(Rev. 2:1) Was this an angel or the pastor of the church?

CLAIM: John explains that Jesus was speaking “to the angel of the church…” (Rev. 2:1). The word “angel” (angelos) can refer to a supernatural, heavenly being, but it can also refer to a human “messenger.” Some commentators have argued that Jesus was actually speaking to the pastor or bishop of the church. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: This interpretation is certainly possible. The NT uses the word angelos to refer to human messengers on occasion (Mt. 11:10; Mk. 1:2; Lk. 7:24, 27; 9:52). Moreover, extra-biblical Greek typically uses this word to refer to human messengers—not angels.[1]

However, the semantic range of a word is a necessary condition for this view, but it isn’t a sufficient condition. That is, just because the word can be translated this way doesn’t mean that it should be translated this way. In context, the book of Revelation typically uses the term to refer to spiritual angels—not human messengers. Angels are mentioned in every chapter of Revelation except chapters 4 and 13, occurring 76 times. Therefore, a far more likely reading is that there are specific angels assigned to guard each of the seven churches—just as angels sometimes guard individual people (Mt. 18:10). In fact, the NT pictures angels as being witnesses of the events happening on Earth—specifically within the church (1 Cor. 4:9; 11:10; 1 Pet. 1:12).

Does this imply that every church has a guardian angel? The text doesn’t say. In our view, it merely affirms that the seven churches had angels assigned to them.

[1] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 53.