Angels Vs. Messengers… A War of Words? [Earthquakes…Signs of the Times, 6 (Mark 13)]

This is the Sixth post in a series titled: Earthquakes… Signs of the Times?  I invite you to read the rest of the series here to catch up (the first post would be extremely helpful)…


We have been doing a study to discern whether or not we can rightfully say that earthquakes and other natural disasters are “signs of the times” or indicators that the “end times” are coming soon.  This next point, is not critical to the study but may offer us a helpful hint about Mark 13.  There is a textual nuance that may become important in this study that is found in verse 27.  The TNIV renders the passage the following way: “And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds…”  The question at hand is the word “angels” which is from the Greek word “άγγελοι.”  This is a word that commonly refers to angels in the Bible, but can also equally refer to human messengers depending on the context.[1] In classical Greek, this term meant: “the messenger, the ambassador in human affairs, who speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him.”[2] The question becomes whether or not we actually think this is referring to people or to angelic beings.  Of the translations that we have examined thus far, there are none that leave open the possibility that this word should be rendered messengers.  There is one translator that has chosen to take this liberty in two different places: N. T. Wright.[3] Unfortunately these are not mainstream translations.  So, who wins this “war of words:” angels or messengers?  It seems that this will be a discussion that will not be easily resolved.    However, for the purposes of this study we ought to allow for the word “άγγελοι” to mean either of the two options, rather to cage up its definition into a box of religious assumptions.

What are your thoughts about the importance of thinking about various words as they were used in their historical context?

PS – If anyone know how to make Greek font show up in wordpress, that would be helpful as well 🙂

UPDATE: Thanks to Dan (who by the way is an excellent blogger) as he gave me a tool to convert words into Greek in a way that WordPress recognizes!  Go here.

Also, take note of his comment on another text that uses this word as messenger: “άγγελος is also the word used of the people sent by John the Baptist to ask Jesus whether he was the Christ, in Luke 7:24.” (in comments to this post)  In my opinion, this is another great indication that the traditional way of translating this particular word in Mark 13 has been influenced by futurist views of the “end.”  Any thoughts on this as well?

[1]. N. T. Wright, Jesus and The Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), under “361 n. 152.”


[2]. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 101.

[3]. Wright, Jesus and The Victory of God, 361 and Wright, Mark for Everyone, 181.

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