Vol.XVI No.X Pg.6
December 1979

Angels On A Pinhead

Robert F. Turner

In the Middle Ages the question, "How many angels can dance on a pinhead?" was hotly debated. While this is typical of the nonsense written about angels both past and present too often the extreme of speculation begets that of neglect. In truth, there is much to be learned in a biblical analysis of angels and their work.

The ambiguity of the words translated "angel" causes some confusion. The same word "angel" in Gen. 22:11 is translated "messenger" in 1 Sam. 16:19. Likewise, in Mat. 1:20 we find "angel" while Mat. 11:10 renders the word as "messenger" speaking of John the baptizer. The context determines whether it is a human messenger or a divine messenger (angel).

Observe some traits of angels. Created by God, they dwell in His presence (Col. 1:16; Mat. 18:10). Heb. 2:9-10 indicates they are on a plane above man but below the Godhead. Even in this exalted state all things have not been revealed to them (Mat. 24:36).

Do angels have wings? Biblical descriptions usually portray them as glorious and arrayed in brilliant apparel. However they do not always don this distinctive clothing for "some have entertained angels unawares". (Heb. 13:2). The idea of wings probably came from the winged cherubim atop the ark of the covenant.

A common misnomer is that of the guardian angels. This notion is no where found in scripture. When the saints speak of Peter's "angel" in Ac. 12:15 they are not necessarily referring to a guardian angel, neither are their statements inspired. Another passage used to argue this is Heb. 1:14: "Are they (angels) not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?" This passage says nothing about guardian angels yet it does describe their true service. We will study their work around this theme.

Consider the panorama of angelic activity rather than isolated specific circumstances. What was the purpose of their every act in Scripture? Acting at God's command they furthered the scheme of redemption "for the sake of those who will inherit salvation." Angels first appeared to Abraham, in whom all would be blessed. They guided and protected his family in succeeding generations. Ex. 14:19; 23:30: an angel went before Israel and guarded them. Later, angels ministered to prophets (1 Kg. 19:5). This aided God's unfolding scheme of redemption. The N.T. opens with angels announcing the coming of Christ (Lu. 1&2). They ministered to Him and declared His resurrection (Lu. 22:43; 24: 6). In Acts they aided the spread of the Gospel (5:19; 8:26). In all of this they rendered us service by helping bring our hope of salvation.

If angels are now active on earth we lack the inspired guidance to identify their work; but they have served us throughout the Bible record. Their primary concern for man is shown in Lu. 15:10, "there is joy in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents." Thanks be to God for His "ministering spirits."

L. Scott Mann