It is not such an idle question as one may think. Many Christians believe that "entertaining angels unawares" is at least still possible even in the twenty-first century (Heb 13:2). In other words they think that angels are actual heavenly entities who still walk among us in today's world. Certain biblical texts support this way of thinking by describing humanoid angels interacting with human beings in the ancient world (Genesis 18:1-19:23; Judges 13:2-21; Tobit 5:4-5).
The Greek Gods, for example, are well-known for their philandering ways; they descended from Mount Olympus in human guise on many occasions involving themselves in human affairs and having amorous liaisons with human women; similar activities are at least suggested by Genesis 6:1-2 where the "sons of God" (a sort of heavenly being) discovered that human females were fair to behold and "took to wife such of them as they chose." By contrast the God of Hebrew faith was more circumspect in his activities among human beings. He descended from Mount Sinai and involved himself in human affairs, at times even taking on human form (Genesis 18:1-19:23, 32:24, 28, 30). He is described as having face, hands, and backsides (Exodus 33:11, 21-23), among other anthropomorphic characteristics such as eyes and ears, mouth, heart, arms, fingers and feet. He talks, writes, sees and hears, sits and rests, smells, whistles, laughs, walks, sleeps and awakes, and claps his hands.1
Occasionally God is described as walking among human beings as an angel (Judges 2:1-4; 6:11-18; 13:2-22). More often God's presence in the world is portrayed by natural visible phenomena: a cloudbank (Exodus 16:10-11; Leviticus 16:2; Deuteronomy 31:15; Mark 9:7), fire (Leviticus 9:24), or a burning bush that was not consumed (Exodus 3:2-6; Acts 7:30-33). Frequently his presence is signaled by an unnatural light referred to as "the glory of the Lord" (Exodus 16:10; Leviticus 9:6, 23; Numbers 14:10; 16:19, 42; 20:6; Acts 7:2). One modern writer described it this way: "The 'glory (kabod) of Yahweh' was God manifesting Himself in the brightness of light, revealing His holiness and power to men."2 Sometimes glory is spoken of as an aspect of God, rather than God himself; that is, the glory appears with no reference to God's presence (Leviticus 9:6, 23).
There is only one other figure in the Judeo-Christian tradition who has been described as God in human form: Jesus the Judean teacher of wisdom, who was called the Anointed (Christ). Only one passage in the early Christian canonical literature makes his identity as God even remotely possible, John 1:1-2. Other passages cited in this regard do not claim that he is God, but they do hold that he is a divine personage. In these high Christological passages there is always a clear distinction between the Anointed and God (Romans 1:3; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:1-4; Colossians 1:15-20). Later in the fourth century the Nicene Creed confessed what the church believed was the true identity of Jesus: "We believe in one God the Father…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father…"3
Worshipping Jesus as God is rendered marginally respectable by the fourth-century Nicene belief in the Trinity (382 CE): "it is the faith that teaches us to believe in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. According to this faith there is one Godhead, Power and Substance of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; the dignity being equal and the majesty being equal in three perfect hypostases, i.e., three perfect persons."4 With three divine personages in the Christian pantheon, Christians had to find some way to ensure they were not really polytheists—hence the doctrine of the Trinity.
If angels can walk among us, shouldn't Gods (if such there be) be able to do so as well?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1 Paul Heinisch, Theology of the Old Testament (St. Paul, MN: Liturgical Press, 1955), 57-58.
2 Heinisch, Old Testament, 57.
3 Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds. Documents of the Christian Church (3rd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 27.
4 "The Synodical Letter of the Council of Constantinople," in H. R. Percival, ed., The Seven Ecumenical Councils, of The Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (second series; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), vol 14: 189.