In the Bible we are introduced to three, and only three, great types of intelligent and moral beings, Angels, Devils, and Men. And these, though possessing many attributes in common, differ very widely in their physical constitution. A careful examination, however, of the various statements regarding them, contained in Scripture, leads us to the conclusion that, like the worm, the chrysalis, and the butterfly, they are only different states or stages in the development of the same species; and that throughout the universe there is but one type and one law of development among the sons of God.
In Adam we have a specimen of the species in its primary state, possessing the natural or animal body, the corpus animale or "sOma psuchikon" of Paul (1. Cor. 15:44, soulish body), by means of which propagation takes place; and in this state man is capable of undergoing one of two transformations, according to circumstances. As one alternative, he is capable of throwing off the body of death, and becoming a disembodied spirit, like the devils; or he is capable of being changed either gradually, or 'in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,' into his complete development, possessing a spiritual body (the "sOma pneumaticon" of Paul), like the celestial bodies of the angels of heaven.
The peculiarity of the Adamic race seems to be that in its two sections it experiences both changes; because in the case of the lost, the naked spirit is cast forth into the deep, like the demons; and in the case of the saved, the attainment of the spiritual body is accomplished, not by a spontaneous and normal development according to its original constitution, but by an exceptional arrangement, through which the children of the resurrection become "equal to the angels."
When, therefore, God said, Let us make man in our own image, sin and death did not form any part of His original programme. Adam was, indeed, created with the natural body, but Paul tells us that there is also a spiritual body, and that the progression is—"first the natural body, and afterwards that which is spiritual."
Although the Bible was not given to us to gratify curiosity, or to give lessons in natural science, it could not deliver its message without informing us of this; and, in order to give us some idea of the spiritual body which Christ has promised us, He has, on various occasions, sent perfect men to show us what they are like, and to enable us to lift up our thoughts above our present humiliation, and contemplate the glorious change that awaits us when we shall be equal to the angels.
Beyond the fact that the angels have spiritual bodies, and are from heaven, Scripture does not warrant the supposition that their nature is in the slightest degree different from our own. The word angel does not imply any constitutional difference, as in our language it seems to do. It expresses an office, not the distinction of a species, and is applied to men in the natural body as well as in the spiritual. The word "messenger," when it occurs in the New Testament (except in two passages, where it should not be so translated), is no other than the word "angel." John the Baptist is thrice called an angelos—Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; and Luke 7:27; and the messengers whom he sent to Christ when he was in prison were called angeloi, Luke 7:24. The spies that were lodged in Rahab's house were angeloi, James 2:25; and when Christ set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem, He sent angeloi into the village of the Samaritans to make ready for Him, Luke 9:52.
But if men are called angels in Scripture, angels are much more frequently called men. They were not mere optical illusions, deluding men's senses, and appearing to be what they really were not. Scripture, it will be observed, never casts doubts on the evidence of the senses, because it is the highest which we possess. It does indeed inform us that there are many things around us which we do not see; and in order to reveal that which cannot be perceived by the senses, visions and dreams are super added; but we never find any suspicion cast on the evidence of the senses. Their testimony is sacred, and is always appealed to as the basis on which all revealed religion rests, so that if that be shaken, all must go. "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and Our hands have handled, of the Word of life; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." This was the ground of the beloved apostle's testimony, and Christ Himself appeals to the evidence of sense in proof of His resurrection, when He says, "Handle me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as ye see me have." What better proof then, can we have that the angels have flesh and bones, than, that they were handled, and seen, and heard by men and women, who could not be mistaken as to the reality of their bodies, although for a time they were mistaken in supposing that they were ordinary men? It will be hereafter shown that the devils are disembodied spirits; and though we are informed that they are the "angels" that kept not their first estate, this does not prove that angels are spirits only. We must not hastily conclude that angels are unembodied spirits, like the devils, because in one passage it is said that they are all "ministering spirits." The emphasis lies not on the word "spirits" but on the word "ministering," just as in the corresponding passage Christ is said to be a "quickening spirit"—the emphasis lying on the word "quickening," not on the word "spirit." In both cases the word spirit is not without deep meaning, although that meaning is in our English translation shrouded. It will be observed that in the case of Christ, He is contrasted with Adam, and as Christ is called a spirit so is Adam called a soul, and yet both had bodies. The angels are called spirits, Christ is called a spirit, and Adam is called a soul; but a soul is as immaterial as a spirit, and therefore any argument drawn from the expression "ministering spirits," to show that angels have no bodies, would be equally effectual to prove that Adam was a soul without a body, and that Christ was a spirit and nothing more. In the verse immediately preceding we have the key to both passages, 1. Cor. 15:44—"It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural (or soulish) body, and there is a spiritual body." The words "natural body" ought to have been translated "soul-body," because we have no adjective in English for soul corresponding with the adjective spiritual for spirit. Perhaps the most intelligible rendering which we could give to the passage would be by converting the words soul and spirit into adjectives in the 44th verse, and then reconverting them into substantives in the 45th, thus,—"It is sown a soul-body, it is raised a spirit-body. There is a soul-body, and there is a spirit-body. And so it is written. The first man Adam became a living soul, the last Adam a vivifying Spirit." Here then we have an explanation of the words "ministering spirits" as applied to angels. It means that they have not soul-bodies, but spirit-bodies; so that as Adam was a living soul, because he was possessed of a soul-body, the angels are called ministering spirits, because they are possessed of spirit-bodies.
This shows the danger of building scientific conclusions on the mere words of Scripture: it is the facts and arguments alone that will safely bear them; and turning to facts, we have the most convincing proofs that the angels are possessed of bodies as real as our own. We have said that angels are much more frequently called men than men are called angels; because if we look at those passages in which the missions of angels are recorded, we shall find not only that the acts and experiences of the angels are sufficient to prove that they are real men, but that the very name "men" is applied to them, as being appropriate to their nature.
For example, the first recorded visit of angels to the Old Testament saints is to be found in the 18th chapter of Genesis, and there they are introduced at once as men:—"Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him;" and throughout the whole narrative they are uniformly called men, and never angels. Their actions, too proved that they were men, and if in any of their actions a supernatural power is exerted, it was only because they had supernatural bodies—that is to say, they had "spiritual bodies"; for as our natural bodies are sown in corruption and weakness, and raised in incorruption and in power, so these "men" possessed of spiritual bodies, were already endowed with incorruption and with power. And yet these spiritual bodies spoke and walked, and ate and were handled, like other men. They rested under the tree; they permitted Abraham to wash their feet; they allowed Sarah to bake upon the hearth cakes of three measures of meal, and Abraham to kill a calf, tender and good, for their refreshment; and when all was prepared, Abraham brought the calf and the cakes, and butter and milk besides, and set them before them, AND THEY DID EAT. We must be careful how we reject evidence of this kind, lest in doing so we destroy the evidence of by far the most important dogma of the Christian faith. What evidence have we of the resurrection of the Lord, if the testimony of the senses be rejected? And if Christ be not risen, then is our faith vain. What evidence have we of the resurrection of Christ but that of the senses? He was seen, He was heard, He was handled; what more convincing proof could there be? He said, "Handle me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as ye see me have." And while they believed not for joy, He said to them, "Have ye here any meat?" And now comes the crowning evidence. "They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb, and HE DID EAT BEFORE THEM." And why did He eat? Not because He was hungry or needed food, but to give the most convincing evidence that could be given that He had a real body. They might be foolish enough to think that a spirit might speak and walk and be handled like mortal men, but none of them could be so foolish as to suppose that a spirit could eat a piece of a broiled fish and honeycomb. Surely that which was sufficient to prove that Christ had a real body of flesh and bones, was sufficient to prove that angels also are possessed of the same.
We have not the slightest warrant in Scripture for believing that there are any created spirits without bodies where there has been no death; and there can be no death where there has been no sin. We do not affirm that there are no unfallen spirits; we merely say that we have no warrant in Scripture for believing that there are. Heaven is not a phantom locality, like the heathen Elysium or the Mohammedan paradise. It is a real locality, to which Christ ascended with a real body, accompanied with the saints that rose after His resurrection. It is the world upon which the angels with their spiritual bodies have been dwelling for thousands of years, with Enoch and Elijah, and it is yet destined to receive a multitude of resurrection saints whom no man can number. The popular superstition which converts the metaphoric language of Scripture into something between substance and nonsense—spirit mansions and spirit fields and spirit golden streets, and spirit palms and spirit harps and spirit trees of life—is a delusion and a travesty on majestic realities revealed in metaphoric language, only because they could not otherwise be communicated. A spirit heaven and a spirit hierarchy are a dream and an impossibility. There never were spirit mountains or spirit rivers, or anything out of which could be manufactured spirit harps that would give out spirit sounds. There are spirits, but God did not make them so: they became spirits because of their sin; for if they had not sinned they should never have died. As a human skeleton is the produce of sin and death so also is a disembodied spirit, because neither of them could have existed if sin and death had been unknown. There are unembodied spirits, but instead of being of a higher order, they are in reality of a lower, or rather they are the abnormal products of a fall. Who will say that the devils belong to a higher species than the angels, or the resurrection saints, or the Son of God Himself, who sits, a real and living man, the son of Abraham, the son of David, upon the throne of the universe? If an unembodied spirit be higher in the scale of creation than a being having a spiritual body, then the dead are higher now than they shall be hereafter, and would be reduced to an inferior state of existence by means of the resurrection.
Observe how the argument stands. Angels and devils were once alike in nature; how unreasonable is it to suppose that the unclean spirits alone have kept their first estate, and continued to be spirits; whereas the angels of heaven have fallen from their high estate, and having become like men with bodies, have been mistaken for men, and been entertained unawares? If the constitution of the angels and the devils was at one time identical, and if the angels have not been degraded in their constitution, then it necessarily follows that the devils at one time had bodies, and that they walked, and spoke, and ate like men—and this is something very near the truth; but it must be supplemented: the bodies which they had were soul-bodies, like our own; and because they sinned, they died; and now their disembodied spirits remain upon the planet which their sins defiled; and those geological discoveries of ancient humanity which have awakened so much interest in the scientific world, may have also a theological value in confirming this view of Satanic natural history.
But besides the positive evidence of the non-spirituality of angels, there is also negative evidence, which is even more conclusive. We never find an angel inhabiting the bodies of men, either for good or evil. It is somewhat remarkable that the unclean spirits are found to fit into the organism of our natural bodies exactly in the same manner as our own spirits do, influencing their actions, and in many instances using the bodies of living men as if they were their own: in fact, a disembodied spirit, ejected by death from its own proper "habitation," and earnestly desiring to be clothed upon, could not be conceived to be in any respect different from these unclean spirits, either in their nature or their habits. Their physical correspondence with the vertebrate physiology of the human body is further illustrated by their entering and energising the bodies of the swine at Gadara; although it is evident, from the catastrophe that followed, that the difference was too great, and that the attempt was a failure. They succeeded in obtaining a lodgment, but they found that the bodies of the swine did not sufficiently correspond with their spirit functions to enable them to direct or control their movements. They got into the saddle, as it were, but could not grasp the reins. Spirits such as they fitted the human body, but not the bodies of the swine; and accordingly, the moment they took possession, the frightened animals ran down a steep place into the sea, and were choked in the waters—a consummation which the unclean spirits evidently did not auticipate, and which would issue in their being again unclothed. Here, then, we see that the natural constitution of the spirits fits them for entering into the bodies of men, and sharing with their own proper spirit the government and use of the body. It is, in fact, an appetite which their imperfect nature must ever feel: fearing to be cast out into the deep; seeking rest in human organisms, and disappointed when they cannot find it. This is according to the nature of a spirit, but where do we find anything of this kind in the angel? There is no more appearance of an angel being able to possess a man, than of one man being able to dwell in the body of another.
It is of great importance to ascertain that the angels have spiritual bodies, because we are told that at the resurrection we shall be "equal to the angels"; and unless we had testimony regarding the appearance, powers, and capabilities of the angels, we should not have been able to form any conception of the nature of the resurrection bodies of the saints. It is true that we have in the resurrection body of Christ, a little information upon this point; and yet it is only a little. It is well that it should be suplemented by all that the Old Testament and New Testament history tells us of the angels; and it is the more valuable, because there is a remarkable coincidence in the phenomena. We are told that our resurrection bodies are to be like His. "Our mortal bodies shall be fashioned like unto His glorious body," and "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." His entering the room where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, when the doors were shut, corresponds with the entry of the angel into the prison where Peter lay bound. His vanishing out of the disciple's sight corresponds with the vanishing of the angel from the sight of Gideon; and His ascent into heaven from the Mount of Olives corresponds with the ascent of the angel in the smoke of the sacrifice of Manoah.
What a glorious prospect does this present of the future inheritance of the redeemed! With bodies possessed of angelic powers and immortality, and, like Gabriel, capable of passing from world to world in the service of their Master, the whole universe in all its grandeur and beauty is thrown open to them during the endless ages of eternity. How do our present attainments and opportunities sink into insignificance when compared with this! And how sad the case of those men of science who, after having got a glimpse of the glories of creation, have to bid them an eternal adieu when they lie down to die!
A.T. Last updated 2.6.2006