Paula White’s Angels from Africa: A Biblical Perspective
Paula’s Prayer: An Instant Internet Sensation
A few weeks ago, Paula White nearly broke the internet with her emergency prayer meeting for the US elections, where she called on angels from Africa and South America to come and assist in the US elections. Moments after the video surfaced, it went instantaneously viral! Her ‘memeable’ prayer chant has been mentioned probably on every late-night comedy show. It has appeared on thousands of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. It has been discussed by countless bloggers whose videos have received probably tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of comments from people weighing in on the prayer. A lot of the coverage has been lighthearted and comical in nature. On YouTube, for example, several musicians have provided instrumental cover such as guitar and drum accompaniment to her prayer. Some of them are actually quite catchy!
Paula White’s prayer has also received a lot of backlash from Christians and church leaders. Critical comments have been made about her prayer topic (her request for Donald Trump to win the elections), her prayer style and even her wardrobe choice. I’ve heard people reference scripture verses such as Matthew 6:7 to disapprove of her chant-style prayer.
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Matthew 6:7 (NIV)
I don’t necessarily take issue with her prayer style. If you have ever had the pleasure of experiencing an African or Korean style prayer meeting, then you know that some Christians just pray with more ‘vigor’ than others. The comments that I have been more interested in, are with regard to the content of her prayer. Of particular interest is her summoning of angels from Africa and South America.
I was curious to learn if there was any analysis of Paula White’s misinterpretation of biblical angelology, so I went to the one reliable source of candid opinion and assessment, social media. What I found, to my surprise, was more misinformation and misinterpretations about angels by some Christian leaders. A pastor was thoroughly vexed that Paula White had the temerity to “compel and command” African angels, whose territory Donald Trump had insulted, to now leave their very important work of assisting with African elections – some of which is marred with corruption – and help this very same Trump. Another Christian proposed that perhaps Paula White is not wrong in calling on African angels to help with America’s political and moral predicament. He figures that the angels assigned to Africa have gained much experience over time because of their continuous spiritual battles against the devil. Thus, American Christians could use their expertise in America’s own current heightened spiritual battle. My shock about these Christian leaders’ response, was even more exacerbated by the many acceding comments they received from other Christians.
Paula White’s prayer debacle caused me to realize that there may be much misconception among Christians about what Scripture says regarding angels. The Bible does not discuss the subject of angels explicitly. Angels appear as ancillary characters; the primary focus of Scripture is God and his relationship with humankind. Yet, the sum of angelic mentions and appearances in the Bible, provides us with adequate information to form a biblical angelology.
What is the Nature of Angels?
The Bible does not specify when angels were created, but it is very clear that angels are a part of God’s creation. The psalmist attests to this by saying,
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights above.
2 Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for at his command they were created…
Psalm 148:1-5 (NIV)
Angels are by nature different from human beings because they are spiritual beings. They do not possess a physical body like we do, although certain types of angels have human form. The angels that appeared as messengers to people in Scripture would fall under this category. It is important to note here that these messenger angels always appeared in male form, and never as women or children. Scripture mentions other types of heavenly beings, like the Seraphim and Cherubim – both of whom are reported as having wings – who cannot be described as humanoid. Scripture asserts – and also corroborates in various stories – that angels are superior in physicality than human beings. The author of Hebrews (who was harkening back to Psalm 8:5) says this of humankind:
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor…
Hebrews 2:7 (NIV)
Apostle Peter further specifies in what way angels are superior to human beings. He asserts that:
Yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord.
2 Peter 2:11 (NIV)
We see in Scripture that angels have the ability to appear and disappear at will. They sometimes have brilliant light exude from their bodies and have super-human abilities. Peter’s miraculous escape from jail is but one example of these angelic abilities:
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near Peter, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Put on your belt and strap on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and continued to follow, and yet he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 Now when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
Acts 12:7-10 (NASB)
Angels also have the ability to fly. Apostle John recounts his vision of heaven here:
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.
Revelation 14:6 (NIV)
Angels also seem to have the ability to put humans to death in a supernatural manner. The angel of the Lord is reported have struck down 185,000 Assyrians in one night (2 Kings 19:35). As well, an angel struck Israel with a plague that killed 70,000 in three days (2 Samuel 24:15).
What is the Role of Angels?
Angels are God’s messenger to earth. In the original language of both testaments – Hebrew in Old Testament and Greek in New Testament – the word for ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’. The dictionary definition of ‘messenger’ is: “a person who carries a message or goes on an errand for another, especially as a matter of duty or business.” This is precisely the role of angels in the Bible. They attend to God and do His bidding on earth. One scholar neatly summarizes angelic duty in Scripture. He notes that angels serve God by:
- Intervening in human affairs
- Bringing divine messages
- Protecting and aiding God’s people
- Smiting God’s enemies, whether it be human or spiritual satanic forces. (Ref. “Angels” M.J. Davidson in Dictionary of Jesus & the Gospels)
The majority of angelic activity in the Bible is of messenger angels carrying divine messages to humans. Angel Gabriel is one such angel. He delivers messages to Daniel (Daniel 8-9) and to Zachariah and Mary (Luke 1). There is also ample evidence of warrior angels doing battle on behalf of God’s people. Archangel Michael is one such angel. All of his activity in Scripture speaks of waging warfare against satanic forces. In the book of Daniel, he comes to the aid of a messenger angel, by defeating the Prince of Persia, a satanic territorial spirit, so that the messenger angel could carry his divine message to Daniel (Daniel 10). Michael also disputes with the devil over the body of Moses (Jude 9). When Satan and his demons were cast down to earth for their rebellion against God, it was Michael and his warring angels who engaged and defeated them (Revelation 12).
Some Christians believe in guardian angels, meaning that there is at least one angel permanently assigned to every Christian. Verses such as the following are used to support this view:
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.
Psalm 34:7 (NIV)
And this statement that Jesus made:
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
Matthew 18:10 (NIV)
These Scriptures speaks of God’s people in collective, not individual terms. In Psalm 34:7 the ‘angel of the Lord’ is singular while ‘those who fear God’ is plural. What David seems to be talking about here is the concept of God’s universal protection of believers. ‘The angel of the Lord’ is representative of all angels and their duty those who fear God. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus is speaking about children in general. It is true that he refers to the angels as ‘their angels’, but again Jesus’ lesson here is mainly warning against anyone who despises children. The general notion in the Bible seems to be God’s collective protection of His people, rather than individual exclusive angelic guardianship.
Where do Angels dwell?
The general evidence found in Scripture points to the fact that angels reside in heaven. In the Old Testament we glean this evidence mostly from stories of angelic activity. Angels always seem to arrive on the scene. They are often sent by God to perform a specific task and then return to heaven. Angels are not permanently assigned to areas or territories on earth. It is of satanic spirits that the Bible speaks of as occupying earthly territories. Remember, God cast the devil and his demons from heaven and now they dwell on earth in the spiritual realm (Revelation 12). The book of Daniel refers to such territorial spirits as the Prince of Persia and Greece. In the New Testament, when Jesus spoke of angels, he often referred to them as ‘angels of heaven’. In Matthew he says:
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Matthew 22:30 (NIV)
In Mark he says:
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Mark 13:32 (NIV)
One would think that if anyone would have angels permanently assigned to him while on earth, it would be Jesus. However, practically every angelic activity concerning Jesus reports the angels arriving from heaven. Luke recounts at Jesus’ birth:
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven…
Luke 2:13-15 (NASB)
In the garden of Gethsemane before Jesus’ crucifixion:
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
Luke 22:43 (NIV)
At His resurrection:
…a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.
Matthew 28:2 (NASB)
The overwhelming evidence in the Bible points to the fact that angels live in heaven and are assigned to earth temporarily by God on specific missions. Once they are finished, they return to heaven.
Can Christians Command Angels?
Christians can certainly call on angels to come to our aid. But we pray to God and it is God who dispatches them. We don’t dispatch angels on our authority. In the book of Judges, God sent an angel to Samson’s parents to foretell of his birth. The angel first appeared to the mother, and when the father, Manoah, desired his own angelic visit to confirm the words of his wife, he asked God to resend the angel.
8 Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” 9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again…
When the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness and asked Jesus to throw himself from the roof of the temple, the devil did not tell Jesus to command angels on his own authority. Rather he quoted Scripture from Psalm 91:11-12 and said:
6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Matthew 4:6 (NIV)
Even the devil knew the chain of command regarding angels. Humans do not command angels on our own authority. But rather, we request God to dispatch his angels on our behalf.
In my opinion, Paula White’s mistake is that firstly, she presumed to call on angels in her own authority. It is God who assigns angels to do His bidding on behalf of His people. Therefore, we entreat Him to dispatch his angels to come to our aid. Secondly, she was directing her attention to Africa and South America instead of heaven.