On Being Greater Than Angels

Since yesterday’s post on interpreting difficult OT passages continues to generate vigorous discussion, I encourage you to read that post and jump into the fray.

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But, not wanting to deprive you of something fresh for today, I thought I’d follow up ever so briefly on the idea that ancient Jewish people might have held idealized humanity to occupy a higher place in the cosmic order than angels.

This time, the indication comes from Paul:

When someone in your assembly has a legal case against another member, do they dare to take it to court to be judged by people who aren’t just, instead of by God’s people? Or don’t you know that God’s people will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to judge trivial cases? Don’t you know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary things? (1 Cor 6:1-3, CEB)

First, we need to be aware that Paul has in mind an idealized humanity as those who judge the world for God. Those who are “in Christ” will play this role: “Don’t you know that God’s people will judge the world?”

In other words, this is not about “humanity” as such being higher than angels, but idealized humanity, those who are in the second and last and glorified Adam.

Second, the judgment God’s people exercise extends not merely to the world but also to the angels.

In Paul’s cosmology, redeemed humanity occupies a higher place in the cosmic order than angels. This overflows beyond the talk of judgment into other exalted functions such as ruling over the age to come (Rom 5:17).

5 thoughts on “On Being Greater Than Angels”

  1. There are other hints of a 1st C Jewish ‘angelology’… 1 Cor 11:10 “because of the angels”, Col 2:18 “worship of angels”, and the debate about the relative rank of angels and Jesus in Heb 1-2… not to mention the strange references in 2 Pet and Jude.

    Perhaps the Jews brought back from Babylon some ideas about good and bad angels who would need ‘judging’ at some future date, and who were mischievously involved in human affairs (this may explain the head-covering caution in 1 Cor 11). Was the ‘worship of angels’ a feature of mystic Judaism (cp. Col 2:18-23) or of proto-gnosticism? Maybe both.

    It would seem to me likely that the Jewish converts to Christianity had some issues with where to ‘slot’ Jesus in their linear cosmic hierarchy… above or below the angels. Did it go God-Angels-Jesus-Man-Woman or God-Jesus-Angels-Man-Woman? This controversy is what I think the writer to the Hebrews is addressing. The answer mixes it all up, which is characteristic of Christian answers to questions of hierarchy and power (cp. Paul’s answers to Corinthian questions throughout 1 Cor, spec ch. 7 and 11).

  2. Also interesting to bring in II Peter 2:10b – where humans are apparently judging angels incorrectly (slandering them)… vs. 11 goes on to suggest that Angels don’t reciprocate this slander though they are greater in might and power. Strange verse to be sure, but interesting in relation to the “judging angels” idea.

  3. Daniel,

    Our purpose in union with Christ has a leadership role greater than angels. Please permit me to bring theosis into the discussion.

    Theosis conceptually reflects on God’s narrative acts in history to define eschatological oneness (as distinct from traditional philosophical assumptions for what monotheism must mean). Contingent humans, who are faithing into Christ, may, through divine action, become one with the unique, only-in-class God who acts in creation, redemption, and salvation.

    Through the Spirit, God conforms those who are faithing into union with our exalted Christ by sharing in the image of his Son and enabling believers to become participants of the divine nature. Theosis is a resurrection gift of oneness with God mediated through the Lord Jesus (John 17:21-23).

    As the epistle of Hebrews explains, Jesus of Nazareth, faithfully obedient to God in self-sacrifice/death on the cross and as high-priest in heaven, made “once for all” purification for sins of humankind. Because of the Father’s act of resurrecting Jesus through the Spirit, the glorified Lord Jesus, seated at the right-hand of God, became “much superior to angels.” That a human being–now glorified as the last Adam–can exercise authority over angels is initially astonishing.

    Retrospectively speaking, eschatological order that reflects ultimate oneness of salvation seems to be:

    1) “All-in-all” Father, who epitomizes self-giving love
    2) Exalted Son who definitively revealed and gifted faithfulness for humanity and eternally mediates oneness
    3) Children of God who live imperishably with “love-empowered unity” [Suzanne Nicholson's apt phrase in *Dynamic Oneness*(Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2010), p. 65] through the eternal, perfecting Holy Spirit
    4) Angels in divine service for those who have inherited salvation

    Glorified, resurrected/changed humans, united with the Father through the Son will have leadership responsibilities to judge angels without disorder and in peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).

    I welcome any criticism of my understanding.

    –John

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