Title: Angels: Ancient Whisper of Another World
Publisher: Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers
Date of Publication: 2012
Page Count: xiv, 197
That figures! A guy with the last name “Angel” had to write a book about angels. When I first saw the title of this book and the author’s name, my jaw dropped and I did a double take.
Andy Angel is Director of Extension Studies at St. John’s College in Nottingham, England. He is also a professor of New Testament (NT) there. He wrote Chaos and the Son of Man (2006). But with this book, Andy Angel takes up a subject that underwent much neglect in past centuries that now is undergoing a revival.
Andy Angel does a commendable job on this book, Angels: Ancient Whisper of Another World. He asks the common questions people ask about angels and tries to answer them. His bibliography reveals that he is widely read on this subject, since it consists of thirteen pages in fine print for a book of only 161 pages of text. Plus, Andy cites mostly distinguished scholars. He cites primarily the Bible’s presentation of angels. But Andy also quotes many texts from Jewish inter-testamental literature. These latter I regard mostly as commentaries on the Jewish Bible (Old Testament=OT).
In chapter 1, “Are Angels Real?,” the author asks this question and then says, “Some of the Protestant Reformers have left us a legacy of mocking belief in angels” (p. 1). It is mostly due to Roman Catholic beliefs in angels that are strange. Of course, rationalists have always rejected the concept of angels. Andy then acknowledges a change in our post-modern world by saying, “Interest in angels has grown in the last few decades” (p. 2).
I agree with Andy Angel’s description of angels as personal beings. He explains, “They are spirits—they possess intelligence, emotion, and will” (p. 10). But I disagree with Andy in saying, “Angels are incorporeal; they have no bodies. They are spirits” (p. 10). He repeatedly assumes that “bodies” can be only physical. This assumption does not coincide with the Bible.
The Bible abundantly presents angels as always having human-looking form that humans literally see and that angels can appear and disappear instantly. These biblical narratives suggest that angels have human-like form that is not physical. None of these narratives include instances in which people actually touch these angelic forms, but that is not the case with the resurrected Jesus.
The same instantaneous appearing and disappearing that angels do occurred with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (e.g., Matt. 28.9; Luke 24.31, 36; John 20.19, 26; cf. Mark 16.9, 12, 14). But some of Jesus’ disciples touched his resurrected body. For instance, Matthew informs that when the women discovered Jesus’ tomb empty early Sunday morning, “they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him” (Matt. 28.8-9).
Luke reports that when Jesus’ disciples were gathered together that first Easter evening, “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet” (Luke 24.36-40). Then Jesus ate some fish to prove he was neither ghost nor angel (vv. 41-43). And Peter later said of himself and others that they “were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him [Jesus] after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10.41).
Moreover, the Apostle Paul teaches about the nature of the resurrection body by saying of the mortal, human body, “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15.44). So, I don’t think Andy Angel considers that there are physical bodies of humans and there will be spiritual bodies of humans. Being spirit does not negate spirit form.
In Chapter 4, the author rightly acknowledges that God has seven archangels, that his archangel Michael is the commander-in-chief of God’s angelic armies in heaven (e.g., YHWH of hosts), and that angels were involved in God’s giving of his Law to Moses on Mount Sinai (Acts 7.38, 53; Galatians 3.19; cf. Hebrews 2.2).
In Chapter 1, Andy had said, “God is incorporeal. God is spirit or mind and to this extent has a similar nature to angels” (p. 13). In Chapter 5, “What Do Angels Look Like?” he states again, “Angels are created spirits. They are essentially incorporeal, they have no bodies” (p. 49). Again, Andy doesn’t recognize that angels have actual form, whether or not it should be designated a spiritual body.
The author then asserts, “As spirits, angels are not only incorporeal but invisible” (p. 50). No way! Several biblical accounts tell of humans literally seeing and conversing with angels (e.g., Daniel 9.21-27; 10.10-21; 12.5-13; Matt. 28.2-7; Mark 16.5-7; Luke 24.4-7; John 20.12-13; Acts 1.9-11). Andy also says, “angels in heaven are created male. Angels are male spirits” (p. 50). On the contrary, see my post on 10/13/14, “The Bible Doesn’t Say God Created the Angels.”) Andy adds, “Angels are spirits … of the male gender” (p. 57, cf. p. 65). See below for my view of angels being asexual.
God himself is presented in the Bible numerous times as having form that is visible to angels and sometimes seen in vision by humans (1 Kings 22.19; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; Daniel 7.9-14, 22; Revelation 4-5; 22.4). In the biblical accounts of humans having visions of God, nothing in those texts indicate God’s form should not be understood literally. (However, I think God can change his appearance.) Moreover, Jesus once said to his interlocutors, “The Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form” (John 5.37).
So, Jesus implies God has form. Most Bible-believers acknowledge that God the Father literally has a voice. Then, to be consistent about this above saying of Jesus, God the Father must also have form that at least his angels can literally see.
Most Bible believers object to this idea of God having form. It is largely due to the Bible’s strong condemnation of idolatry. Thus, it is thought that belief in God having form could lead to making an idol of it. But I think that is a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Thus, I think Jewish Merkabah mystics are right in their focus on God having form and riding a wheeled chariot as Ezekiel saw in his vision, saying, “there was something like a throne in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form…. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (Ezekiel 1.26, 28).
Some Jewish, inter-testamental literature narrates certain humans such as Elijah, Abraham, or Moses literally going to heaven and returning. Andy Angel affirms this by saying angels sometimes “take a person on a tour of heaven” (p. 57). But this view conflicts with Jesus saying, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of man,” referring to himself (John 3.13).
In Chapter 6, “Do Angels Have Sex?” Andy answers, “Only the wicked ones” (p. 59). I disagree strongly. Andy takes this view largely because he aligns with the present majority of scholars who interpret “the sons of God” in Genesis 6.2 as wicked angels, whereas I believe they are men who went astray.
I like what Bruce Waltke says of this difficult text in Genesis 6.1-4. He first presents three main interpretations of it: (1) the godly line, being the sons of Seth, took wives from among the ungodly line, being the daughters of Cain; (2) angels had sexual relations with female humans; and (3) the “royal tyrannical successors of Lamech … claimed for themselves deity, violated the divine order by forming royal harems, and perverted their mandate to rule the earth under God” (Genesis: A Commentary, p. 116). The (1) interpretation has been most popular among Christians, and the (2) interpretation was popular among Jews even predating Christianity, and it has had a revival among scholars in modern times. Waltke concludes, “The best solution is to combine the ‘angelic’ interpretation with the ‘divine king’ view. The tyrants were demon possessed” (p. 117).
I was taught the (2) interpretation early in my theological education. But I soon rejected it, and still do, mostly because Jesus told the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in resurrection, “when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12.25). So, Jesus clearly says angels are asexual. Thus, angels do not have sexual organs and therefore cannot procreate.
I regard Chapter 7, “Do People Become Angels When They Die?” as rather silly. But some people sincerely ask this, and some scholars speak of “angelomorphism.” Andy quotes Daniel 12.1-3, which says resurrected people will “shine like the brightness of the sky” and “like the stars forever and ever.” Then I think Andy errs in saying, “In effect, Daniel says here that the righteous are to become angels” (pp. 70-71).
In Chapter 8, the author rightly accepts biblical accounts of guardian angels over nations, which is confirmed in Exodus 23.20-22; 33.2; Daniel 10.13, 21.
In Chapter 9, Andy well affirms a biblical truth that many believers puzzle over, that the OT often portrays God “like a warrior with real angelic armies…. Even the name of God, the ‘LORD of Hosts,’ reflects this—the ‘hosts’ of which it speaks are the armies of angels” (p. 88). He refers to God’s angels. Indeed, when God overthrew Pharaoh’s armies in the sea, Moses afterwards wrote a song that said, “The LORD is a warrior” (Exodus 15.3). And Isaiah writes, “The LORD goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up fury” (Isaiah 42.13). Andy then cites various texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls that divulge much information about this subject (pp. 92-95). And upon quoting from Revelation, Andy well says of Jesus at his second coming, “Jesus leads the army of the heavenly hosts and clearly acts as their commander” (p. 98).
In Chapter 10, “Is Satan Misunderstood?” Andy does well in describing Satan as the tempter and a prosecuting attorney who appears before God in heaven as affirmed in Job 1.6-12; 2.1-6; Revelation 12.9-10. But I disagree with him saying Satan is presented in these Job texts as a “member of the divine council” (p. 107, cf. p. 113).
In Chapter 11, “Principalities and Powers,” the author well relates that angels have a hierarchy. The Apostle Paul affirms this in some of his NT epistles. Andy also rightly says that angels often come from heaven and watch humans. (See “holy watchers” in Daniel 4.13, 17, 23; cf. Hebrews 1.14; and see especially 1 Enoch.)
In Chapter 12, “Bewitched,” Andy briefly addresses angel-induced magic and demon possession. He cites psychiatrist David Instone-Brewer, who is also one of my favorite biblical exegetes, on the reality of demon possession (p. 145-46).
In the final Chapter 13, “Why Angels?” Andy correlates “the explosion of interest in angels in second temple Judaism” with our western world “since the 1980s” (p. 150-51). Interestingly, Andy Angel also says, “Angels are more like most of us” (p. 155). Moreover, he relates that he used to not quite believe in the reality of angels, but now he does (pp. 158-59). He concludes by admitting, “I remain devoid of angel experiences…. I do not hanker after angel encounters either” (p. 160). With this the author silences any possible curious readers who may overly desire to see an angel.