Do Angels Have Wings?

By Peter Darcy | On Jun 6, 2016 | No Comments | In Angels

By Peter Darcy

Despite the common perception of angels as winged beings, there are no guardian angels or even archangels in Scripture that are directly described as having wings. They may well have some spiritual version of wings, but we are not told that they do. As a matter of fact, none of the seven “lower” orders of angels are depicted in Scripture with wings; that is reserved only for the two top tiers, the Seraphim and the Cherubim. Furthermore, in only two places in Scripture, in Dan 9:21 and Rev 14:6, are angels described as “flying”. Of course, flying and wings go together in the human mind, but there is no necessary connection between flight and wings with spiritual beings. For the majority of angels, however, wings are not included in their standard issue uniforms, which is another way of saying that all those holy card images of winged guardian angels and chubby, winged baby “cherubs” are not theologically accurate!

There may be another reason for wings. Perhaps only the highest angels are depicted with wings because, just like nature’s most majestic birds, they soar above all others of their kind. Wings, in this sense, indicate true loftiness of stature and majesty, befitting the highest angels and their missions. Most of us would agree that the incredible soaring birds of prey are some of the most impressive sights of nature. The same would hold true of the Cherubim and Seraphim if we could behold them with our own eyes. In fact, when Isaiah had his vision of seraphic cohort in Heaven he was so overwhelmed by the glory of the angels that he felt “doomed” by his own sinfulness. His description of the Seraphim’s wings is unique in the Bible:

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered (Is 6:1-2).

Isaiah’s vision of the lofty angels was coextensive with a vision of the “Lord of hosts”. In fact, the Seraphim are so close to God that even the highest angels were obliged to cover their faces with their “wings” so as to be shielded from His divine glory. Ezekiel had a similar reaction when he saw the glory of the Lord enthroned upon the Cherubim, each of which had four faces and four wings: “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face…” (Ez 1:28).

In sum, it is obvious that wings are a metaphorical device used by the human authors of Scripture to describe attributes of angels that human language fails to capture. The very sparse descriptions of wings on angels and angelic flight are, of course, symbols of the angels’ swiftness in the service of God, their immediacy of action, and their unquestioning obedience to God’s commands. Even the glorious pinions of the six-winged Seraphim and the four-winged Cherubim have figurative significance and add another dimension of glory to the angelic encounters that defy human description. We may also note, in passing, that demons are nowhere depicted in the Bible as having wings or flying. Christian artists often represent the Devil and other demons as having what look like bat wings, but this is another image intended to show the corrupt nature of demons as fallen angels. If demons had once been beautiful before their fall from grace, then even their wings have been transformed into hideous, clumsy appendages by their rebellion.

The fact that so many artists depict angels (and demons) with literal wings is, in my estimation, unfortunate though not necessarily an obstacle to our understanding of the nature of angels. Depicting angels with wings, though, tends to absolve the artist of the more difficult task of giving expression to the other angelic virtues and attributes that words cannot adequately describe but which are much more vital aspects of their spiritual nature: their intelligence and glory, their rescues, their matter-of-fact communications, their incredible timing, etc.

(Excerpt from Angel Belief, by Peter Darcy, to be published in 2017.)

Written by Peter Darcy

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