The concept of heavenly beings known as angels is contained within the theology in both Mormonism and historic Christianity. To question the existence of such beings is to question the integrity of Christ Himself, who confirmed the existence of angels when He mentioned “angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30) as well as “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). In Mark 8:38 Jesus claimed that He would be accompanied by angels when He returns to the earth in glory.
The word angel quite literally means “messenger.” Throughout the Bible angels are sent by God to relay messages or perform tasks. For instance, in Genesis 19:1 two angels were sent to rescue Lot while he lived in the wicked city of Sodom. Jacob was met by angels just prior to meeting with his brother Esau (Genesis 32:1-2). In 2 Kings 19:35, the “angel of the Lord” is given credit for the destruction of the Assyrian army, thus fulfilling the prophecy given by Isaiah to King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19:20ff.
Angels are prominent in the Gospel accounts. For instance, it was the angel Gabriel who announced to Mary that she would bear the Christ child (Matthew 1:18ff). When Joseph contemplated leaving the pregnant Mary, he was comforted by an angel who told him to not be afraid (Matthew 1:20). Multitudes of the “heavenly host” made their appearance at the Christ child’s birth, praising God in the presence of lowly shepherds. Years later, when Jesus was tempted following His 40-day fast, angels were present to minister to Him (Matthew 4:11). Even in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus agonized on the night He was betrayed, angels strengthened Him (Luke 22:43).
These angelic accounts did not cease with Jesus’ ascension. In the book of Acts, Peter, who had been jailed by the decree of Herod (Acts 12:1ff), is freed by an angel. An angel later struck Herod with a terminal illness for refusing to give God glory (Acts 12:23).
While the belief in angels is not unique to the Christian faith, Mormonism drastically differs from orthodox doctrine by espousing the concept that humans have the capability to end up as angels. Certainly Mormonism cannot be credited with originating this erroneous concept. This “human to angel” idea has long been a part of the folklore of many countries. Upon the loss of a loved one, how many children have been comforted by well-meaning people who have said this particular loved one “is an angel now”?
Hollywood has certainly aided this myth. For instance, in the story line of the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence, the kindly, grandfatherly-type angel, was once a human who was sent back to earth on a mission to help Jimmy Stewart, and, in turn, “get his wings.” In a more recent film, The Preacher’s Wife, actor Denzel Washington portrayed an angel sent to help a pastor through the frustrations of ministry. He also was once a human who became an angel after death.
This is very similar to the metamorphosis of Moroni. According to the “official” testimony of Joseph Smith, Moroni was the angel who appeared to him when he was a young teenager. Moroni announced to Smith that there were some gold plates buried near-by that contained a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent. According to LDS tradition, Moroni was once a human and a commander in the Nephite army. It was he who was instructed by his father Mormon to bury the gold record just prior to the Nephites’ annihilation by their dark-skinned Lamanite enemies. These plates would later be “translated” by Joseph Smith and eventually come to be known as the Book of Mormon.
LDS leaders have insisted that angels do not have wings. There is some support for this since there are biblical examples where angels are mistaken for mere men. Certainly a winged being that looks like a human would not go so easily unnoticed. However, the Bible does claim that the angelic Cherubim and Seraphim do have wings. The first biblical mention of cherubim is in Genesis 3:24, where they were used by God to block Adam and Eve’s return to the Garden of Eden after the fall. When God instructed Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant, He told him to build a mercy seat with two cherubim of gold. The cherubim were to face each other and their wings were to stretch forth “covering the mercy seat with their wings” (Exodus 25:20).
Quite possibly the idea that angels have wings can be traced to Revelation 14:6. This passage describes an angel flying through heaven proclaiming the “everlasting gospel.” Mormons have taken it upon themselves to identify this as that same angel Moroni who appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823. (See Talmage’s The House of the Lord, pg. 126, 1969 ed.) To say this angel fits the description of Moroni is difficult whether or not one takes a historical or prophetical view of the book of Revelation. The context does not support the idea that this was the angel who is said to have appeared to Smith.
Mormon leaders have described angels in numerous ways. Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS Church, claimed, “Angels are those beings who have been on an earth like this, and have passed through the same ordeals that we are now passing through…They are persons who have lived upon an earth, but did not magnify the Priesthood in that high degree that many others have done who have become Gods, even the sons of God. Human beings that pertain to this world, who do not magnify or are not capable of magnifying their high calling in the Priesthood and receive crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives, will also, when they again receive their bodies, become angels and will receive a glory” (Journal of Discourses, 9:102).
Young’s premise is that angels have once experienced humanity. Due to a less than complete obedience to God’s laws, they apparently have been relegated to a status lower than Gods. What does such a description say for Smith’s angel Moroni? In a serious way, I ask, What if Moroni’s failure to “magnify” his calling was a problem with telling the truth? What if his “failure” was a problem with playing practical jokes on young and gullible teenagers?
“What are angels?” LDS Seventy B. H. Roberts asks, “They are intelligences of the human species. Many of them are offsprings of Adam and Eve. That is they are men, who have, like Enoch or Elijah, been translated; or, like Jesus Christ, been raised from the dead; consequently they possess a material body of flesh and bones, can eat, drink, walk, converse, reason, love, fight, wrestle, sing, or play on musical instruments” (The Mormon Doctrine of Deity, pg. 256).
LDS Apostle Parley P. Pratt wrote, “Angels are of the same race as men. They are, in fact, men who have passed from the rudimental state to the higher spheres of progressive being…They have not a single attribute that man has not. But their attributes are more matured, or more developed, than the attributes of men in this present sphere of existence” (Key to the Science of Theology, 1978 Deseret Book reprint, pg. 69). On page 21 of the same book, Pratt included God in the equation. He wrote, “God, angels, and men are all of one species, one race, one great family, widely diffused among the planetary systems as colonies, kingdoms, nations, etc.”
Despite the teachings from these prominent LDS leaders, the concept of men and women turning into angels has no biblical support. To begin with, the Bible declares that angels are a distinct creation of God; in other words, an angel was created as such, and is not a being that has undergone some sort of spiritual development or physical evolution. Psalm 148:2,5 clearly demonstrates that angels were created as angels when it says, “Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts…Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.”
In his epistle to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul expounds the fact that it was through Christ that all things were created by Him and for Him (2:15). These include what Paul refers to as “principalities.” W.E. Vine notes that the word translated principality in the KJV “is used of supramundane beings who exercise rule, called principalities.” He states that this word can denote holy angels or evil angels. (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 1966, pg. 213).
As with many other doctrines unique to Mormonism, there is no biblical justification for the claim that angels were once humans. In this area, as well as others, Joseph Smith seems to reflect the folklore of his day and not that of a true prophet of God.