October 1, 1997 Issue
by Alan Bonifay
In Acts 23:8 we discover that the Sadducees taught that there was "no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit." The Sadducees were the liberals of New Testament times. They denied the supernatural element of Gods word just as modernists do today. Consequently they, like many today, did not believe in the existence of angels.
Just as there was much confusion and misunderstanding about angels in the days of Jesus and the apostles, so there remains much confusion and misunderstanding about them today. In attempting to come to a clearer understanding we must remember that we are entirely bound in, bound around, and bound down by the complete and perfect revelation of Gods word. The Bible contains the revelation and the only revelation of God extant in the world today. No man can justify himself as being in the presence of God, or validate the Scriptures by his personal experience. Instead men are obligated to validate their experiences by the word of God. One of the greatest dangers of our day is that men are turning away from the word of God and are being guided and governed by their own feelings and experiences. They are appealing to subjective proof instead of objective truth. As a result we must guard against the danger of Joshuas day when "every man did that which seemeth to be right in his own eyes." Many convey the notion of these words: "I dont care what the Bible says and it doesnt make any difference what you read to me. I know what I feel in my heart and that settles it." When men adopt such a view they have cut themselves loose from all spiritual moorings and are adrift on the sea of emotion and instability.
Therefore, our appeal is to turn from all prejudice and superstition which envelopes our subject unto the clear light of Gods holy word. What does the Bible say? Is the operative question. What about Christians having individual guardian angels today?
THE POPULARITY OF THIS IDEA TODAY
Many scholars believe that the doctrine of guardian angels is plainly and indisputably taught in the Scriptures. Jesus said,
"See that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 18:10
In Hebrews the writer says that Gods angels are:" ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation." 1:13.
David declared that: "The angel of Jehovah encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them." Psalms 34:7.
Acts 12:15 and 27:23 are also often cited in support of the view that each disciple has a specific angel assigned to him for guidance, protection, and encouragement. Practically all denominational writers defend the doctrine of "Guardian Angels" and various brethren among us have also endorsed the view though by no means all of them. B. W. Johnson says that the doctrine of guardian angels is emphatically taught in the scriptures.
J. W. McGarvey wrote that the phrase "their angels" in Matt 18:10, refers to the angels especially charged with ministering to them individually.
One more recent writer, quoted anonymously by Guy N. Woods said,
"The New Testament teaching of angels, and particularly the providential care which they exercise over individual is too plain to be disputed by informed Bible students."
Even in our own fellowship there are those who teach this doctrine for Bible truth.
ARE THESE UNWARRANTED CONCLUSIONS
In spite of these strong affirmations by great and good men can only state the passages proffered do not correlate with the conclusions they have drawn and that it seems to me that the doctrine is fraught with insurmountable difficulties.
First of all, the Bible neither in these passages nor in any other says that each person or even each saved person has a guardian angel assigned to his care. In Mt 18:lO"their angels" refers to Christians all right but they are said to be "in heaven" where "they always behold the face of the Father who is in heaven." The record does not say these angels care for, provide for, or protect the Christians. It does not say they do anything for or to Christians. It simply positions "their angels" before the face of the Father in heaven-not here on earth. Some scholars, (Guy N. Woods; James McKnight), believe that this passage is a figurative statement alluding to the Oriental view that those deserving of high honors and great favors are most often permitted in the kings presence. The plural form is suggestive of all angels who serve for all the saints in Gods great plan-not that each believer has a separate angel. Metaphorically then it is being taught that faithful saints, even the most obscure of them on earth, are honored and highly regarded before the throne of God. The usage of the word "angels" here appears to me to be similar to that of Acts 12:10 where it must refer to Peters spirit. However, at most, in favor of this doctrine, it is only being said that angels minister in general to all Christians. In this understanding Jesus is sternly warning his disciples not to despise those who are less mature or less capable in the kingdom because Gods angels are caring for them. We must not be guilty of despising those over whom the holy angels as a collective group are watching providentially. It is simply not taught here that each Christian has an angel in particular assigned to his protection.
INFLUENCE OF ANGELS IN MIRACULOUS TIMES
Angels were indeed actually engaged in influencing people in ancient times, but it must be remembered that these were miraculous actions performed in lieu of the inspired written record which we have today.
An angel appeared to Philip in Samaria and to Cornelius in Caesarea but these were instances of a type not possible today (Acts 8:4,26, 10:3).
It is unquestionable in the operation of Gods plan to save that angels actively participate but this is far, very far, from saying that angels direct, control and overshadow their earthly words as the doctrine of guardian angels demands.
When Peter was miraculously released from prison and appeared at the gate of the house where the saints were assembled the report of Rhoda of the apostles appearance at the gate was assumed by them to be his angel (Acts 12:15). But all that this can possibly mean is that they concluded Peter had been killed by Herod and that it was his spirit which had come. Nothing here supports the doctrine of guardian angels; indeed, the implication seems quite the reverse, inasmuch as the conclusion which the disciples drew was that Peter must have been killed.
David Lipscomb said, (and I agree) "I do not find any clear indication in the Bible that each person has a guardian angel. Angels came to men during the miraculous ages of the world, but always with a clear and distinct form and with a clear, well delivered message from God. They never influenced men in a mysterious way, nor is there any evidence that they sought to lead or influence them otherwise than through the message they delivered to them. None of us believe they come in visible form or with an audible message now. If they do not, I cannot see how they can affect men or their course. The Bible says, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them hat fear him and delivereth them." However, this was from Psalms-a time when angels did come to reveal Gods word and to miraculously protect the Israelites. It means the same thing as the expression: "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. (Questions And Answers pp l5, 16.)
Lipscomb goes on to point out that the other passage most often supposed to teach the doctrine of guardian angels actually refers to the ministry of angels in giving the Jewish law and their visitations to men under that law. (Hebrews 1:1 2:5) The whole connection is a contrast between the ministry of angels in the Jewish law and the ministry of Christ under the Christian dispensation. Reading from chapter 1:1 through 2:5, we see the superiority the ministry of Christ has over the ministry of angels throughout. The connection clearly shows that the angels ministered to them by giving them the law and revealing the will of God. But the Christian age, "The world to come," has not been subjected to the ministration of angels. Rather, it has been subjected to the ministration of Jesus who is greater even than the angels. (Lipscomb, p 16).
INSURMOUNTABLE DIFFICULTIES OF INDIVIDUAL GUARDIAN ANGELS
Still the whole concept involves difficulties that I believe are insurmountable. They cannot be resolved either in scripture or in experience.
First, this doctrine cannot be reconciled with the clear, explicit teaching of the scriptures regarding the free agency of man. Those who believe this doctrine teach that angels exercise watchful care and protection over Gods people. Protection from what? Illness? Injury? Violent death? Many of Gods finest servants languish on beds of affliction; their every wakeful hour in excruciating agony. Where is their guardian angel in this time of interminable pain and lonely, sleepless nights? Where is their guardian angel when Christians die in horrible accidents or automobile collisions? How can this doctrine be harmonized when those recurring and all too common tragedies among Christians? How can it be harmonized with Romans 8:18-23 which teaches us that these tragedies are the common lot of all men-even me apostles? A theory in conflict both with Gods word and known and demonstrable facts cannot be true.
Secondly, this doctrine is fraught with many of the same errors as the current theory of direct, independent operation of the Holy Spirit separate and apart from the word of God-the New Testament. It necessitates the conclusion that there is immediate, personal direction by the angel on his ward. How is this accomplished? By the implantation of thoughts in the heart? If so, how could the recipient of such alleged suggestions determine whether they originated from the angel or from some other source? "We can tell by the Bible they say." If so why may not the Bible be appealed to always and everywhere for such direction, since it is the monitor by which the "leading" of the angel is determined? What possible suggestion could the angel make contributory to the well being of the disciple which is not already set forth in the scriptures? Is the angels direction irresistible or dependent on the will of the disciple? If the former, is the disciple responsible for his failure to follow the angels leading?
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