Often described as spiritual messengers and attendants of God, Biblically accurate angels sometimes look very different from what you'd expect.
In modern times, Biblical angels are almost always depicted in a fairly standardized fashion, looking almost entirely human, but with the addition of feathery wings and a glowing halo. While some human-like angels do appear in Christian scripture, they are not the only types of angels mentioned — and some Biblically accurate angels are downright bizarre.
A quick Google search for “Biblically accurate angels” will yield hundreds of results of otherworldly, strange, and occasionally terrifying images ranging from multi-headed humanoids to massive eyeballs surrounded by rings or wheels, which also happen to be lined with dozens of smaller eyeballs.
Do these angels really appear in the Bible? Yes, and they’re only a couple of examples of Biblical angels. From the six-winged seraphim known as the “fiery ones” to the four-faced cherubim, some Biblically accurate angels look far different from what you might see in modern religious paintings.
This is the strange and mysterious world of Biblical angels.
An Unusual Introduction To Heavenly Angels
In the Christian faith, an angel is generally believed to be a spiritual being that acts as a messenger or attendant of God. The first specific example of a Biblical angel happens early on in the Old Testament, in the Book of Genesis.
Just outside the Garden of Eden — where the Bible’s first man and woman, Adam and Eve, lived before they were expelled by God for eating prohibited fruit — there was said to be an angel guarding the entrance of the garden. This angel had a fiery ever-turning sword, according to The Daily Beast.
Right away, it’s clear that angel is not portrayed as a gentle, comforting figure, but instead as a fierce guardian who is not to be crossed. And that’s just the first clue about what Biblically accurate angels are really like.
Later on in the Old Testament, specifically in the Book of Ezekiel, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel declared that God appeared to him on “a throne of lapis lazuli” as “a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.”
But God wasn’t the only heavenly being that Ezekiel saw during this vision, according to Live Science. Ezekiel also described four “living creatures” that surrounded God. The prophet wrote, “In appearance their form was human, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze.”
Of the four faces, Ezekiel said that only one appeared human, while the others looked like an ox, a lion, and an eagle. He also described large wheels that stood by the living creatures, “and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel… As for their rings, they were high and they were dreadful; and they four had their rings full of eyes round about.”
Clearly, these descriptions are a far cry from the typical human-like illustrations of what angels look like. To make things even more confusing, Ezekiel initially described these beings as “living creatures,” so it might be surprising to learn that they are in fact Biblical angels.
Indeed, scripture describes a total of nine variations of angels in a specific hierarchy. The angels witnessed by Ezekiel — the four-faced cherubim and the many-eyed ophanim — happen to be in the highest tier, though they are admittedly some of the strangest Biblically accurate angels out there.
The Hierarchy Of Biblically Accurate Angels
As writer Alberta Vadnais outlined for the Christian website Best Daily Prayer, the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation provide descriptions of angels that are “contrary to what most people have come to know.” This is largely due to the depiction of angels in Christian art and media in recent years, as portrayals of angels have gradually become more human-like.
The clearest example of this can be seen with the cherubim angels, also known simply as cherubs, who are often depicted as plump, serene babies with halos, harps, and tiny wings. This tradition reportedly began in Indianapolis in 1946 when a local department store included illustrations of cherubs in a catalog that portrayed these angels in such a way. However, as we have seen, the scripture paints a strikingly different picture. The cherubim are in fact the four-headed angels witnessed by Ezekiel — and the Devil himself once fit into this category, before he became a fallen angel.
According to How Stuff Works, the seraphim are the angels described as the “fiery ones” with six wings — four of which they use to cover themselves in front of God as a sign of modesty and two of which they use to fly — and the ophanim (also known as thrones) are the angels described as giant, glowing wheels within wheels with eyeballs all over their bodies.
All three of these spiritual beings make up the top tier of Biblically accurate angels. Below that are the dominions (or dominations), the virtues, and the powers. These angels start to take on slightly more human-like appearances — probably because these beings spend a bit more time on Earth, whereas the top-tier angels mostly worship God and hold up the heavenly throne.
According to the Bible, the dominions are tasked with lording over humanity and the remaining choir of angels; the virtues exert control over the elements, primarily appear as beams of light, and occasionally venture to Earth in human form to perform miracles; and the powers are God’s warriors tasked with governing the natural order and acting as advisers.
Then, there are the angels in the third tier, the principalities, the archangels, and more broadly, the angels. These are the angels who look the most like the depictions in modern religious paintings and sculptures. The principalities are said to guard over places and groups, whether entire nations or smaller communities; the archangels are the leaders of the angels who carry out God’s specific plans; and the angels are the more general population of angels, who work most closely with humans on Earth.
The hierarchy of Biblically accurate angels is a bit confusing, especially when you stop to try and piece together specific images of some of them, but understanding the way these beings are presented in Christian scripture does help to explain why they had to tell people on Earth not to be afraid when they appeared. Clearly, even the angels who looked like humans had a striking and otherworldly presence that astounded even the bravest men.
It also explains why so many characters in Netflix’s Midnight Mass believed that a vampiric creature could be an angel, despite its terrifying appearance, because, after all, the mightiest of the angels are themselves terrifying.
After learning about what Biblically accurate angels look like, read about all the similarities between the Bible and the Quran. Then, take a look at the controversial history of the Codex Gigas, better known as the “Devil’s Bible.”