The image of angels with white wings and golden hair did not come from the Bible. Nor did the image of chubby cherubs shooting bows come from the Book of Job. Biblical Angels were creatures of pure spirit, and thus could take many forms. Most Biblical scholars believe it’s impossible for us to know what form an Angel might take. However, they did make various appearances in the Bible and some allege to have seen them since the Biblical era.
“The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them”Psalm 34:7
The Bible gives multiple accounts of Angels appearing invisible to humans, but still being able to affect the physical world. In Psalm 91 verse 11 it is said that God “will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Many Christians interpret this to mean Angels are surrounding us and involving themselves in human affairs daily.
Of course, this lends itself to the opposite as well, and demons too are trying to get at people daily. It invokes the concept of Spiritual warfare with prayer and communication with God at the center. From this perspective, Angels are the invisible protectors which guard and help humanity.
Angels Appearing as Humans
“Don’t forget to entertain strangers, because in this manner, some have entertained angels without knowing it.”Hebrews 13:2
Angels can appear in human guise and do so in the Bible. The above verse from Hebrews is often quoted in response to the concept of Angels in human form. In Genesis, Jacob wrestles with an Angel (some believe God). The Angel then tells him he’s persevered and should now be called Israel. Many believe this to be an allegorical tale of the Israeli people’s own struggles with God.
Angels came to Abraham and Sarah in the form of men to tell them they would have a son. Sarah laughed, as she thought she was past the age of childbirth. The Angel asked her why she laughed. She gave birth to Isaac at the age of 90. Their appearance is described as men.
And he lifted up his eyes, and looked: and lo, three men stood by him, and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the ground.Genesis 18:2
Angels Appearing as the Unknown
“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.’”Isaiah 6: 2-3
There are a category of Angelic appearances which defy description. Here we’re simply going to call them unknown. The above which describes Angels with six wings is difficult to visualize, and we we have no earthly analog to such a creature.
It is possible the form taken during these appearances were messages in themselves. In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is shown visions of Angels (Cherubim) with the heads of animals and four wings. He is also shown a vision of perhaps the most bizarre description of an Angel in the Bible. These are known as the Ophanim.
“They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around” – Ezekiel 1: 16-18Ezekiel 1: 16-18
Modern Accounts of Angels
Modern accounts of Angels take many forms. Many of us have the felt presence of protection. Perhaps we didn’t fall when should have fallen, and marveled at the miracle of good fortune. Yet, the feeling of a presence and a warmth is often described in modern Angelic accounts, along with a pleasant scent. Some describe a white robed humanoid with a celestial glow about them, giving them the right warning at the right time to avoid danger. These accounts are often what is characterized by popular fiction as an “Angel.”
“And I was surprised they really did have wings, even more so that these wings reached from above their head to the ground”Seeing Angels: Emma Heathcote-James · 2009
Our modern perception of what Angels look like, is clearly informed by the history of our art. The image of winged gods dates back to Assyria (and before). When Angels first began to appear in what has become our modern version of Christianity (post-Constantine, 4th or 5th Century AD). The art in this era didn’t include wings, and winged angel art really took off during the Renaissance. Thus forming our modern concept of what an Angel looks like.
That said, the Bible DOES mention Angels with wings. It’s just that they happen to have six of them. Not many paintings with those Angels on them. God tells Noah to put Cherubs on the ark, but the Cherubim had two sets of wings and four faces (ox, lion, eagle and human). A lot different than what you would find on a Valentine’s Day card. Then of course there is the book of Enoch which we mention in our article. The Curious Case of Moses Wilhelm Shapira. It goes a little deeper into Angelic lore. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s worth checking out.