Most Bible translations render the Greek word aggelous (pronounced ahn-gell-ouse – with a hard g) as angel wherever it is found. However, aggelous is just the Greek word for messenger.
When the Bible mentions angels it’s usually talking of spirit messengers from God, but not every time. So when you see the word angel in other Bibles, this choice of word may just be the opinion of the translator – it’s not necessarily what the original writer meant!
For example, consider Acts 12:15. Peter had just been miraculously released from jail, and went to the door of Mark’s family home. When he knocked, the housemaid told the people inside that Peter was at their door. However, knowing it to be impossible, since he was in prison, most other Bibles say that the family thought it was ‘his angel’ knocking on their door.
If someone is knocking at your door, would you assume that it was an angel? Hardly! Therefore, notice that translating the word ‘aggelous’ as what it really means, ‘messenger,’ makes much more sense! It’s far more likely that Mark’s family thought that Peter had sent someone with a message!
Indeed, this was Roman times. Sending written messages was expensive (because paper was expensive), and not everyone could read. Further, there were no telephones or instant messaging. So it was common to employ people to deliver spoken messages.
Yet, despite this, some people believe that ‘aggelous’ should always be translated as ‘angel,’ which is what some translators have done!
This has led to misunderstandings of several Bible texts. For example, Revelation 2:1 in the King James Version says:
‘Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write...’
By translating the word aggelous as ‘angel,’ some have come to believe that Jesus sent messages to John through angels that were intended for other angels… not likely.
Rather, the ‘angels’ (actually ‘messengers’) were people in the local congregations who handled communications on behalf of everyone else, especially those who couldn’t read or write themselves. So these ‘angels’ were just humans that had the responsibility of receiving and sending out letters.
These were the ones to whom Jesus was sending the messages through John. –For a greater discussion of this topic, please see the linked commentary, Arrangement of the First Christian Churches.
An incredible number of problems would be created if we translated aggelous as angel in the Greek Septuagint. For example, Genesis 32:3 says this in the Greek Septuagint:
‘Apasteile de Iakob aggelous emprosthen autou pros Hesau ton adelphon autou’
‘Sent of Jacob angels(?) ahead of/him toward Esau the brother of/him.’
The context makes it clear that Jacob was sending human messengers ahead of him, not heavenly angels! This is not unusual. In Haggai 1:13, the Prophet HagGai was described as being ‘a messenger (Greek: aggelous) of Jehovah.’ Of course, Haggai was a man, not a spirit creature!
So, it’s clear that the Greek word aggelous should often be translated as messengers. Interestingly, other translators of the Greek Septuagint have done exactly that in the above places. Yet, these same translators put the same word as ‘angel’ in other places – sometimes right next to each other.
For example, at Numbers 20:14 Moses sends messengers (Greek: aggelous) from Cades to the king of Edom (obviously talking about human messengers), but then, just two verses later (in verse 16), we read that ‘Jehovah … heard our voice and sent His messenger (Greek: aggelon – messenger or angel) that brought us out of Egypt.’
So, here is a case where in just two sentences, we find both earthly messengers and heavenly messengers (true angels) being mentioned. Yet, Septuagint translators always render the first word as messenger, and the second word as angel… though they are both the same basic word in Greek!
Should the translator be making that judgment? Or should it be left to you, the reader?
This translation puts the words as messenger or messengers in both instances. Readers should be able to discern from the context which are human, and which are spirit – just like the ancient readers had to do. This is the better approach, as there are several places where it’s quite unclear.
Sure, there are a handful of places where this translation says ‘angels’, but this is only where the text is clearly speaking of spirit creatures, or because it fits into poetic texts better (poetic license).
There are actually some advantages to translating aggelos as messenger all the time, even when it’s obviously speaking of angels. The correct word conveys a better understanding of the actual role that the sons of God play in His dealings with mankind. Otherwise this may be lost on the reader.
Notice also that the term angel doesn’t refer to a type of creature or to a rank, as many think. The name ‘messenger’ only describes the task they are assigned, and serving as a messenger may just be a one-time thing (for all we know). Yet, many religious scholars have wildly speculated about the supposed ranking of heavenly spirits, with ‘angels’ being listed as the lowest. Yet, as we said, ‘angel’ is not necessarily a rank, but it’s certainly a job assignment.
Indeed, you could say that Jesus was once a messenger to mankind. Hebrews 1:2-4 says:
‘...after he [Jesus] cleansed us of our sins, this one sat down at the right hand of the Great One in the highest places and has now become so much greater than the [other] messengers [of God] and so different that he has inherited a [special] name among them.’
Yes, the words [in brackets] are our insertions for clarification, but notice that Jesus is also referred to as ‘now’ becoming greater than the messengers, and now so different. So yes, he too served as a messenger to mankind when he was here on earth (and perhaps before that too)… but not as a low-ranking spirit creature, since he has always held the highest position.
Also, correctly showing the word as ‘messengers’ helps us to understand why the Bible never speaks of female angels or baby angels, because the teaching that people become angels after they die is not found in scripture. It is a historic fact that the teaching developed in the years after the Apostles died, as Christianity merged with pagan traditions. Rather, the spirit messengers were created as heavenly spirits.
Why do we say that?
Well, most modern Christian denominations teach that God’s messengers (angels) are humans that died and were taken to heaven. However, Job 38:7 says:
‘When I [created the earth], all the stars praised Me And all My angels shouted a cheer.’
So from this, we can see that there were ‘angels’ long before there were humans.
Also, Jesus himself said:
‘No one has gone to heaven other than the one that came from heaven, the Son of Man.’
Since no human has entered heaven before the resurrection of Jesus, the ‘angels’ from before that time could not be dead humans. Rather, they were spirit sons of God that had been created before humans existed.
However, can people become angels now? Jesus said (at Luke 20:35, 36):
‘But those that have been found worthy of that age and the resurrection from the dead won’t marry or get married… Nor can they die anymore. For they will have the power of the angels; Since, as sons of the resurrection, they [will also be] sons of God.’
Does this mean that such humans will someday become angels? Well, remember that aggeloi is not necessarily a type of creation, but a job of being a messenger. He didn’t say that the faithful would thereafter become angels/messengers, but that they would then have the power of the angels/messengers (Greek: dynantai aggeloi).
One final point: at Daniel 4:13, 17, and 23 we find an added description of heavenly messengers that was provided by the king of Babylon, NebuChadnezzar. For there he referred to them in the Hebrew text as holy ‘watchers,’ ‘observers,’ or ‘sentinels.’
We don’t know if these words were inspired (remember that these were the recorded words of a pagan king). However, if they were, then it implies that some spirit creatures are assigned the task of keeping an eye on mankind.
Anyhow, the point is:
If you want consistency in Bible translating, the word aggelous is better translated as messenger throughout the Bible than as the English word angel, which can be misleading.
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