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
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.