At school last week, I wandered down the hall and enjoyed looking at all the kids’ projects hung up for display. I noticed one where the child had innocently renamed the famous Christmas song “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to “Heart the Herald Angels Sing.” I thought that was cute.
Many Christmas songs refer to angels singing. Not just Hark the Herald Angels sing, but also in the song, “Angels we have Heard on High”, the first lyric goes,
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plain
And the chorus is,
Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Also, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”, where we read the lyrics,
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing
Lots and lots of songs state that the angels sing. But does the bible say the same? No. Angels (probably) don’t sing. Or maybe they do. Here is Tim Chaffey from Answers in Genesis on the facts of the matter and why they matter:
The idea of angels singing on the night of Christ’s birth has become so common that many are surprised to learn that the Bible does not unequivocally state this. This example provides a good opportunity to discuss traditions. In and of themselves, traditions are not wrong, but they must be based on and consistent with Scripture. If they contradict Scripture, then they must be rejected.
At the same time, we don’t want to be guilty of going too far in the other direction. Just because the Bible doesn’t explicitly state that they did sing does not necessarily mean that they did not. Some have even argued that angels do not or cannot sing at all, but those who make this claim must adequately address Job 38:7 and other passages that seem to support the idea that they can and have sung. Furthermore, there is no biblical or logical reason why they could not sing. Angels are highly intelligent beings who are capable of speaking. Why would they be incapable of putting those words into song, especially since other beings in heaven sing (Revelation 5:9–14)?
One of the points of this series on misconceptions is to lead us all to look closely at what the Bible teaches. Far too often traditions have been the basis of our thinking, and we end up believing things that are not found in Scripture. We have heard and sung about angels singing on that night so often that many do not bother to look closely at the text.
I agree. It’s one of those concepts that has embedded itself into culture so deeply we tend to stop looking at scripture to see if it is so.
Singing and praising are closely connected but not necessarily the same. God could have endowed his humans with an innate tendency to praise in song, and perhaps did not give that same tendency to angels, who mostly are declared in the bible to proclaim and to praise and to shout but not to sing.
On the one hand, J. Vernon McGee did not believe angels sing:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying [not singing], Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased. (Luke 2:9-14). They should have been singing. And the only place they seem to be singing is on the Christmas cards that I get. But they don’t sing in the Word of God. If there ever was a time when angels should have been singing, it was here in the Gospel of Luke when that angel made the announcement of the birth of Christ.
McGee says that he believes angels do not sing because they were never lost sinners and were never redeemed. “It is to the redeemed that God has given a song,” McGee wrote. And for the record, as Chaffey mentioned, McGee did adequately address Job 38:7 in his sermon. I tend to agree with McGee on the concept of angels not singing and also his interpretation of Job 38:7.
However, Charles Spurgeon did believe angels sang. In his sermon, “The First Christmas Carol“, Spurgeon preached,
And mark how well they told the story, and surely you will love them! Not with the stammering tongue of him that tells a tale in which he hath no interest; nor even with the feigned interest of a man that would move the passions of others, when he feeleth no emotion himself; but with joy and gladness, such as angels only can know. They sang the story out, for they could not stay to tell it in heavy prose. They sang, “Glory to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” Methinks they sang it with gladness in their eyes; with their hearts burning with love, and with breasts as full of joy as if the good news to man had been good news to themselves.
|EPrata photo & collage
Whether you believe angels sing or do not sing isn’t the point. It is that we should always examine our traditions (including Christmas carols) to remind us that ultimate truth comes from the bible. Always examine these things to see if they are so.
I’ll end with Spurgeon’s joyous sermon closing he delivered on December 20, 1857 at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens-
May God give you peace with yourselves; may he give you good will towards all your friends, your enemies, and your neighbors; and may he give you grace to give glory to God in the highest. I will say no more, except at the close of this sermon to wish every one of you, when the day shall come, the happiest Christmas you ever had in your lives.