Male Angel Names?

by Jimmy Akin

in Bible

A reader writes:

Listening to one of the Catholic Answers Q&A sessions, you mention no gender in angels.  Would the fact that Angels are named, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel be named for our sake to show male strength in earlier times?

Okay, I’m not sure I understand the question, but if I read you correctly, you are wondering whether the fact that angels in the Bible have masculine names means that God is accomodating their names to ancient Hebrew culture, which identified strength with masculinity (angels being stronger than us).

Maybe.

To tell you the truth, I’ve never dug into Hebrew naming practices thoroughly enough to know whether the angels in question have names that sound distinctly male in Hebrew. Hypothetically, they could be bi-gendered names, like "Chris" or "Terry" or "Kelly" are in English, which can be either male or female. My suspicion, though, is that you’re correct and that these are male-sounding names in Hebrew.

However that may be, the angels are certainly pictured as males, and this is no doubt an accomodation to Hebrew culture in some way. It could be the strength of the angels that is the determining factor (Michael and Gabriel are depicted as engaging in heavenly warfare–a male occupation), or it could be something else. Raphael serves as a travelling companion for Tobias, and a woman would not be a fit travelling companion for an unmarried male in their day.

On the other hand, it seems that whenever angels are mentioned they are depicted (if they are depicted as humans) as male, even when they aren’t named. It may be that strength is the cause, or it might be the role they play: They’re God’s messengers. That’s what the word "angel" means in the biblical languages: messenger. Since kings used male messengers in that day, this could be why.

It also could be that they are in some way priestly, serving in the heavenly Temple, and in ancient Israel only males served as officials in the Temple.

So . . . it’s kinda hard to say for sure. My guess would be the messenger idea, though.

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{ 16 comments }

M. Jordan Lichens August 19, 2005 at 10:48 am

Quick question Jimmy, was there not a woman associated with david named Michael? I’m going to have to read that whole thing again but I’m fairly certain!

Chris-2-4 August 19, 2005 at 11:59 am

Isn’t there a lay organization who goes around talking about how God should make women angels? Don’t they have a catchy slogan like, “Keep the Faith, Change the Heavens” or something like that?

Brad Haas August 19, 2005 at 12:27 pm

M. Jordan Lichens – she was “Michal,” daughter of Saul. See 1 Samuel 25.

Zhou De-Ming August 19, 2005 at 12:34 pm

Saul’s daughter, David’s wife, was Michal.
The Hebrew name is understood as meaning “a brook.”
Distinct from the angel Michael, Mi-cha-el, meaning, literally, “Who is like God?” in Hebrew.
Michael, Gabriel, Gabri-el, meaning literally “A strong man of God” in Hebrew and Raphael, Rapha-el, meaning literally “God has healed” in Hebrew, are angelic names which all reflect aspects of God.

M.Z. Forrest August 20, 2005 at 9:13 pm

Maleness implies sexuality. From what we know, angels are not sexual. Until recent times, a masculine name didn’t imply maleness unless the construct of the statement necessitated it.
As far as art is concerned, my understanding is that angels are often portrayed as prepubescent boys. This would seem to imply a generic or neutered sense. My two cents worth.

Julia August 21, 2005 at 11:03 am

From what I’ve read of saints being able to see their gaurdian angels, the angels appear most of the time as beautiful young men or adolcents. Just my two cents.

Ellen August 22, 2005 at 11:47 am

I tend to think of angels as male. If they are protectors, I want a big strong angel who can kick some devil butt watching my back.

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