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Monday, June 13, 2011

Angels & participant reference in the Apocalypse of John the Apostle

The question, does the Apocalypse ever identify Jesus Christ as an Angel, might sound simple to someone who hasn’t looked into it with any seriousness. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, wondering what a text linguist might do with the problem. Patterns of participant reference are a fascinating feature of the Apocalypse. In numerous passages John almost appears to have intentionally created confusion about who is the agent of some action or the speaker of some proclamation.  

The Apocalypse shows distinctive patterns of participant reference in regard to Angels. They appear on stage, perform certain actions, make proclamations and then disappear. On rare occasions an angel may be given a name:

Rev. 9:11 ἔχουσιν ἐπ᾿ αὐτῶν βασιλέα τὸν ἄγγελον τῆς ἀβύσσου, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἑβραϊστὶ Ἀβαδδών, καὶ ἐν τῇ Ἑλληνικῇ ὄνομα ἔχει Ἀπολλύων.

Rev. 9:11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. RSV

Rev. 12:7 Καὶ ἐγένετο πόλεμος ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ Μιχαὴλ καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ τοῦ πολεμῆσαι μετὰ τοῦ δράκοντος. καὶ ὁ δράκων ἐπολέμησεν καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ,

Rev. 12:7   Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,

John leaves most angels unnamed and occasionally introduces them with indefinite modifiers ἄλλον ἄγγελον “another angel”[1] or εἷς ἄγγελος ἰσχυρὸς “a certain strong angel”[2]. John provides identity when it suits his purpose. In most cases the only identity offered is the role of the angel performs in the vision.

Another means of identification is the angel’s close association with God. In Rev. 1:1, 22:6  we read  ἀποστείλας διὰ τοῦ ἀγγέλου αὐτοῦ,  ἀπέστειλεν τὸν ἄγγελον αὐτοῦ where the angel who is sent by God has a possessive genitive pronoun. This might be understood as a reference to מלאך יהוה ἄγγελος κυρίου The Angel of the Lord. We see a similar pattern in 22:16  Ἐγὼ Ἰησοῦς ἔπεμψα τὸν ἄγγελόν μου “I Jesus have sent my angel …” where the genitive pronoun μου might be understood as indicating a special status. However,  מלאך יהוה probably functions as a title whereas μου and αὐτοῦ are simply descriptive modifiers.  An amateur theologian might quibble that all the (elect) Angels could be referred to as ἄγγελον αὐτοῦ but that raises the question, why bother saying it at all. In other words, it fails the test of relevance. Jesus Christ doesn’t waste words, when he says ἔπεμψα τὸν ἄγγελόν μου “I have sent my angel …” μου conveys some significant information.  However, the pronoun is exceedingly ambiguous so the significance isn't perfectly obvious.

Another means of indicating close association with God is the position of the angel: Rev. 8:2  εἶδον τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλους οἳ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ ἑστήκασιν “I saw the seven angels who stand before God” Rev. 8:4 τοῦ ἀγγέλου ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ “the angel before God.”

At this moment in my project, I don’t think John’s pattern of identifying angels lends much support to those who see Jesus Christ as the referent of ἄλλον ἄγγελον ἰσχυρὸν Rev. 10:1. In the two cases where the identity of an angel was important to John (Rev. 9:11,12:7) he named them.   

[1] For  ἄλλον ἄγγελον “another angel” see Rev. 7:2, Rev. 8:3, Rev. 10:1, Rev. 14:6, Rev. 14:8, Rev. 14:9, Rev. 14:15, Rev. 14:17, Rev. 14:18, Rev. 18.

[2] εἷς ἄγγελος ἰσχυρὸς “a certain strong angel” Rev. 18:2


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