity, saint, or sovereign The Greek god, Helios http://www. m-

The Roman god, Neptune

The Roman god, Neptune Buddha, circa 200 AD (boldingboldingboldingbolding

Buddha, circa 200 AD (boldingboldingboldingbolding added)

In the plastic arts (painting and sculpture) the symbolismsymbolismsymbolismsymbolism ofofofof thethethethe nimbusnimbusnimbusnimbus waswaswaswas earlyearlyearlyearly inininin useuseuseuse amongamongamongamong thethethethe paganspaganspaganspagans who determined its form. In the monuments of Hellenic and Roman art, the heads of the gods, heroes, and other distinguished persons are often found with a disc-shaped halo, a circle of light, or a rayed-fillet. They are, therefore, associated especially with gods and creatures of light such as the Phoenix. The disc of light is likewise used in the Pompeian wall paintings to typify gods and demigods only, but later, in profane art it was extended to cherubs or even simple personifications, and is simply a reminder that the figures so depicted are not human.

In the miniatures of the oldest Virgil manuscript all the great personages wear a nimbus. The custom of the Egyptian and Syrian kings of having themselves represented with a rayed crown to indicate the status of demigods, spread throughout the East and the West. In Rome the halo was first used only for deceased emperors as a sign of celestial bliss, but afterwards

living rulers also were given the rayed crown, and after the third century, although not first by Constantine, the simple rayed nimbus. Under Constantine the rayed crown appears only in exceptional cases on the coin, and was first adopted emblematically by Julian the Apostate. Henceforth the nimbus appears without rays, as the emperors now wished themselves considered worthy of great honour, but no longer as divine

InInInIn earlyearlyearlyearly ChristianChristianChristianChristian artart,artart,,, thethethethe rayedrayedrayedrayed nimbusnimbusnimbusnimbus aasaasss wellwellwellwell asasasas


thethethethe raylessraylessraylessrayless discdiscdiscdisc werewerewerewere adoptedadoptedadoptedadopted inininin accordanceaccordanceaccordanceaccordance withwithwithwith trtrtrtradition.adition.adition.adition. The sun and the Phoenix received, as in pagan art, a wreath or a

rayed crown, also the simple halo. The latter was reserved not only for emperors but for men of genius and personifications of all kinds, although both in ecclesiastical and profane art, this emblem was usually omitted in ideal figures. In other cases the influence of ancient art tradition must not be denied.

…The nimbus of early Christian art manifests only in a few particular drawings, its relationship with that of late antiquity. In the first half of the fourth century, Christ received a nimbus only when portrayed seated upon a throne or in an exalted and princely character, but it had already been used since Constantine, in pictures of the emperors, and was emblematic, not so much of divine as of human dignity and greatness. In other scenes however, Christ at that time was represented without this emblem. The "exaltation" of Christ as indicated by the nimbus, refers to His dignity as a teacher and king rather

than to His Godhead. Before long the nimbus became a fixed symbol of Christ and later (in the fourth century), of an angel

or a lamb when used as the type of Christ

personagespersonagespersonagespersonages whowhowhowho werewerewerewere givengivengivengiven aaaa halohalohalohalo increasedincreasedincreasedincreased rapidly,rapidly,rapidly,rapidly, untiluntiluntiluntil

towardstowardstowardstowards thethethethe endendendend ofofofof thethethethe sixthsixthsixthsixth centurycenturycenturycentury thethethethe useuseuseuse ofofofof symsymsymsymbolsbolsbolsbols inininin thethethethe ChristianChristianChristianChristian ChurchChurchChurchChurch becamebecamebecamebecame asasasas generalgeneralgeneralgeneral asasasas itititit hadhadhadhad formerlyformerlyformerformerlyly beenbeenbeenbeen inininin paganpaganpaganpagan

TheTheTheThe numbernumbernumbernumber ofofofof

Thus the nimbus was not really used by artists as a depiction of an actualactualactualactual glow that the artist believed would have necessarily have been visible “in person” to the human eye out in the real world. It was part of the history of iconography.

Iconography:Iconography:Iconography:Iconography: …………the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or


the imagery or symbolism of a work of art, an artist, or a body of art


In other words, you might say that iconographyiconographyiconographyiconography is the use of standardized symbolic elements of pictures to impart information. When looking at a painting, the nimbus around some heads would be a clue to you that the individual was someone significant. The particular significance would depend on the culture and the period of the painting.

The iconographic symbol of the nimbus eventually became interchangeable with the word halo.

HaloHalo:HaloHalo Latin halos, from Greek halOs threshing floor, disk, halo

1111 :::: a circle of light appearing to surround the sun or moon and

resulting from refraction or reflection of light by ice particles in

the atmosphere

2222 :::: something resembling a halo: as aaaa :::: nimbus bbbb :::: a region of space surrounding a galaxy that is sparsely populated with luminous objects (as globular clusters) but is believed to contain

a great deal of dark matter cccc :::: a differentiated zone surrounding

a central zone or object

3333 :::: thethethethe auraauraauraaura ofofofof glory,glory,glory,glory, veneration,veneration,veneration,veneration, orororor sentimentsentimentsentimentsentiment surrounsurrounsurrosurrounundingdingdingding anananan idealizedidealizedidealizedidealized personpersonpersonperson orororor thingthingthingthing

personpersonpersonperson orororor thingthingthingthing in the sky. http://www.m- By the time

in the sky.


By the time the Italian artist Giotto painted this scene in 1305, the use of the nimbus or halo around the heads of personages in Christian art work had indeed greatly increased. Here there are haloes around the heads of Jesus, His mother, Mary, other women and men disciples, and the angels

But these haloes are not hovering aboveaboveaboveabove the heads of all of these figures. In fact, they appear almost as if they are circular golden plates placed behindbehindbehindbehind each head. How did the halo get from this to the hovering little golden tube common today?

from this to the hovering little golden tube common today? The first step to this change

The first step to this change may have been when some artists began to realize how incongruous paintings of the backsbacksbacksbacks of people who had a nimbus looked! In this painting of the Last Supper, also by Giotto around the same time, the apostles who have their backs to the viewer almost look like their noses are pressed into big golden dinner plates, rather than that their heads are surrounded by a glow. (The figure in yellow without a halo is Judas.)

In addition, early medieval paintings had very little “perspective” in the scenes. A flat plate behind the head of someone didn’t look too out of place, as everything in the picture was basically flattened also. But by the 1400s, artists were perfecting techniques that made scenes much more three dimensional and lifelike. This left the traditional nimbus around heads giving an even stronger sense of a flat

plate in the picture, an element decidedly even more out of place.

This painting (artist not identified) represents an early attempt to solve this problem. The painter literally approached the nimbus as if it werewerewerewere a circular plate, and tipped it on its side, foreshortening it to give the illusion of depth, and moving it to a spot aboveaboveaboveabove the head of the figure.

it to a spot aboveaboveaboveabove the head of the figure. A similar effect is shown in

A similar effect is shown in this painting by Della Francesca in 1460 AD.

is shown in this painting by Della Francesca in 1460 AD. Another solution, arrived at by

Another solution, arrived at by Raphael in this 1500 AD painting was to leave the nimbus behind the head, but remove all but the rim of it, leaving a hollow circle through which the background of the scene could be seen,

maintaining the illusion of depth in that way.

And by combining these two techniques, it is easy to see how some artists eventually ended up with the circle floating above the head.

Eventually, some painters began dispensing with the halo altogether. The closer one gets to modern times, and the more realistic the environment and figures in the painting, the more common this approach became.

in the painting, the more common this approach became. But the “great artworks” of Western Civilization

But the “great artworks” of Western Civilization from the thousand-year era from the fifth century to the fifteenth century have been so influential that they have dominated throughout history many of the subconscious assumptions of the average man of what angels look like—at least until the rise of the “New Age Angel” fad that now permeates American society.

Although it appears that the vast majority of artists in the 20 th and 21 st centuries have abandoned the iconic device of the nimbus or halo when depicting angels and other religious personages, it still thrives in particular in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic settings.

It is a Greek Orthodox tradition for artists to continue to create icons … pictorial representations of Christ, angels, and saints … for inspirational and worship use. The design and stylized features of such icons currently made by artists vary little from those of a thousand years ago, and continue to use the

of such icons currently made by artists vary little from those of a thousand years ago,


And a significant proportion of modern Roman Catholic art, such as this work by Arizona artist Enrique de la Vega, continues to include the nimbus, even though there is not the same level of rigid custom dictating this as there is in Orthodox art.

Angel Scripture Sampler:

Protection, Provision, Comfort, Guidance, Deliverance

There are scores of passages in both the Old and New Testaments that describe the roles that angels fulfill in God's plans for mankind. Below is a representative sample.

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished." When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, "Flee for your

lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!" (Gen 19:15-17)

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you [the Israelites who have been delivered from bondage in Egypt] to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. (Exo 23:20-23)

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. (I Kin 19:3-8)

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psa 34:7)

If you make the Most High your dwelling— even the LORD, who is my refuge—

then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psa 91:9-12)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Mat 1:18-


After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has

risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told

you." (Mat 28:1-7)

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists. Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating." (Act 12:5-11)


Sources of extra- biblical stories, legends, myths, and speculation about angels

The information about angels provided by the writings in the Old and New Testaments is very scanty. We know much more about specific acts that they have performed throughout history (e.g., rescuing Lot from Sodom, announcing the birth and resurrection of Jesus) than we know about exactly what they look like, how they function, and what they do with their time when they are not rescuing people and giving announcements.

It would appear that God did not find it important to fill us in on these details, perhaps for very good reasons of His own—which we may not be able to understand with our human minds. But that has not prevented mankind from being extremely curious about such details. And from the history of religious speculation, it would appear that it has not prevented many writers from rushing in to fill the gap in our

knowledge. Since long before the time when Jesus lived on the Earth, religious authors have collected, and written about … and sometimes perhaps invented out of their own fertile imaginations … stories, legends, myths, and speculations about the goings-on in the supernatural realm. TheTheTheThe separateseparateseparateseparate articlearticlearticlearticle BiblicalBiblicalBiblicalBiblical AngelologyAngelologyAngelologyAngelology providesprovidesprovidesprovides anananan overviewoverviewoverviewoverview ofofofof whatwhatwhatwhat wewewewe cancancancan clearlyclearlyclearlyclearly knowknowknowknow aboutaboutaboutabout angelangelangelangelssss withwithwithwith thethethethe BibleBibleBibleBible asasasas ourourourour solesolesolesole sourcesourcesourcesource ofofofof inforinformation.inforinformation.mation.mation.

The collection of short articles below gives a brief overview of the nature of some of the sources of extraextra-extraextra--biblical-biblicalbiblicalbiblical angelologyangelology.angelologyangelology

TheTheTheThe CanonCanonCanonCanon ofofofof thethethethe BibleBibleBibleBible

The BiblicalBiblicalBiblicalBiblical canoncanoncanoncanon is an exclusive list of books written during the formative period of the Jewish or Christian faiths; the leaders of these communities believed these books to be inspired by God or to express the authoritative history of the relationship between God and his people (although there may have been secondary considerations as well).

There are differences between Christians and Jews, as well as between different Christian traditions, over which books meet the standards for canonization. The different criteria for, and the process of, canonization for each community dictates what members of that community consider to be their Bible.

The word canon itself is derived from a Greek word that implies a “measuring rod.” The underlying idea of the term is that the validityvalidityvalidityvalidity and valuevaluevaluevalue of any information, any other writings, any interpretation of religious ideas must be “measured” against a fixed standard. A simple analogy would be the measuring sticks at the entrance to certain rides at

many amusement parks. A child who wants to go on the ride must stand next to the stick and see if he “measures up” to being tall enough for the ride.

In the religious sense, the measuring standard is the truth revealed in the collection of books that have been historically accepted as having been inspired by God. Any new idea or new writing is measured against that unchanging standard to see if it has merit. Even if it does “measure up,” that does not mean that it becomes a part of that canon. Both Jewish and Christian Biblical canons are considered “closed canons” … it is believed that God guided the collection and establishment of the canon, with the intent that it provide a permanent, unchanging standard for all time.

Since at least 100 AD or so, the Jews have accepted the 39 documents that make up the collection of writings labeled the Old Testament in Christian Bibles as being their canon of scripture. The Jewish term for the collection is the Tanakh. Tanakh is an acronym (TNK) for the first letters of the three sections into which they divide the collection: T for Torah, the first five books, containing “the Law”; N for Neviim, the Hebrew word for the books of the Prophets; and K for Ketuvim, the Hebrew word for the other “Writings.” Although they may find other documents of historical interest or as having useful speculation on religious topics, only those 39 documents are accepted as having unquestioned divine approval.

Most Protestant churches accept as their scriptural canon both the documents of the Tanakh, and the 27 documents that make up the New Testament in the King James Version of the Bible and in most modern translations.

In addition to the 66 documents mentioned, there is a set of 16 documents (usually labeled The Apocrypha) that were written between

the time of the prophet Malachi (author of the final book of the Old Testament) and the time of Jesus. Even though these documents were evidently written by devout Jews, and are not in any sense Christian documents, the Jews rejected their inclusion in the canon of the Tanakh. The Roman Catholic Church has accepted 10 of these as part of their own canon of scripture. They refer to this collection of ten as the deuterocanonical books—meaning the “second” canon. This indicates their admission that these books were not part of the original Jewish canon, and derive their credibility as inspired from the decision of the Roman Catholic Church to declare them as inspired. The Greek Orthodox Church accepts 14 of the documents of The Aprocrypha into their own canon, and the Russian Orthodox Church accepts a slightly different 14.

ExtraExtra-ExtraExtra--Canonical-CanonicalCanonicalCanonical JewishJewishJewishJewish andandandand ChristianChristianChristianChristian WritingsWritingsWritingsWritings

The term extra-canonical (“outside the canon”) is an adjective describing ancient religious writings that cover some of the same topics and history covered by the books of the Jewish or Christian Bible, but which are notnotnotnot partpartpartpart ofofofof the collection of documents making up the scriptural canon of Judaism or Christianity.

The “closed canon” of the Jewish and Christian Bibles means that the amount of information considered authoritativeauthoritativeauthoritativeauthoritative that is available on topics of religious interest is very limited. And yet almost every bit of the information we do have in the canonical writings leads to curiosity and questions … for which there are no clear answers provided within those writings. Examples:

Where did Cain and Seth get their wives, if everyone descended from Adam and Eve? The logical conclusion is that they married their own sisters, but the Bible doesn’t say that in so many words. This has led some to speculate that perhaps the wording of the Bible that indicates

God didn’t “create from scratch” any other people than Adam and Eve is misleading, and that outside the Garden of Eden there were many races of people.

What happened to the people of the tribes of the northern Kingdom of Israel after they were taken into captivity by Assyria in the 8 th Century BC? The Bible doesn’t say. This has led some people to speculate, for various reasons (also not authoritatively discussed in the Bible) that they migrated by their tribes to areas of northern and western Europe, and became the progenitors of the people in nations such as France and England.

What happened to the Apostles after the time in the Book of Acts where the main attention is given to the ministry of the Apostle Paul? The Bible doesn’t say. This has led to many legends and myths (and possibly some actual history) about the travels of various individuals and pairs of them to parts of the known world.

What is heaven really like? Is it a physical place in the universe, or a reality in a different dimension? Are the few descriptions of heaven we read in the Bible, particularly in the Book of Revelation, to be taken as literal, or are they merely symbolism for some deeper spiritual concept we can’t even begin to comprehend?

Curiosity and questions like these have been rampant since long before the time of Christ. And wherever there has been curiosity, there have usually been enthusiastic authors ready to respond to that curiosity with written answers. Those answers may have been developed from oral legends and myths. They may have been presented as being the result of visions from God. And in far too many cases, they may have been fanciful speculations from the fertile imagination of the author, presented as solid facts.

A large selection of manuscripts of this sort were circulating in the

centuries just before and after the time of Christ. And to this day, many bookstores have translations of the most enduringly appealing of them. Sometimes collections of some of them are labeled “Lost Books of the Bible,” although this is a misleading designation. The implication is that they were, once upon a time, considered part of the “canon of scripture” of either or both the Jews and Christians, and that somehow they were then strangely lost—or perhaps deliberately suppressed by religious leaders. Both of these implications are erroneous. It is known what documents were part of the Jewish canon at the time of Christ, and they are the same ones that are in the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, now. There was considerable interest at the time, within Jewish scholarly circles, in some of the extra-canonical books that were written after the last of the books of the Tanakh. But there is no record that there was ever any serious consideration that they should have somehow been included in the official canon.

There are many records from the earliest years of Christianity showing which documents were commonly considered inspired by Christian believers of the first two centuries, and with a very few exceptions that remained under dispute in some areas of the world, they are the same ones as those currently in the New Testaments of today. The canon was completely settled in most places by at least the fourth century AD. The few debatable documents that finally were rejected as part of that canon are well-known and were never lost—or suppressed, although perhaps most people without an interest in ancient literature may have been unaware of them.


is not necessarily that any or all of these documents are without value


the serious student of both history and the Bible. In a few cases they

may provide valuable and fairly reliable historical information about the time in which they were written. (The primary example of this is the

First Book of Maccabees from The Apocrypha.) In other cases, they

give a fascinating view of the legends and myths that were accepted by some as being plausible. And in still other cases, they provide an overview of what some minority sects of the Jewish or Christian religions held as doctrine, and insight into the course of the development of certain theological ideas. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of Christians in recent decades have become fascinated, and at times even obsessed, with the highly fanciful and speculative content of many of these writings, and failed to ground their enthusiasm solidly in the canonical scriptures so that they can “separate the wheat from the chaff.” The result at times has been the acceptance and promotion of some very aberrant doctrinal positions that are incompatible with the Bible, and only supported by this extra-biblical material.

One of the major areas of doctrine that is addressed very little in the Bible, but elaborated to a great extent in many of the extra-biblical writings, is that of angelology. Many of the theories and speculation and elaboration of both Jewish and Christian theologians over the centuries about what the angelic world is like have been based not on the Bible, which provides so little information on the topic, but on material gleaned from the extra-canonical writings.

There are four main categories of extra-canonical writings which are typically of interest to Bible students: Apocalypses, The Apocrypha and

apocryphal writings, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, and the New Testament Pseudepigrapha.


ApocalypseApocalypse:ApocalypseApocalypse One of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 B.C. to A.D. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which

God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom. (Etymology: … from Greek

apokalypsis, from apokalyptein to uncover)

An apocalypse is a document that purports to “reveal” a detailed look at the future when God will once again openly intervene in the affairs of mankind on Earth as He did in ancient times. The official term “The Apocalypse” is reserved in Christian circles as a designation of the last book of the Christian Bible, what is usually called the Book of Revelation. That book begins with the sentence, “The revelation [apokalypsis] of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.”

The word has even made its way into secular writing as a synonym for “the end of the world as we know it,” in circumstances that have nothing to do with religious belief. Any scenario which seems similar to the massive destruction described in the Book of Revelation, which might be caused by totally non-supernatural circumstances such as nuclear war, or a collision of Earth with a huge asteroid, may be referred to as “apocalyptic.” Science fiction writers have often used such a scenario for either apocalyptic (during the disaster) or “post- apocalyptic” (in the aftermath, short or long, of the disaster) stories and films. An example of the former would include War of the Worlds, and the latter the Planet of the Apes movies.

For a detailed overview and summary of many of the documents of the centuries just before and after the time of Christ which are designated as apocalyptic writings, see:

When the Jewish people came back from exile in Babylon in the 5 th Century BC, and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, there were high expectations that the earthly kingdom of the Messiah would be inaugurated soon. When their hopes failed to materialized, and the ancient prophecies of the prophetic writings of the Tanakh, such as the Book of Daniel, did not come to pass on the expected time table, speculation arose that some series of cataclysmic events would eventually usher in the era of fulfillment. And a whole genre of writing arose in which authors purported to provide the details of such a scenario. None of these were ever accepted by the Jewish religious leaders as being authoritative and inspired by God, and thus none ever made it into the “Old Testament canon.”

Likewise, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, many of his followers expected that He would return in a short time to set up an earthly kingdom, or perhaps whisk them off to heaven and destroy the Earth. As the decades passed and it became obvious that this was not going to happen immediately, another genre of apocalyptic writings arose, purporting to give the details of what must come to pass before the Christian Millennial hopes could be realized. They had much in common with the Jewish apocalyptic writings, and often used some of the same symbolism and stylistic elements. Although many of these writings may have excited some readers at the time, only the Book of Revelation, thought to have been written by the Apostle John, was eventually accepted by the religious leaders of the time as being an inspired, authentic revelation from God Himself.


The English word apocrypha is derived from the Greek word apokryphos, meaning obscure or hidden. In general use, apocryphal is

an adjective indicating that a document or a statement is of doubtful authenticity. However, when the word is capitalized, as The Apocrypha, it is a technical reference to a specific collection of religious documents that were written before the time of Christ, and relate to the history of the Jews, but are not accepted by the Jewish authorities as being part of the canon of the Tanakh. They are also not accepted by most Protestant groups as part of the Bible. But the Roman Catholic and various Orthodox Churches each accept most of them as being part of inspired scripture. In Bibles used by these religious groups, they may be inserted between the Old Testament and the New Testament, in an appendix at the end of the Bible, or in some cases, interspersed throughout parts of the Old Testament. They are sometimes referred to as “intertestamental books” as they primarily cover events believed to have happened after the last events recorded in the Old Testament and before the events of the New Testament. The following chart of the books of The Apocrypha included in some Bibles is from

1. Books & Additions to Esther in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Slavonic Bibles

· Tobit

· Judith

· Additions to the Book of Esther

· Wisdom of Solomon

· Ecclesiasticus (or the Wisdom of Jesus, Son or Sirach)

· Baruch


The Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch ch. 6)










The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews Susanna Bel and the Dragon

· 1 Maccabees

· 2 Maccabees

2. Books & Additions to Esther in the Greek Orthodox, & Slavonic Bibles, notnotnotnot Roman Catholic

· 1 Esdras (called 2 Esdras in Slavonic, 3 Esdras in Appendix to Vulgate)

· Prayer of Manasseh (in Appendix to Vulgate)



Orthodox Bible


· 3 Maccabees







3. Books in the Slavonic Bible & Appendix to Vulgate

· 2 Esdras (called 3 Esdras in Slavonic and 4 Esdras in the Appendix to Vulgate)

Note: In the Latin Vulgate, Ezra-Nehemiah are called 1 and 2 Esdras

4. Books in Appendix to Greek Orthodox Bible

· 4 Maccabees

List is based on that of The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Version, (1994)

A number of details about angels beyond what is in the Old and New Testaments appear in The Apocrypha, including the names of two specific angels, Raphael and Uriel. If the documents of The Apocrypha are credible, inspired works, then this may be useful information. If, on the other hand, they are only fictional accounts invented by their authors or derived from legends and myths, then this information can be misleading.


The word pseudepigrapha is derived from the Greek words pseudos (false) and epigrapha (inscriptions).

In Biblical studies, pseudepigrapha refers particularly to works which purport to be [but actually were not] written by noted authorities in either the Old and New Testaments or by persons involved in Jewish or Christian religious study or history. These works can also be written about Biblical matters, often in such a way that they appear to be as authoritative as works which have been included in the many versions of the Judeo-Christian scriptures.

In many if not most cases, there is very little disagreement among scholars of ancient literature about the fact that such works were not written by those people whose names are attached to them. Internal evidence in most of them makes it clear that it would have been

impossible for the person named to have been the actual author. And, in fact, it appears clear in most cases that the name of the famous person was attached to the document for the specific purpose of giving its content more credibility among readers.

OldOldOldOld TestamentTestamentTestamentTestament PseudepigraphaPseudepigraphaPseudepigraphaPseudepigrapha

Most pseudepigraphal documents that purport to have been written by famous Old Testament personages, or to cover events prior to the time of Jesus, are typically labeled Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Although it is impossible to accurately date the various documents, most scholars are convinced that the vast majority were written by Jewish writers in the period between the return from the Babylonian exile up through the first century AD. There is no way to estimate accurately how many such writings were extant in ancient times. But typical online collections of such works list thirty or more well-known examples of pseudepigraphal documents which are available as translations in English today. Those which seem to have the most popularity among Bible students include the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, the Book of

Jubilees, the Book of Jasher, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

The Book of Enoch in particular is often cited as a source of information about angelology. It includes the alleged names of over 100 angels, goes into great detail about the organization of the angelic hierarchy, and recounts many tales of exploits of both “good angels” and “fallen angels.” And it is perhaps the primary source for documentation purporting to establish that the vague account in Genesis about “sons of God” marrying “daughters of men” prior to the flood is actually speaking about illicit sexual relationships between supernatural angels and human women. The Book of Enoch insists that this resulted in the birth of gigantic human-angel hybrid creatures

called the Nephilim. When these creatures died, their “disembodied spirits” became what were later termed “demons.”

Since this information is not in the Bible, and it purports to give details of events in both ancient history and in the supernatural realm, either the author of the Book of Enoch was truly inspired by God to know all of these things, they sprang from his own imagination, or he compiled them from myths and legends of his time. Evaluating some of the content of the Book of Enoch in the light of the canon of scripture should allow the reader to come to a conclusion on which of these alternatives is correct. See “Sample Content from Some of the Most Popular Extra-Canonical Books” for some excerpts from this book.

The other main document which has a wide audience in some Christian circles is the Book of Jasher. A document by this name is mentioned twice in the Bible, in Joshua 10 and 2 Samuel 1. But no such book was ever part of the Hebrew Old Testament. Over the centuries a number of documents have been brought to the attention of the public, with claims that each was the “original” Book of Jasher spoken of in the Bible. Most have eventually been dismissed as spurious by both Christian and Jewish scholars.

The Hebrew title of the document does not indicate it was material written by a prophet named Jasher. The Hebrew word jasher is taken to mean upright or righteous. And thus the title indicates that it is a Book of the Upright or Book of the Righteous, an account of some of the upright or righteous patriarchs. The book which currently has the interest of some Bible students as being the original Book of Jasher was reportedly first printed and circulated in Hebrew in Europe in the 1500s. The introduction to a Hebrew edition published in Spain in 1625 claimed that the original from which it had been copied had been spirited away from Jerusalem to Spain not long after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD—but there is no historical evidence to validate this

claim. The credibility of the book as an ancient writing from Biblical times has been disputed for centuries by both Jewish and Christian scholars, with the Encyclopedia Judaica noting that it was likely a rabbinical writing of the 1200s.

The book surfaced in the US in the early 1800s, when a Jew named Moses Samuel of Liverpool, England, translated the Hebrew version into English and sold the translation to New York publisher Mordecai Manuel Noah. Noah published an American edition in 1840. Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith, just beginning development of his Mormon movement, cited the book as early as 1842. The copyright was obtained by Salt Lake City publisher J.H. Parry, which published an edition in 1887, giving it credibility in Mormon circles, where many consider it as being an inspired writing clear up to today. Given the fact that Mormons were used to the idea of viewing “extra-biblical” writings, such as Smith’s Book of Mormon and his other writings, as inspired, it is understandable why they might give approval to such a book. But it’s not quite clear why it has developed such a following in more traditional evangelical circles, given the content, which in many cases just cannot be harmonized with the Bible. For an overview and excerpts of some of the content, see “Sample Content from Some of the Most Popular Extra-Canonical Books.

NewNewNewNew TestamentTestamentTestamentTestament PseudepigraphaPseudepigraphaPseudepigraphaPseudepigrapha

Just as there were a large number of writers who appended the name of famous Old Testament personages on to their own writings to give them credibility, a number of authors in the centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus composed documents purporting to have been written by well-known New Testament characters or their associates. These included apocalypses, Gospels (narratives of the life of Jesus similar to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible), epistles (letters) similar to those of Paul in the New Testament, alleged

collections of sayings of Jesus, and narratives claiming to tell of the activities of the twelve Apostles or other disciples of Jesus after the accounts in the book of Acts. There are close to a hundred of these available in English translation today, and there is evidence that there were at least 150 or more others circulating in the early centuries after the time of Jesus. Some commentators refer to all of these as “New Testament Apocryphal works.” Others use Pseudepigrapha as a designation for all. And still others recognize a subset of the Pseudepigrapha—those documents which had a wider acceptance in the early Church even though they didn’t make it into the Canonical New Testament—and reserve the term “New Testament Apocrypha” for that collection.

An extensive collection of “Early Christian Writings,” along with background and commentary on each, can be found at:

This collection includes all the books of the canonical New Testament as well as many of the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal works.

RabbinicalRabbinicalRabbinicalRabbinical writingswritingswritingswritings

In addition to the apocryphal and pseudepigraphal documents that may seem to be in imitation of the books of canonical scripture, many Jewish scholars of the centuries just before and after the time of Christ wrote theological material which has had an extremely strong influence on religious thought among both Jews and Christians to this day. They didn’t present their material as on a par with scripture, but as commentary on scripture—and interpretation of scripture. The following definitions will be helpful in understanding the descriptions of some of this material below.



2222 :::: a Jew qualified to expound and apply the halakah and other Jewish law


… the body of Jewish law supplementing the scriptural law and forming especially the legal part of the Talmud

HaggadahHaggadah,HaggadahHaggadah AggadahAggadahAggadahAggadah

… ancient Jewish lore forming especially the nonlegal part of the Talmud

Rabbinic,Rabbinic,Rabbinic,Rabbinic, rabbinical:rabbinical:rabbinical:rabbinical:

of or relating to rabbis or their writings

TheTheTheThe TalmudTalmudTalmudTalmud

The TalmudTalmudTalmudTalmud (תלמוד) is a record of rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, customs, and stories, which are authoritative in Jewish tradition. It is the fundamental source for rabbinic legislation and case law. The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah, which is the first written compendium of Judaism's Oral Law; and the Gemara, a discussion of the Mishnah (though the terms Talmud and Gemara are often used interchangeably). While arranged as comments on the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings, the Gemara often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Tanakh. The Gemara is the basis for all codes of rabbinic law and is much quoted in other rabbinic literature.

…Mishna…Mishna…Mishna…Mishna andandandand GemaraGemaraGemaraGemara

The Jewish Oral law was recorded by Rabbi Judah haNasi and redacted [redact: to edit and prepare for publication] as the Mishnah (משנה) in 200 CE. The oral traditions were committed to writing to preserve them, as it became apparent that the Palestine Jewish community, and its learning, was threatened. The rabbis of the Mishnah are known as Tannaim (sing. Tanna תנא); many teachings in the Mishnah are reported in the name of a specific Tanna.

Over the next three centuries the Mishna underwent analysis and debate in Palestine and Babylonia (the world's major Jewish communities). This analysis is known as Gemara ( גמרא). The rabbis of the Gemara are referred to as Amoraim (sing. Amora אמורא). The analysis of the Amoraim is generally focused on clarifying the positions, words and views of the Tannaim.

Many Christians who have heard of the Talmud assume that it is made up primarily of legalistic discussions of just how to apply Old

Testament laws, such as how to keep the Sabbath. This is not so. The content ranges widely on almost every aspect of human life, philosophy, ethics, government, personal relationships, and much more. And it is full of discussions of all sorts of parables and stories, including speculation on the nature of the supernatural world. It is in this context that there were many Talmudic stories and speculations that made their way into both some of the pseudepigraphal Jewish and Christian writings, and the speculative theology of some of the early Christian “church Fathers.”


Upon the foundations of Scripture a gigantic structure was reared at the time of the completion of the Talmud. Post- Talmudic mysticism extravagantly enlarged this structure, until it reached from earth to heaven; and the fanciful ideas of the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, of the Talmudic and Midrashic works, and of the mystic and cabalistic literature rush along like a wild stream that overflows its banks. From this wealth of material the assumption may be drawn that the Angelology was not systematically organized. The Judaic intellect is little inclined to systematization; and a systematic Angelology was a matter of impossibility with the vast number of haggadists [rabbis who specialized in commentary on the non-legal aspects of the Talmud], who lived and taught at different times and places, and under a manifold variety of circumstances. In this regard it is difficult to distinguish between Palestinians and Babylonians, between the Tannaim and the Amoraim; for descriptions of heaven varied according to the exegetic needs of the homily and the social condition of the audience.

For more details on the topic of Talmudic angelology, see the Jewish Encyclopedia link above.

EaEarlyEaEarlyrlyrly ChristianChristianChristianChristian WritersWritersWritersWriters

Many aspects of angelology in “popular” Christian thinking throughout the past 1,500 years have been derived primarily from a very few influential authors whose works became “classics.” The names of three in particular are regularly introduced into discussions of angelology. The first was primarily a speculative theologian. The other two were authors of fictional works … works which were so persuasive in their portrayals of heaven and hell—and angels and demons—that over time they became accepted as “the way things really are.” And thus later writers incorporated into their own works many of the basic elements of the stories of these three that were based not on the Bible at all, but on a conglomeration of the sources listed above—and the very active imaginations of the authors themselves.


Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as pseudo-Denys, is the name scholars have given to an anonymous theologian and philosopher of the 5th century, who wrote a collection of books, the Corpus Areopagiticum, falsely ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, mentioned in Acts 17:34

According to medieval Christian theologians, the Angels are organized into several orders, or AngelicAngelicAngelicAngelic ChoirsChoirs.ChoirsChoirs The most influential of these classifications was that put forward by









century, in his book The Celestial Hierarchy.

In this work, the author drew on passages from the New Testament, specifically Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16 (considered by modern scholars to be very tentative and ambiguous sources in relation to the construction of such a schema), to construct a schema of three HierarchiesHierarchies,HierarchiesHierarchies SpheresSpheresSpheresSpheres or TriadsTriadsTriadsTriads of angels, with each Hierarchy containing three OrdersOrdersOrdersOrders or ChoirsChoirs.ChoirsChoirs In descending order of power, these were:

FirstFirstFirstFirst Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:






Thrones or Ophanim

SecondSecondSecondSecond Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:







ThirdThirdThirdThird Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:Hierarchy:







For more details on the speculations about the angelic choirs, see:


DanteDanteDanteDante Botticelli Inferno illustration, 1400s Durante degli Alighieri, commonly known as Dante, was a 14

Botticelli Inferno illustration, 1400s

Durante degli Alighieri, commonly known as Dante, was a 14 th Century Italian poet. His most famous work, titled in English The Divine Comedy, is a collection of three separate poems which describe fictional trips by Dante to Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

The most influential of these, usually dubbed Dante’s Inferno, has been published separately in numerous editions through the subsequent centuries, right up to today. It covers in excruciating detail Dante’s trip to what he describes as varying levels and compartments of Hell, being given a tour by the first century pagan poet Virgil.

In spite of the fact that The Inferno was clearly identifiable as a work of fiction, many religious writers and artists for the next 500 years used its imagery as if it was an actual geography of the Underworld, and the

descriptions of the torments of Hell in it as if they were elements of a documentary.

A detailed overview of Dante’s poem, including commentary on its influence throughout history, can be seen at:


MiltonMiltonMiltonMilton English poet John Milton wrote his most famous epic poem,

English poet John Milton wrote his most famous epic poem, Paradise Lost, in 1667. It describes in elaborate detail the pre-history of the angelic realm, the “rebellion of Lucifer,” the creation of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Although Milton was not a theologian, and claimed no divine inspiration for the details he included in the poem, its scenarios worked their way into the popular conception of Heaven and Hell for the next three centuries and are still influential today.

Many artists, authors, and religious teachers from a wide variety of backgrounds have blended his concepts into their own art works and writings. The result is that many Bible students seem not to realize that many of their own perspectives on these topics are not grounded in the few scriptures from the Bible which elaborate on these topics, but on fanciful embellishments by such artists, authors, and teachers—that have been, in part, derived from the fertile imagination of Milton.

Samples of illustrations by famous artists for editions of Paradise Lost can be seen at:

An exploration of the poem and its influence, including summaries and commentary, can be seen at:

InInInIn SummarySummarySummarySummary

The Bible has very little to say regarding the “pre-history” of angels, and about their activities when they aren’t making announcements to humans or doing God’s bidding in ministering to humans. It does not describe their appearance in detail, nor does it clarify anything about some sort of heavenly “governmental hierarchy” within which they might function. It only names two of them, Michael and Gabriel.

Therefore, any authors purporting to give additional information of this sort beyond what is in the pages of the Bible—including detailed descriptions of angels, names of other angels, scenarios in heaven or in pre-human history, and details of a hierarchy of angelic beings—must either be divinely-inspired on the level of the authors of the canonical books of the Bible, or are spinning tales which are the invention of their own human speculation and imagination. The reality is that Jewish authors from as far back as 200 BC and earlier, and Christian authors for the past almost 2000 years, have indulged in such speculation and imaginative flights of fancy. This has included both Catholic and Protestant writers, and teachers from many “non-mainstream” religious

groups such as the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and many more.

A person who accepts the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as being the only sure foundation of information for Faith would do well to take any such information not just with a grain of salt, but perhaps a whole salt-shaker. If the Bible is a sufficient foundation for Faith and salvation, and God did not see fit to include more information about these topics within its collection of documents, then embellishing its content with legends and myths about angels doesn’t serve to enhance faith. It has seemed primarily designed at best to tickle ears that want to know “some new thing.” And at worst, it has ended up twisting some of the simple truths of the Bible, and taking people down paths that have led to confusion and darkness.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations in this collection of articles are from the THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. (NIV) © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

If you have questions or comments about any of the material in the articles in this collection of Answers About Angels, you may write to: