Angelology, or the study of angels, has been a topic of human fascination since the dawn of time. There are several perspectives from which angels can be viewed. Many are skeptical about their existence, since they cannot be physically perceived with the senses. Thus these people take a rational and scientific view of the issue, explaining angels in religious literature in rational, naturalistic terms. The religious (predominantly Christian for the purposes of this paper) view is that the Bible features angels in both the Old and New Testaments. Such evidence is enough for Christians to justify a religious belief in angels, as it is also enough to justify all other Christian beliefs. Finally, there is the more occult view of actual current experiences with angels. Some people claim to have had experiences such as dreams and visions during which angels visited them. This, like all other occult phenomena including mediumism, is a highly controversial issue. Below is a consideration of angels, their nature, and evidence of their existence from the above-mentioned points-of-view. It appears that, in the same way as beauty, the reality of angels is in the eye of the beholder.
Angels and spirits, both good and evil, are imperceptible to sensory verification, and thus it is very difficult to accept their existence, in an era influenced by scientism. Many theologians and exegetes feel ashamed to write about something which cannot be perceived by the eye or analyzed in a chemistry laboratory or verified by a microscope." (Miranda, 1961:2)
During the 19th and 20th centuries, rationalism and science have begun to take precedence over previous religious beliefs and assumptions. Scientific inquiry has dictated that anything that cannot be proved by empirical data, cannot be held as absolute truth. Such social rationalization has caused a decline in spiritual values and beliefs. While these beliefs are however still very much part of human life, they have been tempered by a type of demystification.
The result of this is that claims such as visitations by angels, which would have been taken as truth two centuries ago, are now the subject of serious doubt. Some have even claimed that science is the new god.
Others however have attempted to apply science to biblical text in order to prove some of the perceived truths, and thus perhaps strengthen the declining Christian faith in an increasingly materialistic world. One of the ways in which this has been attempted has been through demythologization:
Demythologization] is taken... As the tendency to explain the supernatural phenomena in the Bible by means of natural causes. When the Bible speaks of supernatural affairs, they (e.g. angels) are interpreted as forces of nature unknown then to the authors of the NT [New Testament] and now known of science." (Miranda, 1961:12)
In this way then the mention of the supernatural in the bible is justified in terms of science in an attempt to explain these phenomena in rational, contemporary terms. Thus the concept of angels is modified to fit into a more contemporary and materialistic paradigm. This, together with other scientific research into the more concrete biblical events, is expected to strengthen the faith of those who have found the bible lacking in scientific truth.
Advocates of the Christian faith have however deplored such a materialistic view of all things supernatural, and propose a more spiritual perspective. There does seem to be a general movement in social consciousness away from the mundaneness of science to a greater acceptance of and fascination with the supernatural, and particularly with angels. In fact, there are countless television shows, films and books dealing with the subject. Thus, the extreme rationalism of the 1800's and 1900's is once again giving way to its sometimes uneasy co-existence with a revived interest in angels. One reason for this could be that life is often boring and frequently painful. Angels and other such phenomena provide a way out of this. It is all part of the search for the meaning of life:
Now, due in part to the failure of rationalism and materialism to give answers and meaning to life, the emptiness of man's heart along with the futility of his pursuits has given rise to his interest in the mystical, in the supernatural, and in the spiritual." (Keathly, 2000)
This is also why some Christian scholars and leaders have called for a closer study of angels as they are presented in the bible. The concern is that there are many "misconceptions" regarding angels, perpetuated by the media and occult movements. Thus there have been many studies concerning the functions and nature of angels as they appear in the bible. In this way, from the Christian point-of-view, the "proof" of the bible is taken as the absolute authority on the angelic nature and function.
First, angels serve a humbling function. Angels, being created, are a higher form of being than the human being. Humans are therefore not to think that they are the highest forms of life in creation. Angels are creatures with higher than human intelligence and power. Angels thus find a parallel with the lesser deities in pagan mythologies. In this way there is also a parallel between the spiritual and the earthly realm. As on earth there are beings of various grades, heaven contains the same hierarchy. Angels are thus higher than the human being, but lower than God.
Although it is true that in nature angels are higher as a form of creation, they do have limitations when compared to human beings from the perspective of Christianity. They are for example not created in the image of God, and therefore do not have the option of redemption. Thus a fallen angel, like Satan and his associates, can therefore not return to heaven. The fall is permanent. So thus, although angels are currently higher than earthly man, the redeemed and glorified person at the end will be superior to these beings.
This is related to a contentious argument within Christianity. Some hold that Christians become angels when they die and go to heaven. These believers cite several biblical reasons for this.
First, angels in the bible have the appearance of normal people. Despite the mythologized image of angels with wings, this is nowhere supported in scripture. Angels are also not to be worshipped, but instead react with a sort of horror when people attempt to do so. This substantiates the idea of angels as fellow servants of God. Furthermore the creation of angels is not mentioned in Genesis, where everything else is created, and upon death, people become like angels. The idea of angels as merely an evolved form of human being is also apparent in the writings of angelologist Rudolph Steiner:
Rudolph Steiner] considered that the spiritual hierarchies were stages of evolution from the physical (i.e. The next stage beyond the human is the "angel")." (Steiner, 1988)
Other Christians strongly oppose this view, also taking their evidence from the bible. Angels, according to them, have been created before the creation of earth as a separate race from human beings, for the specific purpose of worshipping God, and occasionally as the bearers of messages from God to his people. This appears to be substantiated by the idea that human beings who are redeemed are eventually above the level of angels, rather than on the same level as them, while the angels still exist to sing praises to God.
Furthermore angels are created holy, without sin, while human beings originally chose to disobey. However, they are redeemable, while the previously mentioned Satan and those who rebelled against God in heaven are permanently banned from the realm of God.
Thus angels in their holy and unfallen state are often referred to as "sons of God," placing them in the realm of brotherhood to people worshipping God, in that they are created by God, rather than in his image.
Further proof to the contrary of angels as no more than dead human beings, could be seen in their various functions. The Hebrew word for angel, mal'ach, and the Greek word, angelos both mean "messenger." In both the Old and the New Testament they are sent as messengers to bring various important pieces of information from God to human beings. This is especially so in the New Testament. In the Old Testament angels often acted as protectors for God's people whereas in the New Testament, it appears that they play a more mediating role:
The lack of continuity between the Old Testament and later writings is usually explained by saying that the angels developed only when there was a need for mediators between the people and God who had become more distant." (Barker, 1992:70)
Jesus, whose arrival is intended to close this distance between God and his people, is heralded by angels. After the ascension of Jesus there are also angels who assist him in his mediating function. Thus, in addition to messengers, angels function as assistants to both God and people. God is assisted by getting his message across to…