What Are Some Popular Misconceptions about Angels?

This is a post by guest author Lindsay Kennedy.

In previous posts, we drew from Michael Heiser’s Angels to understand what the Bible tells us about angels. We saw that caring about angels does not make one a fanatic. We also learned that angels are immaterial members of God’s heavenly host who are also involved in governing the world. However, there are many misconceptions and myths about angels out there.

In this final post, we continue to draw from Michael Heiser’s Angels to address several popular misconceptions about angels from a biblical perspective.

Do angels have a language, and can Christians speak it?

Paul says that “if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Does this mean that angels have their own language and Christians can speak it?

Regarding heavenly language, Heiser notes that some ancient Jewish writings refer to an esoteric language spoken only by angels (e.g., the Testament of Job, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and the Ascension of Isaiah). This may shed some light on Paul’s own heavenly vision, where he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor 12:2–4). Perhaps he could not elaborate on the vision because what he heard was unintelligible to him. In any case, his words do suggest that angels have a language.

But does Paul indicate that believers can speak this heavenly language? While it’s possible, Paul is almost certainly speaking hypothetically and rhetorically to make a greater point. In that case, Paul is not saying that believers can speak angelic languages, but that the ability to do so would be useless without love.

So the answer to the question is: it’s possible, but it’s not our concern. Rather, we are to pursue love and let love always flavor our speech.

Do Christians command angels?

Regarding angels, Hebrews 1:14 rhetorically asks, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Many believe this biblically warrants Christians to command angels. According to Heiser, there are at least two problems with this belief.

First, “for the sake of” is a translation of the Greek dia, which has a limited range of possible meanings. In this context, it “marks the object of the service of angels, not the source of their service” (p. 175). In other words, angels work for the benefit of, but not at the behest of, believers.

Second, to put it simply, “there isn’t a single instance in Scripture where a human being commands an angel” (p. 175). Such a view would be inconsistent with Scripture’s teaching on angels, humans, and God’s authority. However, believers will judge angels, as seen below.

What about guardian angels?

Is there any biblical support for the idea of guardian angels? Though many dismiss the idea out of hand and rightly emphasize the sufficiently of Jesus’ advocacy (1 Tim 2:5), there are certainly hints of some kind of guardian or mediation role for angels.

First, Jesus refers to“little ones” and the fact that “their angels [will] always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 18:10). This indicates angels are assigned as advocates for at least some individuals.

Second, there is the story of Peter’s release from prison in Acts 12. After Peter was released, the believers who were praying for this freedom did not believe he was knocking at the door. Rather, when they heard he was outside, they replied: “It is his angel!” (Acts 12:15).

Beyond these tantalizing hints, we do know that angels protect individuals (Ps 91:11–12; Luke 4:10) and even were called “mediators” (Job 33:23). They also aided visionaries by providing interpretations (e.g. Dan 7:16). Angels will also gather in the elect (Matt 13:39; 24:31).

So there is a biblical reason to believe in “guardian angels,” but probably not in the sense that has been popularized in TV and film. It is a mystery of which Scripture only reveals a sliver, and Christians would be wise not to see more than is revealed.

Do we become angels when we die?

It’s quite popular to believe that people—or at least Christians—become angels when they die. Despite many misconceptions around this belief, it has some grounding in Scripture. There may be two reasons for this.

First is the biblical doctrine of glorification. Scripture teaches that when believers are raised from the dead, they will become like Jesus (1 John 3:1–3), like angels (Matt 22:30; Mark 12:25), have an existence in “celestial” flesh (1 Cor 15:35–49), and partake in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). It makes sense why people might miss the nuance—Christians become like angels—and say outright that Christians do actually become angels.

Second is the biblical vocabulary for glorified believers and angels. Just as angels are called “sons of God,” so too are believers (e.g. Luke 20:36; Rom 8:19). Both are also called “holy ones” or “saints” (e.g., angels in Job 15:15 and Ps 89:7 and believers in Rom 1:7 and 1 Thess 3:3).

Although believers won’t become angels, the destiny of believers does relate to that of angels.  Believers will transcend angels (Heb 2:5–18) and even “judge” them (1 Cor 6:3). As Heiser says, “We are destined to reconstitute the divine council of Yahweh alongside his spiritual children, the ‘sons of God,’ the members of his loyal heavenly host” (p. 176).

Conclusion

For every truth, there is a range of misunderstandings or misconceptions. This is especially the case with the Bible’s teaching on angels. As we have seen in this series, Scripture does say many fascinating things on the topic. However, we must take care to receive what the Bible says about angels and not speculate beyond it. 

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Lindsay John Kennedy, an Aussie/Brit living in the USA, is a card-carrying Bible nerd who serves at Imprint Church and blogs at My Digital Seminary.

 

Comments

  1. More about what the Bible says about Angels.
    I wrote this blog on my website about Angels.
    “Angels – What the Bible Says About Angels”
    http://biblesymbol.com/symbol-angel/
    I give a lot of simple details about Angels and who they are and what they are.

    While you are there check out the rest of the website on Bible Symbolism and how to Find, Interpret, and Apply Symbolism in the Bible.