Stop Putting Dresses on the Heavenly Host

no angels

Most modern translations of the New Testament are excellent.  There are however a few places where you are completely surprised if you read the text in the original Greek.  Several of those places have to do with the Christmas story.  The verses that tell this story are so well known that many translations have chosen to keep old words that most people don’t understand, even if they think they doThe worst offender of all is the first half of Luke chapter two, the story of the Shepherds and the Angels.

The New International Version reads in verses 13 -14: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

A “heavenly host” appears and they say something that looks like a poem or song lyrics. Notice it doesn’t actually say they sing.

Christmas cards, songs, movies and virtually everyone imagines in this verse a magnificent heavenly choir, arrayed in their glowing robes and singing four part harmony while floating in the sky. That is ABSOLUTELY NOT what Luke is describing.   

The Shepherds are Terrified

The first clue is the reaction of the shepherds to the angel that appears in verse nine. The NIV says ‘they were terrified’.  The old King James calls them ‘sore afraid’.  The Greek literally says, ‘they were terrified with a great terror’.  They aren’t just surprised.  They are scared out of their minds. This is always the reaction when people in the Bible see an angel. Maybe they aren’t so friendly looking?

What exactly is a ‘host’?

Many people would say a host is a large number of people, or angels. But in that case Luke would be repeating himself when he says there was a ‘great company’ of the heavenly host. In fact, the word host has a very specific meaning.

The Greek word translated host is the word stratia. It is where we get our word strategy. It has only one basic meaning in New Testament Greek.  It means AN ARMY. Not a choir. It means soldiers in full battle gear formed up for war.

Battle Cry

If this is an army then why are they singing a song?  The answer is they aren’t. Luke doesn’t say they are singing.  They recite a kind of poem together. Did armies do that?  Yes and they still do. ‘One, Two, Three, Four, I love the Marine Corps!  The angel army is chanting a battle cry.  The battle cry is simple. We can paraphrase it like this, “Glory to God in Heaven.  Peace here on the earth to those who are His friends.  The war is about to end. The Enemy is going to die.”

Why is the war over?  Because a baby is born.  The army marches behind its most powerful weapon, its First Soldier, the death blow to Satan and the enemies of God, the baby of Bethlehem.

Isaac Whiting

Leave me a comment and tell me what you think.

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Short Summary of why Christians shouldn’t hate the word “Environment”

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Environmental issues have been at the forefront of cultural change in North America for a long time and will continue to be in the foreseeable future.  Evangelical churches have missed a great opportunity to be part of this change and help direct its course.  This failure has been a significant driver in the decline of organized religion over the past 50 years.

While environmental issues are not the primary focus of Scripture they are present in Scripture and occupy a place of prominence they do not have in evangelical churches today.

In the Old Testament it is clear that Israel was a leader in taking care of the earth, not a reluctant follower.  The foundational stories of the Old Testament indicate that the entire creation was good, that human beings were to take care of the creation as their primary work and that problems with the creation are the result of human sin. The jubilee regulations in Leviticus require radical practices of Israel designed to refresh the whole created order, human, animal and earth.  On the basis of these and other passages in Scripture the church should have always been working against environmental exploitation as part of its mandate.

However, when the Church failed to lead in this way the cause of environmental care was taken up by groups without a Biblical foundation and whose ethos is secular or even pagan in some cases. Environmental concern became associated with anti-Christian sentiment and so has been opposed or ignored by most Evangelicals.  There exists now in the culture of our churches a prejudice against and resistance to most things environmental.

While there are some Evangelicals engaged in caring for creation, there is a great need today for the majority to turn in this direction. Not only is it important that we take care of what God has created, but our prejudice and apathy about environmentalism has created a cultural barrier to the Gospel.  Many younger people raised outside the church write it off as irrelevant because of its failure to lead in this area.  Many young people raised in the church are embarrassed by the anti-environmental prejudice of their parents and grandparents.

The leadership challenge today is how to move the body of Christ toward Biblical stewardship of creation.  We must avoid simply following the lead of secular environmentalists and must speak revealed truth into the debate. We must move fast enough that change is perceptible to the younger generations and at the same time avoid radical moves that would alienate older Evangelicals and cause disunity.