The traditional image that angels have wings is pervasive. I’ve rarely heard anyone question it. But—as has been my trend over the last few posts—I’m going to question it. Put simply, nowhere in Scripture do we see angels with wings. Nowhere. If you know of any, please drop the reference in the comment box below.
In Christian folklore, angels are often depicted as Caucasian men with wings, which is odd since most of the people in the Bible are middle-eastern. (Why would an angel appear to them as European?) It is true, though, that angels do in fact look like men. Unfortunately, there are no depictions of angels as women that I’m aware of. They appear as men, as human beings. So human, in fact, that they are sometimes mistaken for being mere men as in Genesis 18, where three men hang out with Abraham and have a meal together (Gen 18:8). Come to find out, they were angels (two of them, at least; see Gen 19:1). If they had been flapping their wings the whole time, they probably would have blown their cover.
Abraham: “Wait a minute, are you guys really men? I think I see a wing on your back!”
Michael: “Dangit, Gabriel, I told you to tuck those things in!”
But angels don’t have wings. They are spiritual beings who intervene in human affairs and appear as men when they encounter people. That’s why Hebrews 13:2 says that we may entertain angels without knowing it.
“But wait a minute, what about Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1? These texts clearly say that angels have wings, don’t they?”
No, actually, they don’t. Isaiah 6 says that Seraphim have 6 wings and Ezekiel 1 (and 10) says that Cherubim have 4 wings (and 4 faces), but these passages don’t mention angels. A common mistake is to assume that Cherubim are angels and Seraphim are angels, but the text never mixes these terms. Angels are called angels and not Seraphim or Cherubim. Seraphim are called Seraphim and not angels or Cherubim. You get the point. Seraphim, Cherubim, and angels are all different classes of spiritual creatures, but the Bible generally keeps them separate. (Rev 4 seems to blend Cherubim and Seraphim, but doesn’t confuse these with angels.)
And think about it. If you saw a cherub, which would look something like the picture to the right (see Ezek 1 and 10), you wouldn’t confuse this creature with a mere man as Abraham did in Genesis 18, unless you were smoking something serious. That’s because angels usually look like men; cherubim never do.
There’s no major payoff with this clarification. No huge advance in your sanctification will be made by understanding that angels don’t have wings. Just a bit more clarity as you envision various scenes from the Bible, like Luke 2 where a multitude of angels surround the shepherds and cry out, “glory to God in the highest.” Instead of picturing a flock of Caucasian angels with fluttering wings, it’s probably best to see a myriad of middle-eastern men who reflect in many ways the glory of heaven and the commonality of earth.