Angelogy, the Study of Angels
"When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, 'Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." Genesis 19:15
What is an Angel?
By James T. Bartsch, WordExplain
A. Angel in the Old Testament
1. The Old Testament word translated angel is the Hebrew word malak (4397, Strong’s Concordance). The most basic meaning of the word is messenger.
2. There are instances in the O. T. when malak is translated messenger. In the following examples, malak clearly refers to human messengers.
a. Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau to inform him of his soon arrival. The messengers reported back to Jacob that Esau was coming with four hundred men, news which Jacob found very unsettling (Gen. 32:3, 6).
b. “Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom” requesting permission to travel through their land (Num. 20:14).
c. “Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites” requesting permission to travel through their land (Num. 21:21).
d. Moab sent messengers to Balaam to request that he come and curse the Israelis (Num. 22:4-6).
3. There are a great many more instances when malak refers to a supernatural messenger from God. In these instances malak is translated angel. A few examples will suffice.
a. Angels appeared to Lot in order to urge him, his wife, and his two daughters to flee from Sodom to escape the coming judgment (Gen. 19:15).
b. An angel appeared to Elijah when he was fleeing for his life from Jezebel. Twice the angel told the exhausted Elijah to rise and eat the food the angel had prepared for him (1 Kings 19:5, 7).
c. An angel appeared to Zechariah to show him the meaning of the vision he saw concerning red, sorrel, and white horses (Zech. 1:9).
B. Angel in the New Testament
1. The New Testament word translated angel is the Greek word aggelos (New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance G32a). It is readily apparent that the English word angel is transliterated directly from the Greek word aggelos. (In Greek, when two gammas (g’s) appear together, they are pronounced with the “ng” sound followed by the “g” sound. Hence, aggelos is pronounced “ahng-gelos”.) As in Hebrew, the most basic meaning of the Greek aggelos is messenger.
2. There are instances in the N. T. when aggelos refers to a human messenger.
a. Jesus said of John the Baptist that he was the prophesied messenger God sent before Him (Matt. 11:10).
b. When John the Baptist was languishing in prison, he sent two disciples to Jesus to ask if He were really the Expected One (Luke 7:19-20). After Jesus responded to their question, the messengers (Luke 7:24) returned to John with their answer.
c. Rahab the harlot was justified by works when she received the Israeli messengers (spies), and sent them safely on their way (James 2:25).
d. Jesus instructed the Apostle John to write to seven messengers of seven different churches (Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). Though most Bible versions translate aggelos in these passages as angel, it is best to understand the recipients as human messengers who were to convey the contents of the messages to the respective churches. This is true because the condemning content of the messages does not distinguish between the messenger and the churches. If the bearers of the messages were supernatural angels, why would they be condemned along with the churches?
3. Of course, the predominant reference to aggelos in the New Testament is to a supernatural messenger from God.
a. The angel Gabriel informed Zacharias that he and his wife would have a son, to be named John (Luke 1:11-19).
b. The angel Gabriel informed the virgin Mary she would give birth to the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38).
c. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, inasmuch as the child she was carrying had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was to name the child Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:18-21).
d. An angel instructed Philip to journey from Samaria to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza. There Philip met and evangelized an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-27).
e. In a vision, an angel instructed the Roman Centurion Cornelius to send for Simon Peter (Acts 10:1-8). Cornelius obeyed, and he and his household later became believers in Jesus while Peter preached a brief sermon to them!
1. The primary meaning of both the Hebrew and Greek words translated angel is messenger.
2. Though the words malak and aggelos can and do refer to human messengers, more often they refer to supernatural messengers from God.
3. The primary function of God’s angels, from a lexical point of view, is to deliver messages to humans. That is certainly not all they do, for angels perform a wide variety of functions. But that seems to be their primary ministry.
4. We conclude that God is a gregarious, verbal being who loves to communicate with His creatures. Furthermore, He frequently has used His supernatural messengers, angels, to communicate with His human creation, man.
5. Incidentally, but quite in character, through Jesus, God has commanded humans to communicate His Good News about Jesus to other humans in all nations of the world (Matt. 28:18-20). God places a high premium on accurate, effective communication!
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Originally published April, 2008. Updated February 5, 2022
Published Online by WordExplain.com
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Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Updated February 5, 2022