As you know, I have been somewhat sporadic in posting on the Cripplegate as of late. The reason for this is that Fred Butler and I have been re-working our responses to Michael Brown’s book Authentic Fire and and preparing them to become a book. Being the somewhat perfectionist Bible-geek that I am, I’ve re-tooled all the posts from which this book has spawned and have added over 50 pages of new material. Most of it is in rather obsessively copious endnotes (it’s going to be released on Kindle, so footnotes aren’t an option), but I recently wrote a footnote that turned into quite the study project. Knowing that the book Authentic Fire is somewhat “old news” but questions about Charismatic issues are not, I’ve added a whole lot of content to the upcoming book that will hopefully make it a far more valuable resource than just a book critique. I promise you that if you pick up a copy, the endnotes will be more than worth the price alone.
The endnote was part of a response to Steve Alt’s appendix in Authentic Fire. Alt suggests that God still communicates with believers via angelic messengers (among other things). I started responding to the point, but then I fell into my rut: I realized that I hadn’t ever really dug into what the Bible says on that specific issue and I don’t like not knowing. So I decided to set aside a few hours for study. After all my study, I came to a conclusion that actually surprised me. When I get surprised I’m guessing that I learned something that other people probably might be interested in as well (and possibly don’t know), so I figured that I would share my findings with all my wonderful fellow Bible geeks here on the Cripplegate.
Here’s the fruit of a few hours of study that will end up as an endnote that few will likely read:
Here’s a list of every single non-theophany angelic visitation in scripture: Gen. 18:1-19:22, 32:1; 1 Kings 13:18; Dan. 3:24-28, 6:21; Zech. 1-6, Matt. 1:20, 2:13, 2:19, 4:11, 28:1-7, Mark 1:13; Luke 1:18-19, Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:8-15, 24:23; John 20:12, Acts 5:19, 8:26, 10:3, 12:7-10, 12:23, 27:23, Revelation 1-22 (The whole book is essentially a singular vision involving angelic communication). I don’t include theophanies (i.e. “the angel of the Lord/angel of God”) in the Old Testament since he was Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes back to earth to visit, I dare suggest that people are not going to miss it.
Processing all that data, there are a few things to notice:
1. In all 4,000+ years of Biblical history, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, the Old prophet at Bethel, Daniel, the prophet Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, Mary’s cousin Zechariah, Jesus, the Shepherds, Mary Magdalene, “the other Mary”, Herod, Peter, Philip, Cornelius, and Paul all experienced angelic visitations from God. The old prophet at Bethel was lying (1 Kin. 13:18) and Herod got killed by his visiting angel (Acts 12:23).
That leaves fifteen people in all biblical history.
2. Of those fifteen people, two were patriarchs. One was the relative/companion of a patriarch. Two were Old Testament prophets. Two were the parents of the Messiah. One was a parent of John the Baptist; forerunner to the Messiah. One was the Messiah. The shepherd’s were witnesses of the birth of the Messiah. Mary and Mary were witnesses of the resurrection of the Messiah. Three were apostles of the Messiah.
That leave one guy: Cornelius. That’s one guy who wasn’t a patriarch, a relative/companion of a patriarch, prophet, apostle, or directly involved in the birth or resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Still, Cornelius was part of the foundation of the church (namely the inclusion of the Gentiles).
3. Historically speaking, the patriarchs were involved with the initial establishment of the nation of Israel. Daniel and Zechariah were involved in the captivity and return from the captivity (another highly significant time in Israel’s history). The rest of the people were involved in the birth and resurrection of Jesus or the establishing of his church.
Anyone else seeing a pattern?
It sure looks like angelic messengers were only active at three distinct periods in biblical history: the establishment of Israel, the return from the Captivity, and the life of Christ.
Just to cover my bases and anticipate complainers, I recognize that Hebrews 13:2 suggests more people than the ones I’ve listed have received angelic visitations. The problem is that Hebrews suggests that the people who get angelic visitors are unaware of who’s visiting them. Contemporary people who fall into that category aren’t going to be talking about their visitations since they don’t know it happened. The fact that the author of Hebrews knows about angelic visitations doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who were visited somehow “figured it out”. It may be, and I’d argue more likely, that the Holy Spirit revealed that specific fact to the author.
So, on the basis of the Biblical data alone, I wouldn’t say that angelic visitations are incredibly rare. Actually, I’d say that they’re over until the tribulation. I have rather compelling Biblical grounds to suggest that anyone who claims to have been visited by an angel is wrong. Something certainly happened but whatever it was, it wasn’t a visit from an angel.
I hope that helps sort through some debates that you may find yourself involved with in days to come!