Book Write-Up: The Hum of Angels, by Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight.  The Hum of Angels: Listening for the Messengers of God Around Us.  WaterBrook, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Scot McKnight teaches New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois.

Here are some of my thoughts about his book, The Hum of Angels.

A.  This book is more educational than other books about angels that I have read.  McKnight refers briefly to depictions of angels in other ancient Near Eastern cultures,  mentions thoughts about angels from such historic Christian luminaries as Origen and John Calvin, and quotes Jewish pseudepigraphical passages about angels.  This is not a surprise to me because, even though this book is on a popular level, McKnight is an academic and is thus sensitive to historical-criticism of the Bible and the history of Jewish and Christian thought.  That is what made this book interesting.

B.  That said, McKnight did not really integrate the historical considerations into faith and religious belief.  If angels are depicted outside of ancient Israel, and prior to the time of ancient Israel, does that mean that the ancient Israelites borrowed their belief in angels from outside cultures?  Would that mean that angels are not real but were invented by human beings?  Is there a purpose in quoting Christian luminaries, from a religious perspective?  Is what they say authoritative about angels, or mere assertion?  McKnight tried to justify quoting the pseudepigraphical sources by saying that they formed part of Christ’s cultural milieu, and McKnight presumably deems Christ to be authoritative.  Does that make the pseudepigraphical sources authoritative about angels, though?

C.  McKnight disputes the common Christian idea that the Angel of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible was the being who became Jesus Christ, a Christophany, in short.  For McKnight, the Angel of the Lord brought God’s presence to people but was still a separate being from God.  On the one hand, McKnight’s stance appealed to me because it was a historical-critical interpretation, one that did not read Christianity back into the Hebrew Bible.  On the other hand, his stance left lingering questions in my mind.  McKnight did not address the claim in early manuscripts of Jude 5 that Jesus brought the Israelites out of Egypt (Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm, page 270), which would be consistent with the Angel of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible being a Christophany.

There is also a possible discrepancy between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, which seeing the Angel as a Christophany can resolve.  In the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord seems to receive worship or reverence (Joshua 5:13-15).  In Revelation 22:9, by contrast, an angel emphatically forbids John to bow down to him, telling him to worship God instead.  McKnight in the book shows familiarity with these passages, but he fails to address a question: Why was an Angel reverenced in the Old Testament, whereas worship of angels was forbidden in the New Testament?  One solution is to say that the Angel in the Hebrew Bible was actually Jesus Christ, who is God, and Christ can be worshiped.  Another solution is to say that the line of demarcation between angels and God became more firmly established over the course of biblical and Jewish thought, as a way to safeguard the uniqueness of God.  The latter solution can pose a challenge to faith, however: if biblical thought about angels changed and developed over time, does that imply that what the Bible says about angels reflects merely human ideas, rather than reality?

D.  McKnight seems to argue that angels will always glorify Jesus Christ.  McKnight does well to demonstrate that angels in the New Testament have an interest in Jesus Christ.  But does that mean that they always have to mention Jesus when they interact with people?  McKnight spends pages talking about angelic activity in the Hebrew Bible, and, obviously, angels did not mention Jesus in those cases.  If I am not mistaken, they did not always mention Jesus in the stories of angelic encounters that McKnight relays (but I am open to correction on this).  McKnight is trying to avoid a free-for-all when it comes to angelic encounters, to provide a means for people to discern which angelic encounters are real and legitimate.  Perhaps he could have attained this goal without saying that angelic encounters always have to be about Jesus.  He says throughout the book that angelic encounters are about God’s love: God’s commitment to be with us and to help us to become Christlike.  Angels can assist people on this path, even if they do not explicitly mention Jesus.  Angelic encounters can make people sensitive to the existence of the transcendent and the holy, and that is part of becoming Christlike.

E.  McKnight did attempt to support his claims with Scriptures.  He has a chapter about how angels are intercessors.  One passage that he cites,  Job 33:23-26, supports this claim rather well.  Other passages that he cites?  Maybe they support it, but not necessarily.  McKnight also should have tried to reconcile his belief that angels can be intercessors with I Timothy 2:5, which states that there is one mediator between God and humanity, namely, Jesus Christ.

F.  One thought that occurred to me in reading this book is, “Why hasn’t an angel appeared to me?  Doesn’t God like me?”  In light of that, I appreciated McKnight’s statements that angels may appear to us, without us even knowing it.  And they are around us, anyway!

G.  I liked something that McKnight said in the After Words: that he misses his book on angels, after finishing it!  There is a close relationship between authors and the books that they write!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books.  My review is honest!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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