Angels in the Bible: divine messengers or literary devices ?

RublevRublev Shipmate
In the famous story of the Annunciation in luke1:26-38 Mary is visited by the archangel Gabriel who reveals God's plan of salvation to her.

Thunderbunk commented that the Annunciation is, 'Jesus as an event in history, as embodying the relationship between God and creation, and the need for human cooperation in the divine plan of love. Not an historical account of an encounter between a human being and almost entirely mythical divine agent.'

So how do we interpret the references to angels in the Bible?

Are they divine messengers or literary devices for the inexpressible divine action of God in the world?
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  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited March 23
    They are the evolution of henotheism to monolatry. If there is a spirit, glorified, realm that at the shallow end intersects with ours, then all rational bets are off. But at least the Annunciation isn't a myth. A silver lining I want believe it or not.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    You are rather eclectic about your choice of what you do and do not consider to be a literary construct in the Bible. I'd like to determine how they can be defined and explore why they were written and how - and if - it affects their interpretation as holy scripture.

    To focus on the Annunciation story: why do you believe it is true and not a construct ? It it that it conveys a sense of spiritual authenticity to you that transcends the level of a moral fable like Tobit - which also features the character of the Archangel Raphael?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    It's all, that's ALL, literary construct. I wish it weren't. Nothing eclectic about it. Be careful for what you wish. I wish Gabe and Mike to be real archangels. I wish Dan were a prophet. It would make life and God so much easier. And unspeakably monstrously weird and even more impossible to reconcile with rational eternity.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    The Bible itself is a literary artefact. But it contains spiritual revelation too: 'the word of God is living and active.' The God we meet in the Bible may be a construct. But He is also a link to the transcendent God who surpasses all that we can ask or imagine.

    You don't think that the Annunciation is a myth. I don't either. Such a profound truth seems to me to be literally true as well as morally true. If you accept the story of the resurrection as literally true, then why not the story of the incarnation as well? It rather baffles me that there are some who fully accept the gospel accounts of the resurrection and at the same time deny the miracle stories.

    As Shakespeare put it: 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of.'

    The Bible does contain truths which transcend human language or conceptual thought. But that is because of our limitations, not God's.

    I think you are a true seeker Martin54.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited March 23
    Nah. I just don't want to be meaningless and cease to exist. But I have to be rational. So the Annunciation is mythic. Angels cannot be real. Because then demons are. And if they are, all bets are off. In the utter, no contact, silence.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    You would only cease to exist if God ceased to think about you. And that will never happen.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Well I think about Him. So He's all right then. For as long as I can.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    :smile:
  • balaambalaam Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    Angels are literary devices. That does not mean that Gabe and Michael are not real archangels.

    There were chosen from a number of possibilities to be part of the story. The story is real. Gabe and Michael could be real, but don't need to be for the story to be true.

    I'd like them to be true, but it's something we will never know, at least not yet. Not until the next world, or if we meet one in this world. Even then we'd have difficulty convincing others.
  • MamacitaMamacita Shipmate
    If the angel in the Annunciation story is not true, then Mary does not get a chance to say Yes. Her moment of choice is a crucial part of the story.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Choice? 'Gabriel' was just being polite. How could a nice person like Mary possibly say no?! If Gabriel is not 'just' a theophany, then transcendent creation is stranger than strange can be. Every world has angels and demons as well as sons and mothers of God.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    We need some kind of agency for both Mary and Joseph to come to believe that Jesus had no earthly father. If not angels (which very handily are actually in the only sources we have), then we'd have to invent something else.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited March 24
    Aye. Can't they be a vision? Do they really have to be citizens of a supernatural realm that has good and bad neighbourhoods per sapient species? I loved Perdido Street Station and must read China Miéville's other works in that universe to make the affirmative do-able.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Various:

    --Dunno if they exist; but I don't have a problem with it if they do.

    --I don't have a problem with an actual Annunciation. I do have a problem with Gabe reportedly not *asking*. But Mary *chose*.

    --"I don't know what they teach in those schools these days, but it's all right there in"* Andrew Greeley's novel "Angel Fire".
    :) (:yipee:)

    *Said by the Professor regarding Plato, in "The Last Battle" by CS Lewis.



  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    A parallel. The Incarnation started after Mary said that it be done according to God's will. The night before He was crucified, Jesus said that it was his Father's will, not His, which was to be done.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I think any attempt to portray God in words is a literary construct. Doesn't mean he's not a divine being - but of course 'divine' and 'being' are human words attempting to grasp concepts, and God cannot be grasped.
  • The5thMaryThe5thMary Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    You would only cease to exist if God ceased to think about you. And that will never happen.

    That is a very comforting thought. Lately, I feel as though I would like to NOT exist. I'm in a lot of pain (both emotional and physical) and sometimes...well, let's just say that I'm very, very glad that God is thinking about me always. S/He is the One I'm clinging to with all my might. And, no, I am not suicidal. I'm just depressed and feeling it.

  • The5thMaryThe5thMary Shipmate
    Golden Key: Did you love Gabriella in "Angel Fire"? I thought she was great. I wish I could have an encounter with an angel like her!

    "Angel Light" wasn't nearly as good. "Contract With An Angel" was really dumb, in a lot of places but the part where the main character dies and has an out-of-body encounter with God? Oh, I cried and cried, reading that. "God" was so tender and funny and...and...I'm afraid to meet Her/Him but I long to, as well!
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 24
    @The5thMary

    Thank you for your honesty. In truth, this is why we all come here. There is companionship for the journey. Take care of yourself. And may you be blessed!
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    {{{{{{{The5thMary}}}}}}}--

    Yes, I love Gabby, too! :)
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    mt--
    mousethief wrote: »
    We need some kind of agency for both Mary and Joseph to come to believe that Jesus had no earthly father. If not angels (which very handily are actually in the only sources we have), then we'd have to invent something else.

    Mostly for Joseph, I would think. Mary would at least have known that she hadn't been with anyone, presuming she was a virgin, unless she was raped while drugged or asleep.

    {Thinking aloud...somewhat tangentially...}

    As much as meeting Gabe and getting his message might have freaked her out, it was better than just giving her a mysterious pregnancy, with no choice and no info.

    But...I don't know to what extent the OT laws and punishments about sex were still kept then. She would've been in danger of execution, if they were kept. Even if she'd been raped and explained that, because IIRC the law was that a woman raped in town was lying and guilty, because she could've called out for help and been heard.

    That might well be why an *engaged/betrothed* woman was chosen. AIUI, a child conceived by a Jewish engaged couple, within a year before their marriage, is considered legitimate. (Somebody wisely figured that a couple might not wait!) And Joseph (who, when he knew Mary was pregnant and not by him, considered a quiet divorce) got his own angelic visit, to reassure him that Mary hadn't been unfaithful.

    So they got married. Without the angelic meet and greets and without that marriage, Mary might have been executed.

    If that all happened, then the angels helped save the day.

  • On a pastoral visit a hospital patient told me there were a blue and a gold angel at the foot of her bed. She didn't mind that I couldn't see them. They were her personal angels.

    In the same vein, I have never seen a demon. I put both of these down to cultural distance. Though it also seems to be the case that I don't see auras around people or other such things that others claim to see.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Mary would at least have known that she hadn't been with anyone, presuming she was a virgin, unless she was raped while drugged or asleep.

    Which, perforce, she wouldn't have known about.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    ...which is why I went on to say that Gabe's message (if she could accept it as real) prevented that worry.
    :)
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Then we agree.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    ;) Now that's settled, shall we work on world peace? I think Ben & Jerry have a "Whirled Peace" ice cream, or some such. Perhaps handing that out to everyone who wants some might be a start? ;)
  • MamacitaMamacita Shipmate
    edited March 25
    Golden Key wrote: »
    I don't know to what extent the OT laws and punishments about sex were still kept then.

    Apparently they were very much in effect, because Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph's plan to protect Mary by sending her away:
    Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

    Then the angel shows up and tells Joseph the whole story, and the marriage is back on.(The question of what went down in Mary and Joseph's prior conversation has always intrigued me. How much did she tell him? Did he believe her? But I digress.)
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Right, and thx. But was the death penalty for extra-marital sex still observed? (Never mind getting pregnant from it.)
  • On a pastoral visit a hospital patient told me there were a blue and a gold angel at the foot of her bed. She didn't mind that I couldn't see them. They were her personal angels.

    In the same vein, I have never seen a demon. I put both of these down to cultural distance. Though it also seems to be the case that I don't see auras around people or other such things that others claim to see.

    I'm drawn to the idea that beings being cultural constructs does not rule out them being real.

    Since there has been some reference to literature (with which I'm not familiar) on this thread, I'd like to add my usual reference at this point to The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams, which has ancient Norse deities literally slumming it in the modern world, begging on the streets or hiring themselves out for work with advertising agencies, unable to fulfil their former roles because nobody believes in them any more.

    And the emergence of a brand new minor deity based on the construct of somebody's primal fear of what they might find inside their long-uncleaned and unopened fridge.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    There are millions of deities in Terry Pratchett's Disc World. (Though only a small fraction show up in his books--whew!) But they can start out as small beings, and become larger and more powerful as other beings believe in them--or the reverse, if belief wanes. Small Gods has quite a bit on that. A heads-up: TP's DW books have varying levels, types, and styles of humor. Small Gods has humor and wit, more subtly than some of the other books, and more quietly. But, ohhhh, it's such a great book!!!
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited March 25
    Rationally it's all Jewish humanist myth. Pre-modern nascent liberal evangelicalism. At worst entirely made up. The how and the why of that is problematic. If it isn't and it's as literal as recorded in an otherwise rational material creation, then the sublime is somewhat fey and extremely dispensational and local to populated star systems; has an acute half-life, measured in months, in terms of its impact on the material in our infinitesimal neck of the infinite cosmos. Or something - what? - in between. The incarnation happened, but the sublime doesn't have actual angels and demons. Which is problematic...

    How could a group of initially Jewish Greco-Romans have made this all up? Why? They had begun to deconstruct their culture and discovered humanism, knew it was morally right and had to sell it using the Messaiah trope? Even deluded themselves that that had been fulfilled?

    And is this the unforgivable sin...
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    edited March 25
    Host hat on

    Keryg is for discussion of the Bible. This thread has veered away from that. If you like, it can be transferred to Purg.

    Host hat off
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Right, and thx. But was the death penalty for extra-marital sex still observed? (Never mind getting pregnant from it.)

    The "woman caught in adultery" passage in John suggests it was.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    This thread is being transferred to Purgatory.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    That may be why Mary went to stay with her relative Elizabeth for a time. God's plan of salvation in the Incarnation involved Mary breaking the Law and put her at risk of public disgrace and death. Which makes her assent all the more courageous.
  • admin mode/

    While using my admin powers to transfer the thread, @Rublev I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you of the hostly advice you've already received to dial back on the number of threads you start in a short space of time. It's overwhelming and people will tire of it quickly.

    They will also tire of you starting new threads or changing the subject instead of responding to challenges on existing threads.

    Moreover, persistently starting threads on an inappropriate board is going to get you into trouble with the Crew.

    Please read the board guidelines carefully before choosing where to post.

    /admin mode
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Certainly Eutychus. Will do.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    mt--
    mousethief wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Right, and thx. But was the death penalty for extra-marital sex still observed? (Never mind getting pregnant from it.)

    The "woman caught in adultery" passage in John suggests it was.

    Thx! Didn't think of that.

  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    Mamacita wrote: »
    If the angel in the Annunciation story is not true, then Mary does not get a chance to say Yes. Her moment of choice is a crucial part of the story.
    Yes, it is.

    I read somewhere that angels are the thoughts of God. That works for me.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    That's why she was chosen. And aren't we all! Some more autonomous than others. I can live with them as avatars.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    That may be why Mary went to stay with her relative Elizabeth for a time. God's plan of salvation in the Incarnation involved Mary breaking the Law and put her at risk of public disgrace and death. Which makes her assent all the more courageous.

    This is a really important point.

    I'm just going to leave this here:
    The Case for Angels - Peter S. Williams

    You may recognise the only reviewer on Amazon.... ;-) I must declare an interest though in that I used to know the Williams and for a slightly odd reason and a sunny afternoon, I ended up being acknowledged in this book...

    AFZ
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    How does he circle that irregular polyhedron?
  • Saying that angels are possible is not controversial, is it? I suppose the Matrix is possible. However, to argue that they are probable, is different. I'm not sure how one could do that.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Saying that angels are possible is not controversial, is it? I suppose the Matrix is possible. However, to argue that they are probable, is different. I'm not sure how one could do that.

    Hard to see how you could fix a probability to that. There's nothing really comparable whose odds we can compare.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    Saying that angels are possible is not controversial, is it? I suppose the Matrix is possible. However, to argue that they are probable, is different. I'm not sure how one could do that.

    Hard to see how you could fix a probability to that. There's nothing really comparable whose odds we can compare.

    Yes, you're right. Also, I think probability relates to material outcomes.

    I think Aquinas has an interesting argument that the perfection of existence requires intellectual beings like angels, or something like that.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Aquinas argues a lot of weird things, frankly.
  • DonLogan2DonLogan2 Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    That's why she was chosen. And aren't we all! Some more autonomous than others. I can live with them as avatars.

    Wow! If that is so, can demons also be an avatar and if so how does that all work itself out...I shudder to think!
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited March 28
    For every additional variable complexity powers, ramps up, logarithmically like the old Richter scale. Or explodes factorially. That applies to angels, the philosophical entities in Aquinas' propositions; every term, those behind 'the matrix'. Add a few zeros with every one.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    DonLogan2 wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    That's why she was chosen. And aren't we all! Some more autonomous than others. I can live with them as avatars.

    Wow! If that is so, can demons also be an avatar and if so how does that all work itself out...I shudder to think!

    God as The Sooty Show?

    Nah. Different categories. Not dualist duelling hand puppets. Angels and demons don't manifest in the same way apart from The Big Three; face to face. Angels don't possess. If you don't count an ass.




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