Saturday, May 22, 2010

Angels & Demons 9: Angels Have Only the Good Inclination

Based on the Hebrew text of Genesis 18:5, Judges 19:5, and Psalms 48:14 and 104:15, various Jewish rabbis from the early Christian Era (Isaac, Aḥa, and Hiyya) point out that the “heart” (or inclination) of humans is different from the “heart” (or inclination) of angels. They assert: “The evil inclination has no power over angels.” Furthermore, “The evil inclination will not return [to humans] in the hereafter” (Bereshit Rabbah 48:11). Jesus seems to agree to some extent that humans in the hereafter will have characteristics similar to angels (Mark 12:25, Matthew 22:30, and Luke 20:36), but he does not specifically state that this similarity with angels centers around only possessing the good inclination. On the other hand, it seems inconsistent with a Christian view of the hereafter to envision resurrected humans capable of sinning, once again. The view of angels as lacking the evil inclination dominated Jewish teaching on angels at the time of the New Testament. Citing the Bereshit Rabbah 48:11 passage, Arthur Marmorstein, a highly respected rabbinic scholar who taught at Jews' College, London, from 1912 to 1946 (and author of the entry on “Angels and Angelology” on Volume I, page 968, of the Encyclopaedia Judaica makes the sweeping statement: “The angels . . . are free of the YETZER HA-RA.”

In the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88b-89a, Moses is depicted explaining to angels why the Law was not given to them. The Law, according to Moses, is not suitable for angels because they do not have the evil inclination in them. The angels agree.

Midrash Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 8:11 quotes Rabbi Judan as offering an analogy of a boy who had lost several of his fingers, but trying to learn the art of embroidery or silk-working. Even if an expert teacher were hired, his instruction would be in vain because the boy could not possibly learn it. The essence of the art of embroidery depends on the use of the fingers. Likewise, the angels are incapable of using the Law because they lack something essential to its use. God is quoted as saying: “Certainly, no satisfaction results from [the angel’s] compliance [with the Law].” Marcus Jastrow explains in his Dictionary, Volume II, page 1541: “Your compliance with the Law would afford no satisfaction to Me, because you have no temptation and trials to contend with.” It is clear that this passage also holds with the teaching that angels lack the evil inclination. They are not free moral agents.

This embroidery parable is found also in Midrash Tehillim 8:74 (which I will examine more fully in a future commentary) and in Pesikta Rabbati chapter 25, page 128 a. These passages underscore the sinlessness of angels and assert that they are sinless by nature. According to most official Jewish views from the New Testament period, angels cannot sin because they do not have an evil inclination.

AFTER THE NEW TESTAMENT PERIOD, Christians did begin to teach that the Fallen Angels fell through sin. Justin Martyr, somewhere around 150 a.d., wrote in Dialogue 79 from his “Dialogue with Trypho (a Jew)” describing Tryphy as becoming irate concerning the suggestion that Fallen Angels fell through sin. Though the specific sin Trypho rejected was the sin of “rebellion” (which I will discuss in a future commentary), Trypho appears to reject the notion that angels could sin at all as being “blasphemous!” I will not assume any responsibility for defending the teachings of uninspired Christian writers--even those so revered as Justin Martyr. I believe Justin was mistaken; I believe Trypho the Jew was correct in this instance. I believe the New Testament supports Trypho more than it does Justin.

IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, angels are mentioned 170 times—virtually all of these passages depicting sinless angels. Of these 170 times, only two times is it suggested that angels are capable of sinning: II Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. Certainly, it is necessary for us to examine these two passages—which are quite similar in many ways—but there is not room for that discussion in this week’s commentary. For that discussion, please return again, next week.

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