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Christ as an 'angel of God'?


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#1 J.J. Morris

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 06:22 AM

Can someone clarify this statement by Paul?

(Gal 4:13-14 NRSV)  You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.

So did Paul believe that Jesus was some kind of angelic being? The statement looks pretty clear and blunt, that if I wasn't familiar with the different views of Christ from the gospels what I would extract from this passage is that Jesus was an angel or was believed to be one. I would not have to read between the lines at all, it's plain to see.

 

So I wonder if anyone here can shed some light on this? I guess one question would be 'Would have the people reading this believed Jesus was the Son of God, and this talk of Jesus as an angel been a manner of speaking from Paul? Or would they not have believed he was the Son of God yet at this point?' (Just realized, Paul uses the term 'Son of God' I think referring to Christ in Galatians. I was originally asking if people thought he was God at this point, so let's go back to that.)


But really, any light anybody can shed on this subject would be greatly appreciated.


Edited by J.J. Morris, 10 December 2014 - 06:33 AM.


#2 Olga

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 06:36 AM

The context can be seen in a fuller extract from Galatians 4:

 

 Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. 13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?

 

Angel means messenger in Greek; St Paul is admonishing the Galatians, reminding them that they once received him favourably as a messenger of God, indeed, as if he were Jesus Christ himself, but now the Galatians are hostile to him.

 

St Paul is not saying that Christ Himself was an angel (one of the bodiless heavenly creatures).



#3 J.J. Morris

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 07:41 AM

Do you know Greek, Olga? Where are you getting this from?

I have run a check, and it is true that the word is translated into english as "messenger" in 2 Corintians 12:17 ... "messenger of Satan." I'd still love more feedback. I wonder which is the better translation, "messenger" or "angel." It just seems angel would be a really weird translation unless it's the best we've got.

I'm not saying Jesus had wings or anything like that.

To anybody who will post in here with this kind of information (e.g. meanings in Greek) please tell me what your experience is with it.



#4 Olga

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 07:57 AM

Do you know Greek, Olga? Where are you getting this from?
 

 

 

Other words in English which contain the word angel are evangelist, evangelical, etc. The Greek word for gospel is evangelion. Both words literally mean good news. Messengers, even in ordinary language, are bringers of news.


#5 J.J. Morris

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 08:07 AM

Do you happen to know when the word angel began to be used to denote a heavenly spirit?

 

Thank you for participating Olga, I appreciate your candor.

 

The whole 'messenger' thing does make sense, I'm just trying to get the best information I possibly can from this forum. I hope you understand. Thanks again!



#6 J.J. Morris

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 08:08 AM

Other words in English which contain the word angel are evangelist, evangelical, etc. The Greek word for gospel is evangelion. Both words literally mean good news. Messengers, even in ordinary language, are bringers of news.

Aha, right. That adds up now.



#7 Olga

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 08:24 AM

Do you happen to know when the word angel began to be used to denote a heavenly spirit?

 

The Old Testament frequently mentions angels as heavenly spirits who do God's bidding - most notably in the Psalms.



#8 Sbdn. Peter Simko

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 02:54 PM

J.J.,

 

Although the seraphim and cherubim are described with wings, as well as the tetramorphs that Ezekiel witnessed, wings in iconography and art are often visual symbols that attach the role of messenger to a person.  So there are instances of John the Forerunner and Baptist, Mary the Mother of God, and even God the "Angel" of Great Counsel having wings in iconography to point this out.

 

The angel(s) seen at the tomb after the resurrection probably didn't have visible wings to the women, for instance.  At least, no wings are described in the Gospel accounts.

 

Wings, like haloes, are often misunderstood symbols nowadays.



#9 Ben Johnson

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 03:00 PM

The Hebrew and Greek words for "angel" both mean messenger, so context tells us whether a human "messenger" or angelic being is meant.



#10 Olga

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 09:37 PM

J.J.,

 

Although the seraphim and cherubim are described with wings, as well as the tetramorphs that Ezekiel witnessed, wings in iconography and art are often visual symbols that attach the role of messenger to a person.  So there are instances of John the Forerunner and Baptist, Mary the Mother of God, and even God the "Angel" of Great Counsel having wings in iconography to point this out.

 

The angel(s) seen at the tomb after the resurrection probably didn't have visible wings to the women, for instance.  At least, no wings are described in the Gospel accounts.

 

Wings, like haloes, are often misunderstood symbols nowadays.

 

A correction:

 

There are images of Christ as a winged angel, but these are not suitable for veneration. Icons are, at their core and essence, a proclamation of the Incarnation, of the Word made Flesh. Prefigurative and metaphysical depictions are deficient in expressing the revelation of God Incarnate. We are to depict Christ in the fullness of this revelation, not as a mere type and shadow.

 

Similarly, neither the Mother of God, nor St John the Baptist should be shown with wings in iconography. Both were fully human, fully mortal, "born of woman", as Christ Himself said of the Forerunner. Neither were heavenly spirits. St John is spoken of liturgically as the Angel of the Desert, but many a monastic or ascetic saint is also said to have lived the angelic life, such as Sts Anthony the Great and Mary of Egypt. Yet, and quite properly, they are never shown with wings in their icons.



#11 Sbdn. Peter Simko

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 03:45 AM

Olga,

 

I am a bit surprised that wings must symbolize "heavenly spirits" iconographically.  Why, like the word angel/messenger, can they not be understood contextually?  Even the creatures associated with the four evangelists seem to be winged because the evangelists are messengers of the good, not because they are related in some historical or aliturgical way to heavenly spirits.  I'll politely disagree on this point; God forgive me if I am being arrogant and ignorant.  They do not seem to be negations of incarnation, whether Christ's or any man's.



#12 Olga

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 04:08 AM

The four mystical creatures spoken of in Revelation are indeed winged, but they are only symbols and allegories of the four Evangelists. They are not icons of the Evangelists themselves. This selection from a post from the Problematic Icons thread might help:


 

Animals as evangelists

 

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Imagery from the Book of Revelation of four mystical creatures (an angel, an ox, a lion, an eagle) in the presence of the throne of God were interpreted by the Fathers as mystically representing the four Evangelists: in order, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The image here, from mural iconography in a church, shows two of these creatures, with inscriptions Mark and Luke. Let us look at Canon 82 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council:

In certain reproductions of venerable images, the Forerunner is pictured pointing to the lamb with his finger. This representation was adopted as a symbol of grace. It was a hidden figure of that true Lamb who is Christ our God, shown to us according to the Law. Having thus welcomed these ancient figures and shadows as symbols of the truth transmitted to the Church, we prefer today grace and truth themselves, as a fulfilment of the Law. Therefore, in order to expose to the sight of all, at least with the help of painting, that which is perfect, we decree that henceforth Christ our God be represented in His human form, and not in the form of the ancient lamb. We understand this to be the elevation of the humility of God the Word, and we are led to remembering His life in the flesh, His passion, His saving death and, thus, deliverance which took place for the world.

We also have, from his authoritative treatise defending iconography, St John of Damascus’ statement of:

Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was not depicted at all. But now that God has appeared in the flesh and lived among men, I make an image of the God who can be seen. I do not worship matter, but I worship the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material, and deigned to dwell in matter, who, through matter, effected my salvation. I will not cease from venerating the matter through which my salvation has been effected.

Iconography is concerned with the fullness of divine revelation: in essence, the Word made flesh. Where only a prefigurative or mystical image has been revealed, then that image may be permitted in an icon. Where the fullness has been revealed (most notably in the incarnation of Christ), then only the fullness of that image may be properly depicted. As, according to Canon 82, it is not considered proper to represent Christ in His prefigured forms (as a lamb, as a youthful winged angel, etc), so also is it wrong to portray the mystical creatures in the book of Revelation with the inscriptions of the names of the Evangelists. The Evangelists were human beings, and not the abovementioned creatures in essence or nature. Was St Mark an ox? Or St Luke a lion? Of course not. We should not confuse symbolic forms with reality. Therefore, while it is permissible to show these mystical creatures around the throne of God in icons of Christ in Majesty, as per the Book of Revelation, the inscriptions of the names of the Evangelist-saints should not be there.

 



#13 Kosta

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 05:32 AM

Also there is an ancient tradition in the Church that certain appearances of "the angel of the Lord" in the OT are references to the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. This includes the one of the three angels that appeared to Abraham at Mamre in Gen 18.3 , the spiritual being appearing in the burning bush which Moses referred to as Lord. The angel that appeared to the three youths in the fiery furnace in daniel, and many other instances.

#14 Olga

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 05:38 AM

Also there is an ancient tradition in the Church that certain appearances of "the angel of the Lord" in the OT are references to the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. This includes the one of the three angels that appeared to Abraham at Mamre in Gen 18.3 , the spiritual being appearing in the burning bush which Moses referred to as Lord. The angel that appeared to the three youths in the fiery furnace in daniel, and many other instances.

 
On the angel in the fiery furnace, there is this hymn, the eirmos of Ode 8 from most feasts of the Mother of God:
 
The Offspring of the Mother of God saved the innocent Youths in the furnace. Then He was prefigured, but now in reality He gathers the whole world which sings, ‘Praise the Lord, His works, and highly exalt Him to all the ages.’

 

On other prefigurations of the pre-incarnate Christ: if these are to be depicted iconographically, they should not bear the distinctive halo or the inscription IC-XC which is seen in icons of Christ.



#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 07:25 AM

Wings, like haloes, are often misunderstood symbols nowadays.

 

There is some difference, I would say, between wings and haloes in this context. Wings are symbols as has been said rather than descriptive of a reality; haloes depict the light which actually and really can be seen. There are numerous accounts of saints and saintly people whose faces and even bodies shone with light; for example, when Sisoes the Great was departing for the true life, his brethren saw his face shine 'like the sun'.



#16 Sbdn. Peter Simko

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 02:29 PM

That is true, Andreas.  The typical confusion with haloes is more along the lines of how they are depicted through the later history of Christian art, taking on the appearance of discs or rings attached to the necks or hovering above heads.  However, the hovering rings do still seem to be crowns of light, in some sense.

 

I guess I am just stubborn when it comes to the wings...



#17 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 04:03 PM

Orthodox iconography retains the proper manner for representing the light of a saint's visage or of Christ's whole body and clothes as in icons of the Transfiguration and Descent into Hades. Discs like dinner plates and rings like hoops, drawn in perfect perspective, are characteristic of western religious art (such works are not icons) from about the time of Masaccio (early quattrocento) onwards.



#18 Sbdn. Peter Simko

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 07:43 PM

Hmmm... does the Church use the Greek word fotostephana for haloes?  Or is halo still written as alos from ancient Greek?  Or is there a different word entirely (or maybe no exact word at all)?  I mentioned that the rings typically shown as haloes contemporarily (not in iconography) do literally look like crowns of light, similar to the golden crowns at a coronation service.  I know this is not used in icons, but it is nevertheless interesting.  Thanks.



#19 Ben Johnson

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Posted 11 December 2014 - 10:37 PM

As powerful as Seraphim are, even they show humility in the presence of the LORD:  "Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his
face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew."  -- Isaiah 6:2., NASB.






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