Was the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist a vision or a physical encounter?

Luke 1:11 - Now an angel of the Lord APPEARED to him…

Luke 1:22 - and they realized he has seen a VISION in the temple

Was the appearance in a vision or in the natural?

An appearance can be either in a vision or in person.

Similar to this was the Mt of Transfiguration a vision as well? In Matt 17:9 when Jesus commanded them “tell the VISION to no one”

  • The same question could be asked about the seven vision in the Book fo Revelation - we do not know and are not told so we cannot say.
    – Dottard
    Jan 7 at 2:09
  • @Dottard yes in the Book of Revelation the word "Vision" (Greek - hórasis) is used only ONE time, indicating that John was seeing and describing a vision. Revelation 9:17 NASB - "And this is how I saw in my vision the horses and those who sat on them" I guess the difference is in the Luke passage it's not as clear, the writer mentioned that the people thought it was a vision Zechariah saw (Luke 1:22). Was the writer stating the opinion of the people or what actually took place. Luke 1:11 seems to make is sound like a physical experience. Jan 7 at 2:25

We are not told. The distinction between a purely mental event entirely contained to to the inspired imagination, vs, an actual angel appearing is tricky in Scripture because the same word is used of both. Three words are often translated "vision":

1. ὀπτασία (optasia)

This word only occurs four times in the NT and can mean either a vision (in the modern sense) or a a spectacular sight of transcendental nature. Luke 1:22, 24:23, Acts 26:19, 2 Cor 12:1. In all of these, except the last, it describes an actual event that occurred extending beyond the mind of the recipient.

2. ὅραμα (horama)

This word, again can either describe what is seen in a spectacular sight of transcendental nature (that actually occurred) or a pure mental vision. Thus, at times it translated, "sight" or "scene" or "vision". Thus we have:

  • Matt 17:9 - the transfiguration is a 'vision"
  • Acts 7:31 - the burning bush described as a "sight" in some versions and a "vision" in other versions
  • Acts 9:10, 12 - Ananias' and Paul's message from God described as a "vision"
  • Acts 10:3, 17, 19, 11:5 - angel appearance to Cornelius described as a "vision"
  • Acts 12:9 - Peter's escape from prison was NOT a vision
  • Acts 16;9, 10, 18:9 - Paul's vision of the man of Macedonia and later Jesus

3. ὅρασις (horasis)

This word means what is seen with the eye and can include a vision. It occurs in places like Acts 2:17, Rev 4:3, 9:17.

Thus, the distinction is some instances is clear but in other instances, the distinction is very blurred.


What are angels? Spirit beings, even as demons, fallen angels are.

And spirit beings cannot manifest to us in any physical forms, unless they inhabit that form, be it people or pigs.

So Gabriel cannot be a physical manifestation.

But it certainly can be a vision, i.e. a simulation of actual physical reality in the mind, as in a hallucination.

We can scour the bible and collect all instances of angelic appearances, and they are either visions or if they are bodily real, then its the preincarnate Christ. The real mystery here is the three beings that supped with Abraham before Sodom's destruction.

  • "if they are bodily real, then its the preincarnate Christ" What scripture do you have to support this? And this: "spirit beings cannot manifest to us in any physical forms." Angels appear as physical beings in the Bible many times. They're even called "men" a lot of times. If they weren't capable of manifesting as physical beings, they could not be called men.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 7 at 5:30
  • Angels can manifest as physical beings. Rev 13:2 NASB "Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." Now these angels were not recognized as angels, but as normal humans. The question is can someone physically see an angel that looks like an angel, can it be seen bodily by everyone, or just in the reality of the mind? That is a question Jan 7 at 6:01
  • Angels most definitely appear physically in the Bible. Angels always start with "Do not fear" because their physical appearance & presence is terrifying. Angels say "don't worship me" (Rev 22:8-9) because they're physically present. Other instances: (1) Luke 2:8-10 - Angel appears with light around him to multiple shepherds, they all see him, he talks to them. (2) Matt 28:1-7 - the women & guards all see the angel at Jesus' tomb, the angel physical rolls away the stone (3) John 20:11-13 - Mary physically saw & heard 2 angels at Jesus tomb (4) Acts 27:23-24 (5) Luke 1:11-13 etc... Jan 7 at 6:25
  • If an angel inhabit me, am I an angel?
    – Ylzm Ma
    Jan 7 at 6:27
  • 2
    @YlzmMa But nowhere ever in the Bible are angels said to "inhabit people." They aren't demons, they don't do that kind of stuff. Angels have the ability to manifest as flesh by themselves; they don't need to possess(or as you say, inhabit, but they imply the same things) any humans to appear.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 7 at 6:45

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