MYTH 2: THE ANGELS SANG
Shockingly, some people do not believe that the angels sang the night Jesus was born. And though I love music, neither do I.
Everyone has heard the story of the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, and everyone also believes that the angels sang for joy, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14
But really, the chances are 50/50 that the angels actually sang. The Bible simply does not say that they sang. This is what it DOES say in Luke 2:
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The word “saying” is unmistakable. Here’s one explanation of the translation from Greek to our English:
The word translated as “saying” in Luke 2:13 is λεγοντων (legontōn) from the root λεγω (legō). This is a very common word in Scripture, and it means “to speak or talk, with apparent focus upon the content of what is said.”J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1, electronic ed. of the 2nd ed., (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 396.
Here’s what I picture. Imagine the scene. The angels in heaven know full well what is going on. ONE angel appears first and it’s a good thing. I’m guessing if the shepherds were so freaked out by the sight of one angel in the dark of night, so much so that the word recorded here is they were “sore afraid” or “terrified”, it was a good thing all the angels did not appear at once or the shepherds may well have had heart failure.
What if the scene is more like this: the angels come to earth out of the black hole, or the third heaven, or the heavenlies, wherever that is. Most of the angels, like over 10,000 of them according to the Jewish definition of a “multitude”, hang back somehow so that the shepherds only see the first one.
Then, as soon as the first angel was done with his message, the 10,000 could not contain themselves any longer. They appeared to the shepherds and praised God. This picture in my mind is that of men at a soccer game as they go into a chant in unison of praise. The noise is deafening. They are chanting in unison.
One of my favorite English translations of the Greek is the Tree of Life Version (TLV). It describes the multitude as “heavenly armies”:
13 And suddenly a multitude of heavenly armies appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth shalom to men of good will.”
15 And when the angels departed from them into the heavens, the shepherds were saying to one another, “Let’s go!….”
What if the idea here is more like an Army/Navy Football game where the crowds just burst into “Saying” or more like chanting “U-S-A.” or something? I think it was more like a chant—at least at first. Otherwise, the author, Luke, the precise medical doctor and wordsmith, would have chosen the word “singing” wouldn’t he? Just asking. Some things on the side to note. The angels were aware of how scary they are. The first thing they always say is, “Don’t be afraid.”
Secondly, they were messengers sent to tell the message. I wonder if the first angel was sent to appear to the shepherds, and the other angels asked God if they could go too—something like the opening scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, and God might have said, “Okay, but don’t scare them to death.”
Also, angels always in the Bible are referred to in the masculine pronoun. They were not female types with wings and flowing hair like in all the Victorian-Era Christmas Cards. Anyway, it does not appear that way in the Bible. So to me the picture is soldiers. “Heavenly Armies” as it says in this translation.
To be biblically accurate then, the only thing to do is to remove those little figures of angels from your Christmas trees or in your Fontanini nativity sets and replace them with G.I. Joes or those little green army men. At least that is the way we did it in our household as we were raising our two boys to study the Bible—accurately handling EVERY WORD, and not leaning of the images of Christmas cards and mythical notions.
The second Myth of Christmas? Right. I do not THINK the angels sang, so it’s still hard for me to sing, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”
This Christmas instead, as you sing that beloved hymn, just insert, “Hark, the Herald Angels Said” or use your imagination and sing “SHOUTED.”
We chant loud enough at a football game. How much more, then, should we loudly and boldly proclaim the amazing, miraculous, astonishing news that the Messiah—the Son of God—was born.
photo by Jake Skrlep from Unslpash.