Thursday, November 10, 2005
Hark! The Herald Angels Don't Sing
A mythology has developed about angels singing, “Glory to God” when Jesus was born. Even song writers and preachers who should know better have perpetuated this error. We may become so conditioned to this that we fail to notice the words in Luke 2:13, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, . . .” It is not that Greek has no words for singing. It is that Luke wants us to understand that they were speaking, not singing.
Other places in the Bible are consistent with this in describing angels as speaking, rather than singing. This is noteworthy in the book of Revelation, where many and various persons are praising God. The humans sing, and the angels speak. Your paraphrase (such as The Message or the New International Version) might not preserve John’s distinctions. I personally don’t think “sing” is a dynamic equivalent for “say.”
Revelation 5:8-10 describe the 24 elders (human priestly representatives of believers) and the 4 living creatures (not fully human, but distinct from angels) as singers. “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou . . .’” Then verses 11-12 describe the voice of many angels, “saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb . . .’” If angels were capable of singing, this would be the time and place to do it. I believe this is a strong argument from silence that angels don’t sing.
Someone will ask me about Job 38:4-7 where the Lord challenges Job’s right to confront him, “Who laid [the earth’s] cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Some people consider that the “morning stars” are angelic beings who are clearly said to have sung. However, even apart from the singing problem, there are questions about identifying these objects with angelic messengers. I believe it is more likely that this is a poetic personification of inanimate creation (the literal stars), on the level of the trees clapping their hands or the waves lifting up their voices or the sea becoming sick—and that “the sons of God” represent the non-singing angels.
I don’t think it is a sin for you and me to sing the beloved Christmas carols, even though they distort the Biblical account in this and other ways. But maybe we should hold a mental reservation about the angel’s singing. And when we tell the story, let’s do it right. Keep reading with open eyes.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Who Will Be Resurected?
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 Paul explains that our earthly body is like a garment or a tent in which we live now. Our ultimate existence is a heavenly body or a house built by God. The in-between existence is described as “nakedness,” not exactly desirable in itself, but still superior to our earthly condition. Verse 5 assures us that God made us for the express purpose of resurrection. The bodiless existence of people after death is only temporary.
With the possible exception of Enoch and Elijah (and certainly of Jesus) all humans in heaven prior to the resurrection are without bodies. It is inappropriate, then, to speak of them in physical terms. At Christian funerals you may hear well-intentioned nonsense like, “she is completely healed now,” or “he is singing and dancing with the angels.” Of course, this cannot be, though it would be true to say something like, “his sufferings are over,” or “she is with the Lord.”
Unbelievers who have died are bodiless and suffering, waiting for a resurrection. Resurrection for unbelievers is not to give them a second chance to believe but to give them a physical body for suffering eternally. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Though the resurrection times are different for believers and unbelievers, all will be raised. Daniel 12:2 says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” John 5:28-29 quote Jesus’ words, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 assures us, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn.” Revelation 20:4-6 describe these two resurrections, separated by 1,000 years, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them.”
The Gospel message requires a belief in resurrection. Read the book of Acts with open eyes and notice what the Apostles taught.
The priests “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). They were not merely proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, but everyone’s. In Acts 17:18 the Athenians were curious that Paul was preaching “about Jesus and the resurrection.” In Acts 24:14-15 Paul defends his Gospel as consistent with the Law and the Prophets in affirming a “resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” In Acts 26:22-23 he says “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.
The eternal state of all human beings is in a body. Contrary to other philosophies, the Bible presents our body to be part of our humanity, not a temporary burden or prison for the soul. We would not be fully human without bodies. And, there would be no Gospel without the resurrection, first of our Lord, and then of everyone. Let’s read with our eyes open.