Angels: ‘in the realm of glory’?

Angels in the realm of glory,

Wing your flight o’er all the earth;

Ye who sang creation’s story,

Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Come and worship,

Come and worship,

Worship Christ the newborn King?


Angels are rather popular in the present ‘New Age’. They don’t seem to have the status of simply being the figments of our imagination –fairies down the bottom of the proverbial garden– or the bottom of the bed. Back in the seventies, my wife did see such a creature at the bottom of the bed not long after she had had a miscarriage. It was, without doubt, a ‘real experience’ for her. I do believe that she saw this ‘child-like’ apparition.

Apart from the Christmas Carols and Nativity Plays, where ‘angels’ are evident in vast numbers though cherub-like rather than the angels mentioned in the above Carol. Angels come to the fore in the Nine Lessons and Carols events. Indeed, we have two such events on the third Sunday of Advent at our church: St Mary’s Church Ferndown; n fact, we have two such services (1630 & 1900). I digress.  Angels play a big part in the majority of the lessons read from the Gospels.  This is all well and good but are these ‘encounters with angels’ of any significance?  What are ANGELS anyway? Do they have any significance after Christmas–in the real world?

Angels are Evident

Firstly, it should be noted that there is no need to assume that the ‘time’ and location of the creation of the devil and the other angels should be accounted for in the Genesis story of creation as there is no direct reference to their creation Moreover it is important to maintain the notion of these extra-terrestrial beings as having the will to choose ‘wrong’ from ‘right’: to bring about a state of affairs that might not appear to be the preferred will of God but that of the outworking of minds opposed to the good.

There can be no reason why angels could not be endowed with the kind of abilities that, ‘even science’, have no present/personal acquaintance with. Indeed, even though God the Father is incorporeal—God, nevertheless, cannot be restricted to any particular ‘reality’ designated by either science or philosophy—as if God, who is spirit, could not possess, within God’s life, such things as personality, will, intellect and ‘personal existence’.

Angels (both holy and unholy), though usually without form (incorporeal), may, as Scripture makes clear, inhabit the ‘physicality’ of—what appears to be some kind of carbon-based life forms. Moreover, as with God, who is Spirit, angels have personal qualities that are far superior to that of mankind. These creatures were, according to Scripture, privileged beings with powers that far surpass those of human agents.[1] Hebrews 2:7-9 (also Psalm 8:5) refers to the ‘position’ of the incarnate ‘son of man’ who was, ‘…for a little while lower than the angels.’ [2]

N.T.Wright (1992) refers to the Shema (“Hear, O Israel: YHWH is one…”)—that it is the most famous Jewish prayer, “…burned into the consciousness of Judaism in the first century and that it was the battle cry of the nation that believed its God to be the only God, supreme in heaven and on earth…”However, as I shall argue in this article, God’s so being in no way precludes the existence of created agents—agents  that may be referred to as: ‘god’s, ‘angels’ or ‘spiritual beings’—the existence of  such created beings is, unlike some forms of dualism, not a challenge or denial of the sovereignty of the God of Scripture.

Ulrich Mauser (Mauser, 1991) argued that the supremacy of Israel’s God over all other gods—though everywhere asserted—is not a denial of the existence of such ‘gods’. Gregory Boyd (1997)argues that, whilst strongly advocating the sovereignty of Yahweh, the Old Testament does include the understanding that, “…Yahweh [must] contend with a sometimes disobedient and incompetent council of spiritual beings (usually called ‘gods’), and must, in fact, contend with one particularly malicious god entitled ‘the adversary’.” Boyd points out that any reality regarding the struggle with other ‘gods’ is never taken to compromise the supremacy and sovereignty of Yahweh but rather it is taken to express the way in which Yahweh is supreme and sovereign.  Boyd makes clear however that the Israelites did not deny the existence of angelic or spiritual beings but rather that these beings (angelic or spiritual) were referred to as ‘gods’—moreover, Boyd also makes clear that these creatures possessed a great deal of autonomous power.     Christopher Southgate comments that “…whatever processes science is able to understand as contributing to the evolution of complexity, life, the richness of ability and diversity in life, and the growth of self-consciousness and freedom of choice, must be presumed to be the gift of God in creation.” (2008)  Southgate is referring here to the creation of life through a material process i.e. in the earth’s biosphere. However, it is, I suggest, the case that such creativity emanates in the mind of God and is not subject to the ‘whims’ of natural processes; and so it is not at all implausible that this should be the case with extra-terrestrial beings. However, when we refer to angels as created agents of God, we are not in a position to offer any physical (materialistic evolutionary) account of their creation. Genesis 2:1 (“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the hosts of them.”) is thought, by some commentators, to include the creation of angels but this is a rather tenuous claim, C.John Collins opines that:

“The ‘heavenly hosts’, which some think of (as referring to angels), do not come into the narrative at all. Hence this passage does not answer the question of when the angels were created. The word (tsaba’) expresses the idea of a ‘serried host’ and can, of course, denote the angels as God’s army. But it has a wider usage.” (Collins, 2006)

It is possible that angels were in existence before the creation of the biosphere—possibly prior to the existence of the material universe.

The existence of angelic beings need not be considered a threat to either science or, indeed, as I have already referred to–to God’s sovereignty. Angels are as much a part of God’s creative will as anything else God may have created. Richard  Swinburne’s (1998) view is that “God has no obligation to create”. (97) God creates in freedom—to offer the freedom of choice that the creation of conscious/sentient beings allows for—even when this freedom entails an element of risk in terms of the outcomes of any choice. The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture does not entail submission of all of creation to a defined pathway. God is free to choose to create or not to create extraterrestrial and terrestrial beings and any and every biological, or otherwise expression of his creativity. Creation, through the evolutionary process or any other means, is God’s prerogative alone though Scripture suggests that God may delegate that responsibility to lesser beings as James J.Grenshaw (Grenshaw, 2005) points out.

Job 1:6 informs us that ‘the sons of God’ presented themselves before God and that Satan ‘came among them’[3].We are not told exactly where the place of meeting (Council of God) was located. It is, however, reasonable to assume that it was to be found somewhere outside of the physical universe—at least the ‘known cosmos’[4]. 

Grenshaw states that “Allusions to this heavenly court can be found in texts of various genres, beginning in Genesis and continuing through much of the Bible.” (2005, 50) Moreover, Crenshaw argues that the peoples of the ancient Near East conceived of the gods—and of these ‘gods’ as forming a heavenly assembly, “…a kind of divine council…” (2005) Psalm 82:1 says that “’God’ has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” Grenshaw refers to both these texts (Job 1:6 and Psalm 82:1)—particularly regarding the use of the word ‘Elohim’— as, “…a telling sign that the polytheistic world of the Bible was understood to be more than simply a literary construct.” (50) The point here is that the notion of other ‘gods’ relates to extra-terrestrial-created-agents—agents also described in Scripture as angelic. Moreover, as it is clear from Scripture that Satan has ‘angelic status’ it is most likely the case that the ‘sons of God’ had a similar status—ergo they were angels.

Regarding the existence of the angelic hosts John Lennox (Lennox, 2011) refers to the ‘unannounced arrival’ of the serpent in Genesis 3—a creature that was clearly opposed to God; a creature that could be described as an ‘alien’—not a biological entity but something extra-terrestrial in origin. Unlike biological entities, angels do not appear to have a ‘shelf-life’—they seem to be much more durable than the normal created entities, such as humankind, and may, as they are bi-corporeal they might not be subject to the effects of entropy as experienced by normal carbon-based creatures: They don’t ‘rust or decay’—they just exist in another realm in the cosmos or—even in a ‘dimension’ as yet undetectable by man or machine. Somehow these ‘creatures’ are given access to this space/time continuum and seem able to do both good and evil—to produce ‘good outcomes’ and ‘harmful outcomes’.The point here is that such creatures are unlike, anything else in all creation, capable of powerful influence within the physical universe—especially here on earth. Ergo, they are formidable adversaries—opposing any good outcomes and encouraging or devising outcomes to the contrary.

Richard Middleton (Middleton, 2005) observes that, although the plurals: ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,’ (Genesis 1:26-28) have been interpreted as ‘a remnant of a polytheistic mythology [referring to the gods of the Canaanite or Mesopotamian pantheon], an adumbration of the Trinity—or at least of a plurality within the Godhead or several other alternatives, a careful intertextual reading of the plurals in Genesis 1:26 suggests that God here addresses the heavenly court or divine council of angels, a reading first suggested in rabbinic commentary on Genesis 1, going back to the ‘Targum Pseudo-Jonathan’ [5]. Middleton also states that in many biblical texts[6], God’s throne room is associated with a heavenly court of angelic beings, who are royal messengers of the cosmic king and who function as God’s attendants or counselors. Moreover, Middleton points out that ‘the main action’ no longer occurs in the heavens:

Rather, the dramatic movement of the text is from the heavens (days 1 and 4) to the waters (days 2 and 5) to the earth (days 3 and 6), which is the focus for four of God’s eight creative acts. This may explain why on day 6, which foregrounds the earth, there is no explicit vision (or mention) of heavenly beings. Yet their presence is alluded to by the shift from third-person jussives in God’s first seven creative acts to the other cryptic cohortative (‘let us make’) in the eighth act. (‘The Liberating Image’)

Middleton’s point is that angelic beings[8] are not foreign to the author of Genesis 1 ‘as is indicated by the occurrence of similar first-person plurals in 3:22 and 11:7 (both of which are usually regarded unproblematic as referring to the heavenly court).’ In other words, it can be assumed that there was some kind of plural communication (if not co-operation) in the act of creation’s genesis at least. Besides the Spirit of God—some of the ‘hosts of heaven’ were present on the earth at the very dawn of the birth of life on earth. The witness of certain New Testament passages is that he whom the Church came to confess as the second person of the Trinity was present (Colossians 1:15-20 & Hebrews 1:1-3;10-13).

Simon Gathercole (Gathercole, 2006) refers to what he terms an ‘I have come + purpose formula’—as in the pronouncements of Angels. The use of this formula is, Gathercole states, ‘not to be understood idiomatically’—as an intrusion into the earthly realm but as a ‘coming with prior intent…Gathercole offers a helpful summary:

Angels announce their advents with the ‘I have come’ + purpose formula. They can do this: a) because they are summarizing not their whole existence (they visit on numerous occasions) but the purpose of a particular visit; b) because they have a pre-existence in heaven. Similarly, Jesus announces his advent with the ‘I have come’ + purpose formula because he is summarizing the purpose of his whole earthly life and ministry. As with the angels, Jesus is not summarizing his whole existence (he will come again, with different purposes). However, he does summarize his life’s work with the ‘I have come’ + purpose formula… (Gathercole, 2006)

Peter S. Williams offers, what he describes as, a set of proposed ‘explananda’ (explicandum):

  • The majority of humanity believes in angels.
  • The majority of philosophers believe in angels.
  • There are various paranormal phenomena that would be coherently and economically explained if demons exist.
  • There are multiple historical and contemporary reports by evidently honest and intelligent eyewitnesses (including psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy) to the reality of Angels and demonic possession (including satanic possession).
  • The Bible teaches that angels and demons (including Gabriel, Michael and Satan) exist (and we have good reason to trust what the Bible teaches).
  • Christian tradition teaches that angels and demons (including Satan) exist.
  • Jesus teaches that angels and demons (including Satan) exists (and we have good reason to trust what Jesus teaches.
  • The hypothesis that demons exist provides a partial explanation of how it is that God and evil are compatible realities.
  • Given the existence of God, there is a continuous pattern of hierarchy in creation that seems to come to a unique, aesthetically abrupt and unexpected end, unless angels exist. (P. Williams 2002, 142-143)

It is obviously the case that ‘belief in something’ (1&2) is not proof of anything other than personal opinion. It is possible that the majority of people may be wrong. For example, not everyone would have believed that the earth was flat but, it most likely, would have been, the majority of people (for whatever reason) who held to that particular belief. Indeed there exists still a ‘Flat Earth Society. If we take number (2) on Williams list (Williams is a philosopher): The majority of philosophers, we can suppose, are erudite folk—they think things through and come to particular conclusions—though often disagreeing as to what is the ‘last word’ on the matter; this is particularly true when it comes to ‘The Problem of Evil’—especially the ‘Philosophical Problem of Evil’—the Evidential Problem of Evil works better. With (3) it seems to be ‘getting warmer’: It is most likely the case that ‘various paranormal phenomena’ can be ‘coherently and economically explained if demons exist’.

The late Martin Israel, pathologist, and professor at the Royal College of Surgeons wrote that there is nowadays (1995) a tendency to psychologize angels—to identify them exclusively with the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Israel says that, while this may be an accurate enough assessment (of a particular occasion) we ought always to be ‘wary of the tendency towards reductionism—ascribing a spiritual phenomenon to nothing but some quirk of the mind.’ (Israel, 1995)

Regarding the manifestation of such phenomenon Israel advised that:

It is much more probable that an angel reveals itself through the archetypical apparatus of the unconscious; in addition, though there may be an incontrovertible physical presence that testifies to its objective reality in our very material world of phenomena.

Israel et al testify to the reality of such revelations and report extensively of the historicity of such testimonies.

As Williams reports, both Scripture and Christian tradition are replete with pieces of evidence/arguments for the existence of such creatures. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that it is the case that Angels exist and that they have a continual influence over both good and bad outcomes. It is also the case that God allows such creatures the freedom to choose either good or bad—to love and serve God or to deny God any allegiance whatsoever.

Given the above detail, we can more than assume that the intelligence, knowledge etc. of angels does not ‘emanate’ from any primordial source, Moreover,  it can be supposed that these creatures are personal beings rather than vague concepts—oppressive systems, power-oriented ideals [mores] etc. We can further assume that they are not restricted to act in the way ‘material’ objects may be considered/constrained so to act.

Resurrection Angels [pic]

Angels in The realm of Glory, Indeed!

Derek J. White (12/18)

[1] These references pertain to the ‘position & power’ of angels: Psalm 34:7; Psalm 82:1; 1 Chronicles 21:15; Isaiah 37:36, 63:9; Ezekiel chapters 1 & 10. Ezekiel 28. The book of Revelation is replete with examples of such creatures as angels. Genesis 6 also makes mention of their being creatures other than humans ‘on earth’; this it can be assumed was a reference to pre-history.

[2] As Christ was made in the form of a man and had subjected himself to this position (Philippians 2:7-8); he, temporarily, had made himself ‘lower than the angels’.

[3] Robert Sutherland says that “As a member of the heavenly host and not yet an outside challenger, he seems to have unlimited access to God and the divine council.” (Sutherland 2004, 33)

[4] There are numerous scriptures that evidence a ‘heavenly council e.g. ‘…let us go down…’ (Genesis 11:7); Isaiah’s vision of God (Isaiah 6); ‘Ascribe to the Lord O heavenly beings,…’ (Psalm 29:1); ‘From heaven, your stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.’ (Judges 5:20); ’…Bring down your warriors, O Lord…’ (Joel 3:11)

[5] ‘Targum Pseudo-Jonathan rests on a tradition going back to pre-Christian times, though its final form is probably sixth century C,E.’ (Middleton 2005,55fn)

[6] Job 1:6;2:1;5:1;15:8;38:7;Psalm 29:1;82:1;89:5-7;97:7;Exodus 15:11;2 Samuel 5:22-25:1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6: 2-8;Jeremiah 23:18, 21-22;Ezekiel 1:312-13;10;Daniel 4:17  etc.

[7] Isaiah 6:8 is another example of a similar first-person plural—‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ (ESV)

[8] Contrary to some objections—objections that Middleton considers implausible. e.g. Westermann, Genesis,1.pp.144-45


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