A little lower than the angels?

Hebrews 2:5-8 talking about Christ’s superiority to angels quotes Psalm 8 saying

“What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    or a son of man[a] that you should care for him?
Yet for a little while you made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honour.[b]
You gave them authority over all things.”[c]

That phrase “a little lower than the angels” is fascinating, not least because it is not the only possible meaning. The Hebrew word translated “angels” in many Bibles and in the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) is Elohim.  We recognise that immediately as one of the titles used to describe God.

How did Elohim end up getting translated as “angels”?  Well, the word is the plural form of God nd therefore can be translated as “gods.”  However, it is often used in the OT with singular verbs suggesting a reference to one being having agency rather than many. The Israelites understood this then to be a reference to the majesty, power and grandeur of God. There are still times though when the word could be translated plurally to refer to gods. Sometimes this will refer negatively to false gods however on other occasions we see it referring positively to heavenly beings.

So, which is the correct translation in Psalm 8?  Well what If the answer is “both”? Psalm 8 is poetry and part of the wisdom literature. We are meant to chew it over, to meditate on it and think carefully about what it is saying.  One way of getting us to do that might be to use a word that causes us to stop and take a double take.

A little lower than God

We were made a little lower than God. We were made in his image but we are not him. We were made to rule over creation but under God, accountable to him and dependent upon him for life.  At the point of creation, man’s special role and his intimate day by day relationship with God does not suggest that he is made lower than the angels. The idea that the angels as spirit beings were somehow greater than Adam depends on a Gnostic understanding of the relationship between spirit and matter.

However, man was not happy with that status. He wanted to be like God, in fact to at least sit alongside God or even to remove and replace him. This led to sin in the Garden of Eden.

A little lower than the angels

I want to suggest that it was after the Fall that we were made a little lower than the angels. The result of sin is that our status is diminished. Humans fall under the hostile rule of Satan a fallen heavenly being. At the same time, God provides angelic care to protect his creation and us from ourselves with the one standing at the gateway to Eden guarding the way to the  Tree of Life.

This means that prior to Christ, the Covenants were mediated by angels. God uses angels to manifest himself to Abraham. Angels are used as the primary messengers bringing God’s message of hope (Mary, Joseph, Zechariah). 

However, Christ’s death and resurrection result in something amazing

Crowned

Jesus’ death and resurrection changes everything. It is through his atonement that man is crowned with glory and given renewed authority. First of all, this description applies to Christ. He is the one exalted as king over creation to rule over it. However we are in Christ and so raised up with him.

This does shift status and focus. The role of angels changes as well as our status. I want to suggest two examples of this. First of all, with Pentecost comes the fulfilment of the promise that we will dream dreams and see visions. The point of this is that we now have direct access to God, we do not need angels as intermediaries. Secondly, Paul states that in the New Creation, we will have authority to judge angels. 

What in fact we see is that mankind are restored to their original position as God’s image bearers and vice-regents on earth, ruling over it, subduing it and filling it However, all of this is only true and possible in so far as we are in Christ and he in us through the Holy Spirit.

Implications

The writer to the Hebrews goes on to link this incredible truth to Jesus not being ashamed to call us brothers. We are invited into God’s family and share in an inheritance of blessing.  The first implication points us to the goodness of the Gospel. We have a changed relationship to God giving us hope and assurance. Our first responsibility then is to subdue and fill the earth by proclaiming the good news of salvation.

However, I also want to suggest that there are other implications. Work, study, art, caring for the environment are all part of that creation mandate and so have renewed meaning and value for God’s people. We should find pleasure in our work as we seek to glorify God. 

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