Angels are a ubiquitous part of pop culture. People find angels to be comforting sources of hope and believe that they are always looking out for us. However, pop culture’s understanding of angels doesn’t necessarily align with what the Bible teaches about these heavenly hosts.
We wanted to explore some common misconceptions about angels and highlight what scripture actually has to say about them.
Misconception #1: People become angels when they die
In the Bible, we learn that angels were created by God for the benefit of humanity. In Hebrews 1:14 we read, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
If angels exist to serve humans, then it would be a step backward in the afterlife for humans to transform into angels. Although it may sound beautiful to state that “heaven gained another angel” when a loved believer passes away, the truth is that their soul enters a position of joy even above that of angels when they reach heaven.
Misconception #2: Everyone has A guardian angel
This misconception is based on a partial truth. We read in Psalms 91:11-12 that “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
While angels do act as protectors when commissioned by God to do so, the Bible doesn’t seem to indicate that this is the sole job of angels, nor does the Bible tie a specific angel with a specific person. This is a theme we will see later as well; simply because we read that angels engage in actions at one point, that doesn’t mean that this action is their only purpose.
Misconception #3: Angels have halos
Although angels often are presented in art to have a halo (or nimbus), there are no descriptions in the Bible that reference this. This creative decision seems to be added to artwork to clarify which beings in a piece of art were the angels. Once prominent artists started depicting angels with a halo, the trend became the norm in art, and then infused the cultural understanding of angels.
Misconception #4: Cherubim look like babies
Although popular art (like that found in the Sistine Chapel) portrays angels as chubby harp-playing babies with wings, this description isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as “ministering spirits,” therefore as beings lacking a body. When angels did appear in a physical form in the Bible, they came as adult men, notably as the archangel Michael and as Gabriel who spoke to Daniel and who also came to announce Jesus’ forthcoming birth in the gospel of Luke.
Misconception #5: Angels only have two wings
There are three types of angels in the Bible: Cherubim, Seraphim and “living creatures.” Seraphim are described as having wings, but they have more than two; in fact, they have six wings. In Isaiah 6:1-3 we read that “in the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.’”
While Seraphim have six wings, we are told that Cherubim have four wings. We read in Ezekiel 1:5-11 that this type of angel has the form of a human, but also have four wings to cover their hands and their four faces. They also have calf hooves on the end of their legs.
Misconception #6: There’s an angel of death
In the Bible, we read of angels aiding in the death of humans, specifically in the Egyptian plague of death in Exodus 11 and in the deaths of Assyrians in 2 Kings 19. However, it’s important to note that the act of killing wasn’t the sole act of any specific angel, rather they were simply obeying the will of God.
The concept of an “Angel of Death” emerged in religious teachings several hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection during the Amoraim period. Although the concept of an Angel of Death has stuck through the past two millennia, it’s rooted in folklore, not the Bible.