Different, but the same?
Many leading scholars believe that the earliest references of angels can be found within the pre-biblical texts of the Sumerians, which later influenced the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians. Because each of these cultures conquered and enslaved the ancient Israelis, it’s theorized that these Sumerian angel beliefs influenced the Hebrews (Judaism), which in turn were shared with Christianity, and both Judaism’s and Christianity’s teachings of angels later inspired the Islamic beliefs concerning angels. This, of course, is strongly debated, with opposing sides providing plausible arguments. Furthermore, you’d be hard pressed to find scholars from the three major religions to fully agree on who influenced who.
Not to limit the idea of angels…
Though called by different names, benevolent spirit beings quite similar to angels can also be found within other religions, mythologies, and lore. Hinduism has avatars, Buddhism has devas and bodhisattvas, the Greeks, Romans, Norse, and Celts all had their specific terms likewise. In addition, numerous tribal cultures from all parts of the world passed on oral traditions of spirit beings, guardian spirits and guides. All of which have comparable functions to biblical and mythical angels as helpful spirit messengers, and protectors. What were the cultures of antiquity and the Middle Ages trying to describe? Were they speaking of angels in general, or something else akin to angels, or both?
Where did angels come from?
Where did they come from, how did they originate? No one really knows for certain. The ancient Hebrew writers suggested angels were created by God (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148:2,5). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul took these suggestions to a new level with the bold claim that “by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities…” (Colossians 1:16-17). Theologians believe he was speaking of angels, identifying them as created beings, and clearly stating there are certain orders of angelic classes. I will address types and levels soon.
Even though the Bible mentions angels at least 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament, the time of their creation is never definitively specified. It is most probable that it occurred in connection with the creation of the heavens in Genesis 1:1, leading some to theorize that God created the angels immediately after he had created the heavens and before he created the earth. The reason for this theory is because a pre-Genesis biblical text states, “the sons of God [angels] shouted for joy” when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7).
In modern times, many people claim to have had “real” experiences with angels, mostly of a spiritual nature, and believe that their existence is important to us as human beings. They have been commonly perceived as spiritual messengers of a high nature, for which traditions and beliefs usually differ as to whether angels have their own free will, or are only allowed to follow their Creator’s will.
Although many believe that angels can have various appearances, depending on a people’s culture, tradition or belief, they do share one common denominator – angels generally take on the shape of human beings (minus the wings, of course). Psychologists have suggested the reason for this is, many people believe angels were previously humans, who have since taken on angelic form to protect and guide their surviving relatives. In other words, they believe their deceased mother, father, or loved one is now a “guardian angel” assigned to specifically watch over them.
The most popular concept…
Almost every religious discipline has developed concepts with various similarities that make the belief in angels popularly held across all cultures. Most of these concepts revolve around a common principle of a “messenger” asked to do the work of a deity. Without dispute, the most popular concepts of angels are widely held within the Judeo-Christian traditions. This is strongly evidenced in biblical passages that lend proof of their existence as messengers of God.
Angels have been an active part of human history for a very, very, long time… and, continue to be… in both visible and invisible ways. Virtually every culture in every part of the planet has acknowledged their presence and formed opinions and beliefs about them. Ancient records and modern accounts testify that they regularly appear and disappear, while providing protection and guidance for human beings. But… why? For what reason are they protecting us, and offering guidance and support? Do they have a certain purpose or agenda in mind? And… most importantly, to what extent is humanity influenced by their presence?