Question: What do Mormons believe regarding the nature of angels?

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Question: What do Mormons believe regarding the nature of angels?

Both the Greek angelos and its Hebrew counterpart, malak, simply mean "messenger"

Critics of Mormonism reject the LDS concept that angels were once mortal, claiming that angels are a special creation of God and that humans can never become angels. [1] They quote Psalm 148:2 and 5:

"Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts...Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created."

It's all too easy to be tempted to look up Psalms 148:2 and Psalms 148:5 and see what's in the intervening verses. And in fact when one actually opens up one's Bible, rather than just throwing it upon the rostrum and thumping it for emphasis,[2] one learns that verses 3 and 4 include the exhortation to praise God to the sun and the moon and the stars of light, the heavens of heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens. God created everything, including us, and including angels and including the physical universe. There is no one-to-one relationship here that suggests that angels are not human species, merely humans at a different stage of development or playing a different role. That many today believe angels to be a different species of some kind is not an original Christian doctrine, nor is it an original Jewish doctrine.

Dahood explains that in the OT, "'his ministers' [is] another expression for the angels, described as ministerial servants ready to execute the sovereign will."[3] Angels were messengers sent with a divine mission, and the parallelistic pair-structures of Psalms 148:2 indicate that in this case the angels in question were soldiers. McKeever and Johnson, as is typical of much of the modern North American Biblicist tradition that has arisen in the past century, anti-intellectual, anti-scholarly and deliberately cut off from exposure to centuries of European biblical scholarship, are confusing a general term with a specific, a title with the titleholder, so to speak.

Both the Greek angelos and its Hebrew counterpart, malak, simply mean "messenger." Ancient Jewish custom did borrow some rather bizarre imagery from Assyrian sources for some of its demi-divine beings such as cherubim, but cherubim-which are artistic conventions common to temple worship throughout the ages, and therefore symbolic and abstract-aren't angels, who are "real" beings. In any case, it is difficult to see how a scripture such as Psalms 148:2 would somehow limit God's capability to create angels at will, and however He will. But Biblicists have never let their belief in a naive omnipotence stop them from contradicting themselves when simple common sense would lead them to obviously inconsistent interpretations (because their interpretations are based on inconsistent assumptions).

Hickenbotham[4] demonstrates how the LDS concept of angelology is more Biblical, ironically, than is the Biblicist view:

The scriptures often identify angels with ministering spirits. Psalms 104:4 rhetorically asks, "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire...?" (see also Heb. 1:7) and Hebrews 1:13-14 reads, "But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits; sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?" As has already been shown previously, we all existed as spirits before birth (see Matt. 18:10; note angels in this verse should be spirits). And men like angels often act as messengers of God (Hag. 1:13; Mal. 2:7; 3:1; Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). That angels are in appearance as men and were actually called men by inspired writers is also attested to in scripture (Gen. 18:1-2; 19:1, 15; Ezek. 40:1-4; Matt. 28:2-6; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:3-4; John 20:1-12; Acts 1:10; Heb. 13:2; Rev. 21:17). We are likewise instructed that we are not to worship angels (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9; see also Jud. 13:15-16). It is only when we read the account of an angel's appearance to John the Revelator that this injunction is explained. John records, "And when... I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel... Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets..." (Rev. 22:8-9). The angel thus identifies himself as a righteous man who had returned as an angelic messenger even as Moses, Elias, and others have done (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:4; Lk. 9:30). He was not just man's equal but a spirit brother (Rev. 19:10) and a son of God as man is (Num. 16:22; 27:16; Acts 17:22-24; Eph. 4:6; Heb. 12:9). Some Christians mistakenly conclude that angels are "sexless" because Matthew 22:30 seems to support this belief. This scripture implies nothing about the ability of angels to procreate but only states that they are unmarried (single). Since marriage and procreation are only part of mortal life and exaltation, it seems clear that unexalted angels, whether pre-existent spirits or resurrected beings will necessarily be single (See D&C 132:15-17).[5]


Notes

  1. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 178. ( Index of claims )
  2. Although this is couched in stronger language than the author would use himself, and it talks only about Southern Baptists, this tendency to use the Bible almost as a magic talisman brings to mind a quote by the modern Renaissance scholar, Harold Bloom, in his famous book The American Religion (New York: Touchstone, 1992), 222:

    Even as Fundamentalists insist upon the inerrancy of the Bible, they give up all actual reading of the Bible, since in fact its language is too remote and difficult for them to begin to understand. What is left is the Bible as physical object, limp and leather, a final icon or magical talisman. To read Criswell [an anti-intellectual leader of the Fundamentalist faction of the Southern Baptist Convention] or any other Fundamentalist clergyman on the Bible is almost a literal impossibility, at least for me, because they are not writing about the text, in any sense whatsoever of text, or of that text. They write about their own dogmatic social, political, cultural, moral, and even economic convictions, and biblical texts simply are quoted, with frenetic abandon, whether or not they in any way illustrate or even approach the areas where the convictions center. They are quoted also as though they interpreted themselves and were perfectly transparent in their meanings.

  3. Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms III: 101-150. Anchor Bible, Vol. 1970 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1970), 13.
  4. Incidentally, an evangelical Christian who goes under the pseudonym J.P. Holding, gave Mormonism 101 a less than sterling rating, even though one would assume they're all on the same side. One of the reasons was the authors' failure to come to grips with the new generation of amateur (that is, non-BYU professors, nor General Authorities) LDS apologists that has cropped up.
  5. Michael W. Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1995), #54.