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Angels of the Seven Churches

Angels of the Seven Churches

The ‘seven stars’ of the Patmos vision are explained as referring to ‘the angels (angeloi) of the seven churches’ (Rev. 1:20), to whom the letters of Rev. 2 and 3 are then addressed. The ‘angel’ concept is problematic. It is often taken either of guardian angels or of human leaders or bishops of the churches. Both suggestions involve difficulty. Elsewhere in Rev., angelos certainly means ‘angel’, but the 'angel’ can scarcely be made to share responsibility for the sins of the church. The interpretation ‘bishop’ seems contrary to usage, and unsupported by effective parallels. There is no such emphasis on episcopacy as later in Ignatius. Nor can this view be based on the inferior reading ‘your wife’ in 2:20 (sou inserted by dittography). And again it would be strange to hold one man individually and absolutely responsible for the church. angelos is literally ‘messenger’, but the initially attractive idea that the angeloi might be messengers appointed by the churches breaks down for a combination of similar reasons.
The real difficulty is probably that the image belongs to a context and genre which eludes the logic of modern categories. angelos must be rendered verbally as ‘angel’, but the verbal equivalence does not sufficiently explain the underlying thought. The ‘angel’ is perhaps something like a heavenly counterpart of the church. In practice, we may visualize this as amounting to a personification of the church, even if this does less than justice to the connotations of the original concept. More
Hemer, C. J. “Angels of the Churches.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible Dictionary 1996: 37. Print.
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