Archives For Angels

Christ-Myth Angels

Joey Dodson —  December 23, 2013 — 1 Comment

I watched the “Nativity” movie with my family the other night. Afterwards I concluded: “Aside from some minor inaccuracies, the film wasn’t bad.” To which my clever daughter quipped:  “Well, the Book’s a lot better.”

Similarly, I’d have to say that when I look around at most of the modern renditions of Christmas: the Book’s indeed a whole lot better. One conspicuous example is Christmas angels. During this holiday season, it seems there is an angel around every corner. We recognize them by their wings. But in the Bible, angels don’t really have wings. I guess they could have wings if we equated them with the likes of the cherubim in Ezekiel or the seraphim in Isaiah. Cherubim, however, have four faces and their bodies are covered with eyes. And seraphim have—not two wings—but six. I admit it would be fun to replace the Christmas angels in our manger scenes with creatures such as these. Can you imagine the fright it would cause if we redecorated the angel costumes in our pageants as these figures? (Add some Revelation 12 to the mix and we got the makings of a Peter Jackson movie.) But alas, I doubt that the angels who proclaim “In Excelsis Deo” to the Shepherds in Luke represent the same heavenly creatures in Isaiah who cry “Holy, Holy, Holy…”  (Unless they are shape-shifters! How cool would that be?)

Now that I have ruined nativity scenes for some of you, allow me to tackle one more possible angelic misconception: the guardian angel. John Calvin argues that to say whether or not each believer has a single guardian angel assigned to her goes beyond what Scripture says. Or better: it does not go far enough.

Sure when Jesus says that the angels of children always behold the face of the Father, the Lord insinuates that there are certain angels to whom the kids’ safety has been entrusted. But perhaps it is a stretch to infer from this that each believer has her very own angel. Rather than being protected merely by one single angel, the Bible suggests that all of the angels watch for our safety. Why do we want a single special guardian, when we have an entire heavenly host watching out for us? According to Calvin, when we limit God’s care to a single angel, we do “great injury to ourselves and to all the members of the Church.” We do so by denying the value in God’s promises of auxiliary troops, who encircle and defend us so that we are emboldened to fight with all our might. Calvin goes on to apply this point to believers. Since the Lord has provided us with protection (not of one angel, but of myriads of them), “let us not be terrified at the multitude of our enemies, as if they could prevail.” Rather, let us adopt the sentiment of Elisha: “There are more for us than against us!”

As I was typing in haste one day, I made an embarrassing typo. Instead of Angel of the Lord, I typed, ‘Angle’ of the Lord. In the delirium that comes at the end of a semester for professors, I began to mock myself. Was he a “right” angle or an “acute” one? Although some Christ-myth mistakes make us laugh, there are some that are very dangerous. One that stems back to the early church and remains a clear and present danger is for us to be more fascinated with the angels of the Lord than we are with His presence. With or without his angels, whom shall we fear when the Lord of Hosts is on our side? We are confident that nothing-nothing-nothing can separate us from the love of God through his Son. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are great and all, but at the end of the day and in the thick of the fray, it is through Christ that we are more than conquerors.

If I had a nickel for every time an angel lied to a person and led them to start a false religion, I’d have at least 10 cents. I’m thinking here of Joseph Smith and Muhammad, both of whom started their religions (Mormonism and Islam) after receiving revelation from a bright and shining angel.

In reality, angels lie to people far more often than this. John had to warn his readers:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

Just because an angel says it doesn’t make it true. Many false prophets, John says, have gone out into the world on this account. John calls us to have discernment in light of this grim reality.

But the scariest angel warnings actually come from Paul. He says:

“Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

He says it twice for emphasis. It doesn’t matter who is teaching the false gospel. Even if an angel from heaven stands before you and tells you something that contradicts biblical teaching, you tell that angel to go straight to hell! (This is the literal meaning of “let him be accursed.”)

But what if the angel is really bright and shiny? Paul addresses that question too. He talks about those who are teaching false doctrine (the “false prophets” that John mentioned), and says:

“Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

Surely if you see an angel of light, you can believe what it says. Right? No! Paul says that your shimmering angel may well be Satan himself.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

These frequent warnings in Scripture show how dangerous it is to rely on our experiences alone, as if a word from an angel should be enough to direct us away from God’s truth. These warnings have been available for thousands of years, and both Joseph Smith and Muhammad claimed to have a reverence for the Bible. Why did they not pick up on these warnings?

At these two crucial moments in human history, Satan’s messengers (perhaps even Satan himself) appeared to these two men in angelic light and spoke soul-damning lies. And so many tragic souls have been swallowed in allegiance to what they believed to be truth.

Of course, this is a good reminder to stay away from false religions. But it’s more than that. It’s a reminder for all of us to stick to the bedrock truth of what God has revealed in Scripture. This is what Paul was calling for in Galatians 1:8-9. Know God’s truth intimately. Know it so well that when an angel, a kindly person, a church leader, or whomever, shows up speaking ideas that contradict Scripture, you will recognize those lies for what they are.