Doctrine of Creation (Part 20)

January 30, 2013     Time: 00:42:50

We have been looking at the Doctrine of Creation over the last several sessions so let’s just take a step back to get the big picture. We have examined God’s creation of the world ex nihilo, his conservation of the world in being, and his concurrence with everything that happens in the world. We’ve looked at his ordinary providence in governing the world and, most recently, at his acts of extraordinary providence – namely his miraculous actions in the world. Now we want to turn to a new facet of the Doctrine of Creation which concerns angels and demons.

Angels and Demons

When we come to the subject of angels and demons we are dealing with a different order of creation than the physical universe. On the Jewish-Christian view, there is another order of the creative world that is not part of this physical universe which depends upon God for its existence. These are these angelic beings which exist. These are mentioned both in the Old Testament – in Hebrew the world is malakh – and in the New Testament where the world in Greek is angelos. These beings serve as messengers of God to humanity. This is what the world malakh or angelos means literally – a messenger. What is described here is this higher order of spiritual beings that dwell in the very presence of God and then serve his purposes as we will see. So we are talking here about incorporeal beings (beings without physical bodies) or minds, as it were, without bodies (unembodied minds) who serve the Lord. In addition to the angels that serve the Lord and are in his presence, there are apparently as well evil angels. Matthew 25:41 refers to these. Jesus is speaking here of the last judgment and he says that God, the King of Heaven, “will say to those on his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” So there is a devil – a spiritual being of intense evil as we will see – who has angels that serve him as well. So we are talking about this higher order of spiritual reality that is not part of the physical universe but nevertheless is a part of the created order.


Reasons for Angels

We might ask, “Why do angels exist?” Why would God create this higher order of spirit beings? Why are they there? The primary reason seems to be to serve God. They are servants of God. In Hebrews 1:14, speaking of the angelic beings, the writer of Hebrews says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” So the angelic beings are created as ministering spirits who serve God for the purpose of the plan of salvation for humanity.

A second reason that has been suggested for these angelic beings is that they are mediators between God and the physical world. God is a transcendent being – beyond time and space. He is immaterial; he is pure spirit. The idea here is that in order to communicate with and work in the natural, physical world God has created these angelic beings to serve as mediators between the transcendent, immaterial, non-spatio-temporal realm and the material, spatio-temporal realm which we inhabit.[1] I think, however, this is not technically correct as a good reason for thinking that angels exist because this is susceptible to what is called the “third man argument.” What is that? Well, Plato similarly thought that there needed to be some sort of a liaison or mediator between the realm of the Forms (the abstract, eternally existing objects) and the physical world. So he posited a sort of demiurge or intermediary who would be the mediator between the immaterial, timeless forms and the material, physical world. But the problem is that that raises this third man argument, namely, “Then who is the mediator between the timeless, spiritual reality and these beings?” You would still need to have another mediator between God and those beings, and so on and so on ad infinitum. In other words, it launches into a kind of infinite regress. So there is no reason to think that God cannot, and often does not, act immediately in the spatio-temporal world. Indeed when we looked at miracles we saw that that is exactly what miracles are. So there is no need of having some sort of a mediator between God and the universe in order for God to act in the universe. He would need to have some sort of a mediator between him and the angels to explain how he could act upon them. So I think it is better to refer to the angels, not as mediators between God and man, but rather as manifestors of God to man. God is a transcendent, spiritual reality and can use angels as a way of manifesting his presence in the universe. So they manifest God’s being to us in many cases.

Related to this might be a similar rationale for the existence of angels that was prominent in medieval theology and this is often referred to as the “Great Chain of Being” in the words of the author Arthur Lovejoy.[2] Lovejoy points out that, for medieval theologians, creation imitates God and God as an infinite being is manifested in the world in all sorts of ways in which the creation imitates his goodness and power and attributes and so forth. So there is this Great Chain of Being descending from God as the ultimate spiritual reality down to the lowliest non-sentient physical things in the world. And in between that we find beings which are sentient beings – beings which are composites of a spirit and a physical body (that’s where human beings would lie in the Great Chain of Being, we are both physical and spiritual) – and then higher than that would be the pure spirits like angels who are finite spirit beings and then finally God would be an infinite spiritual being. So it is true that there is a kind of chain of being here that descends from the pure spirit down to the purely material in which angels occupy a different position in that chain of being. We are spirits which are corporeally embodied. They would be spirits which are pure spirits – pure minds that are not embodied in any sort of a physical way. The problem here isn’t that they need to exist in order for God to mediate himself to creation – I am not suggesting that. But rather they simply express the fullness of creation in imitating God and reflecting his greatness.

Finally, the third purpose which angels can be thought to serve is the purpose of glorifying God. According to Scripture, the throne of God is surrounded by angelic beings who constantly worship him singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts.”[3] Indeed, one of the names of God in the Scriptures is The Lord of Hosts – referring to these enumerable angelic beings that worship God and glorify him. So even in the absence of human praise and worship there is this incomprehensible horde of angelic beings that constantly glorify and worship God.[4]

Those would be reasons for which angels might be created by God: to be servants for him for the sake of human beings who he is bringing to salvation, as manifestors of his presence in the universe, and simply to glorify and worship him.


Question: You said angels are incorporeal but there are examples in the Bible where – whether they had a body or not – they certainly appeared to have a body. One example I can think of is where they are in Sodom with Lot.[5] That is one of the better examples.

Answer: We will discuss this later. You are quite right – there are quite a number of stories (and I will read a couple of them) in Scripture where angels do have bodily form and they are presented and described in bodily terms. Hang onto that and we will get to it.

Question: If they are referred to as ministering spirits, how you would differentiate that from God as spirit?

Answer: Only in their finitude I would say. It seems to me that angels, as spiritual beings without bodies, are likened to God except that he is infinite in his intelligence, his power, his eternity, and so forth whereas angels are created beings. I’ll emphasize that in a moment. They would not have attributes like necessity and aseity which are essential to God as an uncreated being who exists in all possible worlds. There would be possible worlds where there are no angels at all because these are created beings. But insofar as they are spirits, I would say they are like God.

Nature of Angels

Let’s go on to talk about the nature of angels and my first point is that they are created beings. Angels are not eternal; they are not metaphysically necessary in their being. They are part of the created order. They are just not part of the spatio-temporal universe; they represent this higher, spiritual sphere of reality that exists in addition to the universe. Colossians 1:16 speaks of this sphere of reality. Paul is talking about how all things are created in Christ and he says, “in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.” So in differentiating between the visible and the invisible, the things in heaven and the things on earth, Paul is talking about these two spheres of reality – the spiritual, invisible, heavenly sphere and then the physical, visible, tangible sphere. These thrones and dominions and principalities and authorities that he speaks about would be these spiritual realities; not simply physical rulers or governments here on Earth but this host of angelic beings which are the principalities and powers that God has also created.

Secondly, these beings are innumerable. That is to say, there are so many of them that no human being can count them. In Daniel 7:10, we have Daniel’s vision of God as the Ancient of Days described and the presentation before him of the Son of Man. In chapter 7, verse 10 he says of God, “A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” Here Daniel sees this angelic horde that is just beyond description in its multitude – thousands and thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand – more than Daniel can even count.[6] Also in Hebrews 12:22 we have this adjective used to describe the angelic plenitude: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering.” Here in the vision of the heavenly city there is also this host of angels – innumerable angels – in festal array. So there aren’t just a few of these things. There are a plenitude that is beyond human comprehension and counting.

Moreover, thirdly, these angelic beings are of different orders and ranks. They are not all the same apparently. Rather, there are some that are more powerful and apparently more authoritative than other weaker or subordinate angelic beings. We see this in Daniel 10:13, a very peculiar passage where Daniel has been praying for a certain request and the answer to his prayer is delayed. Then he receives this angelic visitor who says in Daniel 10:12-14a,

Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people in the latter days.

So in this really interesting story, the angel says to Daniel, “Don’t think that your prayer hasn’t been heard because of the delay. Your prayer has been heard right from the beginning. But for three weeks I have been held up by doing battle with the prince of the kingdom of Persia.” This is clearly not talking about some earthly prince. This is talking about some sort of angelic being connected with the kingdom of Persia. He says fortunately Michael, who is labeled one of the chief princes (which shows again this is not an earthly prince or ruler but we are talking here about an angelic being), came to help him and so this angel was able to escape and he left Michael to fight against the prince of the kingdom of Persia so he is now able to come to Daniel and answer his prayer. This makes it very evident here that we are dealing with a sort of hierarchy of these spiritual beings who are vested with different degrees of power and authority. We also see this in the New Testament in the little book of Jude just prior to the book of Revelation. If you look at the ninth verse of the book of Jude, it refers again to this same angel named Michael. It says, “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’” This is interesting because here we have this same person mentioned, Michael, and he is referred to as not simply an angel but as an archangel. So he is higher in rank as we saw in Daniel. He was a powerful spiritual being who could do battle with this prince of the kingdom of Persia – he is an archangel. And yet, in contending with Satan, he did not dare to pronounce a reviling judgment upon Satan. Rather, he said, “The Lord rebuke you” to Satan. Why? Because he was himself subordinate and inferior to this powerful spiritual being called “the devil.” So even Michael wouldn’t presume to rebuke the devil or contend with him in his own authority but appeal to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Lord, in rebuking him. So we are not dealing here simply with a plenitude of finite spiritual beings all on the same plane; rather, they are ranked in hierarchies of power and authority.[7]

Fourth, we have already seen but we will emphasize here that these beings are extremely powerful – they are very powerful. 2 Thessalonians 1:7 – Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church – speaks of Christ’s return and he says, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire.” The adjective “mighty” is the one I want you to focus on. He refers to these angels as powerful, mighty beings who will accompany Christ at the time of his second return. 2 Kings 19:35 gives us some indication of their power. When God delivers the armies of Israel from the army of Assyria we read, “And that night the angel of the LORD went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” So in one night this destroying angel attacked the camp of the Assyrians and killed one hundred and eighty five thousand of these men. That gives you some indication of the extraordinary power of these angelic creatures. Finally, Psalm 103:20 says, “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word!” So here again the angels are referred to as the mighty ones indicating their extraordinary power.

Next, these are, as I have already said, spirits without material bodies. These are spiritual beings who do not have properly material bodies. Hebrews 1:14, to look at that verse one more time, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve?” So these are spiritual beings; just as God is spirit, these beings are spirit. They are not corporeal entities. 2 Kings 6:8-18 gives a very dramatic story about the reality of this unseen spiritual realm.

Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” And the king of Israel sent to the place of which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice. And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?”

[Who is the one that is leaking this information? Who is the spy among our midst?]

And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.”

[So he says the prophet of Israel has this kind of clairvoyant knowledge – he knows what you speak in the privacy of your own rooms and is able to disclose it to the king of Israel. It is not a spy, there is no one leaking information; it is through this divine clairvoyance.]

And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army; and they came by night, and surrounded the city.

[So they have come to seize Elisha with the forces of Syria.]

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was round about the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

[The servants probably think “What are you talking about? There is nobody with us, we are here by ourselves!”][8]

Then Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, and said, “Strike this people, I pray thee, with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.

So here there is this invisible horde of the hosts of God, the armies of Yahweh, who are doing battle for Elisha and preserving his life even though to the young man with Elisha, to the Syrian soldiers all around them, it appeared like there was nobody there at all. These were spiritual beings who were present and powerful but they could not be seen because they don’t have bodies and so they don’t reflect photons that could enter someone’s eye and impinge on their retinas so that they could be seen. He had to have a spiritual vision from God to see the hosts of God and the armies of Yahweh that were surrounding them and protecting them. So when you think about that, we simply don’t know what spiritual hosts might be even with us in this room right now protecting us and warding off evil and powers of darkness that would otherwise want to attack and undo us.

Next, these angels, precisely because they are pure spirits and are incorporeal, are not bound by physical limitations. They are not bound by the limits of material, spatial dimensions or obstacles. Acts 12:5-10 gives us a good indication of this. This is the story of Peter’s miraculous release from prison:

So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your mantle around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him.

Now here Peter is locked into this prison, chained and guarded. There is no way a physical angel could get in to him. But what happens is the angel just appears in the room. He doesn’t pass through the walls; he doesn’t go through the doors. He just appears at this point in space. Then, after miraculously freeing Peter, he just disappears. It is very similar to the way Jesus could appear and disappear in his resurrection body. He seemed to have the ability to just step in and out of this space-time manifold as he willed. He could just come into it at this point and then go out of it and come back into it at another point without having to traverse the distance in between. As spiritual beings, these creatures are not bound by these kinds of spatial, physical limitations. So the angel can just appear in the locked cell and when his work is done he can just vanish and disappear again.

These angelic beings are not simply very powerful, however. They are also apparently very wise.[9] 2 Samuel 14:20b – the woman is speaking back to the king and she says to David, “my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.” Here she speaks of the angel of God as incredibly wise as knowing everything that is going on and she flatters David by comparing David’s knowledge to the knowledge of God’s angel.

Finally, as we have already seen, these spiritual beings are capable of assuming human form. Even though they are immaterial spirits, they can, as it were, materialize and take on a human body or some other sort of corporeal form. An example of this would be Judges 13:8-20. This is the story of Samson. There is an appearance of an angelic being to Manoah and his wife who were to be the parents of Samson. In Judges 13:8-20, we read the following:

Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, “O, LORD, I pray thee, let the man of God whom thou didst send come again to us, and teach us what we are to do with the boy that will be born.” And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but Manoah her husband was not with her. And the woman ran in haste and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” And Manoah arose and went after his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” And Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy's manner of life, and what is he to do?” And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her beware. She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing; all that I commanded her let her observe.” Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Pray, let us detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food; but if you make ready a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the kid with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground.

Here the angel appears in human form to Manoah and his wife and he looks so ordinary that Manoah doesn’t even realize he is an angel. He looks just like a flesh and blood human being – a stranger who has happened their way and given them this prophecy and he wants to prepare a meal for him and honor him in this way. He has no idea that he is dealing with the angel of the Lord. In fact, look at what it says in Hebrews 13:1-2, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Maybe the author is thinking of this case with Manoah and his wife. He says “Show hospitality; you never know who it might be. This stranger that you are entertaining could well be an angel.” So, although these are spiritual beings, they can assume different forms; sometimes like human beings so that they would look just like an ordinary person. Other times you have them described in the Scriptures, in the book of Revelation for example, as having wings or other sorts of appendages to describe the bodily form that they took.[10] So, although they are spirit beings, they can take on a material form in this universe and then do things in the physical, spatio-temporal world. So, by assuming a human form, they could move objects or destroy things or open doors or things of that sort.


Question: I may have misheard you when you were giving the definition but I thought you said that angels were spiritual beings with minds. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say minds and wills?

Answer: I think what I said was that they are spiritual beings who are minds. I would not say they have a mind – I would say they are a mind. By a mind I mean a soul, except they are not a soul of a body they are a soul without a body. They are spirits or minds. So certainly they have will; they have volition as well as self-consciousness.

Followup: So you are including will?

Answer: Yes, a mind would include the will as one of its faculties.

Followup: Is Aquinas’ ranking of the nine orders of angels purely speculative or is there any foundation for it?[11]

Answer: I don’t know how you could delineate nine specific orders. The most that I see in Scripture would be references to archangels and angels. And Satan is thought to be even higher than the archangels but beyond that, it would seem to me that it would be conjectural – I don’t know of any Scriptural grounds for differentiating levels.

Followup: When you were talking about Daniel 10:13 – about the angel saying he couldn’t come for three weeks because he was battling the king of Persia – would that kind of indicate that in the spiritual world there is time?

Answer: Yes. That is a good point. I think it would. It is not just three weeks of Daniel’s time, is it? Because there is a delay on the part of this angelic visitor that would indicate, I think quite rightly, that although these beings are not in space, nevertheless, they are temporal because they do things. They act and react. They come in history at different points and so I think it would be quite right to say that they are in time.

Followup: That wouldn’t be considered a physical limitation?

Answer: I don’t think it is a physical limitation because I don’t think time is physical. I know that in physics there are measures of time that are physical – what clocks say. But my own view would be that time itself is a metaphysical quantity or dimension of reality, not simply a physical one. I say that precisely on the basis of the mental. We could imagine that before creating the physical universe, God created, say, angelic realms that were acting and interacting with each other. In that case there would clearly be time prior to the beginning of the universe. It wouldn’t be physical time; it would be a kind of metaphysical time. So given that mental events also occur one after another, it seems to me that time doesn’t require space in order to exist.

Question: You were mentioning that angels were incorporeal but would they still have a locale, say, in heaven or on earth?

Answer: This is a very good question. The question is would they still have some sort of locale? When they materialize they seem to do so at certain locales in this universe. If the angel is here then he seems to have a location and in that sense it is connected very closely with the question “Does your soul have a locale?” Does your mind have a locale? Your mind is not an extended entity – it doesn’t have certain dimensions. It’s not like it’s the shape of your body. And yet, there seems to be a clear sense in which your mind is here and not, say, on the steeps of Patagonia in South America. So this is very difficult to understand and I think we need a good philosopher of mind to help us here. This is not my area of specialization. So it would seem that here we have an example of something that doesn’t have spiritual extension – doesn’t have size or dimensions – but it could have a locale in the sense that it is there.[12] Now, whether you think angels have a locale in heaven I suppose would depend on whether or not you think that heaven is a kind of place. I don’t think it is. It seems to me that there will someday be a new heavens and a new earth where God will recreate the universe and we, in our physical bodies, will inhabit this new creation. But heaven I take to be not a physical kind of place – not like another spatial dimension. It is more like a realm. It is the spiritual realm where God is supreme and there are these other spiritual beings in that realm. But it is not spatial because God isn’t a corporeal being either, right? God is spirit. So it is not as though God is some place in heaven and there are these angels that are literally around him. It seems to me that what you have here are pictures – these are word pictures – that represent in anthropomorphic terms God’s majesty, greatness, supremacy, beauty and so forth. But these are not to be taken literally or you are going to get a Mormon view of God where God is some kind of humanoid entity seated on some big chair someplace with all these physical, weirdo monsters around him full of eyes and things like that. That, I think, is not what the authors intended when they described the throne room of God. These are word pictures or symbolic pictures or they are visions of God. But I don’t think either God or the angels are located in some sort of a place. That would require space and it seems to me that we are the ones who are located in space in virtue of our bodies and when angels enter into space then they would be like us in having a locale perhaps but they are not spatial beings apart from their entry into this universe.

Next time we will look at the work of angels. But I hope this might increase your consciousness and awareness of the unseen realms that surround you, protect you, and guide you and that this can give you confidence and courage to face the obstacles that you do.[13]

[1] 5:03

[2] see Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, (Harvard University Press, 1936)

[3] cf. Isaiah 6:1-4

[4] 9:57

[5] cf. Genesis 19:1-17

[6] 14:53

[7] 20:03

[8] 25:12

[9] 29:53

[10] 35:10

[11] Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, drew on passages from the New Testament, specifically Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16, in an attempt to develop a hierarchy of angels. As Dr. Craig mentions, the Bible is relatively silent on the subject and thus it can be said that these hierarchies of Aquinas are highly speculative.

[12] 40:06

[13] Total Running Time: 42:49 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)