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מעט - little

Why and according to whom is man only a little lower than his counterpart elohim (heavenly beings) with heavenly bodies?

From a human perspective it seems that humans are far more inferior with respect to their housing, at least from the natural and supernatural perspective.

In what sense therefore is man only a little lower than the heavenly beings?

The word little changes the emphasis on the word translated lower ותחסרהו , probably the word lacking would have been better suited. Man only a lacks a little or a few things in comparison to the heavenly beings. What are they?

(I’d venture to say a supernatural body is one of those “little things” but I could be wrong maybe it’s somethings else entirely).

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  • Man, having both body and soul, rules over both worlds (as repeatedly and systematically illustrated by Christ Himself within the four Gospels); hence, a little lower.
    – Lucian
    Jul 23 at 5:38
  • Exceedingly good question. I wish I could upvote more than once.
    – Dottard
    Jul 23 at 6:14
  • This is the only time (according to Young's Analytical Concordance) that elohim is translated (in the KJV) as 'angels'. I assume because in Hebrews 2:7 the writer translates elohim as aggelos. A very interesting question up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 23 at 8:04
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There are three aspects to this question:

1. According to Whom?

Man is a little lower than elohim - according to the inspired writer, David, presumably as inspired by the Holy Spirit, as per 2 Peter 2:19-21.

2. What are the Elohim?

It is true that more than 99% of the occurrences of "elohim" in the OT refers directly to the LORD God Himself, or, a false god of some sort. There are a few exceptions such as Ex 4:16; 7:1; 21:6; 22:8, 27; Judges 5:8; 1 Sam 28:13; Ps 8:5; 82:1, 6, 7; 138:1 where some humans are called "elohim" such as leaders or judges. (These are a very small proportion of the total.)

However, it was under the influence of the LXX (presumably) in Ps 8:5 that Heb 2:7 renders elohim in this case, "angels". This is the only instance where elohim means anything other than a human leader or God/god.

However, for the sake of this question, let us assume that the LXX got it right and that in Ps 8:5, elohim means, "angels", or at least heavenly beings (of some sort!)

3. Man vs Angels

It is true that the debatable translation of the KJV in Ps 103:20 describes angels as those "who excel in strength". A more sensitive rendering may not use this quality of angels as a marker of greatness. In any case, it is obvious that angels have many powers unknown and unavailable to humans.

Indeed, on the few occasions where angels and humans are directly compared we get some surprising results. Notice the following:

  • Rev 22:9 - But he [the angel] said to me, “Do not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Note that the angel here puts himself on a par with John as a fellow servant of God.
  • 1 Peter 1:12 - It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, when they foretold the things now announced by those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. Thus, it appears that humans are capable of understanding some things that angels struggle to grasp.

This appears to be confirmed by the record in Rev 14:3 -

And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. And no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

Thus, it appears that the angels cannot learn the song of the redeemed 144,000 from the earth. Ellicott makes some astute observations about this when he comments on 1 Peter 1:12 -

Which things the angels ... bend aside to see ... It seems to mean a strained attention to something which has caught your eye somewhat out of your usual line of sight. Here then, the intention is to show that we are in a better position to understand the mysteries of redemption, not only than prophets, but also than angels; and they covet to stoop from their own point of view to ours. And why so? Not because of the inherent mysteriousness of the union of the two natures in Christ, for of that they are as intelligent as we, or more so; but because they are incapable of fully understanding human nature, flesh and blood, with its temptations and pains, its need of a Saviour.

Benson makes a similar comment:

The expression, the angels desire to look into, is literally, to stoop down to. “But stooping being the action of one who desires to look narrowly into a thing, it properly means to look attentively. The omission of the article before αγγελοι, angels, renders the meaning more grand. Not any particular species of angels, but all the different orders of them, desire to look into the things foretold by the prophets, and preached by the apostles. See Ephesians 3:10. This earnest desire of the angels to contemplate the sufferings of Christ, was emblematically signified by the cherubim placed in the inward tabernacle, with their faces turned down toward the mercy-seat, Exodus 25:20. To that emblem there is a plain allusion in the word παρακυψαι here, to stoop. The apostle’s meaning is, If our salvation, and the means by which it is accomplished, are of such importance as to merit the attention of angels, how much more do they merit our attention, who are so much interested in them!” — Macknight.

Here is a beautiful gradation: prophets, righteous men, kings, desired to hear and see the things which Christ did and taught, Matthew 13:17; but what the Holy Ghost taught concerning Christ, the very angels long to understand.

This is obviously true - angels never had human bodies with flesh and blood. Equally, humans have not experienced being "spirits (Heb 1:14). Further, the angels of heaven have not experienced the joy of salvation and our consequent need of Christ. (This is not to suggest that angels do not love God, they do; but it is quite different from a saved person.)

So at least in this regard, angels are less than humans while being vastly "superior" (a non-Biblical term) to humans in other areas.

4. In what was are humans a little less than angels?

We are not told except for the following verse, Ps 8:6 -

You made him ruler of the works of Your hands; You have placed everything under his feet

However, we see an interesting comparison of man with Christ in Heb 2 -

  • V7 Man is made a little lower than the angels and then crowned with glory and honor
  • V9 Jesus is made a little lower than the angels and then crowned with glory and honor

This suggests that Jesus according to both Heb 2:7-9 and Phil 2:5-11 is given the same treatment as humans as part of the great mystery of the plan of salvation. Does this mean that saved humans will be highly exalted? The extent of the exultation of humans is somewhat vague in Scripture but we are given a hint in Rev 3:21 -

To the one who overcomes, I will grant the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

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