Home >Bible Topics > Words and Meanings >  Hebrew > this page
Site Contents
Daily Readings
Bible Topics
Worship Topics
Ministry Topics
Church Year
Theology Topics
New Additions

Messenger or Angel?

Dennis Bratcher

This page is still being developed

The English word “angel” has traditionally been used to translate the Hebrew word malak (as in Genesis 19:1). Yet in Hebrew the word malak means “messenger,” especially the envoy of a leader or king who communicates the king's wishes and represents the king (as in 2 Samuel 5:11). The word is translated simply “messenger” in the NRSV over 100 times. It has no inherent connection to any divine being.  Even when the term is modified as “messenger of God” (malak yhvh) there is nothing in the term itself that demands what we mean by a supernatural being.  We assume this to be so because of our understanding of the English term “angel.”  But in Hebrew the  “messenger of God” can as easily be, and probably more often is, a human being.

Yet in English the term “angel” evokes a very specific mental image of the traditional white robed winged figure that makes grand pronouncements from God. That image has come to be associated with the English word angel over two millennia of paintings, poetry, writing, and biblical interpretation.  While the word “angel” comes into English through the Greek word angelos, which itself originally meant “messenger,” the English term no longer means that.

So to use “angel” to translate malak introduces a level of interpretation, and baggage, into the English that is not at all present in the original Hebrew text.  This creates the potential for misunderstanding the communication of the text, and the potential for creating bad theology, simply because the biblical terms are not understood in their own context.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2011, Dennis Bratcher - All Rights Reserved
See Copyright and User Information Notice

Hebrew Terms


Related pages