Angel - A Word Study Writen by Lyle Lange

In this study I hope to show that our preconceptions of the word angel may be wrong. The modern conception of angel involves a spirit being that is semi-transparent with wings, yet is largely humanoid. Scholars will commonly say that the word angel means messenger. My intent is to show that the view that angels are just messengers of God is untrue.

To begin, the english word angel comes from the biblical greek word angelos. In the NIV it is translated angel, angels or angel's 169 times versus messenger or messengers 6 times. With the general rule that the meaning of a word is more likely that of what it is translated to the most, it would appear that angelos does mean angel. The problem with this logic is that angel is not acctually a translation but a transliteration, meaning we just took the os off the back of the greek word and went with that. Then when we come to this transliterated word we just assign it whatever meaning we have for angelos. But we are not turn of the first century Greek-o-phones. The meaning of this word has been strongly biased by time and culture.

To remedy this you have to assume that these 169 transliterations don't count as much, as we really don't know what angelos means. We know what angelos means as much as we know tarbardraic means. We may as well read any passage were angelos appears and place tarbardraic in its place. That leaves us with the translation messenger. Does the word angelos mean messenger?

The english word messenger is very simple. I basically means, one who delivers a message, a herald. That said, we can see from biblical example that this word, messenger, doesn't apply. We can read in Luke 9:51-52 that the word angelos (translated messenger) doesn't just involve sending a message.
"As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messenders on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him;" - Luke 9:51-52 (NIV)
As you can see this does not refer to someone that is just delivering a message and leaving, but to someone that has been:

  1. Sent
  2. To represent who sent them
  3. To act on behalf of who sent them
Another verse that can add light on the word angelos occurs in James 2:25. Here the word angelos is translated to spies!!!
"In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent then off in a different direction?" - James 2:25 (NIV)
How can angel be the same as spy? Consider this, "What is a spy?" Another word for spy is emissary or agent. What is an agent? An agent is someone who is sent, to represent who sent them, to act on behalf of who sent them. So an all-around good translation of the word angelos could be agent.

Let's see how this stacks up to other uses of the word. The word angelos is translated to messenger refering to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:10, Mark 1:2 and Luke 7:27 which are describing the same account. John the Baptist can certainly be seen as a simple messenger as his message was 'turning to God' and 'baptism'. But also note that John did not just tell the people to be baptised but he actually baptised people himself. He was more than a messenger of God. He was an agent of God. John the Baptist was sent by God, to represent God, to act on behalf of God. John prepared the way for Jesus's ministry not just by preaching that the Messiah was nigh but by bringing the Jews of his time under an umbrella of submision to God through babtism.

Luke 7:24 uses angelos (translated messengers) to refer to John the Babtist'd disciples. But you can see in Luke 7:18 that these disciples didn't come to bring a message but to ask a question.
"John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" - Luke 7:18 (NIV)
John's disciples were acting as messengers, yes, but also as agents. They were sent, to represent John the Baptist, to act on behalf of John the Babtist. John the Babtist gave them very limited instructions such that they were both agent and messenger.

The only other occurance of angelos as messenger is in II Corinthians 12:7. Here Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as a messenger of Satan. Here, Paul is not saying that this torn has a message for him from Satan, but that Satan is applying this thorn to him, and this thorn is from Satan and doing his bidding. Again this follows the pattern. The torn is sent from Satan, to represent Satan, to act on behalf of Satan.

What of the traditional view of angels or all those other transliterations to the word angel? This can be simply answered by saying that angels often came with more than messages but actually did things for God. Acts 12:7-10 provides an excellent example.
"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." - Acts 12:7-10 (NIV)
Here it almost seems as if angelos could be translated spy. Certainly this heavenly being is doing more than delivering a message of, "Put your clothes on." This heavenly being is busting Peter out of prison. To do this the heavenly being was sent by God to represent God to act on behalf of God. This heavenly being is an agent of the Lord.

In conclusion the best way to truely translate angel is to the word agent, or agent of God. It is important to translate meaning, but even more important to translate the correct meaning. To say that angelic beings are mearly heavenly heralds ignores much of what these created beings have to offer. We may not know much about them, but we shouldn't limit their role. In the end angels are the agents of God.