Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Should 'angeloi' in Revelation 1:20 be translated "messengers"?

[As for] the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lamp-stands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:20)

How is the reader to understand the a[ggeloi (angeloi) “angels” mentioned in this passage? The lexicons list “messengers” as a possible translation for a[ggeloi (angeloi), and some have suggested that these “messengers” should be understood as the human “overseers,” “senior pastors,” or “key elders” of the seven churches.[1] Others point out that in every NT occurrence– including throughout most of Revelation– a[ggeloi clearly indicates “angels”– the heavenly servants of God, as seen in the various contexts– so, without further indications from the text, those originally reading the book of Revelation would almost certainly have understood a[ggeloi to mean “angels” rather than “pastors.” On the other hand, one must note that although “angel” normally indicates a supernatural, heavenly servant of God, the biblical text also records some instances in which “angel” is used figuratively of a human minister: in Galatians 4:14, Paul writes that when he preached the gospel to the Galatians he was received wJV a[ggelon qeou: (hōs angelon theou) “as an angel of God,” and in Malachi 2:7 (LXX) each priest is admonished diovti a[ggeloV kurivou pantokravtorovV ejstin (dioti angelos kuriou pantokratoros estin) “because he is an angel of the Almighty Lord.”[2] These passages show that the early Christian community may have been familiar with some instances in which– through simile or metaphor– certain human ministers of God were indeed called “angels:” if Revelation uses the term “angel” in a figurative way to indicate a human being, it would not be the first time that Scripture does so.
As in all areas of biblical understanding, context is key to understanding the intended meaning of a[ggeloi. Is there anything in the context that would indicate whether these “angels” in Revelation 1-3 should be understood in the usual way– as supernatural, heavenly servants of God– or in a figurative way, as speaking of human messengers? Though understanding “angels” as supernatural, heavenly beings may seem to be the more natural reading of the text, notice that John is commanded to write letters to these angels and that, taking Revelation 1:11 into account, writing letters to the angels is seen as equivalent to writing letters to the individual churches that are named. Unless we imagine that supernatural, heavenly beings took John’s combined letters around to the seven churches in Asia Minor and let the church members know the contents of the letters, it is far more likely that the “angel” of each church should be understood as the “messenger” of each church: “the one reading” John’s writings to “those hearing” (Rev 1:3). The pastors of the churches were expected to publicly read Scripture (1 Tim 4:13), therefore the “seven stars” likely indicate seven pastors who had the privilege of reading the letters to the various churches.

[1]See, for example, John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 1963.
[2]Malachi 3:1 is also relevant in this regard: the first part of this verse speaks of one who clears the way before the Lord– one who the NT identifies as John the Baptist (Mark 1:2-4), whose ministry cleared the way for the Messiah; in Malachi 3:1 (LXX) this forerunner to the Messiah is called to;n a[ggelovn mou (ton angelon mou) “my angel.” 



Blogger steve kindorf said...

Hi, I thought you might like to use this on your web site, or for yourself. A free prayer book by Matthew Henry called 'A Method for Prayer' 1710 edition, with added devotional prayers, Bible helps and a glossary of 2400 words of the KJV. You can use the audio files for the book if you like.

12:36 AM  
Blogger Andrew Lindsey said...

That's interesting: thank you!

1:48 PM  

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