What on earth are angels?

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/a/a-g-g-e-l-o-sfin.html

What on earth are angels?

— The psychological reality of the mythological being —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun αγγελος (aggelos) means messenger, emissary or envoy; someone who or something that carries a message or charge, without further specification as to what kind of being is doing the messaging. It occurs 183 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.

Its associated verb, αγγελλω (aggello), is a very common word in Greek classical literature and nearly always refers to ordinary humans delivering ordinary messages, reports, news or announcements (see below). The noun αγγελος (aggelos) is somewhat broader applied than the verb and also covers things such as beacons, and animals such as birds.

Ornithomancy, or taking omens from the behavior of birds, may seem like a bad investment to our modern sensitivities but this practice probably evolved from a very sensible early-human survival technique. Birds flee their perch when danger approaches, and vultures gather in the sky where there's carrion and thus dining predators on the ground (Matthew 24:28). Paying attention to the behavior of birds would certainly have given early humans a crucial advantage on their trek across the savannahs. The sooth-saying variant probably came to pass when later interpreters didn't quite understand the essence of the exercise, nor depend on it for their survival, and connected it to magic and messages from beyond, whilst elaborating the procedures to include all sorts of complicated gestures and theatrical spells. Something similar happened with the word ποφητης (prophetes), meaning "prophet", which relates to fish the way angels relate to birds.

Our noun αγγελος (aggelos) initially meant something quite sound but was in later traditions interpreted as the semi-divine or spiritual beings we know today as "angels." Today, many people insist that "angels as we know them" truly exist and are all around us. Many others point out that angels have never been observed in any scientifically meaningful way, and dismiss the modern angels along with the ancient texts they appear to feature in — which is like suspending the belief in planet earth because we don't like the flat-earth hypothesis.

Here at Abarim Publications we've learned that modern expressions often grow in layers of soil that were deposited from eons of interpretations upon interpretations, but that beneath it all exist solid foundations of deep insight. It takes some digging but it's very often worth the effort.

What on earth are angels?

Today the word "angel" is a kind of fiat coin of Biblical currency: everybody knows about angels and most of us occasionally use the word "angel" to transfer the wealth of our opinions, but it's frustratingly unclear what sort of "real-world asset" this fiat-concept "angel" represents. Most of us will confirm that an angel is a mythological creature or spirit-being, most often equipped with wings but otherwise non-corporeal and supernatural. But that definition describes the fiat unit: the certificate (the bank note) that represents value but has no intrinsic value.

The problem is that we humans are natural creatures, and everything we can observe or detect with our senses or instruments must always be natural and consist of material energy (objects to feel, sound waves to hear, light waves to see). Something that is not "of this world" cannot interact with something that is, so even if angels exist, they wouldn't be able to communicate with us if they were indeed supernatural. The supernatural simply can't be seen by the natural. This is why the Word of God became flesh (John 1:14): so that all other flesh could see him (Isaiah 40:5).

The question this article will address is not so much the function of the angel in the Bible but rather what natural and observable phenomenon became represented by the literary device we know as the angel.

Crossing the river of life

Religion the way we know it is a relatively recent invention. Prior to Plato, speculative philosophy didn't really exist and observable and verifiable truth was revered to the point that liars and fantasist were killed (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, 1 Kings 18:40). For religion to exist at the pervasive levels it does today, life must be secure to the point where it no longer matters a whole lot what you believe.

Compare the burden of living to crossing a river. You cross that river by means of a bridge and the overwhelming majority of people today lean wisely on a concrete bridge of science: when they want to build a house they go see a skilled architect, when they don't feel well they go see a learned doctor, and when they want to invest their money they review scholarly articles on economy. But besides their solid concrete bridge of science across the river of life, many people also sport a span of silky threads of unsubstantiated beliefs: energies and chakras, angels and crystals. Although they'll loudly attest to it and urge others to do so too, they'll never truly place the full weight of their lives and their children's lives on that silky bridge and will always keep a tether firmly tied to their concrete bridge of science.

The Bible stems from a time when life was a precarious affair, and the bridge across the river not as solid as it is today. People died or their children died because they had somehow leaned on a patch of moldy nonsense. Entire harvests failed and societies collapsed because someone had seen fit to spin a totally worthless yarn and lay it out for others to try. The Bible stems from a time when people could simply not afford to entertain speculative philosophies. In Proverbs 12:11, King Solomon observed: "He who works his land will have plenty of food, but he who pursues emptiness lacks heart (לב, leb)". In 28:19 he repeats the first part but predicts a return of "plenty of poverty."

Plato came from a very wealthy and secure society, which is why he could invest his precious mental resources into pursuits that had no practical application — our word "school" comes from σχολη (schole), meaning "free from having to work". By the time of Christ, speculation had become a very serious threat to the wisdom tradition (the concrete bridge) and had opened the door to the Roman enslavement machine and plunged the world into bloody darkness (read the paragraph They came up on the broad plain of the earth of our article on Mary). Paul made clever use of the rift between factions when he pitted angel-believing Pharisees against angel-denying Sadducees (Acts 23:8), but it should be clearly understood that this was not about a mere difference of opinion but about entirely different methodologies. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not like two fighters slugging it out on a shared stage, but rather two stage-managers who promoted each the merit of their own facilities.

Two robbers with him

The Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed in their entire methodology and approach to understanding reality. The Pharisees accepted and elaborated anything that was handed down from antiquity, with not always enough critical thought as to how those things would apply to more modern times (Matthew 23:15). The Sadducees rejected anything they couldn't see, and this would have included angels, kangaroos, vitamins, bacteria, serotonin, Pluto, iPhones, and so on. The New Testament treats Pharisaism with remarkable respect (Paul, Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Nathanael, Simon the Host were all Pharisees) but Sadduceeism was clearly deemed not a very clever position. Modern Judaism (and thus Christianity; read our article on Dalmanutha) comes from Pharisaism, and Sadduceeism died out completely after the holocaust of 70 AD, which they also hadn't seen coming.

The noun αγγελος (aggelos) occurs in the New Testament about as often as the noun χειρ (cheir), meaning "hand," which means that it should be expected to describe something equally common. But there's an obvious discrepancy between the frequency with which angels show up in the Biblical narrative and the frequency with which large, blonde, handsome, robed, winged and haloed beings of signature sweet disposition are detected in real life. Still, rejecting a phenomenon because you don't see what you thought you should be seeing, is fantastically arrogant and stupid. It's actually quite clear that the angels we moderns don't believe in, also weren't believed in by the Bible writers.

On occasion our noun describes ordinary human messengers (Luke 7:24) or men charged with a mission (James 2:25 and Luke 9:52) or even an inanimate instrument of torment (2 Corinthians 12:7). It appears to describe John the Baptist ("I will send my messenger ahead of you"; Matthew 11:10, Mark 1:2, Luke 7:27) although all three gospels quote Malachi 3:1, and the term "my messenger" is in Hebrew identical to the name Malachi (which in turn never occurs as a personal name, except perhaps in Malachi 1:1). Jesus also equates John the Baptist with Elijah (Matthew 11:14, 17:11-13, see Malachi 4:5), so the jury is still out on this one.

Our noun αγγελος (aggelos) is generally thought to be related to a Persian term angaros, meaning mounted messenger or postman (see below), and even a Sanskrit word anjiras of similar meaning. In the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, this word replaces the Hebrew noun מלאך (malak), also meaning messenger (Numbers 20:14, Judges 11:12-14, 1 Samuel 6:21, 1 Kings 20:2). This noun in turn comes from a widely attested Semitic root לאך (l'k) that means "to message" in Arabic, Phoenician, Ethiopian, Aramaic and so on (the "m" is a prefix that indicates agency, so malak means "instrument of message" or "place of message").

Another derivative of this same root is מלאכה (mela'ka), meaning "charge" in the sense of vocation, profession, business or occupation (Genesis 2:1-2, 39:11, Exodus 31:3, 1 Samuel 8:16), which indicates that our root places emphasis on the being invested with a message rather than on the message or even on the carrier. That in turn brings us to the Greek noun αγγοσ (aggos) and its diminutive αγγειον (aggeion), meaning container; any sort of jar or box made of clay or metal that was designed to hold liquid or dry bulk (see below).

What are angelic wings?

Angels are commonly spoken of as having wings. Physical bird wings are designed to operate in physical air. The words for spirit (πνευμα, pneuma) and mind (ψυχη, psuche) derive from verbs that have to do with air. This suggests that angelic wings describe aspects of life, mind and behavior.

Even in the oldest depictions of angels, their wings are always attached to the angel's back rather than his sides (as are birds' wings). Wings on one's back can't perform a proper down stroke, which indicates that from early on, the wings of angels were not primarily associated with flight. Even in Isaiah 6:2 the Seraphim only used two of their six wings for flight, and the other four for covering.

The Biblical idea of the angel is not Greek but Hebrew, and in Hebrew the word for wing (כנף, kanap) is associated not with flight but rather with protecting. When Jesus says: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Matthew 23:37), he applies not the secondary but the primary function of the wing, which is to provide a protective cover over vulnerable young and shield them. The ancients appear to have understood that wings were designed (or had evolved, if you will) to protect, to "take under the wing," and that the ability of flight is a mere jolly side-effect of having wings. Despite the prevailing myth, dinosaurs didn't "want" to take to the skies and thus sprouted wings because no creature wants something that isn't natural to it. Instead, some dinosaurs "wanted" to protect their young, and the more they protected their young the more their kind gained an advantage over those who didn't. This allowed the young-protectors to survive where nearly all other dinosaurs perished, and got flight as bonus to boot (hence 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

The Greek word for wing (πτερυξ, pterux) comes from the word for feather (πτερον, pteron). The widely attested Semitic word for feather is אבר ('abir), which means "strong one" and which is one of the names of God, namely Abir, or Might One (Genesis 29:24, Psalm 132:2-5, Isaiah 1:24, also see Luke 1:49 and of course Isaiah 40:11).

The very first time the Word of God plays an active role in the Bible is Genesis 15:1. The first words he says are: "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you." The command to "not be afraid" is the single most repeated command in the Bible, both in the Old and the New Testament, and the act of protective shielding is among the primary missions of God. The Hebrew verb כפר (kapar) means both to cover and to atone. It forms the name of the Ark's Mercy Seat; the golden platform which was, again, wholly covered by the wings of the Cherubim (Exodus 25:20). This word also forms the familiar term Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, or "Day of the Covering".

God is Love (1 John 4:8) and love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), which means that God's primary attributes are his wings (Psalm 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 91:4). Since we are made in God's image (Genesis 1:27), and are under orders to love as he loves (John 13:34, 1 John 4:7-19), we are winged too, precisely like our Father and his angels.

Breaking the seals

Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the mythological creature called "angel" is of the same order and function as the little envelope-symbol with which we moderns associate emails. Emails don't need envelopes do be sent in, but the association with old fashioned snail mail works perfectly well and everybody today understands what the deal is. Perhaps our children will begin to forgo this symbol because it will make less and less sense to them, and perhaps a future Scripture Theorist will ponder the "envelope" of the early internet like we ponder the "angel" of the Bible.

An angel is not a clearly defined or genetically specified being but literary shorthand for the invisible cause of an observed effect, namely the suddenly becoming aware of something that's not obviously observed.

The brain is the recipient of two kinds of messages: (1) those received via the senses, and (2) those spontaneously emerging in the cerebral regions where our contemplation, meditation, anticipation, intuition, inspiration, planning, expectation and fantasy occur. Or as Paul terms it: (1) things which eyes see and ears hear, and (2) things which enter the heart of man (1 Corinthians 1:2). Paul additionally promises that for those who love him, God has prepared things that are neither seen or heard nor popped into any man's heart, and likewise Peter elaborates: what the Holy Spirit tells his people, angels vainly yearn to convey (1 Peter 1:12).

In modern language, "angels" hide in statements such as "I had an inkling" or "it occurred to me" or "it crossed my mind"; those "aha-moments" that are in Greek mythology associated with the Muses — see our article on the closely related word μυστηριον, musterion, meaning mystery. In Colossians 2:2-3 Paul states that Christ is the musterion of God, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The kingdom of God is within you

The age-old question whether our inspiration actually comes from an external source (whether an angel is actually a wholly separate being; Luke 17:21) fails to consider the continuity all things comprise. The universe and all its vast and splendorous diversity is really the expression of a handful of elements: a little over a hundred atoms, four natural forces and a perfectly balanced consistency. A mind that is perfectly in tune with the one-ness of the universe (and per effect with the one-ness of the Creator; Deuteronomy 6:4, John 10:30, 14:20), can run the entire universe as a sort of "true simulation" (John 7:15, Acts 4:13).

We humans pride ourselves in our individuality but everything we say, do or think is part of a vast reservoir of shared words and definitions, and our precious "selves" are mere ripples on a collective ocean. The houses we live in, the clothes we wear, the technology that defines us were all created by the joint efforts of millions upon millions of people. Humanity is an interlocked ecosystem and an integral part of the equally interlocked biosphere. We are honestly not or own (1 Corinthians 6:19) and even if we were, the universe is filled with signals and force-fields that have very real effects in the observable world but were wholly unimagined until a century ago: electromagnetic radiation other than light, gravitational waves, neutrinos and other rogue particles.

To which extent these or other (still unimagined) influences alter our minds is a topic of much serious scientific inquiry. The Universities of Virginia, Arizona, Edinburgh, Adelaide, Utrecht and many others have well-funded research programs in place, and Princeton University is home to the celebrated Global Consciousness Project ("Meaningful Correlations in Random Data"). Perhaps one day the discovery of some natural principle that is now utterly unimaginable will introduce us to intelligent and conscious natural beings who have willfully interacted with us for all of our history.

From their texts we can deduce that to the ancients, angels were to human minds what bosons are to material objects; they're of the same basic substance but are essentially different and do different things, but in a single shared economy. "Angels" are mental bosons; whatever it is that carries economy between minds. The human mind is a natural function of the human brain, which runs entirely on natural principles, and there is no known natural law that forbids that comparable or compatible levels of consciousness cannot arise from other, non-human or even non-organic complex material compositions.

The recently discovered "swarm intelligence" — that is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems — clearly mimics processes that we always thought to be the exclusive properties of the human noddle. But no. Beehives and ant-colonies operate like huge brains (Proverbs 6:6). Why wouldn't the Internet (Hebrews 12:1) or galaxies of black holes (Psalm 19:1)? Folklore likes to imagine that angels are like single human individuals, but the ancients obviously related them to human collectives and their interactions instead (Daniel 10:13-21).

When bad ideas occur to good people

Commentators should be very careful when interpreting the very foreign writings or very ancient people who were far better at verbal composition than we are today (read our article on the verb γραφω, grapho, meaning to write).

Earlier we indicated that something as seemingly straightforward as the wings of an angel are not as straightforward as they seem, but in fact associated to protection rather than flight. The "world" at which creation the angels are said to have shouted for joy (Job 38:7) is described by the word ארץ ('erets), which is rather strongly associated to "ground to stand on" or "certainty". The sea, subsequently, is closely related to uncertainty and thus to lack of knowledge, trust and faith — hence Peter's plunge (Matthew 14:30) and Jesus' comfortable peramble upon the waves (14:26), since the love of Christ exceeds all knowledge (Ephesians 3:19).

As far as we know, humans today only experience involuntary inspiration but apparently the human mind is equipped with facilities that allow willful transferal of "angelic" messenger energy. These faculties are known to exceed the leverage of rhetoric and dazzling attire. Many people are highly sensitive to minute and involuntary signals coming from scents, changes in voice pitch and facial expressions of other people, and the science behind advertising strongly emphasizes the reality of similar subliminal communications. How far these abilities can be developed is hard to say but one can imagine what would happen when each soldier of an approaching army all of a sudden is given a really bad idea (Matthew 26:53, 2 Kings 19:35, 2 Chronicles 20:23).

Still, banter aside, the exchange of angelic energy is very common in our world; about as common as any exchange done by hands. And it's not miraculous or "supernatural." The effect of angelic exchange does not make savants and clairvoyants from otherwise inert human specimen, but rather allows people to hone hunches into hypotheses, refine their searches for relevant information, more easily recognize patterns and come to well-informed and rational insights and decisions.


Aspiring angel-whisperers should treat suddenly emerging ideas with due caution (1 Corinthians 12:10). Not all ideas that pop into human heads are aligned with the purposes of the universe and its Creator, but there are some tell-tale differences between good ones and bad ones. From good ones ensue peace and prosperity (Hebrews 1:14). From bad ones chaos and poverty. Good ideas lead to a composed expertise (Galatians 5:22-23, 1 Thessalonians 4:11). Bad ideas lead to lots of noise.

Bad ideas very often come without confirmation or context. Good ones very rarely come independently. And when they do, the receiver is prudent to ask for a second opinion (Matthew 18:20; see Judges 6:17-40, 13:8 and even Luke 1:18).

Good ideas rarely come in the guise of a golden ticket, a silver bullet or a lightning strike on a clear day. They rarely lead to that one million dollar trade or single smooth stanza that gets you the girl or propels you into stardom. Good ideas most often occur in a wider spread of interconnected insights, like a mind-altering symphony of many interacting sub-ideas (Genesis 32:1, Luke 2:13). Good ideas are most often part of a proven system and never stem from augury, omens or reading patterns in unrelated events or situations (Matthew 16:2-3). Ideas should never be believed and followed but always understood and developed.

Good ideas are like bees and bad ideas are like flies. Bees operate within a complex colony, in a house they continuously collectively maintain. Bees like flowers and help them reproduce, make honey, speak a language, care for their offspring, and are armed. Flies are homeless, aren't social, don't cooperate, like dung and decaying flesh, make nothing, speak no language, don't care for their offspring, and are not armed. The Hebrew word for bee is דברה (deborah); the Hebrew word for fly is זבב (zebub). The word deborah is familiar from the name Deborah and is the feminine equivalent of the masculine word דבר (dabar), meaning Word, or Logos in Greek. The word zebub is familiar from the name Baal-zebub, or Beelzebub, meaning Lord of the Flies.

A mature mind is the ultimate postmaster who decides which correspondence requires serious attention and which is mere junk mail (1 Corinthians 6:3-4).

Imagine what you'll know tomorrow

Both Agent K and Willy Wonka were right: there is vast potential in imagination and there's nothing "unreal" about it. A realization — as in: "I just realized ... " — is precisely that: making something real. The magnificent noun δοξα (doxa), meaning "glory" or rather "image-forming", comes from the verb δοκεω (dokeo), meaning to imagine, and the entire universe exists in God's pure imagination (Psalm 33:9, Hebrews 11:3).

The famous story of Schrödinger's cat aimed to illustrate how the signature uncertainty of the quantum world does not translate to our large-scale world. But this story fatally failed to take into account the reaction of Mrs. Schrödinger. In the box, the cat existed in a state that was determined by the half-life of a radioactive atom, and was simultaneously 50% dead and 50% alive. But when Erwin opened the box, the live cat re-entered the large-scale world and the dead cat was erased from reality's timeline. That is, until Anny Schrödinger stepped in and reacted linearly proportional to the chance that the cat had died. The size of Anny's fury was identical to that of the dead cat, which was clearly not at all erased from the timeline. Erwin slept in shame on the couch for a month and got no deserts for two, and should have realized that the human mind is very well at home in the utterly imaginative quantum world and mines it continuously for wealth (also see our article on the noun μαρτυς, martus, meaning witness).

Before children are told what to believe, they are so great at imagination that they can even imagine the Creator (Matthew 18:10). The wings of imagination may certainly provide shelter and protection to bored or battered minds — young Rhoda who said she had seen Peter standing outside was harshly told she was "seeing his angel" or rather "imagining him" (Acts 12:15) — but equally useful is its role in bracing for what might be around the next corner — Stephen's "face like an angel" filled the minds of his audience with things that hadn't occurred to them yet, things that shocked them (Acts 6:15).

In the Bible, angels very often show up in dreams and although the precise process of which dreams are the observable effect are still a bit misty today, dreams are clearly the result of our subconscious mind putting the one-and-ones together that our conscious mind won't let us do; for more on this, check out our article on the Hebrew verb חלם, halam II, meaning to dream, or our article on the noun שנה, shena meaning sleep.

Early man's imagination gave him anticipation, and thus a colossal advantage over the other creatures and natural forces of his world. But even today, imagination plays a huge part in our daily life. Every little plan we make or text we type into our phones draws heavily from our ability to imagine. All art is based on the viewer's ability to imagine a narrative when given only one visual clue. Words (as opposed to numbers) require a hardly helping of imagination because the meaning and usability of words always evolve. Even advances in science make grateful use of the imagination, which is why Einstein declared: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

The angel who the Lord placed ahead of the people of Israel was not a sword-wielding tyrant or super-human all-fixer from Krypton but the power of imagination. And look where he has led us.

"Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since my name is in him." — Exodus 23:20-21.

Derivatives of our noun αγγελος (aggelos), meaning messenger

As mentioned above, the noun αγγελος (aggelos) was probably imported into the Greek language from a common Persian word meaning postman. For a society to feature postmen, it needs to be advanced enough to support a broad network of correspondence and means to transport it. Entire industries like that are often slowly developed in certain entrepreneurial places, but when proved to be of significant benefit, exported in its entirety to other societies. What happened with Persia's postal service is precisely the same thing what happened to the computer. Most languages of the world don't have the verb to compute, but all of them have the noun computer. And most languages have developed compound words that consist of a blend of the foreign word computer and a local word that means "screen" or "key pad" or something like that. It's the same with our noun αγγελος (aggelos) in Greek. Its derivations are:

  • The noun αγγελια (aggelia), meaning message (1 John 1:5 and 3:11 only).
  • As mentioned above, the common verb αγγελω (aggelo), meaning to message. This verb is not used independently in the New Testament but from it in turn derive:
    • Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon: the verb αναγγελλω (anaggello), meaning to message on; to report on certain events or a person. This verb is used 18 times; see full concordance.
    • Together with the preposition απο (apo), mostly meaning from: the verb απαγγελλω (apagello), meaning to bring a message from someone, some place or some event. This verb is used 44 times; see full concordance.
    • Together with the preposition δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διαγγελλο (diagello), meaning to message throughout a region or population; to broadcast (Luke 9:60, Acts 21:26 and Romans 9:17 only).
    • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out or from: the verb εξαγγελλω (exaggelo), meaning to message out; to export a message, to declare abroad or from one's within or one's society's within (1 Peter 2:9 only).
    • Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the verb επαγγελλω (epaggello), meaning to message with force, to urge, impress or avow. This verb is used 15 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
      • The noun επαγγελια (epaggelia), meaning an urgent or hefty message; a vow. In regular prose this word came to denote an undertaking toward a publicly declared objective. In official jargon this term assumed legal status and denoted a notice or summons, particularly to attend a public inquiry; a subpoena. In the New Testament this noun is used a whopping 52 times, see full concordance, and although it's commonly translated with "promise," this word does not describe the kind of illusory assurance that we moderns confuse it with. There's no such thing as "not keeping" a epaggelia, and if it's not a down-right prediction, it's at least a binding declaration of intent.
      • The noun επαγγελμα (epaggelma), meaning an urging or a vowing (the action of the verb). It occurs in 2 Peter 1:4 and 3:13 only.
      • Together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning first or in front of: the verb προεπαγγελλω (proepaggello), meaning to avowed or urgently assure beforehand or earlier (Romans 1:2 only).
    • Together with the prefix ευ (eu), meaning good: the verb ευαγγελιζω (euaggelizo), meaning to deliver a good message. Long before this verb acquired its religious connotation of "to evangelize" it simply meant to bring good news: to deliver any kind of data that was appreciated for any kind of reason (this comes next! the queen says hi! here's how!). Receiving good news of any sort is of course rather jolly, which prompted many a receiver to signature generosity: in the classics the noun ευαγγελιον (euaggelion) describes the reward or tip given to the bringer of good news.
      Our verb is strikingly hard to translate because evangelizing has nothing to do with forwarding some religion, nothing with proselytizing and nothing with explaining the obvious into obscurity. It has to do with conveying required info: to "valid-data-stream", that is to (1) receive, (2) validate, (3) re-package and (4) relay data that is required by the receiver to function properly, effectively and efficiently, and to operate according to design specifications within whichever contextual environment.
      News is only good to people who have an interest in it; a cheer that the Yankees won may cause Yankee fans to erupt in celebration but people who don't know who the Yankees are or couldn't care less, the news isn't good (or bad) at all. Evangelizing starts with investigating what one's audience is in need of, and what would make one's audience less restricted and thus more efficient. The evangelist will then bring the desired about by instructing his audience about how to work it. Hence in Acts 5:42 our verb occurs in tandem with the verb διδασκω (didasko), meaning to teach.
      An evangelist is not someone who carries a specific message but rather someone with the specific aim to meet people's data needs. Since most people in Jesus' time suffered from slavery, compromised health, poverty, hunger and other such social injustice, he liberated, healed and fed folks. Jesus only very rarely ventured into the so-called theological or theoretical arena and nearly exclusively concentrated on people's most direct earthly needs. It's for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), and it's feeding the sheep we are called to do (John 21:16). To John's disciples Jesus pointed out the immediate and measurable effects of evangelizing: the blind are relieved of their blindness, the lame of their lameness, the lepers of their leprosy, the deaf of their deafness, the dead of their death, and the poor of their lack of good news — that is: useful information and practical skills that relieve them of their poverty (Matthew 11:5).
      This exiting verb ευαγγελιζω (euaggelizo), meaning to deliver a good message or beneficial information, is used 55 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
      • The familiar noun ευαγγελιον (euaggelion), meaning good message or in more modern terms: valid data stream, that is: useful information or beneficial instructions about practical matters of life, health, safety and wealth. This noun ευαγγελιον (euaggelion) has nothing to do with a religion and is not limited to the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Or perhaps less jarring: Jesus of Nazareth embodies the Word of God, which sums up the working of the whole of the universe and all existence and processes therein (Colossians 2:16-17), and which is not in any way limited or short of anything that exists within any form or manifestation of physical, biological or mental reality. The closest English synonym of this elusive noun ευαγγελιον (euaggelion) in its Biblical sense is "scientific theory". It describes wisdom that has been derived from observations, which has been tried and tested and widely found to be trustworthy and of practical use.
        The English word "gospel" is a compacted form of "good-spell" (i.e. good story), and refers exclusively to the core narrative of the Christian religion. The noun ευαγγελιον (euaggelion), on the other hand, consists of recognizable and common elements, and is in turn a common element of a much larger cluster of common words — words that were certainly not the exclusive domain of any school of thought.
        Our noun is used 77 times; see full concordance.
      • The noun ευαγγελιστης (euaggelistes), which describes someone who delivers good news or beneficial information of any sort: a valid-data-streamer (Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11 and 2 Timothy 4:5 only). Contrary to common belief, the evangelist wasn't invented in the first century AD. Long prior, the prophet Isaiah praised the loveliness of the feet of the bringers of valid, useful intel (Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15).
        The Jewish world was one of inquiry and reflection and contained many awesome centers of learning. Views were constantly revised and kept concurrent to the latest affairs, and trains of envoys carried the latest snuff along the living Internet of antiquity. The famous camel caravans that traversed the voids between worlds were greeted by merchants as eagerly as by scholars and those thirsting for the latest best-selling Greek comedy. Where beasts of burden brought wares of taste, an evangelist was a carrier of eagerly awaited data. The significance of this goes far beyond flowery metaphors; see our article on the Hebrew word גמל (gamal), meaning camel.
      • Again together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning first or in front of: the verb προευαγγελιζομαι (proeuaggelizomai), meaning to inaugurate a valid-data-stream (Galatians 3:8 only).
    • Together with the preposition κατα (kata), meaning down or onto an objective or target: the verb καταγγελλω (kataggello), which appears to mean to message but with a certain degree of explanation and expounding: to message until the message is understood, to "bring home".
      This verb is used 17 times, see full concordance, and is commonly translated with to preach. Since the English verb to preach is a compound of "pre" and an ancient word that has to do with to direct or show, this would have been a perfect translation of our verb if our English verb hadn't assumed its implied meaning of being preachy: standing on an elevation, venting one's wisdoms to a compliant congregation because that's what one is paid to do. Post-Constantinian churches are based on the Roman legion, and have nothing to do with the living Body of Christ. In the living Body of Christ everybody is useful and all voices are heeded (Romans 2:11, 1 Corinthians 14:30). In the living Body of Christ nobody is leader, pastor, bishop or pope (Matthew 23:8) and there is certainly no rule or dominion (1 Corinthians 15:24).
      Note also the obvious reality-creating aspect of this verb and its derivatives (Philippians 1:18; see Hebrews 12:1 relative to Acts 1:11 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17). From this verb in turn come:
      • The noun καταγγελευς (kataggeleus), which denotes someone who is doing the verb: an expounder or explainer (Acts 17:18 only).
      • Again together with the preposition προ (pro), meaning first or in front of: the verb προκαταγγελλω (prokataggello), meaning to expound on forehand. It's used 4 times, see full concordance, clearly not in the sense of merely foretelling but rather of a bringing about or helping to come about by proclaiming.
    • Together with the preposition παρα (para), meaning near or nearby: the versatile verb παραγγελλω (paraggello), meaning to relay or pass on a message; to charge someone like a battery with orders, instructions or anything from cheers and encouragements to exhortations and summons. In the classics this verb was often used to describe the passing on of orders from some superior officer to subordinates (Luke 8:29), but since in the Body of Christ there are no ranks, masters or bosses (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11) its usages in the Bible speak mostly of the free exchange of private insights among equals (what neurons do in a brain). But whatever the contexts may imply, this verb by itself merely describes the exchange of a message and does not denote anything intrinsically forcible or authoritative. It does not mean "to command"; Jesus and Paul did not go around "commanding" everybody, because the Body of Christ wasn't, isn't and never will be a Roman legion. This verb is used 30 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
      • The noun παραγγελια (paraggelia), meaning a charge or relayed message. It's used 5 times; see full concordance.
  • Together with the participle αρχων (archon), of the verb αρχω (archo), meaning to begin: the noun αρχαγγελος (archaggelos), meaning archangel; the overbearing primary imaginary principle of which all other messengers are part (1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 1:9 only). The only named archangel in the Bible is called Michael. This name poses the question "What is God like?"; the very inquiry for which imagination was invented (Matthew 5:48).
  • Together with the adjective ισος (isos), meaning alike or equal: the adjective ισαγγελος (isaggelos), meaning messenger-equal. This word occurs only in Luke 20:36, where it illustrates the fact that the mind does not work as the body does, and an increase in one's mental activities is not depending on the participation of a sexual partner.


The verb αγγαρευω (aggareuo) means to press into service, requisition or commandeer. It's an originally Persian term, related to the noun αγγαρος (aggeros), which described a mounted courier who carried royal dispatches (as mentioned above). Should this person, for whatever reason, find himself in need of a fresh horse, a crossing per boat, human personnel or any other item that might hasten his effort, he could dart into any community and claim whatever he needed.

In the New Testament this verb occurs in Matthew 5:41, 27:32 and Mark 15:21 only, although to some creative few it may also have reminded of the name Hagar (Αγαρ), belonging to the proverbial "woman pressed into servitude" (Galatians 4:24 and 4:25).


The noun αγγειον (aggeion) is the diminutive of αγγος (aggos), which describes a vessel of any sort and for whatever purpose: a container (including cavernous body parts, such as veins, lungs, stomach or lungs — or even the whole body). The parent noun does not occur in the New Testament and the diminutive only twice, in Matthew 13:48 and 25:4.

Associated Biblical names