Saturday, September 18, 2010

Angels & Demons 23: Angels as the Personification of God’s Word

The best way to understand the concept of angels is to view them as “the personification of God’s words.” For those who wonder why a professor of “communication” is writing commentaries on angels and demons, here is the connection. Angels and demons are religious ways of discussing “communication.” When God spoke “light” into existence, He effectively created an Angel of Light. When He implicitly “tested” man’s free will by giving him a command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, He effectively created a “testing” angel. Once man sinned and God “cursed” him with “death,” He effectively created a Death Angel, etc.

On page 47 of his Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine, G. B. Caird seems to suggest that there is confusion in the book of Revelation over whether the “seven stars” are “angels” or “spirits”:

“It is important . . . to notice that the seven stars do not mean in this letter [to Sardis] what they meant in the letter to Ephesus. There they were the angels of the churches, here they are the sevenfold Spirit of God; and since the Spirit, in speaking to the churches, addresses the angels of the churches, the two are clearly not to be identified. The one symbol does double service.”

Keep in mind: Caird’s terminology of the "sevenfold Spirit of God" is his own interpretation (an attempt, I think, to find evidence of the doctrine of Trinity in Revelation). John defines the seven stars as the seven spirits of God in the letter to Sardis, whereas they were "angels" of the seven churches, earlier. Furthermore, also present in the letters to the seven churches is John’s recurring comment about the "spirit . . . say[ing]" things "to the churches." John is not confused; he is a master craftsman. John is using synecdoche—figurative language employing the use of the whole for a part or a part for the whole, the container for the thing contained, and various parts of a whole that can stand for each other. For John, angel, spirit, and word are all “parts” of the same “whole”—the communication of God. In a sense, an “angel” is the same thing as a “spirit,” which is the same thing as a “word.”

Jewish scholar G. F. Moore (in Volume I, page 414, of his book Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era) links the three terms (of Caird's "seven stars" confusion) together quite easily. In his chapter entitled, "The Word of God: The Spirit," Moore states, "God's will is made known or effectuated in the world not only through personal agents (ANGELS), but directly by his WORD or by his SPIRIT" (emphases mine). Here all three terms of Caird's puzzle fit neatly together. If the seven stars represent "angels," then "angels" are a part of the whole. If the stars "represent" "spirits of God," then spirits are a part of the whole. If "the spirit" is "say[ing]" things to the churches, then what "the spirit says" (i.e., the “word”) is a part of the whole.

For John, as for other Jews of his generation, a concept of a whole from which parts spring up and to which they return is the concept of the Nehar di-Nur (the "stream of fire"). Louis Ginzberg (in V:21) states: "Thus there are angels who spring up daily out of the stream Dinur (='stream of fire'; comp. Dan. 7.10); they praise God, and then disappear. Out of every word uttered by God angels are created." Ginzberg says (in V:37) that the Rabbis further connected this stream with at least one STAR: "The stream of fire in which the SUN bathes, is identical with the Nehar di-Nur." An easy connection would be to see other heavenly lights, such as "stars," bathing in and arising out of the stream of fire, as well.

John is familiar with the "stream of fire." He does not mention this stream, but he describes a "lake of fire" into which the Devil and his angels are thrown. Not only is John familiar with the "stream of fire," he even adds a twist to the concept: A “stream” keeps on flowing, but a "lake" is the end of the line. Water flows into a lake, but does not flow out. According to Ginzberg (in V:125), later Jewish writers speak of souls passing through the river of fire where "the wicked" are "judged." Whether these Jewish writers originated the idea of a river of fiery judgment or picked up on John's "lake of fire" is uncertain, but their concept does seem to demonstrate the ease with which fiery judgment and the stream of fire may be connected.

Having discussed the various Fallen Angel Stories in previous commentaries, I am now shifting my focus to a discussion of the nature of angels, in general, rather than just the “fallen” variety. In future commentaries, I will discuss the ways in which angels are the personification of God’s word.

No comments:

Post a Comment