Throughout the biblical narrative, God often chose to reach out to human beings through His special messengers—the angels. Both the Hebrew and Greek words (malak and aggelos) we often translate as “angel” literally mean just that: “a messenger.”
While they so frequently appeared to the various biblical characters, in what way did they appear? Do angels have bodies of some type, or are they completely immaterial and unembodied?
Well, there seems to be two streams of thought on this: the biblical view, and an alternative perspective put forth by those who claim to follow the biblical view. There is what the Bible describes, and then there is what many people take from that. The Bible presents us with beings who have bodies and physically appear to human beings, while a sizeable number of interpreters present us with just the opposite.
Let’s begin by looking at just a few of the more notable times that angels appeared to people in the Bible.
Two angels appeared to Lot, prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-29). They even ate dinner with him. Strange . . . how would an unembodied being eat solid food?
An entire army of angels appeared to Elisha and his servant, with flying vehicles no less (2 Ki. 6:15-17)! Were immaterial beings piloting material vehicles? (And yes, this was essentially a UFO event, which I discussed in the last blog)
An angel appeared twice to the prophet Elijah, shaking him each time to wake him up (1 Ki. 19:5-7). Can an unembodied being physically touch others? It is worth noting that Elijah would later be carried off to heaven by a whirlwind, accompanied by yet another angelic vehicle (2 Ki. 2:11-12). (This was also a UFO event)
The angel Gabriel appeared to both Zechariah (Elizabeth’s husband) and Mary, prior to the births of their incredibly important sons (Lk. 1:5-38). As we know, Elizabeth would give birth to John (“the Baptist”) and Mary would give birth to Jesus (the Son of God). In both instances, Gabriel physically appeared and spoke to them as one person would to another.
On the evening of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds who were tending their flock received an incredible shock, as an angel appeared before them with a blinding light (Lk. 2:8-9). Afterwards, an entire group of angels appeared and proceeded to shout praises to God (2:13-14).
An angel appeared to Peter while he was imprisoned (Acts 12:6-11). The angel proceeded to loose Peter from his chains and sneak him out of his cell to safety.
Obviously, there are many other examples that could be mentioned. By my personal count, there are at least twenty unique events in the Bible where angels physically appeared to individuals. This does not count the numerous other examples that might qualify, but may also be visions of some sort. In all of these instances, the angel/s arrived in physical form. They spoke to, touched, and even sometimes ate with the human beings they were visiting.
While this is what the Bible presents us with, many Christian thinkers have taken this information in a much different direction. The complete opposite direction, actually.
Take William Lane Craig—perhaps the most influential Christian apologist of our time—for example. He had this to say concerning the angels and their role as God’s messengers:
“What is described here is this higher order of spiritual beings that dwell in the very presence of God and then serve his purposes . . . we are talking here about incorporeal beings (beings without physical bodies) or minds, as it were, without bodies (unembodied minds) who serve the Lord.”
You may be trying to figure out what an “unembodied mind” actually is. I have never figured it out myself. More than that, you are probably questioning how angels could be incorporeal and unembodied, when they always show up with bodies in the Bible. Not to worry—there is standard response for this too. The following explanation comes to us via the well-known apologist, J. Warner Wallace:
“Angels are immaterial, spiritual beings. But when they appear to humans, they typically take on our form. Why would they do this? Perhaps it is because they love us and want to connect with us as created beings.”
Well, it could be because they love us and want to connect with us. Or, it could be that angels appear to us with bodies because they, well . . . actually have bodies. But Wallace’s explanation is far from new, of course. The almost deified Christian thinker, Thomas Aquinas, made similar comments almost 800 years earlier:
“Consequently, since the angels are not bodies, nor have they bodies naturally united with them, as is clear from what has been said (Article 1; I:50:1), it follows that they sometimes assume bodies.”
According to these sources, the angels only take on physical form when they interact with us in our world. They do not really possess bodies or have physical appearances. This is all a good show for us humans. After they materialize to us, they leave and return to their good old immaterial, unembodied, incorporeal selves. But is that true? Is that even a conclusion one could rightfully reach from the biblical accounts?
If you ask me, all of this amounts to what philosophers call “special pleading.” This occurs when someone cites an example as an exception to an otherwise general rule, without providing sufficient reason why that is the case. In these instances, angels are considered to be unembodied beings, even though the Bible consistently describes them as having bodies.
The reason why a plain reading of the text is rejected in all of these instances is almost entirely a philosophical (rather than a biblical) matter, one which I do plan on discussing at another time. Essentially, it boils down to an obsession with immaterial things and a disdain for material ones. For now, suffice it to say that viewing heavenly beings as immaterial and unembodied has more to do with Plato than it does with Paul.
It’s good Greek philosophy, but crummy biblical theology.
It is important to note that if you were only considering the Bible, and allowing it to speak for itself, you would very naturally come to the belief that angels have bodies. I am thoroughly convinced that so many have come to believe differently not based on Scripture, but on the outside influences of certain philosophical and theological perspectives.
It is equally important to remember that most of the Bible was written by two categories of people: 1) Those who personally experienced the events described, and 2) Those who knew the people who personally experienced them. With that in mind, ask yourself a very important question: how would the biblical characters have understood their interactions with angels?
Perhaps Lot thought to himself, “It only seems like those two angels are eating with me.” Perhaps Elijah said, “It only felt like an angel touched me, and that whole ‘chariot of fire’ thing was just a good show.” Perhaps Jacob believed he was wrestling around with a hologram: one that happened to physically dislocate his hip. Perhaps they all believed that what they were seeing was a temporary illusion of some sort.
Perhaps . . . but it would really strain credibility.
But it could be that the simplest answer makes the most sense of these events. Maybe it really is just as the biblical writers understood things, and the angels appear to us in physical form because they actually have bodies. The apostle Paul very carefully described the types of bodies they have (and we will someday have) in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, and they are most definitely not completely identical to our own. However, they are bodies of some form or fashion nonetheless.
Based on the biblical descriptions, it is fair to say that the angelic form is not so radically different than our own that they are unrecognizable. They are at least somewhat human in appearance. In fact, angels are even called men at times! This relationship is consistent throughout the entire Bible, and is even true of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances. He didn’t look quite like the Jesus of old, but he also didn’t look like some other type of creature altogether. He was still human-like in certain respects.
As I have touched upon before, one day we will also have the type of body that both Jesus and the angels possess.
In the end, it seems much more logical to accept the multitude of biblical accounts about angels as they were written and as they would have been understood by the biblical characters, rather than turning each one of them into some type of heavenly mirage.
Angels are not immaterial beings; they have bodies.
But an important remains: what about God? Does God have a body?
If you found this interesting, you may like my blogs about the sons of God, the Nephilim, and the odd connection between angels and men.
Looking for a new book to read? Click the links to check out my titles on Amazon:
God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact
Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm
Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach
The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife
Craig, William Lane. “Doctrine of Creation (Part 20)”. Reasonable Faith. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-20/
Thomas Aquinas. The Summa Theologica, 1:51:2. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FP/FP051.html
Wallace, J. Warner. “Why Did God Create Angelic Beings?” Cold-Case Christianity. June 6, 2014. http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/why-did-god-create-angelic-beings/
28 thoughts on “Do Angels Have Bodies?”
Thanks Brian, I’m going through a book right now arguing the opposite. Trying to get a feel for what 1st century people believed about Angels, but this reminds of other theological arguments where theologians have argued things that seem to directly contradict the obviousness of scripture and come up with some special explanation.
I think I’ll put this question to rest.
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Hello Aaron, thank you for reading and for your comment. You are spot on about the special explanation thing. The more things I look at, the more I see this going on. This boils down to what I call “immaterialism.” That is, an obsession with Platonic thought that views immaterial worlds and beings as the ideal. This has happened throughout history, and thinkers like Craig, Habermas, Moreland, and many others do it now. Take what is biblically obvious and flip it completely upside down. I am working on a book that deals with our connection and the similarities we share with the heavenly beings. I will talk about a TON of these places where people have subverted the biblical message. Thanks again, and feel free to contact me whenever.
Thanks for the article. I’ve been studying this for quite awhile. I believe that they have bodies as well. I think that God the father most likely does as well. I like your idea on Plato. But I also think it has something to do with men wanting to elevate themselves above everything else. You see all the time about how were made in the image and likeness of God and that nothing else is. I believe Angels were also. Most people who go to seminary just regurgitate what they’ve been taught without even checking the word of God to see if it’s true. I wonder what our spirits look like though. Because unless were alive when Christ returns we will be disembodied spirits. Also what do you think of Jesus saying that a spirit has not flesh and blood like he had? Do you think the body he was raised in was different from what he has now. John saw Jesus after he was resurrected and still wrote that it’s not been revealed yet what we will be but when he returns we will be just like him.
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Thanks for your interest Brandon. I think the connection between us and the angels is extremely strong. They look very much like us and were also made in God’s image. Yes, it’s funny how so many people focus on the issue of the Image but immediately dismiss all possible physical connections. They do not get to this idea because of biblical teachings, but through philosophical speculation.
I also agree with you about the Father having a body, and Jesus of course has one. The Spirit is a much stranger issue. Since you mentioned “what our spirits look like,” I want to say something about that. The nature of a spirit is also radically misunderstood, in my estimation. While it is taught/accepted that spirits = immaterial beings, that is not correct most of the time in Scripture. Consider 1 Cor. 15:45: “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” Paul made the case throughout all of chapter 15 that Jesus has a transformed body, and we know that to be true from the gospels. BUT, he calls him a “life-giving spirit.” Angels are elsewhere called “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14). This tells us that spirits are not unembodied or disembodied beings, but are beings of higher power and authority. Jesus’ point about spirits not having flesh and bone like him was, in my opinion, not him telling us that unembodied/disembodied spirits roam the earth or anything of the sort. It was about him playing on cultural understandings of the day. “You thought I was a spirit? Does a spirit have flesh and bones?” Sort of like if you saw someone and said, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”; you would be using this for rhetorical purposes, not because you are saying ghosts are real.
I am actually finishing a book right now about all these issues. It explores our similarities and connection to God and the angels, and I talk a lot about the how we physically resemble them. I will definitely let you know when that is done, as you might have particular interest there.
Thanks for your feedback, feel free any time.
I told you I would let you know when the book on these issues was out. See the link, paperback up in the next week or so. A lot of issues pertaining to this blog and your comment. Thanks
God created spirit AND matter. God can reveal Himself us to us VIA matter, in the form of miracles for example. We can use MATTER to draw closer to God, in the form of religious icons, places of worship, books, etc. Clearly, matter is GOOD, as is spirit. It’s true that either can be misused, but that doesn’t explain the why some Christians believe that matter is either “bad”, or that it will fall away at some point with only spirit being left. I see no reason why “heaven” couldn’t also be a place where matter exists, except that it would be a million times better than what we have here on earth.
I once dreamt of my deceased father and asked him if he was “real”. I put my hands on his shoulders and I FELT him with a sense of touch that pales when compared to the sense of touch that I have in life. I see no reason why angels couldn’t also assume – or have – physical, material bodies, being of both spirit and matter, as is the creation that God engendered.
Thanks for reading and for your comment. I agree with a great deal of what you said. I think matter certainly does exist in the heavenly realm, and the Bible proves that. I would go a step farther in saying there are no purely immaterial ether-worlds, so to speak. Neo-Platonism and certain pagan philosophies were obsessed with the “world beyond the world” (like in Plato’s theory of Forms). To them–and to many Christians throughout the centuries–our world is something of an illusion that points to the greater realities, which happen to be immaterial realities.
It is interesting to note that Paul called Jesus a “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). His entire case in chapter 15 is that Jesus rose with a transformed physical body, the type of which we will one day possess. So, Jesus is a tangible being but is a “spirit.” The Bible, on the whole, refers to spirits not as unembodied beings but as “higher level” beings. Beings of greater power and authority, like the angels (Heb. 1:4). In fact, there isn’t one example in Scripture of an angel appearing without a body, and they are even called “men” at many points. They have a similar body to us (as the risen Jesus does) but are clearly superior in certain respects.
The goal of the Christian faith is to receive a tangible resurrection body and to inhabit a tangible world (the new heavens and earth). Most believers have unknowingly bought into the notion that going to live in heaven forever as an immaterial soul is the goal. Not the case, at all.
Good question. I think the answer is twofold: 1) A lot of Christian theologians don’t take the Bible seriously (as strange as that is to say) and 2) Their philosophical underpinnings dictate their view of Scripture. They ignore the plain reading of Scripture because they have a commitment to certain ideas. A major one is their reliance upon Neo-Platonic thought, which carries an obsession with immaterial things. Material things are thought to decay and be flawed, so only immaterial things can be reach perfection. That’s why neither God nor the angels can have bodies, why only an immaterial God could create the universe, why we have an immaterial soul inside the body that goes off to live somewhere when we die, etc. All biblically wrong but that’s where they get it.
I am curious about something, having read your recent blog. A lot of people suggest that UFOs are exclusively demonic phenomena and that they are possibly the great deception. The Bible only describes good angels as having flying vehicles. Why do you believe the former things?
Well the angels who drive visit godly people. I think the bad angels visit ungodly people in their ufos. I don’t think all are bad, but not all are good.
I think there’s definitely truth to that. You get whatever visitors you ask for! I think it’s important to note that the holy angels are described as having vehicles in the Bible. I think the fallen angels do too, but many believe it’s only the evil beings who are involved in “UFO” activity.
The Bible said that angels are minstering spirits
Thanks for reading Carl. You’re right, it does say that. However, it also says that Jesus, after the resurrection, became a “life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). But Jesus rose with a body! That is just one example where the Bible refers to a “spirit” not as a disembodied being, but as a being of higher power. Spirits are heavenly beings, so to speak.
Angels appearing to have bodies never made any sense. I mean why is it always a man? Why can’t Gabriel appear as a teenage girl for Mary? Why can’t some appear as kids? Why do angels always appear as men in the Bible and men probably in their teen years (in ancient times you was an adult at 13) 20s and 30s. If they can assume bodies then why also men and not elderly men, women, children or animals? Another is thing is that how do bodiless beings fight in battles? Do they assume a body to fight? Sounds pointless.
I have to agree. Excellent points, too. None of this makes sense, and it’s the same with God supposedly being unembodied as well. The bottom line is that the Bible simply doesn’t describe the heavenly beings as incorporeal. It just doesn’t. That was made up by later theologians/philosophers out of an allegiance to Neo-Platonic principles. It’s more Plato than Paul.
Does it seem that entirely too many who declare Christ as Lord do so with; for instance; an either / or mentality, while where the infinite knowledge of God through His Spirit could have otherwise come in handy? Like so many things Biblical, many people tend to “lean unto their own understanding” to translate scripture while forgetting that it was man’s own understanding that got him in our current fallen position. For my safety net, I tend to comfortably lean towards considerations as to what I believe might explain scripture, while cautiously borrowing Paul’s 1 Corinthians 2:2 declaration of “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”, reciting this merely to induce a habit to explore many possibilities without the need to rest on any of them as “the answer”. Yea Paul had a different point of view I suspect…lol. Rather … I strongly lean. As for angels having physical bodies, other than scripture telling us that angels appear to appear as embodied creations that are apparently capable of devouring a great steak for instance, I have never come across scripture defining the creation of angels, not that it isn’t possible they exist outside my knowledge. Genesis 2:7 gives us a view of God forming man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person. Humans tend to associate what they deem “physical” must be, while not envisioning that physical for an angel may be something entirely different, if not simply constructed of different material. And is it a prerequisite that for an angel to be embodied, that God must as well breathe the breath of life into this angelic body as God did with man? Perhaps the method God chose to create man holds within it what separates us from what angels are, an angel’s physical existence perhaps quite different than man’s? So sure, I can see that angel may very well be embodied.
David, thank you for your insights and for engaging my article. I think your point is much the same as mine: IF we allow Scripture to speak for itself, we would come to conclude that angels have bodies. The biblical authors certainly believed that, so why shouldn’t we? On the point about what “physical” means, I think that’s incredibly important. The angels and the Risen Jesus have what Paul calls “spiritual bodies” (1 Cor. 15:44). That is, they are absolutely tangible bodies BUT they are of a different quality or substance than our own. As Jesus demonstrated after the Resurrection, this involved being able to be touched and even eating (like the angels in the OT, you mentioned). Only bunk philosophical perspectives get in the way of clear scriptural teaching. Unfortunately, this happens A LOT.
A mentor of my very early years in Christ once resided Hebrews 11:1, and then slammed his palm upon the countertop of his kitchen counter and said to me that faith was more substantial than this seemingly invincible surface his hand could not penetrate with any force he could muster. Apparently, he wasn’t a big fan of Bruce Lee…lol. But that is just it that man gets this assured understanding of what one believe physical must be in their mind when a little Physics 101 would reveal that what we put so much assurance in concerning our concept of what is solid and then in comparison that which seems even more solid than our body, Physics might argue that our embodied being is actually over 99% empty space and if that space would be removed, what makes up what embodies us would then fit on the end of a pin quite comfortably. Then to blow your mind it is estimated that what remains after removing all the empty space throughout our entire universe would then only take up the current space within our known solar system; give or take a galaxy of two for safe measure if need be. Of course, this is at least close to what Physics teaches and I am neither a scientist nor God to prove these believed facts are in fact, facts. But what this exercise did for me many years ago was to not only change how I viewed our physical world, but every bit as important it changed how easily it had been for me cling to one own understanding, simply due to popular religious beliefs. For indeed this popular thinking is often more the embodiment of religion than spiritual truth. Now Jesus offered a remedy for this that so many a confessed believer finds little faith in; this being that He would send His Spirit to teach us all things, which if compared to that hard countertop, the trust in His Spirit teaching us Spiritual truth is more sure than the existence of that countertop.
And once again early in my walk with Christ, the Spirit revealed to me that everything we perceive with our known physical senses to this very day is in fact the result of Adam’s decision not to trust that God’s Word was more concrete than what then currently appeared before him as seemingly suggesting a different truth, which then with that lack of concrete trust directed man’s path within everything man put his hand to. All the architecture, the engineering, our political views and so on and so on would have taken on a completely different aspect of existence from what my and your eyes sees daily had man trusted in God’s Word. In essence this taught me that just because we see with our eyes, hear with our ears and touch with our hands that which is presently before us does not even begin to suggest that this is evidence that there is not a far more concrete reality that not only could have been, but in fact is!
Does not Scripture suggest rather convincingly that angels have bodies, particularly in Ezekiel 28:18? God speaking to Satan through the prophet Ezekiel states, ” Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; it has consumed you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of all who see you.
Point 1: Satan, the most beautiful of God’s creatures, must have had some form of being, in order for fire to have something to consume.
Point 2: In order for Satan’s body to be consumed and turned into ashes, it surely must have has some physical properties to begin with, the remainder of which, is the ash.
I completely agree. Good point about Satan’s body being consumed. They same applies to the fallen angels as well, right? Nothing in Scripture suggests that angels don’t have bodies!