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Among the Christians I know it is believed that Michael is the only Archangel because only he is mentioned as being one (I realize the flaw, but believed nonetheless).

However, there are several other schools of thought that say he is only one of an unknown number. Roman Catholics say Gabriel is one as well. The much less common Jehovah's Witnesses claim that Michael and Jesus are one and the same, therefore, Jesus is the Archangel.

Now here is what I know or assume:

  • Angel means messenger. I assume it is not used quite as a title but more like a description (is it though?).
  • Arch is a prefix usually used to imply that one is the greatest of them all. What does the original word imply and has it been used differently or similarly elsewhere in the Bible?
  • In the Bible, it is true that that only Michael is actually called 'Archangel', however, this does not mean he is the only one.

I primarily what to know if the use of this word in the Bible implies that there is only one Archangel or not.


I should clarify that for personal reasons I prefer the 66 book Protestant version of the Bible but I am marginally interested in the Catholic additions and the Apocrypha.

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Hi and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. Could you add a quote/citation of where this term is used to refer to Michael? (Do you mean ἀρχάγγελος in Jude?) People will need that to be able to trace back to the word in the original language and look for other uses. There may also be multiple words at play; sometimes different words get translated the same way but their meaning in the original might be more nuanced. So the more information you can give us about where you're starting, the better. Thanks. –  Gone Quiet Feb 27 '13 at 15:40

1 Answer 1

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Textual Usage

The word 'archangel' (lemma: ἀρχάγγελος) appears twice in the New Testament, at least once in the LXX translation of the book of Enoch (which mentions numerous angels and their duties and authority - I would read it here or here if this topic interests you), and also in a highly disputed verse in 2 Esdras. It should be noted that after the fourth century, few Christians considered Enoch to be canonical.

  • 2 Esdras 4:36 - "And unto these things Uriel[*] the archangel gave them answer, and said, Even when the number of seeds is filled in you: for he hath weighed the world in the balance." *The RSV renders the archangel's name as Jeremiel (an alternate transliteration). It should be kept in mind that this is a highly disputed text (both the KJV and RSV w/apocrypha call this book '2 Esdras,' some scholars and other traditions call it 4 Esdras or 'Latin Esdras,' as the only copy preserved is in Latin).
  • Enoch 20:7 - All of the main Greek texts conclude this verse with ἀρχαγγέλων ὀνόματα ἑπτά. However, no English translation that I've found translates this phrase, which could be translated, "Of archangels there are seven names," or potentially also "There are seven names of archangels." See Swete's 1909 LXX critical text and apparatus for this verse. There may actually be seven archangels (although I will not assert this as it is purely speculation). Various church traditions include up to 14 archangels.
  • Enoch 9:1, 4 - The word 'archangel' only appears in what Swete labels as alternate texts - it is not in the primary texts that he chose for his critical edition of the LXX. I still wanted to mention this because the alternate texts would potentially be labeling "Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel" as archangels, which would mean that there is more than one (other manuscripts appear to also include Suryal). See Swete's 1909 LXX critical text and apparatus for these verses here and here.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:16 - "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God...." There is no definite article prefacing 'archangel' in the Greek, so this text should not be construed to imply that there is only one archangel.
  • Jude 9 - "Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee." It should be noted that Jude 14-15 is a quotation from Enoch 1:9 (a non-related section), and so it is significant to use evidence in Enoch since Jude quotes from the book. Jude 9 may also have been alluding to Enoch 9 since the angels (including Michael) did not directly accuse Azazel and Semjaza, but rather went to the Lord. However, most Christian scholars ascribe this to a questionable work entitled The Assumption of Moses (or Testament of Moses). With any discussion of Jude, we should also examine possible "parallel" verses in 2 Peter (for this reason). 2 Peter 2:11 says, "Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord." This is also likely an allusion to Enoch 9. Jude and Peter are traditionally said to be discussing the punishment for the angels responsible for the Nephilim in Genesis 6 (historically thought to be an instance of incubus).

Disclaimer / Limitation: I am working with a critical text of the book of Enoch from 1909 (Swete). I do not have any critical texts for Enoch that are more recent. I found the Skeptik Greek text for Enoch online when researching this which supports my finding for Enoch 20:7. However, it seems that many English translations had to have been working from different manuscripts, as there is an additional name in 9:1 and other phrases throughout Enoch that were not in the Greek manuscripts that I had available (unless these translations are faulty, which is also a possibility - but I have not conducted enough research to make this assertion). But the main translation that differs from Swete's Greek text (by R.H. Charles) was published in 1913, so theoretically the same manuscripts should have been available. It should also be noted that I did not have a Greek manuscript for the verse in 2 Esdras (there may not be one), I used the English KJV translation.

Meaning of the Word

The ἀρχ- prefix is associated with the Greek word ἄρχων, meaning "ruler" (a substantival participle literally meaning "ruling one"). It is used in interesting ways throughout scripture and early Christian history in reference to angels. The word derives from ἀρχή, which is usually translated as "beginning" (which is the gloss), but can also mean,

"an authority figure who initiates activity or process, ruler, authority.... Also of angelic or transcendent powers, since they were thought of as having a political organization (Damascius, Princ. 96 R.) Ro 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10, 15..."1

(such as its peculiar use in Jude 6 which is relevant to this discussion).

The word also appears in other early Greek literature in case you're interested in the references:

ἀρχάγγελος, ου, ὁ (s. ἀρχή, ἄγγελος; En 20:8; TestSol; TestAbr A B; TestLevi 3:5 v.l.; ParJer 9:5; GrBar; ApcEsdr 1:3 p. 24, 7 Tdf.; ApcSed 14:1 p. 135, 33 Ja.; ApcMos; AssMos Fgm. k; Philo, Confus. Lingu. 146, Rer. Div. Her. 205, Somn. 1, 157; Porphyr., Ep. ad Anebonem [GParthey, Iambl. De Myst. Lib. 1857 p. xxix–xlv] c. 10; cp. Iambl., Myst. 2, 3 p. 70, 10; Theologumena Arithmetica ed. VdeFalco 1922, p. 57, 7; Agathias: Anth. Pal. 1, 36, 1; ins in CB I/2 557 no. 434 ὁ θεὸς τῶν ἀρχαγγέλων; Gnost. ins, CIG 2895; PGM 1, 208; 3, 339; 4, 1203; 2357; 3052; 7, 257 τῷ κυρίῳ μου τῷ ἀρχαγγέλῳ Μιχαήλ; 13, 257; 328; 744) a member of the higher ranks in the celestial hierarchy, chief angel, archangel PtK 2 p. 14, 27. Michael (En 20:5; 8; ParJer 9:5) is one of them Jd 9. He is also prob. the archangel who will appear at the last judgment 1 Th 4:16 (the anonymous sing. as PGM 4, 483, where the archangel appears as a helper of Helios Mithras).—See WLueken, D. Erzengel Michael 1898; Rtzst., Mysterienrel.3 171, 2; UHolzmeister, Verb. Dom. 23, ’43, 176–86; s. on ἄγγελος.—149–53. M-M. TW.2

Jesus = Michael?

Concerning the equation of Jesus with Michael, some scholars3 believe that the early Christian book The Shepherd of Hermas (which was considered canonical by many Christians in the second and third centuries, although not without much controversy) equates Jesus with Michael (this is disputed among historians)4. Primitive Christology understood Christ as the "prince of angels," but this debate was refuted by later debates in Christian history and The Shepherd of Hermas was rejected as heretical (both for teaching Adoptionism and for equating Jesus with Michael), especially on the basis of Hebrews 1 which had much greater support in post-Nicene Christianity.5 The equation of Jesus with Michael did not become a topic of contention in Christian history again until the 19th century.

Conclusion

The answer to your question really depends on what books you consider to be the Bible. Assuming you are operating with a mainstream historic Christian understanding of the biblical canon6 (which would exclude Enoch), the Bible does not specifically name any other archangels other than Michael. However, on the basis of other Christian texts such as Enoch as well as Jewish and Christian history, it would not be advisable to consider Michael to be the only archangel. The Biblical text does not imply this anywhere (it makes no implications one way or the other), nor is it supported by other texts and historic traditions.

1 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 138.

2 Ibid., 137.

3 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Volume One - The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 183.

4 cf. Shepherd of Hermas 69:3. Relevant quote produced below:

"And the great and glorious angel Michael is he who has authority over this people, and governs them; for this is he who gave them the law into the hearts of believers: he accordingly superintends them to whom he gave it, to see if they have kept the same."

"The Pastor of Hermas", trans. F. Crombie, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 40. This can be read online.

5 Pelikan, 183-184.

6 It is regarded as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormons) does not consider it to be canonical but does consider it to be inspired. Everyone else excludes it (including most of the Eastern Orthodox Church except for those noted above).

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I probably could have written a book on this, I know there are A LOT of doors that I opened but didn't close, but after spending way too many hours on this that I should have spent on sleep, I decided that this answer will need to be sufficient as is. –  Dan Feb 28 '13 at 6:18
    
It is sufficient to keep me busy looking and cross-referencing for days. You assumed correct that I would not consider Enoch cannon (see OP edit) but I am interested in Apocrypha. So is seems that the Arch prefix does not necessarily imply singularity of person or title, primarily because of it's usage in other texts (Apocrypha)? Maybe off topic but what about its usage outside of religious or angelic context? –  fredsbend Feb 28 '13 at 7:25
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That would really be another question altogether as it has more to do with the language, but I'll post some references here in chat: an authority figure who initiates activity or process, ruler, authority (Aeschyl., Thu. et al.; ins; pap, e.g. PHal 1, 226 μαρτυρείτω ἐπὶ τῇ ἀρχῇ καὶ ἐπὶ τῷ δικαστηρίῳ; Gen 40:13, 21; 41:13; 2 Macc 4:10, 50 al., s. Magie 26; –  Dan Feb 28 '13 at 14:19
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so as a loanw. in rabb. ἀ. = νόμιμος ἐπιστασία Did., Gen. 60, 9) w. ἐξουσία Lk 20:20; pl. (Oenomaus in Eus., PE 6, 7, 26 ἀρχαὶ κ. ἐξουσίαι; 4 Macc 8:7; Jos., Ant. 4, 220) Lk 12:11; Tit 3:1; MPol 10:2 (αἱ ἀρχαί can also be the officials as persons, as those who took part in the funeral procession of Sulla: Appian, Bell. Civ. 1, 106 §497.—The same mng. 2, 106 §442; 2, 118 §498 al. Likewise Diod S 34+35 Fgm. 2, 31). –  Dan Feb 28 '13 at 14:19
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Moulton and Milligan also have a good explanation, their lexicon can be found online for free at archive.org/details/vocabularyofgree00mouluoft - see p. 80ff (direct link: archive.org/stream/vocabularyofgree00mouluoft#page/80/mode/2up). –  Dan Feb 28 '13 at 14:27

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