By Charles H. Welch
ANGELS, Greek aggelos. (The double ‘g’ being pronounced ‘ng’). This word is allied with evangel and means primarily a messenger; then in Scripture those heavenly ministering spirits known to us as ‘angels’. The word occurs 188 times in the Greek New Testament and is translated ‘angel’ 181 times and ‘messenger’ seven times. The word is of dispensational importance by reason of its close connection with the fortunes of Israel, and of its non-association with any calling that is purely Gentile, such as the dispensation of the Mystery.
The word aggelos occurs in Hebrews thirteen times. In the first chapter Christ is exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high being made ‘so much better than the angels’ (Heb. 1:4).
In the second chapter angels are associated with the giving of the Law, and we are told that the age to come has not been put into subjection to angels. Adam, and Christ by the testimony of the prophetic Psalm 8, are seen ‘for a little’ lower than the angels and at the Incarnation Christ ‘took not on Him the nature of angels’ (Heb. 2:2,5,7,9,16).
In Hebrews 12:22 the heavenly Jerusalem is associated with ‘an innumerable company of angels’, and the believer is reminded that in Old Testament times the ministry of angels was no uncommon experience (Heb. 13:2). When writing to the Romans, Paul mentions angels, together with ‘principalities’ (Rom. 8:38) and asked the Corinthians: ‘Know ye not that the saints shall judge angels’ (1 Cor. 6:3), but from the dispensational point of view it must be observed that angelic ministry among men, or the presence of angels at the exaltation of Christ, is entirely omitted in Ephesians. There we read that when Christ was raised from the dead He was seated at the right hand of God ‘in the heavenly places far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come’ (Eph. 1:20,21). These ‘principalities’ are mentioned again in Ephesians 3:10 and in 6:12, each in connection with ‘heavenly places’. Of these ‘principalities’ the Epistle to the Hebrews knows nothing.
Angels have special reference in Scripture to the people of Israel, and they are not mentioned in the Old Testament until after the call of Abraham and the birth of Ishmael (Gen. 16:7). Angelic ministry is associated with the destruction of Sodom, the deliverance of Lot, the birth of Isaac, and the blessing of Jacob in the book of Genesis. In the book of Exodus the angel of the Lord is intimately associated with the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and with their guidance through the wilderness and so, throughout the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, the whole course of Israel’s history is accompanied by angelic ministry. Nor does it cease with Malachi; it is prominent in the Gospels, being associated with the Birth, the Sufferings, the Resurrection, and the Second Coming of Christ. It is prominent in the Acts from chapter 1 to 12, but after Acts 13, there is but one reference to angelic ministry, namely at Acts 27:23. This isolated reference must be placed over against seventeen references that occur in the first twelve chapters. In the Prison ministry of Paul, that is in the five ‘Prison Epistles’ angels are mentioned but once and then only to be set aside in the passage that condemned the ‘worshipping of angels’ (Col. 2:18). In 1 Timothy 3:16 angels are mentioned in connection with the mystery of godliness and in the charge given to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:21). We have already drawn attention to the fact that the word ‘angel’ occurs thirteen times in the epistle to the Hebrews.
It is of interest to note that, taking Paul’s epistles together with the exception of Hebrews, the word ‘angel’ occurs thirteen times, or, if we include the passage where it is translated ‘messenger’ then fourteen times in all. It will be seen that where the word ‘angel’ is used at the rate of one reference to an epistle in Paul’s epistles other than Hebrews, it is used at the rate of one reference to a chapter in that epistle. Then, if we include the number of times the word angel occurs in the epistles of Peter, Jude and the book of Revelation, we must add eighty-one more occurrences to the number, making in all, from Matthew to Acts 12, Hebrews, and to the end of the New Testament 164 occurrences, as over against eleven occurrences in Paul’s pre-prison epistles, two in 1 Timothy and none in the Prison Epistles!
While we readily admit that doctrine cannot be proved by the mere number of occurrences of any particular word, the presence and the absence of such related terms as ‘angels’ and ‘principalities’ cannot be easily accounted for apart from purpose and intention. ‘Angels’ are ministering spirits, but by the very nature of the word ‘principalities’ hold precedence in rank, and if that difference be evident between these heavenly powers, it follows that there must be the same difference between the callings of the two epistles that employ these terms with such discrimination.
The Hebrew believers are never said to be ‘far above’ angels, but by virtue of the revelation of Ephesians 2:6, the Ephesian believer is seated potentially ‘far above’ even principalities. The inclusion of the word ‘angel’ in this Alphabetical Analysis of terms used in teaching Dispensational Truth is justified by the light it throws upon the distinctive callings of Hebrews and Ephesians. These callings are more fully discussed under the respective headings HEBREWS , EPHESIANS p. 275, THREE SPHERES , ADOPTION p. 40, MYSTERY , and other related themes.