In one of my previous posts, I talked about the idea of angels as winged beings tracing back to the Sumerian myths in 3000 BC.
However, apparently, not all angels have wings. I’ll start with the first historical imagery we have, artistic renditions.
Catacomb of Priscilla
That’s right. The first known Christian artistic rendition of angels, the Cubicolo dell’Annunziazione in the Catacomb of Priscilla (from mid-third century), has no wings. Nor do some of the angels depicted on sarcophogi and other artwork from that time.
First Known Rendition of Angels with Wings (Christianity)
The first Christian depiction of angels with wings was found on the Prince’s Sarcophagus. It was discovered at Sarigüzel, near Istanbul, in the 1930s, and attributed to the time of Theodosius I (379-395).
The idea of angels having wings was first explained by Christian Saint, John Chrysostom. He believed that angels “manifest a nature’s sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature.” (from Wikipedia)
It was from that point onward that artists depicted angels with wings and halos to show their divine nature and connection with God, who, according to the Bible (Psalm 91) does have wings:
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart
What Does the Bible Say?
I’m no Bible expert, but when it comes to angels, and Christian beliefs, the Bible is as good a place as any to start. I also found a few essays (noted below) that pointed me in the right direction.
One Bible-study site argues that, according to Genesis, angels do not have wings, based on this quote. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” (Genesis 1:27).
The Gospel Truth site says:
“The word “God” in the hebrew is “Elohim” and means “mighty ones”. Elsewhere in the Bible the wordhas been translated “angels” (see for example Psalm 8:5 and then the apostles Paul’s endorsement of that translation in Hebrews 2:7). So this tells us that man was created in the same shape asthe angels. Men do not have wings. Therefore angels do not have wings.”
However, Psalm 91 (above) says that god does have wings, so hmmm… Maybe we should all have them!
They further say that the idea of angels having wings comes from the pagan myths. I know from my own readings that many pagan gods, such as Nike (Greek), Geruda (Hindu), Faravahar (Zoroastrianism) to name a few, were all winged.
Other Bible passages
What else does the Bible say? Well, some Bible passages do picture angels with wings, take Isaiah 6:2 for example: “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (New International Version, 1984)
This passage refers specifically to the Seraphim class of angels having wings, not two, but six.
It seems the seraphs in the bible do have wings as do the Cherubim, according to Ezekiel 1:6-10, cherubim have four wings (and four faces too): “Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.”
Gabriel – An Angel Who Gets Around
Gabriel is one of the few angels named in the Bible (along with Michael) and he is considered a seraphim and a cherubim (and archangel to some). He is also mentioned in the Bible, the Torah and the Qu’ran, three of the world’s major regious texts. He’s one of the few actually attributed with flight (Daniel 9:21): “While I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice.” (New International Version, 1984)
At the time, the only examples of flight people had were birds, so, of course, they assumed the angels had wings. However, now our idea of flight includes flying saucers, airplanes and levitation!
According to the Bible, it seems that only certain classes of angels have wings. It’s like a type of rank or insignia.
Other religions tell a different story. Muslim lore says that Gabriel has 600 wings and Michael’s wings are emerald green. So there is much, much more to the story of angels having wings. I’ve merely scratched the surface.
The Qu’ran attributes wings to all angels with the following quote:
Praise be to Allah, Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels, messengers with wings,- two, or three, or four (pairs): He adds to Creation as He pleases: for Allah has power over all things.” —Qur’an, sura 35 (Fatir) ayat 1[15
As someone who always assumed that angels had wings, I’m surprised to find that, in Christianity at least, some do not, or they were being symbolic when they talked about wings in the first place.
How about you? Did you think that all angels had wings like I did? Or do you think it’s mostly symbolic, like St. John Chrysostom?
How do you feel about the idea of not all angels having wings or that certain classes of angels were the ones with wings? Could the angels have flown some other way?