Thursday, March 27, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology III: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

Um … they don’t. Really. Look it up.

Aw, come on, you’re Googling, aren’t you.

It’s okay. I did too. I also got my concordance out. But this particular misconception is not confined to the famous Christmas carol.

Although ... it’s awfully hard to prove a negative. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we have “no unequivocal biblical evidence” of angels singing.

I owe my father for this one, by the way. It’s a small point, but one of a number of things that prompted me to begin looking at the words of Scripture a little more attentively, and actually look things up rather than just believing what I was told.

There is one reference to angels singing in the New Living Bible and one or two other modern translations in Revelation 5:13, but rather disappointingly they have translated a word that simply means to “say” as “sing”. In most careful translations the word is “saying”.

But singing angels are a popular culture staple. Movies have been made with angels singing in the title. Meat Loaf and Social Distortion, among others, include singing angels in the lyrics of their pop tunes.

Angels also don’t play harps, so far as I can find — sorry, I mean I can find no “unequivocal biblical evidence” that angels play harps. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders of Revelation 5 have harps and sing “a new song”. So I suppose if you are entirely confident that the “four living creatures” are angels, you have an instance of angels both singing and playing harps.

I’m just not sure they are. The “living creatures” and “many angels” are listed in verse 11 separately. Which is not definite proof, but suggestive that there is a distinction of some sort there.

Angels certainly shout for joy. They most definitely “praise”, “say” and “worship”. 

Just no singing. Sorry.

The closest I could come to proving angels sing is this website, wherein the writer concludes a short post on the same topic with the hopeful conjecture that because humans sing, “It would seem logical that God would have created the angels with that same ‘propensity’ ”.

I’m not sure about logical. Possible, of course. Demonstrable, not so much.

If I may appropriate a phrase of Scripture completely out of context (okay, it does have to do with angels, remotely), “we must pay … closer attention”.

Speaking of paying closer attention, I’m always open to correction on this or any other issue if somebody has come across a Scripture reference I haven’t thought of. It’s not like a major doctrine turns on it.

And truly “Hark, the Herald Angels Say”, though at least provable, doesn’t seem quite as appropriate to the Christmas season as we like to picture it.

But forget the singing. There are many equally common — and more significant — misconceptions about heaven.

Next: More on that. Possibly


  1. We as humans are instructed to... "'Speak' to each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." It appears that the Biblical usage of the word "speak" overlaps with "sing." In translation from language to language words can have multiple usages. So even if you are looking for "unequivocal biblical evidence" from a translation in English, you are basing a belief on a language that the Scripture as not written in. Even if the Bible did refer to an "Angel" there really is no evidence that they exist. The Bible talks about Cherubim and Seraphim and other creatures, but when it uses the word "angel" it is referring to humans... "The Angel of the Lord" is a reference to Jesus Himself and the "Angels of the 7 Churches" in Revelation are just the pastors of churches, because the word "angel" just translates as "messenger." So the argument about the English words "say vs. sing" is minute compared to the discussion of whether or not there even exists a being that claims the definition "angel."

  2. Replies
    1. That latter point is interesting and perhaps post-worthy.