By James M. Rochford

Angels are seen from one end of the Bible to the other. In fact, the Bible contains 196 verses about angels (103 in the OT and 93 in the NT), and 34 books of the OT refer to angels, including our earliest books (e.g. Job, Genesis). Angels are never mentioned for their own purpose, but are always brought up for something else. Erickson writes, “Every reference to angels is incidental to some other topic. They are not treated in themselves. When they are mentioned, it is always in order to inform us further about God, what he does, and how he does it.”[1] This is because angels are servants of humans (Heb. 1:14).

What are angels?

The Hebrew word for angel is mal’ach, and the Greek term is angelos. Both words mean “messenger” (In fact, both are sometimes used for human messengers; cf. 1 Kings 19:2; Lk. 7:24; 9:52). Angels are also spoken of as “holy ones” (Ps. 89:5, 7), and they exist in “hosts” or “armies” (Ps. 89:6, 8; 1 Sam. 1:11; 17:45). They are also called “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 38:7; Genesis 6:2?).


Angels: Unembodied Spiritual Beings




Body but no soul

Soul but no body


Both soul and body


Where did angels originate?

Angels are not transformed dead people, as American folk-religion teaches. The psalmist tells us that they were directly created by God: “For He commanded and they were created” (Ps. 148:5). Paul tells us that by Jesus “all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). Since angels are mere creatures, their worship is forbidden (see Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:9; Heb. 1:2-4, 13).

Are angels physical beings, or only spiritual?

While angels can appear in the form of a human (called “angelophanies”), they are spiritual beings (Heb. 1:14; Mt. 8:16; 12:45; Lk. 7:21; 8:2; 11:26; Acts 19:12; Eph. 6:12; Rev. 16:14).

How old are angels?

God created angels before the world existed. They are already present at creation (Job 38:4-7).

How many angels are there?

Angels are very numerous. Daniel 7:10 states that there are “myriads” of angels (cf. Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17; Job 25:3). Hebrews 12:22 states that there are “innumerable” angels (ESV). Of course, a myriad is a figure for 10,000. Revelation 5:11 states that there are “myriads of myriads” of angels. If this number is to be taken literally, there would be 100 million angels in existence. However, we doubt that John was counting the angels in his vision with precision. This expression is probably synonymous with him saying, “I saw a ton of angels!”

Who is the “angel of the Lord”?

The oft-mentioned “angel of the Lord” (Gen. 16:10, 13; 22:12; 31:11, 13; Ex. 3:2, 6) is most likely a pre-incarnate Christ on Earth. He is mentioned interchangeably with Yahweh at times, and even performs actions that only Yahweh can perform. For instance, we should not worship angels (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9) or men (Acts 10:26; Mt. 4:10). However, Joshua falls down and worships the captain of the Lord’s host (Josh. 5:13-15). The captain of the Lord’s host uses the same language that Yahweh uses in Exodus 3:5 (“Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” Josh. 5:15).

Throughout the OT, God appears in the form of a man (Gen. 12:7; 17:1; 18:1) or an angel (Gen. 16:7-13; 48:15-16; Ex. 3:2-6). In one instance, the angel of the Lord is said to forgive sins (Ex. 23:21), and yet, we know that only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). Therefore, the angel of the Lord must be a manifestation of Yahweh himself. Some theologians speculate that this is a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. Of course, this does not mean that God is an angel, any more than God is a man, just because he came in the form of one (Phil. 2:7). Since the word “angel” just means “messenger,” we should differentiate the actions of an angel from the nature of one.

Do angels reproduce?

Angels do not reproduce (Mt. 22:30). Since they never die (Lk. 20:36), they must have all been created before the existence of humans.

What do angels look like?

Angels can be mistaken as humans, because they sometimes manifest in a human-like appearance (Gen. 18:2, 16, 22; 19:1, 5, 10, 12, 15, 16; Judg. 13:6; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4). Hebrews tells us, “Some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).

While American folk religion depicts humanlike angels as winged creatures, we never see this form of angel depicted in Scripture. While Erickson notes two examples of angels flying, it never mentions them having wings (Dan. 9:21; Rev. 14:6).[2] The seraphim (Isa. 6:2) and cherubim (Ex. 25:20) have wings. These are non-humanlike creatures.

However, angels can also appear in a glorious form. Regarding one of the angels at the tomb of Jesus, Matthew records, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men” (Mt. 28:3-4). Paul writes that Satan (a fallen angel) can appear to be breathtakingly beautiful (2 Cor. 11:14).

Why do angels exist? What is their function?

Angels currently exist to serve believers (Heb. 1:14). Jesus claimed that children have “their angels in heaven” (Mt. 18:10), implying that they have a special ministry for individual people (cf. Acts 12:15? 2 Kin. 6:17?). Angels also exist to fight and intercede for God on Earth. Jesus claimed that he could summon “twelve legions of angels” to protect him (Mt. 26:53). They also worship God in his throne room (Rev. 4), which involves rejoicing over the advance of the gospel on Earth (Lk. 15:10). And finally, they are also spectators of God’s plan unfolding (Job 38:7; Luke 15:10; 1 Cor. 4:9; 11:10; Eph. 3:10; Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:12).

How many different types of angels are there?

This is difficult to answer. In the spiritual realm, if you used the word “angel,” it might be similar to using the word “car” on Earth. What TYPE of car? What size? What speed? The biblical evidence inclines us to believe that angels come in different shapes, sizes, and strength. A hierarchy of angelic beings is referred to with the word “thrones” (qronoi), “powers” (kuriothtes), “rulers” (arcai), and “authorities” (exousiai), or world-rulers (kosmoskrators).

The seraphim (pronounced SARE-uh-feem) are a distinct type of angel, which surround God (Isa. 6:2).

The cherubim guard the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24), and they are depicted as looking downward at the atonement in the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:22).

The living creatures are seen in various places as worshipping God (Ezek. 1:5-13; Rev. 4:8).

There are archangels like Michael (Jude 9; cf. 1 Thess. 4:16), who is also called “the chief of the princes” (Dan. 10:13). This implies a ranking system even among angels. Since Michael (an archangel) refuses to rebuke Satan (Jude 9), this might imply that Satan was even greater in power than him.

Are angels greater than humans?

Even though angels are more magnificent and ancient than humans, the Bible teaches that God values humans more than angels. For one, angels are “ministering spirits” to help humans (Heb. 1:14). While we are currently in a fallen state, we will later be glorified above angels (Heb. 2:7). Eventually, we will judge angels at the end of human history (1 Cor. 6:3). Moreover, God died for all humans, but he “did not spare the angels when they sinned” (2 Pet. 2:4).

Why can’t we see angels?—or spiritual warfare?

It appears that sometimes we are permitted to see angels. For instance, Elisha had a window into the realm of the supernatural (2 Kin. 6:15-17; Num. 22:31). However, God has probably prevented this as normative for a number of reasons:

First, we might be tempted to worship angels. This occurs a number of times in the Bible. When humans see the majesty of angels, they are tempted to become obsessed with them (Rev. 22:8; Col. 2:18). Even now, angels are generally unseen, and people still worship them (e.g. occult practice).

Second, we might be tempted to fear angels. Imagine if you could constantly see angels and demons around you wherever you went. For those with generalized anxiety, you might thank God that he has spared you from such experiences!

Third, we might be distracted by angels and ignore God. By becoming overly preoccupied with angels or demons, we would be distracted from God himself.

Further Reading

Erickson, Millard. Christian theology. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1998. Chapter 21: “God’s Special Agents: Angels.”

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House. 1994. Chapter 19: “Angels.”

Hampton Keathley Angelology: The Doctrine of Angels (found here).

Return to “Satanology”

[1] Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1999. 459.

[2] Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 1999. 464.