An illustration of a biblically accurate angel.

Biblically Accurate Angels are Crucial in Modern Media

Why did we decide that angels must look like humans?
December 21, 2022
9 mins read

During the mid to late 2010s, the term “biblically accurate angel” seemed to proliferate across the internet. Upon typing this term into a search engine, users are presented with a variety of geometrically complex and eerie-looking beings — a sharp contrast to the general idea most people have of the word “angel.” The dissonance between these two depictions of angels is fascinating. Biblically accurate and popular images of angels bring up important questions regarding why a distinction exists and why each depiction is important.

What Is a Biblically Accurate Angel?

Pinpointing the origin of terms that seem to appear from nowhere can be nearly impossible. However, in the case of the biblically accurate angel, the lineage appears to be a bit more discernible. As indicated by Know Your Meme and other sources, the term may have been popularized in a Tumblr post by user revelation19. In the post, the user presents various biblically accurate images of what angels could look like. This post gained massive traction, and was eventually cross-posted to multiple other social media platforms. As a result, more and more individuals became acquainted with the fact that their depiction of angels might be entirely misinformed.

There are a few variations on what angels are thought to look like when considering perfect biblical accuracy. For instance, some sources indicate that biblically accurate angels may take the form of a wheel with endless eyes, or of beings with multiple faces — none of which are human — and have far more than two wings. Other sources suggest that the appearance of angels differs based on their particular species and rank. Additionally, various biblical scholars have concluded that based on biblical imagery, angels can potentially take the form of human beings; however, much of the supporting evidence for this claim is open to interpretation. Therefore, it seems that the consensus is that angels can take various shapes, the least common of which is the human form.

What Is a Biblically Inaccurate Angel?

There are a variety of forms that angels could take that could still be considered biblically accurate. A very common reaction among those who see an image of a biblically accurate angel for the first time is that they are creepy, eerie, unsettling or even downright scary. The reason biblically accurate angels could potentially be fear-inducing, incomprehensible figures that humans are unable to relate to is that angels are not meant to be human-like figures in the first place. Angels are creations of God, meant for various purposes that don’t necessarily involve human beings. As a result, it seems reasonable that biblically accurate angels may take a drastically different form than humans do. After all, the same God that would have created humans also created centipedes and other creatures that are entirely distinct from humans. Furthermore, angels can possess different ranks, and their form reflecting that rank wouldn’t be dissimilar to the way clothing symbolizes rank and status in some cultures.

Where Did Biblically Inaccurate Angels Come From?

The more traditional version of an angel is often a beautiful human-like creature with large, white wings. The tendency to imagine angels in this way stems from a variety of reasons; for instance, it is widely accepted that human beings are more likely to relate to other humans. Fables that tackle moral dilemmas typically involve humans or anthropomorphized versions of animals. Hence, it makes sense that artists portraying figures perceived to be of the highest good would take advantage of the familiar human form in doing so. Considering that angels have been described as taking form beyond human comprehension, translating their figure to a humanlike form would perhaps be the simplest way to achieve artistic portrayal, especially in older art. Additionally, these portrayals typically exhibit prominent European and Western features, from hair color and texture to skin color and facial structure; it is evident that Western features dominate the perception of what angels look like. The connection between westernization and common angelic imagery may not be apparent immediately, but the underlying connection between the two topics is surprisingly strong.

Westernization: Impacts on Religion and Media

The impact of Westernization on both media and religion is not insignificant when considering the biblically accurate angel and any other topics that arise today surrounding media analysis. The ability of Westernization to become so pervasive comes as a result of colonial and imperial tendencies to prey on developing or third-world countries and their resources. Westernization itself has served many different roles in influencing religious imagery.

For example, Westernization is evidenced in how modern Christianity is practiced and displayed. Through imperialism and colonialism, Western religious ideals became the new norm, even in areas completely separate and distinct from western Europe. This then dissolved many of the central tendencies and preferences of non-Western cultures touched by Westernization.

This is also the case in most media. It is widely accepted that once a culture can sustain itself and survive, it is free to focus on art, music, creativity and anything else that would arise as a result of having ample free time. The Americas and parts of Europe have dominated as core countries by profiting off the resources of peripheral countries. These Western areas then had an advantage in developing their media faster and spreading their media more efficiently due to the ability to focus on aspects of life outside of mere survival.

Because of all these interlocking factors, it makes sense that angels would be portrayed as white, European individuals. These cultures have had a strong advantage throughout history, which often involved suppressing other cultures. The dominant artistic influence reflects the dominant culture at the time, which explains why a specific image of angels is called to mind before others.

What Does This All Mean?

Biblically accurate angels become quite beautiful once we get used to them. The value of biblically accurate angels in media is significant. When western ideals dominate popular opinion and their perspectives go unchecked, so much of the world’s culture and beauty are lost at the expense of comfort. There is nothing wrong with angels being portrayed as human in art, but considering the original text allows us to see the bigger picture; biblically accurate angels should at least be acknowledged.

Connecting to a broader global perspective, biblically accurate angels demonstrate a powerful lesson. When a particular image is favored over others, it becomes necessary to consider the origins of that image and the reasons that make it so favorable. Many people today oppose altering tradition, but there is simultaneously a significant population who hope to revive their perspectives before they are lost forever. In analyzing the origins of modern perspectives, the vivid imagery of biblically accurate angels has been restored among the communities that have cherished such things. The same can be done with practically any other artistic perspective harbored today.

After allowing the image of biblically accurate angels to settle, it seems they are truly creatures of beauty. They are otherworldly and lovely and prove that being critical of media and popular opinion can open one’s eyes to vast alternatives and possibilities.

Shawna Smith, University of Phoenix

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Shawna Smith

University of Phoenix

Shawna Smith is an English major with a passion for philosophy, poetry, ‘90s music and, of course, literary analysis.

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